Friday, March 14, 2014

Please Read The Letter

Imagine this is green.

Dear Blizzard,

I know it's been a while since we spoke, but since the pre-orders went live worldwide it's all been a bit mad around my part of the world. The servers and instance queues seems to be full of 90's all of a sudden and it's apparent that a lot of them aren't as prepared for their journeys as perhaps they should be. It's that I'd like to talk about, if you've got a minute, though I appreciate that with the Beta on the way you're all pretty busy. I'd kind of assumed because that other MMO, you know the one that's like Firefly with aliens, did their prelaunch too this week that you were keen to beat them to the punch and get your stuff on the table as quickly as possible. I know you'll never publicly admit why you do anything to us, and that's utterly cool, but that's pretty much how it looked from over on my server.

The thing is, I don't think anyone would have minded if you'd have waited. In fact, for a lot of us the whole instant 90's a bit of a waste, all told, because we don't have anyone really we want to max. I understand I'm not your audience for that too, but the notion is attractive. I'd like to try a DK but it's hardly the end of the world, because most of my friends are in the same boat as me. We'd rather have a Beta, but understand why that's not happening either. It is totally awesome that you're explaining what's going on and letting us take it in slowly, but somewhere along the way something has changed. I've been trying to put my finger on it since Monday night and finally, in of all places the shower on Thursday, I worked out what the problem is.

I think you need to explain to me about what you consider as value.

When I saw the adverts for the 90 Boost in my Battle Net launcher on Tuesday, my heart sank. There's that Worgen, doing that whole roar thing Worgen do so much, and next to him, in small letters, was the following: '50 Euro value.' I've been around long enough to know how advertising works, and what you must legally say in an advert not to get bitch-slapped by the Advert Police. I understand that value is of the equivalent boost you can purchase at the Online store. My first question was, before I even considered the fiscal consequences, very simple. At what point did you start advertising Warcraft on value? Why should it matter how much the boost is worth to begin with, why should that be the ONLY selling point of this entire advert?

I can answer my own question, of course; you want people to pre-order the game now. The cynic in me could argue this could be to make your Quarter 1 figures look good, or in the vain hope that if you snag enough people into end-game there could be a rise in subs whilst those 90's learn their classes and take part in all those wonderful endgame activities that you rushed the rest of us through at breakneck speed last year. However, as I can't afford to buy your game until next month, I don't really have the need to boost anyone, and am rather sad I got here what seems like six months early for the expansion. I find myself considering that the value of this boost, per se, is largely negligible for me.

This household has five recurring subs with Blizzard at present. That's a remarkable amount of money we give you each month, and the game is played, regularly, and has been since pretty much launch. Keeping that sub alive is, quite clearly, a massive portion of your active business model. It seems odd therefore that the need to part people with cash before a product is even at the testing phase and it might be viewed by some as, well, opportunism. I should point out here that I'm not about to cancel everything in disgust and wander away muttering: I still love this game, and the people who play it, and the people who make it too. Don't mistake criticism for anger or an argumentative stance: that seems to happen a lot on the Internet, because people seem to think that anonymity somehow translates into being loutish and unthinking.

All you need do is to spend just five minutes on this Website to understand I've loved Azeroth publicly for over FIVE YEARS, with a depth of passion that is not going to be dented by what is, I sincerely hope, just a momentary lapse of the ideals you inspire us to grasp. This shouldn't be about money, but more and more it is. Giving people what they want, allowing people to play with their friends is a great notion. Making them pay for it now is utterly ridiculous. I am very sorry but deciding that 50 Euros is the value of a levelling and learning experience if you don't buy into the boost is madness. It should be ten times that cost. There is so much you will singularly fail to grasp about ANY class if you simply arrive at 90 and are expected to just pick it up. It has taken me a decade to become a halfway decent Hunter and I'm still learning. With the subjectivity of individual learning curves, frankly, this looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Except it already is, and were it not for your Community writing guides to help out new 90's in distress there'd be nothing out there at all to aid the progression you'd made people pay for.

What I think you've failed to adequately grasp is that the massive nature of your demographic allows an awful lot of groups to hide in the shadows: the very young, the very old, those with issues of self worth and inadequacy, those who struggle with dealing with interaction, those who actively shun it and choose to play alone. These are the players you don't target, not simply those who are financially challenged or who have no need of the boost to begin with. These are the players who may look at what has now become a new notion of value and wonder what changed in the last year.

These are the people who, if they walk away, could significantly impact the future of your game.

I'm no expert on numbers but I can see how much money you've made in the last few days. You guys could sell sand to desert dwellers and water to fish, there is no doubting your depth of aptitude in finding the markets. However, we are here to play a game, and for those of us who don't want to spend the next six months kicking our heels the choice is a stark one: leave or stay. Ironically, while my 13 year old son will shrug his shoulders and go play Team Fortress 2 and my husband will LFR until he gets fed up of the stupidity and then go watch a movie, I will remain.

I'm going to level a character from scratch, not because I can't afford to boost, but because I don't see the point in playing this game unless you take the journey. It's not even a character I don't have, it's another Hunter, whose going to play through content that you won't update after it didn't go as planned in Cataclysm, and because I am told that people want new things at End Game anyway. I don't know who these people are, but one day I really hope you sacrifice some raid tier and go back and try to improve the world again. It's where all my characters were born, and where they will die when you finally turn off the lights and throw me off the Server. That would, at least in my mind, have a real notion of value.

As a mum to two children, I often despair at the notion of buying yourself into situations. It happens a lot in gaming circles: obtain this Beta and we'll give you a bunch of stuff that's not actually any use but you'll feel like it matters because it's free. I have to say, this is just how the 90's 'feel' to me: maybe it's because I have no friends I need to try and entice back, because they're all still here and never left. Maybe its also because the way you handled the entire thing makes it feel like there was little thought involved, although I'm fairly certain that is probably as far from the truth as it is possible to get. From the outside, over here on my medium-population EU server, my World of Warcraft often seems a long way away from the wonder of Blizzcons and the excitement of eSports tournaments. But I still love you. That's the problem, I think, that sometimes when you care so much about a thing you're prepared to look the other way when something happens like this, you chalk it down to experience and move on. The problem is that this time, I do feel cheated, and angry and disappointed, because I'd expected so much better from you than this.

I have friends who tell me to put this in proportion: its only a game, it doesn't matter in the Real World. Except, actually, it DOES matter. You're my friends too, I talk to people who make the game, you take the time and effort to involve me in a process that I know a lot of the time I have no chance of changing, but I can at least be a part of. I don't even think I'm looking for someone to blame either. That whole making CM's scapegoats thing is a great idea in principle, I get that. There's a joke in my Guild that my mate from Sweden is the guy we blame stuff on when we die in Raids or someone does something stupid. He even has his own Guild rank: Blame Me. I grasp enough psychology to know what that does in helping deal with issues. But it's not right to point a finger at one person. When you fail as a Raid, everyone fails, and it's about dealing with the consequences of the collective if you wish to move forward.

So, really, I should point my finger at the giant statue outside your massive Campus on this one and state, for the record, I think you guys screwed up. I really do. I think what could have been a genius way to give people a 90 was badly handled, priced and implemented. I think its made you look bad, and I think that had you been honest up front after Blizzcon and said 'here's the timescale we're working on, if things go wrong we'll admit it and tell you' might actually have done yourself more favours.

The thing is, I KNOW you guys don't work like that.

Maybe you could consider thinking differently about how you deal with the Expansion after this one as a result.

Anyway, I have gone on far too long and as your Hearthstone game's got it's claws into me now I think I'll be off to start building a custom deck. I'm not gonna cancel any subs, or go on the Forums and rant, or even start being mean to you on Twitter. You did this bit wrong. Make sure value never means your balance sheet and always refers to the worth of your players in intellectual terms. All of them, not just the ones in the target demographic and with the disposable income.

Have a good weekend,

Still with love,



Shammoz said...

I have always feared that dungeons/raids would get filled with players not knowing how to play their class, it's why I have always been completely against class change which has been suggested by players many times.

This level 90 boost is not that different from class change in that it brings exactly the same problems to the table. I would have been more "comfortable" with it if they had introduced at the same time, what they are brining into WoD which is achieving silver in Proving Grounds in your chosen role before being able to queue above normal dungeons. It would have been a compromise, one that would have made this situation taste less bitter, but would still be unappealing to me personally.

Jim Younkin said...

So if I'm reading this right you think this is a bald-faced money grab on Blizzard's part and they're duping innocent players who don't know any better? They are treating customers as sheep to be "sheared" (or perhaps fleeced) at Blizzard's will? They see customers simply as ATM machines to be induced to spit out cash in their direction?

I don't know about you but most WoW players I know are extremely intelligent and can properly judge and weigh the pros and cons, pluses and minuses, cost and rewards of Pre-Purchasing and make a judgement on whether to spend $50 (or $70) or not.

Also most of the players I know are adults with their own bank accounts and credit cards who have full control over how and when to use them.

If I'm misreading what you were saying or bring hyperbolic (ok I am a bit hyperbolic but that's because it's fun) let me know.

I know I should be mad about these paid boosts but for some reason I'm not.

And it's not that I haven't thought about it. (I have. A few different times.) It's just that I don't see much about a completely optional paid feature to fuss about.

Yes everyone who purchases Warlords of Draenor will get a level 90 boost but I don't think "leveling" in the "old" way is even part of how most people the game these days.

Unless you really love questing and/or the leveling experience, in general most players will scratch and scrape for every leveling speed advantage they can find whether it be LFD, heirlooms, recruit-a-friend, Death Knights etc.

Does a person who levels as a tank in LFD really learn their class? Does someone who levels as a DPS druid learn healing while leveling? Not often is my guess.

What I'm getting at is that people likely aren't learning their class the way you might have in the hey day of long leveling times of Vanilla and TBC.

I was there. Leveling was hard and took a long time and I'm with you. I have great connections to characters that leveled in that "old style" but honestly we're not living back in 2006 or even 2008.

We're living in 2014 and Blizzard is simply removing what it considers the biggest stumbling block many lapsed players have: the cognitive load of having to "catch up" by doing something "boring". Chores. (And just to be clear I don't consider leveling boring or a chore. It's one of my favorite activities in the game.)

Watch that cute gnome video. It's all there. They're targeting a specific breed of player with these boosts.

What I still can't figure out is why this expansion costs $10 more. I'm really stumped on that one.

All I can guess is that they did the math and realized they would make more money by charging $10 more to a slightly smaller player base than would be made up by the increase in sales they'd make at a lower price of $40.

Finally, since I'm planning on buying a physical Collector's Edition (which means I have a long wait until I can even use a level 90 boost) I don't really have a god in the "Pre-Purchase" fight. Even so I find the topic fascinating.

Grimmtooth said...

Where this seems to have all gone wrong is that the landing spot for the boosted 90s changed from when they first announced it.

When they first announced the boost, it was part of the Expansion reveal at Blizzcon. As such, a REASONABLE assumption was that these boosted 90s would step into Draenor and start questing alongside all the other non-"welfare" 90s. This doesn't look like a disaster in the making. In fact, it looks like freshly boosted 90s will have 10 levels to sort out all the buttons.

Making it available with the pre-purchase, however, means that a lot of fresh-faced scrubs are appearing in the middle of endgame content, content that has not been significantly nerfed as of yet, making their ineptitude* appear many orders of magnitude worse than it should be.

GG, Blizz. Much angst. Very anger.


* Look, there's a dictionary right over there. I'm not trying to be deliberately provocative. It's a word, and an accurate one, to describe the situation.

Kurn said...

An interesting post, as always. :)

I completely agree with certain points:

1) The lack of understanding of a class that you literally just picked up. Absolutely. I boosted a warlock to 90 last night and am BOGGLED by all of the abilities. I mean, true, I've never really played a warlock before, but I thought I knew something about them, but clearly, I was wrong!

2) I really hope that, someday, they sacrifice a raid tier to update the world, too. It's weird, saying that, because for so long, everything I did in this game was in order to do heroic raids and the idea of staying in a raid instance longer than, say, six or seven months, made me want to cry.

Having said that, I find it interesting that I went from not having paid for game time for 15 months to buying the new expansion, purchasing one month of game time (not a recurring subscription) and boosting a character to 90. I bought the expansion because, simply, I had always planned to check out Warlords of Draenor and I had the money to do so now. I bought a month of game time because, well, I felt like playing and the allure of playing with some freshly-dinged 90 was quite strong. It was alluring to me not because I wanted to skip the journey but because clearly other people were doing it and I wanted to get an idea of what that experience was like. My personal experience: overwhelmed. I imagine others' experiences as: "LOL I WILL QUEUE FOR LFR". /facepalm

I think Blizzard did the right thing -- for them -- in terms of releasing pre-orders and the boosts now. I remain unconvinced this is the right thing for the community. The community has changed dramatically from "the old days", which I often lament (as I'm sure you've witnessed!), but unlike you, a lot of my friends HAVE stopped playing. I logged in and found that several people in my old guild, people who hadn't played in years, were back. And obviously, that includes me, too.

There was probably a better way to do things, where they got money, pulled back in their old subs AND didn't risk destroying the community, but I can't think of a way off-hand. I am extremely worried that the boosted 90s (and the players behind them) are going to be a huge drain on the community and that it risks alienating a large segment of players who actually know (and CARE that they know, versus those who don't care at all) what they're doing. We'll see how it turns out. For now, I'm playing for a month with no idea if I'll renew that again or if I'll only turn up again once 6.0 drops.

marathal said...

I would love to start a slow clap right now. Absolutely on point here.

I want to share a message I had from someone in my server Facebook group.

Thank you the help would be great. Right now I'm trying to figure out the rest of the basic controls and how to open the in game mailbox.

Yes, prior to this private message they had asked if anyone knew where to look for basically the directions on how to play.

Now thankfully, I know @Nethaera is a wonderful CM that seems to answer questions, so I asked for some help for where to guide a new player and passed that info along. But the bigger problem is right there too. What if this person said Oh, cool I can make a max level, ok Ummm I guess I will be a Mage or something. Big giant red flags should be going up every where.

When I started playing almost 5 years ago, this was my first MMO. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I saw an episode of South Park and thought the game looked interesting. On my server which was opened in 2009, if you asked 100 people how they heard about the game, I can almost bet 60 of them would say the same. Now looking on the horizon we see a Warcraft movie. Do you think seasoned MMO players are going to rush to the store to sub to the game? No, it will be teens to adults going to the store and trying this out brand new like the person above with absolutely no idea what to do.

The genie is out of the bottle and there is no getting them back in, but you can avert as much potential damage as possible now. I do not know what the answer is. But I do see the problem, and the probable fallout.

Scott Leyes said...

/Standing Ovation
Wonderfully articulated and well-written. My heartfelt thanks to you.
This should be required reading for EVERY Blizzard employee this morning... if only to say "Hey, Blizz, you created a great MMO experience over the past 10 years - Please STOP APOLOGIZING FOR IT and trying to sweep it under a rug."

Arli said...

Very well written, you voiced so much of what I couldn't quite get into words myself. As a player that generally doesn't do end content but enjoys leveling I don't feel Blizz recognises I exist at all. I generally play solo but love to do so immersed in a world with other people around to chat to and in guild, talk about class and fun stuff we've done. I'm in no rush to buy the expansion, what do I need another parked 90 for?

Paul Smith said...

I don't see the point in playing this game unless you take the journey.

This. Absolutely this.

one day I really hope you sacrifice some raid tier and go back and try to improve the world again. It's where all my characters were born, and where they will die when you finally turn off the lights and throw me off the Server.

Totally agree. This made me well up :)

I really, really wish they'd go back and smooth out the levelling experience. They could re-use old raids, make dungeons viable again (who goes to TBC level 70 dungeons any more?) and give people more motivation to discover more of the lore. Blizzard have produced so much beautiful content that nowadays is impossible to experience in a challenging way or at least sits firmly in the 'sub-optimal' category. I got as far as writing out a spec for re-balancing old content with ilevels and everything.

My point is that it amazes me that Blizz is so willing to let content that they have put so much time into, become completely redundant for the sake of the relatively small amount of time it would take to insert it back into the levelling experience. Smooth things out so that there's less compunction to leap into Outland the moment you hit level 58. Re-balance Molten Core so it becomes a level 55-65 five-man dungeon. Make tier gear/tokens drop from appropriate dungeons without having to run them 30 or 40 times. Make rep gear purchasable at friendly or honoured, or increase the rep gains in dungeons so that these items are attainable before they are completely out-levelled. The vanity stuff can still be exalted - how about having exalted vanity items for every faction, even if it's just a pet?

To me making such changes would be game-changing and make me a very happy camper. It would open up more levelling paths and encourage more exploration of the amazing world Blizzard have put together.

Grimmtooth said...

Seems a lot of people feel the same way: "Why ignore 90% of the content of the game?" Why, indeed?