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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Slow Hand


No small mammals were harmed in the production of this post.

I have a certain measure of empathy with the WoW Insider's Editor's Tweet from yesterday. Warcraft news on his site was pretty thin on the ground, and if he and his team are struggling for content, the rest of us aren't going to fare any better. Monday's MMO Champion front page was (understandably) all about Diablo 3 but they are recycling the same details the rest of us are having to trawl through to find something useful to grab onto. We've not had a Dev Watercooler for at least a week now. Where does that leave us on the Beta Test front as a result? I'd automatically assumed that these Watercoolers would be meticulously pre-planned and be used as a weekly way of clearing the ground for the new product, because Blizzard are great at that sort of thing. Except, its gone quiet.

Do we just need to be patient and stop begging for details?


The Early Bear catches the pickenick basket. FACT.

I invoked Occam's Razor yesterday on Twitter as a way to prompt further discussion on why this Expansion's Beta is taking so long when we already have an actual release schedule [*], and the responses were interesting. Clearly a lot of 'stuff' is being worked on, across a range of different departments, because of the volume of information that's been deliberately leaked from various Twitter accounts over the last two months. We know many features are in some stage of development: Battle pets, quests, raids, Garrisons, PvP are all being worked on and obviously the mechanics for stat and healing changes are already in place in some kind of Internal Alpha Client. But it is all so far away from the group perspective at this point that building a coherent picture of what we are going to see is proving a lot harder than I suspect many have anticipated, myself included. Part of me really wishes I could get to PAX East this weekend so I could get my hands on the working demo of the starting areas, because even that would be a step forward from where we are now as a Community.

The standing joke of Soon (TM) is all well and good, but only remains endearing for so long. However, what if Blizzard isn't actually the problem this time around? Maybe it's us that's not seeing the Big Picture.

Today's Metaphor is ALL ABOUT the Big Picture.

There have been whispers since Christmas, hints of things I suspect Blizzard don't want to over-state because they're going to take the game in a direction that might worry some players. This could be be a New Game, not like the Expansions that preceded it, and I'm not just talking about less Agility on your Hunter's mail legs. Somewhere between Blizzcon and now Garrisons emerged as far more significant than a daily Tillers Farm 'run', but if you were paying attention you'd know that possibility was on the table when the Expansion was announced. The Garrison is the place where WE BUILD AN ARMY to defeat the Orc threat in Draenor. It's been increasingly apparent as time has gone on, and details have remained not simply scarce but deliberately managed and released by key personnel, that your Garrison is a vital part of game proceedings. It's the big-screen TV in that storage unit above: without it, everything will still work, but it won't have the same impact. Without it there's no point having a PC, DvD or indeed Satellite System either, because one won't function without the other.

I'm going to suggest that's why we don't have a Beta yet, either.

Two motivational posters in a single post? Inconceivable!

What we don't have ANY idea of, at least as yet, is how the Modular Storage Unit that is Warlords will look like when it's done. There's all these pieces we have access to, but no overall set of Instructions on how they fit together or interact with each other. This is where the speculation we spoke about last week can become dangerous, because without that definitive final construction spec people could use the modular framework to build a large number of vastly differing games, depending on their own personal conceptions. Blizzard are holding those final blueprints pretty close to their collective chest right now, I suspect because (as has been stated here previously) they're not prepared to show us the finished product until it is, indeed COMPLETED. However frustrating this becomes for writers and commentators is largely academic too: Blizzard will know when they're ready, and when they're going to share.

Between you and me, I'd say the chances for at least some new information this week is probably better than most. D3's finally out, and that means by the end of Q1 Blizzard have released two highly successful games and shoved one into Alpha, which by anyone's standards is pretty damn good going. What you need to understand is that even though Hearthstone is free to play, it has an inbuilt digital revenue stream attached, something I'm fairly sure will already be making a tidy sum and justifying the lack of price tag on the title itself. Plus, Heroes of the Storm's MOBO construction means that players will be dipping into their pockets for characters to purchase too. Frankly, Q1's looking pretty spectacular even from this far away. Warcraft may be the Elder Statesperson of this bunch, but there's an awful lot riding on getting this release spot on. If Blizzard do it right, many will forget the wait we endured to make it happen. Do it WRONG, and... well, this could make Cataclysm's failure look like a weekend's all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland.


This is not NEW. This is DIFFERENT.

If you get five minutes, go read Coke's take on the events of April 23rd, 1985, the day the company decided to change their tried and tested formula, and the consequences that resulted in the about-turn they made seventy-nine days later. The point of sticking this aside here is twofold: people hate change, but they love innovation. You just need to look at Apple as testament to how change can be handled beautifully, and how when successfully paired with constant 'upgrades' makes a product that people crave and demand almost constantly. You could argue Warcraft occupies a similar position in gaming terms: it is the game everyone looks to as a yardstick for MMO development. perhaps even now, inside Blizzard HQ, the designers have struck upon a new formula for Warcraft, that tastes better, makes you feel happier and can tell you the weather forecast for Tokyo at the touch of a button. The thing is, until they decide they're ready to tell us, there really is nothing more to do than sit and bemoan the fact there is NO WARLORDS NEWS.

Eventually, this situation will change. Until it does, I'd strongly suggest you use your time wisely while you wait.

==

[*] Yes, there's a date. We all KNOW it's not the real date right now, many of us don't like it, but it's there and as long as it remains there's going to need to be some ACTUAL NEWS on when a Beta Client will be available. Eventually (TM)

1 comment:

R said...

Frankly, I don't think Blizzard has the guts to completely overhaul the core gameplay in WoW... or at least, not at this point without some intermediate work.

Could WoD be Step 1 toward some master plan to end up with some other type of games in 6 years? Maybe.

If I wanted to find some additional justification for your theory, though...

http://ca.ign.com/articles/2013/05/29/blizzards-titan-mmo-delayed-reset

I wonder if what they determined about Titan that led to its apparent revamp is that it's something that WoW itself could morph into more easily than creating a brand new game from scratch. The timing of that announcement, about a year before mid-2014, would be when Blizzard would have to have been going full speed on WoD to have a chance at a mid-2014 release... if that announcement had any impact on WoW, those "design and technology" changes are what cause significant delays... and here we are in a seemingly significant delay.

I don't really believe that, but what the heck... it wouldn't be the strangest thing to actually happen. Would that be any stranger than going back 6 years and predicting you'd be able to play Pokemon in WoW?