Tuesday, June 03, 2014

White Flag

Because the Apocalypse IS NOT PICKY.

There is a certain type of Doomsayer that appears to surface whenever an Expansion is being constructed. They are the ones who are CONVINCED that the latest iteration of the game is already destined for failure even before the Digital Copies have been sent to your PC. After all, there is (in their mind) a wealth of historical precedent to substantiate their claims. You only need to look at the disasters that are LFR, and Daily Quests, and Archaeology and the Tillers Farm AND simplifying Talents.. well, you get the point. This time around the Garrison feature is already being maligned before we even have a working version of affairs in our hands to consider. I've spent a lot of time analysing data on this feature since Blizzcon, and having had time to finally digest the first of the 'Official' Blogs from the company themselves... well, there are more questions than answers from what I've been presented. I know, there are three more weeks of data to come, but if this is to serve as an introduction and overview to the feature...? I can't help but think that the choice of language and tone of the piece isn't sending the kind of message I'd expected, even with everything I've observed since November.

What this post will now try and do is work out why its taken until Blizzard produced an Official Blog for me to become nervous about what I'm buying into.

I am confused. This does not bode well.

In the opening paragraph of the Blog, CM Bashiok makes the following statement:

We knew early on in development that this feature would strike a chord with long-time Warcraft players going back to the RTS days, as well as set the tone for the conflict with the Iron Horde.

I'll admit, I had to double-check that RTS in that sentence referred to real time strategy. I'm no stranger to games like this, in fact I have a love affair with SimCity going back to its first emergence on the Amiga in 1988. I'm also aware that more than one Blogger read this article and quite rightly concludes that this isn't the Player Housing approach many people thought it might be. I grasped pretty early on that what we were being presented wasn't the same as Wildstar's Housing, that I wasn't going to get a level of customisation of the scale I'd find in Landmark. Using RTS as a 'marker' in the opening paragraph has made me realise that, like it or not, there's (yet again) a lot of Blizzard history being wheeled in as context to the actions here. Many of your decisions may not permanently affect the long term consequences in your Garrison, and Blizzard are very much at pains to reiterate you don't have to do it all while levelling, or even not at all if you wish until you hit L100. However, with every assertion that you don't need to do any of this comes the counter that the mechanics are very much an intrinsic part of levelling. The problem is, as yet, we still don't have the faintest idea of what that is exactly going to entail.

Alpha continues to be unable to provide any answers either, seven months after the feature was announced.

We have Blueprint Icons but
NO WORKING Client... ^^

As I have discussed before, the key here is time. This feature is quite obviously being built from the ground upwards. Technology has had to be redesigned to accommodate it. Most importantly of all, Blizzard are in no real hurry to rush anything out until it's ready.This therefore presumably means that, as yet, the Garrison doesn't exist in a format Blizzard are happy being tested outside Irvine. All of this is perfectly acceptable and understandable, and this is not where my issue lies, because I have reconciled all of this as an inevitable consequence of the development process. The bare bones of the Missions system is clearly already in place, the files support it and I can see them. Followers exist in the game, the mechanics for buffs and assistance in associated questlines... the framework of the system is clearly apparent. The most significant sections of the jigsaw puzzle are already placed in the box marked 'Garrisons', it is just that the picture stuck to that box does not seem to fit the pieces I'm seeing presented.

I just can't work out how I'm supposed to make these two things look the same.

There are stairs. That bit I get.

Expectation is a harsh mistress. I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to hyping things beyond reasonable expectation, but the promise of Garrisons continues to remain, if it works, a significant game changer. That's the key here, those three words. We can only assume it does work somewhere, already, and the only reason that we can't see that in action is that the Powers That Be have decided that we won't get the feature 'live' until they're convinced we'll not be able to live without it once we've played it once. Because ultimately that has to be the plan: one million pre-sales in 2014 isn't what Blizzard were working towards. The long term plan has to be to exceed six million subs (and possibly more) for 2016 to tie in with the MASSIVE investment made by a great many people in the Warcraft Movie, simply because of the amount of publicity a successful movie event could conceivably generate. Does it even matter if Garrisons fail to deliver to begin with, because it could easily be consigned it to the bin of failed ideas as the Devs look forward to the NEXT Expansion?

Just how important is this feature to Blizzard, and how significant is it in long-term planning for the game?

Thinking ahead is becoming a dangerous precedent.

I realised late last night what it is that bothers me about the picture on the Garrisons Jigsaw Box. I can still see the faded photograph of the Golden Lotus Daily Quest hub that it's stuck on top of, the realisation that that the same container's being used to house the pieces as it always has been. It doesn't matter how much Blizzard assert this is new, that opening sentence from the Blog means I'm already judging the product as something the company used to make and that has generated in my mind a very specific set of criteria: complicated, difficult to grasp, with a reliance on an understanding of both mathematics and logistics to help guide me. Of course, for many people, these possibilities will be greeted with great enthusiasm, but for many others they have the potential to simply send them away. Blizzard clearly understand the stakes however, or we wouldn't see this as part of the Blog to begin with:

We recognize that there’s a fine line between introducing a system that provides cool bonuses and adding “chores” that feel necessary for cutting-edge endgame progression.

However, what I think Blizzard may have failed to adequately grasp is that, for the vast majority of people who will be excited to play Garrisons, cutting-edge endgame progression is actually the LAST thing they care about. Blizzard will be wrapping up most things that the CASUAL PLAYER gravitate towards: professions, questing and solo play into an experience that they will have very little chance to opt out of. In fact, if the next Garrisons Blog Post plays out the way I suspect it will, players will be penalised in Professions if they don't take a Garrison as standard. It is still largely unclear if the entire 90-100 path is so wrapped around the Garrison that it is possible to not enter it at all whist still using Quests in the manner most people will be used to. We have established that Blizzard consider it not 'mandatory' for those who wish to use Battlegrounds or Dungeons to advance themselves. However, what about the people who decide they simply don't like the feature they're being presented with. Is there an alternative for those of us who don't raid at the cutting edge or want to take part in PvP?

Are those people simply presented with the Garrison as a fait accompli?

I want this feature to work. For everybody.

If you ask me why I think Warcraft as entertainment has endured for as long as it has, my first answer is always the same: it is capable of being so many different things to vast numbers of players simultaneously. This is why a Warcraft movie about simply lore and nothing else bothers me, because it represents only a fraction of what the entire experience ultimately means for the people who play it. The same is undoubtedly true for a feature I am excited about, because that very fact means other people won't be. I can already tell you why, list off an entire slew of reasons, and that the Doomsayers really might have a point. There's a great deal of historical precedent, after all. The game is littered with failed ideas and redundant systems, most of which remain because Blizzard refuse to go back and update the World any more. That's probably an issue for another post.

Needless to say, if the Official Blog was supposed to make me feel excited for what was to come, I'm not sure in my case it really did the job as well as it could have. In fact, I'm beginning to get a little nervous about what I'll finally be presented with...


Jaedia said...

If I'm honest.. Garrisons are the big reason I've decided to not bother coming back. Not the way I thought I might.

From the beginning I've been asking the OH about them and he's made it clear that they're going to be closer to a daily quest area than player housing, that Blizzard want to make something similar but very different, and new.. there won't be much customisation but you can send out minions to work for you, etc. etc. ... I want my housing to be a place I customise, not a place I grind. And so far, nothing has shown me anything to the contrary. :(

Elkagorasa said...

From what I read/think, Garrison's are going to basically replace Orgrimmar/Stormwind. You'll place your hearthstone here, have NPCs that will all know you by name and work for you. While you won't be placing lamps and carpets down, you will be placing shops and trainers. As an added bonus, these npcs will level up and you'll be able to get better 'stuff'. Up to the point where you'll be able to merc out these npcs and have them run dungeons for/with you. From my understanding, you'll be able to create buildings for professions you don't have and level them up!? Need a blacksmith? Get the cottage and start spending gold on it.

Outposts on the other hand, will be phased quest hubs you'll open up. By doing so, you'll get specific quests in that area that help build up your Garrison at home.

marathalbt said...

I have a lot of hope for Garrisons. Also a lot of fears. Will it isolate me more from the outside world, will general/trade chat be visible, will advancing to level 3 require me to run content I do not wish to.

I asked the other day if Garrisons/Quests/Regular Dungeons will occupy me for 2 years. I have grown tired of the constant push to get us all into end game raiding. It's not why I play. I like the world, the people, the story. It is a grand place to explore, why they want to push us to do one thing I will never grasp.