Tuesday, July 22, 2014

BETA: To Build a Home ::
This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us


So yesterday, I saw my first overridingly negative review of the Garrisons via a three part Warlords overview in Massively. Of course Eliot Lefebvre can be as scathing as he chooses, and look, there he goes. By the way, there's a word missing from that second sentence, I'm going to guess it's 'when'; I always try and double check my work but as I don't have an Editor, mistakes sometimes do happen. I'm sure this lovely little insight into what currently exists on Beta is going to be met with open arms by those who'd like to see this 10 year old game buried into the ground along with all of the outdated, exclusive ideas it carries with it. Except there is one KEY factor in this entire 'review' that the OP patently fails to grasp, or indeed mention at any point in his article.

He's reviewing a product that isn't finished, and isn't close to being so by some distance.

NYI, and inaccurate on Alliance Side.

Warcraft baiting isn't new by any stretch of the imagination, and poking holes in one of the the oldest MMO's on the block might be considered as an easy target. After all, Blizzard have a historical record of dreaming up fabulous new 'features' at the start of each expansion that rapidly disintegrate or are totally disregarded by their end. We don't have to remind you of the Golden Lotus 'grind' but we will anyway, because I'm pretty sure that memory is still very fresh in the minds of Blizzard's designers. If you can't maintain a level of 'fun' in your product, people will stop playing. What is very apparent in current content is that things are not simply being built differently but that designers are far more open than they have ever been to the concept of 'constructive' feedback, and by that I don't mean sitting in the forums complaining until what you want gets changed. Talk to Blizzard 'in the right way' (sensibly, rationally and with evidence as backup) and things do happen.

The quest above is one piece of a large body of evidence that confirms Mr Lefebvre has reviewed something that's not finished: this is the starter quest to introduce the 'Garrison Invasion' portion of the content which doesn't even exist as complete game files at time of writing and is (presumably) being internally tested as I type. Although I can completely grasp the reason why this portion of the Expansion has been compared to a half baked Facebook game, I feel that a lot of players (and I'm not just talking about the OP here) are approaching Warlords with expectations of this feature that simply aren't going to be realised at any point with the game as it stands. The best way to describe this, at least for me, is going to be visually.


This is a picture of a Car. It's quite a stylised thing (I believe this is a Mustang) which means underneath, it is just a Ford. It doesn't really matter what else you bolt on top of the engine and the wheels, you can't transform into a Volkswagen or a Renault. It remains a Ford. The same is true for Warcraft: it doesn't matter how much stuff you stick on top over a decade, the basic construction underneath remains Azeroth. So, expecting a 10 year old MMO to present you with The Sims with an infinite customisation set when there's a bunch of other features that come as standard and players are expecting designers to work on is probably being a *tad* unrealistic, if you ask me (and I did.) More importantly, if the designers don't work on those features too then the original game will fail to operate as part of the overall design and everyone will stop playing. That's the bigger issue for Blizzard whenever they decide to pitch in with a new feature: managing player expectations. I reckon they're not doing a totally woeful job after a decade: that persistent rattle from the diversity trunk is finally being looked at, the failure of the PvP rear lights to engage at night has a man in overalls working on it.

In essence: Garrisons are a new paint job, the re-upholstery of the questing experience for those who have been hoping it will happen. However, it is NEVER going to make your Mustang a Porsche, and expecting that really is a bit unrealistic.

The potential is there.

This is the point where, almost inevitably, someone pulls the 'well you're biased, you're a Fangirl' argument out as a last resort as a means of derailing my enthusiasm and belief, but maybe it would just be fairer for everyone to criticise this new feature when it is actually live. I'll accept I've followed this development cycle pretty much from inception, and I would like to think I'm not being totally blinded by something that's attempting to masquerade as Player Housing in the way you'd encounter it (for instance) in something like Wildstar. There is very little emphasis on fixtures and fittings at this stage and very much a means by which Professions become a part of the architecture. There is a clear and distinctly alluded-to real time strategy element of this process which has yet to be properly introduced. It is also completely possible to totally ignore this feature and just level to 100, because Blizzard are acutely aware a bunch of people only bought this model for the End Game Raiding feature and beverage holders. I'll happily fangirl on this feature on this blog, on other people's blogs and even on your Podcast (poke me in comments for details!) but when it comes to simply stating a fact, Garrisons aren't ever going to be that simulation experience for players, so don't expect them to be. Have a sense of proportion, look at the vehicle you're driving, and be mindful of the limits that chassis places on your choice of destination.

Also give Blizzard two years and they'll make you a Mini Garrison on a mobile app. JUST YOU WATCH ^^

Pet Battle Trophy acknowledges Blizzard understanding their audience.

The last point to make here is simple: Blizzard really do understand their audience. That's *why* professions are in the mix, why the latest round of Monuments includes one for Pet Battling that actually isn't that bad at all. If you don't like Warcraft, it is almost as obvious in the way you write and talk about it as it becomes from someone who remains enthusiastic and engaged with the game. The experience is after all, is a beautiful terror that can do strange and inexplicable things to a girl's soul. I keep saying to people who ask me how I can be so positive about something that isn't even finished that my enthusiasm comes from potential: I can see what this feature could evolve into, just as Pet Battles have done since Pandaria. The *possibilities* for long-term development of this area are HUGE, but Blizzard will not commit to anything long term until they can guarantee a short-term success. That has always been how this company works, and in business terms it makes a huge amount of sense. Expecting EVERYTHING NOW is just unrealistic, which includes a customisable set of every Faction's buildings that fits into this new layout. Expecting that in a year, however? Perfectly feasible, at least in my mind.

This feature was never developed to be The Sims, or Animal Crossing: A New Leaf: it is a Warcraft take on Housing, a mini-game like Pet Battles, but more important than both of those a way to integrate and update Professions into Levelling as one of an increasing number of player-chosen options for effective gameplay. If you're coming here expecting it to change everything, you clearly need to understand how Blizzard works, and that at the end of a decade it isn't about reinventing the wheel, because the game doesn't need a new way of moving forwards. What it requires is to try and keep pace with the changing world of MMO's whilst remaining the same gaming experience it has for ten years. On that front, I believe Garrisons have the ability to be an unqualified success. It depends if you come to the experience with an open mind or not when you personally review them.

Play them once, COMPLETE, before you begin to pass judgement.


dobablo said...

The garrison cannot be described as Blizzard's take on housing. It is a customisable hub. Blizzard have an expectation gap because people were expecting a fully developed customisable housing/town.

The article has some valid comments even although moaning that placeholder graphics look generic isn't one of them. In its current state the garrisons is a half-baked Facebook game with limited interaction and customisation. That is undeniable. Where the article lacks balance is by failing to add that new things are being added every day and that there is obvious work being done on this feature and it is a long way from being the finished product.

The proceeding post on the intro zone has similar issues.
It raises issues with context, bugs poor tutorial and the very on-rails. While there are some valid issues it has no balance. Bugs are to be expect, context is limited due to available snapshots and all these items are just the first iterations. Its points are all valid but it condemns the early beta as though it was a final product.

Drea B said...

While i'm not super thrilled with garrisons, the review of a product that is still under construction is kind of pointless. Even if garrisons turn out to be a massive failure, there is no way that anyone can make that call yet on a feature that is clearly not done.

That's like looking at the framework of a house and saying it isn't going to keep the rain off your head. It's not supposed to in that state.