Saturday, August 16, 2014

REPOST :: Both Sides Now

It is, I am told, perfectly acceptable when AFK to repost items that you have previously written and allow people a second chance to digest your words from time to time, therefore giving yourself a chance to actually do some packing before leaving on Holiday.

This article was first posted in March, back when news was pretty thin on the ground and speculation was all a lot of us could do. This post is also notable because it was the first time my work featured on Blizzlist, which I still consider a great honour when it happens, because someone else telling your your work is worthwhile is still a pretty huge deal as a writer. I hope you enjoy it a second time around.


When all you have is crumbs, pretty hard not to be hungry.

I do my best to drop by every 'major' news site at least once every day in my capacity as News Hack(ing Cough) Extraordinaire, researching each week's Azeroth in 5 at least a bit in advance, just to see if I've missed any nugget of data that could be considered for inclusion. I'm pretty select too, looking only for what I consider major changes or what could be taken as significant, affecting the vast majority of the player base. Therefore, when I read Anne Stickney's article tackling Criticism and Warlords News on WoW Insider, I found myself doing a bit of a double-take. Anne's suggesting that perhaps we're getting a little too keen to over-analyse, that maybe we shouldn't be grabbing every piece of information thrown at us and dissecting it into wafer thin slices of deconstruction without the bigger picture as an accompaniment.

I'll agree the principle is sound, but in the current drought of actual facts, dehydrated people will pounce on anything to slake their thirsts. There's a good reason why we don't have solid facts, of course: it's not ready yet. Having rushed us through a year of content we've all come to a grinding halt, traditionally the period when most people actually want to play games because it's more fun than being outside. So, in lieu of the actual client most people want, we've got Techincal Alpha streams and Hearthstone releases and Diablo 3 all desperately attempting to go 'OY WARCRAFT PEOPLE, OVER HERE!' and distract players from the fact that actually, there isn't any solid news to dissect, it is only speculation. I don't think I've ever found reason to disagree with Anne over anything she's written, but in this case, I find myself thinking that if, as a company you choose to allow specific pieces of data into the public domain, you must as a result have some idea of the consequences of your actions. Telling people not to be critical of what has been deliberately chosen as an example to showcase a piece of fiction or explain reasoning behind a game change really is an exercise in futility.

It did, too.

When you've been at something for a long time, circumstances change. The first blushes of young love are a long way from 20 years of marriage, after all, and it is crucially a lot to do with the people involved as to what you'll get from your experience. No two couples are the same, yet guidance councillors can tap into a wide range of tried and tested techniques to help people with difficulties see sense in their trauma. Similarly, in a War that lasted half a decade, and became a part of millions of people's lives, attitudes changed not simply on hardship. It may seem oddly paranoid now, looking at the 'Careless Talk' posters, but there was a real grain of truth to their message. With no instant communication, no Facebook or Instagram to take a picture or share a tidbit, you really didn't know who might be listening in. Teaching the populous to think of the wider picture became a necessary life skill, and probably did save lives.

So what has this got to do with Warcraft? After ten years, this is a relationship between player and manufacturer that's lasted longer than many marriages. Part of that has a great deal to do with how Blizzard chooses to give us information, and what we get when that happens. Although some might argue the 'all mounts are ground mounts' shocker we got when we did could be considered as a bit of a 'Trash Day' ploy, the company's pretty good at picking and choosing the moments to share data with us. People who want to decry the end of Healing as we know it based on the relevant Dev Watercooler are probably already looking for trouble to begin with. There's no maths there folks, no full spread of actual abilities to poke with a stick, and until there is there's not likely to be anyone who'll take you that seriously to begin with. It's the classic situation: someone in my Twitter feed tells me my idea will never work because their friends and guild-mates don't do it/don't agree. I ask them to provide definitive EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE of numbers, they can't, end of conversation. The only people with those numbers? Blizzard themselves. You have to trust not only what they're doing, but WHY you got this particular chunk of data to begin with.

Tosh or Truth?

I direct the floor to Item Three on this list: What you give, you get. Karma might be right, but it is a fairly solid bet that if you give people just enough it will never be enough for some, until (at least in this case) they have their hands on a product to work with, whether it be a game or indeed the 'much anticipated' Lore novel. Yes, deliberate quotes here because... no, I'm not excited. In fact I can confidently predict I won't be reading it. Pretty much at any point ever. As to why that is? Well, buy me a beer sometime and I might tell you. But I digress: if you pick a specific topic to discuss, or a particular passage to highlight, there will be a reason. Whether it is to tease your reader or prepare your player for what to expect, it doesn't matter. Part of the process of dealing with change is this slow, gradual acceptance of the process to begin with, that things may not look exactly as you thought they might. To help you cope with that, Blizzard have intentionally presented this data for your perusal, knowing full well at least one person will get angry, another will shrug and move on, whilst everyone else will spend hours dissecting relevance. As long as it keeps us talking about the game, that's really all that matters. Because without that, people start getting bored and cancel subscriptions.

As I keep saying, that Oscar Wilde bloke had it pinned down. Talking about Warcraft is great, not talking about it isn't. Encouraging certain types of conversation however could be seen as destructive over time (look at the no flying conversation for ample evidence of that) but the fact remains, that is all it is. Without a Beta, we don't have a clue. The longer that goes on, the more speculation will grow, the louder criticsm will become... and telling people not to judge? The entertainment world is based on the ultimate symbiosis of criticism and speculation : Who Shot JR? What did 'Lost' mean? Would Jack Bauer EVER go to the bathroom in 24? It shifts units and drives websites and keeps shows on the radar even when they've not been in production for years (VERONICA MARS MOVIE) Critical feedback should help Blizzard to isolate potential flashpoints too, to understand where it might have to push the sell that bit harder. Telling people not to be critical is like telling a kid to feel his Christmas gifts and then not be disappointed when he realised he got a jumper and not the Adventure Time hoodie he'd asked for. If his parents had listened, then all of this could have been avoided. It is a two way street: if you don't want people to criticise, pick something safe. Also bear in mind what you thing is a good idea for months internally might see the light of day and fall flat on its face. What is great writing for one person, may not be for someone else.


As long as players are forced to deal with random snippets of a bigger picture, criticism is inevitable. Speculation is inevitable. Packs of flaming-torch wielding pitchfork-brandishing rabid players will continue to mutter and grumble long after the game's released, because that's what happens when you've been at something for almost a decade, it becomes fashionable to criticise the product BECAUSE IT'S STILL HERE. In the end there is only one sure fire way of shutting up most of the criticism completely, and Blizzard have the means. It's up to them now.

We just have to be patient.

I know ^^

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