Expectations are very difficult to manage. Rant.

I was reading about the Blood Elf models not making the WoW – Warlords release, and through the comments people are extrapolating from that (a) Blizzard are rushing, (b) release might be around the corner, (c) the community deserve a little more information, (d) Blizzard have had plenty of time already and they are lazy, (e) the expansion will be terrible.

The variety and breadth of perspectives on the next expansion is telling of two things. The fan-base isn’t sure of many details they consider important, and that Blizzard isn’t actually served (in the short term) by being honest with their fans.

The company who is infamous for releasing when they are ready, and who has already said that the game will be released closer to December than July – I just don’t get it. A feature set was broad brushed a long time ago, and details are being released to keep the fans interested and also to keep WoW’s long tail of blogs, news, etc alive. The release dates cycle is very long (basically impossible to argue against) but it is not significantly longer than other expansions.

I do not think the studio deserve to be derided for communicating about status, delays, and where their thinking is, because the alternative is that they just go silent and do press releases for the blogs to recycle. For pity’s sake fan-base, start being fans.

If the long view is taken, a fan can look back at the 10 years of discussion and banter between the vendor and customer, it demonstrates that talking to fans is a good thing. Many other game devs do not discuss their products in this way, and I think they suffer less bad comments pre-release.

Comments such as this is superficially reasonable, until you start to ponder what answer would actually be satisfactory…

The only thing that worries me is this;  what has to be scrapped to allow extra time to get this in at a later date now?  Meaning, if this was supposed to be done at launch, that allowed for room for other content to be released later on.  Since this is being pushed, what content may get pushed even further or now scrapped because of this?

There is no useful answer to this question. Speaking as a manager of software projects, I see questions similar to this all the time, and the answers cannot be specific without creating another set of clarifying questions. It becomes an endless cycle of q&a…but what if…why can’t we just…why wasn’t I consulted?

As much as it might be hurtful to say the end consumers of the expansion are not stakeholders who should be involved in the timing and planning stages, so releasing information to them is done for customer engagement purposes, not to actually ask which feature should be in or out to meet a flexible deadline. Yes, they are the end paying customer, but your needs and views have been analysed and incorporated into the product strategy already. I’m certain that Blizzard are taking every feature seriously as they’ve released so many good quality products in the past. A flippant approach to features, quality, or deadlines doesn’t match their history.

Express your frustration or opinion without the dramatic rhetoric, and you might even find the vendor listening. Attack the vendor with no constructive feedback and you’ll be muted. We all know that an attack creates more clicks, but at this stage the whining is just tiresome. If you don’t like waiting, then go do something else because you’ll be waiting regardless.

The fact that one of the racial character models won’t be updated isn’t a show stopper. This announcement proves that, and tells us that they are willing to drop some non-core features to meet their target dates. Heck, drop more character models for all I care. The content (worlds, raids, quests, etc) being finished to a high quality and without defects is a showstopper, the upgrade process for the game is critical, the distribution method is critical. Even the comms plan for marketing and the planning a round their own other products and the products of their competitors is important. New character models? Sit down (imho*).

Keep in mind too that the models are not being shelved, but being delayed. This isn’t the dance studio. That is a box feature that is wonderful to drop into a discussion like this to demonstrate why something which was all but pointless to a wide range of players can also create a blather of negative feedback from a loud minority. It should never be anything except a silly nice-to-have feature. By comparison I think the new models are more important, but trivial compared to the actual story and event content for the expansion.

We need to deal with what we get at launch. Not what you wanted? Then don’t buy it.

If the lack of a particular widget ruins the game for you, then wait till it is present and join the game again during that content patch. I’ve unsubscribed during the downtime period and cannot understand the parts of the fan-base who are angry that they don’t have new content in the period where it was well communicated that there would be no new content. Too long between expansions is only true if you’re choosing to not play or not enjoying what you have now.

I’ve previously blogged about the time to expansion release being long, but it was an observation targeting the idea of doings something else with my time and money. If you are choosing to pay for something you don’t like, or sitting in front of a game which we know won’t be changing for months and expecting something new; then I think there are other issues. PEBKAC.

Happy gaming, TyphoonAndrew.

* ok, not humble.

Once again, the sky isn’t falling for World of Warcraft

The earnings call by Blizzard indicates that the subscriber numbers are apparently up slightly from 7.6 to 7.8 million players (reported by wowinsider). Honestly I am surprised it wasn’t a decrease, but also very pleased. In a rough economic climate for game developers and entertainment companies WoW as a game is still doing well.

Consider too that a game charging around USD$15 per month with 7 million players is doing exceedingly well. If another game had that revenue rate for a year the owning company would have very powerful options for what they did next, and what direction they chose to move.

Blizzard have had almost 10 years of good subscriber numbers. Think about that seriously for a minute, how much revenue? And then join me in the hope that they are reinvesting heavily in their next set of games. It was not chance that the Hearthstone Beta was as good as a polished game when the beta started (yes the card balance wasn’t there, but the quality was darn high).

How are the subscriber numbers generated?

No idea, but I’d bet that whatever sneaky formulas the paranoid types tell us they use to limit the perceived drop were already in use when the last few earnings calls were announced with the decreases, so that means this is a legit increase. Or at worst it a stable period in subscribers.

Either way, the sky is not falling on World of Warcraft. I know that some folks like to think that WoW will die any season now, but I really think that it can decrease for a while before it is really dying, and this recent rise means that it might be a little further away than we thought.

Good. I’ve still got heaps to do. Happy Killing.

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Late-ish into the HearthStone beta

Yehaw! Some emails are just plain exciting to get. As I download, play, and get all mushy (hopefully) about HearthStone, I’ll post follow-up. I’ll also have to read the T&Cs to see what I’m allowed to say, in case any caveats are still in place (ahem).

As a person who generally has no time for physical collect-a-card based games (like Magic TG) I am looking forward to how this game makes me feel. I’d go as far as to say I’m a collectable card game hater. I am a keen gamer though and I can see this game as real avenue where casual based play would entice players to spend real money on cards.

That is the spin for HearthStone from what I understand now, the cash you spend will get you bonuses far faster, far better decks, which in turn (I assume) gives far more leverage to the win-loss ration which I read is a key metric for rewards. A game with a pay-to-win from the outset isn’t something that I’d first accept as a casual player, bu then perhaps it make a huge difference because it is isolated and set from the get-go.

So this should be interesting. I’ll certainly have to get my ipad back, as that type of interface is very likely where I’ll do all my testing.

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Hearthstone looks interesting

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The new thing from Blizzard is a digital card game named Hearthstone. I think it is great to see effort by Blizzard to expand their breadth of game styles into new areas. These type of games do attract players with different needs and this is especially attractive as it is both free to play, and will run on many platforms including the iPad. This is a good strategy in my opinion for diverging their interests, which on the whole will help keep the company stronger (as long as it is a good game).

Be warned the promo video does not demonstrate the gameplay, for that check out the main website or the MMO Champion link below. Continue reading

Time for Tokens to die

Years ago the wow community were rousing about the token system was ok, but fundamentally flawed. The mini-game we play after the boss dies is another treadmill-merry-go-round where gear drops which is useless. As a design principle wow’s reward for effort is based upon re-trying the kills each week until you get lucky. Today I’m bloody mad about this as its been far too long that we’ve been suffering this. Rant incoming.

In our guild forums I wrote this class tokens:

On the token (issue) I think we’re screwed for two reasons: we need to take what we can in terms of characters who are able to join and raid above their match on the token, and we can’t get people to switch characters just to suit the bloody token system each major content patch. It is a bullshit scenario to be in, but I can’t think of a solution that does not have the regular raiders re-rolling each patch.

The token system was an ok idea to allow a boss to drop loot which would not be fraught with drama, as only a few classes could use it. Less people = less drama right? Wrong.

We have in guild now is one character with a token to himself, and half the raid split on each of the other two. Ah shit, gear drama. And I don’t mean people being bitches about loot, I mean that we see Tokens getting cycled for gold/de as we’ve had too many of one type and miles from enough of others. The drama is that our progression is slowed due to shitty luck. A boss dies but the drop is totally pointless.

Also with 4-5 players on each 2 tokens it takes huge amounts of time to gear those 9 players. It is not just 9 kills job done, because we have alt sets, and subs who join from time to time to help with the roster, which makes the distribution ever worse.

Just bring more people to suit the tokens? The server populations are shrinking and this is a totally non-viable response.

Bring the player not the class? Nope. Bring a balance of classes for the tokens. Oh and the tokens change each major content patch. Arrrg.

Reroll? Good god, have you seen how unfriendly the alts are? Forget that as viable for everyone except those with huge amounts of time to play.

The outcome is our raid group just has to suck it up, and keep grinding.

Honestly I am so sick of the loot rewards or issues around loot getting in the way of actually having fun with my raid team in World of Warcraft.

Fark this, I’m soon going to play something else. If Blizzard need a reason why I’ve moved to month-on month payments now, and will shortly consider reading a book instead of logging in they can start with this. Fark it. Destroy it all.

(p.s. what about suggestions for alternatives? Nope, I’ve done that for years suggesting ways that progressive “coins” or currency could be acquired each kill. Do a search on Gear on the blog… they’ll be a few.)

The Instance Interview with Cory Stockton

Logo of Blizzard Entertainment

The Instance had the opportunity to interview Cory Stockton (episode 292), one of the key World of Warcraft “Lead Content Designer” at Blizzard. It adds an element of personality to the names that we read about on forums and blogs.

cute long view image of Pandaria hillside and small buildings

Overall listening to this helped me along the hype cycle, to look forward to Mists and also raise my expectations on the lore and content being offered in Mists to characters leveling through 85-90. End game options in particular get a good thrashing as a topic throughout the interview. Some notes:

  • What characters Cory plays…loving the Monk class, and appears he’s a bit of an alt-a-holic. I respect that.
  • Timed runs, and Scenarios – What were the challenges in getting the balance right? Goal: Competitive PvE and Leaderboards.
  • A key challenge was explaining what Pandaria is, and why the factions are going there, and for what goals. A quick mention of Garrosh’s motivations and how they think about new lore.
  • Corey stated that scenarios should have the players understanding the goal up front. The snarky part of my play experience thinks that he’ll want to review the Fall of Theramore then. That said, he has confidence that the other scenarios are interesting and engaging. He mentions a “siege of the Undercity” style scenario with Varian Wrynn as a 3 player mode. Interesting.
  • Apparently folks do not read quest text! Wow, that makes for a challenge in terms of keeping context for a mission new without over simplification.
  • Less cinematics in questing, which is probably good given some of the feedback from Uldum.

Its definitely worth a listen.

Cheeky Upgrade option in Character Screen

Aside

Those cheeky fellows working in Blizzard have plonked an ad for Mists of Pandaria in the character screen you see after login.

It is not subtle or unreasonable, and after my initial reaction of “what the f?” I considered using that to purchase my upgrade.

It makes me ponder if we will see character customisation, race change, name change and such in that screen too. Heck it would even be handy to be able to buy month-by-month time as well. The user is logged in, so might benefit from it. All the special offers for pets and such could be there too.

Are you pondering that already Activision?

Does 300 more MoP beta keyss mean launch soon?

Blizzard LogoMMO Champion are throwing around 300 more beta keys, and given the amount of keys already out there, plus the annual pass millions – I’d say they are getting bloody close to closing the beta and giving a release date.

So does 300×3 more MoP beta key mean we’re getting a launch date soon?

I think so, but I have no evidence at all. My fervor is directly proportional to my desire to see the date. It cannot be so long now. ComicCon can end without an announcement date, but if not soon then I think Blizzard are really stretching time.

Does anyone who wants a key not already have one?

Via MMO-Champion.

Wow Blizzard Survey

Today I received one of the survey emails from Blizzard about my World of Warcraft impressions and gaming in general. They’re asking about competition with other games like SWToR and Bioshock, and also about their own products like DotA and Diablo.

I’m honestly impressed that the survey questions were so openly seeking feedback, and that the company was gutsy enough to clearly ask about their competition, and as people to rank them. Draw your own conclusions about the effect of the competition. I ranked all sorts of things I liked and disliked about the game, an the interview app has some sort of funky (meaning irritating) repeat questions that looks to validate the high low choices against each other multiple times. Many times.

It was irritating to click through 13 screens of the same features and hopefully further versions of that survey tool will offer different choices for product features or subscription options. It really felt like the survey was asking between 3 choices on a range of features which were all very similar (lfr vs lfd). Frankly it’s the same feature to me, in terms of “back of the box” features and expectations.

An odd question was how often I am playing, and how many hours. Blizzard know this if they bother to look. They could know what proportion is raiding, and how often I use the AH. The survey is clearly not linked to the back-end, and I’m wondering just how many people will fudge their answers, after all nobody ever lies on surveys.

Interesting overall none the less.

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