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.


A wonderful little laser battle in deep space

Update – and it’s been announced that the giant space battle will be commemorated by wrecked ships being permanently added to the game at the spot. Freak-ishly cool!

Kudos to the folks playing EVE and participating in battles of this scale. You’re doing something that takes a massive amount of time and energy, organisation, and is something that I find darn fascinating to read about. The image below is apparently what a super-laser looks like when fired from the largest ships, a Titan class.

a Titan class ship firing a super-laser

image via Kotaku, a Titan class ship firing a super-laser, probably on another Titan.

The huge EVE battle recently had a few commenters (kotatu) in a flicker about how aspects of the game are like playing in a spreadsheet. Well duh!

The game’s ui pretty much is an overlay for spreadsheets, though. Remove the pretty space graphics, and what you have is a whole bunch of objects and their relative positions to each other.

I don’t know why Eve players get so defensive, many space strategy games come down to an overlay for spreadsheets but remain good.

For pity’s sake, almost every game is a graphic overlay over a heap of numbers, probably stored in a database of one sort or another.

Another odd comment was due to the slow-down in game time due to the very large amount of participants (a “time dilation”), which slowed the game to crawling time frames. It suggested that the maximum size of the battles be artificially capped so that the game still runs in reasonable speed. But that runs against what I thought was an the ethos within EVE – that the game itself has almost no rules and the players create the game environment. If the vendor starts assigning rules of battle they will be games, lied about, and all sorts of trouble.

I like that EVE is very unfriendly to the players. It is a key factor in why it is interesting that the game has survived for so long, and has such a passionate base of fans and players. It is a niche product.

The last comment I liked was one that was initially hidden by the moderators – which indicated that EVE wasn’t the game it once was because now three mega-corps control all the secured space. Well shit, that sounds like a wonderful reflection of how most of our culture would evolve too.

It seems that with no “game laws” from the game developers the community has organically created a dystopian model of the future where all the fun is controlled by three huge meag-corps. Think about that for a few minutes.

Again, kudos EVE, you’re a darn interesting experiment.