Wednesday, 5 January 2011

WoW: Know what? The devs aren't dumb

A topic of some debate in the WoW blogosphere has been the recent changes to Tol Barad, the high level battlefield.

Briefly this launched with the Expansion and required that the attacker hold all bases which isn't terribly practical. Blizzard then hotfixed an increase in the reward for a win which saw very large scale win-trading (classified as an exploit but not enforced). A win during this stage would instantly get you a pvp epic armour piece. They then hotfixed the reward down to just double what the defenders get for winning. However many people have already got their full pvp sets, it seems to be closing the door after the horse has bolted.

Spinks called it a complete clusterfuck. Tobold called it a massive blunder. Goldpaw described it as a place for honorless scrubs.

Here's what we know
- WoW is miles more popular than any other MMO.
- Many MMOs are very similar to WoW, arguably with better features (player housing, battlekeeps, etc) but lack its capacity to hook people
- Blizzard has access to the cream of development talent
- Blizzard has many years experience and insight into running their game and a pretty profound understanding of what sells subscriptions
- They've been getting feedback publicly about Tol Barad since early Beta.

In investigative journalism there's a truism: if you want to understand what is really going on, follow the money. The money here is sales of boxes, and renewals of subs.

So why does this "clusterfuck" make them money?

People play WoW because they get shinies, epix, virtual items that have real value to the players. By effectively throwing a lot of epics to players because of a "mistake" they have just addicted the latest generation of 85s to the gear collection playstyle. It particularly works because there's no skill - it's not about gaming in the old sense it's a virtual Skinner box.

Additionally another major factor in the gameplay of WoW is feeling smarter than other people. This is typified in pugs where 5 strangers come together each feeling that they alone are expert and the other 4 are probably noobs.

So what are the results of this so-called "clusterfuck"?

1. The crack dealers give you a large free sample of crack.
2. Anyone, no matter how terrible, is given the opportunity to gloat at how much smarter they are than those dumb WoW devs.
3. Players got to exploit and got away with it without being punished - it's good to be bad (when you get away with it).

Follow the money, folks, follow the money. And keep paying your £9 per month to those dumb folks at Blizzard because it feels great to have all epics and it feels great to be so much smarter than professional designers.

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