Everybody’s got that cranky old uncle that they rarely get along with, but if anyone says one cross word about, you’d defend to the last. In my WoW-blogging world, WoW Insider is that cranky old uncle.
Earlier this week we heard rumors that Joystiq, parent of both Massively and WoW Insider, was going to be shut down, along with its companion gaming sites. A lot of people wrote about this, but in my heart, I hoped they were jumping the gun.
Today that hope was dashed. Tuesday, February 31 will be the day that the music dies for Joystiq and its kin, and WoW Insider logs out for good.
Now, when I say I didn’t get along with WoW Insider, that’s a sort of overstatement. I did tend to ridicule them for their over-reliance of fifty-dollar words, for apparent word inflation to up word counts, for seeming to be so intent on sounding impressive that they forgot to BE impressive in their writing. For meekness, for not getting in the middle of anything controversial2. For being as bland as store-bought biscuits and gravy-from-a-pouch. For playing it so safe as to make one wonder if they were getting kickbacks from Blizz.
I subtweeted the SHIT outta that, and I regret nothing.
And for all that bluster, I read that blog Every. Titans. Damned. Day. EVERY day. Because bland and overtaped though they might have been, they WERE a bunch of people trying to get it right. A room full of kindred spirits. And it was one place that you could go to reliably to find useful information about WoW.
I would have liked it if the fare were a little spicier. If they would have maybe tossed away a few of those thesauruses that they found outside the used book store. If they mixed it up a bit, stuck out that lower jaw and dared Blizz to knock that chip off their shoulder. But they chose a middle road and I can’t really begrudge them. It was a choice. It was a safe choice3. And one of us was getting paid to do it, and one of us wasn’t, so there’s some context into which my opinions can be placed.
Fact is, they provided something helpful – an omnibus, central clearing house of WoW stuff, and there is NO ONE in a position to take up that banner once it has fallen.4
Being critical is not the same as hating. I was critical of this site because I cared, and saw so much more potential there than they were able to deliver. I wouldn’t be tweeting those snarky little subtweets if I hadn’t been reading the site. And I would not waste my time reading the site if I didn’t care about what they were doing.
Cranky old Uncle Edwin was a gigantic pain in the ass, but he was OUR gigantic pain in the ass and we all miss him to this day. So it shall be with WoW Insider, in a slightly different way. I’m going to miss them. A lot.
There is, at this point, a tremendous vacuum in the WoW blogosphere. Someone could step in and make something out of it if they could get funding. I hope it happens. Maybe with members of this very crew.
I have one last thing to say, and it is the title of this Penny Arcade tribute.
So say we all.
Incidentally, the anniversary of the destruction of Space Shuttle Columbia. [↩]
And, in fact, for backing out of teh dramaz when they killed off Guildwatch all those years ago. [↩]
WoW is in a similar position to a lot of high / gothic fantasy and terrestrial MMOs, in that adding new play areas is often a case of the game designers pulling new zones out of their metaphorical asses. WoW is in a lot better position than most in that there are plenty of other canonical worlds out there, though oddly they’d rather go the time traveling grandfather killer route than actually explore those other worlds1.
And they said his predecessor was grim.
While I usually look forward to exploring other worlds, the thing I actually am enjoying when I do that is the exploration of new zones, regardless of where they are, and the discovery of fun things. But I’m very sensitive to the harmony of the zone with the established dogma of a fantasy world, and I often feel the “new world” approach is very disharmonious with the established dogma when it comes to my completionist makeup.
What is he going on about?
Let me put it all out there: I think that the three worlds we know now – Azeroth, Outland, and Draenor – are only partially explored, only partially revealed to us.
Draenor and Outland are, at this point, only conjecture on my part, but it’s common sense. Looking at the tiny island that makes up what we know of Draenor, there are only two possibilities. The first is that Draenor as we know it is a speck of land half the size of Khaz Modan and an ocean the size of Azeroth. The other possibility is that Draenor as we know it is just one land mass among many, that the world of Draenor is largely unexplored by ourselves.
This does of course open all sorts of possibilities, including lost tribes of Draenei, Orcses, Ogreses, and other denizens of Draenor that we have either encountered or been hinted to.
Honestly, they might be trolling us already.
And since Draenor as we know it is the bedrock upon which Outland is built, that also means that for every lost continent of Draenor, there is a possibility of the same lost continent of Outland, only with more shatteryness. For lore purposes, it also opens a lot of possibilities since we have 35 years of Azerothian lore on that shattered land mass and its supposed compatriots.
Azeroth only makes sense, from a climatic point of view, if you assume that it is only half explored.
Kalimdor and Khaz Modan make excellent sense climatically if you assume that they are northern hemisphere continents. Both continents are arctic to subarctic in the north, and tropical or arid in the south. Khaz Modan’s northern half is very European, while its south is very tropical. Kalimdor’s northern parts are very North American, and its south is very African – arid, dry, desert.
If Kalimdor and Khaz Modan were truly global, you’d expect Tanaris and Stranglethorn and Pandaria to be subarctic at the very least, rather than the tropical – dare I say, equatorial – climates they exhibit.
It only makes sense that the equator of Azeroth passes somewhere in the vicinity, or just south, of Pandaria, rather than in between the Arathi Highlands and Wetlands as depicted on some representations.
You Can’t Prove a Negative
Mea culpa – the possibility that those two continents are northern hemispheric does not in any way prove the existence of one or more southern hemispheric continents. It merely opens up the possibility. It provides an opening into which these land masses could be inserted.
For all we know, the southern hemisphere of Azeroth is an empty ocean, devoid of little more than the occasional island kingdom that would provide a content patch’s worth of exploration at most. But there is one or more expansions’ worth of space in this alleged southern hemisphere, and not exploiting it seems to me, as a certain fictional astronomer’sfictional father said, “a waste of space”.
The Solid Case Against
There is, however, a solid case against the possible existence of these alleged continents. In fact, there is a solid case against Kalimdor and Khaz Modan being northern continents rather than globally spanning. There are three such cases that I am aware of, in fact.
Hard to see detail, admittedly.
The first is revealed either when raiding Black Temple, or doing the Warlock “Green Fire” quests. At one point you can look up, and see, in the sky above you, the planet Azeroth. I have absolutely no explanation as to why this is – you can’t see Draenor from Azeroth, after all – and from any other point on Outland, you can’t see it. But from that particular point, you can. And the planet you see shows the two continents spanning the planet from north to south. This makes no sense whatsoever on many levels, but it is there as established game lore, and that’s that. Azeroth, as seen from The Black Temple, has no missing southern continents.
It also doesn’t appear to have Pandaria or Northrend, either. So the infallibility index of this sighting just took a dive. If you’re gonna use this sighting as an example of why the North is alone, it needs to at least include all of current lore within it. And the weak tea excuse of “But it was made before Northrend was part of the map” also works for “But it was made before the southern continents were part of the map” as well, now doesn’t it?
Moving on, then.
Dungeon delvers in Ulduar are familiar with the room just prior to Loken’s in Halls of Lightning. It bears within it a holographic representation of Azeroth. And, just like the BT sky-orb, this holo-orb shows no indications of there being more to Azeroth. It also doesn’t show Pandaria, so once again we have no evidence that this ancient holo-orb is actually accurate, or if the Titans are trolling us.
Finally, we have the globe that Algalon uses as an instrument of destruction against Azeroth. Not only does it show no more than the other two representations, it also shows one of Azeroth’s moons as a crescent, which is just weird if it’s supposed to be an accurate representation. Clearly it is not, nor intended to be.
These are the facts
The facts are, there is no evidence that there is a southern hemisphere beyond the shores of Tanaris and Uldum. No sign of a missing southern continent. No support for a theory that there is more to Azeroth than we can see right now. But there is also no solid evidence against it, nor against a missing continent (or raft thereof) on Outland and Draenor.
All we have is this.
in 2007, there was no reason to believe that Northrend or Pandaria were real, and they were not depicted in any available representation.
The physical climate of this imaginary world of Azeroth makes absolutely no sense without an unexplored southern hemisphere.
Draenor and Outland are too small to be entire planets. There must be more.
The Possibilities are Endless
We know that Blizz is near the end of its planned story arc for WoW. This arc, so widely known, has proven to be a burden that they’ve fought hard to shake off, coming up with the ridiculous plot of WoD as a way of bucking the system and shaking up our expectations. But even if the next two expansions adhere slavishly to that timeline, there is so much potential left in that prophesied timeline of Azeroth.
But imagine an entire set of southern continents equal in size and scope with Khaz Modan and Kalimdor. What might we find there? Feral Elves that predate the Titans? A whole continent of Trolls? What of Draenor / Outland? Might we find an entire land where the Draenei reverted to Eredar ways? Did Turalyon and Alleria start a new Alliance-based2 trade empire just out of sight? Where might there be dragons? A lost Ogre empire?
There are clues. That anonymous bit of land to the southwest on the Draenor map. The ports on Draenor! Why build massive ports unless you are trading with people that you can’t reach by land?
One of the oldest chestnuts in WoW gameplay discussions is between the various content “factions” – for example, raiders, casuals, PvPers, RPers, and so forth. There are at least four points of tension listed here, and there are probably more than that in reality.
Raiding has always been criticized as taking entirely too much development resources for the number of players that partake of it. Even with LFR now a thing, I suspect we’re looking at a maximum of 20% participation at all levels. Take away LFR and we’re probably closer to 10, or maybe, 5 percent of the entire game’s population.
And that of course is the crux of the critics’ argument – massive resources are being directed at something that only one out of five players actually experiences. While we don’t have head counts here, the critic will point to Blizz’s recent refrain of “that would cost a raid tier” as the reason they didn’t get around to doing the things other “factions” wanted to do.
Dance studio? Two raid tiers. Or maybe an expansion. Dancing’s hard, y’all.
At any rate, the thing we come away with is that raiding’s a Big F!cking Deal to the game designers and around 20% of the player base.
But I’m okay with that.
Watch this video. I’ll meet you on the other side.
Okay, ask the average Eve player and they’ll tell you that the images you saw in that video are atypical of the average game experience. Most of the time is spent micromanaging a plethora of skills, bots, build jobs, and other administrivia2. But the fact remains, these epic battles between huge fleets exist. They exist so hard that when they happen, the Web usually takes notice. It is not unusual for one of these massive battles – which I emphasize, often include ships worth tens of thousands of real-world dollars – to make the cut on cnn.com or other mainstream news site, even if it’s just to mock us geeks and our pathetic ways.
Here’s the thing. Raid-level encounters in Eve are not scripted or in any way influenced by CCP, the parent company of Eve. These encounters are completely organic, entirely generated by the goals and needs of the players, in the truest sandboxxiness sense.
And yet the parallels between these battles and WoW raiding, especially outside of LFR, are pretty stark3. And it illustrates why raiding in WoW is a thing that needs to keep happening, even if only one out of a hundred of us does it.
Because epic tales are important. They are part of our DNA as fantasy/scifi RPG players. Even if we can’t be part of the epic battles, even if we don’t make the cut for the realm’s greatest raiding guild, we can hear the stories and dream. This is the essential nature of gaming, in a way.
A new player class or race, updated professions, or even the Dance Studio are nowhere near as, well, “sexy” as an epic raid, even when experienced viscerally via youtube video or forum post or even word of mouth on the guild forums. Tales of great deeds are inspirational. Tales of blown opportunities in the skill-up grind for Engineering … not so much.
I imagine the average Eve player resents the hell out of the big Corps out there and their iron grip on Big Fleet Battles. But I suspect every dedicated Eve player that is NOT in one of those big Corps would probably jump at the chance to play even the smallest part in one of those gigantic space battles. To paraphrase Dave Scott, the commander of Apollo 15, I believe there’s something to be said for grandeur. At the end of the day, regardless of our place in the grand scheme of things, we all need something aspirational to drive us, to inspire us, to provide us with something a little bit out of reach that we might be able to grasp, if we play our cards right.
In game theory terms, it is a huge carrot for us to chase. Eve’s players drive both ends of that equation. If raiding was removed in WoW completely, I suspect something similar would happen here.
The question is, is it worth it for Blizz to sink resources into something like this? I suspect it depends on what the end result is, and I don’t mean boss drops. Just what is it that Blizz gets from raiding?
My main gripe with raiding has always been, it removes something from the average player’s personal experience. It’s not gear, but the story of the raid design itself. More than anything else, each raid provides a distinct tic mark in the lore of Azeroth. MC provided us with a limited understanding of Ragneros; Kara gave us much lore about Medivh; ICC was the capstone on Arthas’ arc; Deathwing was destroyed in one of those raids. Something something Pandaria. Garrosh has a plan. You get the picture. The raid endpoints of a content patch and/or expansion have been rather lore-heavy. Thanks to LFR, these have become potentially accessible to every player in the game willing to achieve a specific gearscore.
That’s not the point.
The point is, the primary lore delivery mechanism for WoW is, has been, and will continue to be, the raid. So as long as that remains the case, raids are extremely important to the health of the game, regardless of whether you participate directly or not. From a lore perspective, this matters. From a, er, spiritual perspective, it also matters.
Basically, the moment that someone decides that raids are no longer relevant to WoW is when WoW begins to die.
Unless an equally valid source of lore and epic content is identified.
There’s been quite a bit of – well, “whinging” might not be totally inaccurate, but it might be viewed as some as offensive1, so we’ll call it “whinge-like sounding critique” – about the pre-expansion event associated with Wierdos of Draenor2, and that puzzles me. It’s as if they remember other pre-expansion events that I do not. Neither Pre-WotLK nor Pre-Cata were all that big a deal, and were done after a handful of quests, unless you were the kind of jerk that liked to get the zombie curse and grief your own faction3. I’d even say that the Cata event was much shorter. And maybe I missed the Panda event, but I really don’t remember one. So whatsamatta for u?
I just don’t get the haters. Well, I do. Haters gotta hate. If they got nothing to hate, they make something to hate. So yeah I get it, but I hatin.
OH DAMN. NOW I BE A HATR!
I do have one issue with the event, and it’s with the way that quest events are indicated in the game. They’ve moved from a “sparkle” highlight or a “gear” highlight to a “faint outline” highlight that I absolutely hate. Maybe I’ll get used to it, but right now I can see a LOT of trips to WoWHead in my future as I grapple with hidden items in Draenor.
If I had been ambivalent about the Iron Horde before, this would have changed it.
YOU KILLED KERI! YOU BASTARDS!
Us Dwarves have a fairly low threshold of outrage when it come to killing off our booze vendors.
Clearly, somebody’s going to have to pay for this.
If I’m sober enough to type, I’m sober enough to post.
The latest news on bag management – and especially reagent management – in patch 6.0.2 is exciting and very smexxay. Allowing you to use your reagents bank from any location is a game-changer, no doubt about it. I hope that cooking mats are included, not that that’s a big deal to me these days1.
Without attributing to any specific incident, let me say that the ladies of WoW are an especially awesome group of people. I might get worn out trying to keep up with some of them2, but the thoughts that they put forth on the topics of gender equality are well worth the time it takes to read and digest. I may not agree 100%3 with all that is stated by them, but overall they fight the good fight and I am totally okay with that. Not that it matters, right ladies?
It occurs to me, though, that there are very few male bloggers whose opinions I cherish. A lot of them come from a position of privilege and seem to somehow carry that with them, but others have multiple points of view and therefore bring something interesting to the party. Which I find interesting4. I’ll always have interest in the various hunter fora5 without actually endorsing them, but it’s the blogs that have opinions on the issues that matter that keep me coming back.
A long time ago I used Amiga computers pretty much exclusively, and participated in a FidoNet “echo” that the current WoW “twitterverse” has a strong resemblance to. Those people – more than any blog, forum, or website – epitomize the goodness to be found in the WoW social universe, in the same way that nothing that mattered on amiga,org seemed to matter in #AmigaGeneral.. Not the pustulant sewers of the WoW fora, and certainly not the reeking crevasses that represent the ‘discourse’ to be found on MMO-C, 4Chan, or Reddit.
I’m a sucker for a good questionnaire, and this one is relevant to my interests.
I’ll let the Qs speak for themselves. And if you want to chime in, go over to her blog (link above) and give her an earful!
When did you start playing video games?
In the 1970s … when they started appearing in the Pinball arcades. Yeah. Pinball arcades were a thing back then, and as video games started coming out, the video cabinets started displacing the pinball machines. But pinball was my gateway drug to video gaming, no doubt about it.
What is the first game you remember playing?
Video game: Pong … when I could find someone to play with me.
Game in general … checkers.
But it was strategy (board) games like Squad Leader or Star Fleet Battles or Submarine (in fact, most of the Avalon Hill lineup) that positioned me to get into AD&D, and that was my gateway in general.
PC or Console?
Standup console … this was before we had video games in our homes. But the first one of THOSE that I played was on a friend’s Sears Pong console. The first one I actually OWNED was a Magnavox Odyssey 2. It was wretched, even back then.
XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
Jesus H. Christ on a unicycle, how young ARE you? My first two vid consoles were the aforementioned Odyssey 2, and a used Mattel Intellivision 2. Neither of which you probably heard of, from the sound of it.
What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
I would never be able to nail that down to one game. Railroad Tycoon on the Amiga1 kept me playing for years, until my miggy finally died from fractured PLCC socket woes. Close behind it, Civilization III on the PC. Civ I was great, and I played it until my miggy died, but Civ III hit a sweet spot.
What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
Sid Meiers’ Rails! was one of the biggest disappointments of all time. OF ALL TIME2. In the vid cabinet world, I loathe and abhor Tempest.
Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
Quake. I enjoy the FPS genre, but I felt Doom2 was the pinnacle of iDs output at the time; Quake seemed to be a poorly executed implementation of Doom in 3D.
Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
I really liked Wizardry 8 and am really glad I got in on the pre-purchase … those that didn’t, didn’t even get the disks.
What are your favorite game genres?
God Games / Strategy games. Games like Civ, RRT, Populous, Settlers
Who is your favorite game protagonist?
Jaina Proudmoore. I keep hoping that someday, she’ll remember she is powerful.
Describe your perfect video game.
Keeps me coming back time and time again. Not story driven. Not scenario driven (unless those are randomly or procedurally generated). Has many layers (think of Star Fleet Command’s galactic versus tactical levels). Never ends. Never plays the same twice. Scalable difficulty.
What video game character do you have a crush on?
I prefer my own species, thanks. "Crushing" on vid game characters seems to be a post-FF-VII thing, which was not my jam.
But Fanny Thundermar … she does make me think twice about that from time to time even if I don’t have an arse like an anvil.
What game has the best music?
Descent / Descent 2. Can’t beat that with a stick. I was le disappoint with Descent 3 for not carrying forward the tradition.
Most memorable moment in a game:
Most of the games I play have no real dramatic moments in them. Sepiroth doesn’t reveal he’s Luke’s father as you take over his company in RRT.
But there’s the time my guild downed the final boss while he was still relevant. Or the Wrathgate event (which actually crashed my computer the first time). Or that time that (SPOILERS) Yoshimo turned coat in the big bad’s lair (didn’t see that one coming).
Scariest moment in a game:
Eye of the Beholder on the Amiga … the sounds of lurking monsters, just around the corner or on the other side of that wall? The Amiga team for this game did an outstanding job of making the ambient sound dial up the creep factor.
Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
I have no heart. For otherwise I would care about video game characters. Baldur’s Gate II tried real hard for me to care about the wingless elf’s plight, but she just came across as whiney and clingy and resentful. Note to dialog writers (and this is true especially of Blizzard’s): show, don’t tell.
What are your favorite websites/blogs about games?
I have a giant list. Perhaps you have seen it in the sidebar. I am somewhat voracious.
What’s the last game you finished?
The kind of games I generally play don’t have "finishes". But if I look back far enough … Descent 3. I think that’s the last story-driven game I purchased that I actually played all the way through. Maybe Riven on the PS2, but I don’t think I actually finished it. Wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember, if I did. Homeworld 2, possibly, though I might have stopped playing because of the interface. But I did finish Homeworld. Was that more recent than D3?
What future releases are you most excited about?
Elite: Dangerous. Between this and Star Citizen, I have hopes of finding a space trader game that isn’t Eve. If Braben can find the sweet spot between Frontier and Eve, that would be great.
Do you identify as a gamer?
Why do you play video games?
Not because I feel obligated. I play for fun. And the daystar burns, so outside is not an option.
Is that a cop-out? Am I supposed to write something deep and interesting here? If so, I fail, for it’s nothing more than that. It’s recreation. Nothing more than that.
A computer platform from the days of the Platform Wars. “Platform” used to mean something slightly more profound than “AMD or Intel”. [↩]
Anyone else think it’s funny that both my favorite and least favorite games come from the same guy? [↩]
Yesterday, the cinematic for Warlords of Draenor was released to much excitement. At the end, was the release date for the game. If you haven’t seen yet, I’ve thoughtfully provided it here.
It was a really well-done cinematic, but continues the trend of WoW cinematics becoming smaller and smaller in scope. The cinematics for Vanilla and BC were broad, inclusive. But then WotLK went small, focused on Arthas1. Cata broadened back out in one dimension, but we were notably missing. It might have gone big, but it was all about Deathwing. The MoP cinematic focused on a single moment, by way of introducing kung-fu pandas.
And now, this one … again, we’re focused on a single moment in time. An important moment, yes, but the scope is, well, small, and doesn’t have us anywhere in it.
This is perhaps the most complicated – or maybe the better term is convoluted – setup for an expansion to date. The problem is that while there is indeed one vector from the end of MoP – Garrosh’s escape and subsequent Marty McFly to Draenor of old – the rest of the setup requires knowledge of lore that has not been on our minds for over a decade. And, because of this, because Blizz wants us to feel like we’re part of this, regardless, they’ve worked up a huge backstory. We’ve gotten a comic. We’ve gotten history lessons. We’ve gotten a lot of build-up to the moment that is depicted in the trailer.
But it’s not enough. Because, even if we appreciate the enormity of what we see in this cinematic, we still can’t see ourselves in this trailer. We don’t see our place in this drama that is presented to us. For all the work put into this cinematic, the “intro” trailer of last year’s Blizzcon was actually a lot more exciting. We’re going to Draenor! See – there we are!
The scene being depicted in the trailer – as well as in the lead-in comic – is pivotal in Warcraft lore. The whispers around the electronic water fountains is that Blizz – as the 20th anniversary of Orcs vs Humans comes nigh – wants us all to appreciate where it All Came From. They’re obviously missing the flavor of WOvH and want us all to experience that, to remember where we all came from.
But, as the trailer shows, that’s not going to happen.
Mannoroth has been put down. Gul’dan has been cowed; he’s considered an enemy of the state. The Burning Legion will not be driving the Iron Horde, and that means that nothing that the Orcs did in the original Warcraft series will be part of this expansion. The invasion’s not even taking place in the same time-period – it’ll be in modern times, for some reason2 We’re not witnessing history here. The only part of that history that we get to see here is the players – on the Orcish side – themselves. There is no historical significance. There is only the cult of Orcish personality.
Orcs be savage and cool. Yo.
The only real history we can get from this is an appreciation of the significance of Grom dumping the cup of demon blood on the ground, the smugness of Garrosh as he mocks Gul’dan, and the beginning of an oddly-familiar3 portal structure.
And the only reason most of us ‘get’ that is because we were told so. Not by Blizzard, not via any of their story-telling mechanisms. Most of us weren’t paying that much attention when playing, or didn’t care, or – if you’re me – were busy playing other sorts of games. No, those of us that ‘get’ it probably ‘got’ it by reading up on it after the fact, and go, “Oh, that’s interesting” in the same way we noted that Churchill preferred a particular brand of cigar over others as he ordered the destruction of the French Navy.
Yeah, sure, that’s why we’re in Karazhan. Blah blah blah. Pull, for Metzen’s sake, I’m not getting younger.
In the end, all I can say is this. 10 out 10 for execution, but 1 out of 1000 for relevancy. And it answers none of the concerns many of us have on terms of relevancy and inclusiveness. The sorts of players that get into the back-slapping, chest-thumping, testosterone-driven culture depicted in that trailer just don’t give two shits about “lore”.
I’m starting to get a strong feeling that part of Blizz’s “getting back to the beginning” includes pushing away people that aren’t into this man-child power fantasy crap, and being okay with that. I think a number of people that I know and respect have already picked up on that, and left the game for good because of it, which, again, Blizz is apparently okay with.
I may be slow to pick up on this, and I’m still on the fence, but it may be right there and I’m just not looking directly at it. Fortunately, one does not have to actually buy the expansion and play the expansion to figure this out for good. I may decide to wait to see, by proxy, how it’s playing out after release, and then decide whether to buy it or not.
The upshot is that the cinematic – and thus far, none of the comics – have done nothing to assuage my concerns, or make me want to buy it, or assure me that if I buy it, I’m not contributing to funding a bunch of genetic throwbacks that should be working at a circus instead of a software company. The trailer, while “interesting” and “well executed”, is also … impenetrable.
If I were commissioning a trailer for a product that so many people had expressed doubts – or outright dislike – about, I’d ask that the trailer convey the kind of imagery that would bring those people back. Instead, they presented one that actually reinforces the doubts and concerns that people have expressed.
I am convinced, at the end of the day, that the Blizzard public relations department is manned by drunken wombats that live in a bubble universe where information flows out, but never in.
To be fair, that’s what the whole expansion was about, the ultimate Vanity Project if your name was Arthas. [↩]
I say oddly, since I have no logical reason why two completely different parties are building the Dark Portal to look exactly the same way, especially given the Orcish fondless for spikes on everything including their breakfast cereal. [↩]
The world of game journalism is an insular, inbred place with strange rules. Blogging shares some of that world’s DNA; in both worlds, everybody’s looking for an angle. Everybody’s trying to one-up the competition, whether they acknowledge it or not1.
There are a lot of ways to do this: well-designed theorycrafting, deeply thought opinions, game guides, and so forth. But in the area of “news”, the one thing that trumps almost everything else is: access.
Access gets you exclusives. Access gets you in first. Access is a low-energy route towards rich content for your news site.
But access does peculiar things to a blog or news site. Access makes one dependent on the one granting the access. Do something to offend the wrong person, and that access can be removed.
Sometimes the access is that of an insider. Somebody embedded deep inside an organization that, truth be told, is probably breaking the law by going counter to a corporate NDA.
Sometimes the access is that granted by an organization. Preview content, implicit mutual endorsement of each other. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
In the game blogging/reporting world, access can mean the difference between beta access, a press screener, or no info at all. And this puts the reporter/blogger in a precarious situation: if the game’s any good, then all’s well. But if the game stinks, the reporter/blogger is in a bad situation. Be honest, and future access will be forfeit – most likely, for your entire organization, not just yourself.
At the same time, “honesty” also requires that one be honest in all respects. For example, reviewing a beta as if it were the production (shipping) game is largely frowned upon unless one manages to soften any blows with caveats and provisos.
And there’s my current beef.
Massively.com crossed a line in this regard, and as a result their reputation has taken a major hit with people that value honesty in game journalism.
I include full linkage not because I endorse the opinions expressed within, but because I would rather you read and opine your own opinion than force mine down your throat.
I will state up front that I feel it’s important that a writer feel enabled to post something critical of a game without fear of reprisal. But that kind of article needs to have a lot to back it up. And I’m not talking about MMO street cred, here. There are seven million people out there that have the same amount of MMO “street cred” as Eliot does, in that they played the same game at the same time as he did. Playing a game for a long time has limited currency, and that currency is only viable in a specific context, and that context is not the context he’s using it in. There needs to be more authority to the critique that comes. As one of my bosses once told me, perfect attendance only means you’re stubborn, not talented. The “attendance” award is what they give you to make up for having nothing else that matches your particular, um, talents.
The authority of the articles is further undermined by Eliot’s repeated rebukes of his own “attendance award.” Complaining about NPCs not having any real feeling of familiarity with the many lore characters brought into the game. I’m not sure what I think of a gamer that claims to be old-school while at the same time drawing a blank on just why Khadgar or ThrallKal’elJesus Orc Go’el are part of the ongoing lore of Draenor. Arguing that new players won’t “get it” seems silly on the face of it. This wasn’t put together for new players. Not even remotely. I’m not playing the beta, and even *I* get that. And there was none of that hand-holding in any of the previous expansions until MoP, either. Pandaria was the first place we ever encountered that was not steeped in over 15 years’ worth of lore. The fact that Draenor changes that lore a bit has no bearing on who Khadgar is. My only interest in HIM is just how Khadgar GOT there in the first place3.
It also doesn’t help to contradict one’s self. To first state that one has massive history with the game and then turn around and complain that the lore NPCs are meaningless to him, only then to turn around and say that the expansion does not acknowledge the lore of the game so far. You can maybe have it two ways, but not all three, and preferably one. And to pretend that some of the problems with the expansion are NEW, when in fact the issues and/or features have been around for two or three expansions’ worth of content is disingenuous at best.
The greatest sin of all, however, is this. This is a game that is in beta. It is from a company that has taken entire ZONES offline in beta to revamp them4. And this game is no where near the point of release. So why in the name of Ragneros’ smoking balls would you make a recommendation on the expansion at this point? This is beyond the pale for game journalism. A professional game journalist would know better. A professional gaming blog / site / service would know better. This is not just a failure on Lefebvre’s part. This is a failure on the part of the editor of Massively for letting it get by.
Until the final paragraph of that series, it was only egregiously hostile towards the expansion, obviously written by somebody that didn’t know any better, but given the track record of various AoL properties in maintaining perspective, it was not a big surprise and easily moved past, just another cranky entitled gamer not getting his props. But the “recommendation” at the end is just fundamentally irresponsible of Joystiq’s editorial staff. Despite claims to the contrary, this kind of thing can only be seen as clickbait.
Flawed as they might be, most of the complaints in these three articles are valid comments when directed towards the development staff. I have no idea if that actually happened in this case, and I strongly suspect that it didn’t. I strongly suspect Lefebvre viewed access to the beta as the means to the end of getting an early jump on the Blizzard-bashing yet to come5 and had no intention of providing anything like constructive feedback to the staff. I could be wrong, but the tone of the article certainly implies that he’s done with it all and has no interest in continuing onward. Those beta keys donated as a gesture of goodwill6 were thanked with a shallow, vitriolic spew.
The only thing worse than a beta tester that is negligent in his/her duties is a supposed “journalist” with an axe to grind.
I don’t normally give two shits about people posting hit pieces about games that they don’t like. Usually the hate is honest and well framed. But it really gets my back up to see someone misrepresent an unfinished product, knowing damned well that it’s unfinished, and blowing that off anyway, because, pageviews.
The staff of WoWInsider and Massively can take umbrage at being looked down for the pageviews thing if they want. Truth is, it’s not that that people get annoyed at. It’s the cheapness of the sort of ploy in these three articles. You wanna go with that sort of piece? Fine. Do so, but put some substance behind it, and don’t be foolish enough to try to recommend a game based on data that will likely be invalid at time of release.
The thing that bugs me most is WoWInsider’s silence on this. Where are they? I’m sure the editors there read their sister site, since they publish a weekly linkshill for each other. If Lefebvre’s beefs are legit, why did we hear it from Massively instead of WoWInsider? And if they aren’t, why haven’t they brought out a good rebuttal? I mean, wanna talk linkbait? Two AoL sites sniping at each other on the basis of turf and seniority sounds like a great way to get pageviews.
If WoWInsider is eschewing relevancy for access, then it’s starting to look like one can best be served by reading elsewhere. They used to at least provide some link love to indy blogs, but since they stopped doing that, reading that site has become more and more frustrating – over stuff like this, as well as watching them fail to meet potential on a daily basis.
Hey, I admit up front that the view’s great from the cheap seats. Being an indie hipster dwarf makes it easy to ignore things like pageviews and SEO and funding and all sorts of silly stuff like that. But it also means that I do this for reasons important to me, and have the option to be uncompromising. I’ll never make a living at it, and never have to make that difficult call between relevancy, editorial freedom, and solvency.
But I am so, so, very disappoint in everything this affair brings to light.
I’m looking at you, BBB, and your filthy little “bearwalls.” [↩]
When I was created1, there was a certain look we were going for. A kind of not-quite-pissed-off-at-everyone-but-I-might-start-with-you mien, if you will. It seemed that would be a good fit for a warlock, as opposed to the so-happy-to-be-burning-you-to-cinders look cultivated by Hydra.
So there’s this fine representation from the current content. Note that a sensible warlock dresses sensibly when roaming the countryside. I’d lose the pauldrons if I could, but that’s the shakes right now.
As you probably know, WoD is revamping all the character models, which, apparently, includes me. WoWHead has a way to view your characters by loading them off the Armory. You can probably see where that’s headed.
Not my home planet
Now, if you were I, which I am, you might recoil in shock at the changed visage. And possibly be a bit angry, for a good reason. No, it isn’t because I hate change, but because Blizzard made a promise – we would not need a free character modification token, they said, because they were going to make the new models true to the old ones, and thus our new models would be entirely satisfactory. As you can see, this is not true, and thus a LOT of peopleare upset2.
However, it turns out that the work on the new models is not yet complete, and in most cases we are limited to the default faces.
I’m a little annoyed because this just means we’ll get fewer opportunities to see what’s what before it goes live, and I know how eager these people can be to grab at any excuse to do a half-assed job and then shrug3. Call me a cynic if you must, but therein is where my withered heart lies.
And then there’s this.
Wildstar chicks be like
Due to the incredible inanity of Blizzard’s senior staff’s behavior, I’ve actually taken to looking elsewhere for a new home, starting with a promising new game called Wildstar4. I don’t think this is going to be home for a number of reasons5, but I haven’t given up on it yet. Here is Flora the Spellslinger, and she looks pissed. Perfect. That’s the Flora we all know and loathe.
In this case, I think, we’re pissed about the incredibly tiny booty shorts. Because, omigawd. Have they forgotten how to make Levis in the distant future?
As with warlocks, leveling with a Spellslinger is hella fast, and it’s been a real joy blowing the bejeebus out of everything that comes near. I do miss my minions, but having gone the Science path, at least I have a little Scanbot.
I shall name him Impy.
Floramel is having a Bob Dole moment, obviously, and is talking about herself in second person. [↩]
Not illustrated literally: a “lot” of people. On account of I’m lazy. [↩]
WoW culture received a shock this week in the form of a scathingly critical article on Polygon that pointed out what we had all seen and chose to ignore: Rob Pardo, one of the senior seniors at Blizzard1, stating in a talk at MIT that Blizz just didn’t see that it was Blizz’ place to be all that much of an exemplar to people with regards to socially progressive topics.
I wouldn’t say that’s really a value for us. It’s not something that we’re against either, but it’s just not something that’s … something we’re trying to actively do.
– Rob Pardo
In the an article on Rock Paper Shotgun, Harper points out Dustin Browder2 arguing that Blizzard is "[…] not running for President. We’re not sending a message. No one should look to our game for that."
RPS countered, "let people have fun in an environment where they can feel awesome without being weirded out or even objectified." to which Browder countered3,
"Uh-huh. Cool. Totally."
– Dustin Browder, master of artful dodges
All this plays eerily like Nintendo’s earlier comments regarding their game Tomodachi Life, in which relationships are possible, but not if you’re gay. They apologize for this, but state
The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.
Eerie, because it seems like Blizz is responding to some sort of game developer culture dog whistle here.
All about framing
In an earlier tech scandal this year, Mozilla Corp., better known for browsers than politics, hired a vocally anti-gay CEO, who stepped down a few days later after talk of boycotts, protests, and other general discontent. At the time, Mozilla announced his departure along side a statement that it was "hard to balance free speech and equality".
Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.
This has become a popular idiom as of late; getting ahead of the reader and trying to force the reader to make a decision that they don’t have to make. In the case of Mozilla, they try to make it so that you can only have equality or free speech. But the fact was, nobody’s free speech was at risk here. They made the decision to hire a known homophobe. But they were unprepared to accept the consequences of their actions. The REAL choice was whether or not to stand by their choice, and Eich took the choice out of their hands4.
Pardo and Browder both want to do the same; present their decisions as a choice between having fun, and making a "statement" about social issues.
The problem is, of course, that nobody asked them to make that choice. They chose to force that choice.
Okay, more or less on track. But the thing he missed, the thing he didn’t say, that "Geek is" inclusive. Real, true geeks welcome all into the fold that live by our code. We don’t care if you’re man, woman, child, elder, Eldar, gay, trans*8, country, western, Coke, or Pepsi.
If you’ve felt more at home in a library than a soccer pitch, we feel you.
If you’ve stood in line in the rain for a Harry Potter ticket, we get you.
And if you’ve ever felt excluded because what other people like makes you feel sad or weirded out or uncomfortable – we get you. We accept you.
Because GEEK IS … inclusive.
And I imagine Metzen left that out for at least two reasons.
He – and the rest of his dawgs9 – don’t get that. Don’t understand that.
His company would not be able to deliver on that.
This is not new. This is not sudden. This is baked in to the corporate culture. If you don’t fit their mold, it’s okay if you want to hang out, but if you don’t feel comfortable in their sandbox, they don’t care. Worse than that, they want you to shut up about it.
"Women are okay, I guess. Some of my best friends are women. But this is a boy’s trip. So if they’re not really cool with that, that’s just too bad. We’re not trying to make a social statement here."
A Crisis of Conscience
WoW is in crisis. It’s a crisis that nobody talks about.
It’s not that the alpha isn’t ready to go or that raiders are feeling shafted or that there have been x number of days since the last major content patch.
The crisis is the wave of people that are leaving because they no longer feel like they belong in this game. Every time Blizzard reaffirms this, more leave.
WoW has a unique place in this kind of conundrum.
On the one hand there is a beautiful, wonderful community of bloggers and tweeters and forum posters and such that are supportive, informative, and delightful to be around. On the other hand, there is this seemingly toxic corporate culture that sees no profit from making the game friendly to over half the people in the world. It’s hard to decide between the two.
For a long time, many of us have avoided deciding.
But more and more are deciding. Many major names in WoW blogging have departed lately, and they have stated this toxicity as the reason why. Not all of them are women or LGBT – some are simply sympathetic to the cause, and are leaving in a show of solidarity.
It’s a quiet crisis. We rarely speak of it. Surely, you will not see stalwarts in the WoW community like WoW Insider or WoWHead or MMO Champion reporting on it, because they know better than to antagonize the golden goose too much (But kudos to Matt Rossi for at least addressing the issue behind it, not something I would have expected to see from an AoL property.). Note to said stalwarts: Reporting on this sort of thing is not the same as taking sides – unless, perhaps, Blizzard have made it clear that any mention of it is antagonistic to them. Is it? I have no visibility to it. There is no transparency AT ALL.
But the crisis exists, nevertheless.
And maybe we should make it worse.
Making it an issue
People like Rob Pardo and Chris Metzen are not going to take a threat of financial loss that seriously unless their board beats them up. You can’t really get their attention that way. They hired somebody else to worry about that. Someone to "be the grown-ups"10 so they could go on being big overgrown kids.
No, what Rob and Chris want more than anything is for you to think they’re cool. They have that word tatoo’d on their tongues. They say it over and over again, like a mantra. Even Greg Street drank that kool-aid. Cool. Cool. CoolCoolCool Coooooooooooooooool.
So kick ‘em in the cool gland. If you have a voice, make it heard. If you decided to unsubscribe, make it clear when you do that you feel that Chris and Rob and Samwise are really uncool people with uncool attitudes towards women and LGBTs and the like. Explain to them that you abhor their attitudes. Tell ‘em to get sensitivity training or something. Tell ‘em to grow up a little (but not too much).
And maybe if enough people iterate on that, they’ll Get It.
I’m not holding my breath. Because entitled schmucks never really Get It until the world crashes down around them, and then they’re more likely to blame everyone else.11
Making it Personal
Which brings me to me.
I haven’t played the game in days, ever since this came to light. This incident has poisoned the well, soured the taste to the point where I just can’t ignore this issue any more.
I said in the past that if they showed no progress on this issue, I’d drop my subscription. The fact that I’ve written on this topic before, multiple times, is evidence enough that the problem is baked in to their culture. Last time, in the MoP lead-up, Metzen at least made noises like they were going to try to improve. This time, they’re actually regressing, trying to disavow any responsibility for the effects their culture has on the product. I see little hope of improvement.
I have a couple of weeks left on my subscription, so I have some time to ponder this. And that’s my difficult choice – whether to implicitly underwrite a developer’s toxic culture which chooses to ignore or alienate a bunch of my friends, or to turn my back on a number of friends that are still doggedly sticking around – though far fewer than there used to be – and cast myself into the void, to land I know not where.
While nowhere near the eponymous choice’s difficulty, it’s still a poser.
Well, Wildstar opens in a week. Maybe that’ll tide me over until Elite.
"Chief Creative Officer", which implies a lot of responsibility for the way things go at Blizzard. [↩]