World of Warcraft

A Letter to Blizzard Entertainment

wow3 - A Letter to Blizzard Entertainment

Dear Blizzard Entertainment,

Gameplay first.

Those are your words. Your founding words. And you have abandoned them.

I'm a grumpy 41-year old male. I'm cynical and skeptical. I work in marketing, and I hate the business. It's full of bollocks and bullshit. At the core of all that is the ridiculous idea that customers want to engage with companies and have conversations and relationships and other such nonsense. I don't care a thing for the companies whose products I buy. I don't want a relationship with Coke. I don't visit fan forums for Tide. And I will never pay any amount of money to watch or attend a Levi's convention. I just want good products, at reasonable prices.

I'm not a fan of corporations the way that I'm a fan of the Denver Broncos. I don't yell at the TV when I see a stupid McDonald's commercial like I do when Case Keenum throws another interception. I'm not emotionally invested in Nike or Google. I don't want whoever runs those companies to be fired when things go poorly the same way I think Vance Joseph should be fired from the Broncos.

And why is that? Because I'm emotionally attached to the Broncos. I love that team. I cried when they won Superbowl 50. It's irrational, I know. The win-loss record of a sports team has no effect on my personal life. And yet… I cheer and jeer.

Thankfully, I don't invest myself into commodity corporations the same way.

Except, that I do.

For more than 20 years Blizzard, you have made games that I love to play. Even the games I was terrible at, I still played. I knew they'd be the best that that genre had to offer. I wasn't any good at the Starcraft games. But I played them anyway. I could only just scrape through the story campaigns in the Warcraft series. But I played it anyway. I loved Diablo, but never played in Hardcore mode or pushed high-level rifts. Why did I play those games? Because they were fun. I also made some good friends along the way – friends that I still play Blizzard games with. But I didn't truly love Blizzard until 2004, when I first stepped foot into Dun Morogh.

I'll never forget traipsing through the snow and climbing the hill to see Ironforge for the first time. I've loved World of Warcraft (and you, Blizzard) ever since.

A canvas poster of the original World of Warcraft box hangs on my wall. A little figure of Arthas guards my desk. In my closet, Blizzard branded t-shirts hang next to my Broncos gear. I'm not just a guy who buys Blizzard's products like I buy other stuff. I'm a Blizzard fan. I pay to watch BlizzCon. I root for the company to succeed like I do the Broncos. But now, when I see that poster or wear one of my Blizzard shirts, I feel a bit like I do when I watch a Broncos game. I'm cheering for a team that used to be great but just isn't anymore. I keep watching though, because that's what loyal fans do. And I keep hoping for better days.

In the Blizzard Retrospective documentary published in 2011, Bob Davidson said: "it wasn't hard to let Blizzard do it's thing… as long as it was working."

Blizzard, the things you are doing now are not working.

Maybe you know this. Maybe it's causing internal power struggles at the office. And maybe you are too deep to see that you are no longer the company that prided itself on "gameplay first." The only reason Blizzard gamers exist at all is because of great gameplay. But great gameplay is hard. It takes years of testing and iteration to get right. And it's expensive. You were always known for taking your sweet development time. "Soon," we were told. "It'll be done soon." And we knew that you were creating something beautiful and amazing that was, despite any flaws that might exist, going to be fun. "Soon" was almost always worth the wait. But you don't make those kinds of games anymore. And I wonder if you ever will again.

Do you know why I logged onto World of Warcraft day after day those first few years? It wasn't because 15-minute corpse runs were fun. It wasn't so I could wait for the warlock to farm soul shards or for the hunter to travel all the way back to a village to buy arrows before we could finally spend the next 5 hours being lost in Dire Maul. It wasn't to craft copper bars or gather runecloth so I could buy a cross-racial mount. Though, I did all of those things, and many, many more.

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I wasn't logging on to earn or buy loot boxes. I didn't finish a dungeon and hope that whatever the final boss dropped would not only be the thing I wanted, but also titanforge into a super-powered version of the thing I wanted. I didn't log on so I could fill a bar – though there were plenty of bars to fill. I didn't play so I could gather some random source of power that would inevitably fade into irrelevance as soon as some goblin miner discovered a new random source of power. I didn't show up to race through dungeons or to replace pieces of gear every other day with gear that was marginally better (or worse) than what I was wearing.

In fact, I think I wore the same robe for 2 years during classic WoW. I only replaced it after The Burning Crusade released. I didn't log on just so I could tab-out to third-party websites because they were the only way to find out if I had the right talents, the right gear, or to simulate numbers with the gear I did have. I didn't pay $15 a month to earn a score from a third-party so I could participate in the game with other people who valued my random score over my experience playing the game.

I played World of Warcraft because just being in Azeroth with a few friends was good enough. I wasn't worried about leveling up quickly so I could "play the real game" like people are today. If I set out to do some quests, but got distracted by PvP (corpse runs) or a dungeon (corpse runs), or exploring a zone that was full of monsters just a bit too powerful for my level (more corpse runs), then that was all right. Because exploring Azeroth – an enormous world full of amazing creatures and hidden things – was a lot of fun.

You're deluding yourself if you think that classic World of Warcraft will bring that all back. It won't. It can't. That experience can't be replicated any more than returning to Disneyland as an adult can recreate the first time I visited when I was 10 years old. Those days, and that game are gone. The game that we play today is not a game at all. Instead, World of Warcraft is a data-gathering index of daily user actions and patterns. It's a research tool to help scummy marketing people decide what to put on sale, how much to charge for a fox mount, or which adverts to fill the game launcher with. You no longer see me as a player, but instead, as a payer.

New features in WoW are gated behind reputation bars, time, or just not in the game at all yet. Zandalari trolls were among the first features of Battle for Azeroth that were introduced to us. Zandalari trolls aren't in the game. But they will be… "soon". You've tried to hide that exclusion behind storytelling, but it's a thin mask. Patch 8.1 launched on December 11th. The Battle for Dazar'alor (a cumbersome name) won't launch until January 22nd – conveniently just a little bit more than 30 days after someone who might have re-upped for 8.1 started paying for your game again.

Arguably, there is more stuff to do in WoW than ever before, and yet I don't log on as often as I used to. And worse yet, I don't look forward to playing like I used to. Mostly, I log on to see if any of my friends are playing and that if maybe, just maybe, we can get a few of us together to go earn a loot box or race through a dungeon and pretend that we are having fun again.

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You stopped making an MMORPG years ago. Instead, you turned WoW into an elaborate fantasy-themed casino replicator. It's a third-person looter-shooter designed to string players out like addicts looking for a fix. Your other titles are just animated shopping carts that feature mini-games people can play in between opening loot boxes.

And that's really sad because all of Blizzard's games are beautiful. Your artists are still the best in the industry. It's a shame that their work is being ruined by shady business practices and shoddy gameplay design.

Why is Ion Hazzikostas still the World of Warcraft game director? He bumbles through Q&As saying words but nothing else. Under his (and J. Allen Brack's) direction, the game has become progressively worse. Ion's sidekick, Josh "Lore" Allen – the man you hired to be the public face of World of Warcraft – called us "d*ckbags" and is far more interested in building his personal brand than he is in doing the job you pay him to do.

I can't tell if these men are being held hostage by a company that has broken their spirits, or if they are burned out, or if they have true contempt for both WoW and its players. Are the creative, passionate people that you are so well known for allowed to work on the design direction of World of Warcraft? Or is the game being designed by algorithms and data-driven stat-padding horseshit? People can tell if something is fun. Computers can't.

We are not your enemy Blizzard. We are your loyal supporters. The luke-warm, fair-weather fans are gone and they are not coming back. We are all you have left. And frankly, when it comes to MMORPGs, you are all we have. Please stop ruining World of Warcraft. Please stop designing it around KPIs, MAUs, and other marketing bullshit. I'll play the game if it's fun. And right now, it's not fun. The people designing and developing the game look tired. Maybe it's time for them to "move to other unannounced projects". Or maybe you just need to let them remember what "gameplay first" means.

I don't know what's happening at Blizzard. I don't know if Activision is flexing its management muscles. I don't know why Mike Morhaime left. I don't know if company morale is low. I don't know why you think it's a good idea to put talented developers to work on mobile projects – games that your audience doesn't bother playing because we are middle-aged adults who, just like your founders, were raised on PC games. I don't know anything about the inner workings of this company that I have supported for almost half of my life.

But I do know Blizzard games. And I know that whatever it is you are producing recently, are not Blizzard games.

I hope that whatever it is that is wrong with you, Blizzard, can be fixed. And fixed "soon."

For Azeroth,

Lightcap, the Patient

Illidan – US

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