Friday, October 10, 2008

Blizzard employees – how we love them, hate them and fear them

Deep inside I know that working at Blizzard is just like working at any other kind of office. Only a little bit less paid, like jobs in media/entertainment companies tend to be. (There are tons of people who want this kind of positions; some of them are probably prepared to work for free, so all in all it’s the buyers market.)

Deep inside I know that Blizzard employees are just as bored at work as we all are from time to time. They probably attend long, pointless meetings where people talk just to talk, not because they have any new ideas to share. And I guess they face a bunch of very annoying people every day, which they have to try to go along with as well as possibly. They get tons of e-mail like we all do and make futile efforts to organize it. They have unrealistic deadline to fight against, they have budgets to stick to and they make plans and follow-ups and from time to time they probably feel utterly unproductive, overwhelmed with administrative burdens.

In short, in reality I think working at Blizzard is just another job, nothing more, nothing less.

The gods of our universe
But in spite of this insight I can’t free myself the mystic glow surrounding them. It’s not rational, it’s just a feeling, but I think I share it with many other players. You only have to look at the official forums to get the picture.

Blizzard employees. We love them. We hate them. And we fear them.

Why? Because they’re the gods and the devils in our universe. They’re the one in charge. Always. Overnight they can make changes that will drastically change your gameplay – your raiding build can suddenly get buffed to heaven – or nerfed to hell. They can wipe your honor points, they can change the looks of your face or your gear. We're all depending on them and you never know what’s on their mind, no matter how much we try to figure it out.

When you look at the forums and blog posts these days, with the expansion soon to come, it’s fascinating to watch how every single blue word uttered, no matter if it carries no more information than a “burp”, is interpreted and analyzed infinitely. What does the “burp” mean? Has the developer a bad stomach and how will it affect his decisions?

Sometimes I’m fantasizing that somewhere there’s a Blizzard employee monitoring the game, hiding somewhere, secretly watching what’s going on in Axeroth. I picture it a bit like the supervisors in the wonderful picture The Truman Show, the one where Jim Carrey is living what he thinks is a normal life, but what in fact is just a TV show, with him as the only unknowing participant.

Has it ever happened in the game that someone has been looking at my stupid mistakes, laughing at me or studying me like a rat I an experiment? Probably not. As I said, the Blizzard people are busy reading e-mails, attending meetings or, if they’re productive, doing a bit of programming or clearing out billing issues with customers. They don’t have time to spend on watching people play. So it doesn’t make sense in any way, but the image is stuck in my head.

A magic meeting
It happened once that I actually did meet a Blizzard employee in the game. It took place after I had made one of the very few tickets I’ve ever made. I had done some stupid mistake, picking the wrong kind of gem when I traded some spirit shards in Terokkar. Now I wanted to change it. A game master contacted me and promised to do it for me. Towards the end of the conversation I thanked him thoroughly and told him that I sent him my very best buffs.

“Well then!”, the GM replied – and suddenly he appeared in front of me in the shape of a level 1 gnome in a simple robe. I would have been just as surprised if Peter Pan suddenly had come flying through my living room. So I buffed him and gave him a hug before he vanished again, as quickly as he had arrived. The game god had come from the machinery, stepping down to the mortal people of Earth, just like in the ancient Greek dramas. Now he was gone.

The experience was so unexpected and surprising that it never occurred to me to take screenshots. You have to trust me. It happened! It was magic and I’ll never forget it.

In touch with the customers
Normally I don’t think the Blizzard people have time to randomly walk around in Azeroth just observing, I guess they must try to keep in touch with the customers in some way, By Beta testing and by other means.

I can’t help wondering much they spend on monitoring what’s going on in the WoW community. I guess they do read the official forums, but do they read it for inspiration or just to make sure posters follow the guidelines?

Do the ideas and views that are brought up in thousands and thousands of posts ever reach the eyes of the developers? Sometimes Blizzard ask for feedback about a certain class or build and I hope they reed the responses they get that way. But what about the other posts? It seems like an overwhelming task to handle all those suggestions in an effective way, to find the gems in the heaps of crap.

And what about the blogs? Do they follow what’s up in the think tank and how the discussions currently are going? Maybe at least they throw a glance at a few of the leading blogs from time to time? I hope so.

Welcome to the inn!
Has any Blizzard employee ever entered the premises of The Pink Pigtail Inn? Seriously I doubt it. But who knows?

Maybe we have a game god in disguise, hiding in one of the shady corners? Maybe he’s secretly listening to the conversation in this very moment?

If that is the case, feel welcome and have a seat in front of the fire! I’ll treat you with the best ale we can offer, hoping that it will inspire you to take some really wise decisions about the game.

No matter if you’re a god or an officer slave – you need to relax a bit from time to time. Your secret will stay safe with us.


Anonymous said...

A few years ago I was a staff member of one of the largest Ultima Online free servers around at the time. In our heyday we had over a thousand players on at a single time from approximately thirty countries. I started out as a counselor and then worked my way up to being a Game Master.

One of the things that I miss about that server when I look at World of Warcraft was the amount of interaction that occurs between players and staff. I was well known in our community, frequented the boards, people knew most of my characters (except for a single Player Killer monster that terrorized fellow PKers when I was feeling cranky), organized events, and answered pages. There was some mystery surrounding our positions, but little regarding us as people.

I've never seen or spoken with the same staff person twice within World of Warcraft. I don't see them organizing events or communicating with players (they instead rely on community representatives to be their mouth pieces). We get very little feedback from Blizzard and many times when we give feedback threads are shut down, locked up, or even missing.

I know that this isn't necessarily the rule for the industry. A friend of mine who was active in Final Fantasy XI claimed that their Game Masters organized events and even performed marriages. Perhaps it's a matter of scale, but -- as I've said before -- assigning specific GMs to police one server and one server alone would help communities build relationships with staff members.

Regarding supervision within the game, I'm not sure how common that may be within World of Warcraft, especially given the fact that their staff takes a reactive stance in policing their policies (except for a few cases, as we saw with gold sellers and the like). However, in Ultima Online, I spent a significant portion of my time not answering pages as a Game Master flitting through the world and watching people as they played. I can't even tell you how many times this allowed me to find people who were creatively bending the rules of the game to meet some sort of goal. I also enjoyed watching the PvP fights as they occurred and there were some townies I watched as they decorated their homes or peddled their trades.

I loved creating the equivalent of a level 1 critter from World of Warcraft and giving them boosted stats. It usually ended up being a hart, but, man, seeing some poor guy stumble upon these and then be thwarted made my day. There used to be hunting parties for Cynra's menagerie as the incidents progressed. And our .kill command -- causing a bolt of lightning to descend from the heavens and strike a player dead -- was absolutely the best!

Anonymous said...

A story from me:
Some friends of mine and I were running heroic Ramparts a long time ago (read: back when you needed revered for the key). It was the first time we'd ever wiped on the last boss (dragon+orc, I can't remember his name).

When we got back there, both of the orcs that you have to kill to bring down the rider were respawned. We killed one and then the other, but the one we killed respawned, and this could have gone on forever. We decided to try and kill them together (within a few seconds) and this worked.

I wrote up a ticket thinking that the event was bugged. I wrote with the GM as he contacted me, he told me that the event was "working as intended". I said thanks (not meaning it really...), and bye.

About 10 minutes later we killed the boss finally and opened the loot chest.

Our of nowhere I get a whisper: "gratz! what dropped?"

I couldn't help laughing and relaying on vent. The guy had been spying on us since the ticket.

It's interactions like these that I'll always remember. I just wish there were more of them.

Anonymous said...

Great comparison with Greek Deities

You better be careful with /hug s to Greek gods, they was known by his....errrr.. you know.. Don´t know if you would like to be Gnomercules mother ;-)

Poldara said...

Oh i remember one time when i was leveling an alt and killing mobs for drops outside Uldaman. One of them was bugged, had got inside some object there. The mob attacked me but i couldn't hit it. I had to flee out of range but when i went back closer to kill other mobs the bugged one was still attacking me with some nasty bolts.

I made a ticket and kept killing the ones far enough from the bugged one. Surprisingly fast i got a whisper from a GM. I told him what was going on and he asked am i near the mob. I said i am.

What happenned next really surprised me.

A lvl 70 tauren was suddenly next to me. What made it even more exciting was the fact that my char was alliance. :P So, he asked me to show the mob and made it disappear. That was so kewl!

That is my one and only time when i've actually seen a GM. I /thanked /hugged and /kissed and he disappeared.

Anonymous said...

Nicely done.

I think having Blizzard organize the occasional "fun" event involving their employees would be kind of nice.

Perhaps a once per holiday type thing.

Anonymous said...

What a great article.

I've never had an experience like yours, or those of the other commenters, but I agree that it would be fun to have more interaction with Blizz staff!

Anonymous said...

I really only have to say this:
on the subject of GM interaction with the players (via the forums.) I have had my share of run-ins with GMs in game, both good and bad, but I think that the quality of help I have gotten has gone downhill over the years I have been playing. And it makes me sad, because I met some really nice GMs during the Great Goldspam Epidemic.

Anonymous said...

I was trying to make the key that gets you into Shattered Halls. The two guildees that were with me were able to loot the mold from the smith out in Shadowmoon Valley.

For some reason, when I looted he smith there was no mold. We waited for him to respawn, killed him, and again no mold for me.

I opened a ticket. A GM whispered me after a couple of minutes. I told her my story and she said, "Silly! You already have the mold." I checked my bags - no mold. I told her, I guess it could be in my bank, and she said, "Bingo."

I thanked her.

Blizzard employees are people just like us - helpful, funny, and full of WoW love.

Anonymous said...

@Cynra: thank you so much for those glimpses of a game from staff perspective! Most generous of you to share those memories, it was very interesting. I can't help hoping that some Blizzard staff red this and got inspired!

@I play it all, Poldara and Antony 912:

Wonderful stories! I love reading those gm-players-interaction stories, I can never get enough of it. Reading about other's encounters is the next best to having them yourself. Thank you for sharing!

@Eishen: thank you for reminding me... It's been to long since I went to school and red about those things but now that you say it... beware!

@Dechion: that's a fun idea! I guess people would go all grazy about it, may be a bit hard to handle though... I wonder what the ratio is - players per gm...? I bet we're pretty many.

@Isisxotic: thanks!

@Oriniwen: that thread was fun! I especially recommend you to read the comment from Ghostcrawler, number 32. Made me giggle. There's still hope about them!