Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Press Event at Blizzard – Did They Actually Show Anything at all?

From a point of efficiency I suppose it was a great idea to bring all the “press” to Blizzard’s headquarters at the same time.

Not that I’m sure that “press” is the right label to put on them. Are those sites really what you would consider independent, objective, stand-alone media, committed to follow the code of ethics for journalists? But let’s say they’re “press”, to keep it simple.

I can see why they wanted to gather them all at the same time. You make that guided tour. You do a bunch of interviews in a row, sticking to the story, the message you want out this time. And you give everyone the same NDA until the point you’ve chosen. It’s handy, easy to manage and won’t take a ton of your time.

From the reader’s point of view however, bunching up all the media like this was a tad disappointing. The result is a little boring and I’d so much prefer them to make an effort and let them get their interviews at different points.

The coverage of this event reminds me of the interviews you see with directors and main actors on the promotion tour of a new movie. Every interview lasts at the most 15 minutes and the result is thereafter. There’s no way you can establish a real connection between the reporter and the interview person, there’s no way you can break through the surface and find some new, revealing insights they haven’t shared before. Inevitably it will become thin, polished, repetitive and void of presence and soul.

Disappointing reads
The interviews coming out from the press event so far have been quite disappointing reads. Yeah, I see they met Ghostcrawler, but not in the sense that they really *met* him as a person. They just kindly wrote down the few things he had decided to share, which really wasn’t much new under the sun. I don’t feel as if I’ve really seen or even caught a glimpse of what’s going on either in his head or in the rest of the Blizzard headquarters. He’s about as slippery as liquid soap, impossible to get a grip of.

We’re given the impression that Blizzard wanted to open up the doors, but did they really show anything interesting at all? Even the Crown princess of Sweden – who probably is one of the most media trained persons on this planet – is way more revealing, personal and in-depth when she gives interviews. Maybe this is thanks to her huge routine in media handling; she knows that if you share a bit of yourself you’re more likely to get better press than if you just shy away from it.

I hear someone’s objecting over there at the bar side:

“Come on Larísa, admit it – you’re just being jealous of not being invited! Would you have done a better job yourself, given the opportunity to interview Ghostcrawler et al?”

Frankly I don’t know. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. I want to believe that my age, routine and professionalism would have made me better fit to find new angles and not fall flat on the floor, overwhelmed at the honor of just being invited to the captains bridge. Given the opportunity, I'd like to try to crawl beneath the skin of GC, revealing that he's just as much a human as a professional ghost and spokesman of Blizzard.

On the other hand – not even the brightest reporter can easily make a good interview if you only have 15 minutes at your hands in a tight schedule, where other interviewers standing in a line, waiting for their turn.

“But Larísa, you have to stop your whining now! At least Blizzard is finally doing something to reach out and communicate with the fans. You have to give them cred for that! Recently you complained that they didn’t care about their fansites like Warhammer, who invited some major bloggers to a guided tour. Now they’re doing exactly this and you’re STILL negative!”

Oh. Yeah. That. I hear you and you’re right I suppose. One step at a time. And this IS a good start, no questioning about that. It’s just that I would like to see something more. Something different. Something unexpected. I dream of finally reading that well written article that would give a truthful, insightful picture, exposing how it really is to work in Irvine, showing what’s in the mind of one of the masters of the most successful video game in the world.

Maybe we’ll see this article written one day in a far distant future, when WoW is an historical artifact and there’s no need to keep an NDA on anything, since everyone has moved forward to something else. On the other hand, will anyone want to read it by then?

Ghostcrawler and the forums
Well, enough of grumbling now from my side. In the end there were at least a couple of things in those interviews that caught my attention and I thought I’d point you to it.

Wowhead talked quite a bit with Ghostcrawler about his frequent posting in the forums, and we learned that this was on his own initiative, something he asked for permission to do, and that he enjoys doing it in his free time. Currently he thinks it’s a bit of a drag because it’s a bit too quiet in the forums. People need more information to have something to discuss. He says that he really doesn’t want to be a “PR bot”, but want to have real discussions with the players. And he also says that the developers care a lot about what’s said in the community. They read ALL forums, not just the official Blizzard ones.

“We have a pretty good idea of how the community feels, and often we agree with them, even if we can't always go and instigate change that second—if people think there's a big problem, chances are we do too”
The failure of ToC
Eurogamer had a chat with Ghostcrawler too, this time accompanied by Alex Afrasiabi.

I don’t think I’ve ever before heard them ever before admit so openly that ToC was a failure, causing a burnout among many players:

Alex Afrasiabi:
“We want a raid to be a raid. We don't want you to feel obligated - and when I mention certain things that we viewed as failures, Coliseum's one of those zones that we have mixed feelings about. The design itself was really cool, we liked a quick raid which was really the intent of it.
But something we learned, it was a harsh lesson, was: four lockouts. That had some pretty negative repercussions, because to maximise, if you were a player that was min-maxing the zone or min-maxing your character, which a lot of raiders do, you had to run that zone four times. The whole purpose of it being a quick, short, cool, fun raid was obliterated.”
And GC chimes in:

“Our design for Lich King was to give players a lot more flexibility, both in terms of the classes that they brought and whether they preferred to do 10 versus 25. The problem was the way we set up the rules, we were actually encouraging people to run both 10 and 25 every week, which just got to be a little draining.”

“Well, they're gamers, so they're trying to game the system. They're kind of trained to do that. So it's up to us to put in a system that rewards the kind of behavior that we want players to do and that a lot of players would prefer to do.”
The view on new players
I also was a little bit surprised to read just how noobish the developers seem to think that the new players are, one of the reasons why they skipped the Path of the Titan concept, since it was considered too complicated.

I’m quoting GC again:

“We have players who've been with us for six plus years, because they started in the beta, who want something new, they want to see different things.

And then we have new players, particularly younger players... A lot of the original WOW players came from other MMOs, and now we're getting new players who've never played an MMO before. They may have played console games, and to them even mastering mouse movement is really difficult.

And then to look at all this, I mean it's just a gigantic game, so it can be very intimidating.“
I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at this. OK, I’m not a youngster, but basically GC is talking about me. I’m one of those players without any previous MMO experience, I haven’t even played any console games (apart from that TV game where you played “tennis”, trying to hit a ball that bounced back and forward on a black-and-white screen back in the 70’s. If that counts.) I don’t deny that I had to do a ton of learning on my own, making an effort of my own, as well as using the wealth of knowledge there is on the community run sites (since Blizzard’s own is so terrible.)

But you know what? I didn’t mind! The learning process was actually a part of what made the game fun to me in the first place! Gaming to me is about overcoming obstacles and if you smooth everything out so much that you don’t even notice the bump in the road, it starts to become a bit pointless.

I honestly think that they’re obsessing a little too much over the accessibility issues, anxious to scare away any potential customer.

With all the tutorials and the built in quest-helper they’ve already added to the game, there’s definitely no need at all to worry about it. Show WoW to your granny or your 10-year without any gaming experience. They’ll figure it out.

I would rather worry over the opposite. If WoW becomes so easy that it feels like a game intended for very young and clueless children, I think they’ve chosen the wrong path.

More interviews
What else have we seen so far? World of Raids had a chat with Tom Chilton, but it didn’t contain anything that stuck with me.

However Gameplanet released two pretty long and detailed articles, which actually are a pretty good read, probably the best ones so far.

Ghostcrawler gives a bit more information about how reforging is going to work, and also talks about the guild reputation system. If you’ve got a guild master with the habit of guild kicking players temporarily “for fun”, you don’t need to worry too much about it. It turns out you won’t lose your guild reputation points until you join another guild.

It was also new to me to hear that the designers initially didn't expect WoW to last more than two or theree years. The designers of today think that there might be a ninth or tenth expansion eventually and are adjusting the game with that in mind, trying to keep it as clean as simple as possible, avoiding to add complexity to the game with every expansion.

The second interview at Gameplanet features Cory Stockton. What caught my attention in this one was especially the last part, where he outlines the upcoming launch event, which he says will be huge and spectacular and include an invasion of elementals.

“If you take the Scourge invasion, imagine that, and then multiply it by ten – possibly in major cities! – and the way we want it to work is very similar to the way the plague worked, where we’d start it up a few weeks early, and then you’ll see a build up… build up… build up, and then in those last two or three days before we flip the switch, Azeroth will be in chaos, and any player who didn’t know the cataclysm was coming will definitely know something’s going on!”
Wow, that sounds just so exciting to me! I just hope we won’t have to wait until October to see it.

It remains to see what the next few days will bring. I have no idea how many fan and gaming sites that actually attended the press event. Maybe there are more and better interviews incoming. I keep my fingers crossed.


Prelimar said...

i'm excited about the cataclysm event. it sounds exactly like what i was hoping they were planning. PLEASE STICK WITH IT, blizzard! no caving to QQ pressure and taming it down. it's supposed to be a cataclysm -- it had better be damn disruptive.

Grimmtooth said...

Oh, so much to comment on, I don't know where to begin! But I am also not motivated to blog my response so I'll see what I can do.

First and foremost, as a software QA engineer I found the various glimpses into their corporate culture to be HUGE. You may or may not appreciate it, but let me say that if the culture there lives up to what we were allowed to see, that has to be one amazing company to work for, and with people like Street staffing it, I have reason to believe that it is paying off well.

RE Path of Titans ... let me point out that eliminating that is maybe too involved for new casuals is not the same thing as dumbing down the game. There are two bars here, the high and low bar. What they've chosen to do is NOT raise the lower bar. "Dumbing down" is lowering of the UPPER bar, which this is not doing (that's happened, and the subject of another thread somewhere).

My main concern of the pre-4.0 event is that they will open up the game to griefers again. If that happens, I can probably turn off my sub for a month until it passes. The last "invasion" was so annoying that I almost stopped playing, period. I hope they have learned something from that.

Anonymous said...

About PotT: Looking at the interview on Gameplanet, GC says:

I described it recently this way: We have a designer on another team who plays WoW a lot but he took a break for a month or two to play Modern Warfare 2. When he came back he discovered in the meantime that we had reset all his talents and we had changed the functionality of some of his spells. And he said ‘you know, I know the game really well, but it was really hard to get back into it. I had to do a lot of research before I felt ready to play again.’ Feedback like that made us think hard about where the game was going and the kind of complexity that we were adding with every expansion.

I think this is related more to why PotT was scrapped than the developer team thinking their players are stupid.

On the one hand, there's a lot to be said about learning how to play. On the other, do you think "learning how to play" should require significant external research?

I think what happened is that when they were done with their PotT design, they thought it leaned too much over to the "external research" side, so they were like "okay, let's trim it down and make it more fun to just kinda pick up," and then they looked at the end result and realized what they had gotten were basically glyphs.

So they scrapped PotT so they could revamp the glyph system, which I think is a perfectly reasonable decision.

Magma said...

"I described it recently this way: We have a designer on another team who plays WoW a lot but he took a break for a month or two to play Modern Warfare 2. When he came back he discovered in the meantime that we had reset all his talents and we had changed the functionality of some of his spells. And he said ‘you know, I know the game really well, but it was really hard to get back into it. I had to do a lot of research before I felt ready to play again.’ Feedback like that made us think hard about where the game was going and the kind of complexity that we were adding with every expansion." The guy talking who played MW2, makes no sense. If you are so casual you can take a month off, why are you needing to min/max talents so much? If you aren't completely incompetent, you can easily pick talents that don't suck, without reading up on it.

Anonymous said...

The guy talking who played MW2, makes no sense. If you are so casual you can take a month off, why are you needing to min/max talents so much? If you aren't completely incompetent, you can easily pick talents that don't suck, without reading up on it.

Well, I hadn't put it in my post, but my personal thoughts is that, frankly, you don't need to worry that much about talents and such and where they go, and the guy certainly didn't need to do a lot of research to get back into WoW.

However, he FELT that he had to do the research before he could feel ready to play again. If I had to pinpoint the problem here, it is really more the ubiquity of third-party sites and the information they possess which has generated a min/maxing culture among WoW players more than it is the complexity of the WoW systems themselves.

In other words, perhaps the worry about the complexity was not that players would get lost, but rather that sites like Elitist Jerks would theorycraft and declare one Path to be the best for tanks, or for Mages, and everyone will take it for granted and therefore put pressure on all tanks, or Mages, or what have you, to do research and conform to the min/maxed Path.

(And then, I think, in an effort to avoid this, they slimmed it down and basically got more glyphs.)

Gevlon said...

I don't think it's bad media handling. They simply had nothing to say! They are in terrible delay with Cataclysm. ICC is out for half year and Cataclysm is still in alpha.

If they would be absolutely honest they'd said: "we are screwed, we have to redo core features, we are out of time and possibly out of money and can't tell when Cataclysm will come".

They can't say that, can they.

Jen said...

I tend to agree with GC. I gamed a bit before WoW, but basically no RPGs and definitely no MMOs. Starting WoW was daunting; I didn't understand what to do, where to do it, and without a lot of (sometimes literal) hand holding from my boyfriend, I would have still been totally clueless. The new tutorials seem to work better, but I'm 100% sure that a new, inexperienced player would have trouble learning everything... so why add something new?

Honestly, I've been playing for 3 years and I didn't like the idea of Path of the Titans. It seemed overly complicated and for me the fun *isn't* in figuring out how to play, it's actually playing the game. I've never liked the PTR very much because my talents were all messed up and I felt there was this huge step before I could actually test the game itself... I'm hoping that EJ and the like will have some talent trees ready for me at Cataclysm launch, because testing out the talents is a pain.

Carina said...

I've been watching my mother starting to play WoW and while she enjoys it so much that she asked for a subscription for her birthday, she had a real tough time getting started.

And I mean, a *real* tough time.

She's a master of console games, but on PC she had only played sims before - which means there was alot she had to master at once: Mouse-movments, how to use the camera (she had huge trouble with that, and would always look down while trying to move and not see the environment anymore), what experience points are, what quests are, the fact that the guys with the exclemation marks GIVE quests, how to find out what to do in order to SOLVE the quests, that quests have to be turned in in order to be completed, how to view quests in the questlog, how to view your own char, how the mana bar works, how eating works, the fact that you have to train skills, or the fact that you have to ACTIVATE the right skill under the right conditions, the fact that other players interact with your world, how say can be used, how party chat can be used, what the tradewindow is.

Took her two hours to solve the first two quests, and lots of cussing. Watching her made clear how daunting WoW actually is and how many tasks each player juggles at once. We're used to it - the real newbies are not.

It's a daunting task to learn WoW if you have zero experience with similiar things - and the never-have-played-MMO's-before people are where Blizzard can get most subs from. WoW IS the MMO starter-drug, so to speak.

But it also showed me how fun it can be, because WoW was the only game she actually stuck with despite all the trouble. She cussed and yelled, but in the end it was fun.

I think the ideal starter area's something experienced player can just blaze through in five mins, but which teaches the new ones step for step - and gives them enough time and space to figure out how to actually interact with the world. It's easy to blaze through right now, but blizzard's kind of failing failing at the step-for-step teaching in the moment.

And one thing's very important: People starting out should NOT have to rely on external research - they do not even know what exactly they're missing when they run into trouble, so they cannot even go and google for rotation or talentbuilds - they don't know such things exist.

Anonymous said...

Couple of things.

First, with respect to the developer who left for a month, came back and was confused. Please remember, just because you leave for a month doesn't mean that things remain static for the rest of the players of the game - that kind of thinking/development is what has caused whole-sale apathy right now (same shit, different day). You want to go play something else? Go for it! Just don't demand that I sit and wait for you to come back.

Secondly, with respect to being a new player and the difficulty of the game. A little background about my playing, in other words, my story in a nutshell. I began playing with a trial account in December after BC was released after hearing about the game from, believe it or not, my boss at the time. Rolled a hunter and it took me three days to make level 5! At about 2 hours a level! However, even though I was clueless, I became so engaged IN the game that I never quit and constantly was thinking ABOUT the game. In fact, I spent so long in and around Darnassus that when I finally made it to Stormwind for the first time, I literally spent an hour and a half just looking around the city (full disclosure: about 15 minutes of that time was trying to figure out how to get out of the friggin' city canal after I fell in, but you get my point). The thrust of what I'm trying to say is that, at least for me, Blizz has kind of forgotten that the "hook" into the game is directly related to the amount of time spent learning the game. In other words, do they want players who pick up the game thinking it is a first-person shooter that can be mastered straight out of the box? Or, rather, do they want the type of game where a person gets frustrated and must become completely engrossed into the game to learn and succeed? For me, I'll take the latter and not the former as I have a LOT of first-person shooters that were played, beat and discarded.


Anonymous said...

"The guy talking who played MW2, makes no sense. If you are so casual you can take a month off, why are you needing to min/max talents so much?"

I could see it. Maybe he raids and just wants to make sure he has a good raiding spec. We've all done it ;)

Interesting post. I don't know why but I like seeing GC tell me things I already know :)

Eurogamer noted that he'd said that paladins were overpowered. Well duh, we all know that. But it's different when he says it.

Gronthe said...

I like that you mention movie interviews. Every time I see those I think "They are so full of crap. There's no way this movie is 'the best they've ever done' and the experience of participating in such an event is as 'life altering' as their last 'life altering' movie production. They only say those things that will bring good press to the movie.

Blizz ain't so different. They carefully planned who they invited to their PR event. I don't know, maybe they were just scared of you, Larisa, and thought that those they did invite wouldn't be as clever as one with as much media experience as you.

I think the good that comes from it, however, is that unlike movies (which never has director/fan interaction while making it) Blizzard does do little things to show that they are open to feedback and interchanging of ideas. This is a step.

Hugmenot said...

The interviews read a lot like:

We designed and started developing Guild Talents in full knowledge the decision on how to spend those talent points were entirely in the hands of the guild master but now that we are not happy with the results (or are behind schedule), we claim we removed this announced feature to protect you from the drama of evil guild masters.

We designed the Path of the Titan with full knowledge sites such as Elitist Jerks would determine the best tanking/healing/DPSing paths but now that we are not happy with the results (or are behind schedule), we claim we removed this announced feature because it was too complicated for new players.

From my perspective, Cataclysm reads more an expansion aimed to add new (younger) players to the game much more than an expansion aimed at serving the current player base.

I will certainly buy it but I am rather pessimistic as to whether I will continue playing a few months after its release.

Talarian said...

Judging from your blog posts, Larisa, you're very much a people person, and I'd think that the kind of interviews that hold your attention far better are the ones that give you insight into the people behind the game, and less so about the upcoming game itself.

Who is Greg Street? Other than Rum, what does he like to drink? What does he do in his spare time? What makes him tick?

And with that, I'd agree that we get very little information on that. But the gaming community consumes content at an incredible rate, and such content includes what is going to happen.

With all of these sites trying to drive traffic to their pages, they want to ensure they have the content that will bring eyeballs, and bring the rapt attention of these players, and get them pageviews. Apparently the sites and people asking these questions don't consider that kind of personal information as the milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard.

Perhaps you should try to find some way to ask him yourself? Do some digging, and see if you can't get the kind of interview you'd really like. I think there's more people interested in that sort of background than these other fansites believe.

Larísa said...

@Prlimar: Yeah, it sounds really wonderful! I must admit that while the scourge invasion was going on, I was far from happy about it. But afterwards I’ve changed my mind and I really hope they’ll do something likewise invasive and interesting this time around!

@Grimmtooth: Hehe… I think you should write a blogpost of your own! Slacker there… ;)
Yeah, I maybe have too big expectations on their openness. Probably they’re far better than many of their competitors in this aspect. I really don’t know. It’s just that… I’m too curious. I would like to see more, especially more of their personalities coming through. The articles are a bit too slim to my taste.

I’m fine with the simplifications they’ve done with WoW so far, I’m just a bit worried if their fear of being too complicated will drive them to overdo it and never challenge the players a bit.

About the event: well… I wasn’t a fan of it when it happened, but I changed my mind afterwards and wouldn’t mind to see something that would shake us up a bit.

@Anonymous: I’m not overly upset with them taking away PoT. I just think it’s funny that they’re SO wary about making a game that is the slightest difficult. I mean… I was clueless when I started – YES. But figuring out the game was a part of the fun!

@Magma: the problem is maybe the culture that somehow convinces every player that they HAVE to minmax things to the extreme – even though there’s actually no need for it if you’re not on the bleeding edge of raiding. It’s not accepted to pick talents that don’t suck. You have to pick THE best spec always…

@Gevlon: Hehe, I guess they can’t.

@Jen: I was in the exact situation apart from that I had a boyfriend who hated WoW and definitely didn’t hold my hands since he didn’t play. It was challenging, but not TOO challenging imo. This said I didn’t quite grasp the concept of the path, but who knows, hopefully I would given some time. And yeah, I rely heavily on the EJ thinkers!

@Carina: Again, you could as well describe me. SOO much new to figure out. I hadn’t even played any console games, go figure… But just like your mother I got over the obstacles! And I enjoyed it!

“She cussed and yelled, but in the end it was fun.”

I’m afraid that Ghostcrawlers wellmeaning concern about newbies might take away a bit of their fun.

@SpirituRex: you’re describing me once again! All those hours lost and confused as a newbie were among the most fun I had in the game. I hope they don’t take it away in their eagerness to cater to the clueless.

Larísa said...

@Spinksville: Oh, I totally love it too! I whine about the things they didn’t talk about in the interviews, but of course I suck in every word anyway because I’m so fascinated about the people and the creating process behind the game.

@Gronthe: There is one exception actually. While normally “behind the scene” programs are pure crap, I love the extra material of LOTR. It’s actually almost better than the movies as such! Very special. But then they’re so extensive.

Haha, I don’t think they’re scared of me, I honestly think they don’t know or care about me. But the idea makes me smile.

@Hugmenot: yeah, I too think along those lines. They thought the game would last 2-3 years initially. Maybe they think that it’s more or less impossible to keep the interest with those who have played since start, no matter what they do. It’s a safer card to aim for new players.

@Syrien: I haven’t got any ready questions, but I would definitely like to hear much more inside information. Personal portrays, where we talk about from where they’re coming, their hopes, their fears, their experiences, their day-to-day work, management issues, how they keep the team and the ideas together and still can encourage individual brilliance… But also what they do in their spare time, how they look on their job, life career, family, friends, their life as a gamer/professional game developer, how does it intervene, where’s the line between job and free time..? So much stuff to talk about. But that takes time. At least one hour/interview, if not more. Preferrably I’d like to follow GC as a shadow for one day.

@Talarian: yep. Exactly that kind of interview. I know it could be done anytime, but it would be interesting to see it with a Cataclysm-touch, as a sort of statement about what’s going on right NOW.
I’ve heard about others trying to get interviews with them and I think it’s pretty much futile to me even to try.