Monday, November 22, 2010

Ghostcrawler The Blogger

I've whined a lot in the past about Blizzard's lacking communication with the community.

I've talked at length about how their former website sucked and I've criticized their fumbling attempts to talk to the playerbase through fragmented, pointless chat sessions. In July I questioned the strategy where Blizzard's lead systems designer Greg Street, a.k.a Ghostcrawler, answers forum posts, more or less randomly. I suggested they rather should make him write proper columns, where he could pick an current topic and share his views on it from a more general perspective. And lo and behold! Now Blizzard is doing exactly this!

Ghostcrawler made his blogging debut the other day in the post "Why Does Blizzard Hate Healers?" where he explains how healing is changing in Cataclysm and the reasons for those changes. Here's a sample from his wrap-up:
"To be clear, we don’t want healers to constantly run out of mana. We want them to run out of mana when they don’t play well. And we don’t want them to always fail. But we do want them to feel good when they are challenged, and overcome those challenges to succeed. When someone is wounded, we want healers to consider whether to use a slow, efficient heal (because they aren’t in immediate threat of dying) or a fast, expensive heal (because they are). That’s called triage, and it was notably missing from the Lich King healing environment. We think triage will make healing more fun. We’re making this change not to make healers sad by nerfing them, but to make healers happy by making the game more fun for them."
It's a good blog post, not the least thanks to his honest approach. Ghostcrawler sounds pretty relaxed as he mentions critique from the community as well as his own doubts about the healing design in Wrath. This isn't just a text with empty marketing phrases. GC knows how to balance between his own ideas and integrity and a genuine interest for what the players have to say. And that's why we trust him and want to hear what he has to say.

A success
Looking at the reception of this post; I would call Ghostcrawler's blogging nothing but a success. I don't think the news about Blizzard's new fansite has reached more than a fraction of the playerbase, but as I'm writing this, there are already over 1200 comments on Ghostcrawler's post and more incoming. And it's a pretty good read. Most of them are decent and reasoning, even in the cases where they don't agree. Overall they're far less aggressive than what we've seen previously on the forums.

This post has also been translated into the other major languages that Blizzard supports, such as Spanish, French and German, which also is an improvement. Now it's not only the US players who get first hand information and can comment on his writings.

It's also worth mentioning that Ghostcrawler isn't the only one to write proper blog posts. Blue poster Lylirra came up with a little piece about what to bring in an Elemental Invasion Survival Kit, which was a fun read, something you could have seen at one of the fan WoW blogs, and it also got a lot of comments. I hope more will follow.

What remains on my wish-list is a little bit more of interaction with the blogosphere, now that Blizzard's staff has joined our ranks. Until now they've had us more or less on ignore, and maybe it's too much to hope for that to change. But considering the general overhaul they're going through in their communications I wouldn't rule it out completely.

In any case it's nice to see that they're making use of Ghostcrawler's potential as a popular and trustworthy spokesman. The new community site has got a good start, so let's hope they can keep it up and expand it in the future.


Oestrus said...

I thought it was a really lovely post and I have always liked GC. I don't feel he deserves a lot of the flak that he gets from the community. There are individual developers that I do not care for or who I think have really poor attitudes and I don't think GC is one of them.

I'm excited about his blog and his first blog entry and I will probably reply to his entry, with a post on my blog sometime.

Unknown said...

When GC gets rolling he's actually a beautiful writer, and I've wanted him to blog for a long time my self. Even when I disagree with him - at least I understand the developers point of view.

Nils said...

I like the new way of communication. GC, indeed, is surprisingly honest. He admits that they made this mistake during WotLK that made mana irrelevant.

Now, maybe that is too honest, as I really do not understand how the best payed and most prefessional game designers in the world can make such a mistake !?!
Perhaps it is a sign that Blizzards' best people work at the new MMO ?

In general, I'd wish for more posts like this. Maybe only allow each commenter to make only one comment. Once reason the forums turn into flame wars is that people can respond to each other.

What I do not want to see from the developers are fun posts like the one about survival kits. But that is certainly a matter of taste.

IMHO, GCs next post should be about Nils' blog and how I have generally been right so very often when they were wrong. That would be a good start for Blizzard-blogging :)

Anonymous said...

Whilst their concept regarding healing is good, the execution of it has been a disaster so far in Cataclysm. They broke healing for the most part and no amount of blogs will change that. But hey, at least he can type pretty blogs about concepts they aren't even close to implementing.

Dwism said...

I loved that post, and everything in it tbh. No more grumpy dwarf, that blog post was pure gold. It even made me consider re-joining the ranks of the healers.

When it comes to them playing along with "the rest of the blogging community" -however- I don't see that happening. Only only only if you create a blog within the official new warcraft community site. aka or somethin.

SpiritusRex said...

I think any post where a developer has the stones to say that they screwed up, but still has a solution for the future is pure win. Nonetheless, there will still be those morons out there who find fault with anything said by a developer and imply that it could be done better. I think many times people think that developers work in a vacuum whereby they can run wily-nily with their changes when, in fact, the same office/managerial politics are the same at Blizz as every other company out there. Great step by Blizz by giving us players a peak behind the curtain to see the thinking behind certain changes - I like it.

Now, Greg, about the hunter change to focus and the ability to compete in the DpS sprint.....

Bronte said...

Another notch in Larisa's belt! ;)

Larísa said...

@Oestrus: I actually believe he's fairly popular, isn't he? I noticed at Wikipedia that he only has worked at Blizzard since 2008. You wouldn't believe it... Today I think his "brand" is far more valuable than most of the named developers at Blizzard. Sure, he doesn't beat Metzen and a couple of others, but he's got a LOT of street cred thanks to his efforts to communicate.

@--G!: Sign on this. It was wonderful to see him not trying to be smart or snarky or something towards a single individual, but formulating his own ideas and standpoint. He's a good writer and I hope he'll have time to blog frequently.

@Nils: The amount of comments is indeed a bit overwhelming. I doubt he can read them, even if I hope that someone will and give him a brief summary and point him to a couple of the best ones.

There have been speculations sometimes about the internal opinions about GC, if he's bashed by the management and PR people for his openess and honesty. But I think this blogpost puts and end to that kind of rumours. Obviously he's got the support and freedom he needs.

@Anonymous: well... I'm not as negative as you are. Let's give them a chance, I say.

@Dwism: No, I guess you're right about their attitude to the blogging community. Interesting enough they've wiped the links to their fan programme as well. Or maybe they just haven't come around to move it to the new site. I will keep an eye on how it will turn out, if they'll do some brush-up on it somehow. On the old site it was far from impressive.

@SpiritusRex: The thing is that people love to point out things they don't like but forget to acknowledge the good stuff. It's not strange; that's how it works. This blogpost is an exception. I guess I thought they deserved a bit of praise after all my bashing; it seemed fair.

@Bronte: Hehe... Well I don't think they did this because I suggested it tbh. But yeah, I have a little smug smile in my face now that I see them change in the direction I would have advocated if I worked at the Blizzard PR department. There's a little bit of "I told you so!" in this post, I'm afraid.

SpiritusRex said...

@ Larissa

I hope you don't think I was calling you one of those "morons"!!

I was thinking more in terms of the people who will no doubt comment to GC's post with their uninformed QQ, etc.

Larísa said...

@SpiritusRex: oh, absolutely not. You as well as I know that I'm pretty much a Blizzard fanboy. If a lady can be such a thing. I suppose she can. Sure, I do complain a little from time , mostly about their work within PR (until now), but in the end I love WoW and I think it shines through.

Talarian said...

The interesting thing is that this blog post is almost word for a word a copy of a forum post he made months ago. Having a central place such as a blog has put a spotlight on this tidbit like nothing Blizzard has ever done before, so I can't see this as anything but a good thing.

@Larisa - Greg Street, AKA Ghostcrawler, was one of the "balance" analysts on Microsoft's Age of Empires 3 before going to Blizzard.

@Nils - I don't know about best paid and most professional, but these people are still human. I've seen Wizards of the Coast screw up time and time again on balance and new abilities in D&D 4th Ed, Squeenix screw up on FFXIV in many, many aspects, Richard Garriot of Ultima Online fame screw up with Tabula Rasa, the former Diablo team screw up with London Hellgate, and so on and so forth. I've seen it on a smaller scale where I've DM'd pen and paper roleplaying campaigns and I've screwed it up, too.

It comes down to video games are one part incredibly complicated beasts, with mathematical model complexity rivalling many systems and problems in many different fields of science, one part elusive unscientific idea of "fun", two parts programmers and artists, baked for 2 to 5 years and then served.

As far as professional game designers go, they're all making it up as they go along, using heuristics, what's worked in the past, and some mathematical modelling, but probably far more empirical testing rather than theoretical. So yes, they made mistakes like that, and it won't be the last time someone makes a mistake either.

Imperfect people in an imperfect system, with an imperfect knowledge of how that much stuff will interact and how 12 million minds are going to find ways to break what 100 minds came up with, because there's just that much more brain power going on with that many more people.

Also, the survival kit post was done by a Community Manager, not a developer. The Blizzard blog is not developers only, it's the entire Blizzard staff.

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