The announcements about World of Warcrafts upcoming Patch 4.3 keep rolling out, and once again I find myself putting what is said together and thinking, “who comes up with this stuff?”
You ever hear this old joke?
A manager is speaking to a gathering of employees. He tells them that because of the costs of restructuring, the downturn of the economy, and the need to stay competitive in the marketplace, there will be no raises or profit matching bonuses this year. Then he tells the employees that sales have continued to grow at record levels, making this the most profitable quarter in company history. Then he stops, looks over at his secretary, and says, “I told you to put the United Way employee donation drive announcement between those two.”
Sometimes, that’s the way it seems with Blizzard, isn’t it? All these announcements and press releases and interviews and revelations come out, and individually they all make perfect sense and are clearly meant to generate excitement and buzz, but when I put them together without the filler, the message gets kinda… mixed. Or misleading. Or, and I’ll be blunt, self-serving corporate bullshit.
Make no mistake. Content does not come out for the sake of content to please the player. Blizzard does not have a crew of men and women creating and changing code for World of Warcraft in the backroom or in their basement for fun, rogue coders ranging wild and free adding whatever they feel like at their own pace.
No. Everything that gets added or changed in game comes out after planning meetings, time to market discussions, and cost/benefit analysis is done.
If you see content announced, be it new raids, hot gear, rules changes or a new Legendary, you should know that there was a meeting or series of meetings behind it.
In those meetings, there were overall objectives to meet. ”What can we do to improve retention of existing customers? What can we do to attract new customers? What can we do to encourage existing customers to not drop payment for the few months before new content comes out? How do we get old, tired, bored customers to come back again? How do we handle the cynical and bitter?”
I’m sure there are additional concerns in planning meetings, but you get the idea. Committing programmer and quality testing resources costs money, and before that money and time are committed, there will be an expected return on investment.
So, back to the mixed messages. The bullshit messages. The upswing of excitement tempered with the “but why can’t we do x?”
Or, to put it another way, Why So Serious?
Transmogrification, or ‘mogging’ as it’s now called, was announced to great excitement on my part. In almost all ways I’ve been delighted with the very idea. It has succeeded in one assumed goal; I am revitilized in playing World of Warcraft, because this has challenged my ‘collector’ instincts to go out there into old content and gather pieces of gear together for that ‘neato’ set. It’s also brought renewed attachment to my characters, fulfilling my desire to customise and personalize my avatar so that I’m not just Huntard #4590786. Sure, I’ll still be generic Big Brown Bear Butt #75876, but the non-shifty among us will finally get to look cool while we kill stuffs.
We’ll even get to dispense with clown suits in Outlands, and for once in our lives, if we don’t WANT bare belly buttons in our plate armor, we won’t have to put up with it.
Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
The mogging announcements and the questions that came out of the community (and the Blue responses) give us some food for thought.
Let’s take a look at some of these discussions, shall we?
From this article;
We have an obligation to players and to our hard working artists to keep the game from looking too silly. I know looking ridiculous is fun for some players, but World of Warcraft was established with a design that the game overall kept its silliness in check. That’s one of the reasons we resisted adding a feature like Transmogrification for so long.
So weapons that look like fish, for example, probably won’t be available as source items for Transmogrification, even if one is technically a dagger and has stats. There are a handful other weapons with “silly” models (such as frying pans, brooms, etc.) that may or may not be allowed — it’s still under discussion.
From this article;
Fishing Poles cannot be transmogrified.
Fishing Poles cannot be used to transmogrify.
There may be individual items that are excluded from being transmogrified on the basis that they were originally added to the game as absurdities. (examples: a weapon that looks like a fish, or a chest piece that is invisible)
Going off of what has been said, mogging will allow players to wear armor and weapons that are effective in combat while at the same time present a player-chosen appearance.
But Blizzard is also saying that they do not want players to have total freedom in the choices available to them. Things that Blizzard deems ‘silly’ are not permitted. The reason, the sole reason, is out of a self-imposed obligation to the players and to the artists to keep the game from getting too silly.
We as players are being given the freedom to take the disparate ‘clown suit’ clashing appearance of items, items that are individually best in performance but look like shit visually when all mixed together, and pay gold to have them all look like matching or themed sets we choose.
Many players will certainly take advantage of this.
But we are NOT being given the chance to truly let our own attitudes or humor or sense of satire shine through. We do not have freedom of personal expression in how we do this, unless someone chooses to mog their gear to intentionally pick items that clash as horribly as possible, going for a circus clown look.
And the reason given is to keep things serious.
Let’s put ourself in that hypothetical Blizzard meeting. The one where the suits are looking for the cost/profit analysis before giving the green light to coders to even begin implementing a new feature like mogging.
When mogging comes up, what does Blizzard get out of it? We can see the cost in coding time, and we can see the fun aspect as players, but where does Blizzard see a profit?
In terms of retention, perhaps a little. Mogging will provide an opportunity for customization, and the act of customizing will bring us to invest more of ourselves into our characters, leading at least some of us to feel a closer investment into WoW.
But is that all?
What about attracting new players amidst all the competition out there in the MMO world, with all these shiny new games?
If you have not played an MMO before, and were comparing screenshots or looking at in-game videos on Youtube, wouldn’t Blizzard come out looking a little better if their characters wore more cohesive and attractive gear with amazing looking weapons?
Wouldn’t screenshots of boss kills look a bit better if everyone stood out more and looked… planned?
The impression that potential new customers would have is that you can look cool in WoW, something that mismatched armor appearances and clown suits worn for the stat benefits don’t provide.
As an aside, why don’t they currently provide them? Because whoever the design team is for gear sets, as talented as they are and as kick-ass as the work they’ve done over the years is, the people putting stats on those gear items have forced players to choose between style and substance instead of having both in one package. And talking about why that has been the way it has would make for another fun discussion.
Back on point, when you consider screenshots and the new player attraction point of view from a Public Relations / Sales (corporate suit with no sense of humor)perspective, the decision to ban silly looking items from mogging becomes self-explanatory.
I’m a blogger, so I’ll say it anyway; if Blizzard is trying to entice new customers with images of epic battles and high fantasy, competing against games with more cohesive high fantasy art styles (and more realistic looks with higher polygon counts) they don’t want to have videos floating around out there of top flight raid teams killing Ragnaros while wielding fishing poles, frying pans, baseball bats and pitchforks, with a main tank beating Rag with a fish.
It would happen. Why would it happen? Because we are, the most of us, gamers playing a game, and we gamers as a class have this annoying tendency to enjoy the silly, the absurb, the satirical and the loony. We often like Fawlty Towers, Red Dwarf, Monty Python, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and other things that poke fun at the too self-important or deadly serious.
We are Not So Serious. We ARE the people who think tanking Ragnaros and beating on him with a dead floppy fish would be hilarious.
Blizzard knows this. And at least one aspect of policy makers has chosen to pre-emptively block it before it can become a problem.
Who in Blizzard would worry about this? After all, I know that part of what brought me into the game was the light-hearted nature of the art, the stylistic sense of the game, and yes, pop culture references and more tender moments.
In game non-combat pets are an example of the heart of the game that drew me in. Things that spoke to me of people making a game that loved what they did, and knew what fun was. People who knew how to have a good time. I felt I could trust people like that to continue to support a fun game to play.
Would tanking Ragnaros with a fish main hand hurt Blizzard? Would it detract from our enjoyment of the game? I submit to you the argument that if it would, it would do so to the same extent that the entire quest series in Westfall parodying Horatio from CSI: Miami does already.
I know there are some players that do not like having that type of pop culture involvement or sillyness in the game. But it’s in the game already. Clearly, there is a faction within Blizzard that DOES have a sense of humor, DOES know how to have fun, and also knows how not to take themselves too seriously. And who have tried to explore that sense of humor while staying within the boundaries of a very smart and intelligent world setting with amazingly rich lore.
This isn’t War and Peace, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, or On War.
This is a video game, and as such, we the players get in there and mess around.
Who plays World of Warcraft?
People who have so much fun that we take the serious aspects of the game like dying in the Ring of Fire and make Johnny Cash parody songs, or look at the insane farming requirements to open the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj and make parody videos of it, or just take the brilliance of Avenue Q and set one of their songs to a video about what those nice people in your guild are really like.
So someone put sillyness in the game, someone I would wager is a gamer at heart and knows how to have fun.
But here is a new feature, and we’re told that there is now an obligation to prevent sillyness. Apparently, we wouldn’t be showing the proper respect for the material and the artists hard work if we killed Ragnaros by beating him to death with floppy dead fishies.
I call bullshit on that one.
So why? Why risk a downside of player irritation at being restricted? There has to be some benefit that outweighs the negative.
Maybe someone can suggest another in the comments, but the only one I see is the possible PR benefit from having movies with Oh So Serious players beating raids and doing PvP in badass looking matching gear sets, sans fish.
It’s an idea only a suit would have; to assume potential players of a fantasy game with Orcs and Elves (and Gnomes), seeing characters fighting with fish, would be TURNED OFF and walk away saying “Hell no, that shit is too damn silly for me. I’d prefer a nice game of SimAccountant”.
It is, to bring this back to my earlier corporate joke, the equivalent of a proposed picture of all the company employees for the company website or newsletter. Human Resources or Public Relations people come out to hand out t-shirts with the company logo on them for everyone to wear, arrange everyone so the ‘pretty’ office people and managers are standing prominently out in front or on the sides to kind of mute the grubbiness of the production staff, and generally manage the situation so the picture taken presents the image they want to show, and if it happens to resemble reality, well, that was an accident.
It’s one step up from doing what my last company did, and just hire professional models to portray the company employees on the company website, leading employees to ask each other, “Who the hell is that, and when did we hire them?”
Seriously Blizz, Why So Serious?