Why So Serious?

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.

Err. Wut?

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?

29 thoughts on “Why So Serious?

  1. on a serious note – enjoyed the post. (I know I know, I am late). I can see your point BB and I can also see Elrindir’s. Me, I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t mind the silliness (hell, look at the surrounding landscape – thats why I play WOW – I love the artwork!) but I get tired of my female toons being semi-dress. The same set of armour that a male toon wears, my female toon shoul dalos be wearing. I have to wear shirts and other items of clothing to present a non-sexy appearence. Sorry, allowing the artist their expression with the ridiculous “naughty” armour for females and not allowing a fish to be moggie because it might upset the same artist is pure Bull.

    For Elrindir – are you on a RP server?

    For BB – glad you are enjoying the new job. 🙂


  2. I’ve been playing RPGs for more than twenty years, but I only recently came to WOW after much trepidation and uncertainty. The thing that kept me away for so long? Exactly the sort of stuff you mention as “fun.” To me, it’s not fun at all to enter a world hoping to experience epic sagas, memorable player-driven characters, and legendary battles, and to instead run into the sort of stuff that you’d find in any other MMO video game. This game CAN be an RPG, as it was originally intended, but it requires players who want to cooperate with the dynamics of the world they are participating in.

    People who choose to wear clown suits for the stat bonuses, wield fish because they are “funny,” and use l33t speak or whatever, are not cooperating. Which would be fine if this RPG was a solo game. Sure the only person who’d be in on your joke would be you, but on the other hand, players who are looking for what the game was intended to be, advertised to be, and obviously designed to be, would not have their play experience marred by your joke.

    It’s interesting to me to see people calling WOW an MMO nowadays and just leaving the RPG off. It seems to me that 99% of the non-RP tolerance you see in the game comes from the fact that out of millions of players, few have any idea what that actually entails, nor what fun it can actually be. I mean think about the High school you attended for a minute. How many students played RPGs like Dnd? How many played videogames?

    Now to stay alive and make thier money, Blizzard has made many consessions to the obvious majaority, who are non-RP players. Players who don’t really give a hoot about the world they’re playing in. Players who care more about “earning points” in thier game (getting cool stuff), and “winning” (getting even better stuff). Personally, I don’t see this as a coperate decision that’s somehow pandering to the masses. People who love being in an immersive world and want other players to respect that immersion are certainly in the minority. I’m glad Blizzard is making decisions that take into account our fun too. Sorry if it ruins yours.

    You knew there was a world in place, with it’s own lore, own values, and established storyline. I knew that there were a TON of people who didn’t give a rip about it. Yet here we both are, for the most part enjoying our game. With all due respect, we both new what we were getting into, right?


  3. So where do you draw the line? I’m ok with some silly quests but I like to feel like I’m part of something epic when I raid. How would you feel if Blizz allowed full nude models in-game? I bet a lot of players would really appreciate that, and make a lot of videos!

    “We have an obligation to players and to our hard working artists to keep the game from looking too X-rated. I know being naked is fun for some players, but World of Warcraft was established with a design that the game overall kept its nudity in check.”


  4. Most of the time I am right with you, but I think the items that they are not willing to include might be because of technical limitations and not so much because they are silly. I think once of those meetings you talked about might have been resulted in miscommunication.

    Now the real tragedy is not being able to transmog legendaries. 😦


  5. I’m mogging every one of my toons into the level 1 Belf armor styles. although I love the tier 1 druid set… but seeing as I don’t want to spend an eternity farming it, I’ll stick with the pretty belf leathers.


    fuck mogging.


  6. I seriously hope Blizzard doesn’t implement a ‘no white-item’ transmorg. I look forward to the day when my warlock can whip out his PVP weapon and be brandishing a broken wine bottle, instead of some shiny dagger. That and picking up the old tier gear are my primary focus between now and 4.3 dropping.


  7. Excellent article – as the trackback above shows, we’ve featured it on the Melting Pot, and I’m hoping it’ll start a fair amount of discussion there.

    I agree that the biz angle is one motivation, but it’s not the only one. Working with games companies myself, I’ve heard a number of people say that keeping artists happy with how their work is used is very important to the company, and that affects all sorts of things from Machinima to, well, fish. I suspect it’s a bit of a continuum issue.


    • Thanks for the kind words, Hugh. Part two is coming soon. It should be legendary… Well, not really, but I bet you know where I go next.


  8. Pingback: Big Bear Butt defends the fish-slap — MMO Melting Pot

  9. What a ridiculous statement…. /EYEROLL
    so they didn’t implement mogging sooner because they didnt want to have ppl look like clowns before? wut? hahaha….is he serious?
    when have WoW players looked worse than in vanilla/TBC in terms of outfit?!
    apparently they assume mogging will inspire all sorts of nonsense, when the majority of players will actually use it to homogenize their appearances and shiny them up. and heaven beware someone might find it fun to equip a fishing pole, oh noes!

    This has just undermined the entire motivation behind the feature for me; Blizzard still can’t let their players make their own decisions, apparently.


  10. Among my many toons, I play a character with super long ears that turns into a tree/two kinds of cat/bear/seal thing and bird and is working on turning into a dragon too. Oh and her eyes glow in the dark. She also does summersaults and looks like a pole dancer when, with a staff equipped, I type /dance.

    My blue aliens have tails, horns and boobs only balanced by their butts, my blood elf has eyebrows that put an ex-Prime Minister of Australia’s to shame and, thanks to her first load of gear in Hellfire, my mage can look like she should be strutting the stage in a wet t-shirt contest in little more than long boots and a body suit.

    … and dear Bliz is worried that my gear might make me look silly??????????


      • Well said … or just one side of the story, if you cant see the difference in this and that I doubt you ever will.


      • I assume you’re just being a dick here, then? Since you agreed with the solid opinion offered by Elladrion above, but decided to drop your little “I doubt you ever will” here.

        Yeah, closed minded. Unable to see multiple sides to an issue. That’s me all righty.


      • Yeah that was kinda dick’ish … was intended for Tsudrats “Among my many toons, I play a character with super long ears that turns into a tree/two kinds of cat/bear/seal thing and bird and is working on turning into a dragon too.” vs. characters running around with fish weapons etc though.

        “Yeah, closed minded. Unable to see multiple sides to an issue. That’s me all righty.”

        Nahh you usually are quite the opposite, have read your blogg for quite a while and dont intend to stop doing it either.

        I still dont find Tsudrats post Well said, well said indeed though but rather find it kinda dick’ish too.


      • I hope you don’t take my being a Dick to heart, Zugg. I have truly been in a foul mood for a few weeks, and I’m just trying to get by with a big fake smile, holding on with my fingertips. No excuses, I shouldn’t act like an ass.


  11. There’s a guy in my guild who often raids with us. His name is Mehunglow. He’s a cool guy and gets along with everybody, but every time I see his name it takes me completely out of the game. EVERY. TIME. Completely out. He is no longer a tauren, we are no longer fighting pretend dragons flying through fantastical imaginary landscapes. Cold stark harsh reality comes rushing back in and any sort of immersion gets completely smashed to pieces, any sense of escapism along with it. I am no longer in a fantasy world but in front of my computer screen staring at a guy that spend days upon days of his life playing as a joke, a character in a game that could never exist within the game. He may well think it’s hilarious but it riuns the game for me. The same happens every time I see a rogue named Stabsurface or a mage called freezdya. These people have decided to make their entire character’s existence a joke and while some people find this entertaining it ruins the experience for many other people that have to interact with them. Not everyone, ,clearly, but more than just a small minority. Transmogging joke weapons are the exact same. I would see those and suddenly that is not a forsaken, that is not a draenai or an elf, but some 12 year old making a fart joke 24/7, and the same exact fart joke at that.

    Now, I love me a good fart joke, have since I was 12 and I still make em (the farts and the jokes). I love cringing at so-bad-they’re-good puns and coming up with my own. But there’s a time and place and I agree completely with blizzard on this that a character costantly wearing a joke is not the time or the place.


  12. Well thought out as always Bear.

    I was wondering for a while now exactly what benefit Blizzard would actually get from the whole Transmogrification system, beyond a small bit of player retention. I’ll admit I never thought of the screenshots or videos, but you make a good point there. What occured to me is the possibility of Blizzard marketing cohesive and well designed armor sets and/or weapon looks as a “cosmetic only” purchase from the Blizzard store.

    Don’t want to go farm for weeks to make your character look the way you want? Just visit the new section of the Blizzard store!

    That, my friend, is a way to pull in some extra cash.


  13. I still think it’s a matter of control. Blizzard doesn’t like it when players have a lot of control. I’m not sure what it is about the corporate culture, but they resist housing, cosmetic gear (seriously, ‘Mogging is an overwrought overdesigned feature when a simple LOTRO appearance tab would have been sufficient, and maybe even preferable), flexible talent trees and going off the questing rails. Players do what they can *anyway*, but that, to me, says that there’s demand there that Blizz is simply ignoring. I honestly think that it’s not just a marketing issue, it’s a pride and control issue.

    Then again, I may just be bitter that their art job applications want you to work “in the Blizzard style” instead of seeing what new blood could bring to their stable. That smacks of corporatitis to me.


  14. I’m still miffed that I have a lovely pair of steampunkish goggles from Ulduar that just happen to be mail that I can’t ‘mog over my plate helm. 😦


  15. WoW does have a dance to do, between silly and serious. It cannot be too silly, since there is a world they are, or at least were, trying to maintain, and lore-wise, it is not an especially silly world, with the exception of anything related to gnomes or goblins. But it cannot be so damn serious! WoW did not get to be so popular, whether in vanilla or now in cataclysm, by being restricted by sticklers for seriousness.

    So I say, let us draw a line of where there is too much silly. Let us draw that line and then see that fish and raiding do not cross that line.


  16. The other thing to consider are other players. Yeah, screenshots/vids of boss kills with everyone wielding fish could dissuade new customers or give the impression the game is more silly than it actually is on the whole. But also think about how the players who DO take the game “seriously” would feel when they have to constantly see people wielding fish in their 5m and raids.

    What I am surprised about with Blizzard and mogging is how they never implemented an “Disable Transmog” interface option. For example, I can turn off other peoples’ titles in the Interface, and turn off my own helm and cloak. You would think that any PvP concerns (i.e. recognizing someone with Tier 2 weapons or non-PvP gear is information I can use to my advantage) could be eliminated by letting individuals turn all of that off.


  17. I want to raid with a fish for an offhand. I should be able to. My character has glowing eyes and goat hooves, aren’t we well into absurd territory already?

    Besides, for screenshots I have an outfit set. I’m the one with the party dress and flowers standing over the big bad boss corpse… Transmog will make it easier for everyone to do this, but we already could.

    Excellent post.


  18. I have a theory about “Mogging.” I believe it’s not about going into old dungeons to find your favorite old set (but of course many people will be doing just that.)

    I think Blizz put it in so when players start making the climb to 90 in the next expansion, they can sink some gold into making the quest gear look like T13. With the scaled down Looking for Raid coming in the same patch, they are trying to put as many people as possible into T13 before the expansion comes out. And everyone will want to keep that look as long as possible, I reckon.

    Which dovetails nicely with your thoughts about screenshots and the like.

    Just a thought.


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