Semantics, defensiveness, and the “intention” of making content fasterPosted: March 24, 2014
On Saturday, MMO-Champion highlighted a recent exchange on Reddit involving Bashiok (Blizzard CM), along with some graphs* he had found on Twitter, regarding the length of MoP in comparison to those of other expansions. For the sake of simplicity, I’m just going to post a screenshot of MMO-C’s page here (click the screenshot if it’s too small to read):
*[Edit: the graphs were created by Sivation, who has more graphical goodness on the topic on Twitter – check it out!]
Darkbrew took these graphs and did some amazing analysis over at The Brewhall on Sunday. It’s a post that I would highly recommend checking out. His post was the catalyst for this post, because it drove me to look at Bashiok’s words again, and although my post might not relate to his very much, he deserves some credit for inspiring me.
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The intention to make content faster is not new. Blizzard-folk have been talking about it on and off since at least the beginning of Cataclysm: it’s supposedly the reason we got the troll dungeons in 4.1, and was a much talked-about topic as Blizzard rolled out the first few numbered patches of Mists of Pandaria. In fact, we were given all of MoP’s raid content over the course of less than a year.
The concept of “faster content” is not a myth. Shortly after Blizzcon, the man himself, Blizzard president Mike Morhaime, told Polygon:
“It’s going to be on us and our development team to continually look at ways to evolve the game and keep it relevant, and look for new ways of maintaining engagement within the game. We view expansions as a huge opportunity to do that.
“We recognize that we need to release them on a faster cadence than we have in the past. So we’re investing in the team and our resources to enable us to do that.”
Still, it’s not technically a promise. But this is just a recent example of Morhaime’s stated intentions to release content more frequently. For instance, during an earnings call in May 2011, during which Blizzard announced the loss of 600,000 subscribers, he said:
“We need to be faster at delivering content to players. And so that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking to decrease the amount of time in between expansions.
“What we have seen so far is that people have been consuming this content very quickly, and so the subscriber levels have decreased [following the release of Cataclysm] faster than in previous expansions.”
And look at this, from Greg Street to Digital Spy, shortly after Blizzcon (and before his revelation that he was leaving Blizzard):
“We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft. Really good patches will keep them, but they aren’t as good at bringing players back to the game.
“We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates.”
Regardless of the fact that Street left Blizzard shortly thereafter, his words echo those of Morhaime from around the same time. Look at what Morhaime said: “We recognize that we need to release [expansions] on a faster cadence than we have in the past.” These statements are collectively indicative of an actual company vision – more than they constitute rhetoric put in place to placate concerned investors – especially given similar comments in the past.
Players have looked at words like these from Morhaime, as well as similar ones from devs like Street, and taken them to mean that this will happen. Where Blizzard is (and has been) clever is that these are only statements of vision and intention. Goals. Not promises or official deadlines.
Semantics and implied meanings. Yes, we like the idea of faster content, and that is our intention. But if we fail to provide that, we never actually said that we would definitely provide that, so you can’t hold it against us.
However, their ability to stand on such statements of good intentions in times like this, where a patch is seemingly interminably long, is weakened in the wake of what happened in 2013, when they started to show that that vision is producing results. In this case, Blizzard released content faster during MoP, which belied an actuality: that “intention to produce faster content” was becoming “actual faster content” – that, in a manner of speaking, the train was picking up speed, that things were finally moving toward making that stated goal a reality.
In fact, as we see now, this was not the case. Despite Blizzard’s best intentions as stated, if the company does have a goal – once again, not a promise, but a goal or an intention - then they are failing at that goal.
With the recent release window (fall 2014) announcement, players are staring at five-to-eight more months of nothing new as it stands today (eventual beta notwithstanding; many people consider beta to be at least something new, but I’m looking at “new content” as content that is guaranteed to be available to everyone, like the expansion’s pre-patch and release). At the very best, unless the beta is extremely short due to arriving in a much more fully-formed state than past betas have (and Blizzard beats their window by quite a margin) we’re basically looking at the same thing we’ve always experienced.
They’re failing to reach the goal.
So here’s why players are irritated with Blizzard, and why people have reacted negatively to Bashiok’s recent comments, and so on: because from all points of view – player happiness, subscription retention, shareholder satisfaction – it is in the company’s best interest to actually put out faster, full-sized expansions.
- During times of Nothing New, you lose subscribers. You know this. People don’t want to pay for Nothing New as much as they want to pay for Something New. These are basic economic principles, particularly as they relate to subscription-based content.
- You’ve stated several times that you want to fix this subscriber-retention problem by releasing faster content – specifically, faster expansions. It’s right out there on the internet for people to see.
- You haven’t managed to release faster expansions: at this point, every expansion has taken roughly two years to release after the previous release. As we now know, the MoP-to-WoD transition will be the same.
- Regardless of the fact that you didn’t explicitly “promise” faster content, you consistently fail to meet your stated intention. Players know that this is your intention, and they wonder why nothing has changed in spite of it.
- MoP was flawed in part because new content was jammed down players’ throats over the course of a year, and now the players who consumed that content in real-time have nothing but the Same Ol’ Same Old for a year.
And that brings us back to the first point: people don’t want to pay for Nothing New as much as they want to pay for Something New. So don’t be surprised if people ask why content isn’t coming out faster, or express dissatisfaction that it isn’t. They are paying customers until the content runs out and they get bored. And if you know this, and don’t fix it – and lose subscribers as a consequence of that, and are questioned by a portion of the player base – then that’s on you as a company. Getting defensive doesn’t help things.
When you fall back on technicalities and semantics, like ‘we didn’t actually promise, we only intended,’ you’re refusing to acknowledge the point, which is that you’re actually failing to retain subscribers by giving them what they want most: faster content, including faster expansions.
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Bashiok’s a good dude, and deserves respect. However, the players are right, and they also deserve respect, as do their points of view. If Blizzard as a company can’t actually make faster expansions, its representatives (and its customers) would be better served if they would simply be up front about it as standard procedure.
And players like me vote with our dollars. Now obviously, if you (the player) are still playing and enjoying current content of any stripe, then by all means, keep playing and enjoying yourselves! But at this time, for those of us who are bored and tired of Blizzard’s carrot-on-a-stick way of attempting to lure people back to / keep people playing WoW during a time like this, some of us vote Nay. Because in spite of the fact that there was no promise, Blizz is still trying to lead us on. And that gets old.
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Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!