Semantics, defensiveness, and the “intention” of making content faster

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):

MMO-Champion Bashiok MoP length

*[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.

* * *

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.” 

[Emphasis mine.]

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.

To Blizzard:

  • 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.

* * *

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.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

17 Comments on “Semantics, defensiveness, and the “intention” of making content faster”

  1. Stitchersflock says:

    Well said and just one of many reasons why I no longer subscribe. I won’t be purchasing WoD either but that has more to do with Blizzard’s anti-woman stance and the strength and quality of the competition this year.

  2. Tzufit says:

    Completely agree. As you discuss, I think that if Blizzard wants to work on anything seriously with regard to content release, they need to reduce the time between the final patch and the new expansion before they worry about any of the patches in the middle of an xpac. Subs may come and go over the course of an xpac, but a 1-year lull spent in the same raid tier can absolutely destroy guilds. Since social ties are one of the primary things that keep people playing WoW as opposed to something else, this can easily translate into folks leaving WoW for good if their social reasons for being there no longer exist.

    • Mushan says:

      In response to you and battlechicken, I didn’t even think to point out how such a barren stretch of time affects guilds. Thanks for making that point.

  3. battlechicken says:

    I’m still paying for and enjoying the game, but I can absolutely see (and agree) with everything you’ve said. I remember the crawl at the end of ICC and the very little impact that Ruby Sanctum had on the overall feeling of Nothing New.

    If the past is any indication, there will be even further disintegration of guilds as we move through the next few months and an erosion of the overall playerbase, and it’s unfortunate but understandable.

    They are right–new content is what keeps us coming back, and we’re in the doldrums now.

    • Mushan says:

      Nothing New wasn’t the only reason that I decided to take a break, but it certainly contributed. I took a short, month-long break after we killed the LK in May 2010, but otherwise stuck it out during that fairly boring time. But I found stuff to do (including making my hunter!). Cataclysm was a little harder for me, but we still raided until a month after Diablo came out, and I had fun running alts through the 4.3 dungeons and so on… but it was still harder to stick with than 3.3 was. This time, I think I ran out of things to keep me satisfied. And I think I burned myself out.

      So yes, we’re in the doldrums (again), but my internal reaction to them is more strongly negative (or alternatively, apathetic) this time. This time, a break is in order. Not that I don’t miss the game and my friends, but I think it will do me good.

      Like you said, though, guilds with several people like me, who go off to do something else for a few months, could definitely suffer from this. I know my guild suffered at the end of Cata, and struggled to recover.

      Thanks, battlechicken!

      • battlechicken says:

        Yes indeed. I know lots of guilds that either drifted off or just downright imploded at the end of Cata. The period between the “end” of one expansion and the beginning of another seems to be a very trying/testing period for a lot of guilds.

  4. mrandmrswow says:

    I’m starting to get bored, so I can’t see myself lasting until “Soon TM”… I’ll just unsub for a bit and re-sub before launch. A break doesn’t hurt :)

  5. Objectively, it’s Blizzard’s choice whether it wants to endure subscription losses if Blizzard justifies the release gap through additional development time and/or surrogate games such as Diablo. As a player and guild leader I have certain expectations, but ultimately a company can do what it wishes.

    Still, I can’t help but wonder what influenced the decision not to include “holdover” content as part of original strategy (contra the “5.5 delays 6.0” trope). I also wonder if development projections accounted for this length of time between patches; and if not, why.

    • Skarn says:

      Blizzard could have done a “holdover” patch, but decided not to because it would directly take resources away from the expansion. I think it was said at BlizzCon by Dave Kosak. Not an exact quote, but close: “Any time we spend on an in-between patch is time we are not spending on Warlords. If it takes us a month to make that patch, then Warlords will be a month later.” I’m not sure an interim patch would really help things.

      • Well, that’s what I mean by “original strategy”: budgeting time, not borrowing it. You go into Mists intending to end the main arc at 5.4 but follow with at least one more patch to split the final gap and give players a reason to stay subscribed.

        Again, Blizzard can do what it wants, but Kodak’s statement suggests that management doesn’t think very far ahead at all.

      • Skarn says:

        It’s an interesting topic. I can’t imagine Blizzard management is happy with the downtime. It means lower subscriber numbers and more customer complaints. The players are unhappy with it, but Blizzard probably is too.

        So why don’t they fix it? Maybe they just haven’t figured out how yet. Given the statement that “anything we do now delays the expansion,” we can make the obvious leap to “at some point we have to stop working on the old expansion and start working on the new one.” Then comes another obvious notion: “Making an expansion takes more time than just a patch.”

        There’s no way that 6.0 will take as much time to make as the 5.4 patch did. It will obviously take more. A whole new world, new 5-mans, new raids, new models and Garrisons is more than any patch in Mists contained. This is not a surprise to anyone. So the time it will take to make it all is longer. That’s simple logic given the constraints of time and space.

        How do they reduce that expansion gap? There is more work and content in an expansion than a patch, so naturally it will take longer. Perhaps they need to overlap more. Maybe have two teams? One that can be patching this expansion while the other creates the next one. Maybe it’s a good idea, maybe it’s not. Perhaps they could delay patches to give them more time to get ahead. If patch 6.1 is ready on day X, wait two more months so they can get a jump on the next one. Since I don’t know how Blizzard’s internal processes work, it’s difficult to offer specific suggestions.

        I do agree it is a problem for the players, but I doubt there is a magical button that can be pushed to fix it. Worth discussing anyway.

      • Based on what we know from public statements prior to March 10, and what are reasonable assumptions, development teams were confident that they could produce an expansion in the first half of the year until there was a hard reckoning — and a wholesale change of schedule, as if executive management said, “Fine, forget it, you have the year.”

        Without details, I can’t offer any recommendations on what can be done, other than for Blizzard to plan as if their best-case scenario will never happen, and always have a patch up their sleeve.

  6. R says:

    I don’t think anyone would complain about players being annoyed with Blizzard about the delay. *I’m* annoyed, more than a bit. What needs to stop is the rhetoric that Blizzard PROMISED any sort of improvement. They didn’t, for all of the reasons above and more.

    Here’s what we know, both fundamentally and based on the charts… up to and including 5.4 hitting, Blizzard WAS releasing content more quickly than they ever have before. In BC, the final raid was released roughly 425 days into the expansion. In Wrath, 390. Cat, 380. MoP, 350 or so. They have actually been sticking to a tighter timeline.

    Then something went awry with WoD… maybe they ran into issues that put them behind the original schedule (when it comes to thinks like programming and design, that can absolutely happen). Maybe Garrisons were originally supposed to be a relatively minor feature that suddenly became a focal point to many players and they realized they had to beef them up. Maybe they originally planned to stagger the release of the new character models but realized that those not in the first wave wouldn’t react well to that news because, apparently, new models are some critical feature that we can’t live without despite the fact that we spend 99+% of our play time staring at our toon’s backs, not their faces.

    Whatever the reason, or more likely reasons, they’ve lost whatever gains they’d made with the earlier MoP patches. Yeah, it sucks, and I’d be shocked if they weren’t more pissed about it than the most vocal of players are. It’s going to cost them a LOT of money and has already cost them a LOT of goodwill, whether justified or not, nobody at Blizzard is patting anyone else on the back right now. Up to 5.4 hitting the general sense was that content was coming out signficantly faster, even though it wasn’t really (30 days sooner than Cat? Pretty trivial, really). They had the momentum and the positive PR. Now they’ve lost the first and the second is under heavy attack.

    I much prefer when companies actually give us a bit of a look into their vision, whether they are actually able to execute on it or not. If anyone wants to believe there was some intentional misdirection going on then I can’t argue with that, I just don’t see it. Me, I’m hoping they continue to strive for faster releases and I’m hoping at some point they do figure out a cadence that allows them to carry it through an entire expansion cycle, once they nail that, they should be able to continue with it. I’m just enough of a realist not to EXPECT it to happen.

    • Mushan says:

      I’m willing to give them credit for having a problem that makes the expansion later than hoped-for. And I never actually expected for it to happen – I’ve been skeptical since before the expansion announcement. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t stink for players, though. And if players are dissatisfied, well, that’s the nature of the beast, as you said so well.

      Hopefully, you’re right, and when it does click, they can have consistently faster turnaround – or, alternatively, better balance – re: the content release flow/timeline. I think most of us would be happier with either.

  7. Paul says:

    There’s a rumor on MMO-C (from a “Smudge”) that the delay is because about 15 developers, mostly from the systems team, went to Riot along with Mr. Street. The defection was supposedly due to compensation issues.

    • Mushan says:

      Interesting. I’ll have to check that thread out, although I have absolutely no expectation of ever actually finding out the truth about that. Thanks for the tip.

  8. […] produced some interesting bits of discussion, with nice blog posts from Mushan, etc and another from The […]

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