Sunday, October 18, 2020

My Life As A Gamer: The Game Is Broken By Design

One of the most influential theorycrafters in the World of Warcraft community, and one of the top Death Knight players in the world, put forth this thread on Twitter yesterday. Started here; will blockquote the rest with mild editing for clarity.


Around early/mid 2013, just before the release of the Throne of Thunder raid, I was invited to a private feedback forum for WoW theorycrafters. This was the first incarnation of the "private forums", which many have speculated about ever since.

In its initial stages, this forum was wonderful. Many of the most positive developments in both Mists of Pandaria (MoP) and even the developmental stages of Warlords of Draenor (WoD) were the result of the careful, thoughtful feedback that players on this forum provided. It was also reciprocated with actual, candid discussion on the part of developers, the results of which were probably some of the strongest system and general game design that the game has seen.

Around the end of 2013, a key figure in WoW development (who also happened to be the brainchild behind the forums) left Blizzard. Slowly, but surely, everything began to change. Developer tones became more condescending. The obvious effort put in by players went ignored.

The majority of WoD was miserable for forum dwellers, but it was nothing compared to Legion. If there was ever a true “death” suffered by them, it occurred when the WoW dev team’s line of communication during the Legion Beta became nothing but insults, rudeness, and ignoring us.

The first incarnation of the private forums was deleted during Legion. It was then resurrected (and still exists) with a new crew of feedback givers with some overlap from the old, but continued in the same trend of developers essentially treating feedback givers like trash. In addition, I’m told that there is also an influencers Discord, largely compromising of YouTube content creators and other “prominent” figures in the WoW community. In other words, the current forums are not the only semi-private line of communication the team has.

So when you read Twitter threads complaining about “the masses”, please understand that this team *does* have all the access they need to theorycrafters and players with a key stake in the game’s development. They simply choose to either ignore, insult, or belittle them.

Complaining about “the masses” is facetious. “The masses” have consisted of loud yelling by ignorant, uninformed players since Day 1 of Vanilla. That is the entire reason *behind* the genesis of the private forums and the influencer Discord.

Yet surprisingly “the masses” weren’t an issue in the past — probably because the team at the time actually understood that the best way to obtain good feedback was not by alienating and marginalising the actual rational voices of folks willing to put in the time/effort.

It took me a long time to take a step back and realise how incredibly fucked up it was that the WoW community consists of so many players (especially theorycrafters) that put in so much time and effort into improving the game with zero compensation. And many were happy to do so.

The truth is that it isn’t feedback that has suffered or changed. It is design. It is the state of a game whose system developers have proven themselves to be a bunch of manchildren with egos the size of mountains. Gaslighting your theorycrafter core won’t change that.

All of this (and more) were things I wish I'd included in my final blogpost, but that I refrained from doing out of respect for one person. If you’re reading this: I’m sorry if this damages our personal relationship. But, I can no longer be silent in the face of what’s happening

Judging by the 7 DMs I’ve already received thanking me for this thread, I guess it resonates. My suggestion? Please join me in speaking up, assuming it doesn’t put your safety or wellbeing in jeopardy. Many of you were right there with me, and saw most of what I did.

n case you were wondering what the tone of the private forums is like these days, here’s what someone with current access to them just DM’d me. Guess I’m not the only one who’s just about had it.

Here’s Exhibit 2. Same developer by the way, in case the tone didn’t make it abundantly clear.

Let me restate this again, just to point out how absurd the situation is: This is how WoW system developers continue to speak to and treat players that spent hundreds of hours of their free time trying to help them develop the game, based purely on passion. Let that sink in.

Going to be rounding off this thread and then switching off notifications. First, since multiple people have asked, this was the post I wrote about why I was done with the game in Legion. Consider this thread to be a belated, harsher addendum to it. Second, I’ve retweeted a few acquaintances were on the forums with me — go and give their threads a read too. I never took screenshots (perhaps naively so) while present for the first generation of the forums, so I’m afraid I can’t provide any more. Finally, thank you to everyone for the kind DMs and messages of support — I sincerely appreciate it. FWIW, all that this has really left me feeling is hollow. Glad I got it off my chest, but it’s sad to consider how a four tweet thread was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A lot of us long-time players have felt that shift. 2013 is during Mists of Pandaria, so this would have been when internal development of Warlords of Draenor. This is just before the decline in player subscriptions fell off a cliff with WoD, and this was also when the remaining original cohort started to make their exits- to other games in the company (Overwatch), to other companies, or flat-out retirement.

The feeling a lot of us got then is that the devs really don't care about the players. They listen to the theorycrafters and the top guilds, as this elite player cohort sets the standards for everyone else to follow and use social pressure to enforce those standards. (It's real; you don't get into anything remotely challenging if you don't conform to the current metagame standards.)

Yesterday this came up during Asmongold's stream, and as he's one of the top neckbeard players--an influencer--for the game then 45,000 people directly got this matter told to them and they'll go out and talk about it to their friends in their guilds, their raid groups, their Arena teams, etc. and r/wow on Reddit has at least one thread about it by now. It's not just going to be ignored.

What Asmongold got at is that the devs ignore the elite players because the devs have different objectives than the elite players. The latter gives feedback on the presumption that the design flaws in the game are actual flaws and not deliberate decisions, because they believe that a game that's properly balanced across the board will be a better game and thus a more popular game that retains current players and draws new ones.

This is not so.

The devs are driven by algorythms, specifically on player subscription retention and maximizing player extraction via paid services and cash shop purchases. The game not only does not need to be properly balanced across the board, the game is intentionally broken to force players to change things up and thus extend paid game time. Some known trends are:

  • Raids are made too hard on purpose to extend the New Car Smell effect ("relevence" as we speak of it) and then later nerfed back to playable status once the elite players find out how to break it, and then nerfed again so everyone else can handle it.
  • Races, Classes and Specializations (etc.) are deliberately over or underpowered not only due to dev favortism, but also to get players to maintain multiple characters they can win with in raiding and PVP, all of which extends paid game time and promotes paid services so players can keep that stable of characters at parity or can easily catch up.
  • Items that break the game are deliberately allowed into the game and placed where they are to entice player participation in a given gameplay mode, extending game time and paid service use so players can get to it and then use it to dominate competition and do status dancing.

The reason that WOW is what it is comes down to the fact that WOW, as an MMORPG, is a service and not a product. The service needs to shake things up to maintain awareness in the larger population and bring lapsed players back. Some players will lapse. Others will return. If the overall population of paying players remains steady, but the amount of money brought in increases then that's superior business for the devs and their superiors than what the elite players want.

This is why the feedback that elite players provide isn't heeded. They aren't giving the devs the feedback that the devs need for their business model, not intentionally. They are providing irrelevant noise most of the time, and it only matters when the next expansion begins its development cycle when need to figure out what they need to shake up this time around, which is why what feedback the elite players provide only tangentially relates to what the devs do to the game.

And it works.

The game is broken BY DESIGN.

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