August 3, 2009

Q&A Woes

So, the official Blizzard forums have been doing their WoW Class Q&As for a while now. Each class, getting its own little question and answer session. That's a really good idea. The reality has been less than what most of us were hoping, though. Disappointment is kind of inevitable- it's hard to imagine what would be enough to satisfy the hardcore... but you've also got to ask yourself, "What is the point of having the community ask any questions they want, and then only asking ones that (mostly) already have answers?" So, so many of the Q&As consist most of "Q: Many of our class are dissatisfied with X ability. Do you have any plans to change it? A: BWA HA HA! Cry some more!" I exaggerate, of course, but telling people that there's no problem, and that their complaint is a "class feature" rings a little hollow. Really, you guys? That my priest is the squishiest, easiest thing to kill around is by design? Boy, I feel much better now.

There HAVE been some genuinely interesting bits of information that have come out of these, but all too often, it feels like Blizzard is just telling us that we're whiners who don't know how to play our classes. I can respect that, as the creators of the game, they do likely know a lot more about it. What I know is that my priest dies more than other healers, my warrior doesn't get invited to groups because they don't want someone who can't buff, and my paladin is overpowered, no matter how you try to excuse it. Frankly, this is a pretty classic dev problem- they work too much in the realm of the theoretical and abstract. It's taken them this long to even respond to complaints like "this isn't fun to play" because I honestly think they just didn't understand what we meant. Yes, most of the staff at Blizz plays WoW in their free time. But you know what? I write fiction, and I guarantee you when I read my own fiction, I do not get at all the same experience as someone else reading my fiction.

There is an old expression, not being able to find the forest for the trees. You're too close, Blizzard. You're so close to your own game that you can't see the bigger picture. I'm not trying to insult you, or call you close-minded. It's not because you're bad. It's something EVERY dev struggles with. That's why you have betas, for instance- so people on the outside, people who've never even been to the metaphorical forest can tell you what they think. Can tell you how it looks from further away. And frankly, you're not listening to us like you should. You've decided that because you're so close, you know it better than anyone else, and thus we should just shut up and accept your decisions. Here's a thought, though- even if you were right, and you do have the right ideas about game balance? We're still the ones paying your salary. Even if you're right, if you don't work with us, we will stop playing. And yes, WoW is a cash cow. It makes a lot of goddamn money. But when it crashes down from its high hill, and someday it will... when WoW dies, it will be a quiet, terrible sight to behold, and Blizzard will never be the same.

We've seen MMOs die before, seen what a long, painful, drawn-out process it is. MMOs can have been dead for years before they ever actually close. It's a miserable thing to watch. Blizzard is working on a new MMO, and they've said that they hope that it will be the one to topple WoW. I think it's entirely possible... but if they don't wisen up, and listen to us now, WoW will die before their new MMO makes it to the table. This is Blizzard we're talking about- the "when it's done" guys. Their new MMO will not be out for a long time. And plenty of aspiring new MMOs have made it very clear that they intend to listen to their player bases. Follow their lead, Blizz. Stop telling us that we don't know how to play our classes, and actually address our concerns.

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