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Blizzard is Officially Like Everyone Else

Edit just to put this up front: the bugs, really, are a side issue and I’m sure they’ll be fixed (even if I do think this holiday is especially below their usual standard). The main reason I’ve come to this conclusion is the total lack of consistency this expansion will introduce. See the comments section for more discussion.

I’m going to call it now: the age of Blizzard “releasing it when it’s ready” is dead.

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to look much further than the current state of this year’s Hallow’s End. The problem is that most player’s can’t even complete the event. Take Larisa’s recent experience trying to do the run. She calls herself a “pumpkin leecher” because she, like many others, refuses to click the event-starting cogwheel for fear of crashing the game; that’s pretty much the standard, if you even mouse over the item, your client freezes or you disconnect. The commenters over there have pointed out a couple of macros and even an addon which fixes the problem, but, tell me, if this is a big enough issue for the community to have built their own workarounds, big enough where fans are forced to make excuses and hope someone else falls victim to the crash bug, why is the community still waiting nine days into release of a time limited event? More importantly, how did this not get noticed before release? Unless they only tested this on a single machine — or didn’t test it at all, busily readying Cataclysm — I don’t know how something so game breaking can be consider ready.

Going back a month, Corin Direbrew, while not bug ridden, was certainly considered a joke by most players. By the reports floating around the blogosphere, he was 30-second-kill easy and didn’t seem to be updated to reflect new gear levels.

But, really, this is only the most recent issue since the 4.0.1 patch dropped. There’s a sizeable list of “known issues” but the community has been quick to point out a whole lot more. I think we can all appreciate that this was a big patch and that bugs are a reality of video game development. This patch is really endemic of a larger drop in testing over the last six months. Or, perhaps more accurately, it might reflect a new level of what Blizzard considers acceptable when pushing a deadline.

The real impetus from this post, however, comes from something that has been bothering me for since Cataclysm was first announced: this expansion will effectively break any vestige of sense the game makes after level 60. What’s the reason to go to Outland? I thought Arthas was dead, so what’s the deal with the fighting in Northrend? The problem they ran into is purely a lack of time. On a realistic level, I accept that, but by the ideological standard they and PC gamers in general have touted them as holding, it’s absolutely game changing. By definition, they are releasing it before it’s ready to hit a pre-Christmas due date. “We’ll release it when it’s ready” died with Bobby Kotick– whom, if you didn’t know, is now Mike Morhaime’s boss. Well, his boss’s boss, but you get the picture.

Really, without this I probably wouldn’t be writing this post. Let me be clear,  however: I’m not saying Blizzard is bad or that WoW is a poor game. This effectively just moves Blizzard off of that lofty height on which we’d held them and into the realm of every other developer. Being on level with every other studio isn’t bad, it’s just disappointing.

Reading Chris Metzen talk about a time deadline breaking any semblance of sense and continuity in WoW… well, I couldn’t help but be reminded of their flagship phrase and note the end of another era. Big publishers strike again. Kind of makes you wonder how well Kotick’s culture of pessimism and fear is going over with his new partners employees.

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  1. Green Armadillo

    I’m not convinced that any of the above are worse than things that have gone wrong in the past with world events and pre-expansion patches. There have been some pretty spectacular things to hotfix out, and a number of bugs that actually prevent players from completing world events instead of merely making for an amusing blog post.

    I do think that the influence of Activision is being felt – for example, the increasing use of the cash store, and the decision to label SCII a “trilogy” instead of a game and two expansions because new games cost more than expansions. Even so, Cataclysm will still have spent two years in development at its launch, and Blizzard will ship at most a single product (DIII) in 2011.

    The point at which I’ll be worried is if we get 4.2 with Deathwing in May 2011 and a new expansion in February 2012.

    1. Chris

      True, but I have to wonder how many of the people getting disconnected for simply trying to start an event, or those using the addon or macro, would agree that this update was released when it was ready.

      That being said, patches happen. 4.01 is arguably up there in some of their most problematic, but my main issue is with the storyline being completely borked. Without a doubt, they didn’t wait until this one was “ready.” They’re releasing it with no sense of continuity — not even a retcon — throughout 20 levels of the game players have no way of skipping or making sense of. I have to think those new players they’re expecting to pull, should they get to 60, will have to wonder what the heck is going on when they’re hopping to Outland and Northrend. They’re reasoning is that they didn’t have time. While that’s reasonable, it doesn’t live up to their company mantra.

      But, hey, dropping that particular tag line isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the company or the game. If it comes across like I’m saying we should expect less from Blizzard, that’s not really so. I have every confidence they’re paying attention and will patch in fixes and future content we’ll for us all to enjoy. WoW really ushered me into PC gaming, though, and with it I heard how they were the company who wasn’t afraid to push deadlines and make sacrifices to make their game perfect. It doesn’t seem like they’ve held true to that in the most noticeable aspect of the game for any leveling player: the world. Failing to meet such a well known standard to meet a pre-Christmas launch date is worth noting, IMO; but, still, in my mind this only puts the on the same level as the Biowares, Infinity Wards, and other great PC companies without such publicly touted assurances of greatness.

      How much Activision had to do with it is up to speculation. They don’t have the best track record when it comes to grasping and scraping for every last penny however, so I’m not holding out much faith that they didn’t push them to get it out for the holiday.

  2. Pitrelli

    I think the fact they really need cataclysm to launch this year has forced their hand in releasing 4.0 a tad prematurely as with all patches however you will always find a good few bugs squirreled away. The disappointing thing is a lot of these bugs are obvious and indeed have had quite an impact on player enjoyment.

    Still if i gets cataclysm on track for release I’ll suck it up and soldier on ;)

  3. Andrew

    They may have changed their mentality with WoW – millions of infantile whiners on the forums screaming for more More MORE, now Now NOW will do that to you – but clearly the overall corporate culture is still the same. You simply cannot ignore the time it took to get Starcraft 2 out, and how long the lead up to Diablo 3 has been (or, the unannounced MMO).

    WoW, as it seems to be in every aspect, is simply an anomaly.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      This is a good point and I’m glad you brought it up.

      We can’t ignore the development cycles of their other games. By all reports, my own included, Starcraft 2 is one hell of a game and it took forever and a day to release. I expect the same of Diablo 3. Maybe this is an isolated case instigated by a desire to remove themselves from the stagnation WoW has sat in for the past few months. Still, this is their flagship product we’re talking about and I wonder if letting them slide, even just this once, is the right thing to do. Do we hold them up as *the* quality release-product developer and is it ethically right to do so when so many other great studios are biting at their heels for that presitgious, top of the mountain spot? For me, I don’t think so.

      No one can say they don’t release well done, polished games. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say that they “release it when it’s ready” again without thinking “except for that one time… and those others, but they were only patches, so they don’t count as much.” That kind of negates it for me.

      1. Andrew

        It might also be symptomatic of an industry-wide malady…. I linked to an outstanding editorial on the state of AAA games today on my blog.

        Blizzard is far from the worst offender, and it’s a really sad and dangerous trend.

  4. emyln

    Have to disagree. Crashing out after mousing over/clicking the pumpkin is highly irritating but not game breaking. I’m one of the unfortunates and what happens is that despite not being there for the kill, the grab bag is present either in my inventory or in my mail. Had this happen 2-3 times.

    Blizzard games/patches are also not bug free. They are much less buggy then other comparable games but definitely not bug free. Starcraft 2 crashed on me pretty consistently in some of the missions, so I learnt to save often. But it was still an awesome experience and game. That’s what “release it when it’s ready” really refers to the gameplay aspects, the FUN factor and being playable, and less buggy than most other games.

    Patch 4.0.X introduced a revamp of ALL skills for classes, which has been implemented pretty well with only balance adjustments necessary.

    1. Chris "Syeric" Coke

      Right, and like I said, if it was just the bugs I probably wouldn’t have posted this up. These are MMOs and I’d be crazy to expect them to be bug free. But there’s no defending the consistency breaks in their world. Outlands and Wrath no longer make any sense. You’re traveling into the past.

      They’ve admitted they left it undone, and it bothers them, but that it’s a time constraint (with the unspoken addition of: “so we can launch before Christmas”). That’s not releasing it when it’s ready, IMO. That’s doing what you can under a deadline. Not un-understandable, but also not the lofty standard they’ve claimed to hold themselves to.

      Maybe the more important question is what we think of when we hear that. Is Cataclysm ready? It’s been a blast in beta, I can say that. But doesn’t this put the other two expansions in the PAST and, by proxy, move all of WoW into this time-vacuumed strange place?

      Cataclysm, while I’m sure it will be great, move the whole game below being ready because on the most fundamental level your game should make sense. Two thirds of it no longer do; they’re like isolated islands. At the very least, I’d have like to see some kind of in-game explanation. The black portal is now moves you between space AND time because of the havok Deathwing reaped. Something like that. Wrath is probably a little bit more easily explained since we have someone filling in for Arthas now.

  5. Nils

    I agree that Cataclysm will not be worthy of Blizzard considering that lvl 60-80 devide alone. They don’t even seem to help it a little bit by declaring that you step through a time portal or so.

    On the other hand, I do not think that this is necessesarily the influience of EA. WotLK changed WoW into a game that cannot live without regular patches. Now they had to redesign a massive portion of the game to keep it up to date andsomehow found themselves in that hole where they had to set serious priorities.

    They also needed to change a lot of the WotLK design philosophies, because they were simply bad for the game.

  6. Chris "Syeric" Coke

    To be clear, I’m not saying WoW or Blizzard are failures. They’re still one of my all time favorite developers. That would be like saying Bioware is a failure because I didn’t like some of the DLC in Dragon Age.

    I almost wish I hadn’t even mentioned the bugs and Hallow’s End issues. That’s overshadowing my main point. I was there for ICC and the introduction of the LFD tool. I’ve been there for every major patch in the last few years, so I’m no stranger to bugs and glitches. That doesn’t change the consistency issue. It’s not even about changing everything within the two previous expansions. It’s about making your reasons for going there again make sense within the new WoW world. They don’t right now and it’s because of time and deadlines. That’s the biggie.

    All that out there, how can anyone be forgiving of the Hallow’s End stuff? Really? The game crashes when you put your mouse over a cogwheel for crying out loud. How is that in any way acceptable for an event that’s worked fine as near as last year?

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