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.