Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Play Nice Children

It's official. We're in the grip of another case of pre-patch malaise. There are confirmations all over on the blogosphere of patch related anxiety. We're in the trough before another patch washes over us and fills in the empty spaces we've dug. That's okay though, it happens every patch. This too shall pass. Now is a good time to take a break, get some beer, and enjoy the last vestiges of summer as school threatens to rear its ugly head once again. For those of us that work all summer anyways, it's business as usual except that now we're going to have to start waking up in the dark again. The good news is, we've probably bottomed out on raid attendance and are going to start climbing back up here in the next few months. Give yourself a break. Eat a Snickers or something.

For me, this means I've been getting increasingly excited about the release of Aion. I'm at the point in WoW where I don't feel the urge to do it all, but know what I enjoy and don't have to spend gobs of time to get that enjoyment out of the game. To me, this is a good thing. I've never been a one-game guy and so it's nice to kind of settle in, have fun, and not worry too much that you're going to fall behind because you're not on every night. Sure I may not get every cool crazy epic thingy, but I'll still be able to run and try the new stuff when it comes out.

It also means I have time for other stuff. Right now, RL stuff is filling in the gaps, but I do look forward to being able to start a new adventure in a new game with Aion. And when you're excited about something, you probably start to read about it. At least I do. I mean, it seems like Blizz is taking forever with this patch anyways, right?

So, as I'm reading a few things are occurring to me. Try this conspiracy on for size...

As Samo pointed out over at Massive Nerd in the link above, perhaps there is more to this whole competition than we think. I've personally been very hesitant to paint things in a WoW vs Aion light, since both games can coexist in my world and I don't really think Aion is a "WoW-killer", merely a fun game that I'm looking forward to playing for many reasons. Howerver, just because I'm not pitting them against each other doesn't mean their respective marketing teams aren't.

I'm not going to regurgitate what Samo has already written, since he does a good job of it, but it got me thinking about the timing of things. What if Blizz is waiting until early September to release their major patch in order to compete with the release of Aion? Sounds a little crazy, right? After all, Blizz could be doing nothing more nefarious than stringing us out to have something exciting to talk about at BlizzCon (yet the date is relatively early, as last year's was in October, but the year before was in early August, so who knows). Also, it could have been the other way around and NCSoft could have plotted their release as well (I don't think the timing lines up as well for them though).

But look at it this way... I'd love to have Blizz release the patch right now. We're all sort of anxious for some new content and I certainly have time before Aion is released to go on a WoW binge and tackle the new stuff before their release. In short, if Blizz released the patch today, I could very easily play one game and then the other.

But if they wait? If they drop the patch right before Aion releases, then I, along with every other western gamer interested in both games, will have a choice to make. Dive into a brand new game at the expense of the one we've already invested heavily in, falling behind to some extent and delaying our WoW gratification - or - Ignore the new game for a bit and focus on WoW at the expense of falling behind there.

Now, for me, I'll balance the two games regardless, but to others, this may be a big staying point on whether or not to play. Think about if half of your friends are saying "hey come try this new game" and the other half are saying "dude, we got new WoW stuff to do, get in on this"... how torn are you going to feel know that, maybe, if you choose one, by the time you get to the other your friends will be "beyond" that. We certainly might be seeing a marketing ploy meant to prey on a "gray area" of gamers, trying to keep them firmly in one camp OR the other.

Is this even good for the industry? I mean, after all, couldn't both games theoretically co-exist? Couldn't the companies "play nice"? After all, if we are enabled to play both games, we won't have to choose to leave one or the other, both groups get our money, and everyone wins.

Unfortunately, that's not really the trend gamers have set. As a community, we don't tend to spread ourselves over multiple games (sure there are many who do this, but I'd argue it's not the majority. We tend to pick one game and focus on it at the expense of others. In a sense, this probably hurts the industry that we operate like that. Sure, we're encouraging a competitive market, and that's good for us, but we may also be encouraging "copy-cats" which is one major complaint many gamers have: "It's just a WoW copy".

There's not really an easy answer, solution, or deep point to all this. It's just food for thought and something I've been mulling over recent that I wanted to share. I tend to think of the money I pay each month as my "vote" for what I think is good and what I think is bad. The beauty here is that I can have as many votes as I want. Similar to buying CD's nowadays, I like to throw my money at groups that I appreciate the work they've done. It's just a shock for me to sometimes realize that they may not be playing nice with each other, even though I'm fond of them.

It's sort of like having those two friends that you love hanging out with, but you can't have in the same place or they'll rip each other's heads off. Individually they're fine, but together it's caustic. Then add a bit of crazy to it, and imagine those two friends are jealous of your time spent with the other, and have a team of people plotting how best to monopolize your time. It's like a soap opera love triangle. Just watch out for the fake boobs and heavy make-up. She may look amazing, but in the end you might find out she's high maintenance and you're gonna pay for it later. Then again, maybe you were just in it for some short lived thrills...

And that analogy has gone on long enough, but I'm sure y'all could take it to new levels. :-D. With that, I bid you adieu.


  1. I can see from a business standpoint why release dates on patches are very important in a competition with other games. However, on the other side of that fence is the fact that people are always impatient for anything Blizz says their gonna do.

    Perfect example: Cross-faction changing. I'm constantly hearing questions about when this is going to happen. Everyone seems to think it's going to be available within a couple of weeks. The mechanics on a change like that are MONSTROUS. Maybe I'm a bit conservative on my guesses, but i suspect it will be at least six months before thats ready.

    This patch has a lot of new content. Remember when Blizz released the last major patch, and the servers went kablooey? That patch wasn't ready yet - it hadn't been tested thoroughly. But players wanted their patchfix, so Blizz put it out - and spent a fortune on subscription reimbursements. That's a very expensive error to make.

    I'm not sure why people just love to rush the testing process - they throw a fit when there are glitches. I get that we're all impatient and want to try out new stuff but... I'd rather it not be broken by the time it gets to me. I still shudder when I remember the Wintergrasp Crash.

  2. Yeah, that's a good point.

    I have a suspicious though that Blizz never announces anything until they're well on their way to getting it done. There is just too much backlash if they say "we're going to add this" and then just don't do it. Granted, sometimes they do it in "steps" or a different variation of the change... but they almost never put something out there that they're not ready to deliver on. And soon, since we're all impatient :-).

    In reality, it's probably some combination of what we're both saying.

  3. I have no doubt that it is a combination.

    And I also think Blizzard never announces anything until they have it all planned out either - however, planning and testing are two different things. They have to test this stuff. They have been rolling out different components of the new instances on ptr at different times - they dont just release it all on ptr at once, or all the high end raiding guilds would farm it like crazy to get world firsts. Instead they have to do "for 5 hours this fight is open on friday" and blah blah blah.

    So, they have to be given enough time to test everything they need to on PTR. I'm not sure where they are out on their instance testing schedule on ptr at the moment.

  4. This is pretty much what happened with warhammer last year. WAR released about a month before Wrath. When Wrath came out, a load of people went back to play it (including me).

    But I don't think patch 3.2 has the same sort of lure as a new expansion.

  5. @Jess - Indeed.

    @Spinks - Certainly not, but BlizzCon might. If there is some sort of large announcement of something groundbreaking coming (the next expansion maybe). That coupled with some new content might serve nicely to "cover" another game's launch.

    I just wonder if they really think it out that hard, or it's just that everyone releases stuff at the same time (end of summer). IDK.

  6. I did good?

    I'm giving myself a cookie.

    *munch* Anyway, I think Bliz is under increasing pressure to look busy. Back in the day, when they announced something in an upcoming patch, it wasn't far off. Things have changed recently, though.

    Jess raises a great point about planning vs testing. They PLANNED to remove consumable ammo. They TESTED it and things went boom. A year or two ago, they would have tested that internally before announcing it. However, they were anxious to go "Hey! Hunters! new shiny!"

    How long ago did they announce the Soul Shard change? Still working on it...

    They're no longer separating "We're DOING this." from "We'd like to work on this."

  7. Ah yes, more good points.

    I've said it many-a-time... devs only have so many tricks up their sleeves without having to completely start over. We can only color and design floor circles of death so many different ways. Perhaps they're running out of room too. In comparison with many other MMOs, WoW is EXTREMELY balanced. Especially for the amount of complexity each class has. You may never achieve perfection, however.