Let me tell you a tale, friends. Stay a while, and listen…
I tell the tale of a software company that once could do no wrong. They took some time rousing themselves to craft their stories, but when they did, they were epic. I tell the tale of Blizzard.
Blizzard, before the dark times
Warcraft. Starcraft. Diablo. Even the nearly-forgotten The Lost Vikings spun a story that is remembered and loved by those who played it. The worlds that Blizzard forged in the fires of fantastical imagination and occasional touches of dark humor were all memorable, but arguably the most impressive was the expansive world of Azeroth. Blizzard then rocketed into legend by inviting players to become a part of that world, instead of simply an aloof sky-dwelling controller of its armies, with World of Warcraft.
There was no question that the game broke new ground in the MMORPG market, immersed players in a world they’d only seen from afar previously, and rocked people’s faces clean off. Clean. Off. But the good times were bound to not last. With a successful expansion was released and expecting another, top-level executives decided that Blizzard could no longer rule alone. Foisted upon these tellers of stories was the guitar-peddling duty-calling peddlers of software snake oil, Activision.
Activision, long after the Atari days had passed
Activision wasn’t always the way it was when it began to rule alongside Blizzard. Once upon a time, games like Pitfall!, Starmaster and Kaboom! were the order of the day in the heady bygone age of the Atari 2600. The first few acquisitions Activision made after that, like Infocom and the Mechwarrior license, did not seem to be bad decisions. But Activision could not stop. More and more studios fell under its control, until very little of the original game-creators remained, smothered under big-name franchises and weak sequels.
It was not long after this decision that things began to change in Azeroth, as well. More of the game’s content seeped out of the in-game realms and into places like the Armory. At first, this was not a bad thing, as players could interface with their beloved characters more often and more freely. However, soon Blizzard began to offer more services and even in-game items with the exchange of even more of the hard-earned cash players were using to maintain their connection to Azeroth. And then, the announcement came that the newly-implemented RealID would be used not only to allow players separated by realms to communicate with one another, but to remove the anonymity of players posting on Blizzard’s forums by displaying their true first and last name. It seemed that Blizzard had forgotten who we were.
What caused this change? How did something that started out so heroic, epic and simple become so mired in these changes, these services, this utter nonsense? A full day of rage consumed the Internet, but slowly the truth began to come to light. Playing in an MMO is something of a social activity, and the most titanic money-spinning scheme on the Internet, even bigger than anything Blizzard could ever concoct, was the presence of social media. To produce even more revenue from the already embarassingly profitable world of Azeroth, Activision Blizzard was moving that franchise in the direction of the sort of constant bombardment of advertisements, updates and links that typify the social media quagmire.
A little research makes things all too clear. Very quietly, at least to the ears of some (like me), it had been announced that Battle.net, the online service allowing players of Blizzard’s games to interact with one another before World of Warcraft ever came along, would be integrated with Facebook. Now we see the truth: Facebook is unsatisfied with its Farmville and Mafia Wars players. It has seen the amount of attention, money and time given to Azeroth and looks upon those figures with envious eyes. It must increase its base of power, and do to so it is slipping into World of Warcraft by any means necessary, bringing those who play it further into its clutches.
Facebook, contemplating its future power
How do we stop this, one is left to wonder? Is it possible for Blizzard to shake loose the presence of these vultures, make some sort of return to what made them great and earned them so many fans? Or is all hope lost, the descent of World of Warcraft into a very pretty & Facebook-integrated version of Evony inevitable? The end which I foresee for this tale is too woeful for me to put into words. I wish to hears yours, however. How do you think this tale will end? Are there still good days ahead for Blizzard? Or is now the time to fully embrace the cleansing power of Steam?
(And which Lord of the Rings character should represent Valve in all of this?)
EDIT: It appears that the crisis has passed. The voice of the people has been heard by Blizzard. The aftermath of this announcement is discussed, in brief, here.
July 7, 2010 at 11:32 am
Valve should absolutely be Gimli. It’s unapologetic and badass.
I don’t quite have the longview on this you do, boss, but I don’t disagree with you. This is a possible outcome, but I don’t really think that a little more social media integration is a bad thing as long as it is done with consent and not done to a service that has already been around for years.
I don’t think Activision is a bad company per se; it is what it is. A company. Bobby Kutick (or however you spell it) may be more comparable to ass than human, but he’s still just one piece in the cog and at the end of the day his goal is to make money. Blizzard isn’t run by Activision though – Activision has several right along Blizzard lines, but since the merger the day-to-day and direction is still taken care of by Blizzard’s creative teams and Mike Moorhaime. I know I’ve hinted at this before, but I will say it again – I think Greg Street (Ghostcrawler) is the ultimate shaker right now, more than Rob Pardo or Tom Chilton or anyone else.
And I don’t dislike him for the choices he’s made, I just think they are short-sighted and very sporadic. I hate that everything seems to change patch-to-patch. We didn’t have that problem so much when Tigole was at the helm.
It’s just a fucked up situation with RealID, and I really hope Blizzard relents and puts it back to what it is supposed to be. I want to use the forums. I don’t want to broadcast my information to the WoW community at large when I do it.
July 7, 2010 at 11:38 am
I vote Valve should be represented by Legolas, because he is pretty to look at.
Oh, you want symbolism? Fine, fine, go with Aragorn: Laboring unrecognized for countless years, and at the end of it all, he totes gets to be the king.
Good post, and a great point. I’ve heard a lot of concern about the RealID issue, but nobody else had made the Facebook connection until now.
July 7, 2010 at 11:42 am
Excellent points, and best analogy anyone could have given to the situation. There are very good reasons for people to want to keep their names private that don’t have to do with wanting to be able to troll forums anonymously.
July 7, 2010 at 11:53 am
The forums change is the only thing that really bothers me. The Blizzard store offers only vanity items, so I had no problems with them adding it in. It gave no player that big of an advantage, and that advantage was so meaningless. (I suppose someone that bought the Celestial Steed would save about 500g on a new character, but that is really not that big.)
I loved the ability to quickly post my achievements on Facebook. The FB system is a little annoying (with only being able to view 5 characters at a time) but I loved it. Now I could show off for my WoW savvy friends.
Even the current RealId system doesn’t bother me. I have no issue with the Friends of Friends feature, or any of that.
But on the forums, things can get heated. This can end badly. I will likely still shell out for Cataclysm, but avoiding the forums is really going to suck. I love hanging around Suggestions, CSF and General.
More and more, the thought of canceling my account when TOR drops is feeling less and less bittersweet.
July 7, 2010 at 11:57 am
Blizzard just upped it for me today. From now on, it’s going to be TOR. RIP WoW.
July 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm
@Rick I’m actually excited about the changes. I have some concerns, but I do think it will be interesting to see how gameplay is affected. I find it a good direction, and agree with Blizzard that the trees were way too bloated with mandatory talents.
Or worse, points I had to blow off just access lower tiers.
July 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm
I haven’t used WoW or the forums since I got clean 2 years ago, so I may be a little out of touch. However, I don’t have any problem with a little more accountability in the forums, even if it means sacrificing a little privacy. If you wouldn’t say something to somebody’s face, you shouldn’t be saying it in a forum either.
The scenario of “I pissed someone off in a game and because of the RealID they were able to track me down IRL and murder me.” has been brought up, but it seems pretty damn unlikely. Also considering the fact that you will need to allow Facebook to access your Battle.net data (just as with any other app), it seems like a lot of molehills are being turned into mountains here.
Maybe I’m wrong, and the evil entity that is Activision / Blizzard is really going to harvest our children’s organs and send them to zoos… but I hope not. I hope they’ll be smart enough to realize pissing off their client base is bad.
July 8, 2010 at 7:48 am
The forums are all that bother me. Everything else is so much salad dressing, as they say, but the forums… I’m sorry if I don’t want thousands of people to see my name every time I post.
@Rick: I don’t really see the issue with talent tree changes. We expect talent changes when a new expansion is released, how is this different? If it doesn’t work they’ll scrap it.
July 8, 2010 at 9:10 am
When I first loaded up the Starcraft 2 Beta and realized that the only way I could play it was with another person, I wept. When I actually did get to play it, I wept again, as it was the same game with better graphics and over complication. Again, I wept.
As I never played WoW, nor had any desire, I will simply say, “Steam, FTW.”
July 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm
Update: Theoden’s still in there. Blizzard is still the last paladin standing.
July 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm
I heard. I shall be providing an update to the narrative for this after my family reunion this weekend (already in progress).
July 12, 2010 at 12:10 am
Excellent analogies! I left after playing on and off since vanilla, deleted all toons. I left just before 3.3.5 patch, because I had an incredibly bad feeling about real ID. Think of me as Eowyn…and yes I have been stalked before, I know how precious our rights to anonymity and safety actually are.
Unfortunately, too many of the ‘elves’ have fallen to Activision-Sauron’s power, and become blinded orcs and twisted men that believe none of this will ever affect them, and troll against those of us who do indeed see the truth of it, sneering us and throwing tinfoil-hat metaphors around.
Interesting how in the news just today, not even 2 weeks afterward, a ‘security hole’ has been found in the real ID system, that allows names to be put out everywhere for those unfortunate suckers using addons in wow.
If only people would look at the big picture here, instead of seeping into their addiction of wow, and failing at life. We are under attack, our Human rights, our privacy, our safety; all under attack because of unfathomable greed. And the masses of sheep cheer, while those few of us bail out and seek shelter. It won’t be pretty.