Monday, March 21, 2011

Committing to class designs (or not)

Some time ago I was fistfighting discussing something with Love about a post I had written. I don't remember exactly which post it was, but I remember something he said. He said that as far as Blizzard had come with their game now, they had a moral obligation to their players to make a worthwhile game. Because they had basically made it impossible for any other mmorpg to get a piece of the cake, their cake had to be pretty damn awesome. No matter if you agree with him or not (I didn't back then, because no one is forcing us to play WoW. Right?) I found his line of reasoning interesting and thought more about it. And even more importantly, I realized I had heard it before, but in a slightly different discussion.

When Cataclysm was launched, and as the months passed and people started to get the hang of their new classes, and how Blizzard had decided they should work for the upcoming years (?), I read an increasing number of blog posts starting out along the lines of "I didn't choose this class to do X" or more often "I chose this class to do X and now I can't". Since I mostly read healing blogs, it was mostly along the lines of "I chose a druid because I liked to spam hots, and now I can't" or "I chose a paladin because I liked to spam the tank and now I can't". Whether these bloggers are right about the fact that their class has been completely changed is less of a point. My question is rather - do Blizzard have the right to do whatever they want with our classes?

On my discussion with Love I argued that Blizzard had the right to throw all the servers into Mount Doom if they felt like it. Legally they own everything about the game. The name you've chosen, all those years you've spent on that character and just about everything else about it is theirs. They can delete your character or suspend your account or treat it in any other way as they feel like without you having much to say about it (which they do now and then). The only thing Blizzard have to do, is provide some kind of game for the money you've paid them. They can't take a full months payment and then shut all the servers down without having to pay you back (I think). Needless to say, legally the abovementioned question is easily answered. It's yes. They can do whatever they like with our characters.

But that's not interesting. Of course I mean it in a more moral or philosophical way. Is it ok for a game developer to "promise" something about a class and then completely change it? One recent example is now with hunter pets, who are becoming less and less important. Whether you think those changes are good or bad, I can not help but ask if Blizzard aren't really fundamentally changing something about hunters, and if that is ok? Another example is Oestrus struggle to get to keep her character name, a struggle I've had plenty of friends lose as well. Is it ok for a game developer to treat something we've put so much effort and time into recklessly?

Going back to the sad druids and paladins (I haven't read about any upset priests or shamans yet actually). If druids have been about managing hots since the dawn of WoW, would it be ok for Blizzard to completely change that? I know they haven't, just for arguments sake. Fact is they did change the healing classes, alot. Some more than others, paladins probably the most. This isn't really a matter about what you think is fun or not, but rather if you've spent years with a class, is it really ok for the allmighty game designer to change it enough so that you don't recognize your class any longer? If Blizzard say our class is about X, and we choose that class for that reason, we've poured ourselves into that class for that reason, is it ok for Blizzard to remove that element from the class? Is it ok for them to nullify what could be years of commitment?

Maybe I chose to level a disc priest and play it for all this time because I thought shielding was the awesomest thing in the game. Would it be ok for Blizzard to declare that shields are no longer part of their designer plan for discipline healing and to be removed from the game? That discipline priests would get a completely new way of healing? And if I don't like it, I will have to look elsewhere. Blizzard will try to accomodate the will of the majority of the players. They want us to enjoy the game so they wouldn't do anything to upset us. But in a game as big as WoW, a minority would still include millions of people. And even if they want to accomodate their players to some extent, should game designers have to draw the line at some point? Maybe I'm really asking if Blizzard has an obligation to commit to their designer choices? To work a little harder to find a solution that works with the grand idea of the class, rather than an easy solution that solves the problem fast but doesn't suit the class.

There are many examples where we can see that Blizzard are doing exactly this. They refuse to change the way totems work (or remove them completely as some shamans have suggested), because they are a fundamental way about shaman healing. Now that they are implementing a raid cooldown for shamans it is unsurprisingly a totem. I'm not saying a bad game mechanic should stick around just because it has always been there, and eventhough I personally think totems is a great example of when Blizzard stick with an idea through thick and thin they could still need a little tweaking. They could've just removed them or have them work in a completely untotemish way, which is what they seem to do with many classes today. When do we draw the line between simplicity and individuality (something I've written about before with slightly different takes). Other examples include rage and shield blocking as an avoidance stat.

As much as Blizzard have shaped our lives, we've really shaped Blizzard as well. We've poured faith and money into their hearts and pockets, does it really just extend to a month to month basis? Haven't we accepted already that WoW isn't something you just pick up and play? To many of us WoW is or has been a serious commitment with which we have spent more hours than we want to count. Chances are that if you're reading this post, WoW is a integrated part of your day to day life. I populated the world, I shaped it with my commitment. WoW has outgrown being just a provided service for money. To me, Azeroth and most importantly the character I play is as much mine as it is Blizzards. It shouldn't be treated in a reckless manner.


  1. "It shouldn't be treated in a reckless manner."

    No it shouldn't, but do they have a moral obligation not to? ;)

  2. "One recent example is now with hunter pets, who are becoming less and less important."

    I just want to clarify that this is actually not true. A lot of people got upset about the happiness system being "removed" but it reality, it was removed with the beginning of Wrath, after that it never mattered again.

    ... but, regardless of all that. Pets are actually more important than ever before. They provide double to eight times more dps than in Wrath and they all provide important raid buffs or situational abilities. BM for example will see 40% of it's dps coming from the pet :o

    Anyway, I realize I'm just stepping on details here and ignoring the general scope of the article. I just wanted to shut down this myth. :)

    Pets = More important and awesome than ever before in the history of WoW.


  3. Interesting topic. I kind of straddle the line on this one. Yes, we do pay them and most of us have years invested in the game. But then again, I also pay the satellite company every month for the equipment to watch TV but they can change the channels they offer at any time. Technically I am just renting the equipment. I guess WoW is the same way. We are just renting a tiny part of their universe on a monthly basis.

  4. @Hartland
    Also a valid question ;)

    I'm comparing to how hunters worked in Vanilla, rather than just the few changes they've made to them during Cataclysm. The major steps towards change happened, as you say, during Wrath already. And I'm not saying pets aren't important for hunters -dps-, just as some dot is important to a warlocks dps. Rather that the pet has gone from being a special thing about being a hunter, which needed special care with happiness, leveling, using the appropriate food, to something in the periphery like the dk ghoul. I'm not saying all the design choices of pets were awesome, but I'm not sure I like removing them alltogether as a solution either :P

    I dare say you've invested more in WoW than in any one program at your cable network. Rather I'd compare it to someone who is a fanboy of some series, like I had a friend who was completely otaku about Buffy the vampire slayer. Or Trekkies is another example. They too go nutters when something happens to a character in the series that they don't feel is "right" for that character. If the writers have built up a certain setting for the series, the fanboys will be upset when the writers suddenly change that setting dramatically, like if Star Trek would suddenly be about Vampires and Buffy about flying in space. WoW is like that, only even more interactive. Here, Blizzard have the power to change the character you've created and used to play with for what could be years. Even though they gave you the tools for it, it is still in some sense your creation. Legally we're just renting it, and barely even that. I think I'm trying to say that if you aim to create something that people care about deeply, you have to treat that care with respect.

  5. Aha! Yeah I definitely agree there. You don't need to pay nearly as much attention to your pet now as you used to. The pet management mini-game has become a lot smaller.

    In turn the dps rotations have become a lot more complicated, so I guess it makes sense.
    But it is homogenization, indeed.


  6. I think Blizzard goes way overboard.

    Thought experiment: what if blizzard changed a class so that most people who had never played the class thought it was an improvement and most who had played the class thought it was worse. Yes I am mainly talking about my ex-main pally healer who is still at 80 while my shaman is at 85. Cata shamans are inferior to previous expansions but less ruined than pallys.

    You could make a game that was always fresh and different. but MMO subscriptions thrive by having people identify and spend time on their character. If the only thing the same about my holy pally is the name, then I am a lot less invested in that toon. And playing WoW.

    I think Blizzard developers are far more interesting in making what they see as a good game and have really lost touch with what their customers want.

    If I instantly choose a fully geared toon of any class to play when 4.1 hits, I would not mind very much if they were radically, bizarrely changed. But if I choose a character to get 1 - 85, then Blizzard has the right to significantly change what it means to be that character. But that really, really makes me want to exercise my right to not give them money.