Thursday, September 04, 2008

Catching Blizzard's Bad Ideas

I've made no secret that one of my favorite MMOs is World of Warcraft. I've played a lot of games since the genre got started and nothing has kept my attention as long as Blizzard's masterpiece. Still I don't claim that the game is perfect or even that I agree with every design decision they make. It's inevitable that MMOs make decisions about class balance or patch content that not everyone agrees with. Still Blizzard seems to be cursed with this amazing ability to introduce features which have the complete opposite intended effect they wanted. It's not like it comes as a surprise to the people who play the game either. Often players can immediately spot a change or feature which might cause problems. It's simply a result of us having more time to play the game and not having to worry about ever "working" on it.

I still remember when they introduced Naraxxamas as the last content patch right before the Burning Crusade. Blizzard had just finished patching in a series of new raid content and most guilds were still working their way through it. It didn't matter if you were a raider or a casual player the Naraxxamas patch just seemed like it would be wasted effort. This unfortunately turned out to be true since less then 1% of the player population were actually able to experience the new zone. Luckily, Blizzard gets to re-use the content for Wrath of the Lich King since no one got to the see it the first time around. Other really bad ideas mostly involved putting rewards behind flimsy objectives and time sinks. Blizzard expected players to try to achieve the rewards head on and kept being surprised as players figured out ways around the time sinks.

Things have gotten better lately as Blizzard seems to be paying more attention to how they place rewards in the game. Indeed several major patches in the Burning Crusade showed a much better understanding of how raiding and mount costs affected the virtual economy. The test server also started to get patches earlier and often allowed eager fans to run through several iterations of a patch. The beta for Wrath of the Lich King is serving the same purpose despite some early attempts to lock down information coming from it. The lifting of the NDA has proved very advantageous for Blizzard since several bloggers pointed out that an achievement for being the first to reach max level might have some bad side effects. Most people trying to get the special title would probably just share a single account, but someone might push themselves to play for a unhealthy amount of time.

I'm not really sure why anyone working at Blizzard thought this was a good idea to begin with. It definitely shows that even though things have improved, the same type of short sighted game design can still occur. Luckily, I think having design decisions revealed to the WoW community ahead of time helps catch these problems before they get implemented. Could you imagine what would happen if some kid killed themselves by doing a 40 hour WoW marathon? It may seem far fetched, but it's happened in other countries. Don't they realize this is a close election year and the video game industry is just one death away from being used as a scapegoat? Politics aside I also get tired of MMO developers giving critics like Jonathan Blow ammunition when they talk about unethical game design. Hopefully, as long as lines of good communication exist between players and developers, World of Warcraft can avoid any more ooops game design moments.


sid67 said...

It definitely shows that even though things have improved, the same type of short sighted game design can still occur.

I agree with that sentiment. Almost all Blizzard interviews seem to confirm such short-sightedness. About a month ago, I wrote a blog entry about an interview with Rob Pardo in which the reason for this became more apparent.

I 100% agree that WoW is a great game, but I am starting to believe that they nailed it on the head with the WoW release (and a bit thereafter) and have been mostly falling down ever since. Admittedly, they got a lot right with Burning Crusade (and will again with Wrath) but I can’t help but think the short-sighted vision keeps gnawing at their knees. It’s hard to stand tall and proud when you are constantly besieged by tiny failures.

Relmstein said...

Its funny but I suspect Blizzard started working with someone who had an economics background during the Burning Crusade. The reworking of the raid potions/buff situation and the addition of daily quests did more to hurt gold farming then a million accounts bannings.

Maybe Blizzard should have a behaviorist on staff to offer opinions when they start designing new game rewards.

Rohan said...

It's pretty obvious how Blizzard came up with these ideas. They had a new Achievement system, and they were brainstorming impressive feats. Someone tossed out First to 80, and they added it to the list.

To be honest, First to 80 under normal conditions is a pretty impressive feat on most servers. (The world first to 80 is crazy, but most servers have more normal players. It's similar to World/Server firsts in Raiding.

However, the fact that a reward exists changes player behavior. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. Blizzard needs to ask themselves, "How will this change player behavior?" more often.