Blizz and Jeff

Or, as he was once called, Tigole Bitties.

Jeff Kaplan left Blizzard after nearly 20 years last week. I can still recall the Legacy of Steel message boards way back in my EQ raiding days. Fires of Heaven may have been the big one, but LoS was right up there. Where EQ lacked general direction (other than ding!), it’s the guilds that really made sense of it all. Jeff’s passion for that structure, with a distinct focus on purpose, logic, and testing, drew the eyes of Blizzard and he was pulled on as an early dev for WoW.

It’s hard for people who weren’t there to understand the impact WoW had when it launched. EQ was evercrack and opened a pandoras box. WoW took that opportunity and filtered out nearly all the bad stuff in EQ so that it was accessible to more people.

The high polish and balance we take for granted today absolutely did not exist in EQ. The structured logic of progression at max level did not exist. Storyline did not exist. Quests were barely present. Week long spawns were gone. Trains were gone. Instances were created to avoid guild rotations of raids, which also removed the need for camps. XP death penalties left (imagine losing a level in 2021).

Now, I’m not saying this is all Jeff but I am saying that the initial launch of WoW was like a night and day version of EQ and without a shadow of a doubt would not have existed had Blizzard not gone looking for those guild leaders coming over. Jeff eventually came to be the overall lead and his last touch on WoW was the Lead Game Designer for Wrath. There’s some interesting bits where this expansion was the peak of WoW.

He then moved to Titan, the mystery project. That went belly up and he delivered the only new IP for Blizzard in 20 years. Which, you know, is massively successful to boot. His honest videos on game development and overall lack of hubris was something to behold, as compared to other franchise leads.

And now he’s moved on. There’s a lot of people who have.

What is Left

Which gets me to the Ship of Theseus paradox (this put a smile on my face when it was posited in WandaVision).

It is supposed that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle was kept in a harbor as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is whether the “restored” ship is still the same object as the original.

If it is, then suppose the removed pieces were stored in a warehouse, and after the century, technology was developed that cured their rot and enabled them to be reassembled into a ship. Is this “reconstructed” ship the original ship? If it is, then what about the restored ship in the harbor still being the original ship as well?

We’re a long ways out from the founding of our golden companies… BioWare and Blizzard have the same name but there’s no leadership left from back then. My heart wants to believe that the heart of the company is more than it’s leadership team, but my brain says from experience that is never the case. It’s non-sensical to think that the people working at Blizz today have the same passion and importantly, ability to deliver the quality of yesteryear.

It’s not so much a bad thing, but a sad thing. All good things must come to an end.

3 thoughts on “Blizz and Jeff

  1. I think it’s an open question as to whether anyone (or any company) deserves the sort hero praise that we ascribe to them. Did M Night Shyamalan get worse over time? Or did he just get lucky hitting a seam of magic (6th Sense) at the right place, at the right time, never finding it again?

    In Kaplan’s case, I suppose you can argue that “lightning struck twice.” Or did it? Can’t argue with a $1 billion franchise in Overwatch, and within the mythos of WoW he carried some weight. But Titan didn’t work out and clearly put Blizzard into a precarious place, financially. And there would be many people (SynCaine) who would argue that Wrath was precisely the thing that “killed” WoW with the things introduced (LFD, etc).

    These days, I am designer/studio agnostic. Everyone praises people like Raph Koster, and I’m like “what has he done lately?” The only thing that matters is which ship is in the water going places.

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  2. Your sumation of where EQ was and by implication where the mmoprg genre was before and then after WoW is one hundred percent correct and it’s great to read it written down because it really irritates me how frequently that position gets reframed and that story retold, wrongly. However…it’s a coin that has two sides.

    Vanilla WoW, as you describe it, was a game made by raiders. Raiders like all the things you describe, or most of them. They like structure, organization, achievement, order. Lots of players aren’t so interested in all of that. EverQuest lacked general direction because it was a playground, a sandbox, a foreign country where you didn’t understand the language and the locals didn’t care for you to learn. You could devote your life to understanding it and you’d never get there. You’d always be a stranger in a strange land. That was the appeal.

    Twenty years and more later we’ve had years of calls for games to rediscover that alienation effect and somehow make it as compelling. No-one’s managed it yet. Meanwhile WoW and all of the games that followed it ossify into stasis and stagnation. Even the smartest and tidiest, FFXIV being the prime example, work purely by formula. If WoW hadn’t happened, if those raiders hadn’t crossed over and built their new castles on the far side of the river, the mmorpg genre might never have blown up. WoW did that, in the west at least, and Kaplan and the other raiders made it happen. But they gave us the game they wanted. The game they thought they were playing when they played EQ. That wasn’t the game I was playing. It wasn’t the game almost anyone I knew in EQ was playing. And it wasn’t the game most of us wanted to play, which is why, of all the people I knew in EQ back then, and I knew a few, only one went to WoW at launch. And he lasted six months.

    The ship of theseus analogy applies equally well to the mmorpg genre as it does to Blizzard. We still use the same acronym but it’s describing something entirely changed. WoW did that and Kaplan helped. A lot of people have been trying to put that ship back together but as you point out, even if they could find all the old parts and put them back together, it won’t be the same ship. And meanwhile the same shipthat’s no longer the same ship keeps on sailing.

    What a mess it all is.

    Liked by 1 person

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