There’s the pandemic factor, no question, but having a virtual con is still something of use. Warframe and EvE can still manage this, with arguably much smaller bases, so that’s a fun factor to consider. And yet…
The purpose of a convention is to get a bunch of people who are fans of something together, and use that herd to pump up the view of the future around the theme. As much as they can be seen as massive interactive ads (SDCC for example), there is still the base that people go to these things to get good news and good vibes.
BlizzCon has had issues on this for some time, because the relationship between the fans and the developers has been very one sided. A cool idea gets pitched, people get pumped, and the eventual product is cut down to bare bones and doesn’t work. I can still remember WoD’s garrison pitch – you could move it between zones and it was interactive with other players, very customizable. What the heck actually got delivered? Farmville. That Blizzcon was nearly 10 years ago. And all goodwill for this was lost with the Diablo Immortal presentation – an announcement that should have been an email and not a stage delivery. tldr; if you don’t have good news to share, that you have a reasonable chance of delivering, keep quiet.
This assumes that people actually want what you’re selling. There is a lot of “you think you want it, but you don’t” mindset from the dev team, where player feedback was ignored and instead favored the extremely simple themepark design of “this way and only this way”. It’s certainly a difficult balance to manage a very large playerbase, one that is clearly distributed across multiple veins. The folks that enjoy pet battles are unlikely to enjoy raiding, for example. And yet, when the people who do enjoy pet battles provide feedback, and that is ignored, or raid feedback is ignored, well… you end up here. Where the player base has lost a lot of trust in the dev team.
Kaylriene’s post on this facet had me head nodding a lot. One the one hand, there’s the simple fact that Blizzard takes ages to deliver relatively tiny bit size morsels, which often lack the necessary polish that you’d expect with more time. On the other hand, Blizz puts in clear time gates to stretch out the content for as long as possible, which means people experience the flaws for a longer period. From a dev perspective, these things should offset each other – from a player perspective that’s a different story, because the market has changed.
10 years ago we were starting to scratch the concept of always online games. Games in the sense of more than an MMO. The larger proliferation of smartphones really pushed this model to the mainstream, and then consoles quickly followed. Nowdays, you can’t take 2 steps without finding something that is permanently online and has a massive player base. Every game today on a best-seller list is multiplayer (if it is SP, then it’s there a month and fades). Dev companies are fighting for eyeballs and clicks with the minimal amount of investment possible (*cough* FIFA *cough). So let’s look at Blizz pipeline.
- Overwatch – hasn’t had an update in over a year and won’t have one until Overwatch 2 comes out
- Overwatch 2 – ummm
- Heroes of the Storm – this is on maintenance mode
- Hearthstone – 3 releases a year or so, with a big release this Spring
- WoW – 9.1.5 is all recycled content and no dates for 9.2 (is that the last patch?)
- WoW Classic – perhaps a Frozen Throne announcement, but the general vibe from TBC is that the model is somewhat broken where 2007 content is meeting 2021 playstyles (and bots)
- WoW Classic 2.0 – seems something closer to progression servers from EQ is coming.
- Diablo 4 – we’re 2 years away
- Diablo 3 – nothing
- Diablo Immortal – it’s still in beta and is not targeting the Blizzcon audience
- Diablo 2 / Warcraft 3 / Starcraft 2 – all in the rearview mirror
There’s not much to talk about!
Oh, and the fact that Blizzard is still being sued and a chunk of their leadership has moved out certainly changes the tone of any conversation.
It’s a really fascinating case study of multiple smaller issues causing a cascade of larger ones, resulting in a problem space that has no single solution. Seems oddly analogous to Theseus Ship – the Blizzard we grew up with is certainly not the same one we have today.