Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are Content Droughts Avoidable?

Yes.  End of post.

Sarcasm aside, this long wait between content releases has to be hurting the bottom line for the company and their stockholders and I am not sure how a business that has been around as long as Blizzard has and been as successful at what they do as they have can continue to back themselves into this corner.

I said a long time ago when it was first realized that we would be stuck with this over exposed 3 lock out a week raid that it would cause burn out and was, quite honestly, not a very compelling raid tier story wise or encounter wise, that this could have all been avoided if just one person in charge at Blizzard learned how to read a calender.

Developing content takes time.  I don't know if anyone reading this has ever done any sort of coding or art but any that have will tell you that it takes not only a fair deal of skill but a great deal of time to get it done.  Even longer when you want to get it done right and for as much as we might say about bugs and the such blizzard does get it done right, for the most part.

With that said, they had to know what they had planned, they had to know what would be involved in making those plans a reality, and they had to know how long it would take to carry out said plans.  So why are we in this content drought again?

It is not like none of this was expected.  It is not like any of this came as a surprise to them.  Sure, they decided to change garrisons functionality to be involved in the game more, most likely because they realized that outside of a few new levels that garrisons were the only thing this expansion was offering and to warrant the 50 dollar price tag of a new expansion their only selling point for warlords, garrisons, needed to be more than just an advanced version of farms.  Sure, their artists have taken a lot longer to redesign the character models than perhaps they had expected, but they are not a selling point for the new expansion, so they are not a reason to delay it. 

Side note: For those that might argue that the new character models are a selling point for warlords I will tell you the same thing I told the people who thought the redesigned old world was a selling point for cataclysm.  You do not need to own warlords to get the new art.  You did not need to own cataclysm to get the new old world.  It is a standard upgrade of old parts of the game, everyone gets it, it is not something tied to an expansion.  If you do not need to own the expansion to benefit from it, it is not part of the expansion.  It just so happens it release coincides with it and they say it is expansion material so gullible people will think they are getting more than they really are.  Back to topic.

Now, being blizzard knew how long it was going to take, they knew that there would be a large gap, why did they do nothing what so ever to avoid it?

Some might say that is easier said than done because of what I mentioned earlier.  Development of new stuff takes times.  It is not like they can just throw together a small patch to tide us over on a whim.  I agree, but they could have planned things out better but staggering release and/or making a 5.5 ahead of time because they knew they would need it.  They made a conscious choice to leave us in this drought.

But they could have delayed the release of the content they did release.  Mists had amazingly quick content patches, faster than we ever saw before and it gave all us players hope it would continue and if it did that would have been great for the game.  That was not to happen of course and as such they did not need to push it out that fast as they had absolutely no intention of keeping up with that release rate.  So they could have delayed those releases and even if they delayed each and every one of those patches 1 month they still would have been releasing content faster than they ever had AND they would have decreased the drought we have now.  If they delayed the release of each patch 6 weeks, it would have been perfect.

Think of it for a moment, we are looking at a possible 14 month span with no new content.  If 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 and 5.4 had all been released 6 weeks later than they had been, it still would have been a fast release schedule and it would have effectively eaten up 6 months turning that 14 month wait into an 8 month wait which while it might still seem long, for a last raid of an expansion 8 months seems quite reasonable whereas 14 months does not.

I said that before, I said that many times.  If only they would have looked ahead, if only they had known how to read a calender, if only they had one person in charge that knew anything about project management, we would not be in the drought we are in.

There was another option as well, one that many people do not even think about, and that is making a 5.5.  No really, I know that development takes time and you can not just throw something together, I even said that myself, but they could have planned ahead for it, you know, the way a big company with so many years of experience should work. 

If it were part of the development it could have been something they had worked on so it would be ready when needed.  It could have been a quest hub or two and maybe a few 5 mans in the caverns of time with some fun type "what if" scenes from various timeless that were opened from us playing around on the timeless island.  Have it drop 496 gear that could be used to fill in for the timeless pieces that people did not get, or better versions maybe, and have them have baggies with a chance of a burden for those timeless pieces being it does involve timeless it would fit.  And maybe add a part where you can do a quest line instead of the 3000 valor to speed up the cloak quest line for late comers and alts.  So many ideas, so many things that could have been done, just to give people something instead of of giving them a drought.

This content drought was avoidable.  Blizzard knew how long it would take to do what they wanted to do.  They knew this would happen.  Delaying content release or developing a 5.5 could have easily avoided some of the problem, but even after all the years of experience they had, all the knowledge they have from that experience, they did nothing.

So who or what is the blame for the content drought? 


Who gets hurt by it?

Everyone, the company, the stock holders, the players that left, the players that stayed because they had fewer people to play with.

Now with the advent of 3 different raid lock outs, soon to be 4, people are going to burn out on content faster and this means, to keep them happy and playing and paying, they need to be releasing content faster and not letting us sit around for 14 months.

Blizzard just needs new management.  Someone that can read a calender.  That is how you avoid content drought.


  1. I think there are 2 things that they didn't see coming during mist and that had a big impact on WoD.

    First the new file system, sure they're using it for Heroes, but developing somthing from scratch in that new file format or migrating a beast like WoW to it is certainly not the same.

    Second, GC departure. As much as I know one man is not all, he was still in a leading position, and it's not easy to replace someone like him.

    That being said, I don't mind long final tier. if anything I enjoy them, it allows be to finish to warp the expansion cleanly and dabble in things I didn(t have time to do during the other tiers.

    1. The "new file system" can't be it. It's a self-contained piece of code and it is not rocket science, really. Same for migration - that's a non-issue. (I am a dev.)

      GC departure and, more generally, loss of devs, maybe. I heard some rumors about Blizzard losing several pretty major devs that turned out to be key ones after they have left, at the same time as GC left. That's serious.

      My theory is that it's mismanagement, particularly overloading the art team. If the rumors wrt the loss of several key devs are real, that's also a big factor. We'll probably never know.

    2. Migrating it would seem to be harder than building it from scratch but it is not "required" for the new expansion to be released. They could have done the conversion at any time and then implemented it when ready. Same as the character models.

      I would not be surprised if GC leaving had something to do with some delays, but not all. I am sure he had a right hand man who knew everything that was going on and could have just kept going with things as was.

      @PvP anon, mismanagement is where I believe the problem is as well. While some of the other things very well could have played a part as I mentioned in the post, none of this is new to the company, they should have managed it better.

  2. Yep you’re 100% right this is an unmitigated disaster. It really feels like there’s probably a lot going on behind the scenes that is causing this issue. What seems odd is they were chugging along so nicely something gummed up the works, but you’re right this really stinks of mismanagement of some kind.

    1. I can't help but believe there was something they could have done to make the wait less agonizing. Be it slower patches, additional content, even nerfs (as much as people hate them) just to keep things feeling fresh a little bit.

      I would love to be a fly on the wall for some of those meetings and find out who is running the show because it seems like no one is at the moment.

    2. Isn't it nice when we agree. :P
      I so want to be a fly on the wall too. I mean mismanagement of this type has got to be an epic train wreak to watch.

    3. Sometimes even when we disagreed we actually agreed.

      I bet it would be a case of them in panic mode right about now. I am sure with each passing day that estimated release date is looking like a really hard deadline to meet.

  3. Anon, Grumpy's former Guild Leader:

    I would like to attribute it to some individual or group, but in all honesty, looking at the company's public history convinces me that it is simply the long term corporate culture that is at the root of it.

    Getting product out the door has never been a top priority at Blizzard. Mists was an exception to the rule for a brief period but only that, an exception.

    This long delay between the last patch and the new expansion is much more the traditional method of doing business. Part of it is due to the determination that products ship when ready and not before. Part of it stems from the gamer culture that helped shape Blizzard from its' inception, a culture where the game comes before business.

    Now those things are important reasons that Blizzard products are good to go on any average computer of the day. But they are not and have never been factors in speeding things up. This seems like a normal thing for Blizzard and not some new exception to the rule. If anything, the Mists patch schedule was an aberration to the history of the company and like most aberrations is and was temporary.

    1. Even if it is long term corporate culture that is the cause of it that would still fall under the mismanagement header. For management allowing that culture to even exist.

      I commend them on shipping product when it is ready and not before. It is a good thing to do instead of rushing it and making an inferior product. But they just need to learn how to get the product ready faster.

      I liked mists patch releases coming out faster, however even as they were released, even before we saw what was happening now, I had posted and asked the question, "is this too soon". I could tell from the get go, they released the content too fast and they backed themselves into this corner due to bad management.

  4. It's always bothered me that we spend so much time in the last raid tier of an expansion and comparatively so little time in the first and second tiers.

    You'd think they'd have learned that by now. "Spread out the tiers".... It's all obvious to us.

    In Wrath and Cata, we had our furthest progression during the last tier (clearing heroics, finishing all the achievs, getting mounts for people, etc) because there's nothing else to do. I haven't been raiding in Mists, but the same still applies. We could have spent some more time in ToT or Firelands, etc. Instead of spending "an eternity" in ICC, DS, and SoO.

    It's got to be mismanagement where they were pushing the devs to move quickly to buff up the sub numbers for their stock valuations or something. Short term gains at the expense of long term losses.

    1. It does seem funky that we spend more time at the end than the beginning. In my experience the first raid tier should take the longest. It is usually the raid tier my guild, as the average casual guild, gets the least done. We have to gear from the start so we start later and thus end up with less time actually raiding. The others we are geared from the previous tier so move right into them, but the first raid tier usually takes a much longer time to ramp up until we start killing things on a regular basis.

      I know they design the game for the 0.1% of the player base and they finished the first tier just as fast as they do the others, but they need to start thinking about the majority of their player base and not the very few.

      If the MV/HoF/ToES went 9 months, heck, even 12 months, it would have been better over all than the last one doing so. It would give more people a chance to get into raiding and get things down. I think, math wise, I read somewhere that only 30% of the guilds that finished ToT on normal had finished the opening 3 on normal. Goes to show you that the opening 3 did not have enough time for the average casual group to get into things.

      I know from personal experience as well. When I call my guild the average casual guild I really mean it. Throughout out history when we down the last boss of a tier usually we are at the 50% range, a little before. Don't get more average than 50%. When we downed the last boss of ToT 46% of the the guilds had done so. When we downed SoO 48% of the guilds had done so. It always seems like that. So I believe it is a fair assessment for me to consider us the average raiding guild.

  5. I seriously believe it was entirely a misestimation issue (s). I truly believe they thought it would be ready to go by June or so.

    Everyone misestimated the time it would take to do things - probably inexperienced PMs or managers willing to say what upper management wanted to hear rather than thinking it through thoroughly enough and pushing back to keep realistic estimates in place.

    I also think they misestimated the nature of the things they promised. The communications I've seen from them give me the massive impression they didn't think through the complexity of the features well enough before they committed to them. Too many of the rebalancing/redesign class bits, the massive rework of how some of the professions work, stat squish, etc communications all sound like they had an idea and no real concept of how many moving parts are involved and the implications throughout the game. The same goes for garrisons.

    The loss of GC and a few senior devs or experienced managers sounds like more than enough to cause this sort of problem.

    Every word out of their mouths makes it sound like they keep discovering rats nests they never anticipated.

    1. I agree it does seem like they bit off more than they could chew and I think you nailed it when you said they sound like they keep running into rats nests.

      I would still call that a bit of mismanagement however because they are still focusing the efforts in the wrong places. Characters models for example. They can add them at any time, they do not need to be at release. The stat squish was something that anyone that has ever coded anything before knew would be a hell of a lot of work. I can't believe they did not see issues arising.

      The aim high and they do not seem to be able to hit their target. As the saying goes "the road to ruin is paved with the best intentions". This seems very much like a case of that. They had the best intentions but it just lead them down a road to ruin.

      Sadly, as time keeps ticking by, I am starting to believe we might not even see warlords by the december 20th date they said it would be out, at the latest.

      Beta is coming soon, so lets see what it looks like there.