Warning! This is long and ranty and link heavy! [Links will open in new tabs]
I remember Silicon and Synapse. You might not, but I do. They weren’t big enough to work on their own projects, so they did ports of other games to various other consoles. None of these ports were particularly big, but they established the company as detail-oriented and good at what they did. And a key element from those days has stayed with Blizzard: they know how to refine.
Which is at least some of what I want to talk about. But the other thing I want to talk about is how distant Silicon and Synapse are from the Blizzard we have today and why – after almost twenty five years of playing Blizzard’s games, I am going to slowly start winding down Blizzard projects I’m still pursuing.
Games for Gamers
Blizzard wanted – with their original games – to make something they would enjoy – and that they knew other gamers would enjoy, too. That was stamped into their DNA at the time. So they built up a puzzle game in the form of Lost Vikings which was a little like Lemmings, but not exactly. Lemmings were dumb and you had 99 of them and you had to ferry them using clever traps and tricks built into the levels. The Lost Vikings, however, were three Norse-men that you guided by hand, using their respective powers to get you through from point A to the Level Exit. It was fun and endearing.
Blizzard would also go on to spawn various other franchises and make more games – but only ever – really – a handful. The thing about that handful of games was that – given the constraints at the time, those few titles were especially polished. Blizzard knew how to refine, refine, refine until something shone like a diamond. Which is how we got Diablo. They wanted an RPG game, but they didn’t want the slow pace. It’s also how we got their biggest franchise: Warcraft. They wanted to do Dune and Command and Conquer, but better. More refined. And so, Warcraft was forged.
But in all these endeavors, they were creating games they were passionate about and they wanted this infectious feel to pour through to their communities, too. There were map editors for Warcraft. A whole creature editor. Diablo never got robust modding tools, but it did spawn Battle.net, arguably one of the best ideas in gaming at the time.
Before Battle.net, you see, you had to wrangle with systems like Kali and TEN [Total Entertainment Network] if you wanted to play online. So, Battle.net was an eye-opener. It made matchmaking simpler, it grouped people who naturally wanted the same things together and it paved the way for other such systems.
Again. All for gamers. To connect them together. To ensure they had a good time. To play.
This enthusiasm for their community finally sparked the beginning of a massive, massive project that we now know as World of Warcraft, where the developers wanted to take the massive amount of downtime inherent in MMO’s at the time and streamline – again – to make it simpler for friends to hang out together.
World of Warcraft had flaws in those early years, but enjoying it with other people wasn’t part of the problem.
Blizzard Lose Their Soul
Everything up until Cataclysm seemed to be running smoothly. Blizzard consistently made players happy. Well, for the most part. World of Warcraft never got the housing system Blizzard talked about on-and-off for years. The idea of a Life Quest [a racial quest that you started when you started the game] never actually got out of alpha and several systems were either changed completely or just abandoned on the cutting room floor [Dance Studio and Path of the Titans, I’m looking at you.]
But trouble was a-brewing. A lot of the trouble started when Blizzard got bought by Activision. Activision are a big company. Activision only care about money. Half of the reason Activision wanted to get their hands on Blizzard had to do with World of Warcraft – a game that was literally lightning in a bottle. And, of course, once Blizzard got bought out by Activision, they were never quite the same again. Money was obviously driving some of their choices and not keeping their player base happy.
Then, Cataclysm arrived. It absolutely lived up to it’s namesake. Lots of people didn’t find the revamp of the 1-60 zones engaging. Moreover, some were frustrated that Blizzard removed a lot of old content that they loved with no way to get back to it. I play a Tauren. My faction leader was killed in a line of dialogue that – evidently – got better explained in a book. A book [!] [I know I’m linking to the WoW Forums and the WoW Forums are a cesspool. I’m sorry :(]
But Blizzard weren’t content with just messing with their player-base. They had to stomp on them. Repeatedly. I liked Mists of Pandaria – up to a point. I loved the art and the music, but the quests never did much for me – I hated the unsubtle way in which the Horde and Alliance were forced into another battle over territory and I mourned the earlier alpha builds of some of those zones – which had been far more interesting and subtle. One bright spark did come out of that whole mess – I got to kill the guy who killed Cairne. But that was one measly, little bright spot. The rest of the expansion was a monotonous blur. This lead right into the awful, awful design of Warlords of Draenor.
Not content with saddling the players with daily quests, the Warcraft Development Team wanted to go a step further. They wanted to make sure that players never saw or interacted with each other in capital cities – axing the cities they had planned and dumping the players into a garrison. The garrison was literally the most lonely place to be for the whole of that expansion. It wasn’t housing, instead, it was just a place you went and picked up daily quests that you’d plow through without friends. On occasion, you’d dungeon run through the Looking For Group system. But you’d never talk to your team-mates. And if someone got out of line – even a little, you’d boot them out of the team.
That describes the state of World of Warcraft – and I haven’t even touched on the RealID fiasco or the no-flying in Draenor debacle. [very briefly: Blizzard wanted people to use their real names on the internet. And they refused to answer the question of “will we be able to fly in this new expansion – after flying had become both a mainstay of the game and after Blizzard effectively taunted the players by making sure there were flying mounts for sale in the Blizzard store. Oh yes. The Blizzard store exists. Another slight against players, everywhere.]
Other bad decisions followed: Diablo 3 was marred with launch issues because Blizzard felt that the game should be always online – EVEN WHEN PLAYING THE SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN. Try and wrap your mind around that one. It’s absurd. This – in fact – is a direct quote from a Blizzard staffer about that whole issue: “If someone has no Internet access, then yeah, Diablo 3 is not the game for them.” Blizzard literally tells it’s players: “we don’t want your money. You’re not doing it the way we want you to.” Which is pretty absurd, really.
I haven’t even mentioned Hearthstone, yet, but I can safely sum up the way the developers feel about that community in one simple sentence: Blizzard thinks you’re stupid. They have implied as much over and over again. Card games are complex and require problem solving skills and yet Blizzard are on record as suggesting that if they introduce more deck slots, their player base will be confused [!] [I’m not even making this stuff up. Here, have a quote: “We’re just worried that players who have 18, 30 deck slots can get overwhelmed and forget which one’s which. It gets a lot more complicated quickly.” –Ben Brode.]
So, at this point, we arrive at the crux of the matter. Blizzard does not listen to their players.
They did not listen when the players wanted to keep being able to buy packs of Goblins versus Gnomes and adventures in Hearthstone.
And, most recently, they have refused to budge on giving the World of Warcraft community Vanilla servers [servers without any of the expansions] – going so far – even as to kill off a fan-made server and hitting it with a law-suit.
Blizzard are not the company they once were and they do not care for their fan-base at all.
Blizzard have lost their soul.
This Is Just Where I Came In
For me, these last few items have been straws on the camel’s back. I didn’t buy into Diablo 3 after the always-online fiasco. Which is a shame. I own and have enjoyed both Diablo 1 and 2. I very nearly finished BlackThorne. Though I never liked it, I trudged through Warcraft before it was a MMO. I bought all the big box versions of World of Warcraft that I could when they came out. I was a fan. Perhaps not the most rabid fan, ever, [I don’t need to own a Frostmourne, for example.] but I generally liked and appreciated the Blizzard refinements to other ideas.
But that ends now.
It has become painfully clear that Blizzard cares for only one thing: their bottom line. Not their games. And certainly not their communities. While there is nothing wrong with making a profit and doing well for yourself, part of the reason you’re even in gaming is to entertain.
So, I will not support Hearthstone by making videos of the game anymore. I most certainly won’t buy any more time cards for World of Warcraft past the last one I have. I am not giving them money for Overwatch. [a game I was going to skip, anyway, but…Winston!] And those big boxes? For the first time since World of Warcraft’s doors opened, I will not be buying a collector’s edition. [I almost always bought two copies if I could help it, a sealed collector’s edition and a regular for-play edition which I would install and use as my client. So, Blizzard were effectively getting two sales out of me.]
Until Blizzard become community and customer focused again, I am sitting their releases right out. So, farewell, Tauren Druid. Farewell decks of Hearthstone. Goodbye silly Norsemen. I will miss you all.
Some images courtesy of Pixabay.