“All good things must come to an end.” …Or so they say.
Even as I write this, finally making real the words that have been drifting in my mind for months, it is hard to believe that we’re here. As the preceding post suggested, 11 years later, it’s time for me to move on from the World of Warcraft – at least, for now.
I made this decision in March of 2016, knowing it would be “difficult” to pen down my final thoughts before I took the plunge. I did not, however, anticipate how hard all of you wonderful people would make doing this. I did not anticipate how hard nostalgia would hit, how emotional the whole experience would be.
But then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ironically, if it were only a matter of playing the game then I would not have bothered writing this. Let’s be honest: My absence from World of Warcraft would have been no more or less significant than that of any other player. I could choose not to play for a couple of months, come back for a few days and then go right back to not playing again.
It’s never that simple though, is it? My connection to WoW goes beyond “just playing” – it extends into the myriad of communities that have formed around this game. It touches deeply personal relationships that I’ve forged with people over the course of my stay in Azeroth. I have responsibilities, connections and expectations placed on me that necessitate my writing of something like this.
As a warning: My last post was largely about good memories, feels and generally upbeat trends. This post, however, covers more negative and harsh topics. I am, after all, writing about the rationale and reasons behind my decision to walk away from something that has meant a great deal to me. For some of you, who’ve been messaging me about how much you enjoyed my writing and my take on things, this may end up being a little more blunt than you are used to. If you aren’t in the mood to deal with such topics, I suggest turning away now.
Still with me? Without further ado, let’s begin.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after watching people blog about how they plan to quit World of Warcraft, it’s that making bold declarations and commitments in the heat of the moment almost inevitably leads to coming back with one’s tail tucked between their legs later on.
This is why I’ve been careful to state that I only plan to leave WoW and the community “for now”. The current commitment I’ve made to myself, one that I believe will be relatively easy to live up to, is that starting on the day that the 7.0 prepatch hits I will begin a three month long hiatus from Warcraft.
As I noted earlier however, this doesn’t just mean not playing the game.
It means no longer tweeting from my @MagdalenaDK account. It means resigning from my position as a Death Knight columnist at Blizzard Watch. It means ceasing all blogging and communications in the mediums that are associated with my WoW identity. It also meant having to say “No” to places such as Wowhead when the time came to decide whether or not I was going to write the 7.0 Legion Death Knight guides. Most painfully, it means taking a hiatus from the #Acherus community – which I helped found and then took full ownership of from 2011 up until now with no interruptions.
Thus, for the months of August, September and most of October, you likely won’t see me in any capacity barring serious emergencies that require my personal attention. Following that however, I make no commitments. I don’t want readers thinking that I’ll make a sudden return to Azeroth because an arbitrary amount of time has passed. One thing I’ve observed over the years is that it seems to be easier for people to stay away from the pull of returning the longer they’ve been gone. Whether or not that will be the case for me remains to be seen, which is partly why I wanted to list a “strictly gone” period that didn’t feel overly punitive.
The thing is, even if I do return to playing WoW one day, I’m also very much aware that things are never going to go back to the way they were. It’s not just a matter of missing content when it’s fresh, but also of missing events, happenings and also communities evolving. Most importantly: Leaving also means saying goodbye to a lot of people that I consider friends. More on that later.
The Why (Game)
In public, I’ve made vague allusions to strongly disliking the direction of Legion and the design behind 7.0 DK. In semi-private spaces such as #Acherus and among friend groups, I’ve been somewhat louder and more vocal about this dislike. Strangely though, to me, it feels as if I’ve largely kept my silence, screaming inside and keeping my thoughts bottled up.
Why is this? Because writing all of my thoughts down, giving them form and putting in the time/effort needed to get them to a standard where I’m personally satisfied with their clarity is an exceptionally taxing matter. My thought process, when it comes to analysing features or changes, is approaching the issue from multiple angles and trying to put forward an argument that also accounts for potential counterarguments; I’d like to think that a great deal of my existing writing reflects this as well.
In many ways, I am my own worst critic – any serious writer can tell you about the number of half formed ideas, thoughts and incoherent ramblings that never make it past the furrowed ridge between their brows due to the paralysing indecision one’s own mind conjures up. Despite having such a cacophony in the back of my mind, when Legion changes first began to appear I tweeted about a “massive googledoc” I was writing concerning my thoughts on Death Knights. Even with self-doubts and with the problem of indecision, I resolved to put that document out there. I saw it as a responsibility and as something that could potentially avert the level of changes that I saw.
Unfortunately, as many of you have probably guessed, that enthusiasm eventually faded and gave way to despair. With every Legion Alpha build seemingly pushing forward changes that I increasingly disliked, the question of “Why are you bothering to do this?” rang louder and louder in my mind. My biggest regret, at this point, is that that googledoc will never see the light of day. There are roughly 40 or so pages of it lying dormant somewhere – but I doubt I’ll ever release them to the public.
I’ve seen enough speculation about my reasons for quitting, so let me state this unequivocally: I am quitting World of Warcraft because I strongly dislike the design behind Legion as well as the general direction in which the game is going. This includes class design, systems such as Artifacts, bonus loot, legendaries and more. At the forefront of all this is the design of the Legion DK, which to me heralds the end of the class that I have loved and played for so long.
While I believe that there are certainly positive aspects to Legion design, the negatives outweigh them to such a degree that I no longer consider the game to be one that I have any interest in investing the amount of attention to that I have in the past.
I want to address a topic that multiple people have brought up to me over the past few days. Given the number of responsibilities I’ve had as a raider, a community leader, a columnist and also as a figure in the Warcraft community, it has been suggested to me that the “real” reason I’m leaving is due to burnout and that my lack of interest in Legion is more a matter of deflection than a serious reason to make this decision.
As I did above, let me state this clearly and for the record: This is absolute nonsense.
If it were truly something as simple as burnout, then what these suggestions would imply is that all I need is a “cooling off” period before coming back and cheerfully romping around Azeroth once again. Were this the case, don’t you think I would have left a long time ago? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to simply skip the great content droughts of 2014 (i.e. 14 months of Siege of Orgrimmar) and 2016 (i.e. 16 total months of Hellfire Citadel)? Heck, why stop there – wouldn’t it have made more sense to simply leave during Wrath of the Lich King when Icecrown Citadel lasted a full year?
Leaving aside the highly condescending and smug rationale behind trying to authoritatively declare that someone’s own reasoning for their actions in such a matter is at fault (this very much applies to several players and to a number of WoW developers as well), something I need people to understand is that the burdens and stresses I’ve taken on during my time in this game and this community have been voluntary.
-I chose to get involved with the Death Knight community.
-I chose to build that community into what it is today.
-I chose to become a guide writer, to become a community figure associated with the class.
-I chose to believe developer promises about how useful my continuing feedback was.
More importantly: Three of the above points are responsibilities and commitments that I would still be willing to shoulder going forward, if I intended to play the game and remain engaged with the community. Simply being “burnt out” would likely cause me to suddenly abandon all responsibility and simply disappear without warning – which is obviously not the case here.
What I’m trying to get at here is that in the past, despite there being aspects to the game that I did not enjoy, I’ve always had a reason to keep logging in. I may strongly disagree with some portions of how Blizzard has conducted itself and its design of the game, but the product and the community combined gave me enough reasons to stick around… Most of the time, anyway. If it was genuinely a matter of just needing to go away for a bit, I could make excuses to all of you about why I need to go.
I could tell you that I’m looking to leave my current job for a more senior position that also requires more hours than I was putting in before. True.
I could tell you that an elderly relative has fallen gravely ill and requires my attention several times a week for prolonged periods. Also true.
I could tell you that I recently discovered I’m the heir to a great fortune, and plan to devote lots more time towards utilising my wealth travelling the world. Not true, but isn’t that a nice thought?
Ultimately though, the hard truth is that I could still devote time to playing WoW and being active in the community if I were inclined to do so. Thus, it isn’t a matter of not having the time or simply needing a break – it’s the fact that I simply can’t reconcile my desire to play the game with my dislike of the new systems Legion introduces. Until (and unless) I get past that mental block, I can’t see myself playing and enjoying myself.
The How (i.e. making the decision to leave)
The irony of the “burnout” suggestion is that my ultimate decision to leave World of Warcraft and the community came about in a way that I could only describe as being the polar opposite of the aforementioned phenomenon. When flying was first announced as having been cancelled in Warlords, my first reaction was to go to my account and immediately cancel my recurring subscription to the game. Belatedly, I realised that I had been exactly two days too late: My account had already been billed for an additional six months of game time, and I’d used several tokens from the Auction House a few days prior. As such, my time in the game was “guaranteed” until at least March.
At the time, as I noted during my discussion about flying, I had decided that even if I quit during the current expansion (which ended up not happening because flying did indeed come back), I would “try out” 7.0. Although Legion wasn’t public knowledge at the time, I had a general idea about some of the new features the expansion would introduce and was interested enough that my distaste for how Warlords of Draenor was unfolding was overshadowed by this interest.
Then, shortly after Blizzcon, the Legion Alpha began.
Suddenly I was able to test out Demon Hunters, class changes, Artifacts and more. With every build that came, my disbelief and despair with the state of changes grew wider. I tried to convince myself that it was just shock – that I simply needed to give these systems a chance, and that my experience could be pegged down to Alpha being buggy, or what have you. Sadly, this did nothing to dispel the bleak contrast I felt when I logged into the game on Live versus Alpha.
I recall mentally scolding myself: What’s wrong with you? Warlords has been a terrible expansion on the whole, and has had no new content for months. You should be enjoying the chance to play this! Demon Hunters, hello?!
For nearly five months, I made excuses excuses to myself. I bargained and tried to rationalise my own doubts about Legion. Indeed, the irony of hearing people accuse me of “burnout” or of simply “not giving the changes a chance” is heightened by the fact that these very words surfaced as internal struggles within me long before anyone else vocalised them.
I was miserable.
I’d agonise over whether I’d play Legion, whether I’d switch classes and whether I’d be able to continue doing for the community what I had thus far done uninterrupted for so long. All of this was with the constant reminder of how much I disliked the gameplay Legion is set to introduce every time I logged into Alpha.
It was on a March night, just as the weather had begun to warm up after February’s icy grip had loosened, that an epiphany struck me. I remember the same questions echoing in my mind, disturbing my attempts to sleep and get some rest – when suddenly I sat bolt upright. It was almost as if someone else’s voice was speaking, but for the first time things started making sense.
This is a game. You began playing it to have fun. It grew into much more, but the basis of continuing to play has and always will be dependent on how much fun you’re having. If you are so fraught with internal conflict over the mere prospect of still playing this game, isn’t that a clear sign that it’s time to get going?
I actually laughed out loud to myself when I came to this realisation. I won’t claim that it was a simple decision to make, but viewed from the angle that I eventually did, it was an obvious one. It was never, I realised, a question of whether or not I should speak up about how I felt about the expansion but rather one of whether or not I should even play the expansion.
Savouring the end
Once I’d made the decision to quit at a set time, everything else seemed to fall into place. With a definite sight in end, it felt as if a great burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I no longer needed to worry about giving feedback or a sense of guilt towards not doing everything that I could to serve my community better.
I began logging into the game on Live with a new zest and appreciation for the things around me. I completed long-term goals such as acquiring “The Insane”, obtaining 300 mounts, concluding some challenging solo kills, hunting elusive achievements and just plain enjoying the game for what it was. Indeed, the more time I spent playing the game on Live, the more my conviction that the course of action I had resolved to take was the correct one increased. Even with what a poor expansion Warlords of Draenor has been in terms of its content and story, the gameplay of my class has never felt better – and I was determined to enjoy every moment of it that I could. This didn’t stop me from voicing my criticisms about Legion changes as they were unveiled, but the difference was that I did not allow those criticisms to consume me. A lot of my public tone prior to March wasn’t just critical of Legion, but bitterly so because I saw it as “ruining” the game I had enjoyed thus far. Now that I had no personal stake in the Legion pony, I was able to have a much more pleasant time during my remaining months.
Even now, as I write these words, I smile as I recall how much fun I’ve had over the past four months.
-I got to raid with my friends on both Horde and Alliance.
-I got to help followers and acquaintances get some of their first kills on tough progression bosses their guilds were working on.
-I got to experience the depth and gameplay behind talents such as Breath of Sindragosa to their absolute maximum.
-I got to come up with a variety of fun contests, Beta streams and giveaways methods for the Beta keys that a friend at Blizzard gave me to hand out.
And so on.
In short: The past couple of months have been my swan song within the game, and I’m cognizant of how lucky I am to be able to set the terms of my departure so precisely. How many times have we heard stories of players forced to quit because of real life circumstance, or because they suddenly became so fed up with the game that they pulled the plug without warning? I get to defy that trend and make a relatively graceful exit with largely good memories and good feelings intact. That’s more than most people can ask for, and I’m only happy that that I’ve been able to do it this way.
Interlude: Demon Hunters, main switching and the crux of Legion
As a warning, this section is likely going to read as the the most “feedback”-esque of this entire blogpost, since I point to some of my specific dislikes about Legion features. I do want to be clear though: It is not intended to function as such. I don’t plan to offer a comprehensive argument about why I dislike something about Legion, and nor do I want “gotcha!”-type comments trying to use them as a basis for starting flamewars on here. I am, after all, long past the point where I thought it worthwhile to craft a constructive, coherent piece of genuine feedback for a group of people that I do not believe deserve it.
Because I know that it will be asked, I’m going to answer a question that I know some of you have posed to me before: Yes, I did seriously consider main switching. Yes, the choice I made would likely have been a Demon Hunter.
This answer is less surprising when considering the fact that Demon Hunters were some of my favourite units to play in Warcraft III. If, back then, you’d asked me whether I enjoyed the story/theme behind Demon Hunters or Death Knights more, I would have been unable to give you an answer. I spent three solid months playing my Demon Hunter on Alpha (for at least 20 or more hours a week) and learning the intricacies behind the class. In the end however, I realised that it didn’t compare to the mechanics on Live that I love about my Death Knight.
What was my assessment of Demon Hunters, based on the time I spent playing one?
I consider the class to be an excellent representation of Blizzard’s intention behind 7.0 design – not just limited to classes, but to how the expansion itself fits its intended audience. Demon Hunter has a lot of “flash” going for it. I do not solely refer to combat animations or spell effects, but the fact that abilities such as Fel Rush, double jump, Glide, and so on, bring a very immediate and visceral level of satisfaction when playing. It it only after playing the class for a prolonged period of time – months, perhaps- that the true hollowness behind its rotational depth becomes apparent. Instead of the depth and reliance on precision that I’ve grown to love about Death Knight on Live, Demon Hunters seem to be more about RNG being incorporated into their base rotations, and the elusive chase towards a tangible “skill cap” towards facets of their play is largely unreachable.
This fits the greater whole of 7.0 class design very well, especially in the DPS department. Kris Zeirhut himself made sure to mention that “…more unpredictability to respond to in combat” was part of the core design behind Legion classes. In many ways, this gels in very well with the random nature of other systems, such as Warforged/Titanforged gear, legendary drops, Mythic dungeon affixes changing by week, Artifact Power acquisition, endless grinds and so on.
Along with this is a reduction in the number of buttons, abilities and, most importantly, toolkits that most existing classes have had up until Legion. Going off of Death Knight alone, the number of abilities that have been removed, made PvP exclusive or made spec-exclusive in Legion far dwarfs the “ability prune” of Warlords – and I am told that the same applies to many other specs in Legion. While Blizzard claims that a great deal of this complexity now comes in the form of talents that we can “choose” to opt into, the reality of balance in Beta thus far has suggested an overwhelming bias towards passive talents.
Even if we accept that this is just a consequence of unfinished tuning and that an ideal world would put active talents ahead of passive ones when utilised correctly (Hint: In multiple specs, this simply won’t be the case regardless of numbers), the fact remains that the average count of abilities and spec toolkits in Legion has shrunk a great deal. I’ve also ranted and railed about how disappointed I am in the direction that Blizzard has taken Tanking in Legion, whereby the role seems to be headed back to a world where an overwhelming majority of its survival is in the hands of healers, DPS is largely a byproduct of “Tanking” itself rather than an active choice made by the Tank
Why do I think that Blizzard is moving towards such design? Why simplify baseline class design and add in so many systems of RNG? Why place an emphasis on flashiness and immediate satisfaction at the cost of long-term depth? My mind keeps going back to something that Watcher (Ion Hazzikostas) stated during an interview when he was questioned about the drop in subscriber numbers during Warlords of Draenor. He spoke about the “cyclical nature” of the playerbase, and how World of Warcraft was no longer seen as a constant investment by this demographic.
I believe that Legion as an expansion caters most strongly to such a demographic. These are the type of people that subscribe to the game for two or three months, allow their subscription to lapse for a few to follow, and are then back to playing when a new tier of content is released. Imagine, for a moment, if you were such a player. The fact that there are so many potential ways to “get lucky” or to have RNG work in your favour with rotations, with acquisitions and also without feeling like you have a ton of catchup to work on will be wonderful. Such a playerbase would likely not even stick around long enough to feel bored by the constant effect of RNG on everything that they do (i.e. “I’ve gotten so much better at my spec, I’m so tired of not being able to exert more control over it!”).
Legion hits just the sweet spot that would keep World of Warcraft worth coming back on a semi-regular basis, without really investing a huge amount into the game for these players. Themes such as instant gratification (which is very much what good rotational RNG, Titanforged/Legendary drops and so on) as well as an emphasis on “flashiness” with features such as new combat/spell animations, a revamped Transmogrification system and what have you are likely to be a much bigger draw for this demographic proportionally speaking, compared to the type of player that is more interested in long-term gameplay and the nuances that accomplish it.
Because I know that somebody will inevitably bring it up, I’ll also touch on Artifact design: Yes, these items do indeed represent massive time sinks for the truly dedicated. At last count, I believe investing Artifact Power into the 14th trait on an Artifact exceeded the combined cost of the previous 13th. However, it is also important to consider what the final traits on these items are: Largely flat % increases that increase a role’s baseline effectiveness. There is nothing exciting nor particularly compelling about this final stage of the long-term grind, and that is precisely why I do not believe that players who are not invested in World of Warcraft as a long-term venture will treat this “final grind” as being cumbersome or annoying, given that they are not likely to be the type of players that would move mountains for what are ultimately very small and not very satisfying incremental gains.
All this is a perfectly valid way to design a game – just not one I’m interested in investing myself into like I have with WoW thus far.
On subjectivity and the game to follow
Having spent time criticising and dissecting what I dislike about Legion (albeit on a fairly superficial level, most of you probably know how much into the true minutiae of analysis I can delve into), it’s also important for me to state something else: My criticisms are mine alone. They aren’t intended to persuade anyone reading this about how they should feel about Legion or about the direction in which the game is headed. If you’re able to relate to some of them, then I’m glad that you’re able to see you aren’t alone.
At the same time: Please don’t feel insulted or guilty if you’re excited about Legion or genuinely believe that its systems present considerable improvements. In my community alone, I’ve seen multiple individuals praise the design of 7.0 DK, tell me that they’re excited for Legion and that they’re much happier with the prospect of what Legion brings for the class compared to Warlords.
And you know what? That’s great. At the end of the day my dislike for Legion and for the general direction of WoW, however strong and passionately argued as they might be, is mine alone. Expecting anyone else to have some sort of obligation to feel the same way is just silly.
If you are among the many players that I’m confident will enjoy Legion, will find all the systems I’ve described fun and could even see yourselves fitting the cyclical demographic that I mentioned then I’m certain you’re going to have a fantastic time with the game in the near future. Something that I’ve read on multiple forums and that even some players in #Acherus themselves have said in relation to class changes is that they were quite happy if the amount of steps it took to get them to master a talent or playstyle to a level acceptable for their intended level of content was greatly reduced. One example, for instance, was comparing the fact that you could potentially get as much gain from using the new Summon Val’kyr talent for Unholy DKs compared to the Breath of Sindragosa playstyle that’s been prevalent throughout most of Warlords.
While I do not believe that I will ever be able to relate to such a mindset, I don’t plan on lambasting players for holding it as well. For some of you, the priority of gameplay might come secondary to how you conceive of the game’s narrative or the fantasy behind the character you’re playing (for the record, I’ve said that Death Knight fantasy if far weaker rather than stronger in Legion – but maybe you disagree).
It would be foolish of me to try and argue that Legion heralds some sort of “death” or “end” to WoW when that simply isn’t true. Even with all the massive subscriber losses the game saw in Warlords, it managed to retain the title of the most popular subscriber based MMO in the market. Considering the fact that it’s held this distinction for over a decade, that’s pretty impressive for a single game running on a relatively outdated engine.
As such, allow me to repeat myself: If you’re excited for Legion and genuinely look forward to playing it, then I wish you all the best and hope that you find the same joy and wonder in the expansion that I did in this game for many years.
Dealing with the Blues
Titular puns aside (do you like the shot of Watcher?), I’m aware that this is the section many of you have simultaneously been looking forward to and also dreading. It’s been hard for me to write this section myself – I’ve oscillated between being too harsh and also going on the opposite end of the spectrum where it largely felt disingenuous not to address what legitimate grievances I had.
I’m going to start off with a disclaimer: If you scrolled down to this section hoping to see lots of flaming, bridge burning and Blizzard bashing by me, you’re likely going to be disappointed. This isn’t because I’ve suddenly developed a sense of concern for the few people that I’ve been disgusted and disillusioned by for months, but largely because I do not believe that betraying their confidence and leaking every single communique that I found objectionable will be productive. It won’t change the attitudes of these few individuals, it will hurt and cause harm to people that I care about, and quite frankly it just isn’t something I consider to be in my style.
That said, I haven’t held back from voicing my frustrations either.
Additionally, it would be wrong to give readers the impression that I’m disappointed with a large swathe of people. Saying that I was disgusted with “Blizzard” would be silly, considering that it would mean an entire company with diverse teams working on different games, many of which I hope to enjoy for years to come. Saying “The Warcraft team” would also be patently false as well – I’ve never been more impressed with the art and zone design teams, as well as the music composers working on World of Warcraft. I still enjoyed some of the zone story quests that I encountered in Legion, and I’m likely to hold fond memories of all the content that’s been delivered in the past.
Finally, I also want to acknowledge the hard work that some of my own friends such as Katherine ‘Heartless’ Joplin, Anthony ‘Skullflower’ Trejo and Nathan ‘Zinnin’ Kilker have put in, among many others. While I can’t speak for the many faces behind the project, I can say with confidence that both Skullflower and Zinnin put in a massive amount of work as part of QA, often when faced with fairly ridiculous limitations. Regardless of how much I dislike Legion as an expansion, full respect to them.
But let’s move on to why many of you are really reading this. Rather than simply tell you about my own personal experiences with Blizzard’s developers and the feedback process, I want to share several personal points that I’ve reflected on over the past couple of weeks. Some of these points will only be relatable to people that have been in a position somewhat similar to mine, and I apologise in advance if that makes them a little harder to relate to. Regardless, here we go:
1. World of Warcraft’s developers do not deserve your rudeness… And nor do you deserve theirs.
I wanted to begin with a topic that directly addresses where a great deal of my anger and frustration with the developers that I used to directly address comes from. In the past, I’ve scolded peers who I’ve seen engage in personal attacks on Blizzard employees on the forums, Twitter, etc. My reasoning was that no matter how frustrated you might be with the direction of the game or with a particular change, taking it out on an easy target was never justifiable.
Sadly, this is a lesson that I can confidently say several Warcraft developers have yet to learn. Over the course of the past 6 months alone, I witnessed fairly inexcusable incidents of rudeness – not aimed solely at me, but at a variety of people.
-A friend, upon providing feedback that a spell in his toolkit didn’t feel fun, was told to “…get a reality check”.
-Another friend was callously informed that a developer wasn’t going act on their feedback “…even if I was inclined to”, as if to suggest that unless proper supplications were given during a post, then its point wasn’t even worth considering.
-My own Death Knight community was referred to as “the peanut gallery” by a developer that likely wasn’t aware of the highly racist connotations behind the term, but even when divorced of historical context the highly insulting and demeaning use of this phrase when referring to an entire community filled with over 1000+ people cannot be understated.
These are only a few examples out of multiple such instances, and every one of them is as inexcusable as when players engage in such behaviour. Indeed, compared to several other friends, I wasn’t even subjected to the rudest of the rhetoric. I remember angrily emailing a peer of mine at the time. Here is a direct quote of what I said to this friend, slightly edited to remove names:
Developer attitude would be entirely understandable if we were a bunch of forum trolls that engaged in the type of behaviour you commonly see on the Battle.net forums. This would include common insults, arguing about how qualified you are to offer feedback based on progression, etc.
That’s not the case here though, and all of us know it. We are a group of people supposedly engaged for our ability to provide feedback. We are not paid to do this, and nor is there anything particularly glamorous about this. So again: What is accomplished by treating us like forum trolls and being rude to us? What purpose does it serve other than having us as convenient punching bags for frustrations we probably can’t understand? Why even approach us for feedback if the end result will be a combination of condescension and snark?
Developers are under no obligation to act on anything we say, I completely agree. I’d appreciate if my chain weren’t yanked in that case though. If my feedback is “valuable”, then I’d appreciate not being talked down to when I offer it.
I don’t support being rude to developers. I also don’t support developers being rude to players, and it’s time to stop pretending that it hasn’t been happening with frequency. Unlike players who get expected to go back to playing nice or stop all communication, developers get to pretend as if nothing was said and no foul occurred. That is entirely hypocritical and disgusting. If you treat your feedback base like the dirt beneath your shoe, don’t be surprised when they either become apathetic or actively hostile towards your efforts.
Despite all the disclaimers and previous sections of this blogpost, I realise that there are those who will read this section and react negatively. I can only say that I’ve written this particular section with a cold, detached mindset. While the tone of my quoted email is definitely an upset one, I only mention it because I wished to represent my thoughts alone. I cannot and will not apologise for voicing those thoughts in my own space, but hope that you can understand they were not offered with malice in mind.
2. Blizzard wants to sell you their product… And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I know that some of you might read this and think “…Duh?”, yet it never ceases to amaze me how many people fail to internalise this reality.
Let’s get something straight: Blizzard is a corporation, and the fact that it wants to make money off its products is neither scandalous, nor surprising. It’s a baseline fact of how corporate capitalism works, and while I’m sure there are those of you that would love to get into a discussion of that (as I often do with friends in real life!), it’s tangential to the point I’m making.
What does this have to do with the Warcraft team? Quite simply, I’m stating that it is natural and understandable to have the game’s worst failures described in language that seeks to mitigate the potential fallout as much as possible. There is nothing sneaky or underhanded about this – it’s just good business sense to highlight the positives and underplay the negatives.
So why bring it up at all? Because all too often I see players begin to accept Blizzard’s rhetoric on this subject as the baseline for what is “rational” or “acceptable”. Quite unfortunately, it sometimes also leads to public discourse being fairly ruthlessly manipulated by some developers, by branding everything outside of that spectrum as “hyperbole”.
Am I saying that hyperbole, wild exaggerations and outright lies by the playerbase, in its communications on the Blizzard forums, don’t exist? No, of course not. At the same time, I take considerable issue when the buck on “rational” feedback is solely determined by a small handful of individuals. I acknowledge that I am speaking from a privileged background, whereby I’ve been able to see players attempt to offer genuine, meaningful feedback only to have it flung in their face (as opposed to the multitudes of trolls in most other spaces) – but that is no excuse to use such tactics in regard to such players.
I suppose that the overarching point of what I’m trying to get at here is that Blizzard’s own communications with players is subject to the same biases, faulty thinking and logical problems that are present among all of us. While there’s nothing innately wrong with this, and while I certainly don’t support personally attacking them for it, I would also urge players not to fall into the trap of defaulting to the proverbial “Blizzard position” when attempting to formulate their thoughts on a matter.
By the way, this absolutely isn’t restricted to matter such as class design or balance, but also to issues such as discussing problematic aspects of the game’s lore, systems in the game that you dislike and so on.
3. WoW’s development team is larger than its public face.
The implications of this statement could be viewed as being both positive and negative, depending on one’s perspective. The immediate point that I want to raise in this regard is concerning the relaying of public positions that Blizzard often mentioned.
Let us consider instances such as the debate over flying, the reduction to maximum camera distance and the changes made to the ability to swap talents. It is fair to say that all three of these decisions received a fairly strong reaction from the playerbase. In the case of the former, it was strong enough to cause Blizzard to reconsider. I can’t speak to whether the latter will get much iteration, considering the fact that they were snuck into a Beta and thus can be justified as having given people “advanced notice”.
But what about how players were informed of these matters? What about the people that made the announcements, engaged in public forum posts or tweets, etc? This is where I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that Blizzard’s developer team isn’t always on the same page. This can lead to awkward situations where people may have to publicly defend policies or decisions that they may not agree with internally. I cannot imagine that doing so, especially in the face of a large and vocal playerbase, is an easy exercise.
To be clear: This doesn’t excuse the problem of rudeness or snark that I mentioned above. Provided that players aren’t personally attacking/insulting a blue poster or just ranting with no useful purposes, there is absolutely zero excuse for for the blue to respond poorly either. With that said, I’d like people to reflect on the fact that sometimes the decisions we hate or dislike the most aren’t just inconveniences for us but also for the development team that has to accommodate a new paradigm not all of them might be on board with.
Yes I know, it’s strange to read a section defending or even sympathising with blues in this sea of criticism isn’t it? It’s almost as if I’m not a black and white troll out to get his jollies, but someone simply intent on communicating my final thoughts – both the good and the bad!
4. “Your feedback is valuable to us” is true but only up to a certain point.
This ties in somewhat with the issue that I raised preceding this.
I’m not going to beat around the bush or be delicate when I say this: For the past 18 months or so, I have felt that my own feedback as a player in terms of what I could offer that the Warcraft developers would consider or act on, has increasingly diminished up till my current state where I have nothing left to say to them.
It would be factually incorrect to say that Blizzard hadn’t harkened to certain player feedback over the course of both the Warlords of Draenor expansion, as well as Legion itself – but this was only provided that that feedback harkened to certain design parameters that the developers were fixed upon.
One of the biggest reasons as to why I stopped providing any feedback concerning Death Knights was because of the realisation that the differences of opinion I had with Blizzard weren’t trivial “Talent A is stronger than Talent B”-type nonsense, but major philosophical differences that would require them to move away from their original goals. As Warlords of Draenor itself has demonstrated, such changes in philosophy only get forced when a sizeable chunk of the playerbase raises a hullabaloo that cannot be ignored (a.k.a. flying). In most other cases, that change either has to come from within, or you’re largely stuck with whatever is coming.
All of this might sound very obvious to some of you, but I do wish that it was a realisation I had come to almost five years ago. Having been so personally involved with Death Knight feedback for so long and, modesty aside, having played a significant role in arguing in favour of design changes that worked well, the evolution of the Cataclysm-model Death Knight all the way to the Warlords of Draenor Death Knight was like seeing my own work in action. Even if the changes and design decisions made in regard to the class didn’t always happen as quickly as I’ve have liked, or were sometimes accompanied by fairly silly changes in tandem, the base design always felt like an improvement.It was for this reason that seeing the planned Legion model for Death Knights upset me so greatly. In many ways, it was like seeing all the work, all the mehnat as we say here, I’d put in for years get tossed out and replaced with a model that I find far inferior.
My point in saying all this isn’t specifically to discourage players from giving feedback, but rather to counsel them about how far their expectations should go. Understand that your perspective as a player will never be considered as valid as a developer, and that your ability to affect change largely hinges on whether or not the team agrees with the premise of your argument. I can’t speak for other game studios, but I can confidently say (as if it hasn’t been made abundantly clear) that Blizzard’s developers are hard to sway from their fairly jaundiced views on particular class/spec/system paradigms. Perhaps, to them, it’s a survival mechanism considering how much contrasting feedback they get on such subjects?
In my case, I continued giving feedback and providing my perspective largely out of a sense of obligation to my community. I won’t speculate as to whether or not that was the right thing to do, but will say that I sincerely hope anyone suffering from similar doubts or pauses does the healthiest thing and disengage.
Something else I want to point out on the topic of feedback is some of the Blizzard rhetoric we’ve seen concerning Legion specifically. Using this post as one example, we see a clear intention developing behind what types of feedback might be considered “valid”. For instance, when Blizzard tells you that the “line between the theoretical best talent and others” is becoming more blurred, it makes arguing the choice that much harder. Regrettably, even when this might not be the case (as is true for multiple DK talent rows), blue “goal” posts like this serve as a subtle way of letting the playerbase know that the existing margins of difference are usually acceptable enough that the most they can hope for is number balancing on the odd occasion.
In other words: Half the battle with feedback isn’t purely about mathematics or objective facts, but presenting your case in a manner that challenges the perceived status quo. If I sound overly cynical while saying this, it is only because I’ve experienced this situation enough times to see a repeating pattern.
5. Do not allow yourselves to be bullied or concern-trolled by friends – even if those friends happen to have a blue tag.
This last point is probably only relatable to a handful of people, so other readers can skip right past it if they wish. That said, it’s also an extremely important point that I wish to raise because it is one that has affected close friends of mine on multiple levels.
There are a subset of players that are able to refer to Warcraft developers or other employees on the Warcraft team as friends. This is entirely understandable, considering the fact that many current employees on the team were once fans of the game themselves. I’m not going to speculate on the dynamics of how things get handled in-game or between guildmates, since that’s a separate topic. Instead, I’d prefer pointing to mediums such as Twitter or other social media avenues where many of us formed connections in the first place.
It’s come to my attention that sometimes people have felt as if they cannot voice their frustrations or true thoughts on a matter due to the fact that a Warcraft developer or a Blizzard employee follows them. This isn’t simply an existential fear, but one actively perpetuated by the guise of someone they consider a friend asking (or lecturing) about making the latter feel bad or hurt by their criticisms.
I take a very dim view of such actions: It is extremely unethical, unprofessional and frankly a very shitty way to behave, by utilising a personal connection you have with someone to silence their criticisms of something work related.
To be clear, I realise that seeing criticism, especially from friends, can sometimes hurt. It’s probably hard not to be passionate about or emotionally invested in a game such as World of Warcraft when one is personally involved in working on it, and I cannot imagine seeing friends criticise aspects of it are easy. That said – criticism of a game’s systems or developments are rarely meant as personal attacks on someone that these individuals consider personal friends. Chances are that they do not, for instance, PM their blue connections with froth filled rants when something they dislike happens in the game. Unless the actual criticism is directed at an individual, treating it as something incriminating to be used against a friend is extremely underhanded.
This is why I take very strong issue with a phenomenon whereby those same friendship connections end up being abused and subject to emotional manipulation that stem out of a desire to silence that criticism at the cost of a friend’s own well being. I’m not even going to apologise for being blunt here: If someone on the Warcraft team (or, for that matter, any game’s team) is trying to bully you into silence either by being aggressive in DMs or by telling you they feel sad by criticisms not personally directed at them, it is a form of emotional abuse and absolutely not something that should be tolerated.
This particular section is where I was very tempted to do some public callouts for such horrible behaviour, and only refrained out of respect for my friends themselves. To be clear, it absolutely isn’t the case with any of the friends I’ve mentioned by name in this post and probably isn’t true for the majority of employees that are friends with players across the WoW cosmos.
The final line
I’ve forced myself, after writing so much in the preceding sections, to try and condense this bit to a few simple thoughts. So, if you happen to be one the Warcraft developers with whom my relations have soured, here is what I have to say to you:
I admire your work.
I respect the obvious effort it must take to deliver that work.
I empathise with the gut feeling of fear that must accompany every major design decision you make – What if nobody likes this? What if I’m making a major mistake?
I sympathise with the stresses and burdens that someone in your position must undergo on a daily basis. Warcraft fans aren’t an easy crowd to deal with, and I would know that better than most.
Lastly, I hope that you understand that my disagreements with you and obvious anger at how you have mistreated me and my peers on a personal level (forgetting design decisions), do not blind me from acknowledging the fact that you put out a product that I have played enthusiastically for 11 years. I cannot and will not apologise for saying what I have, but will balance that by saying that it comes from a place of still caring enough about the community to be honest enough to give my thoughts – even when they aren’t always pleasant thoughts.
Thanks for the good times.
The Why (Community)
So here we are.
Multiple sections, thousands of words and a whole jumble of thoughts later, we come to the question that the largest number of you have asked: “Why leave us? Why not stay and keep engaging with all of your friends? Don’t we mean enough?”
I’m going to answer the last question by discussing some personal matters that, till now, have only been known to a select few people. Although I’ve discussed relatively inane topics about everyday life happenings on places such as Twitter and #Acherus, very few people are aware of how much WoW has meant to me; how much the game has helped me through some of the darkest periods of my life. I credit World of Warcraft with saving my life when I was close to taking my own life as a student coming to terms with bipolar disorder and extreme depression.
As an adult working in a job that requires me to come into contact with some of the most brutal human rights violations imaginable to some of you, WoW and the community have served as essential outlets to let me destress from a job where I sometimes have to question whether humanity has any hope left.
If my persona on places such as Twitter has seemed relatively light and sanitised, it’s because I purposely avoid mentioning instances like the 8-year-old girl whose account of her own rape by her father I had to sit down and transcribe for two hours.
It’s because I cannot bring myself to recall the instance of half-carrying a sobbing adult man who had come to report the death of his 11-year-old son to a U.S. drone strike in the North.
It’s because at night I can still see the victim whose face seemed to have been nearly melted off due to the horrific acid attack she suffered at the hands of her former husband, and I want to forget for a little while.
It’s because I don’t want to ruin all of your days by telling you that the reason I’m tweeting from home right now is because there is a suicide bomb threat in my city that day.
None of this is to imply that I’m anything but grateful to work where I do, and that my life here hasn’t been a rich and fulfilling one. It’s simply that you -the people that constitute this community and this game- have meant far more to me than many of you realise. It isn’t an exaggeration for me to say that there was a time when I would have called World of Warcraft an essential survival mechanism for me, and I will never deny nor forget how getting lost inside a game where I could actually kill monsters with the slash of a sword or the flick of a wrist meant so much at a time when I saw far too many monsters in real life walk away.
I’m not going to pretend as if 100% of the community has been fantastic all of the time. There have been bad times as well. I’ve had to utilise the block feature on Twitter more than I’d like, and I’ve also had to deal with some unpleasant personalities in some of the various guilds I inhabited over the years. But considering that we’re talking about the internet with its propensity towards terrible behaviour, hate speech and worse, the very fact that I can say “The majority of the people that I interacted with have been awesome” is truly saying something.
I know what some of you will say in response to this: Yes, I could stop playing the game and still remain a presence in the community. Yes, I could stop talking to developers and still have my friends around. So why do it? Why choose to say goodbye? Largely because I know myself too well. The origins of my Twitter account, my community presence and probably how all of you got to know me, were World of Warcraft. Even as I type this, Patch 7.0 has already gone Live and many of you are likely enjoying a much needed update to your classes, specs and game systems after over a year. It wouldn’t be fair or realistic of me to try and curate a WoW-specific profile into a non-WoW oriented feed. Moreover, it would make little sense: Magdalena is a Death Knight from World of Warcraft. The artwork that represents her is reminiscent of her in the game.
In short: Sooner or later, after seeing all of you tweeting about the game, engaging with you on mediums where the game’s presence hangs heavy and essentially still hanging in an atmosphere where WoW was what brought us all together, I would become frustrated because a part of what brought us together was no longer accessible to me. That, in turn, would either lead to me leaving more abruptly (not good) or giving in and buying Legion (absolutely not good).
So, with a heavy heart but firm conviction, I’ve decided that it’s time to let go of the crutch that this community and this game has been to me for many years. The months ahead might be painful, might be difficult and might even prove to be overwhelming – but for what it’s worth, I’m very excited to see where they lead. Perhaps, at some point, the clarity that this time off affords me will lend itself to coming back to both the game and the community with a healthier mindset and a new appreciation for the time I miss out on.
And to All Things comes a New Beginning
In the past few days, since I announced my decision to leave, I’ve been absolutely blown away by the amount of love, support and caring I’ve gotten from so many of you. Whether it’s been from people I consider close friends or entirely anonymous strangers writing to tell me how I affected their lives for the better with my work, you have all simultaneously given me strength but also made it that much harder for me to get this final goodbye out of the way.
Many of you have asked me what I’m going to do with my free time in the coming months, and the truth is that I’m not entirely sure. Despite having a full-time career, friends, family and other responsibilities to attend to, the absence of WoW in my life will likely mean the need to make some major adjustments in my time spent.
Despite the fact that all of you won’t see or hear from me, rest assured that I’ll be watching from the distance, checking up on all of you and keeping myself sporadically up to date on how the story progresses. In case of a major emergency that requires my personal attention, friends like Nazuvious and Calli know how to get in touch with me. I’m sure that they’ll also keep me up to date on the various happenings in both the game and the community.
I’ve also made sure not to leave #Acherus hanging: New moderators have been promoted, as well as given very clear instructions and details about how the community should be governed once I’m gone. I am confident that the people I’ve selected and that the spirit of the community will remain intact long after I am gone – just as I intended for it to be all that time ago, when it was new. Rest assured that all of you are in good hands, and that I could not be prouder of the community you’ve become before my very eyes.
In my final 60 days playing this game, I got to hand out Legion Beta keys to hundreds of people, coming up with fun contests (artwork, screenshots and cooking), Discord/IRC giveaways to help bolster my community and some incredibly fun Beta streams thanks to my faithful four horsemen and their agreeing to host me as they ran through Legion dungeons. In many ways, I managed to enjoy this facet of the expansion without actually playing it! How’s that for being sneaky?
A very wise crab once told me: “The nice thing about the game is that even if you do decide to leave, it will be there, and you could always go back and check it out, see if you feel differently, see if anything has changed.” He is correct. Some day, perhaps not soon and perhaps long after this blog post has been read by anyone that knew me personally, I may return to see how Azeroth is faring.
If there is one final request I’d make to all of you as I leave, it would be to remember that this game is defined by people such as yourself. Enjoy it and the community for what they are, but also remember to prioritise yourself in a manner that is supposed to constitute a leisure activity which you actively pay for to enjoy yourself. Most importantly, during your time in Azeroth: Remember that you’re the person that matters the most. I realise that making commitments towards things such as raiding or dungeon teams can foster a sense of obligation – and that is precisely why it’s important to remain centered on yourself when it comes time for you to make your leave too.
I’ll always look back at my legacy in World of Warcraft and smile. From the emotional, heartfelt and touching words so many of you shared to me, the in-game item that was named after me by a person I have immense respect for and the plethora of class communities that all originate from a single idea for a single community in the back of my mind, nothing can take away the fact that I’ve left my mark on this game as much as it has on me. No one, not even a Blizzard developer or two with a bone to pick, can take that away from me.
I spent my last 10 minutes in the game yesterday, parking Magdalena in the spot that I knew would be her resting place: The Storm Peaks. She’s wearing her helm -the one designed exclusively for her, but transmogrified so it became a proper crown- and is located up in the Temple of Storms. Both the zone and the location are significant because of how fondly I remember that moment of pure joy when I was a simple soul questing and taking in the majesty and beauty of everything around me: The story, the music, the atmosphere: All of it.
Speaking of music, I’ve also been browsing the eternally important question of how I’d want to be remembered if the sum of my legacy in this game and effect on this community had to be conveyed via music. So, when looking back at how long I’ve been around here and interacted with all of you, I suggest listening to this. And when considering what kind of music piece you think I’d like to be remembered with -my last hurrah, essentially- then consider this to be the piece that I got drummed out to. Blaze of glory all the way till the end!
Finally, my friends, the time has indeed come. To each and every single one of you that has somehow reached out to me, spoken/written to me or impacted my playing this game in any way, shape or form (from a single dungeon pug to years of raiding together): Thank you. If I somehow was unable to respond to you at the time or even later, please forgive me – I have been utterly swamped with messages, and likely intended to thank you but forgot. Know that every single kind thought or gesture sent my way means a huge amount.
Farewell my friends. You will not be forgotten.