World of Warcraft – Game of the… Months?

Now, I’m not much of what you might call a “MMORPG” type gamer.  I’ve tried many of them in the past, and never really got into them at all.  That all changed with World of Warcraft, which I found engaging and fun right from the start..  I was in beta for the majority of time it was open, and now that the game’s been out a few months, i’ve played it enough that I have one character already at the level cap (level 60), and another fast approaching it (level 54).  With that bit of information out of the way, allow me to continue.  You probably expect a glowing review of the game I’ve enjoyed so much..

Unfortunately, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  I fully expect my next few paragraphs to be a scathing review of where I see the game at now, and why I’ve cancelled my account.  I decided against posting this on the WoW forums since all it would be is flamed, and no, you can’t have my stuff.

First, I’d like to mention what ‘life at 60′ is like, at least in my experience.  You log in, you are probably at your factions ‘capital city’ (where the auction house is).  You sit around waiting for a ‘raid’ to start on either BRS, Stratholme, or Scholomance.  Once one of the raids are starting, you join, you do the raid, and then you start the whole process over again.  Once you’ve reached 60, there isn’t really any way to ‘advance’ your character outside of getting new items.  The best way to get said items are by doing these instances.  Now, aside from UBRS, the dungeons listed above are all *designed* to be done with a 5man group, yet it’s rare to ever find a 5man group willing to try to do them.  Why?  The time commitment required to complete them with only a group of 5 is on the order of 3-7 hours, depending on the dungeon, and how ‘skilled’ the group is, and that’s asssuming you complete it at all.  Most people decide it’s easier to run the *exact* same dungeon with 20 people 4 times in less time.

So, not only are you doing the exact same thing over and over again, you’re doing it trivially.  There’s virtually no challenge ‘beating’ a dungeon designed for 5 with 20, and worse yet, your only improvement path (new items) are now less since you’ll be ‘compteting’ with others in the raid for the same item you want.  Heaven forbid you’re not a member of the raid leaders guild, or you’re really going to have a rough time getting anything new.

What’s worse, is this game went from a great multiplayer game that you always had the option to solo in, and the instant you hit 60, you’re basically *forced* to group if you want to accomplish anything worthwhile for your level.  I honestly feel like i’ve ‘beaten’ the game, as there’s little left for me to do..

Second, Blizzard itself.  I have been a *huge* fan of Blizzard since Warcraft 1, and virtually every game since.  The “developers” seem way out of touch on this one though.. (I use the term “developers” because this is what the community people on the forums use.. I believe this also includes the designers as well.)  They are quick to swing the ‘nerf’ stick to ‘fix’ classes, for example a recent change to the priest class.  (FYI: I do not normally play a priest, my highest level priest is level 7, so this isn’t me ‘complaining’ how they broke one of my abilities).  The priest has a spell called “Mind Soothe”, which has been in the game for quite a long time.  It’s design was that it was instant cast, and would dramatically lower the ‘aggro radius’ of the targetted monster, so much so that you could essentially walk by a monster without it attacking you.  This is what the spell was designed to do, and it did exactly that.  With the first patch though, Blizzard introduced a new dungeon called “Maraudon”.  Inside this dungeon you got an item that let you warp into the middle of this dungeon, and once you had that item, it was possible for a skilled group to warp into the dungeon, and walk to the final boss (the “Princess”) essentially untouched by use of this ability.  So rather that realizing (or admitting) the dungeon layout/design was bugged and *fixing the problem*, they completely changed the way Mind Soothe works, essentially making it a virtually worthless spell.  They changed it because people were using it to do *exactly* what it was designed to do..  Give me a break.

Throughout the course of ‘release’, there have been a number of issues ‘hotfixed’ into the game, such as this Mind Soothe ‘fix’.  The vast majority of all of the issues that are hotfixed are directly related to an ‘issue’ where players *could* use some ability to their benefit.  They say they do this because they want to “keep the economy in check”, and that’s a noble goal.  However, two major issues with that.  One, the economy is already out of whack.  This is what happens when you have bored level 60s with thousands of gold creating (and twinking) alternate characters.  They can (and do) buy all the best for these other characters throwing the economy “out of whack”.  Second, and more importantly however, is they haven’t yet hot fixed major *game hindering* bugs, such as the raid lock bug, or the Hunters aspect of the hawk bug, etc.  These bugs have been around for *months* with no resolution, yet because they don’t benefit the player, they go un-fixed.  Yet, let an issue crop up like the paladins blessing of light bug come up, and it’s hot-fixed within a day.  It’s sickening.

We haven’t even touched on communication yet.  Really though, there is no communication so it’s no wonder we haven’t talked about it much.  For whatever reason, Blizzard has decided that the ‘voice’ we get to hear from them (the community managers on the forums) are not allowed to say anything.  They need approval apparently from everyone in the company before they’re allowed to say something other than “working as intended” or “we’re looking into it”.  They can’t (or won’t) even admit when something has changed until the community proves otherwise.  This implies that they either a) don’t know about the change, or b) aren’t willing to admit the change was made.  I can’t decide which I think is worse.  The forum moderators will respond to the most asinine posts on the boards, yet let very important issues simmer without any response at all.  All this does is breed contempt with the players trying to get some information about a game they are *paying* to play.

Tied in with communication is support.  Blizzard actually hires and pays people (the “game masters”) to help out with particular issues within the game.  These people are where players are always directed towards, and yet, it appears a vast majority of them don’t even know the rules of the game, or are unable to help the player in question.  The only thing the GM’s can do with any semblence of ‘speed’ is changing peoples names (because that’s obviously the most important issue the game has to deal with).  You make a request to a GM for anything ‘major’ though, and after a 8-12 hour wait, you’ll probably get a mail telling you to remove your interface folder (even though it probably has nothing to do with the issue itself).  While there are a few ‘good’ GM’s out there, the majority of them are slow, rude, and don’t appear to have a clue what they’re doing.

Another thing the GM’s can do is ban you.  Not very long ago, a certain guild was in one of the high end raid dungeons.  They were using a ‘trick’ hunters can use to split linked mobs via traps and feign death.  This ‘ability’ has been around since beta, everyone assumed it was a valid thing to do, yet they were warned about ‘exploiting’ high end content.  While I don’t necessarily agree (if it’s a bug, fix your code, don’t warn the players), they were warned, and they stopped.  The next day, same guild, same dungeon, this time they’ve figured out that a rogue can walk up to a boss stealthed, and aggro the boss.  A warlock can then summon the rogue, and the boss will run all the way to the group (passing a bunch of monsters) alone.  This is an ingenious find, and was using multiple class abilities to try to win the fight.  Blizzard and the GM’s stance?  They were exploiting the content, and since they were already warned once the day before, they were temporarily suspended from the game.  The pattern here is consistent.  Anytime a ‘flaw’ in Blizzard’s design is shown, the first (and only) reaction is to punish the players for finding and using it.  Players and guilds are actually somewhat ‘frightened’ of getting banned by *using the abilities they have* in the high level raids because who knows what might be deemed an ‘exploit’ next.

This doesn’t even count the massive server problems that have been happening (and still are).  I don’t care that this is the first MMO they’ve done.  I don’t care they had more customers than they originally expected.  I don’t care what problems they run into, the fact is, this game is a service I *pay* to use.  To all of the people who want me to be ‘patient’, it’s my opinion that the ‘customer service’ of these companies is steadily degrading because people like you allow them to get off the hook so easily.  I wouldn’t stand for this type of ‘service’ with my electric company, nor my phone company, nor any other service I pay to use.  I *really* feel sorry for the people who were on the servers that were down basically all of Saturday.  So long as i’m paying my money to them, i have the right (no, duty) to complain about these issues.

Last, but not least, updates, or lack thereof.  Despite what Blizzard says now, one of the big ‘selling’ points they had for the game was monthly content updates.  The game has been out 3 months, and there has been a single ‘content’ update, with a lot of promises and ‘previews’ of what’s to come.  Battlegrounds (which sound at least somewhat interesting) now look like they’ll be out late this year if we’re lucky.  The next ‘content’ patch will have a whole new dungeon, and that’s not even designed for level 60s.

Blizzard told us that the ‘real game’ didn’t start until level 60.  We have vastly different ideas about what ‘starting’ means apparently because in my opinion the game has basically ended at 60.  It was one of the best games i’ve played from levels 1-59 though..  I’m going to start playing a new character on another faction, and get that character to 60 as well.  I’ve already cancelled my account, but maybe (hopefully) they can fix these issues before my already paid time runs out.  Based on these last three months though, I am highly doubtful they can.

Update: Mar2.

It’s my opinion that things have gone from bad to worse now.  Tuesday, a post from one of the Blizzard moderators mentioned how they were banning all characters permanently who were caught using speed/teleport hacks.  I’m sure everyone can agree that using these hacks are definitely a ‘bad thing’, and the people using them deserve what they got, a permanent ban.

Shortly after this post though, a number of people began mentioning how friends/relatives of them have been banned for cheating even though they swear they’ve never done any type of cheating in the game ever.  One of the posts already has 250,000 views, and so many responses, it needed a second thread because the first one broke.  Anyway, as I see it, here are the three possibilities these posts have:

1) They were caught cheating and won’t admit it.
2) They’re staging a hoax.
3) Blizzard messed up and has banned some people mistakenly.

It’s a sad state of affairs when Blizzard’s reputation has taken such drastic hits that a majority of posters instantly assume #3 is the way it is.  Myself, I don’t know (nor really care) whether or not these people were cheating/hacking.  No one (aside from the banned players themselves, and Blizzard’s ‘proof’) knows whether or not they’re cheating/hacking.  Putting myself in Blizzard’s shoes for a minute, regardless of which of the 3 scenarios is the case, when the forums are swamped with people talking about this issue (and little else) it would seem imperative to address the situation somehow.  Once again though, Blizzard is simply ‘ignoring’ the problem (aside from a small number of relatively useless posts).

You’d assume if it was a hoax, it would be in Blizzard’s best interest to notify everyone post-haste.  That hasn’t happened, so strike that one from the list.  Which leaves either the player(s) cheated, or Blizzard is banning some people mistakenly.  While this is purely speculation on my part, it seems likely that with the large number of bannings in a short period of time, most likely some sort of ‘automated’ tool was written to scan logs looking for certain ‘cheating’ behaviors.  I don’t profess to know what they are, nor am I positive that’s what they’ve done, but working in the software industry, this is the most logical thing to do.  Now, as anyone working in the software industry can tell you, writing any type of code there is bound to be some ‘bugs’ in that code at some point in time.  Blizzard isn’t immune to this ‘problem’, and anyone who’s actually played the game for some length of time can attest to the ‘bugginess’ of Blizzard’s code.

Regardless of the number of ‘real hackers’ that were caught by this ‘automated’ tool it seems entirely likely to me that a number of ‘false positives’ could be flagged and cause ‘innocent’ players to be banned.  After they’re banned, the ‘accused’ (or should i say ‘convicted’) are sent a form letter, which includes the text: “As a result, this account will no longer be accessible and unfortunately will not be reopened under any circumstances.”.  So, they’ve unilaterally decided this person has cheated (regardless of how it was done), and offered essentially no recourse nor chance for rebuttal.  If you do happen to reply to the alias they reply, you’ll receive yet another form letter which states (in part): “We regret to inform you that the account closure decision is final and the account status permanent. The World of Warcraft account will not be re-opened or re-activated under any circumstance”.

Wow.. (and not the game) This attitude is completely unacceptable for a business supposedly in the ‘customer service’ arena.  What if the ‘circumstance’ was you banned an innocent player?  Imagine the scenario.. You’ve paid $80 for the game (collector’s edition) , plus a 6 month subscription (another $80).   Blizzard just told you “Too bad, we have your money, you can’t play our game anymore, we told you we wouldn’t reactivate your account under any circumstances, deal with it.”  Obviously, this is just a game, but boy, I’m sure glad our legal system doesn’t work that way..

Regardless of whether these players were cheating or not, all this has done is lower the amount of respect I have (had?) for Blizzard.  At the very least they should address the issue, and if they *did* make a mistake, admit it.  It seems unlikely though since they haven’t up to this point.  I’m glad i’m ‘done’ with the game and won’t be playing it much more now because honestly, i’m half-afraid of being banned just by using my normal in game abilities.  Much like it appears many of these players were.

Oh, and update part 2.. One of the bugs i mentioned in the original post (the Hunters Aspect of the Hawk bug) was just hotfixed Tuesday..  You may think “Well good for Blizz, finally fixing a bug that hindered the players!” only then you’d be wrong.  Blizzard ignored the bug completely until a hunter (Seven) posted on the forums a way to exploit that bug (via warriors Battleshout) to actually give a *benefit* to the player.  As soon as a bug was identified that benefited the playerbase, it was instantly fixed..

Blizzard should be ashamed of itself.

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