World of Warcraft is not just massively multiplayer; it's massively multi-faceted. There are all sorts of different kinds of PVP and PVE, not to mention pet battles, alts, role-play and dungeons. These aspects cater to different people, but when Blizzard changes anything, it seems like everyone's upset. Responding to a forum thread about expensive vendor items (the controversy du jour), assistant game director Ion Hazzikostas delved into the topic of trying to please everyone and, more pointedly, the assertion that Blizzard doesn't listen to its players. First, he took aim at the illusion of consensus in a community as large and varied as WoW's.
"If I'd instead posted that we were going to reconsider and massively reduce the prices of the cosmetic items on this vendor, there would be other people feeling like their feedback was ignored," he wrote.
"It's exceptionally rare that everyone wants the same thing," he added. "And even then, there is a large silent majority that does not post on forums. If there were actual unanimity regarding a certain issue, we would change our design: For example, early on in Warlords, we changed Group Finder loot from Personal back to Need/Greed until we could iterate on Personal loot further, and the community overwhelmingly told us that was a dumb idea. The change was reverted within 2 days."
The most interesting bit, though, was his explanation of how various activities in WoW work. The fact is, nothing in WoW caters to the majority of players. No single portion of the game, aside from levelling up, is for everyone. "A minority of players raid," he said. "A minority of players participate in PvP. A tiny minority touch Mythic raiding. A tiny minority of players do rated PvP. A minority of players have several max-level alts. A minority of players do pet battles, roleplay, list things for sale on the auction house, do Challenge Mode dungeons, and the list goes on."
World of Warcraft is — at this point in its slow yet ceaseless expansion, which will ultimately consume the entire universe — a multiplicity of minorities. It's a bunch of groups with different, sometimes conflicting interests, a never-ending series of moving goal posts for Blizzard. Hazzikostas also pointed out that many people mostly communicate within groups that prefer similar elements of the game. There's that pesky old illusion of consensus again.
It puts Blizzard in a tough spot. They can either give everyone all the same stuff — cater to everyone and please no one — or they can give individual groups specialised treatment from time-to-time and piss off the majority of players until, inevitably, it's their turn. Despite blowback, Blizzard typically chooses the latter approach.
"If an awesome mount comes exclusively from PvP, the majority of players who don't participate in PvP yet desire the mount would prefer that it were otherwise," Hazzikostas explained. "If our goal were to please a majority, we would likely have to make a version of that mount also available through raiding, and one also available through outdoor questing and reputation, at the very least. But doing that would dilute the reward itself. Ultimately, the approach we take is usually to tailor different content and rewards that can feel special to different groups, rather than trying to come up with a lowest common denominator that isn't special to anyone."
So basically, Blizzard is constantly juggling chainsaws. They could stand there and throw the same ball against the same wall over and over, but they feel like it'd result in a game that's for everyone and no one at the same time. You can never please everyone. May as well at least make it interesting.
World of Warcraft's next expansion, Legion, is coming out on August 30. Seems like it's one of the most divisive yet (that does not include pandas). Do you think Blizzard's making the right calls here?