Tobold's Blog
Thursday, October 06, 2011
Apologies don't improve games

After losing 20% of their players this year CCP apologized for having developed EVE in the wrong direction and promised to do better. So what? Does anybody believe they will actually remove the monocles from the game? They won't, and all the other damage to the game is done as well. Future development concentrating on what players have asked for is okay, but even there I'd be careful that this doesn't end up developing the game specifically towards the needs of the Goons or any other vocal minority.

Syncaine is hoping for an apology from Blizzard for Cataclysm, but frankly I couldn't care less whether they do that. First of all, Syncaine never played Cataclysm (nor Wrath. Syncaine is the Ed Zitron of the MMORPG blogosphere, he judges all games without playing them.), and wouldn't play World of Warcraft regardless to what Blizzard changed to the game, or said, or promised to do. Secondly even to players who did play Cataclysm, like me, an apology isn't of any use. We basically already got one, distributed over various Ghostcrawler posts. But just like for EVE, all the promises we ever get for improvements are whatever the loudest vocal minority is shouting for, and then that gets badly implemented and doesn't fix anything.

World of Warcraft at this point is not one game, but two. There is a game where people start at level 1 and level up through doing quests. You can play that part of the game for free up to level 20. Other Free2Play MMORPGs retain only single-digit percentages of the players that try the game. World of Warcraft retains 30% of players trying the game. But somebody at Blizzard decided that this still was too low, and somehow came to the absurd conclusion that the retention rate was linked to the leveling game being too hard. The second game of World of Warcraft starts at the level cap, and is, and always was, much, much harder than the leveling game. But Blizzard listened to the vocal minority of veterans having spent thousands of hours in the game, who wanted the leveling game to be faster (because they basically didn't want to play it at all), and the end game to be harder (because they had become so good at it through thousands of hours of training). Then of course it turned out that besides a handful of hardcore players, the WoW end game wasn't of much use to anybody, and Blizzard nerfed it, managing to please no-one in the process.

I do not think that World of Warcraft at this point can be fixed with an apology or giving in to any player demands. The game simply has broken apart. The majority of players, even the very casual, find the leveling game too easy now. And the gap between leveling to the cap and being prepared for what is coming after has grown to a chasm that can't be bridged any more.

Nerfing the end game is a crutch, and not a very good one at that. An overwhelming majority of players of World of Warcraft does not raid, and never will. Raiding is just a completely different game, and what links still exist between raiding and the rest of World of Warcraft only serve to make both games less good. Nobody ever listened to the needs of the silent majority, who actually liked leveling, and would have liked the expansions to lengthen their leveling fun, and make it more challenging. Instead World of Warcraft managed the unlikely feat to get shorter with every expansion. These days you enter a new zone, you cough once, and that causes enough mobs to drop dead that you already outleveled that zone. Where is the fun in that? The casual players never asked for the leveling game to be nerfed, and the end game players would have been better served with a "create level-capped character" functionality.

Vanilla World of Warcraft was justly hailed as a great game, because it was ONE game, with some sort of cohesion from start to finish. By concentrating on "player demands" and constantly fiddling with the end game, that cohesion has been lost. Cataclysm was a chance to fix the gaps and get the game together into a seamless whole again, but that chance has been squandered. And no apology is going to help that. I don't want Blizzard to apologize or promise yet another fix. Apologies don't improve games. I want them to learn from the experience and make Titan a cohesive game with no gap between leveling game and end game.

Apologies don't improve games but improve the connection between developers and customers. That's always a good thing, because it means they are listening to your needs.

What about Wow? I've been caught in Azeroth for 4 years but I could not handle the "kill-10-boars" routine anymore.

Patch after patch you always do the same thing. And let's face it: dailies and reputations are just a grind feast. Fun back in time, maybe. Not at the end of 2011.

I think that Wow has something unique though: lore. Players looking for some good text to read will hardly find a better game. Too bad I always skipped every single text line.
As someone who quit during Cataclysm, and has been a serious raider for most of the last 6 years:

Your alanlysis is spot on and is a very good companion post to that by Gevlon today.

I was a serial leveller in WoW. I also raided in TBC, Wrath and Cata including pre-4.0 Lich King HC kill which was the peak of 'fun' in WoW.

Cata levelling was too fast on release even with the competition for spawn points, etc. Now it's beyond a joke but the key issue is the utter lack of a challenge.
Apologies don't improve games.

But they may be an indication of an understanding that does.

Blizzard apologizing about Cata might not fix anything. But it would leave me much more hopeful than if they said they thought Cata was great and working as intended.
@Loque: Apologies at not necessarily a good thing. In case of EVE my guess is that they cannot hold the deadline on what they've planned for the winter expansion, and so they throw a smokescreen saying, that they apologize for Incarna and will now abandon it to pursue the development of the space game. I bet that 30% of the readers of that letter are hesitant to believe the sincerity of the apology let alone, not to mention believing that the promised changes will do any good.

The apology there poorly timed. It's too late and only after they've realized, that the players are in fact leaving. And as ridiculous as the ideas put in summer were, I'd hoped that CCP really has a plan in doing what they did. The apology only means, that they just gave some stupid features a shot and now, seeing how it's super ineffective, they're just backing up.

There are fragments about EVE in that letter, that I actually see as true. The idea of the game, the central vision of it being a single and whole world in it's own right is awesome and it DOES make the game special. But I think that most of the players will never believe that CCP is solely devoted to that vision anymore - CCP successfully played the genuity card for a very long time, and just lost it (as any company) after seven years. The main problem is, that they always relied on that card so much, and now that it's mostly gone thay are left with nothing to rely on. No apologies can revert the loss of the CCP's pleyer-perceived genuity.

I agree, it's not ALWAYS a good thing. Let's say it USUALLY is. I like and respect people who admit their failure and try to do better.
100% agreed.

I'd just like to add that even the leveling game is not coherent. Level 4-9 can be very hard depending on starting zone. I recorded some youtube videos about it recently.
If the apology was sincere and CCP believed the item store to have been a mistake, then why don't they remove it? All they are doing is adding the spinning ship back as option, which is a far cry from reversing their mistakes.
Tobold, the item store was not a mistake, and I, as an EVE player, do not mind the existence of the NEX store. It was only a bling store, I never bought anything in it, but maybe someone wanted to. To me, that's fine. It adds revenue for the developer which they can potentially use to improve the game later.

Why do you want the NEX store to be destroyed? haven't you been playing Free-to-play games lately? Did they apologize when they banned you ;)
If Incarna with it's focus on the store and the walking in stations instead of flying in space wasn't a mistake, then why did CCP have to apologize?
CCP apologized because they didn't release any real content for a while. They wanted to, but their plans went awry.

They apologized because they messed up their development cycle, and that was part of Hilmar's fault as CEO. He shouldn't have pushed Incarna out before establishments were ready. They should have put development time on smaller, more accessible things, while developping Incarna in the background.
First: Only a small minority of players would rage-quit EVE if CCP introduced a well designed and fully functional vanity item store.

This apology was in a way forced on CCP by the number of players that actually quit the game in these three months. This however does not mean, that the store as an idea is wrong. The way it was introduced is what CCP should feel sorry for, but surely the store remains because in fact it generated enough revenue to guarantee it's own existence. Despite all the critisicm and bad press some actually buy thngd from NEX. If in some far future a complete version of Incarna hits Tranquality, a fixed full version of the NEX will be expected and anticipated.

Ill timed as they mey be, the apologies might even be sincere: CCP does not need to apologize for Incarna or the NEX, but the certainly could be sorry for the incomplete state in which they shipped these two (and some other) features to the game.

But yeah - apologies don't improve games bit. They improve PR maybe, and by that the player numbers and so revenue, but games really stay unaffected until the additional revenue gets spent wise.
I like how you keep pointing to the fact that I've not played WotLK/Cata (as if those expansions somehow make WoW unrecognizable to someone who knew the game before), yet your analysis of WoW today is almost word for word my analysis of the game two/three years ago. The funny thing is, had Blizzard listened to me back then, they would have avoided the cataclysm, while if they listen to you now, the advice you give is to hopefully not repeat the mistake in their next game.

Words don't improve games, everyone knows that. But words followed by actions do. That the Blizzard C team can't improve WoW is not the same as CCP improving EVE. Lets revisit this in early 2012, shall we?

Also, how do you continue to not 'get' anything about EVE? Literally NO ONE is asking for the monocle to be removed, that is a total non-issue. In the dev blog you linked to at the start Hellmar even explains the issue clearly. Did you just skim it?
"the end game players would have been better served with a "create level-capped character" functionality."

I've argued this before. Seems obvious to me. If someone is only interested in raiding, let them go ahead and do so.

...but I maintain that the disparity between "leveling game" and "endgame" has always been there. They are fundamentally different activities. They are almost different games in the same game world. The sooner they are treated thusly, the better.
as if those expansions somehow make WoW unrecognizable to someone who knew the game before

In your post you SPECIFICALLY demanded that Blizzard apologizes for "Cataclysm", not for World of Warcraft from 4 years ago. You also keep blasting Facebook games and Free2Play browser games you never played. Isn't that exactly the criticism that you leveled against Eurogamer and worse?
I am confused why you are saying you want "one cohesive game." It seems you are more arguing that the two games should be separated more, with casuals no longer pushed into raiding and the hardcore no longer required to grind to level cap before "their game" (which I have been saying for months).
Separation would be one option. Tuning the leveling game so that it actually increased in difficulty and skill needed per level would be another option. If the latter part of the leveling process would need you to be able to not stand in the fire etc. while solo questing, the gap to the end game wouldn't be so big.
I quit WoW in March after a number of years, and I would love an apology from Blizzard for some of their decisions in Cataclysm and WotLK. One of the great things about WoW in the early days was the sense that Blizzard loved us and wanted us to be happy. We trusted them to make good development decisions in the long run because we felt respected as players.

Now, on the other hand, myself and many of the old WoW players I talk to seem to feel like we're dollar signs with legs for Blizzard. We no longer trust that the integrity of the game is their top priority.

An apology would go a long way towards mending that relationship. It would be nice to see it acknowledged, at the very least. Would just an apology get me back to WoW? Nah, but it would certainly get my attention for whatever steps are taken after that point. (Instead of right now, when I've pretty much sworn off all Blizzard products forever.)

One other thing, and I hope you take this in the spirit it's intended, but: what are YOU playing right now? I've seen you slag others for not playing X game a few times now, but it's not really evident what you're playing, if anything (particularly after the Facebook ban). You may want to consider making that more clear to avoid an impression that you're throwing stones at glass houses. :)
I agree wow has been ruined by nerfing content for one crowd based on QQ from another crowd. A Virtual world is best served by enhancing various communities within it. Blizzard has continually eroded the game by trying to funnel everyone new and veteran, young and old, casual and hardcore, into the same iLevel bracket working on the same content. Rift is following this same model and is the reason I left -- I was not interested in the raid grind.

Blizzard's success has meant a lot of companies are emulating their model but also repating the same mistakes.

Like many ex-wowers, I am left holding a candle for GW2 or SWTOR to not repeat those same design flaws!
Perhaps you could "train" solo players with difficult content (though I maintain you can get into plenty of trouble if you just go look for it), but we're still talking about two different sorts of games here. One, the largely solo "a hero is you" leveling storytelling and the group based Simon Says raiding. The moment to moment gameplay is different, and no matter of difficulty in one is going to truly reflect the other accurately. maybe forced grouping during leveling would prep for raiding, but I still think that's a Bad Idea. Some players simply don't want to play in groups.
If there is one thing Blizzard has done constantly since the games release it's been to apologize for bad assumptions, bad math, bad design and bad decisions. It's the beginning of every post about any change they make, 'We thought x would work, but we find in reality it didn't so now we are proposing y.'

It doesn't make the game better.
Well said, Tobold.

It doesn't make the game better, but it does buy them time and instill confidence in their community. FFXIV is back on my radar because they've admitted they made mistakes and are attempting to fix it. I think WAR would have held onto players longer if they had just admited their mistakes.
what are YOU playing right now?

Today I played Glitch, Mafia II, World of Tanks, Iron Grid Marauders, and Blight of the Immortals.
"Vanilla World of Warcraft was justly hailed as a great game, because it was ONE game, with some sort of cohesion from start to finish."

Vanilla WoW, to me, was an ARPG meets MMO with a Co-op raiding endgame with good reusable ARPG hack and slash zones to PvP and enjoy combat in. It was essentially like a D3 meets MMO type of game.

It had the most sophisticated combat system out of all RPGs I had ever played up to that date (and better than some ARPGs too). And I was instantly hooked.

At some point in time, they decided that their retention rate was bad, so they decided to throw it away by massing out quests with minigames to replace combat completely.

In classic WoW, the gameplay experience was vastly different depending on what class and what spec you played it through with.

Now, none of it matters. Actually, even in the endgame, some of this vehicle horsemaneuver still invades your RPG experience to a point of disgust. :)

If they had had someone in the team who actually knew what WoW was truly about at it's heart - and focused on improving and incentifying the ARPG/Combat side of the game, rather than taking all of it away, the game would still flourish and sell well.
"Vanilla World of Warcraft was justly hailed as a great game, because it was ONE game, with some sort of cohesion from start to finish."

I disagree. I think Vanilla was THREE separate yet intertwined games, but that each was challenging in its own way. The three games were the leveling game, raiding, and PvP. I loved the leveling game, and usually hung out with other like minded players. I enjoyed exploring the lore and developing alts that were focused on different aspects of the game -- crafting, reputations, specific storylines, etc. I especially enjoyed elite world quests and 5-man dungeons, not to grind through them quickly, but to experience working with random groups of different classes and players.

In vanilla I had no interest in raiding, and still don't. I dabbled in PvP, and while I was neither very good nor very dedicated, I enjoyed it and admired those who were adept at it.

The first part of BC continued the PvE/leveling pattern for the most part, with new quests, new reputation grinds, and new crafting grinds to keep non-raiders like me occupied for hours on end. Heroic dungeons were brilliant because random groups in greens/blues actually had to work together as a team, but if they did a dungeon could be finished in an hour or two. PvP became more of a grind, which was OK because I like grinding, but it lost some of what made it unique and fun in Vanilla. It was toward the end of BC that the shift toward streamlining the PvE experience became apparent, and in my opinion, the game has mostly gone downhill since.

Nowdays PvP is still OK, and I really don't know or care what's going on in raiding. But for non-raiding PvE there is now a huge, empty (of players) virtual world of interesting lore but unchallenging content that is designed to rush you through at a breakneck pace.
I tend to agree with your analysis of WoW's current state, but I think there's more to it than just Cata's poor development (as I'm sure you do, too, but it wasn't relevant to this post). I'm thinking WoW's longevity is actually harming it at this point, as well as Cata's suckiness, as well as Blizz's long term laissez faire attitude towards policing.

The three of those components separately wouldn't be a huge deal, but as a group, I think it's made enough leaks that the reservoir (who knew that middle "r" went there?) is emptying. That's not that I believe in sudden doom, but just a slow seepage that's going to eventually kill the game. By then, D3 will be well out, though, so they'll be just fine.

Very interesting post.
I read excerpts of the apology from various gaming sites, and I gotta say I was underwhelmed. Certain sentences had too many weasel words for a sincere apology, and some of the apologies felt like they included excuses instead of a mea culpa.

So, I got my dagger out and was getting ready to join in with the stabbing, until I read the thing in full. Anything you have read outside of the complete document is really taken out of context. If you read the entire thing, you start to get a feel for sincerity.

...And also the point of which they will not budge: There will be microtransactions because they think subscriptions are dying and they want a way to transition.

Anyone saying, "Why now?" should remember that no-one in their right fucking mind listens to forum noise. He said, watch the player actions and when the players started unsubscribing and not re-subbing, that takes at least a couple months to actually show up as a measurable statistic.

I know I personally unsubbed from WoW on several occasions, forgot I did it (6 month sub), game got patched, I started playing again, re-subbed when that play was interrupted.

Full disclosure: I don't play EVE any more than one month out of every 9, when I get a free re-sub and try to rekindle interest. It's full of fucking sociopaths. But I'd like it to survive and grow and I'm interested in seeing game developers communicating honestly and openly with their playerbase with a focus on making the game fun, instead of gearing their brains to frame all things in corporate financial metrics.
"Vanilla World of Warcraft was justly hailed as a great game, ... I want them to learn from the experience and make Titan a cohesive game with no gap between leveling game and end game."

I agree wholeheartedly...well put, spot on...

I would only offer a small Blizzard Apologist statement.

Blizz 6 years ago didn't know what they know now. I believe the future IS the enhancement of the leveling game. But I believe most WOW players (me perhaps included) may not like the full implications of this design idea.

I don't have much insight into the future of MMOs but I do sense a disturbance in the force moving us to a paradigm shift in MMO expectations.

Much like WOW did a new cadre of MMO players is going to burst onto the MMO scene with altogether different expectations and desires than we the "true MMOers" will like.

To put it bluntly... If you think that you KNOW what you want in MMO games right now... you may well be disappointed where the new directions are going. And further like Wow before it the new new thing may have so much money flowing that it will drown out the old guard's complaints.
@Liore: I know what you mean about not trusting their future steps.

I don't believe Blizzard as a company has 'fun user experience' as their focus. Sure they might value it highly, but only in terms of how much dollar value can be assigned to 'fun user experience'. They're using a corporate, financial frame of reference for how they view their games.

The de-evolution of WoW, the e-sport of SC2 and the quasi-MMO B2P cash-shop of D3 has ravaged my opinions of the developer who put out good old Lost Vikings, Blackthorne, Diablo, Warcraft...

To me, the company's metaphorical soul has aged, withered and hardened, and is no longer about the simply joy of gaming, and sharing that joy with people who may or may not pay to do so.

You can see how they got there. It's a business. A BIG business. There are a lot of jobs and livelihoods on the line. And you wanna protect that, and you know the contributing artists/coders want to produce quality work... but on something so big, you can't see the big picture, and have to rely on someone else to view it. But that person/persons are dancing to the tune of their corporate masters.

With PC gamers retreating to MMOs after being abandoned wholesale by the blockbuster developers (try to name multiplatform releases in the last two years which were not shitty console ports on the PC - you won't need your second hand) we need a little more joy-of-gaming and little less focus on how to pay for it.
If the latter part of the leveling process would need you to be able to not stand in the fire etc. while solo questing, the gap to the end game wouldn't be so big.
The trouble with this approach is that players tend to choose options where you don't need to dodge fire. For it to work, there has to be some point where the entire available mob/quest range from green to orange requires the skills used in the endgame.
Vanilla World of Warcraft was justly hailed as a great game, because it was ONE game,

I have to disagree with the above quote. When I was sitting at 60 a few months before Burning Crusade I looked back at what I had been playing and realized that we had three games rather than one game.

The first game, the one that I really enjoyed, was the pve game from level 1-58 or so. That was really well done, the nearly perfect next step from EQ1 that MMORPG genre needed. The terrible part of the game was the one that kicked in at level 58-60. The grind, both factions and dungeons for gear so you can raid. Then raid for more gear for the next raid. That “end game” was just like if not worse than EQ1's end game (a total deal breaker for me). The only thing that kept me from quitting was that BGs came out and I discovered pvp, the 3rd game in WoW.
I never understood why Blizzard sold "faster levelling" weapons. Levelling is fun, why would you want to rush it?

Making the old content go a bit faster once an expansion hits, that makes sense.
same thoughts as most everyone else who quit w/Cat after years of playing. /agree

IMO, the time is fast approaching to to take WoW in a seriously new direction.

Here's my own personal little solution for this multi-billion game if anyone cares to read and lable me as a visionary:

Go to the Emerald Dream and beyond. Think about it. Its a dream-world. The current levels, armor, skills, etc don't necessarily need to apply in the Dream world. You could take a level 10-20-whatever and enter the dream and you'd be on the same footing as a level 85. You don't even need to use the same skills/leveling methods that are in the real world. Heck, you could even whip out color coded belts to signify progress. You could go with the new Diablo III skill features...or anything else you could think up. You could even bifurcate wow. Add another 5 levels in the real world with some raids and 5-mans and then put the rest of the xpac in the Dream.

Anywho...Yeah, Blizz needs to find a way to hit that reset button.
The analysis was spot on. The Ed Zitron comment brought a smile to my face.
Having a system where you can choose (or not) to start at level 55 similar to how the DK starting area would be better than "Get max level character". The leveling process allows you to learn the various abilites to sucessfully understand your class.
Remember guys 90 percent of new players never make it to end game. Those who complain leveling is too fast are usually the power levelers rushing to the end game.

Vanilla WOW did a great job of making it worth while to to go back and run all the lower level instances. People would hit Mauradon for nature resist trinkets. So new players grouped with old players and everyone got to see the value of end game gear while leveling. (And sometimes if you were lucky they'd share thier wisdom on how to be a good player).

Then they tried to put up baby gates and separate everyone to stop the complaining, (that will never be stopped humans being what they are), and the game became less fun.

That and for a new time challenged player who can only play a few hours a week while his friends are screaming at him to catch up it's like rolling in broken glass. 85 levels of loneliness and distracted chat and mistells from friends who are doing other things while pretending to pay attention to you. So you can catch up and still be that far behind them because they are several levels of raiding ahead of you.

And they had to break the leveling game for those that liked it to unsuccessfully address that issue.
"Nobody ever listened to the needs of the silent majority, who actually liked leveling, and would have liked the expansions to lengthen their leveling fun, and make it more challenging."

What do you or anybody know about the silent majority and their needs?
What do you or anybody know about the silent majority and their needs?

I have the great fortune to be married to one of them.
When was WoW leveling ever hard? It wasn't. Most the people who are complaining about Cataclysm don't even have coherent/intelligent arguments. WoW leveling has been made a lot more enjoyable by removing spell ranks, increasing mana regeneration, etc.

Having to stop to drink for mana after killing 2 mobs was not a fun experience in classic, neither were meaningless elite group quests that were terrible.

WoW leveling wasn't more difficult, just more time-consuming and frustrating. Now you actually have fun spells to use at an early level. Your argument basically lacks any substance, and stop using heirlooms/guild perks if you don't want an easy ride.
World of Warcraft leveling is a lot more fun and streamlined now. You are completely wrong about that. Like most criticisms of Cataclysm, it simply doesn't have merit.

In Classic WoW, you had to stop for mana every few mobs as a caster, you had pointless elite group quests you just skipped, and a bunch of stupid mechanics like spell ranks to deal with.

Cataclysm is the best leveling experience I've ever had playing WoW, and the quests are a lot more fun now then before.

Stop using heirlooms/guild perks, and you'll see it is just as challenging as before.
I agree with everything you said. I quit almost 2 months ago. The game has been tuned and tweaked year after year to make levelling easier, because of what you said. A minority of players just wanted to get to endgame faster. So Blizzard made it this way for everybody. Now you can be the best leveller and AH'er on your server, but if you aren't raiding, you have the same status as grandma, who also got to level 85 easily. The game is just a joke now, it's only matter of what and who will replace it. If Blizzard is lucky, Diablo 3 and Titan. If they are not, it's Star Wars and something else.
"What do you or anybody know about the silent majority and their needs?

I have the great fortune to be married to one of them."

Yeah, but you cant really count your nearest as the majority unless you are the world record holder in bigami or something can you ;-).
Saying sorry hurts? I came across this video which reminded me of your post. If you're going to ask me though, I think saying sorry means that you're brave enough to admit your mistakes.
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