This is admittedly going to be a bit of a bummer of a post, but I feel like I want to get it out of me and onto paper. I started this discussion yesterday on twitter but the 140 character limit of that medium kept me from really expressing any sense of nuance. What happened is as the day wound down I ended up watching a really great video from Curse talking about the road to Overwatch, and the first video was talking about the failure of Titan. It really is a great video because while Blizzard refuses to really talk about what happened with Titan, they do a pretty good job of trying to interpret and read between the lines, and managed to get an awful lot of candid commentary from the Overwatch team. However while watching this video I was struck by something. As you watch folks like Metzen and Kaplan talk about Overwatch you see this unbridled love and excitement in the way they express everything. You can tell just how much they are enjoying this game and how excited about the future of Overwatch they feel. This is just something I have not really seen from Blizzard in years in pretty much ANY game. Sure there are standouts like Terran Gregory that are amazing, and every time he talks you can tell he quite literally is living his dream each and every day. However the bulk of the World of Warcraft folks at Blizzard tend to come across with almost a sense of resentment that they are working on that product.
To go even further if you watch some of the Blizzcon Q/A sessions, there is almost a sense of condescension towards the players from the folks up on stage. It goes beyond the “we know better” thing that every IT professional is guilty of doing. It seems at times that they simply are not having fun with World of Warcraft anymore, and when you watch the same folks like Chris Metzen talking about Overwatch it is just such a stark difference. On some level I absolutely get it. There are things that I wrote a decade ago that I am still forced to maintain… and every single time I open them all I can see are the mistakes I made in the past. After a point I began to resent that code, and it is almost painful every single time I have to work in it. I am figuring that in many ways the folks who work on World of Warcraft, and have for a very long time… feel that same way about that game. They see this Weasley House of a game that is knitted together out of several different generations development, and just want to start over. I think this attitude is evidenced in the vast number of game system uproots that have happened during the course of its lifespan. Instead of just fixing the problems of the past, they nuke from orbit things like the talent system and try and rebuild something completely different on the rubble of the past system.
Nostalgia Not Hope
Now when I started down this path yesterday, a friend of mine brought up the Looking For Group documentary. The problem is I see something completely different there when folks talk about the origins of World of Warcraft than I do in the current Overwatch videos. I see a nostalgia for the way things used to be. I see a reminiscing of folks who remember the good times the game had and how excited they used to be about everything relating to the game. Ultimately I see a lot of living off of the whiffs of former glory, and what I see missing is the unbridled hope about what could be and is just over the horizon. In Overwatch the sky is the limit and everything is magical still, because they have yet to actually ship the product. In World of Warcraft, every single turn is dictated by a past decision and often times colored by past mistakes. As a player I want to know that the best days of the franchise are still ahead of me, and not something to be remembered fondly from the past. The development team has not made me feel that way since Wrath of the Lich King, and I realize that is entirely my fault as well. What the game needs now however is exuberance to turn back the tide of negativity and get the ship moving in the right direction, and I see that sort of positive spirit working through the Overwatch team and wish I could somehow bottle it and force feed it to the folks working on Warcraft.
It just makes me wonder if at this point the current team working on World of Warcraft is too tired of the game to really take it to the places it needs to go. The funny thing is… there is a team at Blizzard that is doing precisely the sort of job that the WoW team should be doing. Diablo 3 feels like the property that is largely ignored and was even left out of the “things going on at blizzard” video from Blizzcon 2015. However they are doing this amazing job of slowly and quietly improving the way Diablo 3 feels to play it. The whole seasonal concept has revolutionized the way I play the game and has created this moment that happens every few months where me and my friends get extremely excited to be playing the game again. We need that sort of an approach at World of Warcraft, rather than the slash and burn experience that keeps happening with every expansion. We need someone to take an approach that is constantly refining and moving the franchise forward rather than trying to re-invent itself and often floundering. SOE was the master of this methodoloy, and each Everquest and Everquest II expansion felt like it was pushing the boundaries of what the old tech could do, and the team seemed genuinely excited to be doing each new batch of content. Ultimately the truth is… how are we the players supposed to be excited about a product when the folks creating it seem to be going through the motions. I want Blizzard to love World of Warcraft the way that they seem to love Overwatch right now, and I wish I knew how to make that happen.