The Warcraft Live Team’s B Squad

If you don’t work in the MMO industry, you probably have a skewed opinion of how live teams operate. On this blog, I often say that I’d much prefer to manage a live game than to create a new game from scratch, and you may be thinking, “Yeah, like you deserve that!”

You might be thinking my request sounds like one of the lazy animals from the story of the Little Red Hen:

“Who will help me code the MMO?” asked the little red hen (… I mean the MMO company).

“Not me,” said the independent MMO contractor. “I’m too busy doing fun easy things!”

“Fine, I will do it myself! Ah, but now who will help me run the MMO?”

“Ooh ooh I will!” said the contractor.

“No no, you didn’t help me make the MMO, so you don’t get to do the fun part! I will run it myself!”

If this is the story that runs through your head, you are definitely not from any of the major MMO companies. For the likes of Turbine, SOE, or Blizzard, making the MMO is the fun part. Working on the MMO afterwards is the terrible part.

You might expect that the people who spent five years making the game would be excited to run it after it ships. Turns out, not really. After five years of working on the same project, they’re so sick of it they never want to work on it again. They want it to be in good hands, certainly. And they want to have some oversight to keep people from damaging their vision of how the game should run. But they sure as hell don’t want to have to do that tedious maintenance stuff themselves. So companies tend to pull the experienced staff off of the live game pretty quickly, leaving behind junior people.

Live Teams Are Not Glamorous

I like the “tedious maintenance stuff.” I actually prefer working on the live team. This makes me very unusual in the MMO industry. I am also a pretty good engineer with a lot of experience, which means I don’t often end up on live teams — too experienced. At Turbine, I had a hard time getting onto the Asheron Call 2′s Live Team, because I was expected to help develop their next generation MMO engine instead. I wanted to work on AC2 after it ships?! None of my managers could understand why I wanted to be demoted like that!

But to people who enjoy the live team, well … there is nothing as good as it. The power you have! The instant feedback! The ability to literally make hundreds of thousands of people happy with just a few weeks of work. It’s very gratifying. There’s also the tedium and frustration and lack of resources and constant fire-fighting and oh my god I can’t keep up with everything… but that’s the price of the deal.

Of course, it doesn’t just happen that you hop onto the Live Team and suddenly you’re making game-design changes. At first there are a lot of smart and talented people at the helm, helping you learn the ropes, making the hard decisions for you, keeping you from doing stupid things. But inevitably they are pulled off to other projects, and somebody relatively junior gets the helm. That’s how I got to be in charge of balancing AC2′s classes.

Fortunately, I had a decade of engineering experience and understood how to tune complex systems. I wrote analyzers, modeled usage patterns, and made corrections.

Unfortunately, my approach did not take the “human equation” into consideration very well.

Learning to Balance the Human Equation

I found that the Feral Intendant class was 30% overpowered, and that’s why so many people were playing a Feral Intendant. Yet somehow, reducing the power of the Feral Intendant to the correct level did not suddenly make the game more fun… thousands of players were complaining and nobody was telling me they were happy about the change. Weird! I double checked my calculations. They were correct. So what had gone wrong?

Turns out that the people who played the other classes available to that race had taken on an “underdog” mentality. The people who played Claw Bearers liked that they were woefully underpowered compared to Feral Intendants. It was like playing the game on Hard Mode. And the people playing Feral Intendants liked playing on Easy Mode. In balancing the game I had failed to understand the needs of the people playing it. I just ham-handedly fixed the equations, instead of solving the problem with the finesse it needed. It was one of my more serious missteps. (And it’s a great example because I think it’s pretty obvious in hindsight. Most mistakes were much more subtle.)

But man, what a fast way to learn! After just a couple years of that, I became a good game balancer. The constant feedback loop helped me learn from my mistakes in a matter of weeks! Compare that to developers on traditional games, who must wait until the sequel ships before they get to try their hand at balance again. That’s why working on a live team is such a fast way to learn your craft: the feedback is so much faster than any other gaming platform, that it accelerates learning by dozens of times.

But AC2 cost millions of dollars to create. Turbine didn’t create it as a tool to help me hone my design skills, that’s for damned sure! How did I get to do it? Simple: the designers who would have done it were burned out of working on AC2, and were called away to work on the important New Project. AC2 wasn’t a blockbuster hit, so it didn’t make sense to use the rock star designers on it. Better to let the B team step in.

The Steady Hand Has Left The Rudder

But here’s the weird thing: WoW is exhibiting the same symptoms as AC2 did when I was doing the designing. The B team is in charge.

In February, we learned that lead designer (and part-time producer?) Jeff Kaplan had stepped away from WoW, off to work on the next big Blizzard game. However, if you were watching the game before that, it was obvious that major leadership changes had already happened months earlier. My guess is that Jeff Kaplan started moonlighting on the new project long before February. And many of the other key WoW live team people have also switched over, or are working on WoW only part-time.

Now, I am not being alarmist. The ship is still in intelligent, capable hands… but clearly not as experienced ones. Just as I did when I took over AC2, WoW is making newbie design mistakes that seem like a benefit on the surface, but are really not good decisions. There have been scores of examples… I’ll pick just a few.

“It’s always been stupid, and we just need to fix it!”

A few months back, the powers that be decided that Hunter ammunition didn’t work right. Hunters have to carry an arrow for every single shot they take, and in order to get the full benefits from them, they have to carry them in a special quiver — which doesn’t let you store other items in it, only ammo. All that ammo costs money, too.  Plus, it leaves the designers unable to give out awesome “raid arrows” because you’d just shoot them all and then where would you be? Even though ammo had been a fine and fun distinguishing quirk of Hunters for years, it was time to Fix It.

The first plan was announced: WoW would no longer have consumable ammo. Instead, you would just need a single “infinite arrow” that you stuck in your ammo slot, and this would let you shoot your bow forever. Problem solved! No more quivers, no more pack space wasted, no more costs. And now raids could drop “loot arrows” that wouldn’t get used up! Perfect!

Whoops, turns out that plan would be hard. So they announced their backup plan: now ammo just stacks to very high numbers. Instead of having stacks of 200, now you can have stacks of 1000. This at least addresses the “pack space” issue. Call it a win! And they removed the magical benefits from quivers, so you no longer needed to use them. So they fixed the immediate emergency, and they’ll get to the “correct fix” later.

The thing is, there was no emergency. Sure, Hunters were happy to have a few extra pack slots. But the change threw all sorts of other things out of whack: magic quivers are still given out as quest rewards… they just aren’t magical anymore. And leathercrafters can still make them! They just can’t sell them to any sane Hunter. And so on… the game wasn’t really cleaned up after this change.

But I’m sure it felt so pressing, so urgent. So they had to address the issue, side-effects be damned.

Without somebody experienced at the helm, the voice of the myopic designer tends to be the loudest. “WE HAVE TO FIX THE HUNTER” they said. Maybe they said, “Hunters have to spend 65% more on bare essentials than any other class. I will never be able to balance class expenditures like this!” Or maybe they said, “Hunters have to waste more inventory slots than any other class. It damages quest completion rates!” Or maybe they just said, “It’s SO STUPID. It’s always been stupid, and we just need to fix it! Do it now!” Obviously, nobody thought very hard about the ramifications, and nobody spent any time easing players into the idea. And nobody stopped to make sure they did a good job.

So some tiny little mistakes crept into the game. Nothing huge. Nothing that will sink the Titanic. But mistakes nonetheless… “magical” crafted quivers that aren’t magical and can’t be sold are clearly a mistake. These little bugs accumulate, like lint on a hardwood floor.

The Lint Accumulates

When we say that WoW is “polished”, what we mean is that it is surprisingly clean of linty little bugs like these. But that’s changing.

More and more little mistakes have crept into the game recently — changes that are positive on the surface, but have not been implemented with the finesse that makes them worthwhile. Mana expenditure rates have changed, rules for dungeons have been tweaked, the cost of items has fluctuated. It all seems useful. But it’s usually full of little side effects. Worse, it doesn’t take the human equation into account: it doesn’t counter-balance for the actual needs of the players very well. There are ways to meet both goals, but you have to try a lot harder at it than WoW is.

Remember when WoW class balance happened every six to eight months? Players were actually excited when their classes’ turn came around. I remember being so astonished to see players that were actually happy to have their classes redesigned. But now, every class is fiddled with every few weeks. It’s not exciting anymore. Instead of sitting on the changes and carefully honing them, the designers are just firing out every new idea they have, willy nilly, until they get it right. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you get it right. It matters if players are excited and having fun. Balance changes are happening too fast, and for too little benefit overall.

Back in the day, QA held the game to a higher standard. Consider that there never used to be skill changes that would invalidate the client tooltips about a skill (unless it was an emergency exploit-fix). If the designer wanted to tweak a skill, they had to wait until the client could be updated. But the QA bigwigs are off doing something else now, so it’s easy for the designers to slip this stuff in. And they do. All the time. Skills are routinely incorrectly displayed now, as the designers’ need for perfect balance far outpaces the ability to do client updates.

Who’s In Charge Again?

You would never let your lead artist drive decisions for your game. Chances are, they would say “This dungeon is too brightly lit! We need to hotfix it now or the mood will be ruined forever!”

But unlike artists, designers get a free ride. They’re supposed to know what’s best for the game. If the producers are busy, they trust the designers will do good things. But designers, especially young ones, get myopic. They tune into little issues — like perfect class balance – and turn them into epic quests. If the designer could just fix this balance problem, people on the boards would stop complaining, and the game would be perfect!

No. It will not happen. Perfection will not be achieved, ever. But there’s nobody around to rein them in anymore, so they try and try and try. And leave little messes everywhere they go.

Suddenly Communications Are Open

Another surefire way to tell that upper management has left the building? The systems designer “Ghostcrawler” has suddenly started posting a lot, even about… well, nothing. For years developers were nowhere to be seen, which was a shame. And then suddenly the lead systems designer has time to play the forum game? Yeah, whoever was making employee policies just doesn’t have time for WoW anymore. Not a bad thing, in this case, but certainly a dramatic shift of policies.

Nowadays it’s common for WoW to tell people to “check the forums for game updates.” This is a total newb mistake. Only your loudest and most annoying users will check your forums for updates. So every “update” is met with derision because only assholes post on game forums. (Statistically speaking, anyway.) Game updates are specifically what the launcher’s update screen is for. If you’re outpacing the ability to update the update screen, chances are you’re changing too much too fast. Slow down and get it right the first time.

It’s likely that Ghostcrawler started posting shortly after the upper management started wandering off to other projects. Ghostcrawler’s a good guy… in fact, his posts remind me a lot of what I sounded like when I was posting about AC2′s skill balance. He knows how to balance things. But he is completely unable to see the big picture. Every tiny imperfection seems like a ruinous problem. He feels assaulted on all sides by problems, too, and doesn’t think there’s time to do things the right way. But this is an illusion that happens to Live Teams because they get so close to the product. He needs someone checking over his decisions and making sure they’re worthwhile. He doesn’t have that.

WoW: No Longer Big Kahuna at Blizzard

Ghostcrawler and the rest of the team will learn their craft soon enough. WoW will survive the experience. But what’s interesting is that it tells us quite clearly that WoW is no longer the most important thing at Blizzard… in fact, it might be third or fourth place. It’s really interesting that this happened so soon. I didn’t expect it to happen to WoW while it still had 10+ million players or more still paying. But a company has only so many top-notch people, and you always want your most-experienced people on the new thing, so it makes sense.

To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When the game stops being in the spotlight, the live team suddenly gets a lot more flexibility to make the game fun, instead of being forced to stick to now-outdated “design visions”. The dramatic increase in WoW’s mobility options is certainly due to the lack of oversight. But without that safety-net of supervision, they need to exercise a lot of willpower and a lot of wisdom.

Ghostcrawler, and anybody else on the design team of WoW right now, I have a little unsolicited advice from somebody who’s been there: convince your bosses to let you play a different MMO for two weeks. On the clock. Don’t touch WoW. I know it feels like there’s a disaster every day and you can’t possibly stop focusing on WoW, but you can. After you get back, play WoW with a different class than you normally play. You’ll see so many new things! Your priorities will do a 180. I guarantee you it will help your perception.

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116 Responses to The Warcraft Live Team’s B Squad

  1. Good post. I’ve been missing interesting ones from you, and this is a good one. I didn’t realize your background was in mainstream MMOs.

  2. Raph says:

    Great post.

    One additional thing I have learned over the years… if you hire people into the Live team, they learn to exist within the framework. They often don’t understand the framework, as you say, and so they make mistakes as they tune, extend, and adjust.

    But the time this really gets interesting is when they move on to try to design a new MMO. Because, you see, they don’t necessarily know how to *build* frameworks. They have unexamined assumptions. And experience tuning a live game does not necessarily mean you know how to build a game from scratch.

    Times are changing, but it was not that long ago where the number of designers who had done an MMO from scratch was small, the number who had done two from scratch was even smaller, and virtually no one had done three.

    -Raph

  3. Andrew says:

    Man…. great post. I’m a software developer on a large project, and the type of things that you describe are by no means isolated to the games industry. I can relate 100% to almost everything in here, especially the difference between the “live team” and the original designers.

  4. Longasc says:

    I always said Ghostcrawler would make a great community manager, but a not so good designer. I was not happy with several design choices and developments in WOTLK, somehow all dungeons became boring farmground with pure AoE tanking and nuking.

    I still wonder when this supposed shift took place. Kaplan was specificially known as a raider and he also is known to have co-designed raid instances.

    Did he also design the WOTLK instances and dumb down his very own Naxxramas for WOTLK? This new kind of more forgiving dungeon design does not look like Kaplan, but people can change, after all…

  5. Interesting perspective. It’s something I had noticed but hadn’t been able to define, exactly. You’re absolutely right, though; I went through the same thing when I took a position at 3DO working on Meridian 59 after the company had stop putting any real focus on the game. It was incredibly liberating, scary, and educational all at once for a newbie designer.

    I wish live team experience were more respected in the industry. It seems many people think it’s unimportant work. I always have to laugh when people still try to measure how many “SKUs” someone has worked on. Even Raph references it above when he talks about developers who have worked on some number of titles. It seems silly that someone with 4 years experience who has worked on 2 different titles is assumed to be a better designer (or programmer, or whatever) than someone who has worked on “only” one title for 8 years.

    P.S., post more and tell Sandra to do the same! ;)

  6. Ysharros says:

    Absolutely fascinating post. I’m no designer and likely never will be, but I have an armchair I keep for just that purpose, and this kind of article is tailor-made for it. Thanks for the insights!

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  8. Ravious says:

    Excellent post. I think LOTRO is feeling nearly similar effects.

  9. Hydrick says:

    Putting junior people on the “live team” I understand, it’s done to the help them learn the system and the product. But they need to be doing this under the tutelage and review of people who are *very* experienced. And it’s worth it for these companies, the vast majority of money spent on a product is spent to maintain it. If you’re going to be investing like that, you should want some top-tier people overseeing the process. Eventually some of these talented newbies will learn and move on to other development projects, but you should still want skilled people keeping the product going, lest you want to stop making money off it.

  10. Erdluf says:

    Hydrick,

    “the vast majority of money spent on a product is spent to maintain it.”

    Is an accurate statement for successful products. However I’d guess that many/most companies spend more of their money on unsuccessful products. You put your A team on new products in the hope that they’ll give you a new, successful product to market.

  11. Nelson says:

    Excellent post, thank you! The whole “Eloi build new products, Molochs work on the live team” thing is a terrible, pernicious aspect of the software development industry. It was enlightening to read your criticism of that.

    I hate to split the conversation, but a few WoW nerds are discussing your article over on this blog, too. Thought you’d want to know.

  12. Modran says:

    That is a very interesting post. I’m not a game designer, but I know exactly how you feel when you’re suddenly in charge of something when until now you always had someone above…

  13. Todd Berkebile says:

    I think you are missing another common B-team issue, they most likely “fixed” the hunter because someone important on the new team plays a hunter and was sick of buying arrows. ;) One dangers (and often benefits) of switching to the junior team is that they most likely still play the game (the A team most likely hasn’t played the game in years) so they have their own conflicting interests which makes being objective difficult. Not that I ever did this while working on the AC live team, no sir (em: looks around innocently).

  14. Andrew says:

    Fascinating post :) having not played AC2 or, really, any MMO, I don’t know why, but I love reading about them! I can entirely see what your examples mean, so it’s well written enough I don’t even need to know the games in detail.

  15. Tesh says:

    I, for one, welcome our new overlords. New blood is necessary to address some of the old, now outmoded, design decisions that came from the original “vision” for the game. The players have changed, and the game needs to keep up. That’s the blessing and the curse of a game that maintains a “live team”. Sure, they make some rookie mistakes, but the decisions of the A Team aren’t sacrosanct; they made some dumb choices too. Someone who isn’t attached to those old choices can make changes to correct them.

    I’ve always cherished the times when I come in fresh to a project currently under way. I can bring an outsider’s view to the project, questioning the sacred cows and really forcing the designers to make sense of their choices. Sometimes they change them, sometimes they stand by them (for better or worse, either way). Either way, my “noob” status can make the design better by bringing a new perspective to the project.

  16. Ninetytwo says:

    Couldn’t disagree more.

    Jeff Kaplan hadn’t designed bupkis before walking in the door at Blizzard. He did some great stuff with eliminating the player-hostile systems that made EQ so frustrating, but he still created a fundamentally player-hostile, grindy, imbalanced, raid-driven game in vanilla WoW that almost none of us would tolerate playing today if it were just launching.

    Greg Street, on the other hand, is an experienced game designer with a history of creating polished, balanced games. Since coming aboard at Blizzard, he’s been more open and communicative with users, while stills standing his ground about basic gameplay issues. The game is more open, accessible, and polished now than it has ever been.

    Ninety-nine percent of people lamenting the state of WoW today are hardcore raiders who wish for a return to the raiding ziggurat of vanilla, where players who raided were so much more powerful than the average joe that it trivialized the idea of pvp, for instance, because raiders could walk into battlegrounds and crush the plebes.

    For anyone other than the 1 percent of hardcore raiders from vanilla, WoW is a thousand percent more polished and accessible game today than it has ever been.

  17. Eric says:

    Ninetytwo – Well I can certainly be misreading the situation, but I don’t raid, and I play pretty casually (less than 10 hours a week). I’ve noticed significant increases in bugs and glitches. I’ve also noticed a serious hard-on for “balance balance BALANCE” as if that was a key thing that should be flaunted above fun factors. These are newb mistakes. There are also a lot of nice new features coming in, I’m not denying it. But they aren’t very polished.

    Raph – I’ve definitely noticed that too; it’s quite common to accidentally teach people that “this game is how all games work”, which can be quite detrimental to their mindset. On the other hand, I think it works the opposite direction just as often: people who are on their second or third MMO but still don’t grasp what will happen to the game when it goes live. Some amount of experience both pre-launch and post-launch is probably ideal.

  18. Ferrel says:

    I’m glad I followed the link to your article! I am not a WoW player but I’ve been hearing things from other bloggers and players about how things certainly feel different now. It was a good treat to hear from someone who has had a similar experience.

  19. Great post. I’m a developer but the stuff I work on is small potatoes compares to MMORPGs. Very fascinating and interesting to read about this.

  20. Ninetytwo says:

    I’ll grant you the “balance, balance, balance” problem…. but most of those cries aren’t coming from the PvE end of the WoW dumbell — which is run mostly by what you’re terming the “B” team — but from the PvP end, which is still firmly under the hand of Tom “Kalgan” Chilton, one of the original czars of WoW.

    I guess what I’m saying is that i think your arguments that the game currently lacks polish don’t ring true to me — look at the high quality of encounter and art design compared to vanilla WoW — while the arguments that the game is too balance-driven can’t really be laid at the feet of the so-called “B Team.”

    That said, really interesting discussion about organizational theory in general. I’ve been an entrepreneur and can safely say that the difficulty of transitioning from visionry first generation to stasis-maintaining later generations is commonplace.

  21. Lisurc says:

    I personally think that the game is just aging, like any other MMO would have nearly 5 years after (a very successful) launch. What I can see with changes and ease of “design flaw” fixes just sound to me like they are, as you point out, anticipating on focusing on something else, and ensuring the game keeps a good player base long enough to switch to another game.

    However, I kinda like the way you consider things, that might be the case too that a B team is only there, particularly the increasing participation of a developer into community management showing a lack of more guided management.

  22. Shannon B says:

    This explains a LOT about the current WoW experience as a player. This post actually makes everything fit into place perfectly.

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  24. Michael Kujawa says:

    I think this example post shows the issue better: http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=18331429262&sid=1&pageNo=1#0

    You can see a great deal of experience and competence in that post. However, everything Eric is talking about is also in that post. Have a look at the sweeping changes on the table there… How much risk is involved? What timetable are they on? How many are targetted at achieving some kind of mathematical perfection? Changes are discussed with the purpose of directing players to the way the designer wants them to play.

    (Personally, I’m glad to see a changing of the guard. Some of the things that have changed always did feel “stick in the mud” to me.)

  25. Elliot says:

    It’s about time you gave us another article and this was a good one Eric. I for one love the live team and have always requested it when given the opportunity. I agree with your assessments 100%, but I’d like to say one thing: Getting an infusion of ‘new blood’ on a team can be very refreshing, especially for a team that has endured the live environment for quite some time. New people usually bring with them new ideas and different insights, and it’s the responsibility of the senior members to encourage them and guide them. There is a magic ratio one has to maintain between new and seasoned developers or it can all go to hell real fast. I also believe the same ratio applies to the QA department; Bleed away too many senior testers and now your product starts to lack quality and your testing bandwidth shrinks. Someday I will figure out what exactly this ratio is, but I know it can be impacted by so many things, such as leadership styles, personality types, and the organizational structure of the team. Thanks for the article Eric!

  26. Christian K says:

    Excellent article! I would say you are probably correct, and I would also agree that it may not necessarily be a Bad Thing ™. Another reason for the “Balance Balance Balance” mantra is the area system which wasn’t in vanilla WoW. Personally I don’t area, so I have no real idea how much of the player base participate. I wonder if the internal numbers show that there are as many people that participate in areas as have ran Ulduar? If that is the case it may be an additional reason for the “Balance Balance Balance” mantra…

    Also it may explain another thing I have noticed, that I wonder if you could comment on.. Blizz seems to be “accelerating” the content. Making level/movement/gearing etc. easier. Pushing people to run more heroics/raids. It used to be that there were significant artificial barriers to how quickly you progressed through the game (low movement speed, poor xp returns, low amounts of gold, large numbers needed for raids, no token system, no emblem system). Now it seems like they are putting a significant artificial acceleration on how quickly you progress through the content. Do you think this is due to the “B” team second guessing original design decisions, or is it just a natural factor of the age of the game, or are they trying to burn WoW out a little to make way for the next new thing?

    Thanks!

  27. Wolfshead says:

    WoW has been a cash cow for the past 2 years but I agree it’s even more true now. As far as the remaining team on WoW they seem to be endlessly tinkering and meddling with class balance to the point of absurdity.

    I remember when I first started writing about MMOs many years ago. Class balance ideas and issues fascinated me back then — now I find class balance not as interesting and frankly boring. True equality only exists in mathematics.

    Ever notice that 80% of the patch notes seem to be devoted to class balance? Far too much time is spent on trying to balance classes in order to appease the Elitist Jerks crowd and others on the forums.

    Someone should educate Dr. Greg Street about the Law of Diminishing Returns. The unfortunate thing is the constant tweaking is taking away precious resources that could be spent on other aspects of WoW.

    As to the other problem, I do agree that WoW is being dumbed down at an unprecedented rate. Every patch more things are made easier. For example a few patches ago they removed the requirement that a few cooking recipes use spices. Spices?!? Such a hardship! The easiest crafting system in all of MMOs removes an ingredient that reduces cooking to the same complexity as throwing a frozen entre into a microwave oven.

    Trust me, in 2 years you won’t even recognize WoW. Already I’m finding the encounters in Free Realms more difficult, challenging and more important — FUN!

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  29. boatorious says:

    Interesting, although if that’s the case, it would be hard for the B team to match the A team’s original honor system in the whole “not thinking things through” department.

  30. Mist says:

    It certainly seems like things have shifted at Blizzard, and that a new team is in place, but I don’t think it’s fair to call it the “B team.” A huge amount of “quality of life” style updates have come down the pipe, making the game more enjoyable without actually robbing it of it’s spirit. The Coliseum update does seem a lot like space filler content, but with Icecrown Citadel being the apex of almost a decade’s worth of Warcraft story development, (lolore) I can see where they need the extra time and resources to get IC done right.

    As for the class balance changes, I can’t see where there’s room to complain about the “B team.” The pace of updates is necessary; they just added a new class in the expansion, while completely reworking all PvE DPS hybrid specs to be roughly competitive with ‘pure’ classes. That’s a monumental undertaking, and they did it all about 85% correct on the first try.

  31. It also shocks me that live team experience is so undervalued. The Live portion of a game’s lifespan is where you make ALL THE MONEY. Shouldn’t that be considered more important? The pure dev team just burns through cash. The live team is responsible for making back the investment and then piling up the huge profits as the months and years roll by.

    -Michael Hartman
    http://www.muckbeast.com

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  33. yunk says:

    I agree with a few WoW examples, but not sure about the QA maintainng balance. I don’t know anyone that thinks Blizzard has ever been careful about tuning. I always use the example of tuning an old radio, instead of lightly touching the dial and finessing it left or right, Blizzard just grabs it in a big meaty paw and spins it as hard as they can. “oh went too far spin it the other way!” so these recent changes are just one in a long line of huge changes that with hindsight could have been implemented better.

    But most of us who are not 5 day a week raiders are happy kaplan left, we’re finally being paid attention to. New druid forms yay! Of course yet again they are not implemented the best way. But well at least someone is finally listening

  34. fatbutt says:

    I’ll admit I haven’t really played WOW in a while, but most of their changes really do sound like they’ve made the game better. Yes, even such “dumbing down” as making arrows and, uh, spices less annoying. I’d choose better gameplay with the odd placeholder item sticking around anytime.

    Wolfshead: Can you honestly say the game suffers from removing something as pointless and boring as their spice implementation? The actual cooking “metagame” is still exactly the same, except now you don’t have to run to town and stock up on stacks of 10-copper ingredients when you want to skill up. If it actually changed how the game plays, I might agree with you.

    And regarding balance, as a game player, I’ve found that poor balance really makes games suffer more than “overbalancing” – not just in PVE or PVP, class-wise or monster-wise. In my opinion of course.

  35. mer says:

    That sounds exactly right. Btw I stopped playing the game because of too much class rebalancing, they kept changing the classes I liked away from what I liked about them.

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  37. Lea says:

    Well, I for one, certainly don’t really recognize myself with what people are saying. And that comes from someone who most of the time spends an enormous time in WoW. I also both raid and PvP a bit in arena, and if anything, it’s the arena that requires balancing.

    I am excited over the new changes, they all seem good to me, even the minor ones. And gosh, someone saying that vanilla instances are good?! Naxxramas couldn’t be as bad as it was originally anyway, when they relaunched it with WotLK. It wasn’t until TBC they finally managed to start making instances right.

    A friend of mine said that the first WOtLK instances were fillers for Ulduar, and I must agree. The only encounters that are somewhat interesting are Malygos and Sartharion, but only with a few dragons up.

    After playing hybrid classes for a long time, I also welcome all the changes they’ve done to the hybrid classes. Both my shaman and paladin are very competitive in PvE dps, and while my shaman certainly is still lacking a bit in PvP, at least they are finally addressing the issue. The problem with class tuning in WoW is not between the classes themselves, it’s between how PvP and PvE work. That is, inherently different. One focuses on survival and another to deal as much damage as possible, but dealing max damage does not mean that you always survive.

    The hunter changes seem good too, and if anything, what WoW suffers the most from right now is instability at the European servers in particular. I rather play a buggy game than not being able to play a game at all. Truth be told, WoW probably needs to have completely new servers, particularly since the lag issue at Wintergrasp still hasn’t been addressed, and that world PvP is still laggy when it comes to huge encounters.

    And it makes complete sense they want more people to be able to access end game content faster; because that’s where the content lies. By adding the achievement system they still made it possible for people to appreciate old school content, and with the upcoming experience cap, now people can play the game how it was played at both 60 and 70 if they so wish, without them leaving the level range against their will.

  38. Babs says:

    Like you, Eric, I enjoy the live environment. The challenges are immense, the team is under a lot of pressure from within and without, and it takes a very savvy hand to guide them from update to update to be sure they are doing the right thing (to the extent that anything can ever truly be right).

    The producer is more guilty than anyone when it comes to fixes and features that ship without the requisite level of polish and communication, but as the role of the producer changes (info management specialist rather than actual producer), is it even their fault? Because somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd year of any release (or in the first 6 months in the case of some games) comes the edict from on high to sustain subscriber numbers and reinvigorate the game for further acquisition. That, like it or not, means all sorts of -changes- that one wouldn’t otherwise make because new ideas are not easy to come by (and that’s the subject for a whole other post, I’m sure).

    Players (a group to which most of us also belong) will learn to live with class imbalance and minor inconveniences if the game is -fun-. EQ proved this, SWG proved this, WoW proved this. Lea above says what many of us think – that we’d rather play a buggy game than not play a game at all, because if the game is fun it’s worth playing (bumps, bruises, and all).

    And as for making mistakes, we all make them. Some are completely ludicrous, others not so much. Would any of us be good developers had we not made mistakes? It’s an outgrowth of taking risks, but risks also breed innovation. There’s no one alive in any industry that hasn’t done the wrong thing by its customer base from time to time so we seem to be tracking pretty good on a global scale =P

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  41. So true, it hurts. Great post.

  42. unbound says:

    Eric…excellent post. I thank you for providing what was a mystery for me. Although polished, Wrath shows so many issues in game experience, it feels like a step sideways and backwards. Vanilla needed help, and BC fixed many of the issues…most notably in a progressive end-game system. Designers of Wrath decided upon a kiddie-friendly easy mode approach. So many things are “fixed” now that end-game is bland…bring any tank, any healer, and any dps…the strategy is the same now. Nothing to figure out, no strategies to try or modify, just send in tank to AoE, let dps hit random buttons, and watch the healer scramble.

    My friends and I left WoW months ago after playing for many years…my wife found the most effective dps was contained in only 2 buttons (mage), one friend was hitting no more than 3 buttons (druid tank), and healing become both more exciting since cc has been effectively removed from the PvE game and more frustrating to time heals to survive alpha strikes. Rather than becoming apple-like zombies, we actually discussed it and realized that Blizzard removed anything resembling challenge from the game in the PvE environments. Who knew the cure for WoW would be Blizzard themselves.

  43. MMO Fan says:

    Great article. While i believe WoW is a much better game than it was 4 years ago I do think they are focusing on some pretty ridiculous things when doing these patches.

    1. All classes are losing the abilities that once made them unique.
    2. They spend a lot of time and effort making new content that will quickly be outdated and totally forgotten by the next expansion. Only feature added to the game that will survive WOTLK is dual speccing.
    3. For a game about War there is very little Warfare at all in Warcraft. Game is going on 5 years or so and still we have no semblance of a war between the allies and horde, hell horde even invite the allies over to Org to play arena.

    Biggest change i would like to see in WoW is some focus on overall game balance and not tweaking each class every week. Stop putting on fires and focus on what is causing the fires.

  44. Minster01 says:

    Awesome post. I would add if things always ran smoothly this far out there would never be a reason for WoW2. I believe we are headed in that direction. It might even be what the people are thinking at Blizzard. It is like that gum comercial, if the gum never loses it’s flavor then there is no need for more gum. Same holds true for MMO’s. If EQ was the be all end all of games then there would be no EQ2. We are heading for a WoW2 this is just the beginning phases.

  45. Stormwaltz says:

    It’s great to see so many familiar names in the comments. Yes, the article is great, but what prompted me to comment was seeing so many peers from the AC live teams speaking up. :)

    Having spent the last five years making single-player games with minimal post-release input, I desperately miss the energy of a live team. There’s always something going on — usually three somethings — and you have the luxury of being able to explore new uses of the game’s technology. As I recall it, Jesse would come up a new use of AC1′s code every few months, and we’d spend the next several patches finding ways to exploit it. The pre-ship team rarely has the time to figure out exotic applications of the existing tools.

  46. Deadlydarkness says:

    Honestly, this put into words perfectly what is going on with WoW as of late. I simply hope you are right about it being weathered through, and that it doesn’t go the way of SWG and its death spiral from the combat upgrade.

    Also, thank you for publicly stating in a rather informative and well explained fashion what most live dev teams go through and the pitfalls they fall into as they try to “perfect” a game. As well, the forum comment was simply the icing on the cake for me from this post. No one in their right mind listens to the forums unless its simply an amazing community with only 5% assholes/flamers in the total post count (A near impossible feat).

  47. ihlos says:

    I agree that there are little bugs all over the place. I agree that class balance is happening somewhat too often.

    I will say this though. This game is ten times better than it was the first year or two.

  48. Derek K. says:

    One sad example of this – Star Wars Galaxies. Regardless of your feelings about Pre and Post NGE, it’s clear that the NGE was what the live team thought the game should be, regardless of what it had been.

    The best thing new people can do is ask the stupid questions – “Why do hunters need quivers and arrows?” The problem is that if everyone is new, no one can say “because of x y and z.” So the stupid question drives change without understanding the roots….

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  50. Nathanyel says:

    unbound wrote:
    > My friends and I left WoW months ago after playing for many years…my wife found the most effective dps was contained in only 2 buttons (mage), one friend was hitting no more than 3 buttons (druid tank)

    Big surprise, back in e.g. Vanilla, mage dps was even 1 button only, I think, and the druid tank was just a wet dream of feral players.

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  52. kalidav says:

    What timing! Yesterday I wrote a lot about my issues with the game as it is compared to what it was previously.

    http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com/thread.html?topicId=18326618924&sid=1&pageNo=1

  53. Preston says:

    I’m surprised this article left out the summer after Burning Crusade when implementation of the (little-used) voice chat feature was holding up a major update that was supposed to fix a bug that had shrunk ever orc’s shoulder armor. It lasted for months, and with some armor combinations (particularly some cloth armor), orcs looked really terrible. The surprising thing about it is that WoW is so often praised for how “polished” it is, but since that summer, I’ve viewed WoW as a big tanker that’s hard to steer and constantly bumping into glaciers.

  54. Eric,

    I was half happy to see this site (found the link from WoW Insider …) and recognize so many of the old AC folks here. I almost agree with a lot of what you’re saying in terms of design, but as for the community communication aspects, like a lot of AC 1 and 2 problems — you’re dead wrong.

    Your paragraph on Ghostcrawler’s trials and tribulations is just mean-spirited, and flat wrong in terms of mass communications theory.

    This whole paragraph you wrote is systematic of why I don’t think you really understand the role and importance of communicating with your customer; “Nowadays it’s common for WoW to tell people to “check the forums for game updates.” This is a total newb mistake. Only your loudest and most annoying users will check your forums for updates. So every “update” is met with derision because only assholes post on game forums. (Statistically speaking, anyway.) Game updates are specifically what the launcher’s update screen is for. If you’re outpacing the ability to update the update screen, chances are you’re changing too much too fast. Slow down and get it right the first time.”

    One, I’d like to see your asshole statistical analysis in terms of forum participation. Blizzard has the right idea with accounts tied to actual customer data. There’s at least some accountability on both sides there. I’m willing to bet your ideas and perspectives are skewed by some of the problems with forums not owned or controlled by the game company — like AC Vault for instance.

    Two, I don’t think that because GC is posting so much, that management is looking the other way. In fact, if I were looking for developers for an MMO, I’d want someone willing to post directly alongside the customers and explain some of the thinking that is going on behind the scenes. When you empower that person to speak on behalf of the process, it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of weakness — it’s more an act of confidence from both the developers and their managers.

    Third, and lastly, IMHO the problems with AC2 were because there was far too much input from the programmers and developers, and not enough from the customers. AC2 was a bastard child created from a lot of gee-whiz technology and cutting-edge programming with no community soul. It was a game made by programmers and developers, for programmers and developers. Too much was made of the dynamic lighting and realistic graphics, while the actual game play sucked. Not to mention, that the game itself had almost nothing in common with the original franchise. And from the beginning, the feedback from the customers was highly (and correctly) critical.

    Taken all together, I think those scars are still evident in your overall criticism of WoW and their current developer team — and the communication policies they’re using to collect feedback and make changes to their game. I’m not saying you’re wrong in many of the development aspects, I agree there seems to be some loose steering of the game away from its original vision. However, one of the reasons that WoW is still doing better than any MMO in history 5+ years after its release is because the developers and management aren’t afraid to wade into the forums and communicate with their customers — and make changes based on good feedback, while at the same time, not being scared of telling the community they can’t have everything they want as well.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see a lot of the old AC folks are still kicking around, but I really hope you’re not bringing too much old scars and worn baggage from AC2 with you into your next project. ;-)

    Later,

    Don!

  55. Dan says:

    AC2 is no WoW.

    While I’m no WoW fanboy and will not hop on a bandwagon, I cannot trust the crux of your blog post simply because of your statement:

    “But now, every class is fiddled with every few weeks. It’s not exciting anymore. Instead of sitting on the changes and carefully honing them, the designers are just firing out every new idea they have, willy nilly, until they get it right. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you get it right. It matters if players are excited and having fun. Balance changes are happening too fast, and for too little benefit overall.”

    The thing is, if there is a change to every class in every patch, every class will be excited about it! You are missing the centre of the idea. By making class changes more frequent, which is not something I necessarily agree with, they are engaging EVERY gamer into the happenings of every patch they excite every gamer, which should be a positive thing.

    By this logical inconsistency, I cannot take most of your ciriticisms seriously, even though I no longer play WoW.

    With all of that said, I was particularly impressed by your discussion on how players of an underpowered class enjoyed playing in hard mode. I probably wouldn’t have thought of that if I hadn’t read your blog. That’s an important observation, and not one that most people would make.

  56. Eric says:

    Dan – your statement “if there is a change to every class in every patch, every class will be excited about it!” is indeed the logical conclusion. It is also absolutely dead wrong, which is why it’s a newb mistake. It seems right, until you find out it’s not right. I have lots of posts about why this isn’t right elsewhere on the blog, but suffice it to say that while users really enjoy a periodic “power up”, they quickly learn to dread tiny fiddly bits that constantly affect their gameplay in unpredictable ways.

    Most users do not read forums. The HIGHEST I have EVER heard of is 25% from a tiny MMO. Most are much lower. I’d guess WoW’s regular forum readers are less than 5% of its regular playerbase. Really! Hard to believe; also a newb mistake because it seems illogical.

    If you don’t read the forums, you might still hear about upcoming changes and be excited about them. If things are happening slowly enough, you’ll hear it through the grapevine and check it out. If it constantly changes, you come to be in a state of utter dread every time you log in. Just ask veteran EQ1 (or even EQ2) users how much they like continuous balance tweaks.

  57. Jeremy says:

    You seem so off base it’s not even funny.

    Firstly, if you’ve read Ghostcrawler’s posts since he first began posting — like I have, every single one linked via MMOchamp’s bluetracker — you’d know he really does have a passion for his job and the game, and he is very pragmatic. It’s easy to construe direclty and indirectly via his sentence phrasing that the class balance team has long-term goals. And unlike YOU and your own failures that you seem to be projecting down upon the current WoW development team in a fatherly, “I know best now” way, Ghostcrawler’s posts are extremely well thought out, detailed explanations on not only why they are or are not making changes, but the philosophy and theory the team has behind the subject the post is addressing.

    Need an example? You said:

    “Ghostcrawler’s a good guy… in fact, his posts remind me a lot of what I sounded like when I was posting about AC2’s skill balance. He knows how to balance things. But he is completely unable to see the big picture. Every tiny imperfection seems like a ruinous problem.”

    And hell, I’ll use a Q&A just posted over the last couple of days, regarding, for example, PvP for Moonkins.

    “We don’t think Moonkins are quite there yet, though we’ll see how they look after 3.2 ships. ……We understand some players are desperate to play Balance in PvP, but our priority is on getting underperforming classes viable before we worry about the second or third spec of classes that already have a strong PvP presence. We’ll get there.”

    That certainly doesn’t sound like “every tiny imperfection seems like a ruinous problem”.

    Or check out his entire post history about Block:

    http://blue.mmo-champion.com/26/18358911683-the-future-of-block.html

    Read the OP, read the responses. How is anything in there ‘completely unable to see the big picture’ and ‘every tiny imperfections seems like a ruinous problem’?

    Are you literally insane? Seriously? There is absolutely no basis for your statements whatsoever.

    “Ghostcrawler and the rest of the team will learn their craft soon enough.”

    I think he knows his craft. You, on the other hand, still do not.

  58. Stormwaltz says:

    AirForceWriter said: “IMHO the problems with AC2 were because there was far too much input from the programmers and developers, and not enough from the customers.”

    IMHO the problems with AC2 were because there was far too much input from the upper and middle management, and not enough from the developers.

    I am, of course, biased.

  59. Tiki says:

    Interesting insight into the world of MMO creation and management, but your applications and thoughts into the current state of WoW are definitely off base. The change from the original release of the game to the current iteration was not an overnight change, nor is there a clear moment when you can mark “here is where they lost developer X”. Reading through the Class Q&As, it is *very* clear that GC has a clear vision of the past, present, and future of the game, and is fully aware of how it has changed and how it will change in the patches to come. Your tone of voice throughout the entirety of the WoW-focused section of this article is incredibly condescending and massively subjective. You’re quoting statistics that don’t exist, extrapolating tiny hiccups into the four horseman of the apocalypse, and ignoring any sort of data against your own claims. You’re referring to WotLK, and to a lesser extent TBC, as these regrettably flawed pieces of work, yet you completely haze over the patch problems of the past!

    Has the team that maintains WoW changed? Most certainly in body and in spirit.
    Has the game suffered because of this? No. Millions of people vote against your theses every day by continuing to log into WoW and purchase new copies of the game ;)

  60. ZeJunkie says:

    I am a customer, a casual player now and if I had to chose between the two design paradigms you describe longer patches vs mini patches, I will chose the latter hands down. I have this feeling you are not PvPing much or maybe at all because balance is certainly a big issue and can affect the fun factor much more than a worthless craftable (I am a LW and seriously I don’t give a flying duck that the quivers are useless).

    I think Greg is doing hell of a better job than the previous in charge guy. First of all I know that (PvP and PvE) imbalances will certainly be addressed now in a relatively short time span rather than wait for 8-9 months until my class review is ready to go live. It was certainly not fun at all to wait almost two years for Resto Druids to be toned down in 2vs2 arena in TBC and is certainly not fun playing a “broken” class that nobody wants in raids or instances for a long time.

    Now I know that things will be fixed, relatively soon (Blizzard Trade Mark), of course you can’t have a perfectly balanced game but at least I see that the WoW designers do their best, being vocal with the community, being swift to address major things, giving feedback etc., to me that is a good thing and I see no wrong in it.

  61. JMA-1 says:

    I wish to disagree with your point. Ghostcrawler does NOT have any idea what he’s doing. He is so blind to the fact that this is not a PvP game, and yet all the PvE viability is going down the toliet simply because some rogue QQs about how hard it is to kill a Blood-spec death knight with Frost Presence (Lord knows, ROGUES aren’t overpowered and can kill anything in the game with a glance), not realizing that some people use this same combination for raiding – like myself, for instance. I play a Blood-spec DK tank with some decent gear, but I’m concerned with the incoming stamina nerfs. I have a little under 30k HP, with more work to be done to get into Ulduar…now I’m concerned I won’t be able to at all. GC’s comment was that “if death knights are still good in PvP, more nerfs will be coming” – and I don’t think that was a typo. I think he meant it.

    Again, the problem stems from these drooling morons like GC who think that WoW should be a PvP game. You want a PvP game? Go play Warhammer Online.

  62. golergka says:

    Great post.
    Howver, regarding the live and dev teams, things are not always the same. With big projects, which release is covered by media – may be. I’ve never worked on AAA MMO title, and most part of my experience as the game designer was spent with small, browser-based free to play MMOs.
    That kind of games often release in beta stage and stay there for a long time. Games can release without the features like grouping, auction house, or with half the classes still missing. As long the ads aren’t going in the game, already available to any user, can change VERY deeply – as far as global wiping.
    Right now I’m working on an update that will remove all previous locations and quest lines in the game, replacing them with the newly created ones. We’re rebuilding classes and battle systems from scratch (for example, we’re not using mana anymore), and we’re removing all items that players have bought.
    Of course, it is the same dev team. But for me, being able to totally rebalance the game and redo it with experience of actual user feedback is just great.

  63. Tim Howgego says:

    I think it is common across all product development in all industries that the people that enjoy (and are good at) initial development, often hate (and may even be bad at) product maintenance. And vice-versa.

    I believe there is a tendency that everyone in a MMOG setting will try and do initial development, even if that’s not required. Why? It’s both culturally desirable to do initial development, and that tends to be what the workforce are good at:

    1. Culturally, newer industries tend to favour people that do initial development (because it’s so fundamental to success), in contrast to “grandfather” industries, where such people tend to be hounded out by organisations that are happy to keep on doing what they did last year. So, as you suggest, the cool kids are working on initial development, not maintenance. This may be a particular problem for Blizzard, who are logically hiring the “industry’s best”, for a role that most of the industry isn’t doing much of.

    2. The (apparent) immaturity of the MMOG sector means there is a disproportionate amount of initial development happening: Most games never achieve the degree of profitability where they are likely to employ more than a skeleton staff for post-release work. So the overall talent pool is skewed towards initial development work.

    But “initial development” vs “maintenance” is far to polar. This isn’t black and white.

    MMOGs (since that’s the basis of the discussion) are constantly evolving. They have to, because their audience is also constantly evolving. So a “live team” shouldn’t be performing a maintenance role, just a lower-level design role than the “blue skies” thinking that might have been possible at the initial development stage.

    That leads us to a conclusion that the balance between design and maintenance within the so-called B-team simply isn’t right.

    Which would be indicative of poor/confused management as the game evolves from development to maintenance phases, with the resulting failure to establish practices that allow the B-team to understand earlier decisions, leading them to “re-invent the wheel” (or worse, remove the wheels entirely, and accidentally break the cart).

    Gradually changing the individual people working on a project may be successful until the product becomes hideously complex and slow to change. Like WoW: If a feature is first reviewed after 5 years, it is unlikely there is anyone still working on the project that remembers anything about the original thought process. (Immature sector – nobody hangs around long enough with one employer to collect their pension.) And decisions never seem to get documented… possibly because they are happening to fast, possibly because documenattion is to much like maintenance?

    So perhaps it is therefore required to restrict the scope of subsequent product development, so that B-team are restricted to small changes that don’t break anything fundamental? Obviously those boundaries would need to be defined during the initial development, and would then limit the scope to improving a game. But in practice, how much scope for change really is there after the initial production work (let alone after release)? Generally a truly evolving product seems to require smaller teams, extensive use of existing technology, short development timescales… or erm, Flash games.

    Perhaps the reason there appears to be so much focus on class balance in WoW at the moment, is because it can be changed to easily, without boundaries? Changing a few variables can *really* screw up the game. In contrast, a change to the way experience quests, or travel, is only possible via expansions, and even then, the majority of the (original) game continues to use the existing design.

    And perhaps I say perhaps a lot because I don’t have enough evidence to actually provide any conclusion?

  64. Stormwaltz Said: “IMHO the problems with AC2 were because there was far too much input from the upper and middle management, and not enough from the developers.”

    LOL, I’ll buy that! At least partially.

    Bleh, I don’t mean to poke too hard at Eric (or you) or any of the old AC folks on water that’s under the bridge. I think the point I’m trying to make in regards to Eric’s assertions is that he doesn’t have enough respect for the community viewpoint as a whole, and has let a lot (but not 95%) of the community in one area (forums) skew his viewpoint in terms of development.

    Heck, where did Kaplan originally come from? Although a lot of folks would put him in Eric’s 95% of forum asshole community, even today — there’s a lot that can be learned from speaking (and working) with your customers. As far as AC2 goes, I always thought that the whole game was an engine and a concept looking for a IP to tag along to. AC wasn’t that IP, but I bet there’s still a whole lot of that AC2 coding that’s at work today with the Lord of the Ring’s IP — and relatively successfully at that.

    To me that just emphasizes the importance of putting the immersion and fun into the game before all the coding and balancing and “ultra realistic water effects” are even considered.

    Anyway, it’s really good to see all of you AC vets in one place again.

    Later,

    Don!

  65. Whateverblahblah says:

    Sorry, but no, GC needs to be fired. He is ruining the game. Period. Everything he touches turns to shit and he has no idea what the player base wants. His “vision” is what the game is, is not a fun game.

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  67. Django says:

    Good read. I really enjoy working on live teams as well. AC1 and monthly updates grants an excellent opportunity to make changes/additions and get near immediate feedback.

  68. spx says:

    What frustrates me about the Live Team phenomenon (doo-doo, da-doo-doo) even in non-game subscription software services is that the Live Team seems to drop the ball on addressing longstanding problems. Cracks in the dam just keep getting bigger and bigger, and no one wants to acknowledge that there’s a problem there because they don’t want to admit they don’t know how to fix it. Somehow, it’s easier for everyone from devs to suits to let a problem become a white elephant then it is to square up and get rid of it.

    Case in point: why are WoW developers futzing around with faction changes when the additional instances problem has not been solved? No one will quit because they can’t change factions, but customers are churning because they can’t get into instances in off-peak hours.

  69. Impono says:

    Great post and most people who played all or almost all content from vanilla WoW see this point. It was great to wait for our class changes to come up and see what was going to be exciting and new. Theres nothing to look forward to anymore but a new raid thats filler cause thier last raid got cleared way to fast with the immediate nerfs when people complained “Its to hard”. This rushed attitude has never been the way WoW was run till WotLK. It does seem like a new crew in charge and for an old school raider its just not the WoW we used to play.

  70. Alesa says:

    So frustrating, you are pulling #’s out of the sky Eric. You have no idea what amount of players read forums. What are you basing it off of? Total units sold? Active users? What is defined as active? No MMO companies even release solid numbers for the total of users that are actively playing their game. It’s all about the sell figures and financials. You are guessing, and it’s a bad guess at that.

    You are so bent on telling the community that THEY are the problem that you can’t see past it to realize that YOU CREATED THAT COMMUNITY. Take a little responsibility. What? It was the AC2 players responsible for your games failure? They just didn’t “get” it?

    “This is a total newb mistake. Only your loudest and most annoying users will check your forums for updates. So every “update” is met with derision because only assholes post on game forums. (Statistically speaking, anyway.) Game updates are specifically what the launcher’s update screen is for.”

    All this tells us is you have been burned and hate the very consumers you make this game for. Those hardcore players are the ones who do your viral marketing. The others pick your game up, play it for a few months and take off. Or the wonderful money-maker every MMO developers wants nowadays, the gold industry that can easily provide you with millions of dollars of revenue as you ban their accounts and the buy new ones.

    It’s good to know that so many developers aren’t interested in the very consumers they market to. While you make your jokes, your ridiculous comments and pull numbers out of the sky in a vain attempt to defend your hatred.

  71. Eric says:

    I have forum data from several MMORPGs, but unfortunately I am not allowed to present any of those numbers due to NDAs and other obligations, so you’ll have to take my word on it, or not. Sorry, I wish I could show you lots of stuff that I’m just not allowed to.

    I also have posts discussing forums elsewhere on the blog; I can’t back up every single sentence of every post with a half-million-word discussion, unfortunately.

  72. Arcilite_I says:

    Very insightful and well written. Lots to be learned here, and lots more to retain for future handlings.

  73. Ken says:

    Alesa said: “You are guessing, and it’s a bad guess at that.”

    Aside from the fact that Eric says he has real numbers, I find it amusing that you say the data is not available and then tell him that his guess is bad. You’re guilty of exactly what you’re accusing Eric of doing!

  74. Alesa says:

    Ken, I’m not trying to announce any findings or state numbers though. His knowledge in this area would have to be extremely limited considering his experience. 1 flop of an MMO and 1 MMO yet to be released. Then he calls one of the most successful MMO’s to date approach to community a “newb mistake”? Who should be learning from who here?

  75. Ken says:

    Alesa, People said Bear Stearns was too large and successful to fail. Madoff was an extremely successful investor, so we shouldn’t question his methods. While I agree that you should look at successful models for inspiration, it’s also wise to question them from time.

  76. Mentat says:

    I read this post and instantly went to the wow Forums, and i’ve been watching it for a few days. any mention of Blizz’s “B-team” Taking over development instantly gets deleted. This to me shows that you had hit the nail on the head, and blizz is trying to cover up the fact that the current developers are noobies and really don’t know what they are doing.

  77. Manji says:

    Interesting article, I’m inclined to say you’re not quite right though. I think Blizzard probably has many members of Team A still working on World of Warcraft. I guess we’ll really see come Blizzcon. It seems to me that there is a lot of information that you are taking from your personal experience and expecting it to work in this other scenario. However, I don’t think it does, the difference between AC2 and WoW is an astronomical one and applying experience at Turbine directly with experience of working at Blizzard is fallacious at best. That’s a lot like saying that working at a mom and pop shop is the same as working in a full on industrial giant. It’s not, they’re different (I can say that because I’ve worked in both). You should sell this more as conjecture than as fact, cause in the end you don’t really know.

  78. Ibn says:

    Saw something yesterday that made me think of this post. At the very end of the Druid class Q&A with Ghostcrawler, we have this:

    “For the official word, do we have plans to update more druid form models at some point in the future?

    Ghostcrawler: I know for a fact that the current Travel Form and Aquatic Form are loathed by the artist who redid bear and cat. We do have plans to update additional forms at some point in the future. ”

    This startled me. They’re making a change to artwork that’s been in the game since launch because one artist doesn’t like it? Is there any way to quantitatively argue that this change needs to be made instead of having that artist work on new content?

    But more than that, it reminded me of this post because that type of change, “I’ve always hated this, I can make it better” is exactly the line of reasoning that led to many MANY changes in AC1 during my time on the team there. And if we’re comparing WoW’s Live Team circa 2009 to AC1′s Live Team circa 2003-2005, I think you’ve hit the nail right on the head.

  79. Bullseyed says:

    I stumbled onto your blog because of this article being linked to WoW.com and I’ve read 20 or so of your posts by now I think and it has definitely been a pleasure. I wanted to let you know you got under the WoW team’s skin with this one, Neth mentioned you indirectly in a blue post recently. Good job, keep up the good work. =]

    Neth said:

    No, I’m saying the amount of resources is not diminished or increased, just the same as other sets. Contrary to popular belief, the World of Warcraft team is as strong as ever. And also contrary to popular belief we do not have “B” teams here. Each of our development teams has bright, knowledgeable, and creative people that I am so very privileged to know and work with. In addition, while we have separate teams working on different things, we are very focused as a company in all voices being heard within the company and sharing our knowledge with each other so that everything we do is up to Blizzard standard.

  80. Bullseyed says:

    @spx in post 68

    The main thing that gets me about the faction change is you cannot do a same faction race change.

    Why? Because they know the races are horribly imbalanced and want to force people to stick with a decision they made before they even had any idea on how to play the game or min/max.

  81. Gruth says:

    Eric, I think you have some blinders on about the state of Vanilla WoW. It was a much buggier environment, and even then tooltips were out of synch with skills at times (worse they didn’t update to reflect talent contributions). Pallys were released with next to no actual testing, and their primary attack, Seal of the Crusader was only their primary attack because it had an an incredibly obvious bug making hit for more damage than it should. It was a bug that fundamentally changed the way the pally worked. I find that far more problematic than the quiver issue, that at the end of the day hunters actually do like. PVE balance was atrocious back then and even worse it was exclusionary, and PVP balance didn’t matter all that much since there was no PVP system.

    I mean, if the complaint is that there are still low level quest rewards for an item slot that is basically obsolete, and that tooltips are out of synch, I get that, but that’s pretty minor all things considered.

    I can agree to an extent about the class tweaks roller coaster. I hope they learn from that for the next expansion and get things a bit more stable from the get go. Odds are without a new class, that should be an easier goal to reach anyhow.

  82. zapp says:

    Gruth you are failing to recognise that the game has existed for more then four years now. Almost every game is launched today with bugs, considering how old the game is it was relative to other games very bug free and polished. However it is now 2009, more then four years later and companies should have learned something by then. They should have learned not to make these mistakes, not to release these buggy talents, not to make tooltips display wrong information.

    We have got to raise our standards now compared to what they were back when WoW was released and understand that what was relatively bug free and polished then isn’t today.

  83. kznlol says:

    “But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you get it right.”

    This, in a nutshell, is why you are wrong. It does matter. It always will. It doesn’t matter to the majority of your playerbase, sure, but the majority of your playerbase isn’t even level capped, and is as fickle a mistress as there can be. Nintendo has made the mistake of catering to them and alienating the core clientbase in doing so, and is paying the price.

    That part of your playerbase doesn’t care if you update things too fast, too slow, or just right. They just care that the game is fun, which its going to be pretty much regardless until they’re level capped, when stuff like balance actually matters.

    The core, on the other hand, actually does care if you update things too slow. They dont care if you update things too fast, unless you consistently get it totally wrong. Minor side effects, like useless quest rewards, mean absolutely nothing as far as they’re concerned.

    Then again, AC2 never had eSport ambitions, which changes the way you need to view class balance significantly. WoW does, and as such, the pursuit of perfect class balance needs to be the never ending quest you call a mistake. Its just unfortunate that Ghostcrawler is so bad at it.

  84. Christian K says:

    Zapp, I think you fail to understand, something that I think Eric also failed to understand. Arena’s are big. Area’s are HUGE! Based upon some casual looking around, I would hazard to say that more people participate in Areas than see the inside of Ulduar (or at least down FL). If that is true, is a massive shift from vanilla wow and belies the “people like playing underpowered classes” dismissal Eric gave it in his post. From Blizzards perspective it makes class balance vitally important, and why the majority of changes in the game these days are focused on PVP.

    PVP in VW (Vanilla WoW) was a tacked on afterthought. Now it is a core part of the game, and with areas unique in the MMO market (I think, please correct me if I am wrong on that point).

  85. Jim says:

    I’m not sure who thinks class tweaks and balance changes in every patch are something that players get excited about. I’ve played since release and I’ve never seen so many strange random balance changes in such a short time, only to still have it wrong. It’s absolutely horrible. I HATE respeccing and changing my playstyle with every patch release.

    I used to have plenty of time to adjust and get used to things. In the patches since WOLK it’s been a different spec every patch. Reset all my talents AGAIN, oh fantastic. In fact even better they reset all my talents on all of my alts as well. What a mess.

  86. Eric,

    Hey, quick question. While I disagree with some of what you’ve posted up here — both this column and a few others, I’ve agreed with and learned some from the other posts/entries.

    The question is, since (at least this one entry) has gone semi-viral in the MMO community, do you think it has helped, or hurt or impacted your options for working on another big project? On the other hand, has this experience reminded you of any reasons you wouldn’t want to work on another big MMO?

    Take care out there!

    Later,

    Don!

  87. hitnrun says:

    My friends and I actually spotted this phenomenon back around the time that Burning Crusade ramped up. Visuals and candy aside – just looking at game mechanics, quests, and so forth – it’s clear that care of the game obviously fell around that time to a new, less careful set of hands.

    During the first two years, each class got its own *two months* of balancing testing, in order of perceived need. “Blizzard” (to use the general name, though it was definitely a different and more senior team back then) was painstaking to a (big) fault with the consideration, subtlety and *time* they utilized before addressing balance complaints.

    Obviously very much has happened since then, and it’s not worth recounting in a comment post. But what’s amazing is that the rate of disruption seems to actually be accelerating. I log on now every few months fully expecting that key mechanics that have been integral, almost unconscious parts of the game since release will be gone. Paladins are of course entirely reinvented from scratch every six months. Most recently I found that Arcane Power + Presence of Mind, a combination that my Mage used since 2004, had been broken up via cooldowns, no doubt because someone on Blizzard’s C-team once again decided to fix a numbers issue by breaking a mechanic.

  88. Dustin says:

    Wow is a dying game because they have cared more about making money, than keeping their customers happy. I, myself, have played since 2004, and back then I couldn’t wait to get on. Now.. I dread it. I still raid because I have friends that count on me, but the game overall is boring as hell.

    Wheres my Mal’ganis that I used to know and love? We used to know everyone on that server both alliance and horde. Server xfers, name changes etc have done away with it. Now no one knows anyone else. Everyone I see in town is a stranger, and it’s been that way since they got greedy and decided to open up transfers for some extra $$$.

    So now that the community is gone, and the overall outdoor game play is gone (instances anyone?) there’s nothing left to but greed loot. And once you have that.. nothing. I remember me and everyone else was always out in the world doing something exciting. Either grinding, or exploring, or killing horde for fun. Causing trouble etc. It was a blast, but alas.. no more.

    We used to raid for overall game items. And it was really awesome to walk around, or pvp with my raid gear on because I worked hard for it. Now, everyone and their mom has the same exact crap I have on, no matter how stupid of a player they are.

    No one really leaves town because theres not a damn thing to do. Everything relating to lvl 80 has to do with instances. Why bother having a seamless world if you don’t do anything with it for people at 80? Even BC had many things to do outdoors, granted not a ton.. but much more than WoTLK.

    This is the same thing I posted on the forums for Ghostcrawler to read, and instead of talking with me about it, he simply bans me for a week from the forums. I give up. If people don’t want to listen to their own customers, then forget it.

  89. Antecanis says:

    Eric, when someone posted that you were falling into the typical burned-out Dev-speak of blaming the players for the failures of the game (re: calling everyone that posts on forums “assholes – statistically speaking”) you said “I have forum data from several MMORPGs, but unfortunately I am not allowed to present any of those numbers due to NDAs and other obligations, so you’ll have to take my word on it, or not. Sorry, I wish I could show you lots of stuff that I’m just not allowed to.”

    So let me get this right — you are claiming that you can, and have, statistically quantified “asshole-edness” using “forum data” that you are “not allowed to present due to … NDA’s.” Call me silly, but I always thought that the determination of “asshole” was a completely subjective opinion, while statistics are a study of quantifiable facts in order to deduce a potential pattern of propagation.

    Methinks that while some of what you said is correct (obviously the “A” team left the building a long time ago), a lot of what you said was you just talking out of your ass (as you said, you were the “B” team that ruined AoC2 — and while no one likes being ridiculed for doing a bad job, no matter how much you claim to have liked your job, according to you the AoC2 community hated you for what you did and you seem to have hated them back as you ruined their game making dozens of self-admitted mistakes).

    But what do I know? By posting here, I am obviously an asshole (statistically speaking).

  90. Antecanis says:

    ^ And, on that note, since you have posted in the Replies section, statistically speaking that makes you an asshole too.

    And there is the Internet then, a bunch of assholes yelling at each other. Never admitting they are wrong, always insisting the other guy is. You, me, everyone — all the same. Statistically speaking.

  91. Eric says:

    Antecanis – I was talking about data regarding the number of people who use an MMORPG’s forums. That wasn’t obvious? That is, after all, the statistic Alesa was upset about. The “statistically speak” quip was a joke.

    AirForceWriter – I doubt it’s affected it one way or another… keep in mind that I have turned down some offers to work on pretty big upcoming MMO’s, so I optimistically assume that if I wanted to, I could still find somebody who wanted me on their crew. (I haven’t actually asked around for a year or so though… who knows.)

    Ibn – Good to see you around, heya. :) Yeah, I think it’s pretty much inherent in the Live Team Gig that new people come on, bring their pet peeves with them, and do what they can to change them. Sometimes that’s really useful, and sometimes it’s just change, without too much point. Sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which until after it’s been implemented. But I also suspect this is the sort of thing that producers can learn to spot, with experience.

  92. jackwest says:

    I’m left with one thought after reading this:

    Would I rather the A-team works on SC2/Diablo3 or WoW?

  93. Joe says:

    The game is 1000 times better than it ever has been.

    B squad? Whatever. You guys calling them the B squad are a pack of morons. At least this set of designers doesn’t balance around class, they balance around specs and try to get each spec as close to viable as possible. Some more than others, but they have done a damn good job of it so far. The previous team was so god damn clueless they said, and I quote “we didn’t know what to do with Paladins so we just let the community work with it…” (paraphrased, you can look it up…) Now thats a prime example of bad game design. How many other specs just sat there, completely unused. I think at least a few.

    GC posts on the forums because for YEARS people complained they had no idea what was going on. I for one, am glad to see him posting. I love seeing a little insight to the process.

    If you rejects knew anything about business you’d undertstand that WoW has moved into Blizzard’s “cash cow” category. Obviously people in the company move around, but you have to support your “cash cow” with good, excellent people or you LOSE your money for other projects by losing your cash cow.

    The game before catered to the EQ crowd, because it was designed by a bunch of nerds from Everquest. Low and behold a few years later Blizzard learned that isn’t what makes a game great. What makes a game great is its GAMEPLAY and its ability to appeal to everyone.

    Most people who loved “old wow” are deriving their pleasure from being something special in a game where if they rolled the right class and raided 40 hours a week, they got to be special. Thats not special, thats retarded
    WoW isn’t any more dumbed now than it was 4 years ago. It has always been this way and those of you butthurt over class balance and new raiding roles need to take a breath of fresh air, buy a bicycle, eat some cake, anything. Get used to it or gtfo.

  94. MrWakka says:

    An interesting article as usual.

    Can’t say if your right or wrong, nor do i think i have the qualifications to make such a judgment, but certainly it was a fun and interesting read.

    Equally as interesting were some of the AC names and comments here, I was a big ac1 fan back in the day and its interesting to hear tidbits on AC2 and AC1 development.

  95. Arioch says:

    It’s amusing that people are getting hung up over the pejorative nature of the “B-team” phrase, and I get the impression that these people didn’t read the whole article. WoW is now being run by a different team than the people who originally developed it — that is a fact. The author fell over himself in several places to say and say again, “that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” But I guess people only see what they want to see.

    I thought the author’s assessment of Ghostcrawler was a bit harsh, but I will certainly agree on one point: they are changing class balance way too damn fast. In order to be good at your class you pretty much have to read the forums and check the community sites in order to have any idea what’s constantly coming, and that’s WAY too much damn work to be required to play a game. However, I think the problem with the constant changes coming from every which direction with no coherent vision is simply a product of Blizzard’s team-think development model… any team member can do any change they want, as long as they get the whole group to sign off on it.

  96. aeiouy says:

    I wonder how much priorities get lost in the transition from a “A” team to a “B” team? Without any direct experience or knowledge, I would assume that when designing a game that there are things that are part of the overall vision that just can’t be put in at launch. Yet they remain a high priority in the back of the mind of the “A” team as they develop the game. These items are part of the overall vision and initial design concept of the game.

    When the switchover takes place, even if the “A” group conveys these items strongly to the “B” group, I suspect it is likely that in many cases the “B” team will not take them on with the same urgency and understanding as the initial developers. I would also think that the “B” team wants to prove themselves and put their own stamp on the project and will want to ferret out their own issues that they feel need to be worked on. This means things that probably should have been dealt with never do because they never quite made it to the front of group A, and group B pushed them back even further because they did not understand why they were more important or else decided to ignore them in order to pursue other things that were things they found wrong.

    I always wondered about this development process. I can wholly understand spending years developing something and then feeling a massive sigh of relief on launch or shortly thereafter and then wanting to be done with it. Is there any way for game companys to do anything about this or is it just an inevitable outcome of the development process? If developers were provided copious periods of down time/off time during development would that make a difference? Would that even be possible given the drive it till it dies mentality that is seemingly game development? Does it matter? Is the better answer to just come up with better ways to transition between A and B teams?

  97. Archangel says:

    Excellent read, and good to see so many of the old AC team again. I know you don’t likely remember me Stormwaltz…but I was one of the cloaked sentinels watching the original Shadow invasion in AC. I remember you dropping in to the live servers from time to time.

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  99. N3RD says:

    Very excellent article. I canceled my WoW account fairly recently for a lot of these reasons but I could never really put my finger on it, whereas you really nailed it on the head. I spent hours on the forums reading about the proposed changes only to find 90% of the time they realized that the only change I happened to be interested in was too overpowered so they excluded it while simultaneously sneaking in a minor nerf. One of the things that personally did WoW in for me though was the devastating effect that the pace of changes had on addons. I played a Resto Shaman and personally found grid/clique and a totem bar to be essentially necessary to my raiding. Every minor patch managed to break grid in unexpected ways so if I wanted to log in after a week or two to run a few instances I had to spend a non-trivial amount of time downloading updated addons, reconfiguring them to my specifications. Then I had to reassign all my talent points, decide where to put those two extra points I ended up with or where to take the two points I needed from and so on. Now I’d be glad to put up with that if at the end of it some of the bugs I had been dealing with were gone but they almost never were. And for those of you who require specific examples Kel’Thuzad had a bug where he dropped aggro when he targeted his mind control spell. This was acknowledged as a bug but was not fixed until the patch that introduced Ulduar. They managed to tweak Death Knights approximately 350 times in the same time period but not fix this particular bug that was making one of the most popular instances unnecessarily hard. Its not worth me downloading new patch chunks every few weeks when they don’t contain much of substance.

    Overall though this makes me feel good about the future of WoW. If the current people in charge are “n00bs” then all the better. They’ll put in their time and learn their craft better and then a year or two from now when the next xpac comes out I can pick the game back up and play a game that is once again fun.

  100. doubledutch says:

    There are many issues to be discussed in the debate of ‘balance’ and developer influence. However, I would like to approach this from a different angle. In my opinion, 90% the problem is inherent within the game itself and 10% of the problem is in the ‘live’ developers hands.

    For instance, let’s take a look at the nature of WoW (it is, of course, todays standard):

    1.)When creating a character in WoW, you begin with choosing a race and then choosing a class. Already what do we have? …we already have a pigeon hole that puts you into a defined category.

    2.) We then build our character. Take a look at the choices on skills to take and you will see skills that everyone else of this class gets.

    3.) Talents. Talents lend us a tiny bit of customization, yet they are still very inflexible within themselves in terms of how many different levels of power each skill contains.

    4.) Re-picking talents. If you want to rebuild your character, your option* is to re-pick talents. The process to accomplish this is paying a certain amount of gold and …well… picking talents.

    Now, take a look at the nature of AC2:

    1.) Pick your race. Yes, this is a feature that will stay with you throughout the game, yet it still holds many options to choose from within each race.

    NOTE: there is no choose class step.

    2.) Go out and play your character in order to build it. The experience that you earn, you put directly into any skill available to your race in each base skill tree. You can put as much or as little experience as you wish, within the min/max constructs of the skill.

    3.) Do you want to specialize? choose one specialization and continue to pick only desired skills and raise them as you wish point by point. You can also continue to choose a complimenting base skill tree to use or whichever one you wish.

    4.) (this is where things start to get different) If you want, you can never spend one point of experience and have no skills. If you want you can go for one skill and pump it up as high as you can. If you want you can learn many skills and never spend more than a point in them. If you want, you can make the perfectly balanced build of power / number of skills / number of options.

    If you want*

    5.) You can un-train your skills. Do you pay a certain amount of gold and click yes then repick? No.
    You have to earn each point of experience back to unlearn it. You can then choose any new skills you desire. The only limitation is race.

    _______________________________________________________________________________

    Which of these two systems gives the player more options? AC2.

    In the case of AC2, the player creates the combination of skills, the power of the skills (within constraints). This in turn tips the scale of balance into the hands of the player rather than the developer. Yes, the developer creates the constraints which are much looser than those of WoW, but the player has more room to move within them. Players can now constantly tweak their characters (not just class) and build them how they desire.

    Developers are no longer responsible for minor tweaks to balance, yet now have a responsibility to control the area that the players balance themselves within.

    With the WoW system, players rely heavily on the developers decisions. These changes may be tiny or huge, but the player is locked into a class and doesn’t have the option to tweak their own build with a tiny or huge personal tweak. They only have the option to tweak their character with the very limited options provided by the developers.

    This creates the problem that we have with developers over working details.

    …aaaannnddd AC2 wasn’t perfect or even close, it really did have some of the worst balance issues out there. The thing is, the game was still extremely enjoyable due to the PLAYERS ability to tweak their characters minor details point by point or completely overhaul their class in response to the developers decisions rather than forced by them.

    Eric: If you read this let me know you think.

  101. Pyro says:

    All good points indeed.

    I remember my time in AC2 fondly for just that reason, and thinking back on it, it is something I found hard in WoW, since I was rather unhappy with my first couple of characters, but after leveling them to the mid 20′s, I just couldn’t be bothered to start again.

    I remember I played several mixed classes, Melee Elementalist (Sword and shield and pets, good times), Melee Sage (didn’t like it much, but talk about tank, sword shield, and healing spells), and for a VERY long time, Missle Elementalist (throwing hammers at range even though I should be a mage, which gave me pets and a knockback and armor debuff), that class was great in both PvE and PvP. And the best part was, I was rare, I was custom, no-one knew exactly what skills you might pull out. I remember being struck with the magic tree stun once, and thinking oh great, either I’m fighting a healer, or it’s a Elementalist that didn’t pull his pets out to surprise me, then he put the staff away and pulled out two swords. Turns out he was a Berserker (melee DPS for the WoW people), but trained the base magic skills high enough to get Stun, sacrificing some other skills, but gaining a sneaky advantage I wasn’t expecting, awesome stuff.

    And again, re-classing was so easy, and kind of a game in and of itself, I played almost every class available to me as my main toon, including some hybrids as mentioned above, all without having to start over from scratch. It sounds simple, but that’s a really powerful advantage in my book.

  102. doubledutch says:

    Yup, you were finally allowed to be attached to and identify with your character rather than your class.

  103. Covertghost says:

    That’s something missing in current day MMOs.

    The majority of them gravitate towards fixed classes with a minor subset of skills to specialize in, whereas in yesteryear it was more broad, driven on a single character’s development.

    I assume this move was mostly done to increase profit margins, as people would play the game longer when they have multiple characters to invest time in, etc.

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  105. Xenovore says:

    Thanks for an interesting and insightful article, Eric. As someone who’s played WoW from release, I have to wholeheartedly agree. There are just so many little things now (described as “lint”, but I think “splinters” or “broken glass” would be more accurate) that A) didn’t need fixing (e.g. hunter ammo), or B) are obviously just the whims of designers/artists on the team (e.g. the “I didn’t like the old druid models…” sentiment), or C) Overlooked/dismissed as unimportant (e.g. mismatched tooltips and the like).

    From my point of view, the primary reason the B Team can only be described as “Epic Fail” right now: In spite of all their hard work, all the constant tweaking and patching, they continue to miss the point: They should be making the game more fun to play, but ultimately the game is just not more fun to play!

    Certainly most of the more recent changes aren’t more fun; I’d consider them to be more like “distractions” than actual fun. Achievements? Distraction. ToC? Distraction. New druid models? Distraction… It’s 95% smoke and mirrors anymore, “You WILL continue to play OUR game and you WILL like it because… Look, here some new stuff… and it’s super-neato fun! Because WE say it’s fun!” =P

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  108. Paul says:

    These comments leave out one of the biggest screwups in WotLK: gear inflation has zoomed out of control. Street has admitted this is because they hadn’t planned hard modes when planning for the expansion, and when they changed the plans to include them the inflated gear they were to drop had a devastating cascade effect on later content. What this means is that right now, for most raiders who don’t do hard modes, the relevant raid content consists of a single room with five encounters in it. Gear from Ulduar normal modes is DE fodder now.

    This and the other problems (those mentioned earlier in the article and replies, and others) have led me recently to cancel my WoW account. I don’t plan to return (or to get suckered into playing any future Blizzard MMO).

  109. Justin Q says:

    Well said Eric.

  110. Leveling Ret says:

    This is an important post, everything is well put and to the point. We need more people to come forth and voice there views on this subject.

    I have played wow for close to five years now, and i have played every class at endgame. My recent main was a Feral Druid who was my first “Hardcore Raider” and we as a guild progressed very well (Uludar 25 hardmodes).

    Back to the topic, having played this game for so long i have noticed alot of the things mentioned in this post, such as hunter ammo (76 alt). I love this game but reciently (like the last year lats say) things changed, the love of wow had diminished like something is missing. Back in Vanilla when it was hard to obtain an epic item, the game felt WORTH playing, worth farming that instance for the one epic in there. Now they give away epics for nothing, Heroic in BC were hard, and it was a treat to clear one. Now tho… Soloing heroics your level is possible, to me this is over the top. Where did the developers go wrong? Itemization? Spells/Skills? No they went wrong with the team, “the B team” (Not saying anything about you guys i know your role is important and i support you). Its just that nothing feels right anymore, the game feels fast paced and boring. Now like i said earlier i am a diehard, this game is a part of my life, so i am excited about Catcalysm. But am i in for the dissapointment of WoTLK, or the excitment of Vanilla/BC? I hope this expansion brings back the love of WoW.

  111. PeterJ says:

    The assessment that a fundamental shift in project steering for WoW development have occured seems obviously clear after reading this article. The effects of this change of viewpoint, focus and development team management is probably not as clear cut as you,Eric, write in this article. You bring out good points and observations regarding the nature of how change is implemented in the game but I think your conclusions are based on too little evidence to support your specific opinions.

    If you reread your article and some of the comments you might be able to admit that, while you put in the caveat “this might not be a bad thing”, your basic asumption from the beginning was the new team is not only doing something differently but also doing it worse or under poor guidance. The price of adaptability might be lack of coherency but it’s not a given and all evidence must not point towards a lack of control. Ghostcrawlers forum posts for all their strengths and flaws doesn’t not equate reigns having been cut lose from the WoW horse. He is one developer, hardly a stastical significance by himself. One Austrian basement family doesn’t imply a fundamental change to Austrian legal system. (hmm, did I just equate GC with Fritzl?)

    Changes put out at a quicker pace does not equate more proverbial lint on the floor. Maybe the reason you only see lint is because they removed the dead cow carcasses that used to litter the floor? The errors and problems so often associated with any ingame change of earlier WoW years are minor and often cosmetical in nature these days. Tooltips slighty asqew is nothing compared to diseases killing entire towns or servers down for a day or two that were not uncommon a few years back.

    Yes the focus has changed and yes this seems indicative of shift in management. But to go as far as your analysis might be a bit bold and apparently a bit controversial. To state that the loss of control is typical and it’s causing myopic views seems more of a projection than the given analysis of the situation. Unless you are privy to information from inside WoW development we aren’t?
    But I’ll give you that, the article is a hell of a lot more interesting with the conjecture and the chance of you being an Cassandra by crying foul without “watching the tape” might be worth it. Conjecture doesn’t need to be wrong.

  112. Quelldrogo says:

    Great job folks, awesome thread and comments. Just a couple things I’d like to add.

    1. First time playing Alterac Valley battleground, when the sides could summon the giant elemental and tree bosses, was pretty epic. I wish blizz had put it’s resources into more epic BGs. Using tactics and planning in AV premades was incredibly fun. It was the best example of actual “Warcraft”.

    2. Giving the horde paladins? I’m still wtf over that. Shaman were fucking cool in vanilla WoW. Having differences between the two factions made the game more interesting. Blood elves??? You know, the chicks who would play “ugly” horde races were cool way before the influx of Tiger Beat refugees.

    3. Raiding was a lot of fun in Burning Crusade. IMHO the 10/25 WLK heroic thing dims the whole fun factor of learning new fights. Zerg AoE pulling fails… if anything Blizz should have improved/upgraded PvE enemy AI. Make stray mobs run into the next room to call for reinforcements, spread out, use cover, basic combat tactics and scripting, etc.

    4. WoW would have been vastly better without arenas. If they spent development money on more varied and interesting BG maps, and tied them into a dynamic world where BG wins translated into domination of PvE zones, it would have made for a more interesting story environment.

    5. The chase for dollars with the name changes, transfers, faction changes, etc… well it just encourages the internet+anonymity=dickwad phenomenon. I think there is something to be said for being able to keep a friends/ignore list intact in regards to building community.

    6. The whole Death Knight thing is like the male version of tween fantasy. We all knew that kid who would draw DKs back in 8th grade all over his notebooks. Seriously, if you really want to be a fucking lich maybe enable control of bad guy bosses like I’ve heard is possible in LOTR online. Open up a can of whup-ass on all the players nearby and get your rocks that way. But a player class who is a lich?… “Tomb of Horrors” anyone?

    Anyways, thanks for listening to the rant of an old paper-n-dice D&D kid. It’s threads like this that give me hope for a better future. Wootzers.

  113. Calusirius says:

    I’m a gamer(1 of the first rl girl’s here), this is a rant.
    B team, maintain wow at the very least. animal/mob npc’s stuck in walls & tree’s, npc’s not working, the quest turn-in npc is no longer there, etc. Make sure what we have works before throwing out all this other junk we don’t want or need. And QUIT dumbing down the game!!
    WoW has dumbed down so badly that the only thing that matters is gear. Skill is non-existent, 1 – 80 in 9 days .. of course they cannot play, so hey … solution dumb the game down and make armor all important (it should be important, so should Skills, a total package). Now even dweebs watch movies/play bejeweled while raiding, does this tell you something? Yes you hear the dweebs on forums whining about how hard it is, but they don’t say they never really learned to play their toon and they are also watching movies/playing bejeweled while doing this. Have you noticed that more WoW clients have been taking VERY long leaves from wow (other games). We come back to see, if maybe, just maybe (please, please, please) WoW got its direction straight again. WoW is rated “Teen”, but is getting dumbed down to much less then teen.
    We (hunters, I have 7 on different servers) don’t care about arrows/bullets becoming 1 item. Hunters are different, its part of the package, just like druids ( I have 5 on different servers) carry more then one armor set. We cared more about the pet changes to all being pretty much the same, we understand it takes major code to make a rare (silver elite) pet be different in all the areas wow is now, we whined about it and accepted it had to be. But when the newest raids is so easy that the hardest is being farmed 2 weeks after it opened??? Get over it and do what made WoW great and everyone want to play it. Why? Because THAT is no longer true.
    My friends and I change to partial wuss armor (except tanks) just to make it interesting. My hunters/druids are all hybrids to make it more fun. We are still with WoW after all these years because we developed friendships and the game was fun, we could brag to each other about defeating XXX and it meant something. Almost every gamer knew the name of the guild that 1st defeated the new boss/raid; now who cares, it means nothing.
    We are all (us and the newer wusses you are trying to pacify) trying almost any new (and some old) game(s) that comes out to replace wow’s new boringness. btw, we are 115 wow players who are looking to leave (think wow dev team, if we are telling you, how many (and did you read trade tuesday?) are just going? Cataclysm better fix this vanilla stuff you’ve done, because if it is still a wuss game, we’re gone. WoW was the best, its pretty sucky now.
    signed
    “One of those who never complained, but had enough of YOUR lost direction”

  114. Calusirius says:

    PS
    On a business note: businesses last as long as their “bread and butter” customer base is happy. When making changes, attracting new clients, etc .. remember to take care of the clients who are the ones who stick with you and whose income you can count on. Blizzard, fyi

  115. AngryVeteran says:

    Very insightful post, and I’ll try to keep this from being a rant!

    As you said, WoW was going off the rails before Kaplan officially jumped ship, it’s been said before in this thread and a thousand times elsewhere but the biggest issues with the game come in the form of gear; its level of importance, its availability and its use as a tool for judgement.

    In “Vanilla” you had to run the same instances time and time again to gear up your character and while this was partly a chore due to repetition, for most players it never felt like a chore because when you finally obtained the items you were ecstatic because you’d really earnt them. I remember getting my Warrior full Might (Tier 1) gear in Molten Core and then full Wrath (Tier 2) gear and it was incredible. I had a status symbol, looked awesome and it was a testament to the fact that I really knew my class – I had more days /played on my Warrior at level 60 than I care to admit.
    Flash-forward to WoW today – I made a Rogue, levelled it 1-80 in a few days played and then entered heroics (no need for Non-heroic runs at 80 in any dungeon) and within a week I had full Tier 9. Great? Except I was still learning my class fully and everyone and their cat had Tier 9 because it was so easy to obtain. I long for the days where “an epic was Epic”.

    Moving on from this is it’s importance, and the above mentioned Inflation. With my new rogue with 10 days played I’d already gotten all the gear I could get outside of full-on Raiding, and decided to do a few quests to make some gold. I was utterly appauled that I could run through Icecrown and just spam Fan of Knives. At no time in WoW’s history has a player been able to gear up through non-raiding and become a God-Mode player in terms of non-raid PvE, it’s SO incredibly boring.

    Finally: Hard Modes ruined WoW. I’ve ranted (which I didn’t intend I promise!) but this is my final quibble. Part of WoW’s attraction, whether players acknowledge it or not, was defeating huge characters and difficult enemies, finally over-coming a challenge and being greatly rewarded for their sweat and tears. Now we can defeat Arthas as “casuals”. Arthas, one of Warcraft’s most famous names. But it’s ok, if we want a challenge then do “Hard Modes”. No, blizzard, thanks very much, I’d like Arthas to be incredibly tough as a stand-alone fight. I wouldnt like Arthas to have an Easy Mode and then arbitrary factors make it more difficult. Killing Nefarian, Vashj, Kael’thas, Illidan and many more was amazing – an actual adrenaline rush. Killing WoTLK content was pretty fun, but with the constant get-out-of-jail card that is “Hard Modes”.

    I really hope Cata fixes at least some of the main issues, else I’m just waiting for Diablo III and not touching Blizzard until that point.