Has Blizzard Finally Worn Out It’s Welcome?
I can remember fondly, the time I’ve spent playing Blizzard products. If I think about it, which is something I tend to avoid, I have had about 15 or 16 really solid years of time spent in their worlds. I started as a freshman in high school, when people introduced me to Starcraft, and continued on with Diablo 2 and eventually Warcraft 3. Like any good acolyte I went back and learned the history of my games. I played the heck out of Warcraft 1 and 2 as well as Diablo. But most of my experiences, hours and hours of gaming over phone line battle.net servers, were limited to D2 as we called it and SC. Those were the days. I could not think of a better way to spend my time, and were I to go back now, I doubt that I would have done anything differently.
I progressed, as most people did, to World of Warcraft. I spent a lot of time convincing myself, even before the game was out that I was not going to play it. I spent the next six years convincing myself that I shouldn’t continue playing. Of course, there were good times and I had a blast, I mean why pony up the 15$ every month if you aren’t? The point is, I played and played and played. I didn’t think that Blizzard could make anything better.
I wasn’t blind. I knew the games had defects and bugs. I read the forums, never posting but always taking sides. I thought about how each thing I was doing didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because soon I would be getting new armor, better weapons, cooler looking stuff. The cycle perpetuated itself, over and over.
Around and around we go, where we stop…?
Enter Diablo 3. The newest click-fest that Blizzard has flung into the arena. It, like most other games does not predicate itself on the fact that technology has gotten better or that the story-line has evolved to near Pulitzer quality, but rather, that it has more. More blood, more things to blow up, more enemies to crush, kill and maim. Bigger bosses that look like WoW concept art that didn’t fly or, flew too well. More classes than D2 more customization, more, more, more. Not better, better, better.
You could easily make the argument, as most of the people who have left WoW, have, that Blizzard has reached it’s limit. Simply put, it has worn out it’s welcome and no matter now neat and cool and innovative its designers are, it can never attain the heights that it once did. That can be true on a couple of levels. When WoW was released it was a phenomenon. It took over the Massively Multi-player Online community in a coup. People who resented popular ideas hated it and then tried it and loved it. It was everything that made Blizzard great. It took simple concepts stream-lined them and made them simpler, more accessible and fun. It gave the MMO world a useable, copyable template that could ingeniously incorporate every innovative idea from the myriad copycats that spawned in its wake. It was and somewhat remains a titan of the video game industry.
Any time you get legions of fans that make ‘killer’ accusations against your game, you know that you’re doing pretty well, that you’re at the peak of the mountain top. While I remained one of their paying customers I would overhear people I did not know saying things like, “Diablo 3 is going to be the WoW-Killer” as though they were making some poignant statement.
Yeah, Blizzard is going to kill their own gamer base, genius.
I’m fairly certain that unless you have the technology that isn’t even well-outlined in ‘Inception’, capable of planting ideas that seem organic in others minds, that will never ever happen.
What might happen, is that gamers attention spans will get shorter. Which, if you played or followed the saga of WoW, which has become the main testing ground for gamer speak and Blizzards’ ideas. It has become easy to notice that gamers have less and less of an attention span, always wanting more now. Sadly Blizzard bows, giving the players exactly what they want. In return the players walk all over Blizzard and demand more. In a shameless attempt to keep their paying customers Blizzard is continually giving ground, trying not to make too big of a stand to keep their own integrity. As an outsider I am forced to wonder how much Activision has forced their hand.
WoW was not always such a cake-walk. Laughable as it may seem now, WoW at one point did have scruples before Wrath of the Litch King, maybe even up to Ulduaar. Had you broached the idea of finding raid members through a random search function and making every encounter in the desired raid easier to a game developer, they would have laughed at you. They should still be laughing at you.
I guess what I’m getting at is the fact that Blizzard conceded a lot of ground and if they aren’t careful, they’ll lose they’re long time gamer fanboys. I know I know, they already have right? Well according to them they have a base of at least 11 million WoW players paying for subscriptions, add to that whoever is still playing Starcraft 2 and the hangers-on from D2. That’s a large fan-base to send out propaganda to.
I imagine that they’ll have at least 2 to 4 million takers on day one. That doesn’t seem like a high expectation. I’d even bet that in meetings they’ve talked about the strain of taking on 10 million members right from the get go. Glitches be damned, Blizzard knows how to deal with that. They’re smooth and slick and they give the customer just what they want. They have no intention of losing their base. But they might have already cut their throats.
Taking steps to make gaming more accessible is their strategy. It will always be their strategy because the simplicity that comes with it sells. If everyone can play, then potentially everyone will. Then instead of game funding going towards the top half of innovative game play expanding the boarders and making imagination reality, it gets funneled to the bottom. Then when there is a complaint by the players there is a convenient excuse built-in to their economic and business strategy, ‘We’re making the game more accessible for the casual gamer’. What has happened is that the learning curve has been adjusted so violently that it excludes players that are far past it. It compares favorably to the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act instituted by President Bush.
In Blizzard’s defense this is the way to make money in both the long and short-term. But it relegates players who like to think of themselves as elite or hardcore to grinding and grinding and grinding for the newest reward, because that the only way to keep them occupied while the rest of the community catches on. You could argue that essentially Diablo 3 will be exactly that, a grind. It’s like being at the top end of a highly successful MMO from start to finish.
What you wonder is how long people will stick with it. When i reminisce about the time i spent with SC, D2 and WC3 i think about countless hours that I don’t even want to take back. This all started when AOL was huge, before the internet had much facility for keeping attention let alone dividing it between 5 or 6 social media sites. Add to that the myriad games, books, movies, television shows, magazines and potentially real-life friends vying for your time and it comes off as inconceivable that a large portion of the 2-4 million players that I already anticipate as jumping on board initially will have an experience that lasts longer than a couple of months.
Really, it is about time. Blizzard, like Twitter and Facebook are the antithesis of the ‘Be Here Now’ mentality. They have lent their hand to the dwindling attention spans of their player base and they have no one to blame except themselves. Perhaps finally they’ll start to see it.