The RealID controversy – a management studies perspective

13 July 2010 § 1 Comment

In the last week, Blizzard has caused much unrest in the fan community by announcing that, come Cataclysm, everyone would be required to post in the official forums using their real name. The official thread ran at 2500 pages (read again – pages, not posts), and most blogs ran negative comments about it, citing privacy issues, possible harassment, and the lack of any real advantage. After a very vocal week, Blizzard’s CEO Mike Morhaime issued a statement, retracting the earlier position.

This is a case where the management student in me comes to the fore, and would dearly love to know more about the company’s internal processes. In general, Blizzard needs to play a very difficult balancing act: on one hand, listening to the customers is as essential as in any other business; on the other hand, Blizzard’s customers tend to drown any signal with noise, and are notoriously bad at taking a step back and making suggestions that are good for the whole game, and not for their favourite class/spec/role. So, much more than a simple listening job, Blizzard employees need to develop sensitive filters, to find out the good feedback they can use to improve the game while standing firm on the simple qq-ness of most posts.

Blizzard’s attitude to the forums has changed a lot with Wrath – and the arrival of Ghostcrawler was probably a big part of it. The presence of a friendly crab who knew how to keep his cool even in the face of the most virulent flames, and always offered some friendly advice, information and clarification means that the forums suddenly became a much more active, more two-way form of communication. I’m not saying the trolls went away – simply that GC (and the rest of the blues active on the forums, from Nethaera to all the others) helped clarify what people could expect as information coming from them, and this created some more structured posts.

The thing that struck me the most about the whole thing is that, from the announcement onwards, Blizzard never stopped listening. It would have been easy to lock any thread that started to complain about it, or to ban everyone. Quite the opposite, Blizzard made an active effort to keep the thread up: 2500 pages is a LOT of time over the thread limit on the forums, so I’m sure they increased the limit manually multiple times on that one. They banned people that went out of bounds, of course, and made sure the feedback was consolidated in one thread as opposed to spread over multiple ones. They also refrained from intervening often (which probably would have derailed the debate), but did let us know a couple of times (through Neth, if memory serves) that they were listening and reading all the posts.

This suggests that their position was a lot less clear and definite than their initial statement led us to believe. There probably were some doubts or conflicting opinion within the decision making team as well, and the fan reaction gave one side additional arguments to block the change. I’ve heard many theories that this was all part of an Activision ploy to turn Battle.net into a social network site – but while I can agree that the goal indeed seemed to capitalise on social networking, attributing it to Activision over Blizzard seems, at the very least, unproven, if not outright convenient for a “heroic game publisher Blizzard” vs “big corporate giant Activision” narrative that seems a bit simplistic.

There is one other thing that struck me: most of the blogs I follow had a restrained response to the change. No-one threatened to cancel their subscription or worse: most remarked that, if the change went live, they would stop posting on the forums, and limit themselves to the actual game. Maybe I was just lucky, and I know that some blogs DID actually stop over this (and I know of at least one person who decided to take a break from the game in part as an answer to the RealID change), but for the most part I did not see a “this is the end” (at most I found comments about “it would be ironic if Blizzard killed their own game with a change they themselves made”, which is a legitimate concern, imho). So the inner troll in me that rages at people raging actually had to be pleasantly surprised and go back to his cage.

As always, it’s not clear what the long term effects of this controversy will be. Many people are saying that they lost their trust in Blizzard (like Panzercow), while others are proud that Blizzard had the courage to change their mind so publicly (like Miss Medicina). I think it is too early to say which side is right: I am probably more in Medicina’s camp than Linedan’s, but this is much more due to a general attitude in life than any hard data. What I think is clear is that Blizzard is made of human people: they can make mistakes, and they can change their mind, and we, the fans, can help them if we argue our case coherently and clearly, instead of raging and trolling.

Also – damn, I would love to study Blizzard’s inner organisational workings more closely. Looking for anyone in a management position, Blizzard? ;-P

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Ruby Sanctum impressions

1 July 2010 § Leave a comment

Yesterday we went into Ruby Sanctum, so I guess it’s time to share my impressions – and to rant a bit…

Impressions

The instance looks really nice, and it has some quests to give some back story to the raid (a welcome improvement over its Obsidian relative). It also has a LOT of trash for our current standards. Interrupt the invokers, and cc the commanders as much as you can: they have a buff which increases their damage and the damage of any friendly mob in range, by an amount proportionate to the number of mobs in range. In other words, if you pull the commander and 4 more mobs together, the buff will make everyone hit for 100% more. Clearly, Blizzard was trying hard to avoid people just running around getting all the mobs and letting loose with the AoE.

The mini-bosses, we basically powered through. Baltharus has a whirlwind, which means melee needs to watch out and/or move out of it. He also has a buff to his damage, so the person who gets Enervating Brand needs to move (quickly) away from everyone else. Finally, at 50% he splits up: the second tank needs to pick up the copy, and move it AWAY from everyone else, as double whirlwind is bad. Focus dps on the original, the copy will despawn. Saviana is a ground phase/air phase fight: have a rogue/hunter de-enrage her, and when she flies up, have everyone spread out, so that Conflagrate only hits one target. If the tank gets conflagged, have the OT (or a dps plate using cooldowns) pick her up. General Zarithrian is a total joke: just keep dpsing him, when the adds come just move away from them, as they will just sit somewhere and spam Blast Nova.

So then we get to the main course of the evening. Halion is not a hard fight, but not a walk in the park either. I would expect PUGs to have trouble on him for a while, while regular groups will probably get him after a few tries. This is a link to a good strategy for Halion, so I’ll just add a few bits and pieces.

1. P1 is very easy: positioning the dragon on one side of the circle, and not in the middle, will make things easier, but it doesn’t really matter. The key thing is the dispelling of the Fiery Consumption debuff – if you have experience with Necrotic Plague on LK, it’s a similar problem.

2. In P2, the aura damage is actually relatively high. If you’re running with 3 healers (we switched to 3 after a couple of attempts), you want to have one healing the raid and one healing the tank. Halion’s damage is not a lot, but the aura combined with the dragon does add up. This is kind of the tricky phase: once you get the laser beam of death right, you’re set.

3. P3, keep 2 healers inside and one healer outside – we went with melee inside and ranged outside, but because of a slight imbalance in numbers, one of our ranged had to come inside. Just be mindful about it, and it shouldn’t be hard.

So, as I said, the tuning is not too bad: this is no Gunship battle, but it’s certainly no Lich King, which is overall quite appropriate. The lack of Garrosh’s buff of pity of course makes it seem harder than it really is – but it really isn’t, and enrage is not an issue, so as long as people stay alive, you will get it.

The rant

We all have experienced the big gaping holes in Blizzard itemisation. So, an additional instance, especially a bridging one like this, was the perfect opportunity to fill said gaps. Personally, I would have liked to see an offhand (with no mp5 or hit rating) or a pair of bracers (again, with a spellpower/haste/crit combo), as either pieces is missing from any ICC-level loot table. Of course, a caster shield would have been nice, given that the one on Sindragosa is not exactly in easy reach of most casual players (and the same goes for the 25-man Marrowgar one). So what do we get? All stuff with hit rating or mp5! *sigh*

This of course means that I will personally run the place once on normal, once on Heroic, and then be done with it. Not exactly sure what Blizz was thinking, in terms of staying power for Ruby Sanctum, but I’m pretty sure 2 weeks was not it. Now, of course, if some of my co-raiders realises that there’s some great pieces for their class/spec on Halion, we may run it more. But yeah, personally, I am a bit disappointed…

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