Tuesday, June 19, 2007

WoW attunement changes

Thanks to everybody who commented or sent me mail telling me that Blizzard dropped the attunement requirements for Serpentshrine and The Eye a day after I mentioned attunements as one of many reasons for cancelling my account. The timing is hilarious, but there is no causal connection, I don't have that kind of influence. Nevertheless it was both a confirmation that my opinion wasn't that far off, and a comic relief after the flood of scary hate mail from WoW fanbois who think they must mug anyone posting he's quittting.

Blizzard's marketing cleverly painted the company as something like a charitable foundation for the advancement of better games, and many people fell for that image. But in reality this is just a normal company which discovered that making good products is good for the bottom line. The people making the decisions at the top aren't really interested in the question whether reserving the end-game for the elite, the best and most dedicated players, is really better game design. They are only interested whether the prospect of this elite content keeps people subscribed to the game. When dangling that carrot stops working, they backpedal.

I do believe that some accountants and managers at Blizzard watch very closely what is going on in the game and with the subscription numbers. And while I don't have these exact numbers they do, I believe that they couldn't fail but notice that there are relatively few people in the high-end raiding dungeons every week, and a much larger number of people cancelling their accounts complaining that the end-game sucks. I don't know how close to the truth the famous Warcraft Realms numbers are, but explanations like "it's summer time" obviously fail to explain why there wasn't the same drop in numbers in previous summers. It seems obvious that the Burning Crusade initially attracted a lot of interest, and then failed to hold that interest. Of course doomcasting WoW would be premature, but any company reacts in some way if instead of going steadily up, sales and profits are down a few percent.

I think that Blizzard correctly identified part of the problem, and did a good job starting to fix it. I'm not exactly the only one complaining about attunement, this is a feature nearly universally hated, and I haven't found one blog or forum where people are really enthusiastic about it. I presume that Blizzard will continue making raiding content more accessible. The next raiding dungeon opening up will probably be the equivalent of a Zul'Gurub, an alternative to Karazhan without attunement, and maybe even slightly easier. I still think The Burning Crusade moved World of Warcraft in the wrong direction, but I'm happy that Blizzard seems to be reversing that direction, because it didn't work for their bottom line. Here's hoping these lessons learned will show up in the next expansion.

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