Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lenient or just resigned?

Syp asks the interesting question of why new games are judged more harshly for technical issues than old games. Specifically he is completely right that World of Warcraft is in a terrible technical state this week. Blizzard added a Valentine event, as part of which people get extra "Lovely Charm" items automatically spawned in their inventory with a certain chance every time they kill a mob that is at least green to them. You then turn ten charms into a bracelet, which you can hand in to the 4 faction chiefs of your side every day to get "Love Tokens", with which you can buy various fluff needed for various achievements. Apparently having to check at every kill whether you get a Lovely Charm as additional loot is putting some serious strain on the system. This makes all sorts of other activities, like regular looting, opening your mail, even loging in, incredibly slow. The more other people are online killing mobs, the slower it gets, so at prime time World of Warcraft is nearly unplayable right now on some servers, especially the older ones. Apparently other servers have better hardware which deal better with the added loot traffic load.

So why not more angry rant posts about this technical issue, foam coming out of our mouths complaining, and all that? And why would we complain so much louder if exactly the same happens to a new game? I think part of the answer is simply resignation. Playing a game for a long time creates a barrier to exit, you are more reluctant to abandon a character you built up with a lot of effort than to abandon a new game. Thus we are resigned to the fact that in any case we aren't likely to rage-quit WoW because of temporary lag. It's not as if we hadn't been there before. We *know* what is going to happen, Blizzard will pretend for a while that nothing is wrong, never publicly admit any fault, and will fix the problem in a week or two. Worst case scenario is the issue going away without intervention when the Valentine event ends. At which point we will all be back happily playing, having completely forgotten about the technical issue. A new game is disadvantaged by not having such track record. Players are more worried because they don't know how fast such problems are getting fixed in the new game, nor how frequent those problems are.

Don't mistake this as an excuse. Of course World of Warcraft being hardly playable during prime time for several days on many servers is not acceptable. Given the huge profits World of Warcraft makes, players also definitively have a point when demanding from Blizzard to upgrade the older servers that show those problems more often. But I'm pretty certain that Blizzard has a far more pragmatic view of what the definition of "acceptable" is: If hundreds of thousands of players would quit World of Warcraft citing "lag" as reason for leaving in their exit interviews, the problem would get fixed a lot faster. But with the players being resigned to sit that one out, Blizzard is taking their sweet time fixing the problem.

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