I didn't want to write too much about Blizzcon, partly because everyone else in your RSS feed is already doing that and mostly because I just feel very 'meh' about the company right now. But I thought the 'sorta apology' tied in well to my post from two days ago about game subscriptions. The apology that kicked off the festivities was fine. But we've heard some variation of "We hear you, and promise in the future to make it better" for as long as Blizzard has been a company. It might as well be their motto. It rarely matches with any actual action taken by the company. It is unusual that it was attached to the word 'sorry'. They don't usually break that word out until they've hit the 'mainstream press is noticing' level of notoriety.
(On a side note, I feel my usual ambivalence towards their actual announcements. My backlog is very full and my ability to care about games that I can't actually play yet just isn't there. That's been true for nearly 3 decades for me, so that's just business as usual.)
Back on track, in my last post I mentioned my excitement at game subscription services. A low monthly fee that acts as a content discovery vehicle is something that works for me. But Blizzcon does remind me of one negative aspect of these subscription services, as well as just any live service in general.
I cancelled my World of Warcraft subscription after the big brouhaha. As I mentioned in my post at the time it wasn't some form of formal boycott, nor did I feel like I was sending any sort of message towards Blizzard. Video games are entertainment and its hard to enjoy something tied to a company behaving badly towards something that actually matters. I removed WoW from hard drive to free up some much need disk space.
But GOG's rerelease of Warcraft 1 and 2, as well as Diablo 1 remained on that hard drive. Granted, I didn't play them, but I didn't remove their icons from my desktop either. Being tied to the hip with a misbehaving company on a subscription feels worse than having a static game. After all, I already paid for Warcraft 1. That deal is done. There is no outstanding relationship with Blizzard on that one.
But a subscription fee, or just a live game with microtransactions is a different deal. It's a relationship. But by it's nature it's always a one-sided one. My side of the relationship is an emotional one. I'm fulfilling my need to be entertained. Maybe more if we accept that video games are art and can deliver emotions beyond just bliss. But the company's side of this relationship is pure business. Sure there's some give-and-take. Microsoft wants to populate their service with games people want to play. That's acting on feedback from their playerbase, but only to the extent that it increases sub numbers.
Blizzard is in this place now as well. Blizzard hasn't been in the business of caring about player feedback in a non-business way for a while now (see the entirety of the Battle for Azeroth beta). Changes made to retail WoW are focused on increasing subs and nothing more. Blizzard leadership relented and shipped WoW Classic purely because it made too much fiscal sense not to.
This makes it either a one-sided relationship, or at least a very shallow one. Not a problem on the surface. But companies like Blizzard, Microsoft, etc. are motivated to pretend there is more to it than that. Blizzcon is a way to monetize product announcements marketed as a community event. As their CEO said during his apology, Blizzard is motivated to bring gamers together through 'epic entertainment'. Quite a grandiose statement. One that would be more believable if WoW's 15 year old social features were more robust than instant messaging programs from two decades ago. There is no 'higher standard' at Blizzard. There is no 'grand vision'. It's just a video game company that made it's name years ago because it was willing to put the spit shine on releases where other companies would have shipped subpar work out the door. That hasn't been the case for nearly a decade now.
Blizzard gets to charge a premium for its relationship with it's userbase. Blizzard gets to force users to use it's launcher to play its games, and innudate that launcher with it's own adds because of its relationship with it's userbase. It's a tangible, but emotional connection that means real dollars for the company. Blizzard had to make an apology because being perceived as special is worth real world dollars. Otherwise, 15 dollars for a WoW subscription, plus 50 dollars for an expansion every so often, doesn't make a lot of sense in the world of Game Passes, Humble Bundles, and Free to Play titles.
Live services and subscriptions have made content cheaper than ever and that forces companies to find something else to charge a premium for. For Microsoft, Game Pass will subsidize hardware sales and Gold Live subscriptions. For Blizzard, it's an emotional attachment to the IP and the company itself. For me, Blizzard lost the ability to charge that premium.
Users leaving a company because of various reasons has and will always be a thing. But for the next several years it seems most video game companies are really going to need to be on their best behavior and their reputation and reliability are going to matter more than it ever has.
I know this was more rambly than my usual posts, but this has been in the back of my mind for a while. I don't really want a closer relationship with random corporations. I'm perfectly content with purchasing a thing and then said company fucking off. But that's not really the reality for much of the current gaming landscape. Subscription services, I hope, are the way to make the best of that.