Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Warcraft 3 (Months Since the Hearthstone Incident)

I read my RSS feed as part of my everyday routine. Nowadays, I read it while doing my crafting dailies in Everquest 2, but before I simply read it during lunch or other down time. That RSS feed has a lot of MMO blogs, some specific news sources about my other interests like motorsports, and a couple video gaming news websites to keep me generally up to date with the industry.

So consider me plum surprised to find out that Warcraft III Reforged, a game that I had at one point pre-ordered back in Blizzard's more halcyon days, was already out.

And consider me slightly less surprised that they fucked it up.

Or at least that's what I'm hearing. I cancelled my pre-order after Blizzard's nonsense regarding the Hong Kong protests back in October. It is, of course, difficult to parse some of the concerns through all the typical Internet whinging, but it does seem pretty bad.

To start with, the fancy cinematics shown off at Blizzcon? Not available anywhere in the actual game. And they promised 4 hours of the stuff. Even worse, they still use these graphics in the official marketing. Massive UI changes are missing as well. This leaves 'Reforged' as not much more than an HD update of some of the content.

Then they consolidated the original Warcraft 3 game into the new Warcraft 3 Reforged engine. This sorta makes sense, they did something similar with the Starcraft 1 HD upgrade. People who owned the original game through the Battle.Net launcher now have the Warcraft 3 Reforged engine, but are unable to toggle over to the HD graphics. The Classic game and it's executables are gone. The problem is that the Reforged client is missing quite a lot of functionality that's existed for over a decade in the original Classic client. Ladders, clans, and general community features are gone. Competitive matchmaking is gone. And perhaps more importantly custom games are missing.

And that last one is a biggie. Blizzard wants iron clad control of custom content for Warcraft 3, and presumably, all of their games going forward. They don't want a repeat of DOTA, the mod for Warcraft 3 that Blizzard ignored until Riot made their own version in League of Legends and Valve hired the original designer to make DOTA 2. Now, if you make any custom content compatible with Warcraft 3, Blizzard owns it in whole. And I do mean whole. You forfeit all moral rights, which means that not only can Blizzard take your design, creative, and tangible work, but they don't even need to thank you in the credits while they do it.

I mean who isn't chomping at the bit to work for a multi-billion dollar entertainment conglomerate for free? Custom content is what's kept Warcraft III relevant for so long. Sure the campaign is well regarded, but lots of games have had popular single player modes. Warcraft III had legs because the custom content that's been made for it over the years, and Blizzard just snuffed all that out for no reason other than fundamental misunderstanding of why people make this stuff in the first place.

The sky isn't falling. This isn't the first piss-poor HD upgrade and it won't be the last. This certainly isn't Blizzard's first time letting the lawyers and business types run amok (RealID anyone?). But Blizzard really needed a win, and somehow fell flat on it's face. Blizzard screwed the pooch so hard they went back in time and made one of their previous games worse. They are literally finding new and innovative ways to fuck up.

Adjacently, the Blizzard merchandise store has been spamming my inbox a lot since just after Christmas. I don't like spam, but I do like Blizzard's merchandise team, they make legitimately good stuff. The clothing I've bought from the Blizzard store was high quality and has stayed looking spry even with my lazy laundry habits. I have a Heroes of the Storm duffel bag that has survived as my carry-on luggage and has taken an absolute beating without losing one stitch. What I'm saying is that at least one department of this God forsaken company is actually matching that premium image Blizzard keeps projecting.

Anyhow, I though this email bombardment was pretty unusual, at most they send maybe 2 or 3 emails a year during some of the bigger sales. So I scrolled down to the bottom of the most recent email and clicked unsubscribed. This not only brought up a web page that 'conveniently' never loaded the unsubscribe form, but I noticed it wasn't a Battle.Net website at all. It was Fanatics.

For those who are not hardcore American sports fans, you probably haven't heard of our friend Fanatics. They make sports apparel. Really, really, bad sports apparel. Stuff Wal-Mart would be embarrassed to sell in their stores. If you hang out in communities such as Reddit Hockey Jerseys you'll find out just how bad a reputation Fanatics has. Considered on par with with wearing actual sacks of flour, anything you buy from the local ballpark isn't likely to survive more than a wash or two.

So of course the one functioning bit of Blizzard has been replaced with cheapest possible 3rd party contractor.

None of these things are that big of a deal. But it's been a nasty couple of years for Blizzard. As I stated way back when in October, I'm not interesting in boycotting Blizzard. I'm not going to make a political move that the other side isn't functionally affected by. But I was uninstalling Battle.Net because I play games for fun and nothing about the company was facilitating that.

But now it's evolved into just outright ambivalence. Blizzard is the company that fucks things up. They used to make good stuff and now they don't. Their portfolio is Overwatch, a couple of live service games that are functionally abandoned, and some other miscellaneous garbage like Hearthstone for people with more money than sense. Shadowlands isn't going to be that good. The next Diablo game will probably start off poorly and eventually become fine but won't set the world on fire. We aren't seeing another RTS anytime soon. There are fewer and fewer genres for Blizzard to capitalize on with their trademark polish because the rest of the industry is more competitive and Blizzard couldn't polish it's own brass. Nothing from here on out is going to challenge the games industry in anything other than how far you can milk once beloved IPs.

Can I go back and retroactively call this a boycott? Because this is the easiest boycott that ever happened.

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