Blizzard and I have a lot of history. Some of the first computer games I ever played were Warcraft 1 and Warcraft 2. The first game I ever played online was StarCraft. Blizzard has been a part of my gaming life for at least a decade and a half, if not longer – it’s hard to remember exactly what year it was I got my introduction to them and we hit it off really well. Their games made me happy, and I loved the communities they’d built. For a while, in my eyes they could do no wrong… but over time… that has changed. I think we’ve been drifting apart for a while, and I’ve just had a hard time recognizing it… but recently, it’s been becoming more and more obvious.
Their decisions lately are resulting in games that are pushing us further and further apart. World of Warcraft’s new ‘condensed’ skillset resulted in leveling experiences that was so pathetically easy a two-year old could roll on the keyboard and make it through (despite having no heirloom gear equipped, my wife and I were basically killing every enemy in at most 2 hits regardless of which attack skills we used). StarCraft II’s expansions have been delayed to the point that Blizzard has declared that Legacy of the Void is going to be treated as a standalone – and the team StarCraft 2 scene has been neglected to such an extensive degree that I simply stopped enjoying playing. Diablo 3’s team implemented Season Exclusive loot which is just a method of catering to people so desperate to feel special that they want something ‘exclusive’ in order to reward them for playing the way they want to play anyways. However, these are all relatively minor… there are three big, relatively recent ones, that really have hit home that Blizzard and I just might not belong together anymore.
Hearthstone… oh Hearthstone. This is probably the most insulting design decision in history, yet people are eating the game up. Blizzard has made the statement that they feel their community is so horrible, so awful, so full of assholes that they cannot be trusted to communicate in an online game. I’ll be honest, one of the reasons I play online games so often is because I continue to meet new friends in them, I continue to run into nice people everywhere – and ALWAYS more frequently than I run into jerks. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing Diablo 2, League of Legends, White Knight Chronicles, World of Warcraft, or StarCraft 2, or even watching streams on twitch, …. no matter where I go online, I’m constantly running into nice people. And that’s why I love online games. The nice people. Hearthstone, by removing chat entirely, has effectively removed the possibility of making friends within the game… and, by removing that fundamental interaction they’ve also made sure the game feels – to me anyways – like a solo experience. When I briefly played it, I genuinely felt like every game was against a relatively advanced AI… and that got boring fast. This is old news, but it was the beginning of what might be the end for us.
Heroes of the Storm is a game I’m actually quite excited for. But everything I’m hearing about it recently is making me more and more confident that it is not going to be a game I’m going to want to play long-term. I’d already heard a few bad things about it before Blizzcon… things like the fact that you don’t have access to all of a hero’s abilities until you’ve played them a few times. But Blizzcon was where I realized, again, that I just wasn’t who they wanted to have playing their game long term. They announced two things… first, there would be no true solo queue. Solo queue, for those unaware, is a ranked game mode in which you’re matched with a random team – a true solo queue requires that you be unable to pre-group, or at least mostly unable to do so – relying on the matchmaker to make the team. League of Legends, for example, allows you to queue with one other person, and get matched with 3 random players. Heroes allows you to queue with a full team if you want… and let me tell you: there is nothing more frustrating than being a solo player matched into a team with a 4-man premade team who are all communicating through external voice chat and not talking to you at all. You just feel like this awkward fifth wheel and the entire game becomes boring and bland.
The other decision, relating to Heroes of the Storm, that they announced is that they’re planning to implement the ‘Prisoner’s Island’ methodology for people who disconnect or leave the game, meaning that if you disconnect or leave games you’ll get matched ONLY with other people who do the same. I won’t go at length about this, because far more intelligent people have discussed everything I’d like to say about Prisoner’s Island… but it is a concept I am strongly against for a variety of reasons. The most serious of which is that it is writing people off. You’re basically saying that ‘because of your actions, you deserve to only play with the worst people in our game’s community’… you might as well just ban them if you feel that strongly about them. Yes you ‘can escape’ but… if you’re stuck with other people who leave games constantly… you’re going to be forced to play out 1v5s and 2v5s constantly, which is a horrible experience. And, it also punishes people who have poor connections or computer issues. Just overall, it seems like a horrible concept. Fortunately, the game is still in Alpha, so the above could change – but judging by Blizzard’s recent track record, I don’t see it happening. They haven’t abandoned any of their other bad ideas after all…
The final one I’d like to mention is Overwatch. Overwatch features wacky characters with amazing and unique silhouettes and zany backstories…. and you never get to see them. I will never, as long as I live, understand why developers of first person games care about making interesting characters. You never get to appreciate the characters when playing the game. If you’re going to go to this much effort to make the characters awesome… at least let me play in third person so I can appreciate them. But I’ve talked at length about my feelings on first person games, so I’ll leave it at this and if you’re interested you can read more here.
It’s strange, because as Blizzard and I have drifted further and further apart… I come to respect them more and more as individuals. With the exception of a few blatant displays of hypocrisy, they are making all the right moves from a PR standpoint. Mike Morhaime’s speech at the start of Blizzcon was a perfect example of this… they addressed everything we needed to hear without blatantly becoming a part of the controversy. A brilliant tactic, and one that is exactly the way I wish more people were handling the recent issues. We’re letting things blow up to the point that we have to name the controversy, and I think it’s really stupid of us overall… so I hope more people can take their queues from Blizzard in this regard. I also thought it was great that they gave the first prize in the cosplay contest this year to someone who was never able to make it on stage rather than disqualifying her based off of that. Her costume was incredible, but it was damaged in the process of making it on stage… and they even showed a picture of the costume during the closing ceremonies to ensure we all got to appreciate it.
This isn’t to say that it’s going to be a messy breakup… I’m not going to uninstall all of their games and never pay attention to them again. I’m not big on the silent treatment, after all. I am still going to give their stuff a try – except Overwatch for obvious reasons – and I still have respect for them. I think I’ll just have to have a casual acquaintance with them now. I respect what they’re doing – except for Hearthstone – I just don’t think I’ll be a big part of it anymore, and I don’t think I can justify them being a big part of my life anymore.
So Blizzard, it’s been fun, and here’s to the good times we shared… but this is goodbye. Not forever, but at least for now.