Blizzard: Not One Of Us

There is no question that the strong majority of North American MMO players play World of Warcraft.  Even assuming a paltry 3 million players are still playing in the twilight of the latest expansion, that is still a magnitude more active players than the next similar MMO in line.  Other MMOs like FreeRealms and Runescape muddy the waters as to what is an active or subscribing player or even similar game.  But, defining MMO is irrelevant.  What is relevant is World of Warcraft is the god-king of MMOs, and like a good god-king, it views itself as above the rest to the degree that they might as well not exist.

I first noted this on Massively, which frequently puts out excellent industry round-ups.  The three I remember: Redefining MMOs, Making it as an MMO blogger, and an interview with the most influential woman in MMO development had no Blizzard involvement!  Their silence seemed to say a lot.

Now to be fair, Massively has a great sister site called WoW.com, which is filled to the brim with World of Warcraft news and articles.  I don’t play World of Warcraft, but I find WoW.com to be a fantastic news site.  Yet, even they seem to get no direct contact with Blizzard.

I asked Massively’s Shawn Schuster about this phenomenon of silence from Blizzard.  He said that Massively leaves all World of Warcraft / Blizzard happenings to WoW.com, which makes sense.  Shawn went in to add that they are, however, a tough nut to crack.  The few times Massively has contacted Blizzard they have been met with silence or polite refusal.  The same is likely for WoW.com.

Could this be an issue of bad blood with Massively and WoW.com?  It turns out that I could not find any Blizzard contact with TenTonHammer or MMORPG.com either.  This creates an awkward situation where the news sites feel compelled to run content on World of Warcraft because believably a large amount of their readership plays the MMO, but they are then ignored by the company that they cover.  If this is not a bitter situation, then they are true professional journalists of the highest sort.

WarCry seemed to be the lucky news site when they were allowed an interview with Blizzard for the then-upcoming Wrath of the Lich King.  This interview still pops up as a special content icon on WarCry’s front page.  This is interesting because I find WarCry’s news much less helpful than the other three MMO news sites I mentioned.

Then there is WorldofWarcraft.com, which is Blizzard’s own news site.  Sure, it is the game’s website for patch notes, the game guide, and other things, but they also provide articles almost every day.  Then there are the official forums where Eyonix and Ghostcrawler are fairly active.  Still they are less active than others.

 Like I said, I don’t currently play World of Warcraft so my emotional response to their silence is pretty low.  The companies I seem to follow and love seem to reach out to news sites, blogs, podcasts, and forums.  Their market share ranges across the board.  Is this a condition of royalty?  Has Prince Blizzard walked in to the crowded, adoring room so many times that it no longer feels the need to look back? Do the other MMO companies reach out due to necessity, or does the fact that they aren’t the market leader give them more freedom to communicate how they wish?  I do know that I am grateful for all the developers that read and communicate with our humble blog and all the news sites and blogs I follow.  It gives me the impression that those developers are really just one of us.

–Ravious
that’s what they say. it’s not what they mean.

25 thoughts on “Blizzard: Not One Of Us”

  1. I wasn’t surprised to see no Blizzard involvement in the article about women in MMO development. Their team is notable for the very small number of women involved. (I remember they recently put out a picture and there was only one or two female faces?)

  2. This is just how Blizzard is, I wouldn’t say that it’s because they don’t want to – I just doubt they have the time to interact with sites as often as many other companies. Or they just don’t want to, or need to. I wouldn’t say that they are silent all the time though, I’ve had the chance to meet people from teams belonging to all their three major titles by now. It’s *not* easy to get a hold of them for interviews based on e-mail or any other electronical means, though, and my meetings with them have always been at Gamescom (or at Blizz HQ).

    I don’t think it’s because they feel like royalty. I think it might be because of wanting to control information much more tightly than others, something I believe their marketing deps think is very important when even the slightest misinterpretation could cause an uproar. I am surprised that they have allowed Ghostcrawler to run free for this long. :D

    Activision probably has something to do with this as well, protecting their investement. They are just a completely different beast than other MMO-companies.

  3. Blizzard used to reach out to news sites before WoW was on the scene. When WarCraft, and StarCraft were still fresh and being played religiously, they were active in the web and blog community.

    This was, however, well before they were a billion-dollar company. Too bad, really, because they were an integral part of how we got news, of how we knew what was going on before our next rush match.

  4. I prefer my dev companies to sit in the shadows and have no contact with the players other than announcements and the game itself. As soon as a dev mentions something on a forum, then everyone expects to have all their questions answered instantly, and if that doesn’t happen (because the devs are, you know, working on the game) then it’s just “fail” this and “can I have your stuff” that.

    Though MMOs are founded on the community, it’s that very community that drives me away from them.

    There was an article on Kotaku or Massively or something a little while ago, damned if I can remember what it was or who it was by. But in it a dev says “game design isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.” I’m totally behind that. When you pay your subscription, you’re saying “I like your product,” you’re paying the cover charge to get into the club, where it’s either explicitly or implicitly understood that you’re going to follow THEIR rules. Paying your monthly fee doesn’t give you voting control over how the company is run and what direction the game is taken.

    I like my companies quiet. I want them to make what they want to make, rather than try to be friends with the players and appease each and every one. I really believe that a truly great product can only be made by developing a vision and sticking to it, not waffling at each stage because someone’s whining that it’s too hard.

    Blizzard is there to make Warcraft, not to have drinks with you on Friday night.

    Anyway. I think I got off-topic. C’est la vie.

    1. True, but MMOs, unlike normal video games (except now with the DLC wave), are services. You aren’t just paying for current access. You are also paying for the future too. You are investing.

      Plus, you seem to focus on forums whereas I was focusing on the “safer” news sites, blogs, and podcasts, which is more of a one-way communication to the community.

  5. Blizzard has always felt me introverted. Even when I played it. I believe one podcast (the instance) did have an interview but when I listened to it, it was short and pretty PR and scripted. It seemed the podcasters weren’t able to ask their own questions but I dong know that for certain of course. :)

  6. Good read, but I think you might be presuming too much by saying the “strong majority” of players play WoW. First, there is no distinction that I have found that shows how many of those WoW subs are completely unique. I will guarantee that many players have more than one account.(Remember, you said “popular” not “profitable.”) Second, just because the numbers are not so clear as to how many players there are for other games, you cannot dismiss the number of player that do play Free Realms, Club Penguin, Runescape, DDO Online (they just said they have a million now?) Mabinogi (has claimed over a million) and of course MapleStory (the site claims to have 10’s of millions worldwide.)

    In other words, while WoW might be able to point to those 3 million subs (the rest in China are not subs, the players pay by the hour, and if a player logs in they at least once that month they are counted as “sub”) I will guarantee that there are many games that are coming up close behind. They are still king, yes, but they are not by such an incredible amount, and certainly their leadership will not last.

    And while it’s valid to look at only the NA market, to be complete you need to look at the global market. After all, the companies and developers do. WoW is, again, not the most “popular” game world-wide. Other games hold that title. Also, while it is probable that it IS the most profitable in China, it has been argued otherwise. And again, they are not subscribers in China, they are hourly players. Even without the world-wide market, adding up all the players in the US show that most actually do NOT play WoW, but are playing other games. Doesn’t matter if they are spread out in other games, they are still avoiding WoW.

    Sorry to de-rail (sort of) but making the most money does not go hand in hand with being the most popular or with being the largest. Influence can be felt from a myriad of other sources outside of WoW, and outside of making the most money.

    As far as their silence, it is one of the reasons that I sort of laugh at all the coverage that a single game gets. How many podcasts are dedicated to the one game, talking about the same patches, the same expansion? While I think it is a wonderful game, do we really need 100 podcasts dedicated to it? Their silence (they are friendly in person, though, and answered my questions neatly) is commonly known. Why should they decide to be on one show or website over another? After all, there are probably hundreds to choose from.

    Beau

    1. Good point in the last paragraph. First, I will address your attempts to derail. :P I agree, generally, with what you say about worldwide view, which I don’t have. I know what goes on in NA, and to a lesser degree EU/Oceanic. That’s about it. The KR and other Asian MMOs are so different, they are alien to me.

      Anyway, back to the 100 podcasts. Blizzard’s hands may indeed be tied just due to popularity. Except that even with 100 podcasts there will be some great ones. Does Turbine practice favoritism by going to certain podcasts and not others? I tend to doubt it. They are just going where their voice will be heard by the most. So yes, Blizzard may be eschewing 95% of their podcasts by interviewing with a few, but that’s the way of business.

  7. Side Note: I forgot to link to that chart that we used on Massively the other day, but it says (looking at it) that the US had “46 million players.” (age 8 and up.)

    Take away the 3 million for WoW and you can see most are not playing it.

    Beau

  8. I see a lot of this same sort of thing in rally racing. The newer, less winning teams will spend a lot of time talking to any fan that stops by the pits to chat. They will give spare parts to their competitors. They will stop to pull out another team from the ditch even though it costs them time. They are having fun and it shows.

    The guys at the very top don’t talk to anyone. Too many fans, too many interviews. Too competitive to stop and pull someone out of the ditch, because the margin of victory at the top can be a portion of a second. All business all the time.

  9. As a consumer of MMOs I prefer companies that keep their own counsel. I really did like it better when developers names were largely unknown, game mechanics mysterious and new game content appeared out of the blue.

    Having played through that period into the current age of a full press launch for every new vanity pet and game developers acting and being treated like c-list celebrities, I can’t see how I have benefitted. I can see how the companies and the developers have gained, though.

    Blizzard just seem more focused in their P.R. They don’t need to waste resources on blogs and specialist gaming sites because they, rightly, calculate that the influence of those media are minimal on their profitability. I actually prefer that to the mutual backscratching engaged in by the smaller fish.

    Taking up Beau’s oft-repeated point about who and how many people actually play MMOs I really feel it’s time we came up with some better definitions of what we all mean when we talk about MMOs. I work in a bookstore. We’d never be able to have any meaningful discussions on bookselling trends if we couldn’t use any descriptors smaller than “Fiction” and “Non-Fiction”.

    MMOs need clearer branding.

  10. Bhag: If you are questioning the 46 million player number(or whatever number you think represents the player-base) because you might think that many are not playing “MMOs”, then what do you think they are playing? Massively Multiplayer gaming has a broad definition, as it should.

    As far as if Blizzard is being wise by avoiding the kind of common contacts that we have seen, it should be noted that they are very responsive for some. When I wrote for Ablegamers, they were more than responsive. Same for any of the reporters that come to them in person. Possibly it’s a matter of time and resources, being that they already receive thousands of requests for contact probably weekly?

    Beau

  11. Recently there have been a couple of Twitter based Dev chats with Blizzard so it’s not unconditionally true that they maintain radio silence across the board. Even so, I’m also unsurprised at this as well. Aside from learning how to make games better, I reckon they have also learnt what PR mistakes not to make; there are lessons to be learned from the likes of Paul Barnett, Brad McQuaid, John Smedley and even Richard Garriott who have all receieved backlash from various interviews and commentary they’ve been involved in. (Gods help us if Peter Molyneux ever decided to dip into MMO building!)

  12. Blizzard is kind of close-lipped compared to a lot of other developers. But their distance from the WoW-specific press is especially odd because Blizzard is involved with the community (on the boards and in twitter chats), while also having a lot of contact with the general gaming and even game development press (just search for “blizzard interview” on the web). They even had a big Game Informer spread after Blizzcon on Cataclysm.

    Maybe they are blacklisted? I know at least WoW.com does print leaks. Or maybe bliz has coincidentally crafted a media strategy that includes everything but game-specific press, I don’t know.

  13. Blizzard’s always been fairly insular. I’ve known a lot of developers at a lot of MMO companies in the past, but I’ve never had a contact in Blizzard. Maybe I haven’t pushed enough, or been lucky enough to have someone I know get a job there.

    The big reason Blizzard is insular is because they can afford to be. As a small developer, I had to go out and get noticed. I did the right thing and became part of the community (instead of being a drive-by shill), so I’m still around even though I don’t necessarily need the attention right now. (Perhaps in the future when my new project is announced….)

    There’s also the problem of backlash. As Dragon mentioned above, sometimes big PR has caused a backlash when things didn’t work out so well. Lots of people would already love to see Blizzard tumble and fall, so no sense in giving those people the ammunition from the horse’s mouth. Words twist in funny ways when they’re outside their original context.

    I think Blizzard’s approach probably is the best from a developer’s point of view. Less time spent on trying to “deliver a message” from PR, or getting caught up in arguments from people who just like a good flamefest. Sadly, most of us don’t live in Blizzard’s definition of reality.

  14. Blizzard has always “kinda” been like this. They’ve been less talkative over the last 6 years and change, of course, but they were never really known for their PR and the getting involved and all that jazz.

    Bliz’s phrase “When it’s done” (… so stop breaking our balls about it) largely predates WoW.

    But this is neither here nor there. Yeah, maybe they don’t give interviews or appear in the blogosphere, but on the other hand they do Blizzcon. Not all communication has to be via a journo website. Diff’rent strokes and all.

  15. Seems pretty simple to me. All Blizzard does is steal ideas from other MMOs, changes them a bit, and calls it a day. Why should they interact with anyone?

  16. Actions speak louder than words. Not just with Blizzard, but with any set of developers. Until it’s a set of patch notes or an expansion in beta, basically everything said has to be taken with a grain of salt. Blizzard simply gives us less salt to choke on until the food arrives then most companies.

  17. I’m doubtful Blizzard needs the exposure offered by sites like Massively or mmorpg.com. Blizzard can post on an MMO site and get thousands of readers, or post on their forums and get millions.

  18. I got the impression that the core people of WoW only number about 100-200. Having a playbase of many million means they have to ration their public contact very carefully.

  19. Companies invest in marketing and public relations to ensure they garner traffic and interest from the target audience. I hardly think Blizzard falls into that category.

    Perhaps this silence simply stems from the fact that they don’t need publicity beyond what the advertising dollars bring…

  20. Maybe I’m recalling badly here, but wasn’t Vanguard accused of being on the other end of the spectrum in that it was SO involved in the community that many folks felt that said involvement led to a very unfocused development and a “trying to please everyone” environment (amongst MANY other issues) in the end?

  21. Sony was the same way before WoW came around – when you are the reigning king, so much so that attempts to unseat you fail miserably, you end up with a big head. AO, CoH, UO2, AC, AC2; none of these had much more than a slight impact on the user base. It’s safe to say that the release of the absolutely horrible GoD expansion cost them more subscribers, at least temporarily, than any of these games did.

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