Thursday, November 8, 2012

2.15. The Merger

Send a Memo: let's throw these two companies
together and see what works!

Culture Clash

The office was humming with new energy and chatter. My colleagues were getting up from their desks, folding their arms, listening to what the new bosses had to say. It was official and the news was now making the rounds around Denver. Our web agency had merged with a digital marketing firm across the street. Long competitors of ours, the bosses upstairs had decided to finally pull the trigger, and merge. By working together, they reasoned, we would be far stronger than if we'd remained individuals. Old Aristotle was rearing up his ugly head once again, letting loose with a barrage of flames and fury: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" was tossed back at my lap. I glanced over at Ater, who was focused intently on what the bosses had to say. Exciting? There was no question. The right move to make? Possibly, I'm certainly no expert in business affairs to say.

But 'The Whole'? Was it truly greater than the sum of its parts?

I glanced around at many of the new faces that had joined the office. Logistics were still being discussed; it would be some time before we determined which of the two downtown locations we'd flock to. There was even a discussion into keeping both. Splitting the newly formed team back up. That seemed a bit...odd, I thought. Part of the merge would involve us needing to get to know the new faces, where their expertise lay. The digital marketing firm had a deep history of creative under their belt, which bled back into their culture. Guys with frizzy haircuts, pierced lips, and tattoos of dragons with chinese kana inked into their arms made up a good portion of this culture -- the other side. They would just as easily flop down on to the company couch and fire up a game a Gears of War, rather than punch in the corporate approved 9-to-5.

This culture seemed at odds with the stiff, more traditionally run business that my agency's history was rooted in. Ran by an ex-Air Force man, things around our office was far more crisp and shiny, the khakis and business-shirts left little room for more creative work attire. If there were tattoos, I wasn't aware -- all were covered up under a sense of modest professionalism, and the 9-to-5 was not only the norm, it was expected. Sure, I got the occasional call late into the evening to fix a mistake -- but it was usually something I'd done, and was cleaning up my own mess. I was deeply curious to see how this experiment would pan out, as both firms had a solid book of work under each's respective belt, clients varying from The Denver Broncos to Quiznos. That was exciting. Something new to challenge us. Yet this would have to play out in order to truly understand what impact this merge would have on the company, on Ater, and on me.

DoD joins Dirty Horde in a clear
of a 10-Man during Vanilla,


It was during an otherwise uneventful, straightforward clear of Serpentshrine Cavern one evening, that an event took place which I will forever remember. As we moved from pack to pack, clearing Naga trash, mentally preparing for The Lurker Below in the hopes of moving through him quickly and on to bigger, better bosses, it happened. One of our main tanks, a Druid named Kizmet -- who had been with us since the early days of Vanilla -- stopped pulling trash. At first, he seemed a victim of momentary Internet lag, so we waited a few seconds to see if he would catch up. A moment later, he shifted out of his bear form, and began hearthing back to town. I had imposed a strict "you're-here-for-the-full-four-hours" rule on our raids, so players did not leave early unless it was a dire emergency.

I inquired quite rhetorically, " there a problem, Kiz?" 

His response caused my eyes to narrow with concern.

"I'm...not in the game. Trying to log back in now. My password isn't working."

The rest of us saw that someone was most definitely still in-game on his character. Kizmet's account had been compromised. We called out to people in the guild who were back in town to find out where his character was. Within seconds, reports were coming in from players who were watching Kizmet disrobe, as the hacker proceeded to vendor all of his raid gear. Guild members fired off whispers to the player, demanding they identify themselves and respond. Of course he didn't. Others started opening customer support tickets, desperately trying to contact a Blizzard Game Master to catch this person in the act of hacking an account. It was useless. Getting a hold of a GM at a moment's notice was unheard of. Support tickets sat in the queue for hours, sometimes days, before speaking to someone about a problem in-game. I sat back in my chair, and took a deep breath, while my fellow guildy tried everything he could to get his account back. Eventually, you stop struggling, when you realize there's nothing to save you from drowning, so you relax and let the water fill your lungs as you sink into darkness.

Another tank down. The keying process would need to start all over again.

In The Burning Crusade, there was only one way to acquire the gear necessary to raid. And that was to raid. Players that didn't possess the appropriate armor and weaponry were completely unable to participate in even the most rudimentary of encounters. There were no alternatives. 5-Man Heroic dungeons dropped blue quality gear, worse than Karazhan. There were no tokens, no valor or justice, and the only redeemable set of crafted gear that had any hope in Hell of working in raids was the Frozen Shadoweave set, popular among Shadow Priests. And Frozen Shadoweave itself was a known joke among the raiders of TBC; the only reason it was viable was because itemization in TBC was an embarrassment. The Tier 4 and 5 sets for a Shadow Priest were pathetic in comparison, and they weren't the only ones suffering out of the gate. Paladins were now viable tanks in Protection, yet the appropriate defense gear to make them uncrittable didn't exist at launch. It was through heavy advocacy on the forums from players like our own Bretthew that Blizzard finally swung around and fixed those gaps in gear.

Should it come as any surprise when I reveal to you that Bretthew also suffered a loss of his character at the hands of a hacker? Of course he did.

Another tank down. They keying process would need to start all over again.

Zanjina watches as players from And Justice For All
and Legion of Zek attack a griffon,

A Modest Proposal

They were a familiar face on Deathwing-US, for at least as long as we had been around. Perhaps a little more casual, maybe a bit less hardcore, but the guild name was recognizable as we passed by each other in Orgrimmar. The Legion of Zek took their name from Tallon Zek, a popular EverQuest server back in the day. EQ servers were named after popular characters in their game's lore, a pattern World of Warcraft followed suit with. And, much like World of Warcraft and each server's individuality, those players who stuck to a particular server took great pride in their home, as these players clearly demonstrated by carrying the name with them to WoW. Although I didn't pay much attention to their goings-on, I felt they were a tight knit crew of close friends that perhaps shared a similar mindset as ours. The only indication that we were aligned was due to a general lack of drama on the Deathwing-US forums coming from or pointed toward them. I compelled DoD to keep any volatile opinions to themselves. By flying under the radar, we were rarely the target of any public drama.

Legion of Zek, it would seem, agreed with this tactic.

I got my first indication that things were hitting rough waters for LoZ when their guild leader, Syldhor, reached out to me. I was surprised, at first, because my days of assimilating guilds during Vanilla were long behind me; these days, I would pick up the occasional player here and there as options made themselves available to me. So for a guild that was smaller, tight-knit, and kept to themselves to option up the automatic assimilation of their roster into mine seemed bizarre. But in talking with Syldhor, the reasons were made clear, and were all too familiar. They were struggling on the unforgiving content in The Burning Crusade. A few star players were enshrouded by a much a larger crew of complainers and has-beens, players focused heavily on the "fun" part, and not so much on the "serious" part of raiding.

"Why us?" I asked Syldhor.

"Well, you guys have a proven track record. It's no secret that you guys pulled off Magtheridon, that fight is a nightmare."

At least we agreed there.

"But more importantly, I like the way you run things here. From what some of the guys have told me, in running with your crew through the heroics and stuff, there's a noticeable bit of maturity in your group. You go the extra mile."

"That's very generous, thank you for the compliments. I certainly try, though it seems lately that it's tough to keep your arms around it. Mutual respect, that is."

"Oh, no question. I mean, I've played with these guys a long time. Long time. Well back into EQ. We're all good friends. And I don't know how much longer I have, my interest in WoW is really kind of waning. So before I cut out of here completely, I'd like to be able to leave my crew with folks I can trust to be treated the same way."

"Do they all want to come over?" I asked, "I mean, I may have spots in raid progression for some of them...but I can't guarantee out of the gate."

Syldhor hesitated.

"Some of them are opposed to this idea. And I get that. I don't hold it against them. But, they'd rather go down with the sinking ship than take one of these lifeboats. They're stubborn."

"Do you think it would help if I talked to them?"

"Well, you're certainly welcome to. But I wouldn't expect miracles."

Syldhor granted me access to their guild forums, and I introduced myself, extending an olive branch as best I could to those holdouts that stood their ground as the boat continued to spring leaks. I wasn't able to bring them around. We were the enemy, this big bloated monstrosity that stomped around Deathwing-US with an enormous roster and a multitude of boss kills they lacked. The holdouts felt we weren't small enough, family-oriented enough, that our goals were different.

What goals? To have fun? Isn't that everyone's goal? It boggled my mind why any player in a guild like LoZ, whose interest was clearly to enjoy their time in WoW, wouldn't want to spend it with a similar group of like-minded folks. We wanted to have fun in WoW, too?

Why would their idea of fun be any different than ours?

1 comment:

Russell said...

You mention that there was no justice, but badges of justice existed from the start of BC, as far as I can recall. The gear initially available from them wasn't great, but it was epic and it was ilevel 110, so it could fill in some gaps. Just nitpicking. :)