Thursday, June 6, 2013

3.8. Changing of the Guard

"Portrait of a Tigole Bitties Wiping to
F@#$cking @#$ASDF@#$?&^%&!!1!1!"

The Troll

It was all over the MMO news sites: Tigole was stepping down from World of Warcraft. One of the visionary designers responsible for our daily addiction was moving to a secret project. Jeff Kaplan's parting post assured us his "partners in crime" were very capable game directors themselves; that WoW was safe and in good hands.

Calming anxieties and assuaging fears wasn't something Tigole was known for.

Tigole's farewell post smacked of Blizzard's modus operandi for public communications: always attribute the company's success to the team. There were no rockstars at Blizzard, because everyone was a rockstar.

I outline this, because it is a company ideal that runs contrary to Tigole's own personal beliefs.

Recruited into the Blizzard ranks by Rob Pardo, his guild leader in the EverQuest guild Legacy of Steel, Rob saw something in Jeff that translated to a winning strategy. Jeff had that magic combination of first-hand experience, design intuition, and gamer sensibilities. Back then, games like EverQuest boasted no more than a quarter million players at any one time. Whatever it was that held MMOs back from breaking a million subs, Pardo must have known Kaplan held the keys to unlocking. By adding Tigole's vision to the core team of WoW game directors, the competition would drop off the market faster than casuals drop off the Battle.net ladder.

From 2000 to mere months before the launch of World of Warcraft, "Tigole Bitties" posted updates to his guild's website on their raid progress, voicing his now legendary opinions along the way. Tigole 's posts were legendary in that they were peppered with profanity and spared no fellow guild member from shame. Each entry proudly boasted LoS's accomplishments in the EQ raid game (with an occasional nod to his then competition/now co-developer Furor, aka Alex Afrasiabi). Subtlety wasn't Jeff's strong point. What his posts lacked in subtext, however, were accounted for through his personal style that delivered its message with all the grace of a sledgehammer.

Patches weren't delayed, they were conveniently delayed. Bosses didn't lack loot, they dropped NOTHING. Fellow LoS members weren't guildmates, they were slacker guildmates too damn lazy to press the screenshot key. Venril didn't drop a staff_098, he dropped a shitty_staff_098. Gorenaire didn't kill you, he raped you.

Tigole wove a tapestry of sarcasm and entitlement with every post to LoS's homepage, but things got especially colorful when he turned his attention to EQ's developer, Verant:
"Now Verant...and I know someone from Verant will come across this...I don't know what you guys were smoking when you decided to stick a big ass dragon in one of the laggiest zones in the game, but whatever it was, please send me some of it to Tigole Bitties -- you have my home address on my registration. I'm guessing you guys were smoking some real good shit at the time."
"*Druids now have the ability to revive, feign death, backstab, and mesmerize mobs.  This was done in an effort to further Verant's Vision that we could create a class that can do everything yet still complain."
"Please Verant -- log in and send me a tell. It's obvious your Quality Assurance guys are far too busy making sure the fire beetle pathing in West Commons is working right to spend any time on one of the main mobs of your new expansion. LoS will gladly give you some QA time if you'd like to witness your programming at it's worst."
"Reasons of the Day to Say, 'F Verant'"
For a gamer, pretty standard stuff, really. Except with one difference: It was ostensibly the kind of stuff that was about to form the competition.

Mmm, Yes...Let the Hate Flow Through You

Tigole got into his element he channeled his rage directly at Verant's incompetence in designing an adequate video game. This fury was released in gradual outbursts over many months during his time in LoS, eventually culminating in a rant that exploded on their website in January of 2002:
"I know let's talk about Verant and maximizing the time of their expansion. Let's face it, VI needs this expansion to last a good long while. So what do they do? They add keys to get to uber mobs, thus slowing down the discovery of Luclin. That I can understand. In fact I like that notion. It seperated [sic] the men from the boys in Kunark with VP keys, and likewise proved who had their shit together in SoV with Sleepers. But in Luclin it seems, rather than having keys drop off of HARD mobs (a.k.a. EARNING your key to the next step), keys seem to be RARE drops off of RARE spawns -- thereby rewarding the Lucky and Unemployed. Now to add to this retarded idea of RARE drops (rather than drops off of HARD mobs) you have all you gimps out there who decided to passover the necessary key step to get to uber mobs and you fuckers exploited the doors. Well congrats on your awesome EQ FIRST, dumbasses, and as a result of your ub3r l33tn3ss Mages get a big phat dick in the ass nerf of CoH. And when CoH gets nerfed is it just the mages that get punished? Oh no, it's everyone. Stuck in traffic on the way home to a raid? Tough shit -- not there on time, you're fucked. Good fucking going exploiting dumbasses and good fucking going Verant for not having half a clue that if you put locked doors in people are gonna get past them. Here's an idea VI -- rather than nerf mages, how bout you go check on who's killing mobs behind locked doors -- look at their loot -- then see who has key. No key? Conquest their ass. Don't fuck the rest of us over because some lazy gimps can sploit a door. And for crying out loud, put keys on HARD mobs -- not rare drops on rare spawns. Are you looking to reward the skilled players or the lucky and unemployed?"
It should be pretty apparent by now where Jeff's gaming beliefs fell. Tigole was hardcore. Tigole loathed casuals.

If you're a gamer, you know this communication style is commonplace, and certainly not unique to a player clever enough to switch the letters of big ol' titties around. If you're not a gamer, your initial revulsion or hesitancy to accept anything this person has to say with any degree of credibility isn't incorrect. To gamers, especially the most hardcore kind, gaming is priority #1, everything else is noise. There are dragons to slay, after all.

That's the unfortunate thing about Kaplan's unique talents: gamers are proud to have someone like Tigole in their corner. They're authentic. They know what the hell they are talking about. Kaplan's vision for a better MMO world is a panacea in the eyes of gamers, but carries the unfortunate side-effect of painting us unflatteringly to everyone else. That vision is difficult for laypeople to spot, because it's hard to see past the nerd rage.

Public decorum notwithstanding, Tigole understood what MMO players needed. There was a pecking order in EQ where the strong survived and the weak were pounded into dust. If given the opportunity, you can bet Kaplan would reinstate that pecking order. His own words sum it up best:
"Basically, killing stuff was a PRIVLEGE [sic] not a RIGHT."
Tigole raided, slew internet dragons, and pounded his virtual chest on his guild's website, like any proud gamer would today. Buried deeply in that rage was talent -- the eye for winning game design, which Blizzard would readily accept.

But how readily would they accept his finesse with words?

The Cruise Director

The lack of a professional affiliation affords you some literary freedoms. Publishing a rant peppered with profanity and insults is no longer an option once you represent your employer. When you pull on the company shirt, pin the badge to your lapel, and go on-the-record, the days of speaking freely without fear of repercussions come to a screeching halt. You have to represent yourself with a degree of diplomacy and tact. Your emotions need to be checked at the door.

Once behind the wheel, the tables of irony were turned. WoW players flocked to the Battle.net forums with their own rants, giving Tigole a taste of his own medicine. His strategy was simple: keep all communication to a minimum. Stay focused on the design of WoW and let the ranters rant...which was probably a wise strategy. Who better to understand the ramifications of feeding the trolls than a troll himself? Getting into it with entitled players feeling like they weren't getting their money's worth might well be an exercise in futility.

Besides, Jeff understood the vision for WoW: some content simply wasn't going to be doable by everyone. Players were going to have to accept that and either put forth some real effort...or leave. The tears of players unwilling to make this effort rained down on his emotionless roof, washing down the gutter where they belonged.

By and large, this is how Blizzard curated the community in the days of Vanilla and TBC: strictly, and with little speculation on design. Tigole and his cast of Community Managers had no problem stating explicit facts or acknowledging identified bugs that would be fixed. This was WoW's cruise director in action, fixing what was broken with MMOs, and deflecting dissent with absence. In fact, Tigole's first public appearance on the forums didn't occur until late into Vanilla, as he went on public record to state that, yes, Blizzard was investigating a problem with C'thun. But demands for changes, particularly requiring an easing of the difficulty, fell on deaf ears.

Whether intended or coincidental, this reining in of whiners had a profound effect on the community. They remained at bay -- miniature troll fires sputtered and burnt out with no oxygen to fuel them. Research predating the advent of virtual communities has long since proven that it is very often the situation, not the individual people involved, that produce abhorrent behavior. A community without a tight grip on rules and moderation inevitably devolves into a cesspool of trolls and whiners. It isn't because those people are inherently troll-like or whiny by nature; they are simply placed in an environment that allows the behavior to spread like a virus. Blizzard controlled the behavior by ignoring it.

This strategy proved to be a double-win for Kaplan. By sticking to reporting facts, acknowledging issues, shying away from speculation and complaints, he kept focus on the design of WoW while simultaneously keeping Tigole Bitties in check. Meanwhile, the WoW community gained no opportunity to misbehave, learning quickly that their public freakouts produced no results. In the Vanilla era, raiders raided and casuals kept to themselves, and if either group were unhappy that the content was too difficult...this was the world's smallest violin, playing for you. Like a tantruming child left alone, the tears eventually dried up.

Still, he struggled with those early posts, the ones he felt compelled to respond to. You can see it in the forced restraint. It must have taken every ounce of energy just to write a measured response to a raid leader who felt the TBC keying was too difficult. World of Warcraft Game Director Jeff Kaplan "partially agreed, and partially disagreed." You can bet Tigole Bitties had a more colorful take prepped and ready to fire.

Tigole never believed that everyone was a rockstar. The gamer mentality he brought to the Blizzard design table assured gamers that the more they played...the harder they played...the more rewards they would reap. That "killing stuff" was not a god given right bestowed to every player that happened to plunk down a monthly sub. That if you wanted glory, you quit whining, got off your ass, and earned it.

Did his mentality change, somewhere along the way? Or did he suppress his long held gaming beliefs behind a public relations mask? It didn't matter. He was gone, and we wouldn't get the chance to find out.

17 comments:

Dalans said...

Damn straight. Fuggin cacksuggers.

Mystidruid said...

As always another great read :)

Shawn Holmes said...

@Mystidruid,

Thank you for your continued support! As you've probably observed, comments have been suspiciously quiet on this post.

Perhaps I hit a nerve? *shrug*

Anonymous said...

With raids easier there is less to strive for and IMO it dramitically changed the game dynamics for the community and overall attitude.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous,

I'd adjust your sentiment slightly and say "with raids easier (that issue out rewards whose difference is negligible), there is less to strive for..."

You're absolutely right. Back in Vanilla & TBC, raiders boasted gear so grandiose in power that nothing came close. In WotLK, the gear was still tiered, but the gap closed significantly.

By Cata, the difference in rewards was non-existant: 10 gear and 25 gear was equal in power, and the differences between normal and heroic were so unnoticeable, they held little prestige.

Kelden said...

I do not often agree so wholeheartedly with Canadian types, but in your case I will make an exception.

Aubiece said...

Cata is what broke WoW raiding for me.
The 10m and 25m shared lockouts
and the same gear.
The was vibrant 25m Pug raiding
on my mid pop server in WoTLK.
Alt raiders and 10m raiders formed the Pugs raids.
Not in Cata or MoP, I have not seen
a 25m Pug raid

For some reason Blizz decided that 10m raiders "deserved" the same gear and presitge as 25m raiders. Instead of raising the bar and bring 10m raiders up, 25m raiders were brought down by the change.
Not sure what the thought process was, to me it was very flawed....

Shawn Holmes said...

@Kelden,

Amen, brother.

@Aubiece,

What saddens and frustrates me the most is that this all could have been avoided with simple changes: keeping the lockouts separate and keeping the gear tiered (a la WotLK) would have still provided the necessary structure to keep that implicit "ladder" in place, and keep players incentivized correctly.

He (GC) was trying to fix a problem that didn't exist (players felt compelled to run 10 to gear for 25) , and then turned right around and re-instituted it all over again with LFR.

Mackeyser said...

I really think gear should be de-emphasized to a significant degree. It's a tool. As I'm sure you would agree skill >>> gear so why have so much psychology revolve around something that's not en toto a measure of success? I mean, sure, there are dps checks, tank gear checks and healer checks, but that's part of this whole gear paradigm that I think is broken.

I'd rather they de-emphasized gear importance and had rather plain looking gear for each tier.

What would set apart serious, accomplished raiders from casuals? Skins. Skins from achievements. Skins from heroic kills. Skins from Metas.

We already have the data. We already know what we need to know. Serious players want acknowledgment, validation and a visible sign of their badassery. Casuals (and semi-casuals who get prison love from the RNG loot allocator) want to be able to do current content and at the very least have access to tools that make that a reasonable expectation.

I could see everything from spikes or glow or effects on shoulders that ARE NOT on the casual versions to effects in town. Like can you imagine a meta that gave you a flying litter in town (four guards carrying you in a carriage) that came with banker, repair/vendor and reforge npcs that only YOU could use? You'd have the entire town at your carriage and EVERYONE would be able to see it!!! That level of convenience especially in towns as spread out as Orgrimmar and Stormwind would be VERY welcome.

And that's just ONE possibility.

I just think they emphasis should be placed on SKILL and less on gear. Sure, gear will still be needed and folks will still need their upgrades. But adding Skins and other effects would allow for that differentiation.

Imho, of course...

Shawn Holmes said...

@Mackeyser,

So...I'm on the fence about this.

If you can guarantee me that all classes are balanced equally (with the standard rock-paper-scissors mentality of not any one class dominating all others), then I fully support a skill-based system.

However...

How many times can we count where the classes haven't been balanced well? And that there were clear dominating classes in that pool, that could wreak havoc on any and all?

This happens because the delicate balancing act of keeping all classes equitable is tough. It's a tough job. They've said this. We know this. In a perfect world, where the classes balance out, skill drivers would be king, and I'd be fine with that.

But we don't have a perfect world. It's rife with Hunters (currently) Disengaging into a group of players and blowing them all up. It has Death Knights, who once shut down all casters, stand there and whack on Shadow Priests (casters!!) as they laugh and face melt the DK to death. The list goes on.

In this never-ending world of imbalance, gear separation is the only thing that gives us equal footing. It levels the playing field a bit more, and gives us an opportunity to shine when in normal situations we fail miserably.

Well, at least in Vanilla it was like that.

Now it is separated into PvP and PvE (mostly), but the game continues to be balanced as if they were never separated.

Gear helped us widen that gap. Now, there is one less reason to put ourselves through that grief. When our rewards don't match our effort, we get disenchanted with the concept of putting in more effort.

The flipside? "OMG NERF DEATHKNIGHTS GG, SHADOWMOURNE KILLS EVERYONE LOL L2SKILL"

...and so it should! It took me six months to put it together. My reward *should* be to wail on every class in the game.

Mackeyser said...

Well, I understand your concern.

My main was an ally paladin, Mackeyser, that was a tankadin in TBC. I remember like it was yesterday the post that showed me the way, "how to get 11.5k HP and uncrushable pre-kara". The WoW forums no longer contain the TBC era post, but some bloggers have archived it.

You can see it here:
http://chicanery.fibergeek.com/2007/05/15/how-to-get-115k-hp-and-uncrushable-pre-kara/

I had to retire that toon because quite literally in 8 months NOTHING dropped for him in Kara. 2.1 was pre-badge. RNG wanted nothing to do with me.

Later, toward the end of TBC, I'd been raiding on my hunter I leveled a shaman because I watched a friend absolutely destroy things on his and constantly get yelled at because on aoe pulls, his chain lighting would fly around like a storm. I loved it! I delved into the theorycrafting of Ele shaman immediately and while there were many fun elements, CLASS BALANCE in PvE wasn't one of them. At first, I just had fun with Ele and I just strove to improve my play and didn't stress over class balance. However, once I got serious about raiding on that toon and competing, balance became an issue and I finally semi-retired that toon out of disgust for Blizz's refusal to address Ele's class balance issues for 3 straight expacs.

So, again I understand your concern.

I'm, not saying there are easy answers nor am I saying that the importance of gear should be completely mitigated.

I would suggest it be...reduced.

Would that put more pressure on Blizz to balance classes? yeah. Are they capable? I dunno. They've made very nice strides in some areas, but then again, Ele is in the same crappy place it's always been. However, now that they've simplified the talent structure and given themselves more "dials" to turn, it should be attainable.

No easy answers, but since they aren't going back to the LK model of 4 different iLvls (or 3 if you have 10H = 25N), something like that would be better than what they're doing now.

I think. Maybe.

Anonymous said...

LFR? no. LFR gear is pitiful compared to the valor gear. People have always felt compelled to be on top of the valor gear progression. LFR awards valor, that is why even raiders go, because with harder raids, esp at progression beginning or in a turbulent guild, you cannot be sure you will cap for the week so LFR helps hit it.

Valor gear was intented to fill gear "gaps" from raiding, however early in progression everything is a gap, and it is the best gear you can get outside of drops, so you have to be on top of it.

Shawn Holmes said...

@Anonymous,

What's interesting this paradox of raiders running LFR to fill those gaps is that it is exactly what GC was trying to prevent at the start of Cata, with what he perceived as 25s running 10s to fill that same gap, and not wanting them to burn out.

...and of course, it is happening much the same way, all over again. Only *now*, GC et al. claim "nothing's forcing you to run LFR" -- nothing forced us to run 10m during Wrath! We did it because we gave a SHIT about progression, and that was the best way to reduce error in the absence of core raiding pieces!

R said...

Catching up slowly. :)

"He (GC) was trying to fix a problem that didn't exist (players felt compelled to run 10 to gear for 25)"

I see this argument quite a bit but I'm not sure how accurate it is as a general statement. Personally, I ran both 10 and 25, normal and heroic, in Wrath (ToC specifically, as I recall)... but ran different toons. My 25 toon was my mage. My 10 toon varied, it was my druid, pally, DK... depended on the week. Because of that, I came out of the 4 lockout week without much pain.

The rest of the players in my 10-man groups also played in my 25-man groups but to a man/woman, every single one of them ran the same toon through all 4 lockouts every week. I can say with absolute certainty that THEY were sick of it long before the tier ended. When Blizzard announced the shared lockouts I cheered as loudly about it as any of them because I saw what it did to them.

You're welcome to make the claim that it wasn't a problem for you but to claim that the problem didn't exist is absolutely incorrect. I suppose it's possible that the other 9 members of my 10-man team were the ONLY 9 in the game who had that issue but since Blizz made the change, I'd assume it was a lot more than that.

"... and then turned right around and re-instituted it all over again with LFR."

I agree with you in large part about LFR (and now Flex), though... I don't feel obligated to run it but I know plenty who do. It's definitely a source of concern. I see strong arguments both pro/con how Blizzard have set things up. For me and many it's a pro (it's there when I want it and it's worth doing when I do) but there are a lot of people who aren't in that camp. Feeling obligated to do something is a NASTY condition to have in a game like WoW, which needs to be able to provide enough content for players with a lot more time and much different skillsets than we do.

Shawn Holmes said...

@R,

Thanks very much for the feedback! Hope the recently posted re-write of Part II didn't throw off your reading schedule. :)

The split/shared lockouts is a slippery slope, but what keeps me from sweeping it under the rug is the very issue you pointed out re: LFR, and its contradiction to the reasoning GC used to merge the 10/25 locks in Cata.

He looked at ToGC and claimed: "Everyone's running everything. We don't you to burn out." The very best players seeking progression *definitly* ran these multitude of locks to the extreme.

That's not a fault of the design, though. That's a fault of the player feeling compelled (either themselves, or via pressure from their raid leader) to run those instances for gear that closes the gap.

For a good many of us, we picked and chose as we needed to. Some ran full 10/25 locks. Others ran just 25. Still others ran 25, but filled 10s as needed, during times of emergency open spots, etc. We took advantage of the choice by self-regulating.

Now, much like the kid that chews gum in class so much that the teacher has to ban gum from all kids in class, GC decided to take away that choice, as his perception of its "abuse" was leading to burnout. So, while I certainly will not claim that it *wasn't* a problem for others...the lack of self-regulation by others impacted us in the end, when that choice was ultimately stripped away.

What added insult to injury was the fact that GC thought he would "save me from burnout" by forcing me out of one set of raids -- when all I ended up doing was using that time I could've been helping 10m teams in my guild finish content, and pouring it into administration to ensure my 25m team didn't accidentally lock the wrong characters out each week.

Moris Gonzalez said...

I played everquest for 5 years before I started in wow. Raiding in wow was easy mode even in vanilla wow. Although I'm glad we did naxx. Dod raider Cycotic here, wish I would have stayed for bc, Dod was a very friendly place. But I kinda disliked how me and dandrak got screwed on our last piece of t2.

Anonymous said...

And that secret project was Overwatch(Or the MMO that preceded it). Long live KAPLIN!