|"Portrait of a Tigole Bitties Wiping to|
The TrollIt 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."
"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 YouTigole 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 DirectorThe 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.