Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Strange Dance: Blizzard community management

I was reading a recent post on Alternative Chat where she was bringing to our attention recent comments by CM Watcher on the WoW forms regarding Blizzard's stance on mob-tapping.  Currently in WoW, the game design dictates that only the first player to damage a mob (and their group-mates) derive any benefit from its death, including XP, drops, and quest completion.  This naturally gives rise to a state of competition between players searching for those same resources, and in extreme cases results in some markedly anti-social behavior as that competition increases.

It was fairly surprising, then, when the Bliz spokesperson claimed just the opposite.  In the words of Watcher, "mob tagging rules inherently reward and encourage social gameplay."

What Watcher is trying suggest is that because groups share tagged mobs, mob tapping mechanisms encourage people to group.  Not only does the CM offer that as true, but also claims that this is the primary reason why mob tagging remains in place.

On the other side of the argument are 18 pages of player posts critically examining  and rejecting that premise.  Their conclusion is:
  1. Tagging doesn't encourage grouping, it encourages competition
  2. Competition doesn't encourage grouping.  It fosters nasty behavior.
  3. Grouping with random strangers doesn't encourage social gameplay.  Grouping with random strangers is basically awkward and uncomfortable.
  4. Any benefit to quest grouping is counteracted by Blizzard's anti-grouping policies such as sharing kills but not sharing drops, penalties to xp gain, and the inability to queue for other activities while grouped.
Watcher did not take this opportunity to respond to the issues raised, however.  Possibly the dev team might do so in the future.

Customer Relations vs Community Management

So let's take a step back from this specific problem and look at a bigger picture.  This "mob tagging" issue is just a microcosm of the larger communications problem that Blizzard community managers have experienced over the past decade.

The players bring up an issue with the game. Blizzard responds with their way of thinking, which doesn't reflect the reality that the players are experiencing.  The developers often have a real reason behind and much different from the official response, but they are unwilling to share that reason, sometimes because it is unflattering to the company, but often because it is intangible and hard to articulate.

Then community managers disappear in a puff of god-like blue text and refuse to engage in continued discussion,  leaving the faintest scent of "we have secret knowledge and know more than you about our game" hanging in the air.  The community is enraged at being treated like children and proceeds to act out their tantrums on the forums.  Community managers cluck their tongues and throw up their hands:  "We can't deal with you when you are like this," they say.

I'm going to go out on a limb here.  It isn't that Watcher is wrong on both assertions. It's not that tagging rules couldn't theoretically encourage social gameplay, it's that they demonstrability haven't done so in the past ten years.  Again, theoretically, if they had increased social interaction, that would provide plenty of justification for retaining those tagging rules.   Since they clearly haven't, there must be something else going on.

Warcraft Mathematics

But in another way, Watcher is right.  The basic experience of killing 10 rats and taking their candles is quintessential to the pacing of WoW.  It is true from the lowest levels of Elywnn Forest to the max level quests of the Klaxxi.   It is the fundamental experience that is the heartbeat of the character.  It is the way that WoW measures character progress, and quest completion, and reputation gain, and gold earned, and crafting success, and nearly every aspect of the game.  
One mob killed measures one unit of effort, and that forms the metric for the science of MMO progress.  And on that unit, they have developed an entire system of mathematics that would be undermined if they began to seriously mess with it.  Consider Timeless Isle as an example.

And it is essentially different from the heartbeat of the GW2 character, for whom that pulse is the "event."  The event could be dynamically activated or it could be the static heart to be filled, but the pacing is built around participating in that event experience. The activity, killing mobs and completing tasks, is the same but the way that the activity is measured is different.

The truth is that I'm used to mob tapping rules and am not greatly discouraged by their continuation in Draenor.  However, I wish that Blizzard would stop tossing out bland assertions as if they are reasoned responses to customer needs.


  1. It is funny that the CM is saying this, while in game, in Mists of Panderia, they made a number of quest mobs essentially "multi-tappable." It is limited to those special, choke point, there is always a line to kill them mobs, but they are out there and if you get a hit in on them even after somebody else has tapped them, you get credit and the quest drop.

    Not behavior that supports the statement made.

  2. That's exactly right. So even as they protest that open tagging is not good for the game, they are heading in that direction anyway. It isn't that they can't handle the mechanism in-game, I think there is just an institutional bias away from it.