Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rogueing Through Outland and Real ID thoughts

As planned, I did manage to get about 5 levels into Outland on my rogue and he's now sitting at level 63, starting to work through Zangarmash. Combat still tends to work very well as long as I only end up pulling 2 mobs or three at the most. Any more than that, and I can still use Vanish to get me out of trouble, but I've still had to corpse run once or twice, which I'm never a big fan of. As it turns out, the xp per hour for corpse-running is the lowest of any WoW activity!

I've actually debated shelling out the gold for dual spec, particularly now that I have access to Envenom and doing a second spec with Assassination for running instances. Given how squishy this toons can be and how careful I have to be with pulls even while soloing, it might actually make it so that using instances more for leveling is more competitive on an xp per hour basis than it has been with some of my other toons. I haven't actually pulled the trigger on that yet, and I'm going to go back to working on the Shadow Priest and other toons for a while, so it may be a while before I get back to that again.

Now that the whole firestorm has subsided, I wanted to add my two cents on Real ID as well. Part of what I think we all sometimes tend to lose sight of is that ActivisionBlizzard's mission is not to create or provide an enjoyable positive gaming experience to all of us. ActivisionBlizzard is a public corporation, and at the end of the day, they have a fiduciary responsibility to make money for their shareholders. They're not a not for profit or charity dedicated to improving the lives of gamers. They have to be focused on profit.

Now that's not to say that creating an excellent product and a positive gaming experience can't be part of that. There are two obvious ways for them to continue to increase their profits. One is to grow their subscriber base, and the more people that love the game and tell their friends about it, the easier that is to do. The second way is to sell more to your existing subscribers. So, we've seen sparkle ponies and pets you can buy and character customization and other features that many of the players want and are willing to pay more for.

From a business and financial standpoint, the Facebook connection is not an unreasonable one. The key demographics for both WoW and Facebook are very similar and it's pretty reasonable to assume that the average WoW player is also a heavy Facebook user given those demographics, so building a connection between those two would seem like something their customers might reasonably want.

I think the part that they missed in this calculations were the obvious privacy issues and the fact that part of what makes the game enjoyable is the escapism and the ability to be someone else. While we may enjoy both, we're playing WoW to get away, and we don't want a connection between WoW and our real world. In some ways, it's a lot like New Coke (I know - I'm dating myself here). While everyone may have thought it tasted better in all their panels and surveys, there was still a huge backlash, because what they thought might be better and what they really wanted were two very different things.

If you read ActivisionBlizzard's annual report that they sent to their shareholders last year, you'll see that they lay out 3 Core Principles that they operate by.

  • Focus their Resources Against the Largest and Most Profitable Opportunities
  • Deliver Compelling Game Experiences to Customer, and
  • Continuously Improve Operational Discipline
In that same letter to shareholder's they laid out the following about Battle.net and why that would be a key part of delivering a compelling game experience to their customers:

Blizzard Entertainment’s ongoing support of its online community is a great example of this. Blizzard expects to launch a new version of Battle.net®, evolving it into the industry’s premier online gaming destination. The service will offer advanced communication features, social networking, player matching and digital content delivery. Battle.net is designed to keep players connected to their friends no matter which Blizzard game they are playing.

While I think they viewed this as something that would delight their customers, they clearly overestimated gamers interests in having their virtual identities linked with their real world identities and may not have fully considered the potential legal exposures. Remember, maximizing your return to your shareholders isn't helped if you get sued by a bunch of people if they get stalked or attacked by nuts that you revealed their real names to.

So, it's a balancing act for Blizzard. Maximize shareholder return, and continue to delight your customers. It was definitely a misstep this time around.

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