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Friday, August 24, 2012

F__k that loser!

Funny that Diablo 3 might end up being remembered for three words, "Fuck that loser!", posted off the cuff on Facebook by Jay Wilson in what he thought was a private conversation. You would think a lead developer at a major gaming company would know that nothing is private anymore. In this post I aim to discuss why those three words mean far more, and how they represent a pivotal change at Blizzard. Given my previous discussions about professionalism in gaming, it seemed prudent to throw in my hat.

So what happened!?

To begin, some history for those who've not followed.

On August 19th at Gamescom the website Incgamers interviewed David Brevik who is best known as the co-founder of Blizzard North which created Diablo and Diablo 2. In the interview Brevik offered some polite criticism of Diablo 3.  He was humble, honest, and reflected a genuine respect for his fellow designers even though it was clear from the interview that he felt they had made some mistakes in their design. I'll take a moment to be truly fair; Brevik's words when translated from a less polite format are rather harsh as he is essentially saying they departed from the successful formula and made poor choices...and yet he had the grace to put it in that polite manner.

Fast forward a few days...and on a Blizzard employee's Facebook page a short conversation emerges which I have posted a screenshot (originally posted on reddit) of below for your inspection:

For the record this is not the facebook page of some random teenagers

Three words from Jay Wilson, the Game Direction for Diablo 3, "Fuck that loser." Not the pinnacle of maturity; though I suppose that should be excused as I do not expect every Facebook post to be well thought out, certainly I have made some quips with equally little consideration.

However, it is those times that we speak unfiltered by reason that we are most honest. Todd Akin is currently suffering from that; those moments when things just blurt out without thought, that your inner-most opinions accidentally find themselves at the surface.

Fuck that loser.

I cannot confirm that all of those people are employees of Blizzard; I am sure many have connections to the industry or are friends of Chris Haga. That said, those indicated in the image...Jay Wilson, Roger Hughston, Steven Parker, Jill Harrington and Chris Haga all owe the success of their game in part to that "loser". Roger at least manages to remain mostly civil...he is entitled to feel irritated by the commentary. Admittedly I would like to know from what credentials Andrew Silvernail feels himself qualified to comment.

In a long ago post I explained that when I review a game that's apart of a series I do so with an eye towards the previous games in a series. I will accept that many gamers do jump into a series part of the way. I jumped into Assassin's creed at its 2nd installment, I started Final Fantasy at its 6th, Warcraft at its 2nd. That said, I have within me no doubt that the vast majority of people who purchased and pre-ordered Diablo 3 did so because it was Diablo THREE. Sequels, by and large owe their success to their publishers or developers funds the sequel to a game that did poorly, while games as successful as Diablo 2 have sequels planned the moment positive reviews come pouring in. Diablo 3 has been in the cards for almost a decade, there was never a question...and that was because Diablo 2 was such a huge success.

I think this adequately sums things up:
"I think Diablo 3 being the 'fastestselling PC game of all time' is a testament to how good Diablo 2 was, not how good Diablo 3 is. Right?" - Taintedsquirrel (via Reddit)
The Blizzard team did a fair job; though I personally think Diablo 3 is a failure if you set it next to 2. The game failed to hold more for more than a month whereas Diablo 2 held me for well over a year. They're releasing a patch to shore up a sinking ship..the problem is the ship was not designed to float and they can't see that...but I'll save discussion of the failure of 1.0.4 for another post. I find a further irony in the mention of Hellgate: London, a game that was indeed plagued with multiplayer bugs and imbalance at release (after being released 6 months early) that actually held my attention far longer than Diablo 3 did.

I wonder if anyone at Blizzard has realized that sales do not make a game great. They might make a great deal of money; no denying that, but if that is the rubric by which we measure art then Twilight: New Moon ($709 million in 2008) is a greater work of art than Schindler's List ($321 million, approx $478 million after inflation in 2008). Under this measure, romance novels are by far the pinnacle of fiction literature (with 13.4% of the market share, larger than any other genre).

What Mr. Silvernail fails to realize is that sales of a sequel are more a reflection of the quality of the previous product, the strength of the brand name, and the size of a marketing budget than they are of that game's quality; which, while a factor, typically affects longevity far more.

Lastly, while Hellgate did fail miserably, it does not negate the successes of Brevik's previous games. For every Mona Lisa there a floor littered with failed and aborted attempts. If history remembers anything it will be those triumphs and not the failures.

The hollow apology

Jay has since released an apology, and while I am loathe to give it traffic, I will grant him the professional courtesy he denied Mr. Brevik by linking it HERE. It is everything I would expect; lofty words and textual remorse thrown out at his audience as if it were their name he had spurned. I find that the apology feels too political, as if it was written by a Public Relations student. It begins with the usual "I am sorry, I fucked up cause I was mad," moves to "I actually love his work" and begins to transition to "But we are right in our vision" three paragraphs the apologetic tone has turned more towards contradiction; fighting David Brevik's claims. They couldn't even wait a day to put out a new post in their own defense, they had to sour the apology. Then it quickly turns towards discussing why the recent patch is going to make things better and how they have apparently become aware in their omnipotence of all the things their players have been saying since release.

Did you catch that? That thinly veiled hubris...which is exactly what Jay was reflecting in that post and the sycophantic "friends" were encouraging. I have noticed in recent months and expansions a shift in Blizzard's contact with its players. Some claim it is the influence of Activision but I think it is more recent. Diablo 3's team especially speaks to its players in blue posts not as if they are respected peers with valid opinions, but as if the players are plebeian masses unable to comprehend their genius. Their posts often feel like they are lecturer and their players the student, not player and developer engaged in a dialogue from which "fun" might emerge. The way they post and speak they give an impression that they believe they can do no wrong. In some ways I can't blame them...success has a way of going to one's head, and yet I always thought that Blizzard was better than that.

Perhaps instead it is significant of a shift in culture at Blizzard. They were once that small developer; WoW's success was a surprise to even them and forced them to rapidly expand to meet the needs of their players. I wonder if in that time, in that sudden jolt of inflation they lost the pivotal corporate culture that had allowed them to so flourish in the past. I look at the comments accompanying Jay Wilson's and it looks a bit like /r/circlejerk, an echo-chamber of yes-man behavior that is just reinforcing internal consensus.

Frankly an apology hardly seems necessary when it feels so insincere. The message Jay released is so polished and 'correct' that it lacks the emotion one got from his earlier statement. Make no mistake, this post was not written in heartfelt remorse, but because it was mandated as a last effort to save face. I cannot prove it thus it is only my opinion, but I have seen how corporations act and this smells of fish. This feels too much like the small child who got caught stealing candy and is being dragged over to apologize to the store manager...he is only sorry that he got caught.

Now what?

So what happens now? I am not sure; plenty of forum posters have called for Jay to be fired but I doubt that will happen. This event will likely wash away in a few weeks. Guild Wars 2 will release, Pandaria will release and new press will cover these events. If Jay can keep his head down and mouth shut he'll probably walk through this ordeal unscathed.

For me however, it does make me reconsider Pandaria....admittedly I was not planning to buy it to begin with. Something about WoW has gotten stale for me...while certainly things have changed, it has felt more like editions of Monopoly. Sure I might be playing Star Wars Monopoly and buying Naboo now, but its still just Monopoly with tweaks.

Jay's comments just exacerbate a growing malaise I've been nursing towards Blizzard; something about their games is beginning to feel too...general. I do not want to come off as some elitist wanting "casuals" out of my games, but I do wonder if Blizzard's quest for sales numbers has clouded their ability to produce something genuinely challenging and fun. It feels a bit like they have sacrificed the ideas and qualities that built their brand name on the alter of broad appeal. However, that is more of a topic for another day, but I leave you with sadness that comes with a feeling as though an "old friend" has been lost. I find that a company for which I once had great respect and affection is not what they used to be. They can rest on their laurels, but this indiscretion did lose them one customer.

1 comment:

  1. Played D3 for about 2 weeks after release, had fun but I haven't had any desire to play it since. I played Civ 5 way longer and way more than I played D3.