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Opinion – Deplorable Blizzard Hoping Players Fix The Situation Their Hubris Created

World of Warcraft players staging a sit-in to protest the treatment of Blizzard employees.

I know much about change, about embracing the unknown that comes with moving over twenty-three times as a kid. The unsettled nature of life, the lack of or any semblance of a foundation to prepare me for future success. That inevitable sense that nothing will remain the same and it is completely out of your control. You spiral and careen towards something you never asked for and quite possibly can’t comprehend, all the while trying to put the best face on to avoid uncomfortable questions and scenarios. This had a lasting impact on me as a child and still continues to warp and curb my perspective on life today, some thirty-plus years later.

I can not fathom what the victims endured after reading through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit against Blizzard this past week. I can’t fathom working in any environment that prioritizes predatory behavior over doing the right thing. I am appalled that I have given thousands of dollars over the past thirty years to a company that has allowed this to thrive. But is this part of the larger epidemic? I don’t know. I am not privy to any additional information other than what has been released, but the narrative that has been exposed is disgusting. Does this occur at every game company or large company, for that matter?

I couldn’t imagine sitting in a meeting, watching this go on, and not do anything about it. I realize I am in the minority in that sense because it is easier to forego being uncomfortable and buy in into the status quo. But my entire life has been uncomfortable at best, so maybe I gravitate towards that and wouldn’t shy away from the type of scenarios that have been included in what was published. I started this week writing a behemoth wall of text about my foray into Final Fantasy XIV and a hopeful resurgence from Blizzard to quell the swath of players looking for more out of a developer and an MMO, but I find myself wondering if I should write about it. As I have seen countless news outlets pander to this investigation, I wonder what the fallout may actually be.

Obviously, our concerted efforts were correctly aligned, and we should expect more out of who we give our entertainment dollars to. Obviously, we need to expect more of out them, but should we have to? Should we have to remind mega-conglomerates to act decently and to incentivize them with our money to remember the golden rule from kindergarten? That epiphanic time when we worried more about recess, naps, snacks and were constantly told/reminded to “treat others like you want to be treated?”

I stream World of Warcraft collecting on Twitch and YouTube under the name thewowcollector and have been for the past year. Lately, I have been watching others stream and listening to their collective thoughts on the issue. Not because I need to be influenced, but I don’t want to share opinions that have already been plastered amongst the digital space. The victims here need to be given the space and time to heal; however, they see fit, and I have definitely decided that I will not force my opinions on those that suffered, and they may take as long as they need. We, as gamers and Blizzard as a company hopefully attempting to do the right thing, should allow those that were hurt to grieve in the way they seem fit. But where do we go from here? Do I even matter in this grand collective “we?”

Our next steps and actions are the most important as a community because we are a community. A community of players, gamers, developers, testers, business people, husbands, wives, fans, and Azerothians. I often think of Margaret Wheatley, who has spent her life working to build great communities. She stated, “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” I am excited about our community because this is a greater opportunity to band together and give credence and support to those who were hurt. To put what we care about over corporate agendas, profits, memes, and pain. The greatest sacrifice a person can make is offering support when they have nothing to gain. Coretta Scott King tells us that “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

We have one call from this moment on; to show compassion for those within our community. In this instance, some of our community members were the cause of the pain and were enabled by their superiors. This is the change we need. Players should do their part to offer support and encouragement, but Blizzard and their parent company need systemic change. It starts at the top. If we truly want to see this rectified, J. Allen Brack needs to resign. Not that he was the only complicit individual, but as a President of a company for over three years, there should have been encouraging signs of change. The investigation by the State of California was over a two-year period, covering most of his tenure as President.

If he was truly brought in during this massive swath of change, there should have been positive signs by this point. Instead, we see current Blizzard employees lambasting both Blizzard and Activision over this very same issue. At best, upon unseating Mike Morhaime, he would have been privy to the culture and should have worked to change that. I don’t expect miracles, but there should have been some outright change within Blizzard. What I wanted to read on Twitter was that Blizzard employees were excited about the change and saw some growth. But, as we have seen thus far, nothing has moved the proverbial culture meter, and they seem to be stuck. A change in leadership, culture, and support is necessary immediately.

If we want to make a change, to truly show Blizzard that it is unacceptable to hurt others, what truly matters is that we raise our expectations of society, and we shout it from the highest peaks imaginable. I am unsure of the course of my action against Blizzard. I currently subscribe with four accounts per month. Do I stop playing games? Do I stop streaming? Do I compose vitriolic impassioned letters to the leaders of a company I had applied to work at previously in hopes of some mediocre response? I look back at World of Warcraft and possibly feel that the writing was there all along. I know what I will do needs to be private. I take no joy in traversing this painful path, but I definitely do not want to detract from my own causes and feelings. I want action, I want Blizzard to make this right, and I don’t want to see people hurt.

World of Warcraft launched in 2004 and has been a successful game from the outset. Per multiple online sources, as of 2016, World of Warcraft had brought in just under $10 billion in revenue (about $850 million per year). I saw it there after reading all of this and looked at the game sans my multitude of user interface (UI) addons. The game visually has not changed ever. The UI has never been updated, and most of the core components have never been altered or touched. It was left up to the community, the creators, and testers of add-ons to improve the core functionality of the game.

This brings us to today. It is up to us once again to fix what should have never been broken or harmed. Will we band together? I sure hope so, but this will require Blizzard to think outside of the box and actually create again. Shadowlands was supposed to be something new, but nothing is new about leveling through quests, dungeons/raiding, and doing World Quests for more loot. Something has to change. I know I must change to illicit change in others. But will Blizzard comply? There are large parts of the game and their company that have not changed and remained in the mindset of business as usual. As we trudge forward, business is anything but usual.

As an aside, you can read my article on possibly switching to Final Fantasy XIV, which may be a greater possibility with each passing day.

The Possible Switch From An Old Faithful Friend

The illicit trepidation had been building for months. Sitting idly, staring at a blank monitor over the span of sixty full days, the will to take the plunge had been swelling to a feverish pitch. Could it be done? Could the staunch psychological barriers be removed? Could I break free? Before going to college, I owned a PlayStation 2. I had the Fat Model as they called it, and back in 2003, there was an electronics store going out of business, so I was able to purchase it on the cheap from Circuit City (a large, red-tiled building that often stood higher than most electronics stores). At the time, Best Buy had come and really affected their sales, so much to the point that they filed for bankruptcy.

I bought Final Fantasy XI for two reasons; I loved Final Fantasy games, and this one came with a free hard drive! The Fat Model PS2 had the physical space to attach the hard drive, which was necessary for the size of an MMO (it also increased the hard drive size of the entire system). Before the PlayStation 2, we had to save games on memory cards, which was another expenditure old-time gamers had. I dabbled a little in Final Fantasy XI, but it had some awful design flaws (when you died, you lost experience) and some odd gearing choices (from a visual perspective). I didn’t play it much, but that was my first experience with an MMO.

This is what my warrior looked like for much of my playtime in Final Fantasy XI.

Towards the end of 2004, I had an opportunity to play World of Warcraft, a game that was my first time playing PC games on my potato of a computer. I had no idea what I was doing as I traversed across Azeroth with my Dwarf Hunter named Obi. My greatest achievement was saving up enough Rune Cloth to earn the reputation with the Night Elves, so I could buy a tiger. I once was invited to a Troll raid (which I later learned was Zul’Gurub), where we sat at the entrance for three hours, waiting for the raid leader to arrive. Once there, we spent six hours fighting bosses and receiving loot (well, others received loot, I was not a member of the guild, so I didn’t), but it was an intoxicating experience at that time. Coordinating so many other players to achieve a common goal was amazing. I took a break when real life got busy, as it often does, and came back just before the expansion Cataclysm launched in 2010.

Cataclysm launched in December of 2010, so for the past eleven years, I have been entrenched in battles on Azeroth and the surrounding cosmos and ensconced in collecting and leveling characters. This past year, I started a brand-new account to try to collect everything in the game. I have collected approximately 31% of all items in the game and still have a multitude of things to acquire. It has kept me interested in a game that has long periods of nothing new between content and has allowed me to play through the wanes that convince other players to take time away from Azeroth. Shadowlands, the newest expansion, released on November 23, 2020, to an eager group of players excited to exit Battle for Azeroth, one of the less enjoyed expansions thus far.

Once an expansion is released, Blizzard will release patches of new content that usually are released three to four months after the expansion. This time was different. We were different. And Blizzard has become a different company over that time period. Shadowlands Patch 9.1 was released on June 29, 2021, in what has become the longest patch of any expansion. But we are different as players, aren’t we? It seems we are burning through content at a breakneck pace, and Blizzard is delivering content at a slower pace. But now, things are different. The release of patches and dates and launch windows have dissipated into the nether, and we are outright disinterested. Blizzard was a passionate company built by gamers for gamers, with their mantra of releasing games when they are ready, not when a publisher or a “suit” demands its release. Through June of 2008, Blizzard was published by Vivendi Game until their merger with Activision in July of 2008. At the time, Bobby Kotick and Brian Kelly retain a 24.4% stake in the company known as Activision Blizzard. Since that time, there is a myriad of theories, tin foil hat articles, and blatant decisions that have occurred to alter this narrative.

From games being rushed, cancelled, and not meeting expectations to massive firings, $250 million dollar bonuses, and sexual harassment lawsuits, this is not the Blizzard we have supported over the years. It has been slowly bubbling since 2008, but with former owner Mike Morhaime leaving and joining a company called Dreamhaven, things just don’t feel the same. It could be hubris, it could be indifference, but World of Warcraft has a wealth of issues that stem from the game just not being fun. The current expansion has no new features, just borrowed power tossed upon new zones, and although they are stunning, the game feels warn and tired. World of Warcraft is the cozy blanket we have grown accustomed to, and as of this writing, swaths of players have fled to different games, most notably Final Fantasy XIV.

I had been eager to hop over and tried it but kept finding it difficult to break away, to add another monstrous title into my dwindling game time. But maybe this time is different; maybe the fleeting integrity and apathy from Blizzard will give me the push I need. Without further ado, I have started my journey into Final Fantasy XIV. Does this mean I will give up on my eight World of Warcraft accounts? Probably not, but this seems as good a time as any to start.

One thing Blizzard does a remarkable job of is to make it easy to give them money and start their products. Asmongold, the streamer with tons of views, stated as much in one of his streams. FFXIV, on the other hand, has decided to take the alternate route, and make even the simplest action as logging in, feel cumbersome and exceedingly difficult. It took me over an hour just to get my username, and password squared away. I was locked out of my account by security questions that I never set up and obviously did not have the answers to. I finally got signed in, and the game was up for maintenance. One of the best differences is that maintenance occurs until 3:00 am, which is more conducive to playtime, whereas Blizzard has maintenance occur from 7:00 to 8:00 am Pacific time.

My first foray into FFXIV, and I have been thwarted by my first enemy. I went back to World of Warcraft and farmed Island Expeditions for pets and mounts while I waited for maintenance to culminate. The following day I loaded up FFXIV and logged back into what I am forever referring to as Character Generator Simulator, where you are given a multitude of options for your digital avatar. So many options that most play-throughs of the character generator are over an hour in length alone. I finally made my character, and then I was left with the overwhelming Character Class screen. There wasn’t much information in-game to go off of, so I leaned towards the Monk because I know they punch stuff.

Just before loading your character, you are given the opportunity to select a region and then select a server. The Great Exodus (when players have been trying out FFXIV) is real, and I am not sure if it’s solely due to Asmongold trying it or not, but all the servers sans one were closed, and even then, oftentimes, I was unable to make my character. Again, another barrier just to play the game. It was frustrating that my only meaningful interaction was with making my character, nothing to do with combat or anything impactful. I had to slow down and re-evaluate things; am I so spoiled that I feel being rushed into the game is the only way?

A New Perspective On An Old Loop

Playing an MMO is a unique gaming experience, yet the entire concept is predicated on a loop where we begin fighting enemies, and we soon increase in power based on the gear we acquire from beating said enemies. As we grow in power, we need to find new enemies to defeat, and the process repeats itself over and over again. After a while, players bore of that repetition, and seek out new challenges, generally in larger-scale conflicts with the same premise.

This is catered towards a certain player. There is nothing wrong with this loop, but it is important that we portend this article with that confirmation. We, like World of Warcraft players and community members, seem to be stuck in this pervasive loop that just repeats until we find a way to incite change. It doesn’t seem like Blizzard is too concerned as long as money is coming in. I hate being so cynical towards something I take a great deal of joy in playing, but it seemed to be the old way of doing things. Profits before anything else! I understand businesses are in the business of making money, but putting those profits before basic human rights and decency can’t continue to occur.