Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is the Midsummer Festival emblematic of a deeper problem?

Anyone playing WoW currently knows the Midsummer festival world event is in high gear. It started ostensibly started on Sunday, but anyone that completed portions of it last year was unable to participate in it this year due to a bug that didn’t reset any of the quests for those users. You can imagine the haranguing Blizzard took over the embarrassing issue on the official forums. And I suspected late Sunday night that it wasn’t going to be something Blizzard took a great deal of time to fix. I was not disappointed to learn that Blizzard had indeed fixed the issue by the rolling restarts of the realms Tuesday morning.

What I was surprised to learn when I was running around honoring and desecrating the fires throughout Azeroth, Outlands, and Northrend however, was that something is not right in beantown. Harken back to May during Children’s week when we learned Blizzard hadn’t updated the world event to include Northrend. Children’s week remained exactly as it was in 2008, though now we are told to expect Children’s week (again) to finally come to Northrend in path 3.2. The Midsummer Festival is exactly the same—it too wasn’t updated from 2008 so level 80’s are asked to travel back to Zangarmarsh in Outland to kill level 70 Ahune in SP. Characters that are not yet 70 have the option of killing a Lieutenant in a cave in the Burning Steppes instead. One would have expected Ahune to move to Northrend, or perhaps another creature to rear his head there with level 80 gear. Unfortunately that isn’t the case, but another strange occurrence is evident as well, and that is there are fires in Northrend to honor/desecrate but no quest or achievement associated with them. It has every appearance that work was begun on updating the world event to include the new expansion but wasn’t finished in time. Strike 2.

There have been grumblings on the official forums for the past few months questioning why Blizzard hasn’t been able to accomplish more in the game than they are. And a lot of complaining and questions about the very annoying inability to launch more instances problem that plagues nearly everyone on every server every day. Blizzard of course has put the best spin on things as they can, but it appears to me at least that Blizzard might be stretched a bit too thin on the WoW development side these days. When a company that is renowned for it’s relative polish and not shipping games or content before they are ready, to now have two back to back events in their current condition it should make one wonder what is going on.

We know that several senior developers have transitioned from WoW to the as yet un-named MMO Blizzard is currently developing. We don’t know how many developers have transitioned with them. We don’t know how many developers are still working on WoW as compared to say, this time last year. Did Blizzard perhaps move too many people to the new MMO or the next WoW expansion team? I wonder.

I’ve said this many times in the past, and I’ll undoubtedly say it again in the future. There will come a day when WoW is supplanted as the leading game in the market. But that time is not today. And it’s not likely to be tomorrow either. Every new major MMO that has been released in the past two years has been touted as the WoW killer, and every prognostication has turned out to be untrue. At this point it would take a truly tremendous game to supplant WoW, along with a healthy dose of WoW’s current players to be truly dejected by WoW. Sorry folks, I just don’t see that right now. But that doesn’t mean Blizzard should become complacent. Blizzard needs to operate as they did in the early days of WoW’s release back in 2004 and 2005 where they were the contender. They need to keep their eye on the ball and not allow upcoming products to distract from supporting their bread and butter.