On The Nature Of Datamining – Could PTR Files Lead Us Astray?

An interesting question that popped up in my head after my last post, and something that I think deserves mentioning – Blizzard knows how to use PTR to build hype by controlling what files are in the build, which files are encrypted, and what is held out of the data. At this point, we expect that Blizzard puts files in openly to build hype – to show us what is coming and allow us to discuss and dissect it, enabling them to then wink and nod at the spoilers from PTR datamining when discussing content further ahead in the future.

However, my question is this – what stops Blizzard from weaponizing the PTR against us to misdirect?

The patch 8.3 PTR, even from the standpoint of how little content was in patch 8.2.5, was up incredibly quickly. Not the fastest they’ve ever released a PTR patch, after all, 7.1 was up just two weeks after Legion launched, but it was somewhat conspicuous. A lot of us had speculated it would be up sooner than later, but it seemed that surely Blizzard would be discussing it more in-depth at Blizzcon. So the nearly-finished, highly-polished state of the PTR was pretty crazy and unexpected. The first build had a full Assault schedule, full Horrific Visions, a full Dungeon Journal for the new raid sans boss portraits, voice acting, a full slate of story quests, artwork including icons and 3D art for all the new raid drops, and basically felt pretty complete right off the bat.

Given that, the whole of the situation seems too good to be true. Then, Blizzard released a second build for the PTR in just 3 days, which contained even more updates, names for the raid armor and weapons, and a bevy of files, some of which are encrypted and some of which are not.

These files, as we discussed last time, seem to paint a pretty clear picture of where we are likely heading, or at the very least the themes around it. When I stop and think about it though, it almost seems too serendipitous – players expect Death themes and you’ve got the Lich King coming back around after we conveniently happen to vanquish N’Zoth instead of losing?

Now, I’m not here to say that Blizzard shouldn’t have a consistent plot throughout the expansion – the death theme has been heavily foreshadowed and them sticking to their guns would be a (pleasant!) surprise. Consistency is good, and using the Battle for Azeroth plot to build up the story of death you’re telling is a great idea!

However, in Blizzcon rumor season, it stinks of misdirection (and not the Hunter ability).

It would be a first, in many ways, for Blizzard to actively plant misdirecting files into a PTR build. However, would it necessarily be too much work? That I am not so sure of. The major leak is broadcast text – unvoiced dialogue that gets dumped into your chat box at various points in the game. I can’t fully say that it would be easy to create such a misdirect, but it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard.

Likewise, the DK skin textures – they fit the theme as well, just fine, and are exciting. However, Blizzard could just as easily be using these as a misdirection in their own right – such textures could prove to be versatile for other uses.

Now, if the datamining stopped there, that would be a pretty interesting case with no clear answers. Maybe Blizzard is messing with us! Maybe they do want to plant a seed and then misdirect for the excitement of a surprise.

However, MMO-Champion points out something I missed in the initial Wowhead news about the datamining – that the encryption key protecting the new race DK models is also locking down voiced dialogue that appears to be for Bolvar and Highlord Mograine. This makes the argument for a misdirection less compelling on the surface, but there is a counterpoint I would indulge. An encrypted file does not have to tell us what it is or be accurate to the contents. If we can’t open and play the voiceovers, there is no guarantee that what’s in the box is what is on the label – in fact, it may very well not be. If I were Team 2, trying to build hype to an announcement for it to be subverted to something cooler, well, that could be interesting and a fun way to do it. At this point, most of us who still follow the game deeply are pretty sure that things are going towards a death expansion – some people have fits over the idea of specifics of that, like a possible Shadowlands zone or continent, but the overall story beat is one that seems very well tailored to the current lore, even if it does sort of unfairly lean on storytelling done exclusively for the Horde.

My next point relating to that, then, is a bit simpler – if Death is a misdirection, than what is the actual direction? That is where I think I am probably overthinking things – the closest next theme I could think of is Dragon Isles, which has been brought up by name during BfA and 8.3 features a LOT of facetime with the Aspects that remain (minus Nozdormu for some reason…). A Dragon Isles expansion could potentially be incredibly cool, if played well. I picture it being a place with zones by Dragonflight, so a Blue zone, Red zone, etc. What would the theme be? Well, that I am unsure of, quite frankly. My first thought when thinking of the idea was that it would be an averting of the End Times, with Nozdormu going nuts and embracing Murozond, causing a vast number of temporal distortions that must be addressed with the power of the remaining Aspects, requiring a trip to the Dragon Isles to empower the leaders of the flights that are Aspect-less and to further empower the Aspects after their loss of power in the Dragon Soul raid.

That is, to me at least, a reach – I could see a Dragon Isles zone being fascinating patch content at some point in the near future, especially if we were to start bringing the Infinite Dragonflight more into the story again. Ultimately, though, this feels flat as a whole expansion to me. Death is still probably the winning theme.

But, to return to the whole point of this piece, I find the idea that Blizzard is getting smarter about managing datamining fascinating, because I think that something they have noticed is that we use broadcast text as prophecy for story beats quite often. Ion called out this mode of datamining by name when introducing Battle for Azeroth at Blizzcon 2017, and so as we see the team adapt a more proactive approach to protecting core parts of their upcoming story with encryption, it does make me wonder if we will see Blizzard weaponize this someday, or if that day is now and we’re looking at a misdirect right now without expecting it.

After all, the idea that we beat N’Zoth clean and the world is fine is somewhat baffling. There are plot elements in play that could influence this, but the overall notion is a bit weird and subverts some of the story beats we expect – Azeroth the Titan key among them. I can’t believe that we would face N’Zoth and simply…win. It doesn’t quite make for an exciting victory and it vastly undersells the Old God threat – sure, it takes two raid fights, but Deathwing took two and he was an Old God lackey!

Overall, I’m still fairly sure that all of this datamining does point us at the future, and that this is a good thing. It shows a sense of consistency and pays off the Sylvanas plotline, the Vol’jin plot line, Bwon’samdi, Taelia, and brings strong lore characters into the forefront to take the plot forward while delivering highly-demanded player character options via new DK races.

But I find myself eagerly anticipating the point at which Blizzard makes datamining less of a sure thing reveal and more of a point of contention, protecting the secrets to come.

One thought on “On The Nature Of Datamining – Could PTR Files Lead Us Astray?

  1. Dragons had a strong presence during WotLK, including zones, raids and dungeons, so I can’t see why they couldn’t be a strong plot within death theme. Wyrmrest Temple is out there and operating, and Northrend card is bound to be played in Death theme.

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