Is The World of Warcraft Community, Like, Okay?

(Editing note: this post is long, and will be the first of a three part series looking at WoW analytically in light of the coming conclusion of Shadowlands and the pending announcement of the next expansion.)

Also, I’ve been working long enough on this that Eliot at MassivelyOP lapped me on at least a part of the discussion. His post is a good summary of one of the player-types I talk about here.

One thing that I’ve picked up on from following members of the WoW community and content creators is that all is not well within the game’s community. And I mean, well duh, if you’re here as-is, you’ve read the posts, followed the conversations, and probably felt a lot of that yourself. Whether you are currently playing and happy, playing and dissatisfied, or not playing WoW, there’s a sense that the game is in one of the deepest holes it has ever been in.

Today, before I dig into a two-part analysis of the lore and gameplay going into the 10.0 announcement next month, I wanted to take a moment and think about the community – about why the daggers are out, why the vitriol is reaching new peaks in some quarters, and to probably make some statement about giving peace a chance by the time we’re done here. Sound good? Let’s go!

Understanding the Impact of the State of the Game

If we look at the WoW community as a whole over its long-term history, there have always been dissenting voices, negativity, and various other bits of friction baked in. The game itself fosters this to a point – by creating and amplifying a faction war for the sake of flavor, the game often creates a divide between Horde and Alliance, and that does have a knock-on effect on the community at large. WoW has rarely been regarded as a great in-game community – it can often feel quite toxic, unwelcoming, and like the loudest, most obnoxious voices in the room run the show. A big part of the game for many people is to cultivate their chat and group play environment – joining a good guild, good channels, good in-game Communities (capital C for the feature!), and making free use of blocks and reports to push out as much sludge as possible. If you run in a premade group with good people, you add them to friends lists, and you aim to build your own community. WoW in the open as a solo player can be a harsh and unwelcoming place, festering further due to Blizzard’s longstanding hesitation to make meaningful community moderation decisions for the health of the game.

For today, however, I want to talk mostly about outside-the-game interactions. There, I think, we find the most interesting occurrences, worthy of further discussion. Out of game, we’re largely talking about social media, about blogs, about YouTube and Twitch, and even Discord communities – how players who talk because of a shared connection to the game discuss the game or even other topics outside of that same game.

In the past, even up through Battle for Azeroth, if you were a devoted WoW fan, it was pretty easy to drown out the “haters,” such as they were. The game was never in any real risk of failing to death – it could endure thousands of additional cuts to the façade it put forward as the pre-eminent MMORPG and still emerge with a million-plus players and a day-one expansion sales over 3 million for whatever would come next. Even through 9.1, the game had this aura of untouchability, like nothing would ever make it fail or fall. Players could, rightly, grapple with the myriad of issues that were and still are affecting player retention, but those discussions out-of-game always had a certain grace to them, and when one commenter shows up to tell you you’re an idiot for still playing WoW and that they left in 7.3 because they’re a big-brained smart boy who definitely isn’t hate-reading about WoW or things they dislike in general, they are easy to dismiss – because the comment has zero substance and makes no effort to contribute to a discussion, but also because the game was in no real risk of failure and so if you liked it as an overall package, you had reason to believe it would continue on.

Summer 2021, in many ways, changed that.

I think for a lot of people, in a lot of ways, the biggest change in perception of something is when an event moves from impossible to possible, and then a large, similar change, when something moves from possible to guaranteed. Before the sexual harassment allegations against Blizzard as an institution, before Shadowlands brought massive gaps between patches leading to two mid-expansion content draughts (and a likely third as we wait for the 10.0 launch for at least 9 months more!), the idea of WoW dying felt impossible. If anyone suggested that WoW had any odds of dying, it was (rightly) looked at as laughable. There was no overlapping MMO competition that stood a chance of pulling enough players away, and while the game has been losing players like a sieve over time, the game has had so many to begin with that such a loss was sustainable. WoW has lost more players than most MMOs have ever had, and even today, WoW has more players active in the game than most MMOs will ever reach at their peaks.

However, WoW is likely not the most-played MMO in the world, not anymore, and that has likely been the case for a while. Using two resources – the LuckyBancho Census of FFXIV from January 2022 and the site WoW Realm Population, a total active number of characters for both games can be established. Now, to be fair, LuckyBancho has to use achievement and activity data skimmed from the Lodestone, which means that a player not earning new achievements or showing activity publicly may not be counted, while WoW Realm Population uses the Battle.net API to pull active character data, and these metrics both have flaws. LuckyBancho can both under or overreport active players based on a lot of factors, mostly because achievement tracking is innately imprecise, while WoW Realm Population uses direct API-gained data that is based on character. Reading the API documentation is beyond me as a layman, but I did check Blizzard’s documentation just to ensure that it has character data documented as a function it can perform, and sure enough, it does. Both measures of active players are not actually players but rather characters, which is a slight challenge in direct comparison, as FFXIV has a far-smaller alt scene (people definitely have alts, but the game’s design does not really make it necessary) while WoW is, arguably, best enjoyed with a stable of characters that can do the full range of experiences (class halls from Legion, War Campaign on both factions in BfA, normal story progression through both factions, etc). When I was active during Shadowlands, I would often play 4 characters actively at a given time (with a roster of 14 I leveled and worked through content with), while in FFXIV, I have 3 but only play 1, which means that the WoW data likely subdivides more to a lower player count based on characters.

However, for the sake of the point I’m making here, let’s put this comparison ground forward. If we look at the most recent LuckyBancho census and data from WoW Realm Population I pulled and totaled on 3/15/2022 assuming that each character is representative of a single active player, then WoW has 1,021,574 players, while FFXIV has 1,374,764 players. Both of these tidbits are slightly exclusionary – the WoW data does not include Chinese realms, while the FFXIV data excludes both Chinese and Korean worlds. If we compare this to the peak player headlines Lost Ark got during its launch month, that game’s western release had 1,325,305 players – and since that is based on Steam data, that represents players, not characters! There’s certainly overlap between the three, but I find it interesting and illuminating to the conversation being had around WoW that of these 3 titles, it is the lowest played, and I would suspect that if we could accurately account for alts and distill down to actual player counts, I think WoW would end up just below 1 million active players. (Edit: reviewing the data shows some realms on the WoW side with 0 active, which seems unlikely, so I would wager that the data would adjust upwards slightly as well.)

I’m not here to say that WoW is on a slow roll to death or that it has imminent doom in the cards, but last summer absolutely took WoW’s chances of death from 0% to at least 0.01%, and that creates a very real feeling of change among the dedicated fans, the community, and the critics. Suddenly, the incentive structure has changed – criticism of the game that could once be brushed-off and dismissed now has at least some weight. Good faith critique, once a welcome part of discussion about the game, has become, in some quarters, people “shitting on the fun” of the game for those who remain playing. It has also emboldened the trolls, many of whom now feel a very-real sense that the tide is turning in their favor and that their content-free snark about the game will harvest some higher measure of clout. It has created a sharp, tribalistic bent to many conversations about the game – where discussing any other game is verboten, where bad news about WoW or Blizzard must be met with some baseless speculation about a competitor.

Unironically, I’ve seen people post this image who also insisted loudly that the FFXIV team surely had sexual harassment claims waiting in the wake of the Blizz scandal, based on…nothing?

So yeah – we find ourselves in a world where the possibility of WoW failing has become, well, a possibility. It has largely been at the hands of Blizzard themselves (which is the only way I would sincerely believe it could happen), but has also been accelerated by the presence of multiple viable competitors – FFXIV has been the obvious one here, but there has been Lost Ark, New World, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2, SWTOR, Destiny 2, and even non-MMO games that I’ve seen take over previously WoW-devoted players, like Phasmophobia, Dead by Daylight, and even single player offline games like Elden Ring. The market for gaming has never been larger and more full of options, and that is, I am sure, a big part of the tribalistic behavior and circling of wagons that is being witnessed.

This has manifested in a few different ways, the substance of which I want to discuss in more detail for the rest of this post!

Content Creators

As much as I find the term a meh sort-of generic catchall for a variety of personalities, one of the groups that has most been changed by the downturn of WoW has been content creators. Ultimately, I want to start with them because I think their issue with the current situation is more readily understood – if you make a majority of your household income talking about WoW in some form, the state of the game doesn’t just threaten a hobby but is also a direct threat on your livelihood. How able you are to weather that storm depends on not just how good your chops as a content creator are, but on how much your audience is built on the game. We’ve seen a ton of streamers and YouTube creators move to other MMOs in the last year, and some have done so successfully – Pyromancer, Nobbel, Preach, Rich Campbell, and more. Others have moved less successfully or did a few cash-in videos to catch the hype wave and then went back for whatever reasons that I definitely can’t see through publicly visible metrics like view counts on non-WoW YouTube videos being around 25-50% of any other WoW video on the channel.

Through this lens, the behavior of creators in the space is understandable to a point. If you make more than peanuts talking about WoW, and you build an audience on that who later proves that they will not tune-in for you playing anything else or discussing anything else, then WoW continuing a descent into the middle of the pack is a challenge that is difficult to unwind. The responses to that from those who have not abandoned ship are…interesting, to say the least.

I’m going to keep examples here brief and focused on creators whose platforms are larger than mine, mainly because I don’t want to remove handles from screenshots but also because I don’t want to create any dogpiles on people trying to build an audience or just sharing their opinions (or in general really), even though I have a vastly smaller following than these creators by comparison. (Is a small dogpile a puppypile? I think it should be.) I’m also not delusional enough to think that I could cause even a puppypile, but I keep seeing my posts pop up in places where no one I know is posting and some scammy MMO site has spent the last couple days combing my site for posts to repost on an ad-laden hellhole which is making my WordPress notifications weird (and boy it’ll be funny when they steal this one too).

I also want to be clear that I get that any creator with a sizeable-enough platform or visibility will get a lot of legitimate trolling and hate comments. I think that sucks and that people shouldn’t do that, but I do think that these tend to be generalized and even weaponized in service of an opinion by said creators. I’ll discuss this more broadly to close out the post, but I want it here too because to be clear, I do not doubt that the people I’ve seen this type of thing from are, at times, inundated by bad faith arguments, trolling, and outright bile.

But I am, frankly, fairly tired of seeing strawmanning about how everyone complaining or noting issues with the game is doing so in bad faith. There’s this assumption that seems to be prevalent among a portion of the creator community that people criticizing the game are hypocrites or their comments are not worth listening to.

Those creators will, then, often criticize the game themselves, which makes the whole exercise feel almost masturbatory and gatekeepery. Who judges who gets to provide feedback on the game? Many of these people seem to feel they are worthy of said mantle, and it creates an effect where their communities are then mobilized to seek out feedback they disagree with and pile on with how people talking about things WoW could do better should just shut up instead. And like, when used on aimless trolls, sure, it’s fine enough, but so often, people will target dedicated fans with real issues and hit them with quote-retweets or replies that often serve to silence. I don’t think that this is their intention, in all sincerity, but functionally, it does that anyway.

I think that I would be interested to see people like this engage with negative feedback about the game, to seek out more reasoned posts or replies that are critical of the game’s direction and to engage honestly with them. To their credit, many of them do already in small measure – but there’s an overall effort to paint a lot of criticism of the game as ill-founded or angry trolling, and while their mentions are so often full of that, to be honest, there’s a lot that gets caught in the crossfire from their fans. What I find especially funny is that some of them are cognizant that creator critique has a downhill momentum (Taliesin openly rants in several streams about how when his comments are full of a particular phrase negative towards the game, he looks to see what streamer/creator started it, as though no fan could have originally had the thought) and yet they often have the same effect in the other direction, pushing out thoughtful criticism of the game by painting with a broad brush.

I used the tweets above because I think that it paints the picture I so often see when I open my blog Twitter (at least before this last week, when I did a fairly substantial following purge) – a lot of people angrily shouting at those unhappy with the state of WoW, complaining that the dissatisfied are unhelpful while not engaging with the serious discussions. The T&E tweet above was in reference to a specific “gag” on the Lords of Dread raid fight, with Dreadlords impersonating a ton of older bosses across WoW and a weapon drop on the fight hinting at deeper lore. Instead of engaging with why the WoW community would be cynical and distrustful of the developers or attempting to unpack why the “joke” of the transformations might sound the alarm for lore fiends, they simply dismiss it out of hand as “no one is allowed to have fun anymore,” sounding like every dullard who has ever complained about cancel culture. There is an interesting discussion that could be had on that topic – I would certainly tune in for that! – but yet it’s left on the table here in favor of scoring cheap points with their core audience. Likewise with Soul’s comment, it’s a strawman without any actual receipts or proof – on the one hand, I don’t doubt that he’s gotten comments from the same people pulling in two different directions and I don’t think engaging a dogpile is wise, but at the same time, all of this would have more meaning if you actually like…gave more to chew on. Again, I think the reason I’m here writing this post is simple – community meta-analysis is fascinating, because there is a lot to digest when looking at the why behind how the WoW community got here, and these people’s audiences would likely be interested in hearing their takes on it. But they just don’t do it. WoW discussion is a shitshow, obviously. Some commenter I envisioned in my head was mad that WoW has been made with long, mandatory-feeling grinds and also mad that there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do in that first week of patch 9.2, and we can roast this person together!

Lastly, the Neryssa tweet is interesting to me because the context of the thread makes clear that this is intended as a joke, but at the same time, a lot of the audience that has circled the wagons around WoW feel this way about critics unironically, and from context of her comments in other threads, it’s clear that she often feels that way too. It is, to use wrestling parlance, cheap heat – playing to the basest instincts of your target audience to get approval.

It should also be said that a lot of former or borderline WoW creators also get in on this. Pyromancer’s infamous rant when he left the game, whether you agree with points of it or not, bordered on this level of aimless rant about the game, a sort of playing to the crowd. A lot of things that Bellular, Preach, and other creators like Quazii have done since leaving WoW have been negative towards WoW, and while I sometimes agree with them all, it sometimes gets too pointless for me – I unsubscribed from Quazii because his rant videos about WoW got to be exceptionally cringy (his focus on the fruit bowls and playing the character “Sociel Jastice” was so incredibly dumb that the first time I saw it was when I immediately unsubscribed), and I tend to follow the others more through social media or stream clips over being an active follower of their content.

To close this part out, I want to revisit what I said up top in this section – I think that content creators focusing on positivity, even to the point of toxic positivity, is understandable to a point. At the end of the day, these people are all talking about something they are passionate about and have made it their living, or at least a valuable side-hustle (I hate that term but it’s neither here nor there lol). If a substantial portion of my income depended on a thing I liked remaining popular, and I could feel the wind blowing in a different direction, it would cause some panic, and I think we are seeing that manifest in some cases. At the same time, they are fans, and their perception of the game is theirs to have. I think that, in both directions, there is a lot being left on the table by people not engaging with arguments they might disagree with when those are had in good faith – for those still actively on the WoW train, understanding and discussing why people are cynical and distrustful of Blizzard would make a great content piece and I would be so happy to watch, comment, and even participate in such things – it is what I have been doing here in a few posts over the lifetime of the blog! On the formerly-WoW side, I think that it’s worth discussing WoW more level-headedly if you are going to remain engaged and discussing it at all – whining about fruit bowls through the most dumbass character I’ve ever seen is itself a strawman and bad-faith argument, and it does nothing to create a meaningful discussion as much as it just draws the dead-enders and trolls to you, which is perhaps not a great community to foster!

Your Average WoW Enjoyer

Next up is both a more complicated and yet more simple audience to discuss, the actual WoW players in 2022. I think I would say simple because their motivation to downplay or discredit negative feedback about the game comes from an understandable place that is less heavy in some ways compared to those making a living from the game – they just want to play and want there to be fun stuff for them to do. If you’re enjoying the game, seeing people not having fun with it can feel kind of weird, like the people not enjoying it are missing something or like maybe you are missing something.

I relate to this category because I was in it for a long time. If WoW is your happy place, there is an effect from people being negative towards it. This plays with the idea I mentioned above – when the game feels untouchable, that feeling and effect is easy to tune out, but once the game starts to feel a bit less untouchable, suddenly that negativity can be perceived a crushing. In a lot of ways, my engagement with WoW was weakest during the late 9.1 window of Shadowlands, where it felt like the game had no momentum, there was no real new content on the horizon, and the effect that had on my desire to play was pretty heavy and pronounced. I had a lot of hopes on 9.1.5, and the only content the patch had being pushed past the Endwalker launch kind of pushed me over the edge and away from the game. I had friends and guildies quitting, the game’s state asking me if the lack of content updates were okay to me as a consumer, and the state of Blizzard caused people in the community to attempt to reframe support of the game as a moral/amoral venture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, put new value on the virtual experiences we have in places like Azeroth or Eorzea. To many, these are not just games, but social clubs, places where you gather with the friends you couldn’t visit to enjoy a group activity. Through that lens, I am quite sympathetic to the idea that WoW failing would represent a loss for a lot of people. Hell, I was one of them – for years, the only people I would call true friends were either work friends or people I played WoW with. When I wasn’t playing the game with them, I felt a rift in our friendship – and there were times where I made the choice to play when I did not want to in order to keep a spark of those friendships alive. I know guildies, Twitter follows, and fellow bloggers for whom their MMOs of choice serve the same role, and I can understand that seeing the game fall into hard times can cause a cascading feeling of doom for other interrelated aspects of your life – I’ve been there and been through it!

Yet ultimately, I think that the tribalism in the MMO community doesn’t serve this motivation that well, because it creates a community that is more insular and less welcoming of outsiders. The memes around FFXIV and its free trial are often awful, overplayed, and just bad (I say as a mug with the free trial meme printed onto it sits to my side), but they convey a certain sense of welcoming that the community generally puts out. WoW Twitter is a mess by comparison, and the community is so often full of internecine squabbles over who is allowed to speak about the game that it is offputting. That’s not to say that FFXIV Twitter does not have some of the same, but it is often much better hidden, where the conflict over the state of WoW has become this roaring blaze that illuminates the space in a threatening way.

The Unhappy Fans

Before wrapping this up, we have to take a moment to actually look at the people who are unhappy with the game and without big platforms to have their voices heard.

Firstly, we cannot visit this topic without calling out that yes – WoW in particular has a pileup full of trolls that is vast in scale, and I don’t mean the race in-game. Talking about WoW publicly and positively can be an exhausting task, because it has both millions of people who split from the game with varying viewpoints on it and millions more who never played it or played it briefly and see its original ascendance in the MMO genre as baffling, insulting, and/or a blight on the genre as a whole.

However, I think that there needs to be a mindful separation of trolls from people offering thoughtful critique of the game, a separation that is often not granted. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about Shadowlands or WoW in general, and I think that understanding where that comes from is helpful to the game. In many ways, the reason I hyperfixated on specific content creators as the genesis of this post is that these people put a lot of time, effort, and care into discussing the game, but I think the people whose opinions they so often dismiss do the same, and I would be delighted to see more of a give and take there then what currently exists.

What I see a lot online is this – a passionate fan of WoW writes or records something that reflects a desire to see WoW be better, not because they are trashing the game, but because it comes from a place of genuine care and love for the game. A lot of the people still talking about the game, even while not playing it, do so because they care – because they want to play, but they want the game they play to feel worthy of the time. WoW is a giant buffet of content that has so much to offer to so many, that it is totally conceivable and believable that people can find a way to like or dislike the game, and I think discounting either opinion just creates a rift that pushes more people away from the game.

My take then is this – most people I see discussing the game in a negative light aren’t trolls or edgelords, but people that are passionate about the game and want to see it return to being something they’re happy to play, happy to pay for, and happy to devote their time to. A lot of effort goes into posts and media critical of the game, from breakdowns of ethnic inspirations in the game and how they are often not well done to plot breakdowns that look critically at the story as a structure and try to analyze how it could have been done better. Trolls make easy, surface-level criticisms that fail to engage with the current game or try to be holier-than-thou about how enlightened they are to have quit the game, and those people suck, but it also degrades the discourse the way that so many honest, good-faith discussions are swept into this category and dismissed alongside the trolls. Admittedly, I have a certain paranoia that people will do that to my writing, which is why I make a point of emphasizing that I respect and appreciate that people can and will enjoy WoW in many different ways that are not in-line with how I play, and that I do not have to agree or understand fully why they are enjoying it to give them that room.

In truth, much of the genesis of this post was borne from that idea – I take care to very carefully present my opinion on the game, to ensure that I make my case as effectively as possible without discounting the very real fact that people do still enjoy the game and play it just as I did not that long ago. That makes an excellent segue to close on, in fact.

In Closing

All of this, to me, is an interesting struggle to observe and participate in, because ultimately, I think that a lot of MMO veterans are finally watching the WoW community have to grapple with something they’ve all seen and felt in one game or another over the years.

The MMO genre is littered with the corpses and zombies of games that had a cycle of rising and falling, with millions of players across dozens of games who were devoted to a title, built a social network that enjoyed it religiously, and then had to watch as the game fell to pieces, falling into a free-to-play or freemium model while hemorrhaging players, watching your social groups break off in pieces before disbanding, and many titles still failing the F2P transition and just simply dying. In a very real sense, WoW has been the exception for a long time – even as it has fallen off the mountain it once sat atop, it never seemed to be in any real danger of falling into that trap.

That has changed, and I think that the effect of that is something worth looking at. Most MMOs don’t get a period of unchallenged dominance in the way WoW did, and so I think a lot of players look at changes in business model or even the eventual die-off of their favorite game as a sort of rite of passage, while WoW players have never had to consider that with any seriousness until now. Through that perspective, I think the tribal shit-flinging we see on social media and discussion outside of the game is wholly predictable, both in scale and intensity. It is also something we, as a community, should aim to avoid.

My rules for how I engage with the matter are pretty straightforward – I post what I want on my social media and blog, and if you like what I have to say or find it interesting, I am glad to have you come through and discuss. I ensure I do not go to other people’s feeds and reply with comments about WoW’s potential demise or what I dislike about the game, and I rarely even contribute to such discussions when invited by a comment or opening to discuss. In my guild Discord, I have said maybe two sentences about 9.2, and I make a conscious effort to not rain on anyone’s parade. I am glad, truly and honestly, that my guild still has around 25 active raiders and that most of them are having a good time in the patch. I’ll make an effort to share good news, or to contribute on social media when people discuss things they like or ideas to improve that I think would be great – basically, if I hit anyone with an @ on Twitter, it is to agree with their take or to offer constructive, positive feedback.

I don’t think non-engagement is how the community gets past this, though, and so I think the better long-term idea is that people need to make an effort to have more thoughtful, civil discussions with each other. I think that the creators that so often strawman those who disagree with them would do well to consider why people feel the way they do and to present that as a part of the discussion – knowing how we got here is a part of the discussion that will help dig people out of the Discourse Hole™, because I don’t think any of us want to be stuck in there. Likewise, I think that people should be cognizant of when they’re contributing to a conversation that is meaningful and impactful versus when they are going out of their way to be an asshole. People who reply “copium” or “hopium” to people enjoying WoW or playing and wanting it to be better are just being idiotic jerks (and as a sidenote, I fucking hate this new “-ium” thing where everyone feeling something has to be huffing a substance instead of just like, you know, feeling the thing they feel), and people who strawman arguments they disagree with instead of engaging honestly with the details of the discussion are doing the same.

And to really close on, I can only speak to my personal experience directly, but I have been very sharply critical of WoW lately because I genuinely love it as a game. WoW was, directly and indirectly, a huge, formative part of my growth as an adult, from leadership skills to communication to community building and more, it gave me a canvas onto which I was able to paint as I pleased and grow as a person. Its story, good, bad, or basic, gave me a fair number of interesting ideals from understanding and compassion to standing for what you believe in, and even as I’ve gotten older, sometimes you need those perspectives to keep your own in check. I’m critical of current WoW because I want it to be more, because I believe it can be more, and because I would love nothing more than to come back to the game in 10.0 and have a fresh, worthwhile experience that takes lessons learned into consideration. I do not enjoy feeling cynical about the game or its creators, and there is a lot of weird feeling in the process of moving on from the game, even if I hope it to be temporary, not as severe as actual loss but a feeling that something is very much missing.

I started this blog over 5 years ago now because of how much I genuinely enjoyed WoW and how much I wanted to share that with other people, and while it has become a soapbox on which I stand and talk about things I don’t like in the game, I do that because I know it can be more than it currently is, even if a fair number of people still like what it currently is. I’m not always great about voicing my criticism – I’m very aware that I often invoke Steve Danuser’s name poorly and that’s something I aim to improve, which is why the next post I write critical of the lore will not have his name in it at all, but this is where I want to close.

I think that the centerpiece issue for many people is that the critics and the fans often feel like the other wants a bad thing for WoW – that the critics want everyone to hate the game and curse it to death, while the fans want to love what is there no matter the quality as it pushes more and more people away and the game falls into nothingness. However, I think that following both sides of the debate has given me this piece of insight – I think both sides of this debate in the community actually want the same thing, which is for the game to be fun, engaging, and engrossing. The squabbles over who can speak or what the current state of the game is are largely performative, because if we distill it down, everyone in the conversation would love it if the game hits a home run on next release, if 10.0 or even 9.2.5 is an absolute banger patch that solidifies a change in gameplay and creative direction that honors existing fans while working to bring back disenchanted ones.

In the 5 years I’ve had a threadbare presence on Twitter for this blog, I followed nearly 2,000 accounts. When I went through the other day to remove nearly 900 of those, the trend was often not people I disagreed with, but instead people who went silent – who loved the game and then stopped. I think a lot of dedicated fans lash out and ask people being critical of the game to shut up, but I think that a surefire harbinger of the downfall of WoW will be when people voicing criticisms see no point and fall silent. There’s room to bridge the divide, to cast out actual trolls, but I think that there is effort needed to understand why people can like or dislike the current state of the game and to realize that the goals of both audiences are broadly in-alignment, more than it would seem.

20 thoughts on “Is The World of Warcraft Community, Like, Okay?

  1. A very thoughtful post as usual, but I’m not entirely sure I agree with the conclusion (assuming I read it correctly). You’re kind of saying that we’d all benefit if the community spent more time talking to each other, about both the good and the bad, right? That this would lead to the game being better in the long run? Because as someone who’s been an (unmonetised, mind you) small content creator for a number of MMOs for over a decade myself, I’m just not sure that’s true.

    In the end it’s not the players who make the decisions, but the devs; and player feedback, no matter how well thought out, will only ever play a limited role in that. I think it’s more honest to admit that a lot of the content we put out about our favourite MMOs primarily exists to provide entertainment and to some degree validation that other people love/hate the same things we do. So people strongly criticising a game over and over can’t really hope to change it in major ways – only to get validation from managing to get others just as riled up about potential problems as they are, regardless of whether the criticism is valid or stupid.

    To put it differently, in all my years of following other creators, I can’t recall a single instance where someone who kept lobbing harsh criticism at an MMO “out of love” over and over ended up a) actually improving the game in question and b) happily returning to it. I get why people do it – it’s a way of wrestling with letting go of something you once enjoyed, and I’ve been there myself at times – but it seems a bit dishonest to me to expect those who simply want to have a good time playing to indulge anyone’s negativity “for the good of the game”. Even if you change their mind, all you’ve done is put another person off (an aspect of) the game – is that really helpful? In my opinion going silent/going off to do something else after a while of not having fun anymore is not a tragedy when it comes to gaming, but the healthy thing to do.

    Disclaimer: I say this as someone who’s been somewhat exhausted by having a persistent commenter on my blog for probably more than a year now, who is always perfectly polite but I swear 80% of their comments are some variation of “Oh you like this thing? I think it sucks. Back in the day it was good, but it’s gone totally downhill since then for reasons.” I’m sure they think they are voicing perfectly valid criticisms, but I just keep wondering why I’m the one who has to listen to them instead instead of you know, some dev or community manager somewhere (and why they’re reading my blog if they seem to disagree with almost everything I say).

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    1. That’s a fair point, and I guess to be clear, I’m not 100% sure if the goal is to improve the game largely *because* we’re all just screaming into the void about it. Perhaps ideally, sure, I think players fighting with each other would be better served uniting and providing a shared front towards the developers, but to your larger point, it may not serve any meaningful purpose.

      I suppose I have a small degree of optimism that there is a future where discussions of the game engage the development team and lead somewhere, but I also sort of know on some level that I’m basically bargaining with myself to get the WoW out of the system before I either just play it again or give it up for good.

      On the disclaimer note, I can sympathize with that quite a bit! I’ve had posts about both FFXIV and WoW that draw out a “oh yeah, well that’s dumb” kind of commentary, and it always gives me this weird feeling of like “sir, you came here to read this, no one made you” and leaves me wondering what the point even is!

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    2. I say this as someone who’s been somewhat exhausted by having a persistent commenter on my blog for probably more than a year now, who is always perfectly polite but I swear 80% of their comments are some variation of “Oh you like this thing? I think it sucks. Back in the day it was good, but it’s gone totally downhill since then for reasons.”

      Uh…… Uh oh.

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  2. “Unironically, I’ve seen people post this image who also insisted loudly that the FFXIV team surely had sexual harassment claims waiting in the wake of the Blizz scandal, based on…nothing?”

    I would be inclined to say “based on being in any proximity whatsoever to game devs, especially the male part of the population.” Doesn’t mean it’s true, but does mean that there is basis for this assumption in just overwhelming numbers. Where have you been? Is there some reason to believe that FFXIV is a unicorn? Again, not saying otherwise, but that really is a fantasy wrapped in a fantasy there.

    “I don’t want to create any dogpiles on people trying to build an audience”

    My usual rule of thumb is to ask, maybe they’ll be cool. If not, I won’t post it. It’s not fair to them though if you really hate them, fine, hate away and unleash the dogs of pile, I guess.

    “their motivation to downplay or discredit negative feedback about the game comes from an understandable place”

    That is a, to borrow your own words, simple interpretation of people that play WoW because they enjoy it. A lot of them just turn their backs on the negativity and let the situation play itself out. I certainly feel like I live in that particular area – let the naysayers and negabots (hello, Eliot) say their bit, but it doesn’t affect me either way. I don’t require others to have an opinion to have my own.

    (and yes, I get the irony that alleging Eliot as a Negabot is literally me playing into the pidgeonhole there, but, if you’ve read Eliot regularly then good grief you *have* to get it. There is a guy that can take a one-line good feature and turn it into several paragraphs of Why Blizzard Sucks. Because word count.)

    I have to say that I feel that the “community” you describe is missing several parts of the community I participate in, starting with, ironically, bloggers. Though I will surely agree that WoW blogging ain’t what it used to be. It’s a long time since the heyday of Big Red Kitty et al (and if you ask, “who”?, then that’s kind of my point – we’re not coming from the same place when we speak of “community”, and probably never will).

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    1. To the first point, I think there are two things to address there:

      1. No one here (myself or regulars) would deny that sexual harassment absolutely occurs on a scale in software dev and game dev in particular that is staggering, saddening, and likely underreported. I don’t hold any fantasy that Square Enix is free of it at all – does it reach the scale of the issue that Blizzard is dealing with? I don’t know and can’t know, but the sheer scope of the allegations against Blizzard are pretty staggering even given the scene setting.
      2. If you come into a post about Blizzard discussing those allegations and put forward the idea that FFXIV has the same issue unprovoked based on speculation and general trends, it feels more like a dick move and attempt at point-scoring than an actual contribution to discussion.

      On dogpiles, that’s fair enough. I took the stance of picking the examples I did because they’re public, high-visibility, and in truth I’m more worried that they’d push people my way than the other direction, tbh. I don’t dislike any of them (I made a point of meeting T&E at their first Blizzcon) but I do think that they tend to push from an angle of blind positivity that I wish wasn’t the case.

      On the point about the people playing and enjoying it, I think a lot of those folks aren’t on social media for the game. They aren’t blogging, they aren’t on Twitter discussing things, they’re just…playing. I think that’s something that can be several posts in its own right and how the discussions about the game good and bad often miss these people, because they aren’t saying anything where you or I can hear it. They’re a part of the WoW community at large all the same, but for the purpose of focusing in on a topic here, a little out of scope (which perpetuates the very issue I just mentioned, so you know, a bit of a problem!).

      On Eliot, I’ve read enough of his stuff to have a mixed take – I have written here that I think he is a bit misguided at times, and I’ve read some of his pieces that were off-putting to me regardless of whether I agreed with the opinion or not, and I think he fits the MOP house style with regards to Blizzard pretty well. But I do think he cares about the game somewhat still – his expansion concept posts were interesting to a point and not altogether the kind of thing you could really muster fake enthusiasm for.

      I think that the thing about missing aspects of the community is valid to a point – I made a decision here to focus in on the specific warring elements of it for the sake of the larger post, but I absolutely appreciate the bloggers that remain. I think the big problem there is that the community is fading – I read Blizzard Watch when it was WoW Insider, then WoW.com, then WoW Insider again before Joystiq and the split, and I remember when BRK got a named item in the game! One of the things that is on my to-do list after having cleaned through my follows over the last week is the number of people who just faded away from the community over time – the writers, bloggers, jokesters, and such who just are not around talking anymore, with no real word as to what happened. Like with the satisfied players who don’t engage with the community outside the game, I made a conscious choice to narrow focus, because a whole post could be written about the abandoned and long-gone era of WoW blogging, from Rades to BRK to Binkenstein and others.

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      1. Far be it from me to be responsible for a dick move (ha ha jk) but really my point is that the inference that FFXIV’s shit don’t stink is gonna land, in a messy way, in exactly the wrong place in exactly the wrong time. Listen, I know people that work over there, they’re no different than anyone else I’ve met in the software industry at large, and while the people that I know are generally good people, it also implies the existence of the other sort as well. I think they’re sell served to not trumpet how pure they are because they know damned well how fast that will backfire. The implication was otherwise, I’m about correcting that implication, and if that makes it a dick move then so be it. I guess WoW fans aren’t the only ones that will take a defensive stance, and that’s fine. It’s silly to be partisan like that but everybody’s got their own take on it. To all: go you.

        That last bit brings a longtime assertion of mine into bold relief: satisfied players, or players that at least don’t have a beef, are not vocal. This is, and has been, and, sadly, probably will continue to be a blind spot of all bloggers, vloggers, streamers, twitchers, and other denizens of the digital “press” (for lack of an accurate term). This is a big beef I have with Blizz in particular, in that they tend to listen to the crybabies and malcontents more than happy customers. Nobody really asks, in seriousness, what works.

        I think a good angle that might bear looking into might be how the concept of the “community” has changed from the past when the blogging “community” was the “WoW community” and how that has changed with the advent of streamers these days. Was it less monetized then than now, and thus more “pure”? (my feeling is “yes” but nobody will convince a streamer’s fanboi of that, not ever). Every time I try, my 20 paragraphs turn into a rambling 50, so that sucker is stuck in permenant draft mode because if there’s one thing I suck at, it’s editing my own shit 😀

        But I guess what I am saying is that there IS a commentary embedded in all that regarding the health of the WoW community, and I use the term unironically because a BAD community is still a community, so regardless of what people think of it – it is one. And I do feel there is a health problem with the community here. It’s been spiraling downward since at least pre-Cata days, when MMO-C published the Cata details mere days ahead of BlizzCon or whatever the reveal was. Not saying that specific event marks the turning point, but said point is somewhere around there, in my mind.

        Listen, Eliot – I used to think a lot of his posts, but if you go back and read through them, I think you’ll see a drop in the insightfulness of his posts. An edging towards just mean and jaded and even spiteful in some cases. I used to respect someone that spoke, remotely, truth to power, but lately I’m not seeing where the “truth” is living at times. Do I still read it? Sure, as a NASCAR fan I’m addicted to car wrecks.

        I will admit that I am a bit of an extremist in the case of social media. The WoW friends I have in, for example, Twitter are a mixed bag, but those that tend to go full negative get dropped or muted or banned. I have no time in what’s left of my life for that shit. If they had something useful to say it would be a different matter, but most are, as you observed for certain streamers, hyper focused on the negative, in an unsupportable way, and I just don’t have the patience to set them straight.

        We like what we like, and everybody needs to buy into that. That doesn’t mean you have to agree or like it. That’s what unfollowing, banning, and muting are all about. And for sure, doesn’t mean you need to construct a cocoon of yes men around you, but you can nourish a collection of people around you that can respectfully disagree without turning into assholes. I call these people “adults”.

        Finally, I want to point out that streaming by its very nature requires you to be outrageous and controversial in order to get “impressions” or whatever they call “clicks” in the streaming world. What we see in streaming circles is therefore inauthentic. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle, too, because every time a streamer says something controversial (or tweets it, to speak to your twitter examples), it pays off with more clicks.

        I used to think that working in software made me a whore. Nice to have someone to look down on at last. Just barely, of course. We all know that Software people are just a tic away from reclaiming the crown.

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      2. “if there’s one thing I suck at, it’s editing my own shit 😀”

        Boy, if that ain’t the truth lol

        Joking aside, fair enough on the first point – I wanted to make it clear that I’m not downplaying the possibility that such bad stuff has happened at Square Enix,. My original point was that it *was* used baselessly in the wake of the ATVI lawsuit against people commenting on Blizzard, and “statistically likely” is a far cry from “actually happened, confirmed case.” THAT is the dick move. Far from partisan, despite your implications. The original caption’s “nothing” is to a reported case or story, not to the possibility of such.

        I absolutely believe in (and I think you would agree) the idea that the software industry and games dev in particular needs to do more to protect women and minorities and needs to do a lot more to ensure an inclusive environment where everyone can do their best work, and a lot of the stories we get to see publicly show that is far from the case in general today. I do think, however, that you can adhere to that ideal without presupposing a frame where every entity is guilty of it, without allegations, until proven innocent. When those allegations come, I’m prepared for that and will discuss them here in just as much seriousness and disappointment as the Blizzard ones, but until then, that is a hypothetical that does not need to be breathlessly accounted for as a just-in-case.

        To be clear, I don’t think you are doing that – I’m talking about people using the hypothetical as a pre-emptive attack to create an illusion of equal sin, while I think you are (fairly) pointing out that there is every possibility it has or will happen at any studio and statistically it’s pretty likely, which I do not disagree with (and the suggestion otherwise is a fairly uncharitable reading of what I have written on the topic).

        On the topic of the community, there is still a large community with lots of pockets to it that exist all over. Wowhead has comment threads, MMO-C and Icy Veins both have forums, there are probably as many Discord communities as there are players with discussions about the game, there’s social media, and then there’s video creators. The video creators have a lot more reach than most because you can engage with their content far more passively than reading, unfortunately, and it absolutely raises up the worst and loudest opinions most often. I’d actually argue that video content was more of the downfall of things compared to leak and datamining culture – although I think those things have problems of their own and are arguably as large of problems as video content. The whole culture around WoW content is hot takes, streamers yell at the game, YouTubers put forward the most extreme parts of their argument as clickbait and it all informs the resulting content. I feel like if most streamers had to write their thoughts down and have their audience read them off a page, it would be a lot harder for them to stick the landing. Actually being able to yell and shout is probably more impactful than an exclamation mark, sadly.

        The health of the community I think is better served the wider a net is cast, but the curious problem of the satisfied non-participant exists. It’s a tough problem to solve at a Blizzard level, and I think all any of us can do in a community role is to work towards more inclusive discussions in our own spaces and keeping things open to those who are just enjoying the game. My big thesis here is that the game’s health as a product is a part of hampering that, because the sample size on all fronts is just smaller and the louder voices rise and dominate the space – like video creators, streamers, and the big fan sites. I think if we see a real home run in the expansion announcement, the tone could shift really quick, and that would be great! But until that time, I think there’s an effort that can be made to not just find a circle of your own, but expand that outward more and bring in more differing viewpoints (of all sorts). Easier said that done, but we all can do what we see fit to help that. And sometimes that will mean blocks, mutes, unfollows, and uninvites, which sucks but it is what it is.

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      3. I like that point about the rise of for-pay streamers on Twitch. When your content is your salary, follower engagement becomes the driving force. And the biggest example out there is … Facebook. Get people riled up, let them feel like they are part of an in-crowd tribe and they are likely to toss a coin to their streamer for the entertainment and good feelings about being on the ‘right’ side of a situation. Since streams are pretty much stream of consciousness activities there’s no permanence of discussion, just a general feeling generated, unlike blogs. Blogs at least memorialize what was said and promote a long-form discussion. That type of discussion isn’t going to happen on a stream. Who’s going to take the time to find and queue bits from a stream to discuss someone else’s comment. At a minimum someone will bitch that the clips were all out of context.

        Unfortunately, I don’t see anything changing until or unless the community as a whole stops valuing the opinions streamers. I don’t see that happening any time soon as too many would rather watch a streamer and listen to a bunch of drivel designed to generate money over having a discussion, let alone difficult discussions. Hell, some folks would rather watch streamers over actually playing the game they say they love.

        None of the above applies to the small streamers, the unpaid ones who are just trying to share a bit of the fun they have with a game. Those folks are more like the happy, non-vocal players mentioned previously.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I don’t know Neryssa but I follow both T&E and have watched some of Soul’s content, and I don’t see how anyone could claim their positivity was “blind”. There’s rarely a controversy or community criticism that they don’t report on, it’s just that their personal opinion tends to come down on the side of “I don’t agree / people are overreacting / personally I’m happy with it”.

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      5. Blind was a poor choice of word on my part, admittedly. I would say blind in a sense, like they don’t always engage with the substance of a take they disagree with, but there is certainly a better word for that concept that is evading me at the moment!

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  3. The breach thing is relatable. Previously, and justified, there was a cadence of good->bad->good expansion, so there was always hope for the best. Not anymore. Besides, all those “bad” expansions were sort of first world problems, as in “pearls are too small” – yet they still were pearls, totally playable and never a failure in every possible aspect. Shadowlands managed to annoy and spoil the game for every possible type of player. Moreover, Blizzard are adamant that players will like the new patches, while trodding over the very same mistakes – there’s simply no credit left.

    Personally, I’m ready for letting go. It was very good while it lasted – my major hobby – but at its current state it’s already not, and what is worse, it won’t without drastic changes and the set course. There’s always room for optimism, but I don’t believe Blizzard anymore, neither holding any hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “I do think, however, that you can adhere to that ideal without presupposing a frame where every entity is guilty of it, without allegations, until proven innocent.”

    True, but where I see the harm is when it is weaponized, crafted into a dis. This is what my boggle is and that is my perception.

    “I’d actually argue that video content was more of the downfall of things compared to leak and datamining culture”

    We’re probably thinking of different things but I do agree at the surface level. I’m sure it’s my ADHD talking since I can’t watch these things and do something else and, good gawd, I can’t live through giving these things my full attention.

    “I feel like if most streamers had to write their thoughts down and have their audience read them off a page, it would be a lot harder for them to stick the landing. Actually being able to yell and shout is probably more impactful than an exclamation mark, sadly.”

    For some value of impactful.

    You’re not wrong. I imagine some of these people would have a meltdown if they had to write down their thoughts and then read them back to themselves.

    (and I just described my editing process, go me)

    “… and the louder voices rise and dominate the space”

    Blizz’ problem in a nutshell, IMO. They’ve been catering to the noisy ones for years now, and there’s a problem where if you let the madman do the driving, eventually you end up in a mad place. It has long been a bitter pill for me, a person that likes the game but doesn’t like what its creators are doing with it. At what point does the game become a thing you can’t live with anymore?

    I’m glad for Summer 2021, it’s been a long time coming and presents the chance to really shake things up with an easy scapegoat (collectively) to blame. I still have many doubts that they’ll start moving in a direction I really like, but we’ll start to get an idea in a few weeks.

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  5. My take on the game as an active player – super enjoyable, still working to master the ins and outs of my prot pally at all levels of play & in raid. Love the new zone, it’s gorgeous and has something for everyone. Not minding the rep grind, like that legendary crafting has made gold an important in-game commodity & feel like the economy is interesting and dynamic. Love the new raid as well, stuck on normal Anduin but feel confident we will clear tonight & can’t wait. We had a really rough spot mid-tier a few months ago in terms of raid participation but we pulled together a great roster of people I really enjoy playing with.

    The jump in dungeon difficulty has made me doubt everything. My GM and a few of the officers were grinding out completion 14s and burned out this week. I have been happy in my 10-12s, doing higher keys when I have at least one DPS that can carry, enjoying playing with our other guildies and continuing to teach the less experienced players to hopefully get them ready for raid.

    Raid has been fun. The fights are complex enough that they’re challenging even in normal, but we did a normal clear up to Anduin one-shotting everything even with a new co-tank and intend to continue to do so until we have tier on most of our raiders. I have 0 tier which is especially sad for me since the prot pally tier bonus is monstrous. So I did a bunch of pvp last week, suffered through that…

    I am not sure any of the discussion about the wow “community” really matters or impacts my life in the game except that we did have to rebuild our roster basically from scratch. It’s made some players step up and learn new classes for 9.2, and I’ve been amazed at how easy it was for them to gear up. The alt-friendliness of 9.2 can’t be overstated.

    Anyway I feel like there’s not much of a point in you covering the game if you’re not playing it. Not to say I didn’t enjoy reading this, but I think you should resub personally.

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  6. I’m not a regular follower of T&E so I hadn’t seen the tweet (and can’t say if I generally are on their side or on the other), but I actually saw the video on that topic and I think you might be overanalyzing the quip (which just shows that Twitter is bad for any form of discussions or conveying actual reasoning and feelings…), because the video was kinda ok in talking about the issue at hand, in my perception. At least it sounded more like “calm down, we could interpret this as some fun thing in an instance” and not “now they have completely lost their minds retconning everything” and I also didn’t get any ‘attack’ on either wow fans or naysayers.

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    1. There’s definitely a fair point in the idea that Twitter strips nuance down, that is for sure!

      For T&E, I think that a lot of the context – their responses to others and the way they tend to reframe conversations they do have there, is off-putting to me and signals a lot of what I saw in that particular tweet. I haven’t watched their recent videos, and I’m sure once it makes it to video and they have a chance to write, draft, and refine, that the presentation is a lot better.

      My ideal example of what has put me off of them would be better shown from stream clips, where Taliesin often gets into arguments with chatters about the story – not always about the finer points of the story but his level of correctness about it. I was a pretty big fan of theirs until I watched a couple streams, and then…well, not. All that together kind of pushed my read over, but I do think that on its own, it fails to grapple with the criticism of the plot (and that could very well be down to the limits of what you can even say on Twitter).

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