EDITORIAL: So, Call To Arms, then…

Lest you hadn’t heard: Blizzard have decided that the only way to entice enough people to play tanks or healers in the effectively-anonymous LFD tool is to bribe them with rare mounts and occasional flasks.

The blogophere’s already exploded with opinions, so I won’t go for a lengthy dissection of the pros and cons of the Call to Arms idea as a whole. See our roundup of posts about it if you want all the opinions you’ll ever need! But here are a few points I’m not seeing discussed terribly much…

  • This system only rewards tanks for completing dungeons – if the group falls apart or you get kicked, you get nothing. That’s likely to discourage the flood of DPS DKs in Blood Presence that some people are expecting. However, it’ll also mean that a significant number of the tanks in the LFD system are incentivised to drop group as soon as they believe they’re unlikely to complete an instance. Expect Grim Batol and Stonecore to be a tank-free wasteland as every new tank zones in, goes “Oh, god, this one’s a nightmare to complete”, and promptly goes offline…
  • Various people have noted that this new approach doesn’t address the core reasons why people don’t tank at all, instead merely pasting a band-aid of additional reward over the problem. I agree – the problem’s that tanking has a higher chance of attracting abuse and hassle, and that’s a function of the LFD tool and the environment it fosters.Many people have then said that this is Blizzard’s desigh failure. There I don’t agree. IMO, Blizzard have shown pretty consistently, with the introduction of the LFD tool and subsequent changes aimed at making it harder to vote-kick, that they have a very specific design aim – to create an environment where everyone, no matter how socially inept (or, to put it another way, no matter how much of an asshole they are), is able to join a dungeon group and thus have at least something to do at endgame. This approach maximises Blizzard’s incoming revenue – a lot of their playerbase have social problems, either of ineptitude or poor impulse control. If their design strategy was to exclude or punish people acting in an antisocial way, those players would leave and take their monthly fee with them.

    Blizzard don’t get paid more money for happier players – just for more players. We may not like the approach they’re taking (and I believe it has long-term issues, as I’ll mention below) but it’s a consistent and rational approach to social design for the game from a business perspective.

    • But surely it would be impossible to fix the actual problems with LFD? Well, no, it wouldn’t. I’ve been managing large communities for nearly 14 years now on the Internet, and the LFD Tool community is simply manifesting a fairly well-known problem. Fully-anonymous communities with no oversight and very few to no consequences for their actions tend toward a very specific social style, characterised by disregard for real-world social norms and a very high level of aggression and confrontation – see 4Chan for the best-known example. There’s a well-known and tested fix for this, which is to introduce a level of moderation: the best-known success story was the BoingBoing comments, which were able to reopen and maintain at least some level of civility after Teresa Neilsen Haiden joined them as community moderator. Blizzard could work along similar lines – either by introducing a reputation system, or simply by tightening their TOS to prohibit harassment and verbal abuse, and hiring a bunch of additional moderators to police the increased complaint load.

      However, either solution would dramatically change their playerbase, and probably result in WoW losing a considerable number of the less socially able players – which, as I mention above, would seem to run counter to their current community design goals and revenue strategy.

      • A tiny point – why now? Because of the change to daily quests in 4.1. With tanks able to run all their Valor-producing dungeon runs in a couple of multi-run sessions with guildies, we’re going to see even less tanks in LFD. Blizzard are predicting this and moving to, at least temporarily, stem the flow away.
      • This is a band-aid. Yes, it is. It’s not going to work forever. However, I’m increasingly starting to feel that the current WoW design strategy is aimed at life-support rather than long-term stability and growth. I don’t have a lot of proof of this, but the combination of an obvious temporary strategy to increase the utility of the LFD tool, the increase in re-worked dungeons rather than original content (a cheap way to extend the game’s lifespan), the general reduced content of Cataclysm compared to previous patches, and the fact that it’s well known the top WoW designers have all moved on to the Titan project all contribute. I get the feeling Blizzard knows and has accepted that WoW’s days are numbered, and is using strategies like this, like the larger strategy of keeping the maximum playerbase in play, and like reusing content wherever possible, to extend the revenue stream from WoW as much as possible without investing too much new designer time so that TItan and other projects can progress and eventually take over.

        What do you think? Anything else about the Call To Arms that we should have spotted?