Power to the Players: A Digital Revolution

So this weekend there was a major furor - as there always seems to be - on the official World of Warcraft forums.

So this weekend there was a major furor - as there always seems to be - on the official World of Warcraft forums. At the nexus of the latest storm, Blizzard announced a sudden change in the Exalted achievement in this week’s patch notes which stripped the title from millions of players until they had grinded another ten reputations to exalted (that’s basically every new faction introduced in Cataclysm).

For those of you who may have missed the memo, the change to the requirements of the Exalted title were implemented with no prior announcement, other than a small note. This in and of itself isn’t what caused such a pitchfork reaction by the community, though it certainly didn’t help matters. The heart of the issue really boils down to the idea that something that players had already earned in-game was suddenly taken away from them, forcing them to jump through even more hoops to lock in an achievement-based title. Here’s what Bashiok said:


We think "the Exalted" is a really awesome title. With Cataclysm we added a bunch of new reps though, and we want the title to keep pace so that it's always representative of someone that's obtained a considerable number of exalted reputations throughout the life of the game, even as we add more.

We did consider offering multiple titles for the various tiers, but "the Exalted" fits so perfectly and we wanted to avoid a potentially infinite string of titles like "the Fairly Exalted", "the Nigh Exalted", "the Mostly Exalted", etc. We also considered grandfathering in those who had already earned it but think that this title can be a unique testament to the continued efforts of reputation hunters and keep the same value as we introduce more reps and push the requirements up to match.

Well to say the community response was swift is putting it mildly. Once Bashiok confirmed it wasn’t a bug, the entire player base was in uproar and it was just hours until Blizzard backed down and restored Exalted to its previous state. I’ve not seen back-peddling that fast since the Real ID on the forums debacle!

As always, I can see both sides of the argument. To give a new tier of the title track any value it would need to somehow relate to the original, and as Bashiok said, how uber does the ‘nigh Exalted’ sound? It’s not the world’s most grandfatherable achievement. Yet at the same time I do dislike the way the devs ‘forgot’ to tell us all about it prior to making the change on the live servers, forcing Bashiok to make a rather grovelling apology:


Recently we changed 'the Exalted' title to require 50 exalted titles up from 40, which meant those that had achieved it were now asked to get 10 more reputations to gain the title back. We felt this kept the title as a difficult reward given the additional reputations introduced with Cataclysm, and also avoided the problem of achievement inflation as the game continues to grow, devaluing the reward. We didn’t let people know beforehand that we were making this change. A pretty cut and dry error on our part. We take full responsibility for not communicating the change properly, and apologize for the frustration it added to the situation.

You need to understand, I’m not affected by this personally. (Indeed, my main has just 15 exalted reputations and I’ve been playing since vanilla WoW. That said, grinding rep is the most evil, soulless experience you can undertake in WoW and I hate it. It makes the MMO feel like a chore, like a single player game, and it’s something I do only if it benefits my character, involves some kind of shiny loot, a title or is just a side effect of running X raid or dungeon.

My first rep grind was Karazhan and I hated both the dungeon and the rep grind with equal measure. We went in night after night after night and the bar would creep up until I eventually hit exalted and got my shiny, uber-powerful ring. Fast forward two expansions and I found myself doing exactly the same thing in ICC. Seriously, WTF? Whoever invented grinding trash for rep should be shot, because it’s the most soul destroying thing next to the act of grinding itself.

Yes I know it’s easier to do rep grind now thanks to tabards but that’s not the point. The point is, folks spend weeks and sometimes months grinding not one faction but FORTY. That’s a heck of a lot so I totally get why folks got so pissed off when Blizzard decided to retcon the achievement, they had every right to. Hell, if I had that many reputations done and dusted and was then told I had to do ten more, I’d be furious too.

But the other problem is, how ever much time we invest in WoW, is that we’re really only renting our toons from Blizzard. They own every scrap of code, every loot item and achievement, and we’re technically just borrowing or leasing them but we are paying for the privilege which does still mean something, even in this day and age.

You see, to the community as a whole, removing achievements and stripping people of titles is something which happens to bad people, players who cheat their way through the game, not honest folk like the majority of the playerbase. So, for Blizzard to come along and unceremoniously change the title for so many people without so much as a by your leave, well it’s just not on.

Blizzard does need to remember that the balance of power goes both ways and devs and players will always have a symbiotic relationship. We pay to play and without the subscription base, there’s no way WoW would be popular. After all, just look at the number of MMOs which have ended in the last couple of years. Not rocking the boat - whether it’s a dev like Bashiok, or just a player with a point to put across - goes both ways. The devs need us and we need them; the forums, the blue posts, the patch notes are a courtesy which allow both sides to communicate and, ultimately, create a better game.

That said, I find it refreshing that people power still works. Whether it’s in Egypt or in Azeroth, the ability of the masses to influence the establishment reminds me that nothing is set in stone and if you feel strongly enough about a matter - and if enough people feel the same way - then you really can change the world. So, the bottom line is:

Blizzard: treat your subscribers better, after all they helped you get the game where it is today. They pay to play and, in this fickle world, trends change faster than the weather and a day may well come when WoW is not top dog anymore. Remember that because the day you forget is the day your game dies.

Players: treat the devs with the dignity and respect they deserve, they made the game you love but are only human, even Ghostcrawler. That said, don’t be afraid to let them know when they really are going in the wrong direction.

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