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Weekly World of Warcraft #10 - Busiest Week Ever

By: Nick Arvites

Weekly World of Warcraft #23 - Goodbye to the Old Stomping Grounds
Will the new lands signal the end of the old?

Weekly World of Warcraft #22 - Burning Crusade First Impressions
Positive first impressions from our resident warlock.

Weekly World of Warcraft #21 - Thoughts from a Disgruntled Wyvern Windrider
Won't anyone think of the Windriders?

Weekly World of Warcraft #20 - New Year's Resolutions
Nick lays out some WoW-related goals for 2007.

Weekly World of Warcraft #19 - Calm Before the Storm
A look at the most-recent patch and Blizzard's next game.

Weekly World of Warcraft #18 - Casual Raiding Vol. 2
Another look at casual raiding from our brand new writer!

Weekly World of Warcraft #17 - South Park, Expansion Plans, and Updates
A look at the infamous South Park episode, and talk of the future.

Weekly World of Warcraft #16 - All Quiet on the Kalimdor Front
The calm before the Burning Crusade storm.

Weekly World of Warcraft #15 - How to Make a Crusade Burn
Burning Crusade will have a negative impact on raiding, but it should bring some good PvP changes.

Weekly World of Warcraft #14 - Should I Stay or Should I Go?
It's time to renew!

Weekly World of Warcraft - Raiding for the Rest of Us
Our first guest discusses how a casual player can raid successfully.

Weekly World of Warcraft #13 - I Still Hate the Baron: Clarifications & Responses
Clarification of last week's points after receiving a deluge of responses.

Weekly World of Warcraft #12 - Dungeon 2 Armor Complaints
I hate the Baron, and other .5 tier complaints.

Weekly World of Warcraft #11 - Undead Events
A deeper look at Patch 1.11 and the Scourge Invasion.

Weekly World of Warcraft #10 - Busiest Week Ever
You want more of this?! Patch 1.11, Diablo/Starcraft MMORPGs, and more!

Weekly World of Warcraft #9 - Mailbag Edition
9 out of 10 naked dancing dwarves agree: mailbags are good!

Weekly World of Warcraft #8 - Guild Woes
Guild improvements and raid interface changes discussed this week.

Weekly World of Warcraft #7 - PvBroken
What's wrong with PvP in today's World of Warcraft.

Weekly World of Warcraft #6 - Post E3 2006 Thoughts
We look at the addition of the Draenei, and various problems with Burning Crusade.

Weekly World of Warcraft #5 - Expansion Outlook: Pre-E3 Edition
Looking forward to next week's E3, and what the future holds for WoW.

Weekly World of Warcraft #4 - Class Warfare
Nick's perspective on playing the nerfed Rogue class.

Weekly World of Warcraft #3 - Over-Raided
The third in our series focuses on the lack of content for smaller groups.

Weekly World of Warcraft #2
The second in our series of weekly World of Warcraft rants focuses on crafting.

Weekly World of Warcraft #1
The first in our series of weekly World of Warcraft rants by our resident level 60 Rogue.

The views and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of VGGEN.com as a whole or any of its affiliates. This is simply one writer's opinion, and should be accepted as such. Weekly World of Warcraft is usually updated each Tuesday.

Author’s Note: What a busy week for World of Warcraft and MMORPGs. First, we get the news article suggesting future Blizzard forays into the MMORPG market, then World of Warcraft Patch 1.11, and then the EA acquisition of Mythic Entertainment (Dark Age of Camelot, the upcoming Warhammer Online). As a result, this week’s column will be longer than usual to fully provide my opinion and commentary on these events for you, the readers, to take as you wish. As always, address all comments, concerns, flames, and praises to weeklywow@vggen.com

Well, Patch 1.11 hit last Tuesday in all the grace and subtlety of a drunken elephant in a china shop. Patch day for any title of World of Warcraft’s size is always a hassle, but Blizzard seems intent on making it worse. Somewhere down the line, Blizzard thought it was a good idea to use BitTorrent as the sole distribution protocol. I have nothing against peer-to-peer transferring as a method of distributing patches and game files. However, I do have a massive problem with Blizzard’s implementation of said technology. Lets be honest here, the six million or so active accounts in World of Warcraft are paying about 15 bucks a month, and the best distribution source Blizzard can provide is a BitTorrent client?

Perhaps I am being harsh on the peer-to-peer setup, but I stand firm because it is (for lack of a better word) poorly implemented. Anyone who has ever alt-tabbed out of World of Warcraft has noticed the Blizzard downloader working in the background at times. In the case of Patch 1.11, the Blizzard Downloader started to pre-load the patch about two weeks prior to its release. Yet, even with the pre-loading, I woke up Tuesday morning and wound up resuming the download at 84%. Sure, that’s normally not a problem for me, but the meter stayed on 84% for about two hours. Checking the connection log, I found that the downloader was constantly disconnecting and reconnecting, yet not downloading a single bit of information. Apparently I was not alone, as the World of Warcraft forums had numerous posts complaining about the service. The blue response indicated that nothing was wrong and that it was still downloading. Pity, since their downloader program indicated otherwise on the transfer chart. To be fair, I did have an error message or two pop up periodically on the downloader, telling me to click the link for a support page. Sadly, Blizzard’s support section was down and that link did not work. I wound up just waiting it out for two hours and finally got the remaining 15% of the patch.

Sure, I know it was the day of the patch, and yes I do expect the servers to be overloaded beyond all hope. Yet, shouldn’t I expect my monthly fee to go towards lessening the burden on all parties involved (user and server) during patch time? The patch was available on the major download sites, although this did me little good. The registration-free services had line-queues up to 200+ minutes, and the registration process on at least two of the sites for their basic, non-paying registered service simply didn’t work with any email address I provided. This isn’t like Valve’s Steam crashing and burning every time a new game or patch goes live. I expect that out of Steam because I don’t pay for Steam. I do, however, pay for World of Warcraft. Blizzard has generally performed average to below average when addressing server-side issues since World of Warcraft’s release, but I don’t see the justification. Sure, the population boom following the game’s release excused initial network problems. However, the growth trend has shown no signs of stopping, and Blizzard seems to constantly be one step behind their subscription base in terms of server to customer support. I pay a fee to play a game, and I should NEVER have to look at a stalled out BitTorrent client or a “cannot retrieve character/cannot connect” error message as long as I am required to pay a fee.

As far as the actual patch content, it does look good so far. It took some serious motivation to tear myself away from fighting off the Scourge Invasion. The Invasion was handled well, although there are a few initial problems with it. If you aren’t grouped up, fighting off the Scourge will be a headache. Nothing is more annoying than having one mage tag every invader with an Area Effect spell so the people doing the work won’t get the credit for the kill. Also, if you don’t have a level 60 character, you will be left out in the cold. Don’t worry, you can still look at the spooky, floating Necropolises floating around the game world.

Perhaps the most annoying change is the worldwide Looking-for-group channel. This feature sounds awesome in theory. However, theories rarely account for people being jackholes. Have you ever heard the horror stories of Barrens chat? If you have no clue what that means, go linger around an AOL or Yahoo chat room for 20 minutes. You’ll get the idea. Instead of using the channel for, say, looking for groups, every moron on the server is using it as a spam channel. The “official” Blizzard position via Blue post in the forums indicates that they believe this will wear off once people get used to the patch. While I would like to believe that, I’m not an idiot and have instead left the Looking for Group channel unless I am actually looking for groups.

More online worlds? Discussion on F13’s response and future MMORPGs

Perhaps bigger than Patch 1.11’s release was the news story that reported Vivendi Games is looking to convert all Blizzard franchises into MMORPGs. This story, first reported by Schild over at F13.net, spread through Internet news sources like some sort of obnoxious chain letter or viral disease. The good thing out of the deal is it kicked more traffic towards Schild, so he could take everyone to task. If you haven’t read it yet, his response to every gaming site in creation debunking his report was scathing to say the least (complete with Hunter S. Thompson quote). To summarize, the collective gaming press came to the conclusion that this was rumor-mongering, basing all of this off of Rob Pardo’s post on the official forums. I myself partially fall into the scope of Schild’s scorn, so I will elaborate on my positions further in this article.

Essentially, Schild brings up an extremely valid fault of the collective gaming press: as a whole the gaming press acts as a mouthpiece for companies and cares little about checking facts because it knows fans likely will not question them. While there are exceptions, the gaming press generally does not act responsibly. When this story broke, I only found one site that actually contacted Vivendi for a comment. According to Shacknews, a senior publicist from Vivendi said, “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.” Sure, its fact-checking, but it is from a publicist. In my opinion the comments from Rob Pardo on the World of Warcraft forums have more weight behind them.

Schild reminds us that Vivendi does own Blizzard, and is ultimately the boss. In his own words:

Blizzard is owned by Vivendi Universal - or as far as I can tell they still are. They do not get the final word. It doesn't matter who you ask at Blizzard - including one Mr. Rob Pardo. He's a lapdog as far as I'm concerned. They pay him the big bucks to do what he's told.

A Vivendi representative saying [the bit about franchises] means two things:
1. All Blizzard franchises will become MMOGs.
2. This will happen with the support of Rob "The Ego" Pardo & Co. or not.

Yet, since being acquired by Vivendi in 1998, Blizzard has retained a sense of autonomy in its own identity and control of its creations. In a sense, they are similar to console developer Rare. Although I’m not sure even after researching it, it would not surprise me if Blizzard itself still holds the rights to its own creations. Again, I am not certain, and if you have information to the contrary, please inform me. However, the evidence points towards this direction. With a few exceptions (notably the departure of several employees to Guild Wars team ArenaNet), Blizzard retains many of its founders and has longtime developers still working on their games. Because of the entrenched management, Vivendi would have a hard time forcing any sort of decision on the company without having some massive morale problems and threats of walkouts. Let’s face it, if a sizable amount of Blizzard’s internal team threatened to walk over intrusive ownership, Vivendi would have to listen or risk losing them to a rival company (see Guild Wars).

When I hit a dead end searching on the web for who actually owns Blizzard’s properties, I started to look at the manuals, discs, and packaging (Warcraft III, Diablo II, and World of Warcraft specifically). Interesting enough, I can find no mention of Vivendi at any point. In fact, going by the copyright notifications in these materials, it appears that Blizzard is the sole owner of the games, characters, and universes within. Compare this to what you’ll see on a disc from a different game. Let’s use a few different examples to illustrate this point. Command and Conquer: Red Alert II is copyrighted to Electronic Arts and lists Westwood Studios as an “EA Brand.” Call of Duty (PC) lists publisher Activision as the holder to the title brand while citing Infinity Ward as the developer. Neverwinter Nights lists Wizards of the Coast as the holder of the Forgotten Realms property, Atari as the holder of Neverwinter Nights, and Bioware as the developer and owner of the engine. Blizzard is the only company listed anywhere as the owner of the rights to its games.

So how is this important? I may not have extensive knowledge of the details surrounding Vivendi’s takeover of Blizzard, but I do know enough to know that if Vivendi had full control over Blizzard and had full control over the rights to Blizzard’s products, it would clearly state that on the disc. Even the release schedule indicates that Vivendi has little control over Blizzard’s properties. If they did, we would have certainly seen far more sequels and would have seen more games pushed out the door. Hell, if Vivendi had full control, the ill-fated Starcraft Ghost would have likely been rushed out the door years ago. Look at the other major brands Vivendi acquired when they got Blizzard. Sierra Entertainment, once the premier PC developing studio, was reorganized and ultimately gutted after Vivendi’s 1998 takeover. While there were other circumstances (such as founders Ken and Roberta Williams retiring), Vivendi ultimately took control of the brand and names associated with the studio and incorporated it into a part of Vivendi Games. For whatever reason, Blizzard simply does not fall under this umbrella. Sure, Vivendi does take in a share of the profits from World of Warcraft, but they appear to be letting Blizzard do their own thing in terms of games and licenses.

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Posted: 06/22/2006