Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thoughts About Blizzard

My two eldest daughters are in a public speaking class in high school.  Most recently, they were assigned to prepare "informative" speeches.

My eldest daughter decided to speak on Irish fairies--a subject about which she likes to read and so knows a bit.  She duly turned in her chosen topic when it was due.

I'm not sure what topic my second daughter chose at first, but her older sister apparently persuaded her that she needed something more unusual--something about which the other kids would know nothing.  "Like the history of Blizzard Entertainment or something."

So my second daughter turned in as her topic, "The History of Blizzard Entertainment".

When I heard about this, I just about fell over in a faint.

"Why didn't you encourage her to pick something with which she is already familiar?" I asked my eldest daughter with some exasperation. (I refrained from any implication that she purposely wanted her sister to fail.) "Why couldn't she have spoken on pet rats or raising chickens or Greek myths?"

My second daughter is ever-so-mildly autistic (sort of like Asperger's, but not quite), so she needs a lot of encouragement and direction (and love, but not always hugs).  I knew that with a topic like this, we would be doing about as much research as required for a research essay.  (I help her locate sources or distill information, whichever she needs at the moment.)  To complicate matters, I couldn't easily contact the teacher and ask if she could change her topic.  This class is "dual-enrollment," which means her high school teacher is acting as a facilitator, while the "real" teacher is a stranger a few hundred miles away at a university.  In addition, I wasn't sure changing the topic would be a good idea, anyway, as it would send the message to my daughter I had no confidence in her ability to accomplish what she sets out to do.  (This is a bad message for any child, but it is especially bad for those who have more challenges than some other children.)

There was no help for it but to turn to Google.

My daughter ran a search and managed to find a couple of websites with timelines or articles on the history of Blizzard.  We discussed them together, pulling out the relevant ideas and restating them in her notes.  I sat at my computer to find other references while she put together her outline on her laptop and started fleshing out the paragraphs.  (Thankfully, anything reasonably organized is her forte, but that shouldn't be too surprising.)  I found some good information on the Blizzard site, itself, which I e-mailed to her, and she "interviewed" me for some content, as a customer who has played World of Warcraft since it was first available.

Her prepared speech was optimistic and upbeat, while showing the troubles and difficulties faced by the company through many acquisitions and changes.  The fact that it is the 20th anniversary of the company this year was a bonus and made a great point with which to introduce the topic.  She concluded on a positive note, citing the number of subscribers (ok, we went with "over such-and-such a number"), the plans for a Warcraft movie, and the hope Blizzard has for continued success in the future.

It occurred to me that I had left some things out in my discussion with her, especially when I read Blacksen's blog from the weekend.  I had told her that when the merger with Activision occurred, there had been some concern over the direction the game would take.  I had also said that the game had changed to make it more appealing to a wider audience.  These were true.

What I hadn't told her was the theme I have seen repeated through forums and blogs:  that Cataclysm just isn't the same as the previous WoW iterations.  Some long-term players are losing interest and thinking this is the end of the Warcraft universe.  Maybe some of those people have simply grown up and moved on, with other things on which to focus now:  families, schooling, or work.  (In other words, they would have left, anyway, no matter what had turned up in Cataclysm.)  Perhaps, also, there are those who have finally recognized the futility of it all--that no matter how hard they work, the next tier, everything will again be leveled.  There is no lasting reward for their efforts, which may have been extensive.

Now, what this means for Blizzard, I do not know.  If the number of new subscribers is keeping up with the number cancelling their subscriptions, they will not necessarily lose market share:  it will just change focus.  And for a company whose primary goal is to stay in business and make money, adapting to the available market is probably a good thing.

I know if I ever quit WoW, which will probably happen sometime in the future (about the time the next expansion comes out), I will most likely not be moving on to another MMO.  Why would I?  I would always be comparing it to WoW.  Even now, when I read information on other games, I find myself categorizing classes or abilities in terms of WoW classes or abilities.  Maybe I'll do some writing or start a home business or something.

In the mean time, I'll focus on getting my healers through Cataclysm and getting my daughters through high school, although not in that order.

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