15 Apr 2012

Annual Pass: A Post Mortem

I promise this article is going to be the last thing I write about the World of Warcraft Annual Pass. Once this is finished, I’m done with the whole sorry saga. To me, the whole process has been a great concept gone disastrously wrong, exposing how far a company will push their terms and conditions at the expense of customer satisfaction.

It’s also – and I’m being honest here – the symptom of a bet gone bad. Of calculating the probability of when key events would happen, and getting it wrong. While these events are still somewhat inside Blizzard’s control, it’s something I’m aware I’ve got to take on the chin.

But it’s not an emotionless decision. One doesn’t just turn their back on a games studio in the blink of an eye. It takes time for opinions to change, for the fan to metamorph into the cynic. It took this latest saga to realise just how far my opinions had changed about the studio and their commercial decisions.

Winding the clock back, I was completely in favour of the Annual Pass when it was announced back in October 2011. Blizzard were offering guaranteed access to the Mists of Pandaria beta, a free copy of Diablo 3 and a free mount just for signing up to a 12 month commitment. At the time it seemed like a no-brainer to me. I’d still be playing Blizzard games, so I’d essentially be getting a whole handful of free stuff. You can imagine my glee.

The first clanger was the announcement that Dragon Soul would be the final content patch before the expansion. This meant that at best I’d be working through a six month content drought while the guild progressed through the Dragon Soul raid. Little did I realise how brutally effective the LFR tool would be. Within two weeks I’d been through the raid, killed Deathwing and finished the story. As the guild leader dished out loot, the future of seeing this same scenario play out week after week appeared in my mind. I rejected it. I’d seen what I wanted. I was done.

The second clanger – Diablo 3. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game. This was the icing on the top rather than the cake itself. But after playing through the beta I gave up even considering it. While it’s not a bad game per se, it’s an incredibly direct continuation of the mechanics, art style and even game engine used in the previous games. For me the beta didn’t add anything substantial to the experience beyond the use of true 3D graphics. I went from considering a Collectors Edition preorder to outright dismissing the game in one playthrough.

The third clanger – The handling of the MoP beta invites themselves. Not only did we see the climbdown from “everyone in at once” to “invites in waves”, but we also saw some barefaced untruths. After being told in forum posts and news articles that priority would be given to the longest subscribers who signed up quickest, it’s clear from various news sources that it simply isn’t the case. But it’s the mismanagement of how this has been handled that really strikes me. Instead of firing up new beta servers, Blizzard sticks to their guns.

The fourth clanger – experiencing the beta. After playing through the new starting zones and some of the high-end content, I’ve come to realise that the game is offering me more of the same. Like a TV series that has outstayed its welcome or a line of books that have run out of ideas, I’m reminded that I’m still playing the same game that I was seven years ago. The core of the game hasn’t moved, even while the MMO landscape has been changing around it.

As a result of all of this, I made the unusual step of contacting my card provider and blocking any further payments to Blizzard. Tired of continuing to pay for something I was no longer using, tired of the repeated changes by Blizzard and tired of evasive responses by customer support teams, I took matters into my own hands. It’s at this point that I realised just how far things had changed, from a plucky developer eager to please to a businesslike service provider mired in policies and procedures. I was a fan of the Blizzard they used to be, not the ActiBlizz they’ve become.

In truth I haven’t been playing World of Warcraft for four months. Instead, I’ve been returning to games like Rift and trying out new ones like Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve also been involved in a handful of betas, some of which I hope to talk about someday. All of this has reminded me that it’s variety that makes the games fun, and although World of Warcraft was a fun experience for the many years it lasted, it’s a game whose time has come and gone.

That’s not to say that I begrudge those who are still enjoying their time in WoW. If you are, good luck to you. If you still have faith in Blizzard then I’m happy for you. If you’re happy with raiding the same instance for months on end while paying a subscription for it, then that’s entirely your decision.

The whole situation has reminded me of a greater truth: it should be easy to judge the value of entertainment. Choosing to spend money on a particular game, book or film should be about how much enjoyment we’ll get out of it. Trying to balance cost against options and terms and conditions – these things are better left to mobile phone contracts or car insurance. Gaming should be a simple choice, not a complex negotiation.

That’s my final word on it. World of Warcraft and I? Done.

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24 Responses to Annual Pass: A Post Mortem

  1. Razerbug says:

    “Not only did we see the climbdown from “everyone in at once” to “invites in waves”, but we also saw some barefaced untruths.”
    That’s a rather charged statement that doesn’t quite reflect the facts or common sense. Blizzard said “guaranteed access to mists of Pandaria beta when it goes live” they did not say “we’ll let every single person in the very second it goes live” – that’s simply what the community has, rather unrealistically, decided.

    You’re a very bright guy who knows his way around a server stack or 3… common sense and logistics says the access was only ever possibly going to be in waves, because you simply can’t dump a million people on a server and expect it to stay up…

    We discuses at the announcement and several times afterwards about how they where going to implement this technically, a controlled access was the only realistic way they where ever going to implement it.

    Its harsh that not everyone was able to see stuff immediately when they wanted but it strikes me the common sense musing of the community, on how it would be implemented, has changed to “but they promised it now” by anyone who wasn’t lucky enough.

    It’s a real shame your raiding situation changed, it’s a shame that LFR messed up those collecting for legendaries and it’s a shame they can’t continue to put out content and that at the end of expansions we have a dry spell, and it’s a bitter twist that you didn’t get early beta access. I empathise and sympathise with how that would jade someone.

    I hope Mists tempts you back sir because I genuinely enjoy your Warcraft coverage and you’ve always been in my top 3 voices musing on the world of Azeroth. It’s a true shame to see it stop…

    #tolongdidntread

    • Gazimoff says:

      I’ll bite on this one thing about beta capacity.

      Firstly, there were heavy implications for immediate Beta access. From Mike Morhime’s initial Blizzcon announcement to the initial marketing material. Which ever way you slice it, there has been a climb down from that position.

      Secondly, it is technically possible to increase Beta capacity and accommodate more users. From my own experience there’s about a ten week lead time to commission, install, test and bring into service new servers, routing and so on. This relies on you having enough foresight to ensure that there’s enough space and power in your datacentre to accommodate the extra server racks etc. If you’re running things so tight that you can’t manage this then you have bigger problems than just infrastructure management.

      Blizzard knew for months how many AP signups they had and how much capacity they needed. That they chose to provide a detrimental customer experience rather than spend the money on increasing beta capacity shows me where their priorities currently lie. This is all capacity management 101.

      • Paul says:

        It was clear to me that Morhaime’s comments back at Blizzcon, that you’d have beta access when beta went live, was to cut off the misinterpretation that you’d have beta access at the moment you signed up for the annual pass. It was poorly phrased, but they cleared that up soon after.

        I didn’t sign up for the AP — I wasn’t even subbed then — but had I been subbed, I still would not have signed up. The reason is simple: no business offers something like the AP unless they think it will benefit them. That means they were predicting that lots of people would unsub unless bribed. Given that THEY thought that, I didn’t feel it was good to commit to continued play. This is also why I pay 1 month at a time (I resubbed in December).

        I don’t think Blizzard EVER intended, or imagined that people would think, that they’d get into beta pronto. That’s not how betas work, after all.

        This could be seen as an example of Jon Clarke’s First Law (“Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.”)

        I also imagine you’re viewing this darkly, at least in part, because that makes it easier to quit, which you want to do for other reasons. There’s nothing wrong with that; I did something similar myself when I left WoW last year. I eventually came back, though, and I predict you will too.

      • ragehavoc says:

        First of all blizzard never said everyone would be able to join on day one, that has always been a fallacy created by peoples overactive imagination and miss quoting or not understanding what was said or described.
        Second, it is incredibly hard to the point of almost impossible to have servers ready for more than 1 million users logging in on the same day. You seem to believe the beta is some sort of demo or something besides a beta, despite your constant use of the word as if it will somehow justify what your saying.
        No company would ever spend a substantial amount of money on a beta, ever.
        I do laugh at your “own experience” which is not with blizzards servers and as not all servers are the same your ‘experienced’ statement sounds as an observer not knowing what really happened.
        Obviously you lack the common sense razer was referring you to, enjoy your bubble.

        • Gazimoff says:

          Blizzard could let everyone in the Annual Pass in beta in day one. It’s simple. Just bring more servers online. They had plenty of time, but they stuck to the same four they’ve used for ever other beta.

          It’s pretty obvious that Blizzard thinks that pissing off their customers will cost them less than putting the new servers online.

          Choosing to follow Blizzard’s line rather than look beyond those decisions exposes your own shortsightedness.

          • Paul says:

            No, I think Blizzard’s position is that allowing people into the beta in waves makes the beta work better. They need testers for the latter part of the beta process too, you know.

  2. Töki says:

    I’ve never been a Blizzard fanboy, but the way they dealt with the promises they had made concerning the Annual Pass, was quite the eye-opener. I’ve been raiding for two months with my guild, progressing on heroic. I might not re-subscribe after my current game time expires and wait for MoP, which I’m hoping will bring the fun back for another couple of months (steering clear of as much beta content previews I can for that reason).

    I’m sorry your game experience is coming to an end in a negative way, but I can’t say I’m surprised – I’ve valued Blizzard for their customer services for a long time, which seems to have come to an end a long time ago.
    I wonder, though, since I have many friends who are equally disappointed and want to get out of the beta, are you not worried it will influence your credit score negatively or that Blizzard will send you to collections? All I’m reading on the internet is ‘you cannot get out of the Annual Pass without committing credit card fraud’, but since I haven’t read all the legal mumbo-jumbo, I’m not sure how ‘tight’ that contract of theirs is.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I am not a lawyer, but I think all I’ll lose is the mount and Diablo 3. Since it’s not a Credit Agreement under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 I think there’s minimal risk under UK law. Your mileage may differ.

  3. Rigg says:

    I’ll be sad to see you go. You’re the second WoW blogger I follow this year who has decided that they’re done with the game. It’s kind of like losing a friend of a friend, even if I have largely only been a lurker.

    Ultimately, I think there’s just a limit to how long a single game can hold most people’s attention. I only just started playing in January of 2010, so there’s still a lot of the game to experience in terms of classes and specs, and I’m excited about what’s coming in Mists. (I also don’t raid, which probably helps prevent burnout.) But I can definitely understand that after four boxes and seven years of playing, you’ve probably reached the limit of what one game can do for you. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if a time traveler told me I wouldn’t be playing in 2017 even if a brand new box was on its way.

    Here’s hoping you find other interesting things to write about. Cheers!

    • Gazimoff says:

      Oh, I’ll always find things to talk about! So many great MMOs coming out this year that I’m itching to dissect and analyse. Don’t you worry, I’m not done yet!

    • Wasselin says:

      Not raiding is probably a good idea. I wouldn’t try it if I were you. I was really happy with not raiding in Burning Crusade but once I started raiding I could never go back to not being a “raider” but eventually got burnt out on raiding.

  4. Duisternis says:

    “just for signing up to a 12 month commitment.”

    COMMITMENT. Suffice to say, words mean things. I won’t waste any more of your time by typing more.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Indeed. But it’s tough to argue that the terms had not changed. Product delays, climb downs, degraded experiences: these have meanings too. This isn’t a marriage or relationship – it’s a business agreement. And what was originally agreed has changed, reduced in value and offered inconsistently.

      Agreements have meanings too, and Activision Blizzard would do well to remember that.

      • ragehavoc says:

        a marriage is also a business agreement or a legal agreement as it involves your finances, debts, etc.

        however you seem not to notice the word commitment, as it is a completely different word than agreement, the word in which you are using and which is different in definition.

        A dictionary would help you alot.

  5. spinks says:

    I think you’re being too harsh on yourself because although you might have been able to predict some of those things, you would never have known that D3 would fail to interest you in the beta, or how LFR would affect how quickly you finished with the new content.

    MoP being more of the same was predictable though. But don’t beat yourself up over it.
    spinks recently posted..[Links] Where are the links of yesterweek?My Profile

  6. All good things must come to an end.

    I love WoW, I love Blizzard. I think their games are amazing, challenging and fun. I think Blizzard sees that a game and four expansions later, they have told there stories. They have a plan and a big picture. We don’t have the liberty of seeing it. They have done almost all that they wanted to do & say. It is time to move on to bigger and better more glorious things.

    I stopped playing WoW a few months before SWTOR came out. I wasn’t having any fun anymore. It wasn’t the game. Sure it changed but I saw a lot of changes in WoW but it never stopped me from playing. It was me, I changed too. I was busier in real life, with work and family. 3 years ago, I didnt have these elements.
    I can understand where you are coming from with leaving WoW. Your good thing came to an end after some and before others. It’s a personal thing. Good luck and look me up in SWTOR.
    Niki (@gamerfridge) recently posted..Grilled Cheese ~ The SimsMy Profile

  7. Azuriel says:

    From the very beginning, I never understood why people signed up for the Annual Pass immediately. The only immediate “benefit” was a flying mount that you would see dozens and dozens of everywhere. Why sign up before the Beta came out, or Diablo 3 had a release date?

    Personally, despite being unsubbed since August, I am still mulling over the Annual Pass question. As far as I know, I can still sign up until May 1st to secure Diablo 3 (something I’m buying Day 1 anyway), plus probably getting right into the MoP beta. There may or may not be some dead-time between when I finish D3 and when MoP comes out, but then again I haven’t done anything with Dragon Soul or the new heroics or Transmog or just screwing around in BGs.

    Then again… I dunno. I hate contracts, I have plenty of other games I could be playing, and why reward Blizzard for taking 4+ months between content patches?

    As far as getting out of the “commitment,” Blizzard isn’t going to send you to collections; there are plenty of other threads in the forums about people getting out of the Annual Pass. Essentially, your account gets frozen when you stop paying, and will start right back up when you reactivate. The only issue would be if you wanted to play Starcraft 2 or whatever.

    • ragehavoc says:

      It is also said you may not be eligable for any other ‘deals’ in the future which could be basicly anything they offer.

  8. ragehavoc says:

    So, lets see,
    You signed up for the annual pass with no intention of playing D3.
    Your an RPer so the whole LFR and getting geared made no difference to you which begs the question how you thought you would be playing wow for a year straight right before an expansion.
    You thought somehow Blizzard would put 1 mill+ people in a beta on day one.
    You thought that, even though Blizzard never said this, somehow they would completely change the way questing/leveling worked.
    And lastly you thought the beta would be some sort of demo.

    Sounds like you failed yourself.

    • Gazimoff says:

      You make a lot of assumptions about how I spend my game time, most of them wrong. Then again, I’m guessing that actually reading what I was saying rather than just trolling away is beyond you.

  9. Arioch says:

    I signed up for my AP within 30 minutes of it being announced at BlizzCon. Never once did I expect that I would be in some sort of initial dump of potentially millions of people into the beta on day 1. Honestly, anyone that thought that the beta would be able to handle that was just kidding themselves and looking for an excuse to be upset.

    Had they promised us “demo” access it would be different, but beta is created for them to fix their shit and they don’t need a million pandas on day 1 all reporting the same bug – or even worse, all reporting that they can’t log in. What about the warlock bug where you could summon infinite demons and storm Stormwind all by yourself? Having a thousand people doing that on day one isn’t going to help speed up the fixes, they would just be bogged down with repetitious and whiny forum posts – meaning even longer before the game is considered polished enough to release.

    I’m a little surprised that you would back out of your agreement with Blizzard on the pass. You got your mount, you will have access to D3 upon release, and you’ve received your MoP beta key (or will shortly). Just because it didn’t live up to your expectations doesn’t mean that they didn’t deliver.
    Arioch recently posted..I’m In!My Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      As I said before, there are two parts at play here.

      One is the climb down by Blizzard about when beta access would be granted. We can argue on that till the cows come home.

      The other is that Blizzard stated priority would be given to long term subscribers who signed up to the annual pass earliest. From first hand experience of a handful of identical accounts started at the same time and with the same parameters, this is simply untrue. Considering that D3 and the mount were inconsequential in the purchasing decision, the value of AP had dropped significantly from when it was originally signed up to.

      Also look at the announcement after Blizzcon that Dragon Soul would be the final content patch of the expansion. This makes the 12 moth commitment even less value as there is no longer any new content to engage in. The lifespan of DS was shortened hugely through LFR.

      Saying this is purely about admittance to the beta on day 1 just isn’t true. It’s about the whole package, about how that package now has substantially less value and about how corporations treat their customers.