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What Blizzard can learn from the Ghost Wolf debacle

Make no mistake about it-- Blizzard screwed up the issue of ghost wolf taming. A few months ago, when patch 2.3 was introduced with the new Dustwallow content, players found that by quickening Hunters' spellcast time, they were able to tame an animal that was never meant to be tamed-- the ghost wolves summoned by Grimtotem shamans there. Players thought it was awesome, and so did we. And despite the expectation that Blizzard would fix the problem and ruin our fun, we were surprised to hear that even though Blizzard admitted the taming was not intended, they would let it go. Those who wanted to put in the extra effort and cost to get a neat pet model would get one.

Cut to earlier this week, when Drysc posted exactly the opposite on the forums.

This isn't the first time Blizzard has flipped on players, and odds are that it won't be the last. They screwed this up, and players deserve to either keep having the ability to go out of their way to tame these wolves, or get a good reason why they shouldn't be able to.

Before I go any further, a few assumptions. Yes, I know what they say about assumptions, but seeing as Blizzard hasn't shed any other light on the behind the scenes of this one, I am assuming that the following things are true:
  • That the ghost wolf change doesn't affect gameplay at all. This is what it seems like, and Blizzard hasn't said otherwise.
  • That the original ghost wolf taming was a mistake-- Blizzard never meant to let hunters tame these pets.
  • And that there is no difference at all between the ghost wolf and other pets besides the skin itself. If the ghost wolf is labeled "undead" or "summoned" in some unchangeable way in the code that we don't know about, then obviously, there'd be problems with letting players have it. But even though Drysc says the guide has "undead status," (see below) he doesn't elaborate on this enough to convince me that the code is an obstacle here.
And so we're all on the same page, here is the exact reasoning Drysc offered for removing the ghost wolf taming:

The removal of the spirit guide has been debated within design discussions for a while now as to what impact the pet and its precedent has on the game.
The unintended nature of the taming, the undead status of the guide, appearance of the wolf in relation to the feel of the hunter class, and the complex processes of taming were all issues touched upon and discussed.

So he gives us four reasons for undoing the taming: the unintended nature, the undead status of the guide, the appearance of the wolf in relation to hunters, and the complexity of taming.

The undead status of the guide is easy to argue against-- Hunters can already tame plagued bears and vampiric bats. The suggestion that the ghost of a wolf is less than a wolf itself doesn't hold water. Likewise, the appearance of the wolf in relation to the class is a cop-out (maybe some Hunters are more in tune with the spirit world than others), and the complex processes of taming are one of the reasons why the experience appealed to some Hunters in the first place. It was costly and expensive to get this thing, sure, but that's exactly what balanced out the special appearance for most.

So of the arguments given by Drysc, only "the unintended nature of the taming" holds any water. It seems that the "precedent" Blizzard didn't want to set was that they didn't want players enjoying developer mistakes. During creation of this wolf, some developer mistakenly labeled it "tameable." And thinking about it afterwards, the developers then decided they didn't want players reveling in the fact that they messed up. If players are going to enjoy the game, it seems, then it's going to be because of developers, not in spite of.

And of course, that's not a good idea at all. Leaving aside the fact that "precedent" doesn't even exist for Blizzard (it's their game, and they'll do what they want, so there should be no problem with them leaving in a mistake that doesn't affect gameplay and in the future, fixing one that does), even the best developers can stumble across mistakes that turn out to be great easter eggs for players to find. In short, none of the reasons Drysc gave are reason enough to take this taming out of the game. If there is a good reason to do this, we haven't heard it.

And that's the real problem here-- not so much that Blizzard no longer allows Hunters to tame ghost wolves (because hey, it's just a game), but that Blizzard's left hand never seems to know what its right hand is doing. When this news first broke, we posted here and many people posted on other sites that this "feature" was hidden in the game, and we all expected that it would get fixed (we wished it wouldn't, but we expected that it would). But no-- Blizzard's EU CMs told us clearly that ghost wolves would stay (these are the same CMs who admitted they screwed that up). And then a month later, Drysc told us exactly the opposite.

This has happened before. And before that. And any other time when we were promised one thing, but got another. Blizzard's CMs have a heck of a job to do, but whether the devs are giving them bad information or they're just not sharing that info with each other, players are hearing one thing, and then the complete opposite later on.

There are two ways to fix this, and I sincerely hope Blizzard chooses the second. Because the first is to do what they're doing now: go into a mode where they don't speak unless they are completely sure about what they're saying. "When it's done" is a result of this-- tired of being pestered about release dates, they refuse to give them out completely. And one fix for this would have been for Issuntril to never have posted about ghost wolves in the first place. If he'd never promised us they'd stay, then we wouldn't have been surprised when Drysc said they were getting fixed. If the CMs never give out any information, we can't ever accuse them of lying.

But there is the second solution, and it's the one I hope for. It's one where both the devs and the CMs are open and honest with us, and actually pay attention to what's been said before. Issuntril's message made it clear not only that he was posting that the ghost wolves would stay, but that the devs themselves had agreed they would. And now the devs flip back on that without even realizing what they'd decided before? That's unacceptable. If you give your word like that, or you make a decision in that way, no matter what business you're in, you make sure it stays made, or give a good reason why it must change, and neither the devs or the CMs seems to respect players enough to make either one of those things happen. Drysc's little "whoops, that was fixed-- didn't you know?" doesn't cut it.

I'm not saying "quit the game"-- I love World of Warcraft, and Blizzard is still one of my favorite developers. But they've got to get it together-- if they make a decision, they need to stand by it or make sure they have an excellent, known reason not to. This is game now played by nine million people around the world, which means the CMs oversee a community the size of Sweden. The least they could do is get their stories straight.

Want to know more about the Ghost Wolf and Blizzard's history of changes with it? Check out WoW Insider's coverage of the events as they unfolded.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Bugs, Blizzard, Forums

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