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Is WoW being run by its B-team? Is that bad?

This post by Eric Heimburg on the excellent MMO design blog Elder Game, alleging that WoW is currently run by Blizzard's B-team, has ignited a fair amount of controversy around the blogosphere. The general argument appears to be that the people previously in charge of WoW, like Jeff Kaplan, have moved on to other projects. As a consequence knee-jerk changes are being pushed through very fast, without being sufficiently tested first. "Back in the day," claims the article, "QA held the game to a higher standard."

My reaction to these claims are mixed. Kaplan may not be in charge of WoW anymore, but I don't think that "the steady hand has left the rudder," or if it has, maybe a less straight-ahead course is a good thing. Changes may be getting pushed through very quickly - Ghostcrawler routinely refers to players getting whiplash from the frequency of balance changes - but in many cases, I think this is for the best.

Throughout the BC era, WoW followed a model of punctuated equilibrium: relatively large changes in major patches, and very little in-between. This did mean a lot of testing could be done for most changes, but the downside is that it regularly took months for problems to be fixed.

Nowadays, we appear to have a faster cycle of minor (two-decimal-point) patches, as well as copious hotfixes. Sure, it causes some cruft to accumlate - like leatherworkers being able to craft now-worthless quivers, in Heimburg's example - but I think a faster problem/solution turnaround time is well worth a few rough edges. Rapid iteration has been a principle of web design for a while now. Maybe it's time it came to MMOs, which are conceptually similar to web apps.

Overall, I think the game is continually improving. It's in a better state now than it ever has been, and it will be better still in 3.2, if what I'm seeing from the PTR is any indication. (Caveat: No more jousting, please. It is simply not fun.) So if there are indeed new people in charge of WoW, I for one welcome our change-happy overlords.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard

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