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Why a week-long NDA for the MoP press event?

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, and esoteroic topics that slip through the cracks.

From what we can gather, the first half of March is going to be a fun time for Diablo III fans with a teased announcement, and the second half of March will be devoted to the Mists of Pandaria press tour's kick-off and information dump. We're all waiting patiently like good little boys and girls, mere hours from a large, gift-giving morning event, stirring and shaking with happy excitement. Well, too bad -- because once information is gathered by fan sites and news outlets, you've got to wait a week before the goods get gotten. Blizzard has stated that there will be a week-long NDA after the beginning of the Mists of Pandaria press event.

NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) are a staple of the video game industry. To understand the NDA is to understand the very unique relationship the video game industry has with its fan community. Many will enter this conversation brazenly, proclaim the absurdity of a system based on hype and advertisements of the same product being reported on, and exit stage right. There are problems with the system. The system is also young, naive, and growing into its own -- we have a long time to shape it.

Here's what Adam Holisky originally said in the comments from The Queue:
If there wasn't an NDA, here's what'd happen:

People would sit in the press room with a bulky setup, streaming the presentations and data back to a home base where 20 people would be writing and getting the content out as fast as possible. This is how BlizzCon is. The focus would be less on quality and more on production time.

But instead, here's what'll happen:

At the end of the day's presentations and gameplay we'll be able to take the information and make great posts about it and not have to have an epeen contest with other sites to see who can push the publish button first (a very stupid contest to have in the first place). The focus will be on quality, and not on production time.

This comment is brought to you by a possibly-too-honest-Adam.
What's the purpose of a news NDA?

Why would Blizzard want to keep a lid on the information that it had just released to fan sites and news outlets? Doesn't it seem counterproductive to artificially slow a hype train when the company just revealed an aggressive subscriber reinvite campaign, presumably to lock in old players for the new expansion?

Yes and no. Careful message control is one of the hallmarks of the video game industry.

Message is important. Message is especially important in the video game industry because of the supposed window of time in which a publisher has to reap the benefits of premier shelf life and make its money back versus falling into a premature bargain bin and closing up its development houses. Message is extremely important for an MMO because customers decide each month whether the game exists or does not exist in their minds and wallets.

Forecasting an MMO is a risky endeavor because of the fluid nature of the subscription world. Look at how shocked we are every time we see WoW subscriber numbers, because they are never really talked about outside of four times each year. Let's try to count -- raise your hand if you play World of Warcraft. OK, one ... two ... three ...

Controlling a message

NDAs are all about message control in order to make the best use of the hype you've stored up. I think it's safe to say that the WoW community is ready for more information about their game. What's important is to create an atmosphere where players feel connecting to the world and Blizzard's product while keeping their expectations to an appreciable level.

Many people were concerned when Bashiok came out and said that people should temper their Diablo III expectations, as Blizzard is making the best game it can but not necessarily the game-messiah that the most hardcore of fans is playing in their minds. Blizzard's biggest mistake could be bungling the Mists of Pandaria message with the wrong kind of information.

Reading the community

Blizzard has had a storied relationship with the World of Warcraft community, originally a close, frank relationship that became closed off as subscriber numbers soared. Toward the end of Wrath and the Real ID scandal, players were finally at a boiling point with Blizzard and communication. Over the course of the Cataclysm ramp-up and transition to 4.0.3, Blizzard made great strides in reading the community's concerns and being more open, culminating in the new community site and prominent employee blogs.

In order to work the Mists of Pandaria message correctly, Blizzard must figure out what the community wants to be hyped up about. A misread on the focus of the hype could have players disappointed in a core feature when they finally get their hands on it. Focusing too much on mechanics that are in flux could leave players with a second Dance Studio or an impossible-to-balance signature class move. And Blizzard definitely doesn't want to put features on the box that it just can't deliver ...

Giving information to the press and fan sites first lets the community essentially decide what information is important. The message becomes tailored to what the community wants by proxy of its voices and news people. Tailor-made, polished content is Blizzard's modus operandi -- it understands better than anyone what an extra week of working on something can give.

The Dance Studio was a failure of business message control

The increased level of honesty by Blizzard's developers as to what worked and what did not work in Cataclysm has been a refreshing look behind the curtain of corporate policy. At some point during the big subscriber drop in the middle of 2011, someone decided that openness with the playerbase could (and eventually did) result in fixing many of the mistakes that Cataclysm brought with it. Instead of focusing on just the 80-to-85 content or just the rebuilding of the 1-to-60 questing experience, focus had to be split between two monumental tasks, resulting in a top-notch, reimagined Azeroth and a disjointed, overly punishing endgame.

So what does the Dance Studio have to do with all of this? Well, back when the Dance Studio was announced, Blizzard was living in the world of The Burning Crusade, the best MMO ever, where subscribers were massing. Blizzard had a more closed relationship with the community, and there was no wrong to be done. Smash cut to today, when Ghostcrawler flat-out admits that the planned Vashj'ir raid was just a bunch of reused models and kind of sucked, and we finally understand why the raid never saw the light of day. Without the frank explanation that something just didn't turn out the way it was intended, we are left to speculate. Leaving us to speculate is usually a dumb move.

If Ghostcrawler made a blog post tomorrow called "Why the Dance Studio sucked and we probably shouldn't have said anything about it -- but whatever, here's why it didn't work and not going to happen," I would applaud the honesty and finally be at peace, because the whole Dance Studio debacle could be put to rest. Honesty, at this point in Blizzard's game, is the best policy. I believe we will feel that same energy when the Mists of Pandaria information is finally released.

A broken NDA?

Oh, you wanted to know what happens if you break a Blizzard NDA, since this is The Lawbringer. Right. Well, if you break a Blizzard NDA for an event that you went to, that event was most likely -- nay, most definitely your last Blizzard event.

It's only a week.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact your lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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