Betteridge’s law of headlines suggests that the answer to this question must be “No,” unless we consider it an open ended question. But the easy answer is “no,” and I’ll stake that against whatever Activision Blizzard announces in a few hours at their Q3 2021 investor’s call.
In advance of that however, we can look at the cat mount. Did you know that you can buy a cat mount now, a flying cat mount no less, in World of Warcraft. Well you can, and it is just $25 for the “Sunwarmed Feline,” described as the “fuzziest mount Azeroth has ever seen.”
It is admittedly very fuzzy
Now, even in the best of times, somebody would have been shouting “cash grab” or complaining about a subscription game padding their bankroll with cash shop purchases.
But that has died down somewhat, and you can usually predict the regulars who are going to show up with that complaint. We’re kind of past the outrage era of the sparkle pony and the $10 horse I think. Another mount in the cash shop is pretty much expected now and then.
Unless, of course, your studio is being investigated by the state for having been a hostile work place since forever ago and senior staff… who were already leaving rather regularly… begin getting the boot and even the CEO has to take a temporary cut. Oh, and your studio is basically living off of nostalgia for games launched 15-20 years ago.
When that happens doing anything like adding a new mount to the online store is immediately greeted by rage. How dare you continue to conduct business as normal!
I mean, look at this headline over at Massively OP:
Tell us how you really feel…
Not that I am holding up Massively OP as a beacon of temperate games journalism… I think one of the biggest arguments in favor of video games being art is the amount of ink spilled over opinions, and their site is driven by opinion as much as any… but a year ago that headline would have just been World of Warcraft releases a new cash shop mount and would have had maybe 20 comments split evenly between grumbles about corporate greed and joy about the cool new kitty. Now the pitchforks and torches are out.
And that is pretty much the reaction to everything. If they let somebody else go, change some NPCs name, cover up some cleavage, or remove a suggestive joke or emoji the crowd is angry because they aren’t doing enough, they are doing the wrong things, they should be focused on something else, or they are just doing some window dressing rather than fixing the main problem, take your pick.
And even things that might otherwise seem good get the veil of suspicion draped over them. It is hard not to think that the whole WoW Classic Season of Mastery was a quick attempt to shore up Q4 2021 revenue and win some goodwill by feeding us some more nostalgia.
Even when the press release announced that Bobby Kotick had asked the board of directors to to cut his compensation, my gut reaction was to wonder aloud if they said yes. Everything they say, everything they do, is under the microscope, so if the press release just says “asked” I want to know the response. I don’t want to hear that he asked, I want to hear that it was done.
This is what happens when people feel you have betrayed your trust, when you private reality turns out to be kind of shitty compared to your public persona, when you prove once again that corporations are not people so cannot be our friends, ever. Our relationships with them are purely transactional and if we see them any other way we’re just kidding ourselves.
Of course, in the middle of all of this, are a lot of actual people who do the work that makes Blizzard go, most of whom probably just want to do their job in a safe environment where they can be themselves. This has to be a miserable time for them.
But they have to move forward, the company has to move forward or a lot of people will lose their jobs, maybe jobs that they really love, jobs that they have worked many years to get to, and even if corporations done care about the individual, “Blizzard Lays Off Staff” would be another blow of a headline.
So I wonder what the other side of this looks like. Ion Hazzikostas has an interview over at Venture Beat about trying to move forward. Because they have to move forward, fixing things and shipping products, or they all go home.
And outrage has an expiration date, unless you keep feeding it, which has been one of the Blizzard problems; we keep getting new revelations. The end doesn’t come until all the bad stuff comes out in the daylight.
There is a temptation to compare Blizzard to Riot, which went through its own series of damning revelations about being an incredibly hostile place to work if you weren’t a meat eating white hetro male. The headlines for them dried up pretty fast after the initial revelations, though the state of California is still on them about working conditions. The state will keep going until it stops getting complaints.
But Riot’s audience feels a little different than Blizzards. Not that there isn’t toxicity in any large, popular online game, but League of Legends has a reputation in that regard above and beyond the likes of WoW. And during the time when Riot was in the headlines they remained at the top of the monthly SuperData chart… I miss that bit of monthly insight… so the bottom line didn’t seem to be hard hit.
So I suppose we’ll see later today with the investor’s call how hard Blizzard is getting hit when it comes to the bottom line, though how much of that is outrage at the company and how much is the fact that Blizz just hasn’t been delivering much new in a while will still be up for debate.