A week ago Bashiok made a long post on the WoW forums explaining why neither Ghostcrawler, nor any of the other Blizzard game developers would be posting in the forums anymore. I quoted him in a post here and added a couple of paragraphs documenting and lamenting the increasing corporate/PR-controlled nature of Blizzard Entertainment. Things have changed a great deal compared to the old days when their developers, especially the guys at Blizzard North, were willing (and allowed) to directly interact with fans both online and at game conventions.
FriskyDingo, a regular poster here and on the B.net forums, quoted my post on the B.net forums, and after an initial short and slightly perplexing reply, Bashiok returned to put in a lot more words. His explanation focuses entirely on the forum posting issue, while my initial editorial comments were far more wide-ranging. After all, I object to a lot of how they’re promoting/handling Diablo III, and it’s not like we’re losing D3 dev team forum posts, since we never had any to begin with.
I have been careful in my various criticisms to point them at Bliz Irvine PR in general, since it’s not Bashiok who is making the decisions. I think he does about as good a job as he can, given the limitations of his job. He’s a nice guy, he really cares about Blizzard’s games, but the reality is that he’s a Blizzard employee who is paid to promote their products and defend the company against criticism. Obviously he doesn’t always agree with the policies, (Does anyone reading this agree with their bosses 100% of the time?) but that’s why they call it “work.” Because they pay you to do things you wouldn’t do for free.
From last year, you’ll recall Blizzard’s Real ID attempt to mandate that we use our real names for all B.net forum post. It was wildly unpopular, and Blizzard ultimately abandoned it in the face of the huge fan outcry. But until the very end, all of the CMs, including Bashiok, were out there in the forums, falling on their swords attempting to defend the indefensible. As I’ve noted in the past, the art of PR is pissing on someone’s shoes while convincing them that it’s raining.
Here’s the start of Bashiok’s reply; click through for the rest, since he had a lot to say.
It’s not a matter of whether they read them or not. They are no longer allowed to post in them (they did for SC2 and Ghostcrawler did quite a lot of chatting in the WoW forums which was neat and fun). I would wager that many of them don’t read the forums voluntarily, though. I would, myself, but I guess it’s easy to say that when you don’t work in the game industry.
Bashiok: Some of them do read, yeah. But Ghostcrawler is the only developer in the history of the company that ever posted to any great degree. Pretending like that’s a long and varied history of developer forum posting that’s now coming to an end because of the big scary PR boogie man is silly. Many developers have posted in small amounts, and as you could easily predict, many developers were either driven to madness, or just gave up and went back to work. Ghostcrawler is the closest developer I’ve seen in my time here that can actually tank forum goers like a CM. It’s awesome and I love him for it, but he is most certainly the exception, not the rule.
These forums right now are great because we have a small community and everyone kind of keeps each other in check. That will not remain so.
Anyway we are encouraging the developers to (and in fact many will continue to post) during beta and testing phases (mostly because WoW testing necessitates it) should they choose. That’s the important bit because, as community managers, a lot of our job is to be a buffer and filter. And that’s for very good reasons. Very good. Take my word for it, developers are not clamoring for blue accounts. If they really wanted them, they’d have them. They’re busy working, and they’re fully happy with us being the ones to interact here.
I know that sucks because then you have to see my ugly face, but let’s let them work, and we’ll keep talking.[/blue]
Here’s the rest of Bashiok’s posts replying to arguments made by various forum posters.
I may say a lot of stupid stuff, but I can assure you I’m not a complete idiot.
Bashiok: I would never assume such things, I think you’re a bright guy. At some point it seems like you took a turn against us and I’m not sure why that was. Maybe it’s just the wear of having such a long announcement-to-release time frame. That spark of wonderment was lost, or something. I do believe it to be misplaced, though.
You (as a company/corporate entity) build the base for the community, the foundation. What we do within the community is derived from that.
Bashiok: Unless that foundation includes a change in the human condition, I think we both know exactly what will happen when these forums go from a couple hundred people to a couple million.
I remember during the development of LoD, there was a player who was very much anti-PK, didn’t want it in the game, he was incredibly logical and well-spoken. He got a response from a dev on the forums, I believe it was Rob Pardo but it may have been one of the northers. The Blizzard response was lengthy and, moreover, it was stunningly honest. We don’t see that type of honesty anymore, of a dev who can say whatever they want to say, because there’s PR mommy holding their hands telling them when they can and cannot speak and what they can and cannot speak about.
Bashiok: Take a trip over to the World of Warcraft forums and read any of my replies. I work really hard to base my communication on nothing but my own personal honesty. If you can point out any cases where I haven’t said what I wanted to say I’ll gladly take those lashes. PR doesn’t draft or review my posts.
Stuff that you write, anything from PR or interviews, it just sounds like hollow marketing bull%#*!. Because it is. Spindoctoring and empty words, a far cry from what the industry was like even 10 to 15 years ago from an outsider.
Bashiok: Well, I’m sad you actually think things I write are hollow. I mean we’re not releasing a ton of new info about Diablo III, but I do my best to be open and honest about the pieces of the game that are announced.
Be sure not to confuse “I want to know more” with a mandate PR gag-order. Jay and the developers want to keep these things a secret even MORE than any ideas PR has about making feature announcements. They want to keep it a secret so the game is a surprise, that it’s something amazing when you install it for the first time. I don’t think those ideals are hollow. I also don’t think they’re absolute, and once we get to beta there will be plenty more to discuss before release.
What’s changed? Money, of course, which is important. Environment, marketing strategies.
Bashiok: That could be partially true. For me and my thoughts on what’s changed? What’s changed is we’re no longer talking with a small subset of devout gamers (although, I’m lucky enough that that’s still largely true for Diablo III now). Devout enough to actually log on to the internet to talk on message boards about video games. Now we’re literally surrounded by millions of people, and in that crowd the simple truth is we have to be much more careful and deliberate about what we say. In the past you could get away with a lot, because the voice just didn’t travel very far. That’s not the case any longer, it travels infinitely, but is unfortunately still subject to the same misunderstandings, misquotes, and misinterpretations. Just on a massive global level. That doesn’t mean, or at least shouldn’t mean, that we’re not truthful. We’re just painfully aware of what happens when you don’t speak carefully.
Does it suck? Yeah, kind of, it was a much simpler time back then and so for that reason I miss those days. But instead of spending time looking backward, I adapted, and keep doing my job because I love Blizzard and I love Blizzard games. That hasn’t changed, because it’s still a great company to work for, the people here are amazing, and the games still kick ass.