We Diablo fans have long wondered when/if we’d start to get some blue posts by the D3 devs. Not that Bashiok’s posts are worthless, given how little he’s allow to say, but the chance to hear directly from the developers is the reason we watch Blizzcon panels and read interviews. To date, none of the D3 Team have ever posted anything in the B.net forums, but we fans have been waiting and hoping for them to start doing so… perhaps once the beta is underway? After all, the SC2 devs posted regularly during that game’s beta, debating balance and discussing other game issues with fans, and the head WoW dev, Ghostcrawler, (Greg Street) has long been a participant in the WoW forums.

    Well, he used to be. As Bashiok explained in reply to an Open Letter to Ghostcrawler thread, those days are over, apparently for all Bliz games. Bashiok’s reply is quite long, so here’s the start. Click through to read the whole thing and my dismayed but unsurprised reaction.

    These forums have always been about players talking to players. We don’t want to foster the expectation that it’s going to get a blue response if someone tries hard enough (lol I’m replying to a thread calling for a blue). While GC added a lot to these forums (and I say ‘these forums’ because he only posted in the North America forums) we think we can reach more players, particularly those in other regions, more directly through the blogs, or concerted Q&A’s. Blogs also tend to be a better medium for getting the message out there loud and clear, but does have downsides that it removes the conversation that we know is appreciated quite a bit.

    While forum posts do lend themselves to that conversational approach, they actually have a lot of downsides to them from our perspective of attempting to get clear and clean information to the players. They aren’t very visible is really the first and maybe biggest problem. You can liken forum posts and the information given in them to some of the displeasure surrounding how hotfixes are communicated. I may reply to a thread 20 times and in my #13 reply I say something really important regarding class balance. Who is going to see that? How quickly will that knowledge actually permeate? Will the message be kept clear? Will my clarification in post #17 that explains what people are misunderstanding in #13 be seen by everyone that read #13?

    Update: Click through to the bottom for an update on Bashiok’s comment about this post, via the B.net forums.

    Bashiok’s reply continued:

    People tend not to read past the first blue post in a thread, or skip around and don’t read them all, so if you have a correction/addendum to the first post, or just expound upon a thought, it’s generally lost on the majority of readers. Blue trackers can help with this, but we’re generally not having to explain that “post #13 wasn’t the end of the thought and it’s being taken out of context” to people who just go to blue trackers.

    Forum posts also tend to be fairly quickly written by one of us without much in the way of peer-review, and anything written off-the-cuff like a reply to a thread can tend to be more precarious than a more substantive outlet that has an official process of review and correction before its posted (like the blogs). Much to the dismay of many forum goers I’m sure, there’s just an infinitely smaller chance we’ll say something stupid or mess up in a fully published blog post.

    As with anything we do, we never believe we’re perfect. There’s always room to improve. The blogs may not be the best outlet but we’re continually working to improve upon the content we’re delivering, and have some pretty exciting stuff planned. We’re also working to make the comment system for the blogs a bit more like the forums so conversation can be held there more easily, as well. Of course you’ve no doubt see we’re running a recurring global Ask the Devs Q&A. It’s one way where we’re hoping to fill that gap of direct developer interaction that the blogs probably just can’t hit. We think the Q&A’s are going to be extremely popular and fill a big part of what made GC’s interactions on here so useful. And we?re going to continue collecting feedback and posting when appropriate, but we’ll also be trying to come up with additional ways to facilitate the communication between the developers and players.

    Also GC wanted me to let you know: “It’s Dr. not Mr., get it right.”

    …I appreciate everyone’s feedback, it’s actually been pretty helpful and I think we can incorporate more of what you’re looking to get out of the blog into future features.

    The blog launching was really a shock to the system for us, and in many ways we’re still adapting to it and trying to find out how to best leverage it. But the world keeps turning and the tasks keep renewing themselves. We’re not going to stop though, and will hit all of our communication intentions one way or another.

    It will surprise no one who has endured my past remarks on Blizzard’s community relations to learn that I’m disappointed, though not at all surprised, by this development. For more than a decade, and especially since the Activision “merger,” Blizzard has become ever more corporate, as Bliz Irvine PR has raised barrier after barrier between their developers and the fans.

    Blizzard hardly attends any gaming conventions other than Blizzcon, and when they do they send uncommunicative PR drones as spokespeople. They present their games and new game info almost exclusively at Blizzcon, where they run everything, only invite friendly media, and limit access to their devs to panel presentations, occasional public Q&As, and give the press only tightly-timed interviews where PR babysitters are usually in attendance. Their CMs are no longer permitted to post on any fansites; just on Battle.net. Media access to Blizzard and their devs has been continually reduced and controlled. Fansites have been forced to agree to ever more restrictive “don’t say anything we don’t want you to say” requirements to remain in the FanSite Program. Blizzard has started their own official blog community sites (for WoW and SC; D3’s coming soon) where they can control the message and never link out to actual fansites. And now the one remaining developer who actually posted directly on the forums has finally been silenced.

    All for the good of the community, of course. As Bashiok so politely explained in the above, corporate/PR-approved, essay.

    I don’t think this ever-growing secrecy and control is necessarily hurting the quality of their games, but it’s certainly draining vitality from the Blizzard gaming community, as PR works hard to maintain total control of the message, to silence or marginalize dissenting voices, and to keep their fans from seeking out outside opinions or information on Blizzard’s games and company activities. Blizzard still makes great games, but they’ve left all of their humble, accessible, friendly, fan-oriented roots long behind. For better or worse.

    Update: Bashiok replied, rather vaguely, to a thread about this on the B.net forums. Here’s his whole comment:

    Hahaha, oh Flux.

    Bashiok did not speak to me about this issue via IM, so I don’t have any additional insight to give into his meaning here. Bashiok is able to think for himself; he’s not a complete PR drone, but he is definitely limited in what he can say or do in his job. Based on past conversations, I think Bashiok largely buys into Blizzard’s ongoing PR initiatives, and honestly thinks they are beneficial for the Diablo community on the whole. (Not that he’d quit if he disagreed, but I think he does his job without gritting his teeth, so long as he’s not defending something manifestly horrid, like the abandoned mandatory DiabloWikiReal ID forum posting plan.)

    I’m sure Bashiok realizes that the various policy changes referenced in this post are highly unpopular with most long-time Diablo followers, and certainly with non-ass-kissing fansite webmasters like myself. But he’s not going to quit in solidarity or anything. We’re simply the eggs that must be broken for Blizzard’s community relations omelet.

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