Blizzard Didn’t Cave On Flying Because Of “Forum Whining”

On Heavensward: I am not prepared.

I did get the ARR 2.0 main story completed, with help from the wonderful folks in Greysky Armada. But now there’s all the other ones, along with the new things to do that pop open when you finish 2.0, and gearing, and my White Mage to also play around with… oh, and not nearly enough time. So, I will be lagging behind when Heavensward hits.

Fortunately, I know lots of other people who are too. I’ll be in esteemed company at least. 🙂

Flying And “Vocal Minority Of Forum Whiners”

Blizzard totally reversed course on that no flying thing in just two weeks. That is not shocking. I’m not going to argue if flying is good or bad, because that’s a whole other post. The question here is – why? They made a big production out of the announcement for no flying, and the reasons for it. This is a rather major capitulation, and on the surface it looks like it’s because of the backlash of complaining it caused. I’ve seen no lack of comments on sites like Massively Overpowered to that effect. In particular, that it’s just the vocal minority who complained a lot on the forums that somehow forced Blizzard to backtrack, even though people like it in this MMO Champion poll.

There are a number of problems with that, starting with the obvious invalidity of that poll. It suffers from massive selection bias and is thus statistically useless when looking at the WoW market as a whole. But more importantly…

WoW Populations Over Time
WoW Populations Over Time – Arenajunkies

There’s a trend here since Cataclysm: Expansions bump the population, followed by a gradual decline. The problem is that in Warlords of Draenor, that population decline fell off a cliff. Even WoW doesn’t loose 3 million people in 3 months without senior management starting to ask questions. Clearly, a lot of people were already not happy this expansion.

No flying was far from the only cause of that. But all the complaining that exploded? No flying was the spark that put it into the open.

Blizzard Listens To Many Things

Here’s the thing – Blizzard’s forums suck. Blizzard knows that. EVERYTHING they do is unpopular there, and ever since vanilla people have been claiming that doing one thing or another will be the death of WoW. Blizzard knows that. People on the forums complaining does not make them alter major development decisions, because people always complain about development decisions there.

As a result, Blizzard needs other ways to decide what the players think. They have quite a few; including random surveys (that I’ve gotten), other social media, metrics of what people are doing in game, but perhaps most crucially: the cancellation survey.

One version of WoW's cancellation survey
One version of WoW’s cancellation survey

If you’ve never cancelled WoW before, you may not have seen this. When you do, they ask you why you’re leaving. This is some of the most useful feedback they can get, as it tells them a lot about what drives people out of the game. There’s been quite a few versions of this over the years, but the last option is the one that’s relevant here, and it’s always existed. You can type in a reason. (This seems like it should be something every MMO does, but you’d be surprised. Wildstar didn’t seem to give a damn why I quit. That makes it harder to know what to fix to get me back, and you’d think they would want to know that.)

Back when Real ID was going to be forced on everyone, Blizzard pitched it as a positive. The forums reacted negatively (shocker!). More importantly: Blizzard’s phone lines were totally unreachable for days as they were flooded with people calling to cancel. The cancellation page got a lot of work. This wasn’t just forum anger. It was people speaking with a force far more powerful than words: their wallets.

Blizzard caved, real fast.

 

Wallets Speak Louder Than Forum Posts

Given how fast the turnaround was on flying, that’s almost certainly what happened here. This expansion has already suffered a major financial hit with 3 million subs lost in record time. There’s nothing to reverse that on the horizon, and although it’ll certainly slow down, the trend is not going to reverse until another expansion. Then they announced that no flying would be permanent, and things blew up. How many more people quit in response, and gave no flying as the reason? We have no way of knowing, but I strongly suspect that number is significant.

You don’t turn around on something you made such a big deal out of just because the forums are complaining. You do when it’s suddenly tanking your quarterly numbers and the CEO is asking questions about what the hell you’re doing to pull millions off the bottom line.

One person remarked on this that “the complainers put a gun to Blizzard’s head.” That’s wrong. They pulled their wallets out of Blizzard’s reach, which in a free market economy is far more powerful. It’s not complainers being mean, it’s customers using their purchasing power to make clear that the company is no longer delivering a product they want, and that they can go elsewhere with their entertainment dollar.

That is how a free market economy is designed to work. It’s why the saying “the customer is always right” exists (even though that saying is often wrong). It doesn’t matter how big Blizzard is – if enough of their customers speak with their wallets, Blizzard will take notice. That’s business, working as intended.

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