Blizzard’s CEO on E-Sports and Community

by Wolfshead on October 21, 2008

Mr. PresidentBlizzard has often bragged about the fact that their 11 million subscribers total more then some small countries. It stands to reason that would make Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime the de facto leader of that virtual nation. Last week during Blizzcon, Wired sat down with the virtual president of Azeroth for an interview. Mr. Morhaime rarely does interviews and infrequently makes public statements but Wired is a trendy magazine so somehow he was able to make an exception for them. He did make some interesting comments regarding e-sports and community that I’d like to discuss.

Here is an excerpt from his interview with Wired’s Earnest Cavali which I found very revealing:

Morhaime: At a high level we’re very committed to e-sports, we’re very committed to supporting the community. So, community features, e-sports features, and what shape that takes, I guess we can talk about later.

E-Sports?

Let’s deal with e-sports first. I have to wonder why Mr. Morhaime wants to continue to support e-sports for Blizzard products especially the WoW Tournaments. Where is the evidence that this is what average players really want in WoW? Has Blizzard ever once used their polling feature on the official forums to ask the players what they think of Arenas or e-sports? Of course not. I believe this is an unhealthy distraction for Blizzard, when instead they should be focusing on improving the core fundamentals of their MMO business: improving the core game and releasing content in a more timely fashion.

I wonder how much revenue is being generated from e-sports? Is it that profitable to have a “high level” of focus by Mr. Morhaime and his associates? I seriously doubt it. How about the cost of resources that Blizzard has expended in balancing class abilities for PVP and PVE? One thing is for sure: those 11 million WOW subscribers are subsidizing their e-sports venture.

Maybe the real reason for Blizzard’s focus on e-sports is that they believe it will keep WoW alive long after it’s shelf life. Here’s a quote from May of 2008 with Tom Chilton Lead Designer and PVP architect with e-spots website GotFrag:

Chilton: For our company, eSports has been a key to the longevity of several of our titles. With StarCraft celebrating its 10th anniversary, there are still active communities and eSports organizations that support it along with our other titles. The Blizzard eSports group is responsible for developing Blizzard Entertainment’s presence in the increasingly popular eSports scene. Its main role consists of preparing and operating tournaments around the world. Additionally, it provides third-party support for various eSports leagues and communicates balance feedback to the developers.

It seems they are hoping for WoW to continue on in the future morphed from a PVE based MMO into a PVP e-sport. The problem is that WoW is a MMO, unlike Warcraft and Starcraft which were RTS games. How they believe they can really transition WoW into a full fledged e-sport is beyond me.

Another reason that Blizzard cares about e-sports is the buzz that announcing tournaments can provide. It helps keeps Blizzard in the news which is key to helping their stock prices.

Community?

What I really take issue with in the Wired interview is the references to community. Here are some more comments on “community” from Morhaime:

Morhaime: When you think about World of Warcraft as a social network, and you think about the future version of Battle.net as Blizzard’s social network, then you wanna stay connected to your social network.

Again it seems Mr. Morhaime is falling prey to trends and is interested in creating more press for WoW by equating it to a “social network”. Give me a break! While WoW has probably become part of popular culture, WoW is not a social network — it is a massively multi-player online game.

Of course WoW has a community but what has Blizzard really done in the past to demonstrate they even care about their community? Very little. Their discussion forums remain essentially a cesspool of unmoderated chaos and juvenile bravado. Blizzard knows it but they allow it. Some community…

If Blizzard is so concerned about enhancing the sense of community, why have they failed to proactively police public chat channels in-game? Why is the /ignore list so small? Why are they so slow to ban repeat offenders that hold us all hostage with their offensive babble and rantings in the General and Trade channels? Blizzard has the most lax and forgiving enforcement policy in the MMO industry for one reason: they don’t want to ban repeat chat offenders because that would cost them precious revenue.

But hold on, there may be a ray of hope for the forums. During the Wrath of the Lich King beta, an irate Jeff “Tigole” Kaplan went on a banning spree on the beta forums — too bad Blizzard didn’t hire him as a community manager, we might actually have clean forums right now.

Do As I Say, But Not As I Do

Now I’ve made this point in a previous article but it’s worth repeating: if WoW is such a wonderful social community why do Morhaime, Metzen, Pardo, Kaplan, Afrasiabi et al never or rarely post on the official forums and participate with their beloved community? For example, Jon LeCraft the person in charge of professions has never once posted in the official profession forums. So how does one get a job in the video game industry today without having exceptional communication skills or the desire to do so? (Note: every Blizzard job application requires the applicant to have “strong communication skills”).

It seems they are afraid to mingle with the great unwashed masses of players in that wonderfully awesome community of theirs. That’s understandable. After all, why would they want to subject themselves to the scorn and ridicule that the rest of us face in their largely unmoderated forums? Oh, and if you want to mingle with the Blizzard brass be sure pony up lots of money for tickets, airfare and lodging to attend Blizzcon and please bring your binoculars.

Lack of RP Support

Finally, why hasn’t Blizzard done something to support their role-playing communities in a purportedly role-playing game? Most RP servers in WoW are besieged with disruptive idiots who choose offensive and out of character names in order to harass the RP communities that have tried to establish themselves there. Beleaguered role-players have been crying out for support for years now only to have their pleas fall on deaf ears.

In the end, talking about social networks and community makes for a witty and clever discourse in an interview. He can talk the talk all he wants but he doesn’t walk the walk when it comes to facilitating a better community for WoW subscribers. If he would spend just a few minutes reading his own official forums or go online to listen to the Trade channel perhaps he’d get a clue of how atrocious his community really is; a community which he and his cohorts have enabled and let fall into complete disrepair.

Conclusion

I wish Mr. Morhaime would make more of an effort to communicate with the WoW community. I hear he’s a standup guy. It would be nice to hear Mr. Morhaime talk more about making a better MMO instead of the usual hype that you get with most CEO’s. Being able to passionately address issues like improving the profession system in WoW, creating more content for role-players, and revamping older content would demonstrate that he actually understands the game and is in touch with his player base. After all he’s the supreme leader of a virtual country of 11 million subscribers.

-Wolfshead

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Laws October 22, 2008 at 12:20 am

While I agree that Morhaime does appear to be out of touch with the players of his MMO, there are some things that I don’t entirely agree with here. This is purely from a player’s perspective here.

“How they believe they can really transition WoW into a full fledged e-sport is beyond me.”

WoW will never be able to be JUST about PvP. Like you said, it’s not a RTS and it’s not a FPS. BUT PvP is a huge part of WoW, and many many players are really passionate about it. And arena is a hell of a lot of fun. I believe there would be a lot of player support for them to hold more tournaments, and doing so will probably extend the shelf life of WoW like you said. It’s obviously purely a business decision to continue these tournaments, but I don’t think it’s a bad one.

In regard to community, I agree it can feel like your back in high school with the squabbling that goes on in trade chat. But sometimes, just sometimes… I kinda like it . It makes you smile seeing the regulars in trade doing what they do best, riling people up.

I think of the WoW community as more of a big group of friends, it’s casual and relaxed. As for using WoW for social networking… I don’t believe that’s what it’s built for. I’ve made some really good friends in WoW but I tend to talk to them on msn or facebook, things that are actually made just for socializing. The fact remains that WoW is a game. When you’re in a flow state you tend not to worry about that annoying thing called socializing.

I do agree though that the forums are an unfriendly place to be. I would not recommend heading to the forums unless you want your brain to turn to a pile of mushy peas. The Blizzard employees are very cold and you seem to get the feeling that they are dirtying themselves even talking to you. If Blizzard aim to enhance their community then they have to get in there and understand it, and understand what would make it better. I agree with you in that sense completely

Reply

Tesh October 22, 2008 at 11:21 am

Why am I getting serious “presidential debates” flashbacks? The ivory towers are pretty high and soundproof these days. Eventually, the unwashed hordes find a way to tear them down. Pity the fool caught in the tower at the time.

Reply

Chris F October 22, 2008 at 7:34 pm

Bravo Wolf. Hit the nail(s) on the head (several times). I believe WoW is one of the best single/guild playing games in the world. It is the people that aren’t your friends/human that ruin it. If I could run my own WoW server, where I could pick who could play on it (or not) I would resubscribe. For as good as a game it is (looking over the bad grind mechanics) the community tears it down – instead of propping it up. Besides, for an MMO that only needs 25 people TOTAL on your server to enjoy the game – isn’t that anti MMO?

@Tesh – why do you think he sold it? =) He won’t be sitting in that tower when it gets torn down, he will be at his beach house in Bermuda. Near – if not squarely in – the triangle.

Reply

Tesh October 22, 2008 at 10:01 pm

Oh, sure, just remix my metaphor. ;)
I’ve written before that I’d play WoW as a single player game with an auction interface and multiplayer lobby. I wouldn’t want to sub for that, I’d want to pay for the game itself and have online play be optional on a free battle.net, or even just on a LAN. I’m crazy that way. I don’t need all those people to enjoy the game, just a few close friends. Yes, the auction would be bigger than that, but I can even do without that if I can dodge the subscription. :P

No, if WoW is going to lure me in, it’s got to have a better community, dynamic content, and charge for time played, rather than for access. That’s how to get this casual crazy player involved.

Reply

Chris F October 23, 2008 at 3:39 am

@Tesh: My sincere apologies – to be honest I hadn’t read that article (although I saw the link) and to be doubly honest I did know it was there – and had planned on reading it today before making my own WoW single player server experience post. (and I will before deciding if that post has already been written or not by you – and then shamelessly quote the helloutofit!)

Reply

Tesh October 23, 2008 at 10:09 am

Mwahaha! No apologies needed, Chris. That we are having similar thoughts is evidence to me that there’s a real problem, rather than just a figment of my jaundiced imagination. It’s good to see others coming to similar conclusions. Heck, that’s why I prowl around here; Wolfshead has written some great articles that I find myself nodding in agreement with.

Reply

Curtis October 29, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Hi Wolf,
Found this blog over 2 hours ago! Really great discussion here, and to be honest the last 2 hours have held my attention more than any game has recently.
Morhaime in my opinion has no idea what gamers want at this stage. If he was more involved in the WoW community he would be adding more content for the causal player. Haven’t checked lately but a few months ago one of the largest threads on the forum was about wanting housing in WoW. Here we are 4 years later and Blizzard’s response is some day. Anyway thanks for a great blog! Will be visiting here frequently for your enlightening commentary.
Curtis

Reply

Wolfshead October 30, 2008 at 1:35 am

@Laws: Regarding community I sincerely believe that Blizzard really doesn’t understand the importance of it and they appear very unsophisticated in the way they’ve handled it. All they know is their experience with the Bnet community which existed previously to WoW. Therefore I think that the WoW community is really just an extension of that.

@ChrisF: Brilliant observation about needing only 24 people to truly play WoW. That really gave me pause to think and ponder the truth of the WoW “experience”.

@Tesh: Ok you busted me on the presidential flashback:) Did you catch that silhouette of Nixon in the graphic?

@Curtis: Thanks for stopping by Curtis! I really appreciate your kind words. I’ve been trying to blog a bit more frequently these days :)

Reply

Tesh October 30, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Wolf, I loved that Nixon silhouette. So… fitting. :D You also might want to check out the article that Chris wrote up about “WoW needs more revenue streams”. Good stuff.

Reply

Wolfshead October 31, 2008 at 9:50 pm

Will do. Thanks for the tip Tesh! :)

Reply

Todeswulf November 2, 2008 at 5:33 am

Awesome article and it makes several very valid points. MM is a really eccentric guy from all accounts; he is very pro freedom of expression…which basically boils down to let the unwashed masses do as they will, just don’t expect my employees or myself to interact with them.

there have been rumors that Activision is putting a great deal of pressure on Blizzard to clean up it’s community, and there has been some Half-assed attempts, but nothing significant. I honestly don’t see anything major being done until the forums start getting negative attention form the media…which may also have started as just last week Dr, Phil called the forums twisted filth.

I would like to see what transpires over the next year, I think Morhaime will become less and less of an influence, and we will see Rob Pardo and Jeff Kaplan take more of a leadership role…which may actually benefit the community.

Reply

Wolfshead November 5, 2008 at 12:12 am

I have definitely noticed that Blizzard has included some red colored warnings now in the posting field in the message boards. I think they are at least trying to do something to clean up the forums but it’s not enough as far as I’m concerned.

Reply

Curtis November 5, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Interesting Todeswulf about Activision putting pressure on Blizzard. I agree Wolf they are not spending the time or energy to clean it up at all. Main reason I don’t go there for advice or anything. When I got out of high school many moons ago left the childish behavior behind.
Has always amazed me how some people will let anything happen as long as it doesn’t effect their pocketbook or family even if it is destroying everyone else around them.
Also I wonder how many new players, who have families, quit WoW after visting the forums and seeing the garbage it is.

Reply

Wolfshead November 5, 2008 at 6:08 pm

Well said Curtis! It’s incomprehensible to me that a company that has made all these advances in broadening the MMO demographic cares so little about their forums.

In my opinion, community is the most important resource that any MMO has. Without community we are reduced to playing a single player game. I wrote an article about this a few months back:

http://www.wolfsheadonline.com/?p=126

Good communities don’t happen by magic, they need to be tended, fostered, encouraged and empowered. Blizzard has not grasped this at all and the result on their forums is plain for all to see. WoW could have a great community if Blizzard would only take some basic action to penalize the offenders and reward the good people. It is almost as if they lack the courage to face this issue head on and have opted for the “anything goes” anarchistic philosophy. Perhaps they are afraid of being judgmental.

Reply

Tesh November 6, 2008 at 12:35 pm

Quick philosophical grab bag:
Good fences make good neighbors. Sports don’t work without rules. Only when you know the boundaries of the sandbox can you start to appreciate what you have, rather than hoping for the next great thing beyond the horizon.

Reply

Curtis November 6, 2008 at 5:23 pm

“Sports don’t work without rules.” True Tesh and as a whole society don’t either. Many years ago when playing DAOC I came upon a very humorous article of a DAOC player and a WoW player meeting in a book store. Taking the juvenile approach, like we have in the WoW forums, these 2 guys beat each other up with words first then fists. Even though that story was made up it makes me wonder how these folks would do actually meeting each other.:)

Reply



Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }