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

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