Blizzconline 2021 has come and gone, and for a change I paid attention to it.
Being able to watch the livestream for free does help (a lot).
In the past, you could pay to watch the livestream --or you could even pay to watch the activities on DirecTV (honest!)-- but even then, I'd only read the commentary from WoW Insider/Blizzard Watch or from my fellow bloggers. So when the "Do you not have phones?" comment blew up, I wasn't around to watch it live.
So yeah, I was a bit concerned about how this remote oriented con would work out, and whether the con would skew more toward one of Nintendo's quarterly updates, or something straddling an authentic in person con experience.
For the record, I was fine with either, as long as Blizz didn't a) shoot themselves in the foot with another "do you not have phones?" comment, b) shoot themselves in the foot with another "tough gamer moment" comment, or c) shoot themselves in the foot by trying to bow and scrape to the Chinese market.
Basically, don't shoot yourself in the foot.
Oh, I get it about China and the CCP: it's the 2000 lb. elephant that will trample anyone who gets in their way. When they can make one of the richest people in China, Jack Ma, vanish, you know they don't mess around.
And by comparison, Blizzard --and most other gaming companies-- are the tuna out there for the orcas to feed on. So if you want China's market, you have to play by China's rules. The last BlizzCon, and the events leading up to it, made that abundantly clear.
This time around, however, a global pandemic took center stage and China receded into the background.*
I've been working from home for so long that I've forgotten that it takes some time for people to get used to it. So when Blizz people started talking about how they had to get used to conferencing and collaborating remotely, their issues simply did not compute for me. It was only about a minute or two in when I realized that "jeez, they've never done remote work before!"
Once you get used to it dealing with work from home becomes second nature, and if you've a boss that is flexible in your work habits then you can take time out to be the kids' taxi or make it to a game and then come home and get more work done.** But using collaborative tools like Teams or WebEx can take some time to get used to, and a graphic designer ready setup in the home is probably a whole other level of complexity that I never had to deal with.
These were the sorts of challenges that Blizz confronted, but it seems that they've gotten used to it.*** I suspect that the transition took longer than Blizz' management expected, particularly in terms of work output, but on the flip side they now have a workforce that isn't tied down to Southern California property values. I'm not exactly sure if they'll take advantage of that, but you never know.
Work from home foibles aside, I found the info sessions I watched informative but not overly so. I knew going in that the nature of the con meant that the extra time spent getting dynamic feedback from the crowd as well as the natural give and take wasn't going to be there, so that meant that the info sessions themselves were going to be shorter. That wasn't an indictment of the process, it's more of the way it is when you design a presentation: you have to give enough time for the crowd to react and respond before you can continue, and in a virtual environment you don't have that.
The part I was most interested in was BC Classic, and I wasn't disappointed. I felt that Holly spent extra time reminiscing about the old days in order to establish her bona fides, which given the nature of her coming from Everquest I felt it was necessary to pacify certain parts of the WoW community who still think of her as "the EQ person". Still, the info about items such as bosses, classes, and when you can roll a Draenei/Sindorei were spot on. Among those of us who were watching from the Myzrael-US Discord server, we were all in all very happy with the info provided. Could there have been more? Sure, but I suspect they're still aiming for a May release and don't want to get locked into that timeline if something shakes out in the beta.
The "You are not prepared!" was a wee bit dated, but as someone pointed out in our BWL run Saturday night, Illidan is NOT prepared for US.
Now, for an old time gamer like me, it was nice to see the repackaging of the old Blizz games, including The Lost Vikings. And the reworking of Diablo II.
I realize this is the era of remastering games --see the upcoming Mass Effect Trilogy remaster as an example-- but if it is done well then it is a welcome benefit to gamers around the globe. The PC environment especially has changed so much over the years since ME or D2 were released that even without the graphical remaster the code would have likely required a rework to operate properly in the era of RTX 30 series video cards.**** The real kicker is whether the remaster is redone in such a way as to anger the fanbase (Warcraft 3), a reimagining of the game (Final Fantasy VII), or a a faithful but purely upgraded graphical version of the game (looks like D2 and ME for now). It does look like Blizz learned their lesson on Warcraft 3, but we'll see when the remastered D2 comes out.*****
One thing I do appreciate is that the Diablo IV development team is providing regular updates and details of the game's progress, so you know what's going on. Frequently this is too much of a black box --Schroedinger's Cat aside-- and you have no idea as to the details. But that the D4 team is spending the time to communicate with the fans as well as their thought process behind certain developments is a very very GOOD thing. I understand that some of the items the dev team are working on are going to be hidden --story, for one thing-- but understanding details of where they are in the process without throwing out dates is fantastic. The one thing I hate is when the suits announce a release date, because software development is not like building a widget, there will be major setbacks and reworkings that need to be addressed, and that's just your average Monday morning. Assigning a date and expecting a dev team to meet it is a potential disaster in the making, crunch notwithstanding.
So in the end, I enjoyed this Blizzconline. And yes, the RPG player in me enjoyed getting a chance to see Matt Mercer and the Critical Role crew in a Diablo esque game on Saturday.
I am glad that the con went as well as it did, because I'd argue that a hybrid of the strictly in-person con and the online version is the way of the future. Hell, when Metallica came on my wife wandered over from watching the television and said "Hey, Metallica!"
"Yeah," I replied. "They're playing for Blizzcon."
"Wait, this is live?"
"Well, at least it was done strictly for Blizzcon, but...."
"But that's so cool!!"
Now, if I can get her to watch the intro about how gamers were impacted by Blizz' games over the years, because that was an advertisement for not strictly Blizz' games, but gaming in general. That could have come straight outta GenCon and not missed a beat.
*But not totally gone from people's minds. Kind of like saying Beetlejuice three times and --voila!!-- Michael Keaton appears.
**Yes, I have been the kids' taxi for a long long time.
***I'm perfectly happy working from home. What I've discovered about working at the office is that I spend a lot of time socializing and a lot less time working, so when I need to get things done I don't go into the office. I know quite a few other people in my neck of the woods who think the same thing, and they're content to work from home too.
****I discovered that when I went to install LOTRO on my oldest's new laptop. It still looks for old DirectX 9.x, which you can't download anymore, and the failure to install was driving me crazy.
*****It just occurred to me that there's likely a certain amount of the Mass Effect fanbase that is going to buy the remastered version primarily because of the upgraded graphics in the sex scenes. Oh well.