Friday 27th March 2015
The Godmother, in a recent post, discussed ways to improve World of Warcraft patch notes, in response to a tweet by Blizzard Community Manager @Rygarius.
The problem is that a significant number of people don’t read the patch notes, for many reasons: they might not even know they exist, they might not know where to find them, or perhaps they find them and see a huge wall of text and just “Nope” their way out of there.
The problem goes beyond simple class changes like “Death Strike damage has been reduced by 5%”; things like that you could probably get by just fine without knowing. The bigger issue is with major new features like Garrisons: how do you inform players about these? The example in the Godmother’s post is how followers’ gear can still be upgraded even when they’re inactive. This was a surprise to me, and indeed many others, because without attempting to trying it, there was no official documentation to say it was even possible; honestly, it never even occurred to me to try.
Prelude in E Minor
For relatively small changes, an entirely different approach to the current monolithic one is in order: rather than (or perhaps in addition to) producing a large single document detailing all the changes, it would perhaps be better to only present the information in a contextually relevant way. For example, if the patch changes the strength or behaviour of several of a Mistweaver Monk’s spells, show a small window when a player logs in to a character of that class and spec, detailing only those changes. If the patch also changes Windwalker or Brewmaster spells, only show them a) if the player has one of those specs as their other role and b) when they actually switch to that spec.
On a more advanced level, it might even be a good idea if the game kept track of any changes since a player last did something on a character and spec. If, say, I haven’t played on my Beastmastery Hunter for five months, it’d be nice if the game told me what’s changed since then and why there’s a load of gaps on my bars (ahem, Serpent Sting).
Another important point is to make the information unobtrusive, a little like how the ‘You have unspent talent points’ popup appears. If a big, text-filled window is just slapped on to my screen the instant I log in, it’s likely to get dismissed as being in the way of what I wanted to do.
Symphony in C Major
When it comes to the introduction of entirely new features, like garrisons, the problem is obviously more complex, and possibly even beyond the scope of an in-game explanation. Matters are further complicated by the fact that Blizzard need to maintain a balance between detailing everything about the new feature, and letting the player explore and discover things themselves.
We can perhaps use the ‘new character’ as an example of how a major new gameplay element could be introduced. When you first spawn into existence as a fresh level one character, there are all sorts of little popups explaining basic concepts like how to move your character, what actionbars are for, how to look in your bags, and so forth.
Garrisons went a slightly different route, in that Blizzard designed the initial quests as mini tutorials – things like ‘build your barracks’, ‘start a work order’, and so on. This is all well and good, but it quickly peters our and you’re left to your own devices (especially if you build a Gnomish Gearworks/Goblin Workshop).
I think there needs to be more help available if the player wants it. If you have deactivated followers, for example, and you get a follower upgrade item, it’d be nice if the game showed a small popup to explain that it’s usable on those followers. These popups only need to be brief, but the important thing is they’re contextually relevant. It’s not much use providing the player with information that they won’t use until maybe hours or days later, because they’ll most likely have forgotten it by then.
Two of The Godmother’s suggestions were:
- Move to a web-based ‘manual’ in a similar vein to the Customer Service Support Documents currently available in game.
- Make the website more interactive for players with Guides and ‘Support’ articles that target key aspects of the game.
I think these are important – there really should be a first-party effort to provide documentation for more or less the entire game. Obviously this is a daunting task, but Blizzard have shown they can make similar efforts in the past: look at the Dungeon Journal, that was initially only for Cataclysm content, but was later extended to cover all the instances in the game, explaining boss abilities and listing loot. Similarly, dungeon maps were at first only for the content current at the time of their introduction, but like the Journal entries they now cover all instances (and many non-instance places like Caverns of Time, that were previously only part of their larger zone map).
In the past, this sort of thing would have been covered by ‘Official Guides’, but with a constantly-changing game like an MMO, these guides soon become obsolete: my girlfriend still has the original World of Warcraft one, published around the time the game went live, and it’s like it’s describing a weird alternative-universe version of the game where nothing works the same as it does now. This is why on online guide is the only sensible approach now.
The only thing I’d add to this idea is to perhaps take a look at how ArenaNet manage things with Guild Wars 2: an officially-sanctioned wiki, written and maintained by players. Obviously in the Warcraft universe there are sites like WoWWiki and Wowhead, but while they may hold somewhat favoured status within the company, they’re not official.
Naturally, introducing an official guide could be disruptive to third paries, but it wouldn’t necessarily be so. If the Blizzard page simply covered the essentials, Wowhead et al could still be useful in providing more in-depth information. The main benefit to an Blizzard-created guide, I think, would be organisational, having the information presented in a more central, integrated way.
Well this certainly went on longer than I planned. Anyway, in summary, my suggestion for how to improve patch notes is to ditch (or downplay) the wall-o-text monolithic document, and instead present changes as a series of optional, unobtrusive, contextually relevant popups.
Update: I didn’t really make it clear before, but the optional part is important, because many players actively dislike being guided like this, preferring instead to explore and discover things for themselves. It might also be useful to have three levels of help: none, brief hints, and full explanations.