Before the release of patch 9.1.5 for WoW Shadowlands, we had the chance to talk to Ion Hazzikostas. In the interview, we talked a bit about the new patch, WoW's removed flirts, how you plan to regain the trust of the community after the turbulent last few years, and more.
buffed: With patch 9.1.5, you're implementing a lot of quality-of-life changes that players with a lot of twinks or returnees in particular will take advantage of. But many of us have already farmed our Fame level 80, collected countless Invasive Maw Mushrooms in Korthia, etc. Can players still hope for some additional end-game content in patch 9.1.5? For example, some additional class changes, a catch-up for Stygian Embers, or something to make the wait until Patch 9.2 a bit more bearable?
Ion Hazzikostas: Patch 9.1.5 has a lot of changes that we're trying to address the feedback we've heard from players. With the patch, we're generally trying to remove obstacles that players might find as barriers to playing the game the way they want to play it.
I think players who have just reached fame level 80 will see the immediate benefit of being able to switch pacts without any consequnces or significant cooldown. This is something that can make you feel like you can freely explore other pacts to collect their storylines and cosmetics, or just use one pact for one content and the other pact for other content in a way that you couldn't before.
Since the announcement of the patch and the initial release of the PTR, we've been looking for ways to hotfix and make changes that we can do in a safe way to give players these quality of life benefits right away.
Some QoL changes were already in place before that. We significantly increased PvP currency earnings, and things like raid nerfs were gradually introduced once the Hall of Fame was full. Just recently, we did a few more rounds of nerfs on some mythic bosses that continue to be difficulty outliers. And we'll continue to keep an eye on that. But the focus of patch 9.1.5, as you said, is the many quality-of-life changes.00:50
WoW: Trailer preview of the new zone Korthia from patch 9.1
buffed: At the end of April this year you said that Shadowlands will not be Warlords 2.0. Now a lot has happened between April and then and now. Nevertheless: Is it still true that Shadowlands will get another big patch after 9.2 or not?
Ion Hazzikostas: We haven't talked about 9.2 at all yet, but there will be info about it very soon. With that info, new content will come to light that will help players better understand the entire story arc of Shadowlands,
I think Warlords was, what players would rightly accuse us of in retrospect, a meager expansion because it only had one real patch. We've at least made up for that with Shadowlands, and we have more in store with 9.2.
We don't have a set formula for the number of patches that go into a particular expansion. It's generally tailored to the story we want to tell and the systems that fit it. In between, there are then a varying number of smaller patches.
Warlords of Draenor only had one real content patch and two additional raid tiers. Game Director Ion Hazzikostas promises that Shadowlands will not be Warlords 2.0. Source: buffed In Warlords, the community clearly told us that we didn't reach the desired amount of content for an expansion. Looking back, you'll see that Shadowlands has been one of the more stable WoW expansions compared to other addons after all. As I said, we will have more news in the coming weeks as we talk about 9.2 and beyond.
buffed: In terms of content, you are fulfilling a lot of the community's wishes with 9.1.5. But what about rebuilding the community itself? How do you plan to maintain and renew the community, especially in the European forums where there are hardly any community managers left?
Ion Hazzikostas: This is something that falls under the responsibility of our community team, I talk to them about it regularly. And we're working to make sure that our community outreach and the feedback that we get from players is really global in nature. And I think we know that while we are a U.S.-based company, the majority of Warcraft players in the world are not American players.
And it would be foolish for us to focus on just one subgroup or even one language. So that remains an ongoing task. And I think there are some long-standing technical barriers that we continue to work to overcome that separate regions in terms of their ability to post on each other's forums and so forth. But we recognize that this is a global community, and we have PTRs, we have betas, when we're looking for feedback, we're looking at the world. And we know we have more work to do there. But we want to make it clear to players that we're listening to them no matter where they are.
buffed: BlizzCon is also about nurturing the community that loves Blizzard games. Now you've canceled BlizzCon for the time being, partly to rethink the structure of the Main Event and make it more contemporary. Are there any concrete ideas for the design of a new BlizzCon yet, or are you taking inspiration from your competitors' events?
Ion Hazzikostas: I don't think that's something I can best comment on. Blizzcon is a, obviously a company-wide event, there is a dedicated team that is dedicated to planning events like Blizzcon.
And I know they are working hard to reimagine and rethink the future. I think some of my fondest memories as a developer come from BlizzCon. And they come from being able to interact with the fans. And I'm looking forward to seeing pandemic conditions continue to improve.
This year, the halls of BlizzCon will remain empty - at least for the first half of the year, you never know. Source: Blizzard
Again, having that face-to-face interaction and being able to really communicate directly and connect with 10,000s of people from all over the world who play our games and are passionate about our games and can both celebrate them with us and help us improve them is great. But on the topic of planning, as I said, I'm not the right person to talk to.
buffed: Ah too bad, I had another question about BlizzCon: BlizzCon is actually also used to announce new games and expansions, like a new expansion for World of Warcraft (buy it now €14.99 ), which every fan would have expected at another BlizzConline. So what are your plans for an expansion and its announcement?
Ion Hazzikostas: Yes, I can say something about that, and I think we've often tried to align the announcement of expansions with BlizzCon. Because we have this stage, we have everybody together, it makes a lot of sense. It's a great treat for those who are there in person or watching online.
Yes, we are working on a new expansion and we will have a lot of news to share about that in the near future. We want to get 9.2 out first. We want to make sure people understand the story of Shadowlands, where it's going. 9.2 will also help set the stage for what's coming next.
We know from past experience that we can create our own events and moments to make sure we cover what's coming next in terms of the expansion and give an announcement of this magnitude a stage that it deserves.
buffed: during the development of 9.1.5, did you think about introducing a new season or mini-raid?
Ion Hazzikostas: Not for 9.1.5. We wanted to give the Quality-of-Life changes to the players as soon as possible, instead of delaying it even further with additional content.
The issue of season pacing is something that comes up a lot in internal discussions. I think one of the big challenges these days is that given the parallel development of raids, dungeons, and PvP, it's relatively easy to increase the item level of items, but at the same time you always have to look at the current raid.
Dungeon item levels and raid items have to run in parallel here as well. And I think we're going to continue to discuss how to address that, because we know that there are people who are still progring through the Sanctum of Domination right now, for example, and working towards longer-term goals, while a lot of people have been focused on PvP or dungeons.
The Emerald Nightmare was quickly mastered, but a mini-raid bridged the gap until the Night Fortress. Source: buffed When you've been a Mythic Plus player or PvP player for about four months, you feel like it's time for something new. So how to make both factions happy, we don't have an answer for that right now. But that's something we discuss a lot.
As for mini-raids... if we have a side story to tell that fits with that, mini-raids make sense. But they also present a challenge in terms of fitting into the overall itemization and difficulty progression.
I think we saw in Legion that Trial of Valor was pretty successful as a mini-raid because it followed Emerald Nightmare, which was pretty easy by and large.
It was a smaller raid, one of the easier raids that guilds quickly finished and were looking for something new. The bosses in Test of Valor became boss eight, nine, and ten of that raid in many ways.
In Battle for Azeroth, we released Crucible of Storms after the Battle of Daza'alor. Unlike Legion, many guilds were not ready for this mini-raid. In fact, they were still busy with Dazar'alor.
Crucible of Storms was more disruptive than successful as a mini-raid. Source: Blizzard
Some guilds had a hard time figuring out how to fit the new mini-raid into their weekly schedule. So Crucible of Storms, unlike Trial of Valor, didn't feel as successful or fitting. We'll continue to talk about that kind of content as a team and bring it in when it makes the most sense for players.
buffed: A few weeks ago you announced a bundle with discounted character transfers. Does the discount actually apply to faction changes as well?
- Ion Hazzikostas couldn't give us an exact answer to that question and didn't want to spread false information in case of doubt. However, we received the following answer from Blizzard: "Currently the bundles will be offered for server transfers only, but the team is discussing expanding that option to faction transfers in the future. "This means that faction transfers are not included for the time being.
buffed: Aren't you afraid that players will take the chance and mass-transfer to big servers, which will make already small servers even more empty?
Ion Hazzikostas: If there are players who want to transfer to other servers to other guilds or to their friends, but the transfer of many characters is too expensive, then I think it is in the interest of the players if we make this process cheaper and more effective.
As far as servers with few players, we already have systems in place like Realm Connections, etc. That helps with that and we're looking at making as much gameplay available via cross realm as possible so players don't have to worry about which server they're on.
buffed: What are your goals in the near and distant future to make the community feel important and heard again?
Ion Hazzikostas: We know that we first have to rebuild trust with the large part of the community. That is primarily the focus of the team. I think 9.1.5 is a good example of us finally giving players what they've been asking for for so long.
What I can tell players who are thinking about returning to WoW, or generally thinking about how to view the dev team, is that the 9.1.5 changes were not a one-time thing. It's not like the community finally beat us down and so we're implementing all these changes against our will.
It's more of a change in our philosophy. Rather, we spent the summer thinking about our core principles and values on topics like "How should we look at Twinks?", character investement vs catch-up mechanics, and what principles our predecessors, the creators of World of Warcraft should be rethinking that we've had instilled in us all along. That's one of the reasons why we've been hesitant in the past with feedback from players and not giving them directly what they wanted, because we've held on to these old principles that we were taught and what our leaders at the time thought made World of Warcraft and that are non-negotiable.
Ultimately, though, we're now in 2021. In the meantime, WoW is 17 years old and players have changed, communities have changed, things that players expect from WoW are different. And it would be foolish of us not to question everything and evolve.
It's interesting to see how WoW Classic and Classic BC have evolved because we've learned some lessons from that. Whether the way the game has evolved today has strayed too far from what players liked back then and whether we should return to philosophies from back then.
Media Energy and Azerite Armor have their roots in the Classic talent system. In Classic, in 2005, you had to pay an ever-increasing price of gold if you wanted to change talents often, which slowly became cheaper over time.
The meaning behind this was the often quoted "Meaningful Choice". In the past, that's just how it worked for players. In 2019 and 2021, these exact same features will be received completely differently by players. Nowadays, people farm more gold to be able to respec more often, to play the way they want to play, and see the high amount of gold as nonsense.
It's clear that players nowadays see this system as a hurdle and we as developers need to evolve and change that. 9.1.5 is just the beginning of these changes.
We're very anxious not to make these mistakes again - in 9.2 and beyond. Sure, we'll probably make new mistakes too, I'm not saying we're perfect. But we will listen, adapt and evolve.
buffed: How do you see the community right now and how do you plan to encourage players to come back to Azeroth?
Ion Hazzikostas: The community is everything. The community is World of Warcraft. We are the guardians of a world that our players bring to life. Our philosophy is "the game belongs to the players" and it's our job to take care of the game and them.
And that starts with listening and making it clear that we are listening. The challenge with a player base like World of Warcraft that is so diverse with so many different goals, where half want one thing and half want something different, we have to find the middle ground or make a decision in favor of one side. So for some it can feel like it wasn't heard because we didn't do what they asked for.
Communication is the answer to that, and we already have plans in place to improve and accelerate that (as you can see from the recently unveiled Player Council ed.).01:45
WoW: The Council of Players - Trailer introduces new Community Council
Another aspect of a healthy community is how people treat each other, how welcoming our community is, and what to do about toxic behavior. That's a growing focus of our efforts. We're working on a strong system right now, which we'll unveil soon once we're sure it's working.
buffed: Did you listen to the community when it came to removing something like 70+ flirting phrases and jokes from the game, or was that purely a developer decision?
Ion Hazzikostas: I would say both. The things we are changing in 9.1.5 are things that the community has complained about in the past. Even ten years ago, there were discussions in our forums, on Twitter, etc. about the Thunder King's concubines. At that time, players wondered, "So the only women in Mogu society are concubines who have to serve the Thunder King, really? What's going on there, that's weird". And looking back, the team collectively agrees that that was weird.
Over 70 flirty sayings and offensive jokes will be removed from WoW with patch 9.1.5. But that is only part of the "sexy purge". Source: Blizzard
At Blizzard, we've started to set up a system where employees can submit things that, in 17 years of WoW in 2021, they're no longer proud of or think certain content doesn't reflect the team of today. We included feedback from the community in that process, of course.
When we announced we were looking at things that might be too offensive these days, we came across lots of forum posts and tweets to @WarcraftsDevs that alerted us to said content in the game.
Then we looked at those things and weighed what was a borderline case, what might not be entirely adult, or what might not be appropriate in this day and age. At the same time, we never wanted to change the whole game and overhaul 17 years of WoW.
In making the changes, we focused on inclusion and not wanting someone to look at Azeroth and think, "this is not a world for someone like me."
And we don't even want more jokes, etc. Removal. We want to add more flirts and silly jokes in the future! Focus was first to remove content that is not appropriate nowadays. Creating new voice lines will take some time, just because you have to organize all the voice actors. Our goal is not to reduce the amount of flirts and jokes, but to expand the repertoire, but in a way that is inclusive. Should torture quests also be removed from WoW? Source: buffed
buffed: Do you plan to adjust things that might seem too violent? For example, torture quests or slaves?
But we're also not an adults-only game. So that's the middle ground that we're trying to find. And yes, in a game called Warcraft, there will be violence, there will be killing and defeating enemies and everything that goes with that. We're not trying to deny that or remove that from our game. Again, it's more about specific elements that can make it feel like it's a game for some and not for others.
buffed: I don't want to push the issue too much, but how has the whole lawsuit (combined with the pandemic) affected the WoW team and the progress of the game?
Ion Hazzikostas: I would be lying if I said it didn't have an impact. Of course, the pandemic itself has caused us to rethink all of our work and collaboration, and many of the same challenges that all game developers and all technology companies around the world face, and we feel good about our processes because it allows us to collaborate, share information, and work on developing great, wild content.
The process has led to a period of significant self-reflection and internal conversation within the team, and that was certainly the initial focus: let's have team-wide meetings, let's listen, let's make sure everyone feels heard. And it was a time when many felt that it was difficult to get their tasks done or to create a quest. But I would say that after those first couple of days, we were back up and running.
This was also the time when just about everything for patch 9.1.5 was created. The update was mainly created in August. And that's how we continue. We know that we have a huge obligation to our players, who, as I mentioned earlier, know that this is their game, this is their world, and we have to create content, we have to curate the world, we have to maintain it.
And that's not something that we're ever going to abandon or neglect. But obviously those conversations have continued, and I think we're working at all levels within the World of Warcraft team, as part of larger efforts within Blizzard, within the ABK organization as a whole, to improve, to listen to our team, to see how we can do better, to see how we can make sure that everyone feels heard, that they feel like they have a voice, and that we have policies that promote inclusivity, diversity, and safety.
buffed:Do you feel like WoW is perceived differently now because of the difficulties in 2020 and 2021?
Ion Hazzikostas: Sure, yes. On some level, and I think we know that. There are challenges, there have been setbacks, there is work that we need to do to overcome and restore confidence. But at the end of the day, we hope our work speaks for itself in the world we're building. When it comes to players, I think the effort is progressing on a larger, enterprise-wide level to address many of the broader issues.
At the end of the day, the focus of a quest designer, class designer, artist, and engineer is to have fun while Warcraft gameplay creates fantastic new worlds to explore. And we have a lot of exciting things unfolding in the coming weeks. We can't wait to get 9.1.5 into players' hands. And shortly after that, we'll have a lot more to share with the entire community.
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