Blizzard’s non-apology on Warcraft 3: Reforged, and how they never understood the game at all
Warcraft 3: Reforged is a disaster.
Instead of celebratory ovations, the highly expected re-shipping of the legendary strategy game — marketed more as a remake than a physical facelift like StarCraft: Remastered — launched to widespread vitriol. At the time of writing, Reforged holds a record-low 0.5 user score on Metacritic and within days of its January 28 launch, it had become an unfortunate meme, a pinata for the crowd of alienated Blizzard fans, which grows yet larger.
Warcraft 3: Reforged is a disaster and it deserves it.
It is, without doubt, the biggest mess Blizzard have concocted in recent years, a period which “proudly” saw the execution of Heroes of the Storm esports days after players and orgs were lied to that HGC will continue; the tone-deaf bragging about record revenue in the wake of massive lay-offs; the announcement of Diablo: Immortal; the Blitzchung censorship; the departures of key figures from many departments as they couldn’t stand the deterioration of a company culture they once upheld; the announcement of an expansion pack as a stand-alone game; and the incoherent on-stage ramblings of J. Allen Brack, a CEO as far removed from the revered kingship of his predecessor Michael Morhaime as humanly possible.
The root of Reforged’s cataclysmic failure goes back to that BlizzCon 2018 announcement, when Blizzard shared their plans for the game and set the price at $29.99 — not a low figure for a remaster of an 18-year-old game. But it wasn’t merely a remaster, Blizzard said. There would be new, more cinematic cutscenes, with dynamic camerawork that isn’t just a top-down view with subtitles underneath. There would be a new UI, there would even be changes to the campaign storylines to make it more in line with how World of Warcraft developed.
That’s why you’re paying $30. And to convince us, a beautiful reimagining of an iconic cutscene from the original game — the Culling of Stratholme, where we first see Arthas’ darkness of character and alienation from friends and mentors — was shown.
This cutscene, which is still being used as a promotional material on Reforged’s official website despite not existing in the game anymore, helped convince the Warcraft 3 believers. Reforged did feel like more than just a remaster. What’s more, such polished revamp of an iconic strategy might even eliminate the need for Warcraft 4. After all, if Reforged brought back Warcraft 3 prettier and more balanced than ever before, ushering a competitive Renaissance, why bother developing a new title in a dying genre that will likely never live up to its predecessor’s legacy?
World of Warcraft never got WoW 2, because it didn’t need it. Reforged could’ve done the same with Warcraft 3.
The end result was nothing like that. There are already dozens of articles which have chronicled where and how Reforged broke its promises and disappointed thousands. This one from PC Gamer’s Wes Felson does as good a job as any, listing the numerous lies and deceits which make up Reforged’s entourage. Instead, let this article be about two other things: Blizzard’s official response and the yet another proof of the company’s total disconnect from its community.
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After a week of silence, hiding from the shrapnels of Metacritic review bombing and the wildfire that were the official forums, an anonymous Blizzard peon broke the silence and delivered an apology in the best traditions of J. Allen Brack — a non-apology.
Naturally, the word “sorry” was right there in the first paragraph, but used in an obscene way that almost turned fault back at the user.
“We want to say we’re sorry to those of you who didn’t have the experience you wanted,” the “apology” reads, removing Blizzard from responsibility as much as possible. It’s not a “sorry, we lied”, or a “sorry, we misled you”, or a “sorry, we fucked up”. It’s a “sorry you feel that way” at best, something you say at the end of a bad date. A “sorry you set your expectations high, but that’s your own fault”.
It means nothing. It shows no remorse.
The statement goes on, listing very few of the many problems Reforged shipped with, while offering little to no timelines on when (or whether) they’ll be fixed. Some, like leaderboards and clans — an integral part of the competitive experience that made classic WC3 great — will come in a major patch at some point. It won’t be soon. There will be weeks before Blizzard “reveal plans” about them, let alone release them.
Then, the missing Reforged cutscenes. “We did not want the in-game cutscenes to steer too far from the original game. We went a little deeper into the thought process behind that at the show, but the main takeaway is that the campaigns tell one of the classic stories in Warcraft history, and we want to preserve the true spirit of Warcraft III and allow players to relive these unforgettable moments as they were,” the anonymous peon writes, skipping past the part about how a non-classic, steered-too-far, unpreserved footage is used to drive sales at this very moment.
The Blizzard team, you see, knows you don’t want Reforged cutscenes. Just like it knew you didn’t want WoW: Classic or that you wanted Diablo on your phones. A dynamic storytelling through which we can experience the Warcraft 3 campaign from a new angle and be with the characters on their journey instead of looking at the top of their heads? What a ludicrous idea that would destroy the game’s legacy!
“We know this update doesn’t address all questions,” the letter acknowledges astutely. We know it doesn’t address the awful refund policy or why people were allegedly getting banned for helping others with it. We know it doesn’t address why we broke classic Warcraft 3. We know it doesn’t address why other features that we promised aren’t in the game. We know it doesn’t make any effort to make amends.
We know. We don’t care. It’s your own fault that you didn’t get the experience you wanted, remember? It’s right there, paragraph one.
Blizzard did not understand Reforged’s purpose
What’s worse than the issued statement, however, is Blizzard’s own failure to understand 1) their product; and 2) their community. Their proclivity toward the latter has been well established already, but the former is rather new (or at least it was less visible until now).
Here’s something that Brack and Kotick will fail to grasp: the purpose of Warcraft 3: Reforged shouldn’t have been to make Activision Blizzard rich. It’s not a product that can do that, to be honest. Although the game carries a rich, storied past, a remake of it was never going to make tens of millions like WoW: Classic.
Strategy games have not been in fashion for years and even a titan like Warcraft 3 would not become a golden hen for Blizzard. Between World of Warcraft’s monthly subscriptions, Overwatch and Call of Duty’s grandiose esports plans, and Hearthstone’s regular expansion packs, Warcraft 3: Reforged would find itself like an aging bodybuilder amid younger, richer, more oiled up, style-over-substance jocks. At best, with the help from the likes of ESL and DreamHack, it could enjoy a Reforged esports honeymoon but like StarCraft 2 and StarCraft: Remastered, it would not make headlines outside a number of events.
No, Warcraft 3: Reforged should’ve launched as Blizzard’s curtsy to the past, a show of respect to the game that reimagined the strategy genre and paved the way for World of Warcraft. 2003’s The Frozen Throne expansion was the last non-MMO product Blizzard launched before the merger with Activision and together with StarCraft and Diablo was part of the holy trinity that built the company’s legacy.
With Blizzard’s public image in complete free-fall, bringing back this legacy was how they could repair the community’s eroded trust, a way to show they still remembered the old company culture and old company values. Warcraft 3: Reforged should’ve been an ambassador — a public servant that’s in it for the good of the people, not for the paycheck.
15 years ago, Blizzard would ask “Is it done?” Today, all they ask is “Is it billable?” And even if the $29.99 price is somehow acceptable (which is still up for debate), the treatment the old RTS king has received from its parent is not and the end result is the lacerated corpse of a once venerable game.