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WoW: Bugs, bots and layering - our interview with Blizzard before the TBC launch

On June 02 at the stroke of midnight, the Dark Portal will open in the Desolate Lands to once again unleash Burning Crusade fans onto Outland. But is Blizzard even ready for the launch? After all, a lot of bugs have landed on the live servers with the pre-patch. In addition, there are old construction sites, new challenges, and important decisions to be made after the launch of TBC Classic. We recently had the chance to talk about all of this and more with Lead Producer Holly Longdale and Production Director Patrick Dawson in a six-eyed interview.

buffed: Let me start by saying that you guys really surprised me after the announcement of TBC Classic. I was sure that you would never implement changes like "all sigils for all paladins" or "pre-patch with draenei and blood elves" or "bosses without nerfs". At the same time, I was worried that tier 5 content would be available to us at launch, like it was back then, and that we'd have to live with the drumming meta. Thumbs up for that, I'm very happy with a lot of your decisions ...

Patrick Dawson: That's definitely something that was very important to us: listening to player feedback when it comes to things that weren't optimal in the original Burning Crusade that we can now do better. We don't want to change the Burning Crusade feel and keep the nostalgia of players stepping through the Dark Portal and refreshing their memories. What we want to change are just things that you mentioned that feel out of place or broken.

buffed: My first question is about the pre-patch: Two weeks, that's not a lot of time to level a blood elf or draenei, to farm for honor or to test all the class customizations. I also know some people who are very disappointed that they probably won't do a single Naxxramas raid with a Blood Elf Paladin by their side - for people with jobs and families, time is just too short. What were the reasons for the very short pre-patch period?

WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - Lead Producer Holly Longdale Source: Blizzard Holly Longdale: We've noticed from the community the desire to be able to enter Outland quickly. Having the ability to level Blood Elves and Draenei in the pre-patch is a deliberate change from the pre-patch at that time. At the same time, our primary goal was not to have every player reach level 60 within the pre-patch. We wanted to give those players a little bit of a head start, and some have already used that head start to reach max level within two days. In other words, if players reach level 60 or at least level 58 within the two weeks to catch up with their friends, great. However, it was more important to us to fulfill the desire for a timely launch of Burning Crusade as quickly as possible. That's why a two-week pre-patch period felt right to us.

buffed: I'm sure you've seen a significant increase in player numbers with the pre-patch. Are the numbers above or below your expectations?

Patrick Dawson: We are absolutely thrilled with the numbers. With the pre-patch, the enthusiasm that we've already seen throughout the process has been amplified. Just seeing how many people are coming back now ... we're very pleased with how the pre-patch has been received so far. And we haven't even opened the Dark Portal yet. We'll certainly have more players coming back at launch.

buffed: The TBC launch is just around the corner, and with the rather long beta period in the rearview mirror, I'd like to know from you: How do you rate the state of the game, looking at bugs, raid balancing and layering? And how satisfied are you with the work and feedback from us beta testers? There have been so many Karazhan groups out and about, and at the same time so many new bugs have hit the live servers with the pre-patch. So what's the status quo, are you guys ready for launch?

Holly Longdale: As far as the beta goes, we've been really excited by how dedicated players have been to the content. That's been extremely helpful to us as developers. All the things that you just mentioned were brought to light by the community, through feedback and very specific questions and concerns. We've developed some experts over the years who are very knowledgeable not only about their class, but also about the content of WoW. (buy now 14,99 € ) as well. The incredible engagement of the testers has put us in a very good position for launch and we're very confident about the opening of the Dark Portal.

Patrick Dawson: The beta has also given us the opportunity to stress test for launch. You can never 100% replicate an extreme situation like launch, but we were able to stress test our layering technology and the servers properly enough to make sure that players going through the Dark Portal have a positive gaming experience.

Holly Longdale: The pre-launch test we did a few weeks ago allowed us to make some important adjustments once again. We are prepared. Just the number of players that participated in that test was fantastic, and really helped us test layering and such. We are very grateful for that.

buffed: During the raid test of Magtheridon you changed the health of the boss drastically, from 8.3 million health to 4.8 million health. What version of the boss will we get to see on the live servers?

Holly Longdale: That's a secret.

Patrick Dawson: Actually, I don't even know what the current status is here right now. I guess we'll find out after launch.

Holly Longdale: You have to say about this: in the beta, we deliberately made some adjustments because we didn't want to reveal the final status everywhere. We don't want to give you any surprises, but we also don't want you to know the full path ahead of you through the beta. On top of that, we had to go back from the initial patch 2.4.3 to reach pre-nerf status, which led to some inconsistencies that we then had to fix afterwards. Thanks in part to feedback from testers, however, we should now be well prepared for launch. Should further inconsistencies arise after the launch, we will make the appropriate adjustments.
WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - How many health points will Magtheridon have on the live server? Source: buffed buffed: Now I have two crunchy PvP questions for you. Number 1: When can we expect the first PvP season to start?

Patrick Dawson: We want to launch the first PvP season shortly after launch, it's kind of part of the launch package. But before that, we want to give all players the opportunity to level up and rediscover Burning Crusade. No one should feel forced to rush through the leveling phase just to be able to participate in the PvP season as early as possible.

buffed: And number 2: The Ruins of Lordaeron arena came into the game back in Black Temple patch 2.1. Just to be sure: Is the arena now part of the launch package for TBC Classic?

Holly Longdale: Oh, wow, you're asking questions. I'm not sure about that, we have so many details floating around in our heads right now.

buffed: I think I've seen videos from the beta of players fighting in the Lordaeron Arena. I just want to double check that.

Holly Longdale: If the arena was available in the beta, it's very likely that it will be available at launch.

Patrick Dawson: I also think the arena should be available at launch. But we're checking that internally.

buffed: It's a very hot topic right now. Some theorycrafters have discovered a potentially new meta for Ferocity Druids that involves clicking away the effect of, say, a Weak Trollblood Potion after a Powershift to get extra Energy for two shreds per shapeshift. I believe we owe this effect to a patch 2.2 adjustment, so this is not a bug. Will we see druids farming peace flowers and earth roots throughout the TBC era, or can we expect an adjustment?

Holly Longdale: This is a hot topic for us right now as well. As is often the case, we're not 100% sure what player behavior will end up looking like. We don't want to make any big changes this close to launch. However, we will be testing a few things out on the beta server over the next few days and continuing the research we've already done.

WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - Production Director Patrick Dawson Source: Blizzard Patrick Dawson: That's the exciting thing about this Classic project. These things existed back then, but they weren't discovered or put into practice by the masses. And it wouldn't be the first time that we've had to make changes to something like this so that a class can't suddenly do twice as much damage as it did back then because of a tweak like this. With the Leatherworkers' drums, we decided to make adjustments for similar reasons. These are always "case by case" decisions.

buffed: The world of WoW Classic is huge, with the two continents of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms. Nevertheless, activities in the open world - like farming, questing or PvP - were frustrating on far too many servers for a long time, and that despite layering, and partly because of layering. With the launch of TBC Classic, we're now expecting a big rush of old and new players (thanks to character boosts) to the comparatively small Outland, and they all have to go through the Hellfire Peninsula bottleneck. My prediction: without early deployment of new TBC servers combined with the ability to transfer characters, the open-world experience will be much more frustrating, and we'll have to live with layering for a very long time. What is your assessment of this situation?

Patrick Dawson: We look at server populations daily, sometimes multiple times a day, to see where players are playing and if there are any servers that are too full. Our goal is to make sure that every player on every server has a healthy population around them. But that also means we want to avoid servers with too few players. So before we open new servers, we will first encourage players to move from servers that are too full to servers that could use a few more players.

WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - Guildless rogues living 24/7 in the Blackrock Depths? That's got the bot alarm bells ringing. Source: buffed buffed: A big construction site of WoW Classic were the bots. Month after month, for example, I was searching for guildless rogues in the Blackrock Depths, and all the time I got to see all the bots focused on pickpocketing 24/7 to get around the daily dungeon cap. And that was just the tip of the iceberg and a problem on almost every server. At the same time, there were always reports of players being unjustly banned. These posted multiple tickets that had yielded nothing. It wasn't until Reddit posts and the subsequent reactions from the community that there was deeper investigation, which ultimately led to the banning penalty being lifted - at least that was my impression from the outside. My question now is: do you plan to take action to better manage the issue of bots in the future? With the character boost, the bot situation on Outland could get a lot worse ...

Patrick Dawson: We very actively care about botting, and of course we know it's an important issue within the community because bots are damaging the game experience of every player on the server. In Classic, we have taken a number of steps to improve the situation. For example, we have a "Risk Operations Team" that is very active and involved in helping us track down bots. At the same time, we've given players more opportunities to report bots in-game, which in turn allows us to respond more quickly. These two measures alone in combination have helped us ban a lot of bots from the game. In addition, I can assure you that we are working as hard as we can to ensure that no one is unjustly banned. Accordingly, our investigations are deep before we ban anyone. I'm afraid I can't comment on the cases you mentioned, but you can be sure that we will continue to improve in order to prevent such false positives.

buffed: Lastly, you guys must have unleashed quite a wave of bans. Among other things, the rogues have disappeared from the Blackrock Depths. It's late, but it's obviously a step in the right direction.

Patrick Dawson: Yes, we've been able to make another noticeable step forward in bot-fighting recently, and we're pleased with the work our team is doing.

buffed: Let's talk about the Era servers. In March, you announced in a survey that there might be "Quality of Life" adjustments or even new/customized game content for these era servers. Do you have any specific things in mind to improve the Phase 6 experience? Or to ask the question another way: Should I clone my characters because if I don't, I might eventually regret not doing it?

Holly Longdale: Currently, we're fully focused on the launch of Burning Crusade, while keeping an eye on the population of the Era servers on the side. We just want to see how the populations develop over the next month or two. So at this point, we don't have any specific changes that we want to implement on the era servers.

Patrick Dawson: After the launch of Burning Crusade, we'll certainly get into a conversation to see where the journey is going to go. This doesn't just pertain to the era servers, but also the oft-requested "fresh servers for WoW Classic" as well as feedback on specific topics like spell-batching. We want to be very active in taking care of the community of the era servers and also fulfill the one or other wish. But that's a topic for after the launch of Burning Crusade Classic.

buffed: After the pre-patch release, my Classic era server Razorfen is one of the few German servers that didn't end up in a server group. This can't be due to the large number of players, in all previous checks ten to 20 people were online on the Horde side. Did you forget about the server or is Razorfen deliberately standing alone now?

Holly Longdale: Again, that's due to the fact that everything is focused on Burning Crusade right now. Players want to try out the pre-patch and prepare for TBC. And we also want to wait and see where players will ultimately play. Anyone who has ever developed games knows very well how difficult it is to correctly predict player behavior. So we don't want to take actions too early based on guesses. But we are looking very closely at how the server populations will develop over the next few weeks.

buffed: The question came up with several players on my server because the server groups were already merged with the pre-patch launch, and it seems from the outside that Razorfen was simply forgotten about as part of the launch preparation.

Patrick Dawson: No, the server was not forgotten. As Holly says, there are so many people testing out the pre-patch at the moment. Some of them are coming from Shadowlands, some of them are players who actually want to play on the Era server. We want to wait and see how all of this plays out and then there can be further adjustments to make sure there is a healthy population on all realms.
WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - According to Patrick Dawson, these paid goodies are not a precursor to an in-game shop on Classic servers. Source: Blizzard buffed: After the introduction of the paid mount, clone service and character boost, players keep expressing the fear that the WoW token and a real ingame shop will surely come soon for the Classic servers. How much monetization can the Classic experience handle and where do you see yourselves crossing the line?

Patrick Dawson: Things like the Boost and the Dark Portal Pass are things we created to help returnees and newcomers get started in TBC Classic. We want them to be able to join their friends in the Outland. We didn't have any ulterior motives in terms of an in-game shop, we just wanted to make sure that players had an option to go directly to the TBC content and experience the memorable moment of going through the Dark Portal with others. The Deluxe Edition is again a nice way for us and the fans to celebrate this cool milestone in WoW history in-game.

buffed: Now I have to elaborate a bit: From my point of view, the biggest unique selling point of online role-playing games is the community, which is located in a persistent open-world, with cooperation on the one hand and player conflicts on the other. WoW Classic and TBC Classic both have the basic framework to support this cooperation and opposition very well. There is a big focus on group content, but no automated group search. The self-contained language servers are also an important component, because there are real server communities instead of language barriers. We organize ourselves via chat and Discord, meet the same characters when leveling, eventually know the major guilds and which player offers which services, and we eventually make a name for ourselves. All of this is hugely important to an MMO, and is one of the biggest reasons I log into WoW Classic every day with the same passion that I played vanilla WoW in 2005 and 2006. But all of that is also something I don't experience with the intensity in modern MMORPGs, because they have continent-wide servers or complex cross-server constructs, with group search tools and a greater focus on solo and story content. On these servers, the individual player is completely lost in the anonymous crowd. However, this is my reason for playing WoW Classic and TBC Classic again. From your perspective, what is the reason for the enormous success of Classic servers, aside from nostalgia? And what lessons can MMO developers learn for future MMO projects from this success? In your view, is there even such a lesson?

Patrick Dawson: We've learned that there are very different types of players out there. There are people who find exactly what you're describing great about Classic. And I'm very proud of the fact that we can now offer those people exactly that. But there are also people who really enjoy playing Shadowlands, for example, because they usually only have half an hour or three quarters of an hour to complete a dungeon or complete their objective. I actually think Shadowlands has a fantastic community, it's just that in my experience it's a bit smaller because it's made up of the guild or circle of friends. The great thing is, no matter what type of gamer you are, we have something for you, all rolled into one monthly subscription. You can play Shadowlands, Burning Crusade or Classic-era, whatever you enjoy.

buffed: While we're on the subject of group questing: Patch 2.0.1 brought the "Looking for group" interface tool to the game back in the day. During BlizzCon in February, we learned that you were going to modernize the tool. Later, dataminers found global strings with references to an LFG matchmaking system. Only, on the beta server, I couldn't find the group search anywhere. What's the current status here?

Patrick Dawson: We pretty much know what the Burning Crusade community doesn't want: an automated matchmaking system that randomly throws players together with other players. But there is still a desire to make it easier to build groups in the game. Back then, there was basically just the group search channel and guild chat, and it could take forever to complete a group. Today, we have tools that still require you to manually search for teammates or the right group, but they make it easier to match you up with the right players. And that's what our plan is for modernization.

Holly Longdale: I'm always amazed at what dataminers are unearthing these days. In the Arena context, we're actually using some of the functionality of the automated group search, the algorythm and the improved matchmaking, for example. It's likely that the Dataminer findings are related to this.
WoW: Burning Crusade Classic - Holly Longdale was part of the Everquest team for a very long time and was responsible for the implementation of the Legacy servers, among other things. Source: Darkpaw Games buffed: Holly, you've been a part of the Everquest team for many years and in the course of your job you've gained a lot of experience in building and maintaining Classic and Nostalgia servers. Are there any lessons you learned during that time that are now benefiting WoW Classic and TBC Classic?

Holly Longdale: More than anything, I've learned that I'm one of you. I love this nostalgic gaming experience where togetherness is paramount. Admittedly: I also play Shadowlands. But my heart beats a little more for Classic. I love the pacing, reading quests and looking for the next quest objective. I just like working with others, I also buff anyone who walks by. All of this certainly comes from the experience I've had with MMOs over the last 25 years. As for WoW, on top of that, I love the world, the art design, the characters. If I'm short on time, I might log into Shadowlands instead of Classic, tackle a raid with colleagues, and die. I usually die a lot. Other than that, though, I'm more with you and the other Classic fans.

buffed: My last question for today: Again and again I read in comment sections, in forums and on Reddit from players the following statement: Yes, Vanilla WoW was good back then, Burning Crusade was good back then, maybe I'll play the Classic versions, maybe not. What I'm really waiting for though is Classic servers for Wrath of the Lich King. What needs to happen so that we won't be traveling to Northrend on progressive realms?

Patrick Dawson: The reason we did WoW Classic and TBC Classic was because of the overwhelming desire from the community to make those Classic versions happen. And yes, even with WoltLK in mind, the developers have already perceived a clear desire to implement it. But the team will only deal with this once they have successfully implemented Burning Crusade and the next project is on the horizon. And then the community will also be an important part of that discussion. So we haven't talked about it yet, but we will and as soon as there is news we will of course share it with you.

buffed: Thank you very much for your time and the answers. Stay healthy and have a great launch!

What do you think of the Blizzard devs' answers? What do you think: How smooth will the launch of Burning Crusade Classic be? Tell us in the comments!

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