So the World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria beta has officially gone live.
But wait, what’s this I hear? It’s the QQ Train, and it’s docking earlier than expected!
You see, the problem comes from this image. It’s a bit big to indent properly, but the gist of it states that people who signed up for the Annual Pass get a host of benefits; a free copy of Diablo 3, a snazzy mount and a claim that they will get an invite to the Mists of Pandaria beta the moment it goes live.
However, not even six hours into the beta, Blizzard may wish they had been clearer on that.
You see, people are NOT being invited; and the waves mechanic hasn’t exactly been clarified. Instead, a poor Community Representative has had to wade in and point out the fine print which reads;
“Provided that you fulfill the requirements stated herein, Blizzard Entertainment will: (i) add a Tyrael’s Charger mount to your Account; (ii) upon the retail launch of Diablo III in your country of residence, add a standard edition Diablo III retail license to your Account, where you may download a standard edition version of Diablo III that corresponds with your country settings; and (iii) flag the Account so that you will automatically receive an invite to the beta test for the next World of Warcraft expansion product.”
And then followed up with the genius defence;
“‘when it goes live’ was never stated by Blizzard.”
Except, of course, it was stated. Not merely in the advertisement that carried the promotion, but by Mike Morhaime, President and Co-Founder of Blizzard during Blizzcon.
Now, I for one an appreciative that getting in a million users on the first day is unworkable – if we apply common sense, that was hardly going to be realistic for a game that is just going into the Beta stages (and is probably a little unstable). I sympathise with Blizzard to a certain degree.
However, trying to worm your way out of a fan backlash in this kind of manner is simply not going to work, and when there are viable alternatives already available and others coming further down the year (Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World two of the bigger ones) the one thing you absolutely, positively do not want to do is piss off your users, especially when in the last year or two you’ve already lost a good million and a half users.
Blizzard are going to have to accept that this was very much a mistake on their part; not making it absolutely clear that users would not get in straight away on beta, but rather be relegated to waves depending on when they signed up for the pass and – more notably – how long their accounts have been active is a massive PR cock-up, and as the day progresses and people start reading how swiftly Blizzard are trying to cover their tracks can only end in a real and very horrid userbase meltdown.
World of Warcraft players are some of the most tolerant and dedicated on the market, and they’ve put up with an awful lot of rubbish over the years. It certainly doesn’t help when you see that Rift: Planes of Telara is already on its eighth content patch in a year; a game modeled on the World of Warcraft template, and yet doing more faster with it.
Saying that Terms and Conditions are subject to change is a hollow and actually illegal statement when it is after the fact; if Blizzard had known this, there should have been a very short e-mail to signees stating that the terms and conditions had changed, or been re-clarified, or made more vague. That would have given them legal discourse and precedent; that they attempt it now, sadly, means they may not just have annoyed their userbase but, more awkwardly, broken multiple national and international laws governing advertising.
What does this mean? Well, unfortunately for Blizzard, it may mean that disgrunted users can claim their money back from their credit/debit card providers. If they can prove reasonable doubt (and the YouTube video and snapshot of the original promotion do more than prove reasonable doubt) that Blizzard never intended to deliver on all their promises, they can – in theory – get their money back. Of course, why you’d do this when you’re being given a £39.99 game for free in the bundle perplexes me – but I kind of understand some people did not sign up for Diablo 3. They wanted beta access. That was the draw. Not getting it may null and void the contract that was agreed upon.
It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that this has happened; I am sympathetic to Blizzard and I understand the logistical nightmare they’re under right now. But they promoted something, and then got vague in the fine print, and now want to push the vague fine print to get them out of a hole. Meanwhile, they’re doing their best to shut down any conversations about this, in the hopes it can be contained before it blows up in their faces like a Goblin-engineered grenade.
The first rule of holes is when you realise you’re in a hole… stop digging. Blizzard will just have to stop digging, because if they don’t, there will be no escape when people start pouring in the boiling hot oil… and it’s going to hurt.