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Columns: Excessive Datamining in Alpha & Beta Destroys Motivation

By Suzie Ford on April 30, 2018

Excessive Datamining in Alpha & Beta Destroys Motivation

World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth has been in alpha / beta testing for the last several months with regular updates adding more and more content for players. Of course, with every testing opportunity, players are exposed to more of the gameplay details and the story behind the expansion, this time namely the ongoing battle between Horde and Alliance. However, without an NDA in place and data miners going at it hard with every alpha update, when is knowing everything simply TMI?

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This is by no means just an issue with Battle for Azeroth. It happened in Warlords of Draenor. It happened in Legion. It’s an issue, to be honest, with Blizzard’s "no NDA" policy and the lack of surprise and secrecy when expansions are released.

Of course, we’ll start this with the standard caveat that this alpha and things can change. Additionally, Blizzard has often released “red herrings” to data miners to throw them off the scent of the “real story”. Let’s also not forget that Game Writer Christie Golden has also indicated that we don’t necessarily see the whole story….yet.

There are things about the sheer amount of information available via data miners that is making the arrival of the expansion lackluster and uninteresting. Let’s take a look.

The story revealed in alpha / beta testing is hugely de-motivating to Horde players. The faction is being painted as monstrously mustache-twirlingly EVUUUUUUL while Alliance players are shown virtuously wearing gleaming armor. WoW’s overarching story has always been stereotypically “Good vs Evil”, but BfA is taking it to the extreme -- at least so far. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. We don’t know it all yet, but what we do know might not motivate some Horde players to want to dig in and start playing.

Of course, you can say that lore in WoW is the pits anyway and there are some truths to that with retcons and inconsistencies over the years. But there have been equally as many great, if small, stories too. At the end of the day, those Horde players who love story would probably better be served by waiting until the expansion is released and more is known about where the faction is going. At least for now, it is just painfully terrible writing of a horribly awful story for the red team.

But it’s not just lore. Honestly, most players probably don’t bother with stories or lore anyway. Everyone, however, takes part in gameplay. A casual visit to YouTube with BfA as the search parameter will reveal a ton of videos analyzing every class and spec. A visit to the forums provides a mountain of text too. Developers have asked for targeted, personal experiences from players and the testing community has come through.

The issue is, however, that the amount of information on gameplay systems isn’t backing up the notion that less is more. Over the course of several expansions, Blizzard has made a concerted effort to scale back the number of abilities and skills from which players can choose. Some would say they’ve “dumbed it down” in an effort to reach a broader audience. Less isn’t more, a fact that is borne out in nearly every BfA video out there. Gameplay on many, if not all, specs feels lackluster and as if crucial abilities and skills are missing. And they literally ARE. Consider the removal of most Artifact abilities or how some have been placed as Talents replacing others. Every expansion in recent years has led to more and more things being "taken away", yet not replaced with something better.

Getting more specific, how likely is it that by the time BfA launches in August, there will be detailed raid and dungeon guides published on every conceivable WoW-related site out there? It’s 100% likely as is borne out  by the fact that it happened in Legion too. Hardcore raiding guilds will have been in alpha and beta testing environments and will be primed and ready to go with the best comps and required stats and gear too. The same can be said of Mythic + crowd.

These are just a couple of examples of how MYSTERY has been removed from World of Warcraft’s expansions. Nothing is left to discover. Nothing is left untouched. Nothing hasn’t been discussed for months ad nauseum.

Of course, it’s easy to say, “Then just don’t look!” While true on the surface, it’s virtually impossible to do so in today’s over-saturated news cycle. You’d have to stop playing the game because people talk about it in chat. You’d have to stop visiting sites that are even tangentially related to MMOs or even general gaming. It’s nigh impossible to avoid the avalanche of information that is out there.

The bottom line for Battle for Azeroth specifically, and gaming in general, is that data mining is taking the thrill of discovery away from players by letting too much “out of the bag” long, long before the expansion is due for release. If other MMOs can keep most details of coming content expansions out of the public eye (i.e. Guild Wars 2 and Elder Scrolls Online), Blizzard can do it too by bringing back true alpha and beta testing with strict NDAs in place. I wish they would.

Suzie Ford / Suzie is the Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. An avid gamer, Suzie lives in the desert Southwestern US with her own personal minion.