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Trust in web services - or - Why I'm quitting WoW

Here's the deal—I've trusted Blizzard Entertainment. Enough trust to invest $15/month of my money, and more recently $30/month, for a year. More importantly, enough to invest many, many hours of my time. Blizzard, meanwhile, hasn't done a single thing that I've noticed to earn that trust. It's time for me to stop now…

For those of you who are not aware, World of Warcraft is a somewhat interesting and mildly addictive MMORPG set in a mostly-fantasy environment. The basic game mechanics include combat against computer-controlled monsters, combat against other players, and "quests", which require the player to complete a series of tasks for a reward. There is the usual in-game economy of "gold", with a variety of professions that can be taken to earn it. A player's success is strongly influenced by their "level", which increases as they play, and the equipment that they get once they reach a maximum level.

My "main" and really only developed character is a max-level Alliance Mage named Testifus, playing on the crazily low-population realm of Guldan. His professions are Inscription and Herbalism.

Some time ago, my boy and I decided we would like to play together. I purchased a second WoW account with the intention of moving Testifus to it: an operation sanctioned by Blizzard given a substantial fee, and given that the two accounts are controlled by the same person. To save a bit of money, I prepaid for six months.

However, apparently I set up the account wrong, and Blizzard's software would not approve the transfer. I tried their in-game and by-email technical support to try to get the problem resolved, and received no satisfactory answer. I also tried their phone support. After six or eight tries over several weeks during which Blizzard was "experiencing an unexpectedly high call volume" and refused to even queue my phone call, I gave up.

Now I'm stuck with an account that is useless for the purpose it is intended, with absolutely no way to contact anyone who can fix the problem. Blizzard just doesn't care.

The realm of Guldan is, as I said, low-population. In particular, what folks are there are heavily skewed toward the Horde, the enemy of the Alliance to which Testifus belongs. So skewed, in fact, that almost daily Horde players raid and sack the Alliance Capitol of Stormwind. The NPC guards are useless— way too low-level to actually fight the player characters, and there just aren't enough high-level Alliance players around Stormwind at any given time to put up a credible defense.

This makes the game a lot less fun for lower-level characters like Testifus. He was regularly getting killed in his home city of Stormwind, and regularly unable to do business there because the NPC businessfolks had been slaughtered.

I decided it would be sensible to ask Blizzard for some kind of relief. They surely wanted us to have fun playing, right? There was no real mechanism to ask them directly, as it turns out. A post to their forum resulted in no response from Blizzard, but plenty of derision from other players on the forum.

I gave up and moved Testifus out of Stormwind. He hardly ever goes there anymore. Fun.

Every year or two, Blizzard does a major expansion of the World. It presumably does this because the upgrades require a purchase on the order of $50 for each account that wants access to the new content. The last expansion, entitled Wrath of the Lich King, added the Inscription skill and a new continent with lots of new game play. This was about the time I started playing.

The next expansion, Cataclysm, is announced for 7 December of this year. The expansion has been in customer beta test for some time now, and what it will finally look like is pretty well known at this point.

One of the rules I've learned to live by is the one that says to trust titles and tag lines like "Cataclysm". Sure enough, major changes are planned in the fundamental character classes and professions of the game. The two most relevant to Testifus: Mages are getting major downgrades in their skills and abilities, and Inscription becomes a basically useless profession.

Now let me be clear. From my point of view, Mages are not overpowered by any stretch. In fact, they are one of the hardest classes to make work well. Inscription is hardly a money machine, either. I have no idea why they would introduce it with Wrath of the Lich King only to destroy it in Cataclysm.

What I do know is that I've invested a lot of hours in this character's development, and the development of his professions. So many, that I'm too embarrassed to put a number on it in public, actually.

Now all that work is effectively wasted. I can't take my character to some other, better game. I can't really do anything about it. My choices appear to be to start over with a new character, and throw good time after bad, or to write the World of Warcraft off as a learning experience.

This is a sad choice, but not a terribly difficult one.

There's an important lesson here that is about more than just Blizzard and World of Warcraft. I chose poorly when I started with the game: I chose to invest time and money in creating content (a character) that is totally non-portable, on an Internet service run by a company that is not trustworthy. I could have investigated Blizzard and World of Warcraft more carefully, but chose to rely on the experiences of my friends (and my son's) who were happy enough. Given that I knew the content was non-portable, I should have checked more thoroughly.

Whether you're creating spreadsheets or encyclopedia entries the same kind of considerations apply. Can you easily back the content you're creating up? Is it useful elsewhere? Can you trust the folks running the service? If the answer to any of these questions is "no", you should think carefully about proceeding.

Don't get stuck like I did. Fob