Blizzard definitely cares about roleplayers. They listen to us and there's a special place for us in their hearts -- which is natural, because in many ways, their whole world has its own story and background which means a lot to them, and while all players get to see that story unfolding through their activities in the game, roleplayers are the ones who participate in that story by making their own stories within it.
The problem is that Blizzard and its roleplayers are on pretty different wavelengths when it comes to what roleplayers want to receive and what Blizzard wants to provide. Blizzard wants to give us more neat toys and perfect places to enjoy, with lots of lore and story behind them -- and while this is all very interesting and everyone enjoys it, most roleplayers are wishing they had more sandbox-like tools, spaces and items they can easily bend or shape in their own ways, to use for their own purposes.
Blizzard may care, but do they really understand? Read on for insights Blizzard may be missing.
The Brazier of Gimmicky Fluff
In the latest Blizzcast, my esteemed colleague Jim H. Moreno asked a question through his troll priest Wichdocta, about what new items were coming up for roleplayers to use. In fact there are lots of items in WoW which roleplayers use all the time, but we don't always use these items in the ways Blizzard thinks we will. In the Blizzcast, they brought up items like the Brazier of Dancing Flames, which they thought was neat because of how it looks so nice and has all this interactivity -- you can kiss it, bow to it, or even dance with it and turn into a dancing flame yourself.
The thing is that most roleplayers probably won't use it in their actual roleplaying experiences. It's fun and pretty and all, but it's hard to fit into our characters' personal stories. What do you say to people? "Hey, guys, look at this neat dancing flame thing I got!" to which they reply, "Hey, that's pretty neat!" and then you say... "Yup!" And... then you're done. It's kind of hard to figure out why your character would have such a thing, except to say that he bought it from the Fire Festival merchant. A really creative roleplayer might be able to come up with something Pygmalion-like, "Behold! I have conjured up the woman of my dreams from the passionate element of Fire! Don't get too close though... the burning passion is contagious. Muahaha." But for most of us, the only way we can make it fit is as a novelty, not actually part of our story.
One man's trash is another man's neat little prop
So what treasures do roleplayers really love? Ironically, a lot of it is stuff that Blizzard considers "trash." Legal Documents, A Steamy Romance Novel, and a Small Pocket Watch are all items we can use as props that speak volumes about our character when we mention them in our emotes. It feels so much better to have an actual item you can link to, so rather than just using an emote like, "Soandso cries on your shoulder," you can say, "Soandso takes out his Tear-Stained Hankerchief and dabs at his eyes." There's a feeling of surprise you get when someone uses an item like this in such a way, as if we're not just playacting at a game -- that item is really there.
What roleplayers really want in terms of items are more props like this. More things we can use to give our characters more expressions of flavor and personality. Elder's Moonstones and Elune Stones are another great example of general items which can be used in a variety of ways to fit our story. They have a visual effect which could be anything from a spotlight on a theater, to the Light itself granting its blessing to your paladin. Some people figure out ways to use non-combat pets as roleplaying items too. Engineers are fond of showing off their pets as their amazing creations, for instance, and one of my friends at Dramatis-Personae found out she could use the Red Helper Box to represent her gnome character's daughter.
Roleplayers don't want gimmicks so much as they want tools. The Brazier of Dancing Flames is nice in its own way, but it fails as a roleplay item because it's way too complicated and specific to the Midsummer Fire Festival; it tries too hard to be the center of attention, whereas the Elune Stones, for instance, could be used in any number of situations outside of the Lunar Festival, and allow the players' stories themselves to stay in the spotlight.
This is the main difference between Blizzard and roleplayers. Each one wants the child of their own creative inspiration to be in the forefront. Blizzard says "here, have some toys!" and we ask, "but where's the tools?"
Blizzard says all the world really is a stage
In the WoW Q&A Develoment Panel, the very last question that got squeezed in at the end was from a roleplayer who wanted to know if Blizzard was planning on creating cities or other environments specifically for roleplayers. On one hand, their answer was reasonable: different players want different kinds of environments, so rather than create things which are exclusively for roleplayers, they put lore and character in places all over the world and welcome roleplayers to roleplay there.
They cite the Darkmoon Faire as a good roleplaying spot -- and it is; I have roleplayed there sometimes, especially when it first came out. The toys were a fun novelty to play with, but they didn't last the test of replayability -- you don't come back to the tonk machines in the same way you come back to the battlegrounds and instances. In the same way, as a roleplaying spot it's good for characters who like to get drunk a lot, but it's not really what roleplayers everywhere are asking for these days.
What they want is customization. They want to create items and spaces which are all their own, not just appreciate the events and stories that Blizzard comes up with. They want things like houses to live in, family surnames, notebooks they can write in, clothes and disguises they can wear at any time or any place, ways to show their personal descriptions and other information without needing a special addon to make it work. For them, the game is not just consumption of whatever Blizzard creates, it is a sandbox playground, in which they can use the tools to make up stories of their own within Blizzard's world.
Whether Blizzard understands this or not, I don't know. It could be that Blizzard knows full well what roleplayers want but don't feel that they have the time and energy it takes to give it to them. I really doubt that they actually want to maintain strict control of the WoW experience and prevent roleplayers from having these tools -- rather they just want to play to the widest possible audience, including people who don't have that creative inclination that so defines roleplayers.
On the other hand, it could be that Blizzard just doesn't really get what we want, nor have a real understanding of how to give it to us. If they did understand, I think they would find we're not asking for super-fancy complicated stuff that takes a long time to make -- just more simple things with multiple uses in different creative situations.