I don't usually cover time-sensitive material in The OverAchiever -- achievements are a pretty static feature overall -- but sometimes you find yourself staring down a 64-page and growing thread on the forums and realizing that something of import has happened. That something would be Blizzard's decision to move The Exalted title from 40 Exalted Reputations to 50 Exalted Reputations.
That's not a big deal on its own -- but everybody who already had the title without having 50 Exalted Reputations suddenly found themselves without The Exalted after this week's patch.
Cue forum explosion.
A change of policy
Blizzard's normal policy, as Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer) observed in a June 2010 interview on Wowhead, has been to avoid the unpleasantness of having game changes affect achievement status: "We don't like taking achievements away from players," he said. The general assumption has been that a player with a title or achievement can count on having it forever (unless it was gotten via a bug or hack).
The closest that players have come to "losing" achievements has been the periodic shifts we see when certain achievements become feats of strength and no longer award achievement points. Many players lost achievements points in the transition from Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm as a result of this practice, but few people cared. Achievement points don't really mean anything, and players are generally proud to have feats of strength that nobody can get anymore.
So the sudden (and as far as I'm aware, previously unannounced) change yanking The Exalted from players who may have been using it for years is a major policy reversal. Nobody really cares that Blizzard felt obligated to bump the title to 50 Exalted Reputations; that makes sense, given the number of easy reputations in the game as of Cataclysm, which made a title at 40 a bit pointless. However, taking a title from people who had it previously is a far more troubling development.
There were a number of forum threads created after this discovery, but Bashiok showed up to one in order to explain what was going on:
As the game evolves
I can see where Blizzard's coming from on the issue, because achievements like The Exalted have to keep pace with how the game evolves. (Concerning the "infinite string of titles" mentioned by Bashiok, you have to wonder what Blizzard's going to do when the developers inevitably run out of appropriate adjectives -- Wrathful, Vengeful -- for gladiatorial seasons.) 40 Exalted Reputations is just not very difficult anymore, and it makes little sense to award a coveted title to players who can coast through most of it. Reputation grinds were one of the most nightmarish parts of the game in classic WoW and (arguably) The Burning Crusade, but these days? You can tabard your way through a huge chunk of the reputation achievements.
On that point, I think most players are actually agreed. Very few of the criticisms leveled at this decision address the actual achievement change; players aren't bothered by the system changes that make The Exalted at 50 more appropriate. For my part, I also agree that another "Exalted" title would have been silly and unnecessary. The actual change is a realistic response to how the game has advanced.
However, few people will argue that this is a public relations fiasco; the failure to announce a change guaranteed to affect a lot of players who'd already put serious work into reputation achievements was all but guaranteed to be exactly that. As many players observed in the linked forum thread, it's a bit cruel to snatch a title away from the folks who got it when 40 Exalted Reputations was genuinely difficult (hands up, all those of you who remember the Timbermaw and Alliance/Horde grinds of yesteryear). The need to make "continued efforts," as Bashiok phrases it, also raises the ugly specter of having to be tethered to the game just to keep something your character already had.
I think that bothers players a lot -- and frankly, I don't blame them. This move ranks among Blizzard's more reasonable decisions game-wise, but the delivery of the message and the decision not to grandfather players who already had the title are questionable at best.
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