In yesterday's Queue Jeff asked the following question:
What is it about the software development process that causes Blizzard to slingshot from solving a problem to so overdoing it that it becomes a problem in and of itself. Examples:
- Dungeons in Wrath were too easy - Cata dungeons are now stupid hard
- Questing is too scattered in Vanilla - All questing will be done in a streamlined fashion
- Not enough dailies in Cata - Locked reputation grinds via dailies to open up further content in Mists
I'm calling it now, Garrisons will turn into one of the biggest mistakes of WoD.
I see this a lot -- people questioning the processes that Blizzard uses to arrive at the end product of a WoW expansion. I take no issue with this questioning, I think it's the vital step that helps the community better understand the microcosm of the universe we play in. Blizzard has a growing obligation to the massive community to keep them informed of how their universe is changing, and a deeper understanding of how it gets made is central to that.
However... I don't feel that it's a problem with the software development process -- that's a very defined process of creating software to specifications, testing, refining it in (ideally) agile methodology. Blizzard is just as good, if not better, than others in that area.
Game design, although, is an entirely different animal.
It's a subjective science at heart. Sure, you can (and they do) have numbers that give insight into what players are doing and what they spend the most time not doing, but that only goes so far. Numbers mean jack taco if you can't apply subjective analysis. For instance, players kill a thousand boars between level 1 and 15; therefore you might think that because most players get to level 15, then level 16 - 30 should just be... more boar killing! But that's wrong; the gameplay would suck (remember when it sucked like this? I do). Instead of letting the numbers dictate the direction of the game, the human analysis comes into play and says "let's do this instead, because I think these numbers of boars killed is out of necessity, not out of fun."
That's a really simplified version of what happens with the game design going on at Blizzard, but at the core it's what they're doing: looking at data, making analytical conclusions, and adjusting the gameplay based on those conclusions and their own ideas.
So when you ask what the problems is with Blizzard, with their jumping around in different strategies of content and gameplay systems, what you're really asking is what is right with Blizzard. They're not sitting still on a ten year old game, they're constantly moving and adopting new strategies. There are very few sacred cows in WoW, and Blizzard isn't afraid to try something radically new. This slingshot you speak of isn't Blizzard failing, it's Blizzard growing and staying on the forefront of the industry. We're just hyperaware of it all because we're so invested in this virtual reality.