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The Dangers of Datamining: A cautionary tale of a not-so-evil Magister

Anne Stickney

Some time last month, I was chatting with a friend about various story bits in WoW when we wandered onto the subject of the blood elves and what they're up to in the story. I pointed out the short story In the Shadow of the Sun for more recent sin'dorei lore, adding that of course the story took place prior to Wrath in the time line, so it really wasn't the most up-to-date bit of lore, although it was a wonderful read. My friend asked if I thought we'd see anything with the blood elves in Mists, and I replied that I didn't think so, but then we didn't really know that much about storylines in Pandaria yet.

"Well, yeah," they replied. "But what about Rommath? I mean, he's part of the Twilight Cult and all." I paused for a moment, confused, and then realized what they were referring to. "That was a set of datamined voice files that never made it to game," I clarified. "Well yeah, but he's evil," they insisted. "No, he's not -- as far as the game and the lore is concerned, that conversation never happened, and Rommath is still the same old Rommath. A little cranky and snooty, but definitely not evil. Until proven otherwise." They pondered this, and the conversation moved on from there.

I've had this conversation again and again -- in game, on Twitter. And this, my friends, is just one example of the many dangers of datamining.

Now, I can't say that datamining is a terrible thing -- after all, there are plenty of news sites out there that happily report datamined information, including this one. But datamining and datamined material seems to present a host of problems that don't really lie with the information itself so much as what's done with that information and how people respond to it. This ties quite handily in with information that's found on the beta in general, because the beta is still in early stages.

Building expectations

We've been getting various bits of datamined information from World of Warcraft for years -- and while some of it has come to pass as expected, other things never made it to live servers. Way back in 2009 during Wrath, an onyx panther cub was datamined, leading to a gaggle of speculation on when we'd see it and what the pet was for. It eventually turned out that the pet was meant for Korean realms, and it was never seen in the United States or Europe.

Or for a more recent example, the pattern for the High Society Top Hat was datamined during the Cataclysm beta, and tailors waited with bated breath to see where they could obtain the recipe, while rogues stashed away Shiny Bronze Rivets in preparation for the implementation of the pattern. Several months and several patches later, all those Shiny Bronze Rivets were changed to Corroded Bronze Rivets, and the recipe's requirements were changed. It's finally been implemented in game, but it is an exceedingly rare drop off of rare mobs, rather than the vendor item people thought it would be.

And there are people who are disappointed about this, because they expected the recipe to be available on vendors, and they expected it to use low-level items to create. They expected the recipe to be in game on release day, and it was not. Does this mean that Blizzard screwed up, and we are somehow owed something in return for not getting the pattern we were expecting to see? Absolutely not.

Unwarranted outrage and disappointment

Everything that appears in datamined files or on the beta -- these are all items, objects, spells, pets, mounts, recipes that have not been implemented yet. Nothing that you see on the beta servers is guaranteed to make it to live. You may love the look of those crane mounts (and goodness knows I certainly want every single last one of them!), but they may not even be in the final iteration of Mists when it goes live. The beta and everything on it is in a constant state of flux, and even items that are still there the day the beta shuts down for good aren't guaranteed to be there when you purchase the expansion.

The same applies to datamined material from the various PTR servers. These are test realms, and all the items introduced are merely being tested. They exist, but they exist only in a testing capacity. Stat changes, spell changes, talent changes, set bonuses -- none of these things are really real. But if they don't suit what people have in mind, people get disappointed, upset, and up in arms -- and there's no real reason to be upset or disappointed.

Just because something pops up on the PTR or the beta doesn't mean it's cemented in reality. Both the beta and the PTR servers go through many iterations of testing before anything remotely resembling complete makes it to the live servers. A lot of this material may not even be introduced as consideration for anything that is going into the live servers. Some of it is simply placeholder stats and information so that that item is there to work with for testing purposes. It's never meant to be for players. Blizzard's well aware of this and well aware of the datamining. Occasionally, you'll see a tongue-in-cheek hello to everyone who's poking around these data files.

Fluctuating lore and story development

The same goes for story development, from voice files to cinematics. As someone who has a lot of fun cataloging and speculating on lore, one of the things I remember without question is that anything story-related that is found on the beta or PTR servers doesn't really exist in lore. Not yet. Nothing about the story is final until the moment it appears on live servers -- which means, in the case of poor Magister Rommath, that the evil deeds my friend thought he was guilty of never happened. Rommath wasn't a part of the Twilight Cult. He may have been intended for it at one point in time or another, but he certainly hasn't made any moves toward that revelation in the live game.

Archbishop Benedictus, on the other hand, certainly made his appearance -- but it was in a much different iteration than the one originally datamined. Voice files originally suggested Varian would be the one to unveil Benedictus' treachery; obviously, that part never made it to game. What does this mean for those beta testing and posting videos of various cinematics and sequences to YouTube? It means they may have caught a piece of history that doesn't actually exist and never will. Great for documentation purposes, but little base in reality.

Whether you're cruising through datamined material or stumble across something fascinating in beta, the same rules apply: Nothing exists until it exists on live. Nothing is real until we see it in the final game. If you find yourself getting upset over beta information or changes, it's important to keep this in mind and keep a cool, rational head about all of these things. Datamining is fun, and seeing what might come to pass is fun, too -- but remember, that thing you're drooling over or fuming about may just be an apparition that will never see the light of day.

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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