The lights are on
You only need to glance at the WoW forums or read the comments on my World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria preview to notice that there's been a surprising amount of negative feedback from fans upset that Blizzard is taking a more light-hearted approach to this expansion pack. Yesterday at Blizzcon I got the chance to ask Blizzard if this initial reaction concerns the developer.
When I posed this question to World of Warcraft lead encounter designer Scott Mercer, he responded quickly and confidently: "I think people will come around once they start playing it in the game." Mercer said many players expressed skepticism at the early rumors of Pandaren coming to WoW as a playable race but quickly turned around and said that of course they'll be playing one as soon as it was announced officially.
"You've seen in the demo that they're so charismatic," Mercer told me, a point that I can't help but agree with. "Playing a monk is amazing. Pandaria is gorgeous. I think it's just a matter of time for some people."
Mercer noted that Blizzard is used to expecting some amount of negative feedback from the Internet, but he thinks players' expectations will be surpassed: "They have preconceived notions about how cool pandas can be. But Blizzard pandas are awesome, so I'm not worried about that.”
I also had a chance to speak briefly to Mercer about the upcoming string of story-heavy MMOs, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, which seem to be taking lessons learned from World of Warcraft about how to have interesting stories in this genre and expanding on them significantly. Mercer said that although many Blizzard employees are excited to play these games, they aren't necessarily concerned about them telling stories better than WoW. "They're different games. Different stories, right? You can tell stories in a bunch of different ways," Mercer said.
Mercer clarified that while story is an important part of World of Warcraft, Blizzard has always focused on gameplay first and figuring out what will make that more fun.
"We wish any company getting into the MMORPG genre the best of luck," he said. "It's hard doing what we're doing." The difficult path ahead of Blizzard to work to overcome those early negative responses to Mists of Pandaria proves that.