Ion recently made a comment in Asmongold’s interview on wanting to better hide certain things (to keep the “sense of discovery and exploration”) in the game while still being able to receive feedback (source). As someone who has been making tools for datamining and using said tools for over a decade, I wanted to share my opinion and what I think Blizzard could do in regards to WoW and its “unofficial”, yet important, relation to datamining and am hoping other council members share their opinion as well.
Just a note before we get into it, this thread isn’t like my other CC threads, those threads were pretty technical in nature while this one is definitely more on the opinion side of things. I may refer to my previous threads, but that’s about it.
First I wanted to get into a little background on datamining in general, as the term is often (in my opinion) misused/misunderstood.
I’ve seen a lot of varying definitions of datamining over the last few years, so let’s set up a good baseline as to what datamining means and specifically in the context of WoW. This is based on what I believe the definition is and will be what I am talking about when referring to datamining.
Datamining is the process of extracting/analyzing any and all sorts of information from the game. While this commonly includes files such as models, textures and sounds, this also includes information from the game’s local database tables as well as information gathered from the server while playing the game.
Datamining is not the action of specifically looking for spoilers, although datamining is almost always required to puzzle together/find spoilers in the first place.
Sort of. While datamining is technically against the Blizzard-wide EULA (source, 1C), Blizzard has said (in regards to WoW) that they’re currently (in 2018) okay with things from the game files being used to create content as long as it is not done through an emulated server environment (source). Outside of that, things are a bit fuzzy. Blizzard doesn’t want people snooping around certain things like story, pre-order/store mounts/pets which is why they usually encrypt this content. If people do datamine this kind of stuff early regardless of it being (mostly) encrypted, they don’t take any action.
There are many things datamining is used/needed for, some more known than others:
- Finding out information about upcoming story before it hits live realms (spoilers)
- Analyzing changes between patches, including but not limited to class/spell changes, achievement changes, etc. (aka diffs)
- Providing visual or audio assets for machinima and other forms of art/media
- Supplying addons with data not available through game APIs (very common)
- The basis for database sites such as Wowhead and WoWDB going all the way back to Thottbot/Allakhazam
- Supply info for tools like WarcraftLogs, SimulationCraft, Ask Mr. Robot & more
- Allowing players to find out what sounds to block with MuteSoundFile
- Model/map viewers
- Insight into WoW’s development process (my personal favorite!)
- Many, many more things…
This is where the opinion part of the post starts, be nice, Twitter.
For the above reasons, and I’m sure more that I can’t think of, I don’t think datamining is a bad thing, nor do I think Blizzard necessarily thinks so or it wouldn’t exist as it does today.
The only exception where I think datamining harms the game is where it is used to gain access to important story beats beforehand and then have these be spread around, usually months before they’re supposed to come out, almost always without proper context and not in the way they should be experienced.
Properly hiding/encrypting story content would calm down the “arms war” that has existed between dataminers and Blizzard in regards to story content for most of WoW’s lifetime. This arms war has made datamining (in general) just a bit harder every few patches or so, which in my opinion does more harm than good as it generally affects all the use cases (e.g. through the removal of filenames). Hiding story content would also reduce the time of people possibly being spoiled from several months in advance to maybe a few days with the story unlocking at different days between regions.
There is however another side to hiding story content that’s been rightly called out in response to “just hide everything”, which is that the community can’t call Blizzard out on mistakes or things that are otherwise insensitive (such as Pelagos’ pronouns being changed from they/them to he/him in SL Alpha, the “Purge Squad” NPCs in Vol’dun or the 8.1 PTR version of Darkshore). This is definitely a hard problem to solve while still wanting to hide story content.
Primarily, I feel like the responsibility of fact/sensitivity checking the story shouldn’t rest with the players. There’s a separate discussion to be had about using the public for testing of new gameplay systems, technical changes or backwards compatibility, which requires a large amount of people to squash out all the bugs or provide feedback. But out of all things in the game, story is probably the thing that needs the least “mass public testing”. Historically this hasn’t been something the community tends to trust Blizzard with (and rightly so), yet I don’t think it’s a good thing to let them keep putting this kind of responsibility on the players instead of allocating resources towards fixing this internally. Here’s some ideas on how to go about that.
- A diverse team wearing red shirts
Blizzard should have more than enough personnel to fact check their story with previous content (if not, just hire a certain person wearing a red shirt or someone who knows their way around Wowpedia), and especially with their recent push of being a more diverse and accepting company, also now have enough of a range of people to call out any things that could be seen as too insensitive/offensive (if not, maybe keep hiring). This kind of checking can be done through wider internal dogfooding and/or even better, having a small (but diverse) quality assurance team go over everything specifically story related as its being added, also making the amount of content that needs to be redone if something needs to be changed very minimal.
- PTR, but changing the “public” into “private”
Another suggestion I’ve seen is making a private, under NDA group of players to go through content before its release to the wider public. Less of a fan of that idea as NDAs haven’t been very effective in WoW’s past and seeing this is somewhat public also opens up the risk to that client being datamined, even if encrypted, through someone leaking the key to fansites for example.
- Hide all* the things
The straightforward suggestion is to just hide everything story related (*or at least the main storyline) and if things were to pop up, hotfix/change things ASAP as is possible with the technology they have these days. That would however get into retcon/too late territory, especially if something like VO needs to be rerecorded or assets need to be changed at which point most players would have already done the content. This is likely also one of the most resource intensive things as it would just apply to PTR and require more internal testing.
Each of these suggestions have their pros/cons, and maybe a combination of parts of these could be a solution in itself. There could also be more suggestions/solutions that I haven’t seen/thought of, as well as issues I’ve missed (just like some of the ones I described earlier that I learnt about recently).
I’m not expecting a lot of communication from Blizz about this as they’ve been very silent on these topics in the past, likely due to the inherent gray area that datamining resides in. My hope is that we can at least help Blizzard by giving them some ideas on keeping the “sense of discovery and exploration” while also allowing for feedback as well as not ruining every use case of datamining by making it impossible altogether, which would be damaging to the ecosystem that’s built up based on datamining over WoW’s lifetime.
Having said all that, I’d love more opinions in regards to datamining from fellow council members. I’ve pretty much lived in a bubble with fellow dataminers/hype enthusiasts this last decade or so and welcome more viewpoints on it.
If you’re not on the council and are reading this and want to point out a glaring mistake, omission or have a suggestion that you think would fit this thread, you can tweet me @Marlamin and or mail me at email@example.com.