Datamining, story spoilers and WoW

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.


What is datamining?

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.

Is it allowed?

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.

What is datamining used for (in WoW)?

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.

Datamining and story spoilers

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.

Feedback on story

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.

Possible solutions and problems

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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


I would be very against this. On top of this, NDAs would do nothing but allow Blizzard to sue people who break it, and no offense to Blizzard, I don’t want them to ruin someone’s life because they’re excited about something they saw when bug testing a product for free.

Games like Final Fantasy 14 can make datamining against the rules and not have a PTR because they actually did spend money to hire an entire team just to test new content. They don’t develop it, they just test it, as players. Blizzard I don’t see ever doing that.

As we saw with Dragonflight, in the current age, it’s impossible to stop leaks. If you are a fan of Pokemon, the ENTIRE games get leaked 2 weeks early. It’s just impossible in this age to stop it. So the PTR and datamining allows them to control what leaks in their own way. People don’t leak because there’s no need to.

I like basic things being spoiled. Things like the general storyline of a zone or such. Like, how ZM was about trying to get into the Sepulcher.

What I don’t like being spoiled are important lore moments, like Pelagos becoming the new Arbiter, or Sylvanas’s Fate, etc. The fact we knew Pelagos was becoming the Arbiter for MONTHS all because Blizzard didn’t encrypt his model is ridiculous.

These are things that Blizzard needs to do better at encrypting. Sylvanas’s Fate was only spoiled, if I recall, because Blizzard launched the 9.2.5 PTR, and unlike the 9.2 PTR/Live, it wasn’t encrypted on it, because 9.2.5 had it flagged as already in game. So a week before it was on live, it ended up datamined. This was strictly an oversight by Blizzard that shouldn’t have happened.

This is one of the reasons I don’t want them to limit datamining, because if that Darkshore story had gone live, I would’ve questioned continuing to play the game. Some may call me crazy for that, but having Nathanos 1v1 a newly empowered Tyrande with no help was ridiculous. The new version, him being empowered by 2 Val’kyr and barely escaping with his life, made Tyrande feel like what she just went through was worth it, and Nathanos wasn’t so much of a Mary Sue as he was portrayed.

I think what needs to happen is Blizzard needs to have a more strict inner-rule about encrypting potential major spoilers. I do specify major there. And evaluate what they consider major on a case-by-case basis.

Like, if they’re willing to change something based on player feedback, still put that stuff through unencrypted to see the response. If they aren’t willing to change, then encrypt it.

However, the Forum CoC needs to be updated. As of now, it’s technically against the CoC to post about any datamined content. It isn’t enforced, to my knowledge, (it’s the one CoC rule I violate quite a bit because it’s talking about the game and I feel that shouldn’t be prohibited, but I always mark spoilers)

I recommend altering this to allow it (for the above reasons that sometimes talking about unreleased content leads to positive changes) - but you have to mark spoilers in the title. And start enforcing the rule for those who don’t mark it.


I’ve seen the opposite opinion on this as well where people don’t want to know anything, but I don’t think in Blizzard’s development structure it’d even be possible to hide the general storyline of a zone, that’d pretty much mean it wouldn’t be available for testing at all which is a pretty bad idea unless they massively scale up on their internal testing and I don’t think that’s something we really need to be worried about.

These are definitely good examples of the things I’m talking about when talking about story spoilers. These are only some of the many occasions where there’s been slip-ups, something like this happens pretty much every time they encrypt something, the same is the case for the current stuff on 9.2.5 PTR, albeit nobody has really taken a close enough look to figure out the spoilers. One can pretty much always find enough about a certain encrypted thing to spoil something. I’ve poked them with some of the stuff/methods on analyzing encrypted content so hopefully they’ll get better at that in the future.

This is a pretty good idea, but there’s still the chance of certain things being encrypted that should receive feedback/changes but end up getting hidden. Something like a better internal fact/sensitivity checking process should probably still exist if they end up going that route.

Some clearer rules, not just outside of the forum, as to what Blizzard thinks is acceptable and what isn’t should probably exist as well (and maybe with some enforcement as well).

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