Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

Last week there was a minor spat between two classes amongst the WoW bloggers. A hunter dissed the mage bloggers on a podcast, and suddenly half the blogs in my reader went up in flames.

But why do people care about their class so much? Surely by this stage, most people who are keen enough to blog will have multiple alts anyway? And are there really enough readers who only want to read hunter blogs to support the 7 zillion hunter blogs out there? What do they all find to write about?

To get to the bottom of this, let’s go back in time. Pen and Paper RPG publishers always struggled with maximising sales, even when RPGs were trendy. The reason was that a group of players could get by with only one set of rulebooks. So the GM bought the books, and the players – well they could buy if they wanted or they could just share. A keen player would probably eventually buy some rulebooks. But they were optional; as long as one person in the group had access to the rules then the whole group could play. Clearly from a publisher standpoint, this was not ideal. It was the old board game model (one person buys the game, lots of people can play it), but with so much player enthusiasm out there, surely they could sell something to the non GM players. The guys who just turn up, play their character, and then go home.

White Wolf revolutionised the way gaming books were sold by producing splat books. A book full of optional rules, lore, colour text, and fun ideas focussed purely around one specific clan/class. (I’m going to keep calling them classes because it serves the same function.) So players who had a character of that clan and loved it would want to buy the book. If you loved your class, that class book was for YOU. The GM could look at the player’s copy if they needed to use the lore or optional rules. And these clan books quickly became known as splat books. Yes, suddenly the title of this post makes sense.

There were also lots of class-centric web pages and support for WW games. What White Wolf had done was to create a class identity for players. People got attached to their warriors or elves or wizards long before this, but there wasn’t much support for class-based lore from publishers aside from the odd scenario here or there.

Warhammer did the same thing for wargaming. Their army books provided not only rules but also background and painting tips for specific factions in their gameworld. (The 4th Edition of Warhammer was the first to publish separate army lists for different factions in separate books – so this was at about the same time that WW was publishing their splat books.)

And after that, the floodgates opened. Just about every tabletop class based RPG will now publish books about splats aimed at players rather than at GMs. And players love them.

Cult of the Hunter, and other splats

So given that background, it’s not surprising that WoW has a very healthy class-based blogosphere. If you want to blog about the game, why not write about your favourite character and join a readymade community of other people who want to read or write about similar things?

Why hunter and druid blogs are quite so overwhelmingly popular, I never will understand. I can see how hybrids potentially offer more subject matter (you can explore more roles) but the huge number of hunter blogs is a mystery to me. They also seem to have the most interesting blogosphere drama. I don’t read any of them regularly though, whereas bizarrely, most of the well known mage blogs are on my reader, despite the fact I don’t play a mage either.

The other surprise about the hunter blogs is that they no longer represent the popularity of the class in the game. There was a time when hunters (and warriors) were so popular that we used to joke that night-elf hunters on our server alone outnumbered the entire horde. That isn’t the case any more.

There are also plenty of readers who are perfectly happy to have lots of blogs telling them things they already know about classes, roles, and games which they already play. As well as newer players who don’t care about the discussions and just want to be told how to play.

And even aside from that, lots of players enjoy reading opinions about the game from the perspective of the same class that they play. So for example, I couldn’t really call this a warrior blog, but my main in WoW is a warrior and a tank and so I’ll tend to come from that perspective. I occasionally put out informative warrior/ tanking type posts (usually when I am poked with a sharp stick).

For many people, class based forums offer a much better way to get information than searching blogs. It’s easier for forum mods to organise the information, stickify useful posts, and gather information from a wide range of posters. But it’s not really an either/ or choice. If people are interested and have enough time, you can read class forums and class blogs.

Selling to the Splats

One of Blizzard’s odder decisions was when they decided to close class forums on the official boards in favour of switching to role based forums. (ie. tank forum, healer forum, damage forum). There was an outcry from the player base. They loved their class forums, even if they did occasionally get used to stir up shit against other classes.

Blizzard relented on that one, and the official boards do still include class based forums. They’ve never really been happy about class based content though, not since vanilla which did feature class questlines, class mounts, class epics, and so on.

To my mind, and in the world of F2P and cash shops, that’s a lost opportunity. Of course people would pay for cool cosmetic items that only their class could equip. Or class based questlines. We want to see more of that type of content, not less. People love their class identity, class lore, and class specific content.

And this is why I haven’t said too much about Bioware’s various SWTOR press releases. Frankly, their killer content is not the gameplay or the storytelling or the companions or the setting. It’s the fact that if you play SWTOR, you’ll have access to the most extensive class based questlines and gameplay of any MMO ever created. Imagine a whole game created entirely for your class. Well, maybe not a whole game, but plenty of content and lore and it’s all about you.

We may never really know why players love their splats so much that they’ll create content for them, create communities around them, or make them so much a part of their lives. But maybe devs don’t need to know why it happens, just to design around it and offer content that feeds that itch.

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20 thoughts on “Class Consciousness: The Cult of the Splat

  1. I can understand the problem with putting a lot of effort into designing for instance class specific quests, since so few players will ever do them. Nevertheless I enjoyed them a lot. I think we need this sort of specialization to feel as individuals in the game rather than clones. And it’s quite natural that it branches out in the blogosphere.

    This said: we have stopped using the special mage channel we used to have in our raids and put together the melee and ranged dps channels as well. Now we have a tank channel, a healing channel and a dps channel as we’re raiding. Period. The same as the role thinking in the forums. It works way much better if you want to cooperate.

    About blogs: I think the mage blogs are in a majority for me. I read a ton of blogs focusing on classes I don’t play. The question is if the writer is any good at writing and has any interesting thoughts to share.
    If the perspective is a bit different than my own, it might even be a bonus. How will I ever understand what’s up in the mind of a tank or a healer if I only would read mage blogs?

    • We also stopped having class channels in TBC, but that was also because of the ways in which raids were organised. It was more important for us to organise by role than by class, plus fewer people in the channel. That happened because of design decisions that Blizzard made.

  2. God I miss clan-books…
    I also miss class-quests. Like Larissa says, it is nice to have something in-game that recognises the choices you made. If it was up to me, we’d have both class and race quests. It gives you a home, and makes you feel like you are not just a clone of the 10% other that rolled your class.

    I think the reason why class-specific blogs work is because you want to hear other people relate stuff you know about. You read blogs to learn new things, and what better things to learn than about your favorite class?

    one thing I want to note, is that I see far more paladin blogs than I do mage blogs.

  3. I think the numerous hunter blogs rose out of the fact that hunters were so dominant in terms of power and numbers for so much of BC, where WoW blogs really came into their own, that even with a drop in numbers, you still have more people who started their Hunter Blogs then and are riding them out.

    Now, the flavour of the expansion characters for WotLK have been mages and paladins so we’re going to see a lot of mage blogs and so on being the new thing. I do wonder at the relative lack of paladin blogs, on reflection, given how they’ve spent the entire expansion as either the best DPS, the best healer or the best tanks.

    I realise DK’s have the numbers but, apart from a brief surge early on where everyone made one, I don’t think they became that many peoples mains.

    So come Cata, we’ll have the mage blogs, the hunter blogs and whatever becomes the new hotness of Cata.

    Which looks to be hunters, so maybe not much will change.

    • I also think there were a lot of hunter blogs because of the aspect of getting pets. Before the pet talent revamp, you had to go tame a variety of pets to “learn” different attacks for your pets. When I was playing around with a hunter alt I went and read a bunch of information about how that all worked. No way I would have been able to figure it all out on my own. So, even with pets “simplified” to just use talents, I think a lot of those old resources are still around.

      As to why class-based blogs are so popular, it’s all about social identity theory. People like to belong to groups. It’s an “us vs. them” issue, which is why you get Mages and Warlocks trading barbs (and the fact that they can “steal” each other’s loot doesn’t help….)

      Some thoughts.

      • It’s always been healthy competition to me.. in any game. Some people do take things to far though or don’t know how to handle competition. That’s when we get those hilarious wars.

        I’m not quite sure about how other Paladin’s feel, but I know I sure do wanna /punt a DK everytime I see one. Which is awesome because my raid leader is a female Gnome DK. : D

      • There’s definitely that PokeMon flavor of Hunters… and the fact that the pet is a hugely visible bit of player customization. Players love that sort of thing; it gives them ways to own their characters… especially in a strict class system. ;)

  4. Nowadays DKs and Paladins are, according to Armory data mining, the most popular classes. Personally I felt the number of Hunters declined, but they still hold firm the no. 3 spot of most played classes.

    At release, Hunters were the by far most popular class – and Druids one of the least favored. Partially due to the fact that the class mechanics were still a bit on the underpowered and wonky side.

    “Huntards” probably got the hate for how easy it is to level a hunter in PvE. And they got a pet! Many things to envy them. :) It seems the most played class also attracts the most noobs. See the current DK hate. Dunno if Paladins now have a bad reputation as well.

    The German LOTRO servers are also quite Anti-Warden. But pro Champions, for some reason. Or maybe it is just my biased perception. But we go by the saying that Champions are half-tanks and great DPS, while Wardens are hybrids or half-tank/half-nothing because they are equally bad at DPS and at tanking. (Wardens, please don’t hurt me, this is not my opinion, I know many admirable Wardens and like and envy many of the very unique abilities of the class!)

    I still prefer to read non-focused blogs with a focus on MMOs. I don’t even play WoW anymore and find your blog still one of the most interesting on the net. Now imagine you would only write about one game out of the perspective of one class… pfft! :(

    • I still maintain the Rok’dhar quest was there to teach hunters to actually play their class. Cause you could seriously get to 60 on a hunter back then without actually learning anything about your class.

      ‘Hey hunters, learn to do something other than send you pet to attack and turn on auto attack and you’ll get this nifty bow!’

      • This is why I believe Hunters should get pets on day one, and should be taught how to make them work within the first three levels.

        Apparently, Blizzard finally agreed. ;)

  5. “even when RPGs were trendy.”

    They were never trendy unless you were a goth. And the only reason goths liked them is because Twilight wasn’t out yet.

  6. Well to be honest why I am so class proud is back in Vanilla, we did have a mage channel as well, and when a Warlock stole our loot there would be much wailing a QQ, have a year or so of that yeah your gonna hate Locks.

    As for Hunters, If I see one more Cat named Cat I’m gonna Arcane Explode!

  7. I think the attraction of the WoW Splat Blog was intialy just the desire to ‘learn to play’.

    Certainly having hit cap on my first 70 (a hunter natch) I turned to Big Red Kitty and Petopia to sort things out. Remember when all those rare and unique pets had skills you could learn and then teach to other pets?

    The same was true for my Resto Shammy and thats when the Elitist jerks first started to make their mark. With EJ becoming the ‘one stop shop’ we’re back to the ‘one big book’ aproach. That and Blizz simplifying the classes.

    How long before we see ‘splat packs’ for premium members/buyable from the online shop? LotR is going this way making various classes buyable in their new model. How long before WoW starts charging for DK’s or whatever the next ‘Hero Class’ is? Honestly I doubt we’ll see this outside of the F2P model but….there’s potentional for huge amounts of content based on this.

    Hey I could see a ‘Theives Guild’ pack for Rogues, Warriors, Warlocks and other shady types giving different abilities and secondary skills, instances , ‘guild’ quests etc, A Crusaders pack for Ploddies, Priests blah blah. Heck even tie it to the current Token systems for which characters…or even have it so that you can choose which pack to buy to ‘flavour’ your character. Is your warrior a noble crusader, a underworld thug or some barbarian mountain man. Is your rogue a gutter born pickpocket, spy or pirtatical freebooter. Etc.

    • The interesting thing about Rogues in WoW is that you do get a kind of inbuilt story there. The Rogue questlines are basically position you as being an agent of the Deathstalkers/Shattered Hand/SI:7/Etc. Which, sadly, never really gets followed through past vanilla.

      • Yar. And some great gaming all that is. What I could see is some sort of multiple quest chain or gaming leading to extra secondary profesions, an instance or raid quests based on a pack. Rather than have one per class focus it round intrests or the current ‘protector’ ‘Vanquisher’ et al.

        Of course one of the principle aims of Cata seems to be to reduce this sort of complexity to allow simpler maintence but oh well…I can dream.

  8. Even if we have alts, they are alts. Most people have their main character, and perhaps are more attached to it because they have been able to say “I prefer this class to that class”.

    I miss class-specific quests. While they are exclusive, they’re also new content for alts, so they aren’t quite wasted.

  9. Class specific content is an important aspect. Not only does it give you special things for ‘you’ to do like you mentioned, but it also gives you even more class pride. Say what you will about EQ/EQ2’s Epic class quests, love ‘em or hate ‘em, once you got one.. then you finally felt like you were officially a (insert class here). It was a badge of pride.

    As far as the idea of “splat content”, I like it. I would buy class specific content.. even if it really didn’t get me much (like powerful items or something) as long as it was good content, and the end reward was something worthy to Paladins. For example.. I would honestly pay probably between 20-40$ JUST to have my Libram swinging from a chain on my hip like in WC3.

    Really makes you wonder how long it will be before Blizzard opens up a real cash store, my bet is not much longer. What with the crazy profits they made off of the pony and all.

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  12. I suppose there’s an increased ownership and uniqueness in playing the class you have chosen… hence all the passionate feeling, and the fact that whenever you say something about this particularly class that is close to your heart, it doesn’t matter if a thousand other people have said it too.

    I suppose the problem with class/race specific stuff is that it’s hard to balance? I mean, I loved it when priests all had their own little race-specific spells – but ultimately it just meant priests of one race were *slightly* better than priests of another.

    Equally shaman quests are pretty painful. I mean it feels awesome that you have to do a special questline but there comes a point when you’re hiking back from Hillsbrad with your cup of water and whatever that you think “maybe I should have been a mage.”

    So I suppose the paradox sort of class/race specific attention is that winds up being ultimately limiting rather than the reverse.

    Sorry if I am talking at a slight tangent here, I was just thinking…

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