Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Losing Focus

So, I'm back at work, albeit on short hours for a couple of weeks, hence the sudden drop-off in posts here. That said, after several months of continually finding more to write about than I had the time to get to even with all day to myself, things seem to have gone somewhat off the boil.

Something that Wilhelm said in a comment on a recent post about WoW Classic chimed with another something that I noticed, going back to work after four months away: talking about the Blizzard Boycott he observed "I can’t tell what impact the boycott is having, if any ... Of course, there is a very good chance that this is just another thing that the weirdo hardcore players like us have noticed and nobody else cares."

Having worked in the book trade for over twenty years, I have always had a fair idea what's trending in both popular and serious literature, who the hot, new names are and whose star is fading along with their sales. I keep up with what the current "must read" titles are for the dinner party circuit and what's being read on the bus today, only to be found clogging up the second-hand shelves tomorrow.

In that bubble it's easy to believe that all these things are central to the culture; that everyone is talking about the new, break-out young adult title or the debut novel by that woman fresh out of university. They're not.

In a long summer of absence from the trade, I spotted just one newsworthy publication that struck the wider culture with sufficient impact to penetrate the wall of disinterest that holds the written word penned in its largely forgotten corner. When I got back to work and read the lengthy in-house guides to the titles that had done well this year and of which we should be aware for the coming peak sales period, the one and only name I recognized was "The Testaments", Margaret Atwood's belated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale. I very much doubt I'd have heard even of that one title had it not been for the original novel's strong afterlife as a movie and a t.v. series.

That's not to say that people aren't buying and reading books; they are, albeit in smaller numbers than they once did. Nor am I suggesting that those who read don't talk to each other about their experiences with the printed page. Were it not for the visual media's strip-mining of published fiction for source material for movies and television, however, I strongly believe that most of even the best-known stories and characters would have very short and subdued lives indeed.

If you doubt it, take a look at the New York Times' best seller lists going back a few decades and see how many names you recognize. Then subtract all the titles you know mainly from the movies and tv shows they spawned.

The whole Blizzard fiasco has seemed like a big deal because we've all been talking about it or choosing not to talk about it, and it has had some currency outside of the gaming bubble: undeniably the involvement of elected politicans has brought the issue into the wider political arena. That said, I very much doubt that I could walk down the high street of the city where I live and find one in a hundred people who could even tell me the name of the company responsible for World of Warcraft, let alone give me a summary of the trouble that company is in right now.

What's more, based on my long familiarity with the deep lack of interest of most players in the origin of the MMORPGs they are playing, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to discover that hardly anyone playing WoW these days even knows there's a problem. I'm so used to people acting  surprised by the content, or even the existence, of regular game updates that the idea the average player pays any attention to anything beyond whether the servers are up or not seems notional to me.

Video games are big business but I wonder how many gamers know or care who makes them? I can say from personal experience that it's a rare book buyer who can name the publisher who puts the work of their favorite author into their hands. What does or doesn't happen at Blizzcon will tell us how upset or otherwise those who've been paying attention are but what would really interest me is finding out how many of WoW's millions and millions of current and former players even know Blizzard runs an annual convention for fans of its games.

Maybe most of them do. It's on the log-in screens, after all. But how many players read that stuff? And of the ones who do, how many pay any attention to what goes on at the convention itself?

It's a big world, after all, and there's a lot going on. All the time. Taking a few months out really brought it home to me how specialized and insulated my own professional sphere of interest is. When I retire in not too many years from now I imagine that will be about the last I ever learn of what people are reading these days. I could make the effort to keep up with those trends but you can bet I won't.

I'll be just like everyone else. If it's not advertised on the side of a bus I won't know it exists.


  1. I think you're spot on.

    For a long time I was totally convinced that everybody who was interested in the same things as I was or playing the same games that I played was equally invested in and knowledgeable about those things than myself.
    I mean, why wouldn't they be? That's what you do, right? Spend time learning and thinking about the stuff you enjoy.

    Yeah, not so much. Sadly the average human being in 2019's western hemisphere seems to have the attention span of a squirrel, and even a decade or two ago most folks weren't quite as enthusiastic or curious about stuff than I thought they were just because I was.

    1. There used to be an aphorism about games forums that went something like "1% of players post on them, 9% read them, 90% don't even know they exist". I always felt that sounded about right - possibly erring a bit on the generous side. I suspect that the changes in social media and particularly the willingness of companies to push notifications by email and other channels has probably upped the "know they exist" percentage a small amount but probably only in that there are now some people who still don't care who runs the games but wish whoever it is would stop spamming them.

    2. My long time complaint about SOE was always that they seemed to live and die by the forums. News would get posted there and nowhere else and the forum seemed to be the only feedback vehicle to which they paid attention. I mock the forum warriors, especially for EQII, but SOE trained them to use the forums as a pulpit where those who spoke early and often frequently carried the day.

      For its flaws, Daybreak has been much more sensible about its news dispersal.

    3. @ Wilhelm - I agree that infos shouldn't be posted exclusively in a game's forums, but they absolutely should be posted there.

      In my mind, the official forums still are the main platform to find out what's going on in depth. Sure, a quick notification via Twitter or whatever, why not? But the forums should tell me everything I need to know.

      Tbh, I was a bit miffed that I was pretty much forced to join ArcheAge Unchained's discord channel because info on the forums was either late or nonexistent most of the time.

    4. I actually like how CCP handles things, where they post about updates and coming changes pretty frequently to the main site (except during eras of chaos) which has an RSS feed and then include a link to the appropriate forum post where the topic is being discussed.

  2. BlizzCon will be interesting. The live audience represents the core of their fan base. If there is widespread chants and signs denouncing Blizz, they might have to do something. If there are a dozen people outside protesting then the whole thing can probably be safely ignored.

    I did get my first complaint comment about daring to mention Blizzard on my blog. I don't know what people expect from that sort of thing, that I will apologize and swear never to mention Blizzard again? It is a truism of the internet that you only know who allegedly respects you when they show up to announce that they have lost that respect.

    1. Normally BlizzCon flies right under my radar. I've always been in the camp that does know what Blizzard does for a living but isn't particularly interested. WoW is the only Blizzard game I've ever played and I haven't played that all that much compared to quite a few other MMORPGs. I'm not a fan of fan gatherings at all, really. I used to find SOE Live/Fan Faire quite annoying in that certain people I knew in-game wouldn't shut up about it for months either side even though very few people listening to them going on and on expressed any interest.

      This year, though, BlizzCon going to be a top news story for the genre whaever happens. It's going to be a lot more interesting for the casually interested bystander than usual (although last year's Diablo mobile fiasco was pretty entertaining...).

      I saw that comment at TAGN. It was quite bizarre. It's not like that was your only post-Blitzchung post on WoW and the gnome race was a charity event of the most heartwarming and innocuous kind. Why suddenly explode in outrage over that? Peopel are strange, as Jim Morrison said, and he should know - he certainly was!

  3. How're you finding being back at work, even on reduced hours? Hopefully not too unduly tiring.

    As to the rest, it's really interesting both the assumptions we make about what has and hasn't permeated into the realm of 'general knowledge' and then what *actually* does.

    I find being at work, and surrounded by a group of people about 99% non-gamers that it keeps assumptions about general knowledge in this sphere somewhat in check. But then Wilhelm's quote has made me have to take a step back and reconsider even within the realm of gamers.

    Because I at least, very much *had* assumed that essentially everyone in the gamersphere (at least those in the MMO space) was aware of what has transpired... But that very likely isn't true.

    So 50% then? 10%? I dunno!

    1. Work's fine - I'm actually enjoying it after having had such a long break. I am getting tired faster than I expected, though. That said, when I first moved, many years ago, from a sit-down role to my current one, where I'm on my feet all day, it took the best part of six months for my feet to acclimatize, so it's not necessarily anything to do with having been ill. Much better for me to be standing and walking rather than sitting though so I'm not complaining... much!

      There's clearly a hierarchy of media when it comes to popular awareness. For much of my life TV used to be right at the top, or neck and neck with popular music, but now I'm really not sure of the order. Music has definitley slipped - a lot. TV has fractured into niches but *huge* niches. I think Movies are bigger than either now whereas for most of my life they'd have been third in line. Gaming is vast and all-pervasive but individual games are still niche and gaming companies are all but anonymous, I feel. Books are way, way down the pecking order.

      I saw a bus go past today with a big advert on the side for Borderlands 3. I felt that was significant, somehow...


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