Accepted wisdom has it that whenever an MMO is granted a major expansion, add-on or upgrade, the existing subscriber base will become instantly polarised and a vast majority will turn their noses up in disgust at how the development team has single-handedly decimated their entire reason for living - the game into which they've poured so much time, love, effort and (most importantly) subscription fees. Player numbers inevitably dwindle, game servers become akin to deserted wastelands and the companies in charge start firing off press releases left, right and centre about how wonderful the game is, how steady the user growth figures are and whether you'd like to take advantage of its special 14-day free 'comeback' trial offers.
As far as World Of Warcraft goes however, accepted wisdom can get knotted, as the player figures are so astronomically huge. Entire university mathematics departments have been taken over by Blizzard's accountancy platoons in order to accurately calculate the monthly profit figures. Therefore, any wholesale changes to the infrastructure of the game are certain to be swallowed up without incident, and the number of aggrieved souls berating the public message boards barely registers even a ripple in the overall player-base pond waters.
Thus it was when the PvP Honor System (named with the Americanised spelling in yet the latest example of our increasing role as the 51st US state) rolled off the production and testing lines. Infected servers from Agamaggan to Zenedar were swamped by the outcries from players suffering at the hands of murder-obsessed kill gangs running rampage across Azeroth, slaughtering anyone who dared to even try playing sensibly. Blizzard, in the meantime, ostensibly just shrugged its collective shoulders and put it all down to high spirits, safe in the knowledge that a) the rampagers would tire themselves out eventually and go back to sleep; b) the somewhat under-populated PvE servers were starting to fill up nicely with migrants; and c) the upcoming militaristic Battlegrounds enhancement would soon sort all that nasty player-killing business out by providing a much needed sense of focus and structure to geek-on-geek combat. Conscription you see, solves everything. Drum some discipline into the buggers. Worked in '42.
TIME TO SPARE
But does it work now? The Battlegrounds have been open for a month or so and opinion, like Israel, is divided. The common consensus is that, while the actual content itself is pretty enjoyable and rewarding enough to keep coming back to, the surrounding framework is one of the biggest public messes since the million-man march took a pit-stop in a local curry house, blithely ordered the strongest thing on the menu, then discovered that the protest site only had a single working portaloo.
Mostly it's the waiting times. Putting the NHS to shame, Battlegrounds requires even teams of Alliance and Horde players to fill up the rosters before starting up a match. Unfortunately, there's a couple of teensy little problems with that system. First is that just about every server in existence is running at a 3:1 or 4:1 Alliance to Horde ratio. Meaning that if you're on the side of the goody two-shoes brigade, Battlegrounds often feels like little more than a queueing simulator. Worse is that you have only the barest indication of how long you're likely to be waiting for a game to begin. Even then it's an estimate, and usually a hopelessly inaccurate one at that. I was often told that my expected waiting time would be as little as two minutes, only to watch the Time Spent In Queue counter clock the three-hour mark and show no sign of coming to a conclusion.