Thrall – What Happened, Man?

***As a note, this entry discusses model updates in Warlords of Draenor. If you are trying to avoid spoilers about those kinds of updates, you may want to take a pass on this one. Fair warning.***

It’s hard to preface this post because Thrall – as a character – is such an integral part of the World of Warcraft. Some love him, some hate him. Like Jaina, he’s very polarizing amongst the playerbase. Whether that makes him a good character is debatable. Some (MEEEEE!!) would argue that negative attention is still attention and any character that gets lore discussions going means the writers of the game are doing their jobs. Others would argue that flat writing (Garrosh, for example) doesn’t do the story any favors even if it gets people talking…or venting as the case may be. I can see both sides of the situation.

Thrall is…haha. Oh boy. I would argue that if “main characters” existed in the Warcraft Universe, Thrall would be central among them. In a world where there are countless NPCs and storylines that stretch into the fathomless Ether, Thrall and several other characters sit like the anchoring trunk of a tree. If there were Warcraft themed cereals, Thrall O’s would be right there on the shelf next to the Tyrande Wheaties. HE’S AN IMPORTANT GUY IS WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY.

With the start of the Cataclysm expansion, Thrall started to take a much more central role in the storyline. He essentially became a “free agent” which in the warcraft universe means that he was more useable in the plot. If you fly solo and have less responsibilities, you can do more in a story. The reason we see Tyrande or Jaina in less “solo” roles is because they CAN’T do that. They have people to lead, places to guard, Malfurions to ignore. Jaina can pop in now and then in a siege or two, but she doesn’t have time to go on a life altering journey of discovery because Dalaran would be sans glorious and beautiful leader.

Why they chose Thrall of all characters to be the more leading faceman of Warcraft, I don’t know. People speculate, they mock, they infer. I have my thoughts on that too. But for all the, “God WHY does Thrall keep popping up?” discussions that happen in story circles – there you go. He’s a solo agent of progressing the story. If you look back through the Warcraft franchise – he always kinda was like that. (Along with other leading characters.) Nothing has changed for him except he gave up the mantle of Warchief – which was preventing him from continuing the same role he had as a character in the RTS games.

Imagine if Sylvanas didn’t have to stay in the Undercity to keep the Forsaken under her thumb? Yeah, there you go. Responsibilities are like, such a drag, man.

On this, the year of our Lord Warlords of Draenor 2014′s eve, the alpha client has launched and the fruitful delving and plundering of the expansion’s assets has begun. With that has come the preliminary character models – Velen and Thrall included.

I try to keep an open mind, and I also want to add the caveat that: ALPHA ALPHA ALPHA ALPHA ALL THINGS SUBJECT TO CHANGE!!!

But my preliminary look at Thrall’s model made me say, out loud: “Man, what happened to you, guy?”

The model is of a vaguely orc-like looking guy in a trenchcoat…robe…thing. The outfit is interesting, but now Thrall stands completely erect. Shoulders back, neck held high. The main thing that marks Thrall as an orc at this point is his green skin. He actually looks more like a human than an orc. If you don’t believe me, here’s a side-by-side image comparison of the new male orc model, Thrall’s new model, and Gilbert the improverished (He just needs a little more time to find himself, okay?) human warrior:

like malcolm in the middle but less funny

like malcolm in the middle but less funny

(With credit to mmo champion for the image of Thrall’s new model.)

Look at that and tell me which one Thrall more closely resembles. It’s like, right there. *grabs your head and smushes your face against your computer monitor* See? SEE?!

This model update is the latest in a long line of updating the art to make Thrall appear more humanlike in appearance when compared to other orcs. If you trace the artwork of Thrall back to the RTS games, you see him gradually lose his hunching posture, his body fills out more naturally, and his face gains a more human appearance as well. WHY?!

There are a couple of possible explanations, and I don’t like either of them. The first is that he was an orc raised by humans; Blackmoore specifically. Trained to be a gladiator but taught by human hand, it might explain why Thrall has begun to subconsciously emulate the humans he spent so much time around. But…there were orcs in those camps too. Also, like, the horde has orcs and he spent a pretty long time around them? Soo.

The other explanation could be that Thrall has spent so much time on his own lately finding himself, that he’s just naturally adopted the new, less orclike posture because…I don’t know? Shaman magic and the journey of self discovery and enlightenment? Lol. *throws notecards in the air*

The obvious answer here is that they want a way to make Thrall distinctive from all the other orcs, especially now that we’re going to alternate Draenor where orcs flow from mighty waterfalls and rain from the skies on cloudy days. But I have got to say – that sucks. Both for all the other orcs, and for Thrall himself.

The guy was already going to stick out because he had green skin. Making him so human in his appearance doesn’t really serve a helpful purpose – except to make him more identifiable by the players. The age old idea of people subconsciously feeling more of a bond with him because he looks more “human” than his fellow orcs. This is the same logic applied to the dimorphism of a LOT of the female models in game. To be “attractive” is to have that more ideal human physique. But this is a world where little rat men scurry through tunnels holding candles, and bird men can be attorneys at law. What I’m saying is – was doing this to Thrall even necessary?

Here’s my main issue with these subtle changes to Thrall over the years. Thrall, the orc, was very proud and fierce. The dude fought alongside Rexxar and Grom Hellscream with orcish pride. He slung the doomhammer and Lok’tar’d to the Heavens. He was an orc then. He looked like an orc, he acted like an orc, and he was an ORC HERO.

Now he’s a humanized hero, in more ways than one. Since he’s been pushed more to the forefront, he has sacrificed a LOT of his orcish features and essentially become human. He was an orc when they needed him to be an orc, but now that they need him to step up and be a more neutral hero – he looks the part of a bland human everyman so people can “identify” I guess.

PLUS he stands among the other orcs in the horde, all hunched over. Garrosh is hunched over. The orcs in the siege of Orgrimmar are hunched over. It almost makes you equate that hunchy thicker orcs = bad and stupider and Thrall with his superior posture and physique = paragon of light and intelligence. It’s a leap, but can’t you kind of see that? And now he’s going to meet his father Durotan and his mother Draka (sort of) looking…almost like he came from a completely different race.

Honestly, I get it. Thrall has ALWAYS been a different orc. He has fought to maintain his identity as an individual and an orc in a hostile world that would see him hang because of it. But I think that is the part of his character that resonated with people so much. To see such a key part of him changing and going away just makes me feel…sad. I don’t think this new model is badass. I think it flies in the face of how a once proud orc and warrior of the horde has dropped intriguing and harrowing parts of his personality and by proxy physique as the story has gone on. And it’s a shame. If a more humanlike Thrall is what the writers want, so be it. But I’ll just sit here and miss the Thrall that once was.

Customer Service in WoW, What People Don’t Know

Aaah, you expected a blizzcon wrap-up post, didn’t you? Well, I’ll do one eventually but a lot of what I found was already covered by warcraftpets.com and WoWinsider. I am working up a post about Warlords of Draenor, but I wanted to post something else in the meantime. This is a topic not many people have broached, but it’s one I think is worth exploring.

I was a fool and lost my blizzcon loot card during the general Q and A. I was standing in line and must have dropped it at some point. Sucks for me, rocks for the person who found it and probably immediately listed it on e-bay. I figured it was a lost cause, but I submitted a ticket on the battle.net site anyway. Lo and behold, with some identity verification, they were able to help me out! Huzzah!

And that’s when I got to thinking – as players we deal with Blizzard’s customer support on a daily basis, but how many of you have actually sat down and thought about their quality of service and what they do on a daily basis to make the company run on a face to face level?

Everyone is more than willing to give oodles of credit to the big name devs like Chris Metzen, Mike Morhaime, Cory Stockton, etc. but the fact of the matter is, you’re more likely to deal with the tier 1 Blizzard customer support agents than any of them. You get the faces of Blizzard’s community team in people like Zarhym, Bashiok, etc. but the tier 1 customer service people are the unsung heroes of Blizzard. They are the ones that are actually helping you get what you want.

I have worked in customer service for an embarrassing amount of my professional career. Does anyone really dream, as a child, of growing up to answer questions from pissy customers all day? Probably not. I wanted to be a dinosaur veterinarian. Customer service is thankless, demanding, and physically and emotionally draining. Some of you reading this probably work in the field too and are nodding your heads. Mhm, I get it, trust me.

The general idea of customer service is that if a customer needs to reach out to you, it’s because they have an issue. They’re not calling or emailing to ask how your day is. So you go in every day with the knowledge that every person you speak to is at varying levels of distress over a problem that may or mat not be caused by their own mistakes. And that’s fine. That’s what customer service is, after all. But take a second to appreciate what that means, mentally, and what it would take to cope with dealing with it for 8-10 hours a day.

The golden rule of customer service is that you are not supposed to take anything personally. An upset customer is not upset at you as a person, they’re upset at the issue they’re having or the company you work for. Fair enough. But I think we’ve all seen the twitter, reddit, general forum, etc. posts where a smug customer brags about how they completely shit all over some unsuspecting CS rep for not bowing to their immediate whims. When that happens it’s hard not to take it personally, and we as a consumer culture need to stop rewarding people for doing it.

That’s not so say people who have genuine issues that aren’t addressed shouldn’t go to social media avenues to find solutions. I know I’ve personally gone head to head with an ISP company on twitter over a mistaken $300 charge. It just becomes a matter of distinguishing whether you are trying to get your issue solved, or if you’re trying to embarrass/shame a customer service rep. That’s personal. That’s wrong.

The meat of this post is thus – if you have ever skipped out on filling out one of those surveys you get after a GM/CS rep helps you, please don’t do that. If you haven’t worked in the industry, I’ll let you in on a little trade secret – it’s called: NPS or Net Promoter Score.

Net Promoter Score is what companies use to gauge their customer service levels against other companies. It comes directly from you, the consumer, and the surveys you fill out. Every time you answer a phone survey after you speak to your power company, or you do a survey on taco bell’s website, they have a team of analysts going over it within minutes.

In customer service, people who have an average or positive experience are about 80% less likely to tell a friend about it. Compared to someone who has a negative experience and will tell at least 30 people and all their twitter/facebook followers. This is why you take things like Net Promoter Score into account. You want to know how many people have had AMAZING experiences so that they’ll recommend your company to friends and family. It’s free advertising!

(Funny story, the industry term for people who have negative experiences is: “Brand Assassin.” So when you write a bad review of your local pizza hut on yelp, make sure you shout about using stealth and not having enough energy, etc.)

Here’s another industry secret – a lot of companies game their NPS by making it so that anything that IS NOT A PERFECT SCORE on a survey counts as a NEGATIVE score. So if you are not marking all “5″s or “Excellents” your results are basically counting against the person you are rating, or they’re not counting at all. Companies want to be able to say, “Wow, look at that, our NPS is over 60%!” and if that means that have to throw out the average ratings to get to the point that their score looks better to shareholders, they’ll do it.

Do I know 100% if Blizzard does this with their customer service surveys? No. But it’s the industry standard so I would assume that they do. What does this mean? This means that the GM you got that worked for an hour to restore the random lucky coin you got last year and happened to accidentally delete ended up having their survey thrown out or counted against them because you marked all “average” as a response.

Now, I’m not telling you guys that you should all give 100% excellents as feedback every time you get average/mediocre service. And if you DO have a bad experience, you should by all means say so. I’m just trying to point out how oft overlooked customer service feedback is, and what it means. CS reps often get blamed for things that are out of their hands – like wait times, etc. Yeah, it sucks to have to wait a day to get a ticket response, but that’s not the rep’s fault, so it’s not really something you should grade them on when filling out your survey response. That’s feedback that should be submitted to Blizzard as a company. It’s like blaming the guy behind the McDonald’s counter because the McRib isn’t on the menu anymore, y’see?

So going forward, I want everyone to be more conscious of how much customer service they receive in an average day. Do you thank your cashier at the store for telling you to have a nice day? You should. Do you thank the phone rep that fixes the huge billing mistake you made to your own account? You probably should. Yeah, it’s their job, but they deserve to be treated like human beings.

So when you do receive good customer service from a GM or Blizzard employee, make sure you fill out your survey. If you received EXCELLENT service, send feedback about that specific employee. (As a note, I know about the removal of the GM feedback email. I think it’s cruddy and it should be brought back.) “Good” customer service is relative, but I would argue that as long as you get a response to your issue that isn’t rude and gives you a solid answer whether positive or negative, you’ve been served well.

Much like the old saying about shit rolling down hill, a positive experience can turn a person’s entire day around. A CSR is nice to you? You’re nice back. You’re nice to the next person too, and then they’re nice to the next person! It’s a daisy-chain of niceness!

So yeah. A blizzcon post is incoming eventually, but I wanted to make this post to help bring some awareness to the community. Just remember it the next time you submit a ticket. :)