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WoWApr 18, 2019 2:00 pm CT

Why datamining is fun, exciting, and not to be trusted

If you’ve been around World of Warcraft for a while, one thing you’ve experienced by now is the giddy rush when various sites like Wowhead, MMO-Champion and others get their hands on a new PTR build or the latest alpha/beta files and go to work teasing out what’s in those files. We call this process datamining, and it’s how we get so excited about things that haven’t gone live yet and won’t for weeks, if not months. Sometimes those things seem to never go live, they just exist in the files and we’re forced to wonder, when are we getting that dang bee mount already?

This isn’t a post decrying datamining — I love it when we find out that Zandalari Trolls are going to have cool new dinosaur forms when they roll a Druid and will sit around gleefully chortling about Kul Tiran Wickerpunk Druids for months and months before we actually get to play them. But sometimes people get extremely excited about a datamined change and then get extremely upset when it doesn’t actually make it to live, and that’s something I think needs emphasis from time to time — just because something is in the game files doesn’t mean it will make it live, or at least not that it will make it live unchanged from its status on the PTR or the Alpha/Beta test.

That time Rommath betrayed us all

For one of the big examples, back in Cataclysm we were all shocked to discover via datamining that Grand Magister Rommath was secretly working for the Twilight’s Hammer and had betrayed the Blood Elves. And rightly so — it was a pretty dramatic shift in his character, and it was yet another important Blood Elf leader turning their back on their people. Also, it never actually went live — because while Blizzard was testing out the idea and had left the quest in the files that had gone out for testing, they’d since changed their mind internally and had no intention of having Rommath do any of that.

This is one of the dangers of taking datamining too seriously — while we can discover all sorts of cool and interesting things looking through those files, it doesn’t mean that Blizzard will implement them, and even if they do, they can make changes right up to the day those files go live and become part of the live game. It’s the nature of testing, sometimes old data gets left in a build because taking it out would take up too much time or because it was still being considered when that build was released — remember, Blizzard also has internal builds they’re working on that are several changes ahead of whatever goes out for testing and sometimes that means we get datamining of ideas Blizzard has already decided not to implement. Like Rommath’s betrayal, or Yrel and Maraad having dated each other’s alternate timeline selves.

Sometimes things change because you change them

There have been a few times now where the fan community has responded to a datamined change or storyline in a way that has seemingly convinced Blizzard not to implement it, or to make changes to it before implementation. The aforementioned Yrel/Maraad relationship, for example, certainly seems to be one Blizzard reconsidered at least in part due to fan reaction (although it’s hard to be sure) and I remember a similar case during the Mists of Pandaria beta when player objection to how Ji Firepaw and Aysa Cloudsinger interacted led to some changes in Ji’s dialogue. This is in fact the purpose of a PTR or beta test — to get feedback on how changes work, and how the players receive them. This isn’t to say that Blizzard will necessarily always alter a storyline or roll back a change because we don’t like it, but it’s still useful to register your objections and feedback.

Sometimes negative player reaction can send Blizzard back to the drawing board to come up with a new, better way to implement that change than the one they’d tested out. It’s worth your time to make your feelings heard — in a constructive manner, of course.

In general, datamining is a useful tool to help keep up with all the new features and storyline beats of new content — in a world where it can be hard to carve out the hours necessary to actually play the game itself, much less also play hours of storylines on the PTR or in a beta test, it’s helpful to be able to go and read up on what’s coming. But just remember that old saying — everything we see in datamined information is just that, datamined, and it may never be implemented at all. It’s always subject to changes and revisions right up until it goes live, so always keep that in mind.

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