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Old 10-07-2020, 10:08 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Default Revisiting Fargo and Faction Favoritism

F*** the Alliance! F***ing die you f***ing emo ****. [...]

I am pathetic. When it comes to World of Warcraft, I am a pathetic nerd. But I'm not Alliance! I can tell you that much!

- George (Corpsegrinder) Fisher. October 24, 2011

The Faction Rivalry

On November 25, 2011, Dave "Fargo" Kosak posted an article to the Dev Watercooler. It was called "Faction Favoritism" - and it was intended to respond to accusations of Horde bias. Cataclysm had released one year prior, of course, and the faction war featured heavily in zone revamps that didn't just give the Horde much-needed questing and zone content, but also gave the appearance of a dominant Horde and an Alliance that was losing ground.

That's a problem in a competitive multiplayer environment, which in this case is expressed around the faction rivalry, which itself is heavily tied into the playable races. These are the strongest identifying point of our characters, in a game format that fundamentally is about selecting an identity that you like, and using your skills and your own decision making to explore and influence a broad expansive world. An MMO is all about player identity, and the Alliance was being typecast as incapable. That kills motivation, and that's why at the time, Alliance players were up in arms, particularly after Blizzcon 2011.

Fargo and developers since him have given lip service to this concept. "We want players to be proud of their faction, even at the expense of personal dignity." Fargo stated. I remember hoping to expect after Fargo said that, that he would acknowledge the problem and announce content that would balance things out.

He didn't.

"I'm sure glad we didn't have orc forums back then!"

When WoW first released, it didn't have much of a story. There were threats, sure, and there were some questlines that took you into the depths of the raids, but for the most part, you were left to explore the world around you and uncover its secrets. This is how I would argue an MMO should be written - instead of writing a narrative for you or making you follow a narrative, it establishes the world as a setting for you to craft your own. This doesn't require elaborate choice systems or branching storylines, because it relies on emergent gameplay, and experiences that you derive in playing from other people.

That's a stark departure though from Warcraft's "roots", which were based in an RTS. In an RTS, you can and should allow the player to make massive changes to the world. You can trash entire nations in an RTS, especially when the player is doing the trashing. But this doesn't work in an MMO where playable races are involved. Again, the medium itself encourages and receives far too much investment in those races. A nation's demolition isn't happening to characters on the screen, it's happening to the player, and it ties into their conception of their protagonist's identity and ability. This is why I don't find Fargo's comparison to events that took place in the RTS games or in books to make sense. In none of the events he mentioned did Blizzard explicitly put the player through those events. Often times they served as prologue, and the player experience begins afterward becoming one of growth. If you tried to pull any of those events in an MMO - I'm confident in saying that yes, you would have an issue in the "orc forums" - that reflects the problem with having these events happen to an established playable race in an MMO, and it gets orders of magnitude worse when faction rivalries with real, live, trashtalking people get involved.

"Suffering is the gasoline that drives our story engine."

Kosak goes on to explain the idea of the "Hero Factory", elaborating that an unjust and unfair world is one that cries out for heroes.

Now stop - do you realize what he just said?

We were talking about an accusation of faction favoritism, and the piece pivots into how suffering drives their story and creates an unjust world that heroes must rise to mend. So certainly yes, there is favoritism, but it's favoritism of a different kind.

Let me back up - Warcraft 3 largely established the setting in which World of Warcraft was being built, and the writing team wisely and boldly decided to redefine the Horde. Before this, they were largely stereotypical fantasy bad guys, but Warcraft 3 challenged that narrative and formed the identity of the Horde that attracted many if not most of its players. You could be an Orc and still be heroic - and the sins of the past were blamed on demon blood. But Kosak and his contemporaries undid Warcraft 3's progress. An uncorrupted Mag'har Orc became a fascist dictator, and then we got introduced to an entire world of uncorrupted Mag'har Orcs who acted just like Warcraft 2 Orcs. Why? Well, it was to create the unjust world that heroes must rise up to confront. The Horde being a villain wasn't an accident. It was the point.

Nevermind that this was explicitly not what Horde players signed up for. Nevermind that this erased all of the progress that Orcs had made, and subsequently soured a lot of players' impressions about their own characters. Little of that would matter in an RTS - but again, it DOES matter in an MMO. Coming in from on high and saying "Horde bad", "Alliance good" is lying to the playerbase, invalidating the choices they made, and bracketing the choices they now can make about their character.

The "Faction Pride" expansion

We know how Kosak's vision worked out in the arc he was commenting on. Few people were satisfied with the Siege of Orgrimmar. It humiliated and shamed the Horde while cementing the idea that the Alliance was still not competent as a faction rival. It was all they could do when the attempt at shoving an RTS story into an MMO ran up against the limitations of an MMO. The Garrosh bait-and-switch didn't work either. It failed to resolve concerns that the Horde was being written as evil, and for the Alliance it denied the sense of catharsis that stories following the "Heroes' Journey" should deliver at this point. The whole concept therefore falls apart.

This isn't to say that faction war stories are just impossible, but it does highlight the problem with trying to execute one under an RTS philosophy within an MMO. In an MMO, a faction war should live in the setting. That lets a healthy back and forth feed the rivalry, one in which people are motivated and proud to identify how they identified.

As for BFA? It was grown in a lab to make everyone feel awful, and it is a swan song to Kosak's development philosophy. So has that worked? Well, the rivalry is as toxic and nasty as it's ever been. Both sides largely agree that the experience was awful. I've heard from Horde players that their faction is irredeemable, the Forsaken had a hole blown in their whole identity, and of course Night Elf fans like myself really have no reason to play the game anymore (even if we still care, and would come back if our concerns were addressed). The victories for the rest of the Alliance meanwhile were limited, offscreen, asterisked, and/or unsatisfying - and no, mitigation that lives deep in the text but doesn't end up onscreen doesn't count.

"Yes, we know, the faction war failed". There's pages of commentary to that point - but the point of this post is to draw a line under the philosophy that stood behind it. I think it's high time to acknowledge that Kosak was wrong, spectacularly wrong, about how to write the faction rivalry in an MMO - especially as we consider how to emerge from the decade-long train wreck that this very bad idea has left us in.

What now?

Now that we know that Kosak's philosophy has failed - I'll add a brief note on where I think we should go. The factions need rebalancing. The Horde needs to rebuild its identity, its roster of characters, and it cannot whipsaw back into villainy. What's done is done of course, meaning that is going to have to grapple with an Alliance that isn't going to forget past actions.

As for that Alliance - it needs a bombastic onscreen win (I of course would say in Ashenvale). Period. This doesn't need to "punish" the Horde, and a good execution of this would seek to build the Horde in terms of characters and moral standing, but given that the "Hero Factory" failed, the Alliance comes out looking wimpy - and that's death for a good rivalry. As for the "Hero Factory", the Alliance shouldn't be the designated series' heroes. It's not satisfying and it's, well, biased.

Last edited by Kyalin V. Raintree; 10-07-2020 at 10:35 AM..
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Old 10-09-2020, 08:47 AM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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So, since posting in SOL is kind of like exploring the ruins of Detroit - I did of course mirror this post on the official Story Forums - and there were some interesting responses that I'd like to address and elaborate on.

For reference:

I noticed that most of the posters did not care about the broad implications of what I was saying. They latched onto my hint at a solution in Ashenvale instead. Fair enough, faction war content gets the eyeballs, so let's talk about faction war content.

Specifically, Ashenvale.

There were three points that I want to address first:

One: Many believe that Night Elf players can only be satisfied by destroying something that Horde players hold dear. Blizzard has, of course, typically written faction conflicts this way, but I don’t think it has to be this way. Would Night Elf fans be satisfied by the deaths of “nameless, faceless NPCs”? If done right, I think so. Terror of Darkshore showed us that.

Second, would it be unfair to fix the Night Elves but leave the Forsaken with nothing? Yes, but I do want to note that Forsaken have a different and more difficult problem. The forsaken just had a core pillar of their identity ripped out so that Blizzard could have a new villain, and the result is a smoking crater where the Forsaken identity used to be. I don’t know how to fix that. I’m a Night Elf fan, not a Forsaken fan. They will have the best grasp on what they want, so I must leave proposals to fix the Forsaken to them.

Third, as Benedikt observed: it was possible, as a Horde player, to free a Night Elf soldier from mind control, at which point they would nod to you and run off. This is a small, but perfect example of how things should be with moral choice in video games. You are given a choice - you make the choice, and the game acknowledges that choice. I want to apply that thinking here.

Now, let’s get into the Ashenvale plan.

The Lore

During BFA, despite the conflict that the mission tables describe, the Horde has established civilian settlements in Ashenvale. The residents don't want to leave, and the Horde council is deadlocked about what to do about it. Anduin is trying to work on a solution, but Tyrande is having none of it. She’s not willing to tolerate the Horde’s existence, let alone their presence in the sacred forest of Ashenvale. She commands Shandris Feathermoon to retake the territory. When asked about innocents, Tyrande’s response is blunt, being along the lines of: “if they are going to build their homes on the broken corpses of our people, they are not innocents!” Anduin is horrified, but he can’t act against this because the Forsaken are retaking Lordaeron and he needs to contain the situation. (Spoiler: he fails)


First off – all of this is phased. It does not impact existing questing in any way.

For the Alliance and the Horde, you are given a squad of 10 named NPCs. These NPCs have personalities, names and unique skills (fitting roles like melee DPS, ranged, healer, etc.), and you will order them around in the scenario to come. The player will join them personally – allowing you to contribute your own skills to the effort.

You will need to strategically place them during three scenarios. You will face opposing faction enemies that are a challenge 1:1, and will kill you if they outnumber you by 2:1 – so you do need your soldiers. If a soldier dies, they’re gone. If you lose one in phase 1, then you can’t use them in phase 2 or 3. You are rewarded based on how many of them you keep alive.

The scenarios will have an easy option and a hard option. The easy option would be something like: send your soldiers to harass and kill evacuating civilians to draw out your enemies from the position they are defending. The hard option would be to directly attack the position – something that could get more of your soldiers killed. I think there should be a rolling buff/debuff if you continue to pick the “immoral” option. If you are Alliance, the enemy is going to get an “outrage” buff which will increase their health and damage. For the Horde I think this should be a debuff to their own forces because their choice is between saving people or exploiting a strategic advantage. This buff/debuff will vary based on a hidden counter that will keep track of the number of civilians killed.

Now for the scenarios.

Phase 1

The Horde took and then settled Astraanar after the War of the Thorns, and they currently hold it. Shandris knows that must take both Hellscream’s Watch and Astraanar, and proposes that if they take Hellscream’s Watch, they can commandeer the demolishers and threaten the town. The Horde’s defenders would be forced to retreat, or risk being attacked from the high ground as another force led by one Vindicator Strelnikov – threatens to move into the town. Strelnikov calmly notes, however, that the Horde are not going to fire on their own soldiers and civilians, and his forces could cause enough pain to force the Horde at Hellscream’s watch to come down and stop them. Shandris’s forces could then sweep into the fortified base and fire down onto the Horde. You as commander must allocate troops to support either goal.

The Horde expected this. Baine Bloodhoof has arrived personally to organize the defense, and for now he believes that the Horde needs to tactically retreat, consolidate their strength, and push back later on. In the meantime, the civilians should be evacuated from Astraanar. The commander of Hellscream’s Watch, Batrider Reeko, however, points out that if their defense of Hellscream’s Watch is too thin, then the enemy will seize their demolishers and turn them against the Horde. As the Warlord in charge, you have to decide whether you’re going to support Baine or Reeko.

In either case, we’ll just say that the Vindicator Strelnikov is a road construction enthusiast – and this will be made clear to you before you make your decision. If he is allowed to have his way in Astraanar, either if you as the Alliance support him, or you as the Horde ignore him, he and his forces will directly, and viciously target civilians, and the game should not pull punches. You will hear civilians screaming in terror. You will see kids begging for mommy to wake up, and sentinels driving their glaives into the wounded. Expect Brennedam levels of barbarity. Lawful Good overdrive doesn’t live here anymore.

Phase 2

With the fall of Astraanar, both sides know that the fight is a race against time. The goblins in Azshara are scrambling to bring up their artillery to support Baine’s defense. Meanwhile, little pockets of Kaldorei resistance that have been hiding out in the forest and waging guerilla attacks ever since the War of the Thorns are rising up everywhere, emerging from their hiding places and striking almost across the entire region at once.

The goblins are being delayed as they themselves are dealing with acts of sabotage, as Shandris is well aware of the threat the goblins posed. She expects to counter the Goblins with the Stonetalon Gnomes (the ones we met in Cataclysm), led by Professor Xakxak Gyromate. With them in tow, the combined offensive should have the firepower to match the goblins. If they can get them into Azshara before the goblins can set up their artillery, then the Horde will not be able to contain the momentum of the Alliance’s assault. The problem though is that there already is a goblin weapons stockpile that the Horde is waiting to use. It’s well defended, but if you are able to get past the defenders and use one of the goblin’s own bombs to detonate it, then it can’t be used to block Professor Gryromate’s attempt to move into Ashenvale and join the attack. Gyromate does of course calculate that an indirect method of attack has a greater chance of success. The Horde has been gathering evacuees and the wounded in Silverwing Refuge itself. Attacking it would once again divert defenders away from the stockpile. He doesn’t have an opinion on this – the probability calculation is just a fact, but Strelnikov again favors the latter option – in his words: to make a point. You as the commander decide what you’re going to go after.

The Horde meanwhile knows that Strelnikov has detached from the main body of Shandris’s army to strike at Silverwing Refuge. By now, Baine realizes that the Alliance is acting with complete, unrestrained barbarity, and wants to evacuate the civilians and the wounded, but he is stiffly opposed by the Gob Squad. Patch is adamant that they instead should recover the local weapons stockpile, explaining that they can use it to mount considerable damage against Strelnikov’s forces. He insists that if they don’t do that, then in a week’s time they’ll be talking about how to stop Strelnikov and a legion of black-eyed Night Elves from burning down Orgrimmar’s orphanage rather than just this camp of refugees. Reeko again favors the option that denies critical weapons from the enemy, and believes he and his batriders could use them in the future. As Warlord, you don’t have time to rescue both the weapons cache and the wounded. You have to pick one.

Phase 3

Up to now, the events have been largely mirrored, but at this point they diverge.

For the Alliance, the final fight takes place at the Warsong Lumber Camp. The Horde are seeking to prevent you from getting across the river before they have time to set up their artillery, but they are facing Shandris’s offensive at its strongest. You and your squad play a small part in titanic battle unfolding around you. Once again, fleeing civilians complicate the Horde’s defense, and Strelnikov wants to go after them. He knows they are thinly defended, and by now he’s not hiding he’s going to do to them what the Orcs did to his people in Draenor. In the Night Elves and Worgen, he finds sympathetic ears. The more difficult path is to support Professor Gyromates’ forces as they join the main body of Shandris’s attack – which is focused on a heavily defended Horde stronghold. A cutscene follows of Strelnikov, with a blood splattered face and a bloodstained Alliance banner, charging towards the Azshara bridge – it then refocuses to a pulled-back view of the stronghold – being besieged by gnomish walkers, who are joined by ancients. The structure begins to collapse, and the Horde banner that was flying above it is the focus as it collapses into the structure.

The Horde’s experience picks up where the Alliance one left off. Strelnikov is leading his army over the bridge to chase down refugees. Confronting him would spare more of them, but Batrider Reeko also needs help if he is to lead his batriders on a raid on the other side of the Southfury – to knock out glaive throwers and gnomish walkers from the air so that the goblin artillery will have an easier time holding back the main body of the offensive. You are once again a small piece of a large action taking place. The Alliance and the Horde are deadlocked in an artillery duel, and the thundering-on of the goblin guns is constant. Hippogryphs, Wind Riders, Batriders, Gyrocopters, Goblin flyers and Chimaera all fill the air. You are once again, a small part of the chaos. As the battle grinds on, the Horde start to gain the upper hand, and the Alliance blows the bridge, trapping Strelnikov’s army on the other side. They choose to fight to the end, with Strelnikov seeking to take Baine out.

Baine ends up fighting Strelnikov directly, and the cinematic we see him fight. A Night Elf rogue tries to leap onto his back to plunge daggers into his neck, but he throws her off balance grabs her, and hurls her into a tree trunk. He uses a worgen nearby as batting practice with his totem shortly thereafter. The Horde surge forward around him, but his fight with Strelnikov on the battlefield becomes one between those two – and Baine beats him silly until the Draenei falls and lands face down – facing the gorge and seeing the Alliance forces pulling back on the other side. He tries to push himself up, but Baine forces him down by slamming his hoof on the Draenei’s back. Baine scoops up a Horde banner from a fallen soldier, and as he does so, his eyes catch a glimpse of Shandris Feathermoon, who calmly oversees the pullback from the back of her Nightsaber. It’s clear that she spots Baine as well. Baine roars defiantly at her and slams the pointed end of the banner’s flagpole into Strelnikov’s back, impaling and killing him. The cinematic ends with Baine standing in that same position, with the Horde banner on prominent display in front of him.

Final Comments

I consider this to be a first draft, and if I’m being honest, there are weaknesses. Strelnikov probably could use some more nuance. Reeko probably could use some more characterization. There would probably be some connector quests, and I welcome feedback on how to improve some flagging aspects. My intent with this though was to take a stab at a plan that would be satisfying for both sides, and would leave them both looking strong and proud of their respective sides – while asking players to deal with a simple moral quandary in how to reach their objectives.
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Old 10-18-2020, 11:27 AM
Menel'dirion Menel'dirion is offline

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I like the overall premise, and I don't mind the action in Ashenvale. I need to spend more time going over particular points. I feel like perhaps someone one other than Baine should be leading the Horde's defense of Ashenvale, but I'm not sure who and I'm not sure it's that important to me that it be someone else.

I'm not sure how much Anduin would have to say about the matter given his situation in Ashenvale, or how his replacement, Turalyon, would react.

I'm wondering if this conflict might also bring the end of the BC capitals, the Exodar and Silvermoon, as part of this conflict. Mag'har retaliate against Alliance by assaulting the Azuremyst Isles. Exodar retreats into the sky, while Silvermoon has it's civilian population evacuated as it becomes a War Zone with the formerly decimated Western half becoming both restored and Void Elf Territory. Basically, the old BC zones get new look alike zones where max level content can be had (and the old ones are still there for leveling).
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Old 10-23-2020, 10:26 PM
Kyalin V. Raintree Kyalin V. Raintree is offline

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Originally Posted by Menel'dirion View Post
I like the overall premise, and I don't mind the action in Ashenvale. I need to spend more time going over particular points. I feel like perhaps someone one other than Baine should be leading the Horde's defense of Ashenvale, but I'm not sure who and I'm not sure it's that important to me that it be someone else.

I'm not sure how much Anduin would have to say about the matter given his situation in Ashenvale, or how his replacement, Turalyon, would react.

I'm wondering if this conflict might also bring the end of the BC capitals, the Exodar and Silvermoon, as part of this conflict. Mag'har retaliate against Alliance by assaulting the Azuremyst Isles. Exodar retreats into the sky, while Silvermoon has it's civilian population evacuated as it becomes a War Zone with the formerly decimated Western half becoming both restored and Void Elf Territory. Basically, the old BC zones get new look alike zones where max level content can be had (and the old ones are still there for leveling).
Thanks for the input! I'll try to reply to the points in turn here.

Regarding Baine, this was a concern in the mirrored post in the Story Forum as well, and the reason I slotted him in there was because I think he needs a rehabilitation. I used to think this sort of thing would be a non-starter with audiences, but looking at Malfurion and Tyrande, I'm more sympathetic these days to thinking that it's possible - and the Tauren need it. Baine could never fill Cairne's shoes, but I think it's important for him to be retaining a part of himself while at the same time showing that he still cares about, and for the Horde, that there are lines that he will not permit to be crossed, and ultimately, that you should not cross him. I realize this scenario might not get us all of the way to a better Baine, but I think this would be a start.

Regarding Anduin or Turalyon, the unwritten Forsaken scenario I think should attract their attention instead. Stormwind has never really had a sustainable geopolitical interest in Kalimdor, and with their territorial positions in Gilneas and Arathi under threat, I would figure they would prioritize that. Given that they already did prioritize Lordaeron over the liberation of core territories of their nominal allies (YES, I'm still bitter about that), this shouldn't be a long bridge to cross.

Regarding the destruction of the BC capitols, I think that's poison for an MMO. We pick characters to act as avatars of our own identities which we then put into a heroic escapist fantasy where the three act structure plays out in the form of us encountering a new challenge, probably losing to it, and then working out how to beat it and achieving the catharsis from that third act. What tragedies that are applied on the playable race level ultimately do is say that such journeys do not matter, that the choices you make do not matter, because you still lost and must cope with a bad situation that you have absolutely no control of. You are not competent, you do not have choice in the situation, and what you do does not matter. That is a checklist for how to create an unsatisfying video game experience, because people play video games in the first place to feel like they have the power to make their own choices, and that those choices in some way matter.

Instead with the BC Capitols - I would integrate them into regional powers. I would like to see Silvermoon deepen its ties with Suramar and whatever replaces the Undercity to form a regional army and navy bloc to counter the Alliance. I want to see Exodar emerging as a partner to the Kaldorei, possibly integrating more Draenic settlements in the vein of Forest Song, and, in the absence of the Legion, taking a more hardline stance against the Orcs. I would like to arrange systems with that sense of factional balance, friction, and ultimately stalemate in mind - once we get there, we can build upon that foundation to identify goals that these societies can strive towards, and goals to point players to, rather than a string of tragedies or flaws that they can never fix.
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Old 11-25-2020, 10:29 PM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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I dunno, I think back in the Cataclysm days the main concern was to make the Horde (who up to that point had been kinda noble but very underwhelming demi-heroes) really intimidating and to give it a strong identity after Wrath of the Lich King. (And this wasn't so much Fargo's idea as Metzen's. Metzen was the one talking about taking Thrall out of the Horde and seeing how that would impact it.)

Particularly the Forsaken who were just kinda mopey and all their architecture was just ransacked/remodelled human buildings. Basically that they were sitting around waiting to die. So largely I think one thing they wanted to do was make the Forsaken (and Orcs) really intimidating again.

The humans and Night Elves by contrast in classic WoW had a lot more content, had a much stronger identity. Night Elves had content in like 7 zones. And Night Elf characters appeared in a lot of endgame content with the Cenarion Circle and Expedition and so forth.

Now I didn't LIKE the Night Elf identity post-WC3, but it was an identity. And in Cataclysm there was SOME effort to make Night Elves feel more war-like, but it was pretty half-assed and wasn't really done in a particularly Night Elven way. The racial leaders also didn't really get a strong identity and weren't particularly involved in the plot.

But I don't really agree that there was any horde bias in Cataclysm, or at least, a reasonable bias. There needed to be a shift in the power structure of the classic game. The Forsaken needed to be deranged and aggressive and powerful, and the same was true of the Orcs.

But Cataclysm was unfinished. So I think the Horde stuff, the new zones for the new races took priority. And the human/Night Elf stuff wound up being kind of half-assed, and nothing past level 40 (outside of a handful of zones) was really all that well thought out.

In Mists they sort of tried to turn it around a bit with Jaina & Vereesa, and Jaina had a HUGE showing in Mists of Pandaria, and I think they did a better job with her than they did with anybody in that expansion. But then Mists of Pandaria fell prey to the problem all expansions do... the third act was rushed and done by a b-team. So Siege of Orgrimmar and everything leading up to it kinda sucked.

Since then, I dunno if the faction conflict really even had a focus until Battle for Azeroth. Where I don't think... there was really a bias at all? I played both, and I felt like the Alliance zones were more cohesive and better plotted, but I guess the Horde was one step ahead? I thought the conclusion was lame but much better than Siege of Orgrimmar.

This next expansion is *so* far removed from the Horde-Alliance conflict that I doubt we'll see anything of it any time soon. The incentive for Night Elves now is following whatever the hell Tyrande's storyline is in the Shadowlands.

I don't really understand the sort of... attachment people get to their faction. Like "oh my faction looked bad". But my favourite zone is Vashj'ir specifically BECAUSE my character doesn't feel like some super hero. So... I guess my perspective is VERY different from most other people's.

Like what I'd like to see in the future is just a scene in Ashenvale, where Furion & Hamuul are just like chilling and you see druids and sentinels and stuff rebuilding. And you could give them like some cool bro moment. Rather than just leaning in on more fist-pump-y revenge porn. They're kinda cheesy, but I do kinda like those sort of little tidbit lore scenes with Calia and Derek and whatever.
"The Demons did their job well. You creatures are as reckless and bloodthirsty as they ever were."

Last edited by Aldrius; 11-25-2020 at 10:39 PM..
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