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First Glance at WoW 6.0 October 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
13 comments

It was a happenin’ time in Stormwind last night.  The place was overrun with people… at least the bank was… enough to make you believe that World of Warcraft subscriptions are up 600K users from their second quarter dip down to 6.8 million.

Actually, I have no doubt that the subscription numbers are up to 7.4 million, I just have to admire Blizzard’s preemptive end-run around potentially depressing news regarding subscription numbers for the third quarter of this year, which ended just a couple weeks back.  We may eventually know what that number was back on September 30th (or maybe we do, totally missed that in the footnotes) when the third quarter results come out in about a month or so, but it doesn’t really matter because the number today is 7.4 million.  Basically WoW subs jumped by about one and a half EVE Onlines.

Anyway, it was happenin’ because the long awaited WoW 6.0 patch was successfully deployed yesterday.

W6NowLive

And with that came a pile of changes.  The patch notes are long.

Of course, the first thing I saw was the new character models.

I am not in love with the new human models.

The design philosophy seemed to be “make these guys look a bit lost and not quite up to their tasks” or some such.  Of course, I thought the originals were just fine, and they were a bit more ruggedly handsome to boot.  So my pally went from looking like a hero to some guy who looked like he just got off the Google bus from SF.  Fortunately, the barber shop lets you change hair style and color as well as which of the faces your character has.  I was able to tinker that into something more acceptable for about 50 gold.  At least he looks a little less like a hipster waiter in a themed restaurant. (Belghast’s post has pictures and describes a similar need to change up.)

The new Vikund in Azeroth

The new Vikund in Azeroth

The new male dwarf models are hideously ugly… so are pretty much unchanged.  Basically they have a more high def texture so you can, by changing faces, dial in exactly how weather worn and craggy you want to be.  The range seems to go from “worn hard and put away wet” to “one step from Dark Iron,” your choice.  Dwarves live a hard life.

The male night elf models, on the other hand, do look like an upgrade.  They seem more lithe and and smooth and generally more like the high born.  A pity about the way they now run.  Rather than a feral grace, the male night elf runs like a guy who has pebbles in his shoes or who is trying to run barefoot over a hot beach.  Not sure who felt that captured the essence of the night elves, but I am not on board.

So I am not a big fan of the model change.  It doesn’t hurt the game to my mind, so it isn’t a huge deal, but I wonder if the time could have been better spent… or better directed.  Certainly the goal of retaining your character’s essence through the upgraded models failed for me. (Though there is an out, but now I’ve change my look for the new models. Bleh.)

Of course, the character model malaise faded into the background when I found that two of my characters had lost levels as part of the patch.  Color me confused, but I didn’t see anything in the patch notes about changing experience.  One of them, Alioto, my instance group character, who had been 88 for months, was suddenly back to level 87.  Granted, he was just ONE experience point shy of level 88, but he was no longer that level.

One point shy...

One point shy…

So I figure this might be akin to what happens in LOTRO when they tinker with exp, that I will just have to get a kill and I will be bumped back up to where I was, which was a third of the way into 88.  But no, I went and killed something, leveled up, and was only into 88 as far as the experience from that one kill would take me.

I could not figure out a pattern as to what might have caused this.  I first noticed it on my rogue, the character I had been using for the Outland quest achievements, who was past the halfway point into level 71 out in Shadowmoon Valley when I last left him.  Now he was one experience point shy of 71.  But he had just gotten that level over the weekend, so I thought maybe it was newly leveled characters.  But then there was Alioto, who had leveled up back in June.  Plus I had another character who leveled up on Friday at Darkmoon Faire, and he was just fine.

So I have no idea what happened and I have not seen anything mentioned about this anywhere, certainly not in today’s “whoops” patch notes for the first post-6.0.2 hotfix.  Anybody?

That was the low point of the evening, not being thrilled with the new look and having lost experience on a couple of characters where it matters. (Maybe THAT was the link! Hah!)  But after that it was mostly upside.

The stat squish seems to be working from what I can see.  Vikund, once over 500K hit points (with buffs) during Siege of Orgrimmar LFR groups, now sits at a much more modest 57K hit points, and his mighty two handed sword checks in at mere 98 dps.

Big sword, small dps

Big sword, small dps

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a screen shot of the “before” stats, though I know I have one tucked away somewhere, but for comparison my now level 70 rogue was dual wielding heirloom weapons at level 71 that were each flagged as doing 133 dps.  Those now show damage at just 32.68 dps.  I am going to have to go check how that level 20 hunter I have is faring.

But eventually we got to the high point of the night, when I started in on the inventory changes.

The new button to organize your bags… well, I probably shouldn’t have touched that until I had tinkered with some of the settings, because it moved everything.   That said, my only real objection is that I have to have my hearthstone in slot 1 of bag 1, as I have had it since the end of time.  Then I went to the bank and made the best 100 gold investment ever.  The new reagent tab in the bank is not free.

This bank is not a charity

This bank is not a charity

But once I paid the 100 gold and pressed the big button at the bottom, I was a very happy person.

All the reagents I had on me...

All the reagents I had on me…

There it is.  On one character this change basically opened up 89 inventory slots on my character and in my bank.  That was maybe the most extreme example, but I am not sure any character had less than 50 slots freed up by this action.  Best 100 gold spent ever, Totally worth it.

I was a little less thrilled by the toy box.  It works and it looks okay (if maybe a bit too widely spaced), but because it lists out all possible toys, I am now daunted by how many I am missing.  I have less toys than I thought, though perhaps I was applying toy more widely than Blizz was.  Also, there was the perennial Blizzard problem with what to do about dupes.  On various characters I had toys that were flagged as “already known,” but I am never sure what to do about them.  I am paranoid about deleting them, but I don’t want to keep them around cluttering up my bank. (Though that is certainly less of an issue at the moment.)  I have old pet tokens in the same situation, can’t redeem them, afraid to delete them, nothing to do but store them.

That out of the way, I went out to see the first bit of new content.  There is a set of lead-in quests that the game tells you about the moment you log in, at least if you are level 90.

Hey, did you hear? New quest!

Hey, did you hear? New quest!

You can click right on that to get the quest which sends you out to the Blasted Lands which is changed (or phased) to reflect the Iron Horde coming through their shiny new strawberry flavored dark portal.

The new dark portal

The new dark portal

There is a quest chain to run down which is primarily there to lay down the lore for you.  This is one of those times when you really should slow down and read the quest text.  There are not that many quests and the whole thing should take less than an hour if you digest everything, unless quest mobs are completely hunted out, (Though I was there when the zone was packed and that wasn’t much of a problem), or maybe 20 minutes if you blitz through like a crazed Munchkin.

This allowed me to play a bit with some of the changes.

As it turns out, retribution paladins are even easier now.  My rotation used to include a build-up to trigger a damage enhancing buff before I could really start in on the high damage attacks.  However, that buff seems to be gone now, so it is just build up for a big hit and let it fly.

The new quest log… well… I will have to play with it a bit.  Basically, the quest log and the map have been joined into a single window.  It seems to be well done… and it flags all of the quests by their type, which is new and useful… but I am going to have to use it for a while longer before I am settled on it.

The quest tracking in the mini-map is… changed.  Quest objectives are little yellow dots, but not the same little yellow dots they have used forever.  We have new little yellow dots, and they mark more things.  I was also able to turn off the new comic book outline effect when mousing over things right away thanks to a tip on twitter.  I was not big on that at all, but I am somebody who plays WoW with floating names off as well.

Questing itself seems to follow on in the Mists of Pandaria style, where it is meant to tell a story or involve you in an activity that changes things as opposed to old format which often seemed more interested in having you slaughter 12-30 things.  If you didn’t like the Pandaria style, you probably won’t like it in Draenor.  I actually liked the Pandaria philosophy, so it looks good to me.

The quest line itself shows you around the zone, has a cinematic, and then sends you off to the king in Stormwind where you get an achievement for completing this limited time event, plus a new title and the special Iron Starlette pet. (Oh, and now there is a gear reward, which wasn’t there last night. Erf.)

The big turn-in

The big turn-in

The pet looks like a barbed metal ball.  It is visible in the picture of Vikund up at the top.

As for the old kiwi-lime portal to the old Outland, that is gone from Azeroth.  You now have to take a special portal in the tower of magic to get there.

A vision of past portals

A vision of past portals

In general I am pretty happy with the state of things.  I still have to try out my other classes to see how they play now.  The healing thing has me a bit nervous, as I was a pretty marginal healer with my druid to start with, depending a lot on insta-heals to get me out of jams.  And I still have to queue up for the special, limited time Upper Blackrock Spire dungeon, which is only available through the Dungeon Finder currently.  I also wish I could manage the Garrosh heirloom smash and grab, but that is for real raiders and not LFR scum like me.

Overall though I am keen to see how things will play out when the expansion finally drops in a little less than a month.

Others looking at the new patch:

The Power of Being Able to Say No September 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: , ,
22 comments

The big news in the cycle yesterday was Blizzard canceling the Titan project, their work-in-progress next generation MMO.  We don’t know what it was, only that it was delayed at one point and now it has been cancelled.

It probably wasn't this

It probably wasn’t this

(Picture from the iOS game Giant Realms and the breeding guide site)

This has led to any number of people to say, “Ha ha! Blizzard sucks!” or other equally inane things.

Let me tell you about what really sucks in the real world.

What really sucks is being in a company where you have to ship your product, whether it good or not, because otherwise the place will go out of business.  When you have to release work you know isn’t quite ready or needed another design pass or just should have been shelved at some point, that sucks.  Or when your product hits the market after a year of crunch only to find that the customers interested in it only want some small feature that got tacked on because it was easy… and they aren’t willing to wait for version 2.0, much less pay for it… that sucks.

But being in a company with enough financial independence to be able to say, “No, that’s not good enough,  we’re not going to ship that,” that totally does not suck.

It is not easy.  Every project gets a life of its own, and if the company has invested in the project and talk about it outside the company, turning things off can be, as Chris Metzen said, “excruciating.”  And you have to be willing to ignore the whole sunk costs thing, because money has been spent. I have worked at a couple of companies that should have said no to bad projects, that would have been better off if they had, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

So seeing a company that is both secure enough in its market and knows what it is about enough to drop projects, that makes me envious more than anything.  That is what I was told “real” companies do back in college.

So Blizzard will just have to carry on with its streak of best-selling, money making games by not shipping something they didn’t feel worked.

I am hoping to see something deeper on the subject once people get past mocking the market leader for an alleged failure.

For example, what does it mean for the MMO market that Blizzard doesn’t necessarily want to make another MMO?  Is this opportunity for others, or just something that will scare off more investors?

And, of course, what does that mean for World of Warcraft in the long term?  The billion dollar a year cash cow that is WoW is part of the reason that Blizzard has the flexibility to say no at this time.  I expect that we will see even more focus on Azeroth to keep that revenue stream active.  Let it go?  How about never?  Is never good for you?

Nostalgia, Name Wipes, and the Next Expansion in Azeroth September 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: ,
11 comments

Various World of Warcraft topics combined into a single post.

Timeline to Draenor

We are getting there.  There is now less than two months to go until until November 13, when Warlords of Draenor launches. (I’m still wondering if this was all foretold in the hint we got back in January)  And the reality of the situation means that some things have to start happening much sooner.

Well, at least one thing has to happen.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Coming Soon

At some point Blizzard is going to have to drop the 6.0 patch on the game, which will roll up all the Warlords of Draenor changes as they apply to the rest of the world.  The expansion is going to affect you even if you don’t but the expansion right away.  There will be lots of changes.  Some will happy or handy.  I am for anything that gets a few more things out of my bag, so the Toy Box will be welcome.

I am still a bit worried about the stat squish however, mostly because people have been in beta and 6.0.x is up on the public text realm and yet I haven’t seen a story out of WoW Insider with something like one of the following headlines:

  • Stat Squish Apocalypse – No More Solo Raids for You!
  • Stat Squish – Everything is Wonderful!

And I realize that people in the beta are interested in the new content, as opposed to checking to see if their level 90 can still solo Onyxia, but I would be interested to know if it worked out as Blizzard promised before the 6.0 patch drops.

Anyway, given how things have gone in the past, I would expect the 6.0 patch to drop 4-6 weeks before the expansion, so we are probably a month or less away from seeing what 6.0 really brings to the live realms.

Are They Serious About Nostalgia?

One of the big things coming up this November… in addition to the WoD launch and BlizzCon… is the World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary.  That is a pretty big deal, and it seems like Blizzard, after dropping more subscriptions (~5.2 million) than probably the next couple subscription games on the list ever had at their combined peaks, has decided to play the nostalgia card.

That can be a powerful play.  SOE has shown that even half-hearted, doomed to neglect nostalgia plans like their progression servers can get a couple servers worth of players back and paying for the game.  And even if nostalgia wears thin more quickly than you might imagine, because the reality of going back is almost always just a shadow of the past, as neither we nor the game are the same (that whole “everything flows” thing), such events do get people interested in your game.  Handled correctly, the nostalgia card can get some old players back into the game.

I’m just a little nonplussed about what Blizzard has chosen to emphasize.

There is the Molten Core raid.  This is a re-work of the original that you and 39 of your closest level 100 friends can take on for a limited time.  It goes away with the new year.  This one doesn’t grab me for obvious reasons.  I never raided.  I only once peeked into Molten Core.  And, to be honest, I am not sure I can commit to being level 100 by January 6th.

But I have no doubt that this will be a draw for some, at least until the reality… or the deadline… sets in.  Or until the special prizes are secured.

And then there is the Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battleground.  I suppose another battleground isn’t a bad thing.  And at least it will be available for levels 90 and up.  But as for re-creating the chaotic and often lopsided open world battles of the old days, I am not so sure.  Once you level constrain, set up equal teams, and put down clear victory conditions, the spontaneity of the original conflicts kind of melts away.  But I am sure there will be a set of special achievements for the whole thing, which will go away with the turn of the year, so it will no doubt be popular.  But is it nostalgia?

I suppose you could argue that the expansion itself, in returning to Outland and the Iron Horde and the various Orc war chiefs is a nostalgia move in and of itself.  It certainly does get straight back to the heart of the Warcraft franchise.  But the other bits… not sure they are grabbing me.

Of course, I am open to criticism on my WoW nostalgia credentials, as going through the oldest content in the game.. Outland… has driven me to play a lot more Pokemon.

Name Wipes

Yesterday Blizzard announced that they were doing a wipe to free up the pool of available names, and they took an interesting approach to this.

Over the years various publishers have hinted or even said straight up that if you unsubscribe your characters might get deleted.  That turned out to be a bluff in the long term, as those same developers eventually realized that players in a subscription MMO will come and go.  It turns out a decent number of people are like me and don’t like to pay when they are not playing.  $15 a month in isolation is cheap.  $15 a month when you might be interested in half a dozen games or have multiple accounts or have family members playing adds up to real money fast.

And so companies have attempted to tread softly on the whole character deletion thing.

Once in a while somebody will go purge characters that are under a certain level and beyond a certain age.  But for the most part, MMO companies live in hope of our return.

Blizzard won’t be deleting characters.  They want us all to come home to Azeroth at some point and are not too worried about the size of their database.

But they do appear worried about new players being able to pick a name.  Problems in that regard have become a punchline to some jokes.  So they are doing a name purge.

If you have not logged a character in since November 13, 2008, it will have its name wiped when the pending 6.0 patch goes live.  Whenever that is.  But it will be reasonably soon.

I probably have characters on some server somewhere that meet that criteria.  I don’t know how to check, but I suppose I should just log them all on.  Or maybe I won’t, just to see what happens.  I suspect that, should your name get wiped, you’ll just have to pick a new one when logging that character in again.

But I was curious about the date they chose.  Okay, November of 2008 was… the Wrath of the Lich King launch.  But it also happened to be the peak subscription point for non-China WoW players.

MMOG Charts 1 million Subs and above

MMOG Charts 1 million Subs and above

The total WoW subs went on to peak right after Cataclysm, but November 2008 looks like the last big spike in the west, though we lack the data to pin that down.  The fact that Blizzard chose that as the cut off though seems to be a hint that November 2008 is some sort of tipping date, at which point characters no longer being logged in started to add up to significant numbers.

Or maybe somebody in the office said, “If they haven’t logged in for six years, screw ‘em!  Take their name away!”

Why Should I  Watch BlizzCon?

Finally, BlizzCon is coming up (November 7-8), awkwardly shoved in between the 6.0 update and the Warlords of Draenor launch, a position that makes you wonder what they are going to talk about when it comes to Azeroth.

I am not one to say Blizzard shouldn’t have BlizzCon unless they have a big announcement.  I am sure that everybody who goes has a great time.  It is a fan event and that can be enough.

But if Blizzard wants me to spend $40 for the Virtual Ticket so I can watch along from home, I need a bit more enticement than an in-game pet and another StarCraft II forum avatar.

Available Now!

But why?

Last year was totally worth it, as the big Warlords of Draenor announcement was a highlight along with a bunch of good panels going into the gory details.  But now, a year later, with the Warlords of Draenor expansion showing up literally a week after BlizzCon, anything they have to say about that lands between “I’ll see it soon enough” and spoilers.  I’ve already bought the expansion, I’m a sure thing.

So what is in it for me?  Why should I want to watch BlizzCon?  What would tempt me?

I am not big on StarCraft II, their MOBA… well… I cannot even remember what it is called so that should tell you something,… isn’t a draw, and while I would be mildly interested in some Diablo III news, it isn’t that big of a deal.  I could wait for the day after press for any of that.

But there has been a bit of background noise about Blizzard getting itself in gear and not letting the game sit for more than a year without any sort of content again.  It has been a long, hot summer for Blizzard, and they have had to pull out some tricks to support subscription numbers, like insta-90s with pre-orders and “log in soon to get a corgi later” calls.  I am sure they would like to avoid that again and keep us all subscribed for longer stretches going forward.  So I am going to guess that we will hear about one of two things at BlizzCon.

The first option would be an updated and more aggressive post-expansion content schedule.  Basically, with their Mists of Panderia experience behind them, they should have better refined what works and what does not.  Arguing against that is the current state of affairs where it doesn’t sound like there will be a lot of post-expansion raids and such being added.  But that could change.  Maybe they are holding back just to have something to announce.

The second option would be Blizzard totally breaks with tradition and announces the next WoW expansion along with plans to get it out the door in something less than two years this time.  This would be a big win in the whole “sell more boxes and keep people subscribed” column.

Of course, Tom Chilton, who was hinting about content getting out faster, is also on record saying:

By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back.

WoW isn’t in the horror show of ~2005 EverQuest and the confusion of too may expansions to keep track of, but pumping out more expansions isn’t going to reduce that barrier or solve the “I haven’t played since Burning Crusade, what do I need to play now?” questions.  Yeah, I know the answer to that one, and you probably do to, but it likely isn’t obvious to somebody returning cold.

Of course, in that same article he also says that the insta-90 thing solves the barrier problem.  So does that mean we’re going to get a new flavor of insta-levels with each expansion?  Because I am not sure Blizzard is ready to do a WoW expansion with no increase in the level cap yet.

And there is a third option for BlizzCon, which is just the status quo.  We’ll get a few hints but there will be no WoW news for another year, until another BlizzCon rolls around, while Blizzard plays on our hopes of something new to get us to grab the Virtual Ticket this year.

So, aside from an all new property, what would make watching BlizzCon worthwhile?

 

Warlords of Draenor – Expendables Style August 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Humor, World of Warcraft, YouTube.
Tags: ,
6 comments

Last Thursday we had the big reveal.  Blizzard had an event where they talked about various aspects of the Warlords of Draenor expansion and gave us the big news that we had all been waiting for, the launch date.

And they also showed us the big cinematic trailer.  This focuses on the change in lore.  This time around the orc chieftains reject Gul’dan and his offer.  It isn’t exactly clear why they do this.  Did somebody come back in time and warn them?  Were they that much on the edge last time around that it could have gone either way?  Did Gul’dan blow it with his choice of stemware?

Whatever it was, there won’t be any fel orcs or like abominations.  But the orcs are still building that protal and they are still coming to Azeroth.

And that’s is all you really need to know, that they are coming… on or about November 13th of this year.

But if you are a bit of a lore noob (Liore noob?) you might be wondering about the cast of characters.  I ran through the quest line in Felwood just about a month back, which included a whole “Previously in Azeroth” quest segment that played out the high points of the story behind The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, but I still can’t name the 47 7 orc chieftain without peeking.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Blizzard is trying to solve this with their own Lords of War video series.  But maybe you want something a little more straight forward.  If so, I offer this:

(Direct link)

Pity about the heavy use of ads at both ends, but it does show you some of the in-game versions of the actual Warlords of Draenor.

And if you want to see all the WoW cinematic trailers, Shintar has them all queued up in a single post.

Warlords of Draenor to Ship on November 13, 2014 August 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags:
5 comments

The age of the whimsical panda is over…

Chris Metzen, Blizzard Senior Vice President, Story and Franchise Development

The moment announcing the moment many of us have been waiting for.  Warlords of Draenor will drop on November 13, 2014, just after BlizzCon, which runs November 7-8 this year.

The Blizzard team showed some previews of the expansion, including zones, dungeons, raids, and garrisons along with the cinematic to a packed house down in LA, with Chris Metzen speaking about the making of the Warcraft franchise over the last 20 years and about old stories coming around again.

Metzen stands up

Metzen stands up

The cinematic focused on the orcs making a different choice, rejecting Gul’dan but seeking to be conquerors all the same, closing with the construction of the dark portal.

Coming soon - A Dark Portal

Coming soon – A Dark Portal

The cinematic was, as expected, all about root lore and reflected nothing about the actual game.

(direct link)

No word on when we will be getting Patch 6.0, the precursor to the expansion, but I would guess that we might see it by some point in mid-October.  It will include pre-expansion events leading towards the big day.

Just three more months to wait.

A Busy Thursday in August for MMOs August 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EVE Online, Sony Online Entertainment, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
8 comments

Here it is Wednesday night and I am wondering what I am going to post about tomorrow.  I have several choices, as tomorrow appears to be a busy day in the MMO world.

Blizzard

At 9:30am Pacific Time (16:30 UTC) Blizzard is going to do their big announcement for the date for the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Save the date! Which date?

Tell us the date

That is the date people have been waiting for… and predicting would come early or earlier… since the beginning of the year.  My own pick back in January was September 9th, a date judged as pessimistic by some.  Now I am going to guess November 18th, right near the 10 year anniversary but just before the holiday season begins in the US.

Blizzard will also be showing us the cinematic for the expansion, which will no doubt be much discussed, but won’t tell us much more than the story behind the whole thing.

CCP

Then just a couple hours after that, at 20:00 UTC (13:00 Pacific Time), CCP will be holding their own live stream on their Twitch channel to present the next expansion for EVE Online, Hyperion.

No Hyperion graphic yet...

No Hyperion graphic yet…

So far this has been billed as the big “fix wormhole space” expansion.  I didn’t even know W-space was broken, but players will work whatever system is in place.

Sony Online Entertainment

Then in the evening, at some point past 19:00 Pacific Time (2:00 UTC) SOE will be having their SOE Live Welcome Keynote address.

SOE Live 2014

SOE Live 2014

This will also be on their Twitch channel, though  SOE is trying to get people to put down $20 for their channel, so I am not sure what you get for free.

SOE on Twitch with Goodies

SOE on Twitch with Goodies

While we probably won’t get much in the way of details, this is the likely point during the event for any big announcements.  This will produce news, and I will be watching the EQ2 Wire blog for a summary. (And they have a list of streamed SOE Live events.)

BioWare

And at some point today BioWare will be launching the latest Star Wars: The Old Republic expansion, Galactic Strongholds.

Housing!

Housing!

This will be the housing expansion for SWTOR and I will be interested to hear what path they have chosen for this and how players react.

Addendum: Or maybe not.  I thought there was a live stream planned for today about housing, but I must have dreamed it.  Probably for the best.

Others?

Meanwhile, Gamescom is still running in Germany and I haven’t checked to see if any other developers have decided that the second Thursday in August is THE day to announce something, but I won’t be surprised if somebody else is on board.

Which announcements will you be paying attention to?

WoW Subscriptions Drop by 800K, But the Money Keeps Rolling In August 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
8 comments

Activision-Blizzard got out in front of the press today to talk about quarterly results.

ActiBlizz450

In an unsurprising turn of events, World of Warcraft subscriptions dropped from 7.6 million in Q1 to 6.8 million in Q2 of 2014 as the long wait for Warlords of Draenor continued.  The last patch, Siege of Orgrimmar, is going to be celebrating its anniversary soon.

The availability of the WoD pre-purchase and the immediately available insta-90 boost for a single character did not hold the line on subscription front as much as I thought it would.  My working theory was, “Who pre-purchases and expansion then unsubscribes from a game?”

Or maybe the pre-purchase and insta-boost did help.  The company said that most of their subscription losses were in Asia.  Specifically:

As of June 30, 2014, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft remains the #1 subscription-based MMORPG, with approximately 6.8 million subscribers. There was a decline in subscribers quarter over quarter, which was disproportionately concentrated in the East and was similar to the seasonal decline experienced during the second quarter of 2012, prior to the launch of the most recent expansion later that year.

But then they always seem to point to Asia when there are losses, to the point that I wonder if there are any customers left there.  But there was no pre-purchase over there.  And Activision-Blizzard did bring in $658 million for the quarter, up $50 million from the same period last year, with a record 73% of those dollars coming in via digital sources.  That is a lot of people buying the Diablo III expansion, digital versions of the latest Call of Duty, and the Warlords of Draenor pre-purchase, which topped the 1.5 million mark.  That is about $75 million in the bank for Blizzard and so far they can only give us a date for when they will tell us the date the expansion will likely release.

Slideshow Highlights for Blizzard

Slideshow Highlights for Blizzard

Now the question will be how will the subscriber base fare with Warlords of Draenor still clearly in the fourth quarter of this year.  It has been a long summer and while the beta will no doubt spark some interest, it will likely take something more to hold the line, much less boost numbers.

Warlords of Draenor Launch Date Update Date or Something August 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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For future reference, please note today’s date as the date we received a date for the date at which the actual launch date of the expansion would be revealed.

Save the date! Which date?

Save the date! Which date?

Or, as Blizzard put it:

A storm of iron is headed Azeroth’s way—be among the first to witness its fury at the world premiere of the Warlords of Draenor cinematic! Join Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime, Chris Metzen, and World of Warcraft designers Ion Hazzikostas and Brian Holinka for the grand unveiling, streamed live from the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles. But that’s not all—we’ll also host a live interview with the WoW developers, announce the Warlords of Draenor launch date, and debut the first episode of a new animated lore mini-series: Lords of War. You won’t want to miss it!

So, summing up, today (August 4th) it was announced that next week (August 14th) Blizzard will shows us the cinematic for the Warlords of Draenor expansion and tell us the date when they expect it to actually ship. (Presumably Some time by December 20, 2014.)

Unless it slips.

And if you’re in the area, you can show up and see all of this in person and get your hand stamped so you can get into the beta, which to me sounds like the date won’t be as close as some will hope.

Anyway, next Thursday we will see who is cheering and who is moaning about the planned release date for the expansion.  And then we will descend into the usual nitpicking about the cinematic and what it actually says about the expansion, Blizzard, the economy, climate change, and the impending Warcraft movie.

Though, unlike the expansion, we actually have a date for the movie, March 11, 2016.

Addendum: Hey, wait! Isn’t August 14th the start of SOE Live?  Is Blizzard cock blocking again?

WoW Subscriptions Dip to 7.6 Million Under the Weight of Wait May 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Yesterday Activision-Blizzard did their quarterly earnings call.  The recording for it, plus the slide deck, are available here.

ActiBlizz450

The overall message was that revenue was less than last year, but better than projected.  Three of the five “Strong Product Performance” bullet points in the opening were for World of Warcraft, Diablo III, and Hearthstone, followed by Skylanders and Call of Duty.  The main future outlook for the Activision side of the house is on Bungie’s Destiny, about which huge dollar numbers are being thrown about, both in terms of sales projections and development costs.  Activision is betting heavily on a Halo-like success here.  It is slated for launch on the 15th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast launch, so it has that mojo going for it.

The Blizzard slide ran down four of the key products in their portfolio.

Blizzard Q1 2014 Slide

Blizzard Q1 2014 Slide

On the WoW front, subscriptions dipped from 7.8 million to 7.6 million, which is a fairly modest change given some of the past “would kill any other MMO franchise” sized drops.  I was wondering back in February, when the numbers were last announced as going up from 7.6 million to 7.8 million, if Blizzard getting a Warlords of Draenor pre-order out in March might help support subscription numbers.  I guess, maybe, that it might have.  But now a million people have bought the pre-order, have their insta-90s, and… now what?  I expect that we will see a more significant dip for Q2 and Q3 unless Blizzard has a surprise to spark interest in the game.

The forward looking statement about the Warlords of Draenor launch being in the second half of 2014 seems a bit disingenuous after Blizzard has already put the date in the fall, heavily emphasizing that Fall lasts until December 20th.  Still, I am sure somebody out there will read this and think it might mean an earlier launch.  Given that we’re still in the “soon” phase for alpha, I find no reason to think the WoD is being pulled in.

Blizzard itself has been busy telling people about the changes coming for the 6.0 pre-WoD patch… a gating item for the expansion… and how to get tickets for BlizzCon, which will no doubt sell out in the first few minutes of availability.

Otherwise, Diablo III was praised for launching a successful expansion.  Hearthstone was noted as a new launch, but is too new to have had any real financial impact as yet.  And then Heroes of the Storm was pointed out as an upcoming title, currently in limited alpha.  No mention of StarCraft II and the Legacy of the Void expansion, which has no target date right now.  Of course, we just got Heart of the Swarm last year, putting the SC2 expansion cycle on something close to a 3 year clock.  So, it could be worse for WoW players.

And so the world turns.

The Long Road to Draenor April 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Back in September, a few of us returning to World of Warcraft felt like returning home to the comfortable, familiar game we had enjoyed for so long.  It was a happy time and we were happy to be back.  Happy. Happy. Happy.

A little later, after the BlizzCon announcement for Warlords of Draenor, the full instance group jumped back in to the game and picked up where it left off with the main group, way back at the end of Wrath of the Lich King, where we left off back before Cataclysm.  That was back in late 2009.

Victory over King Ymiron

At the throne of King Ymiron

And it was good.  And it remains good.

The instance group has moved along at a leisurely pace, knowing full well that we had to get to at least summer on Cataclysm and Pandaria content.  Not because we thought we might see WoD during the summer… I, rather optimistically in hindsight, figured September would be the drop date for the expansion based on some vague napkin math… but because we tend to go on hiatus during the summer as travel and other real life events take over.

Outside of instance nights, we have all been busy little beavers.  We have been leveling up alts, collecting mounts, going after achievements, running old content, getting the guild up to level 25 (finally there!), and generally immersing ourselves in Azeroth.  Fun, fun!

Or fun for a while.

Now more than six months back, with the guild taken care of, three level 90s at my disposal, having run all the level 90 LFR content at least once, and being exalted with all but two factions in Pandaria, I am starting to feel sympathy for those who really had their hearts set on a much earlier release for WoD.

My enthusiasm for logging in to work on yet another set of dailies or to get another mount towards my goal of 150 (I am at 132) has begun to wane some.

I still log in daily.  I tend my farm at Sunsong Ranch, though mostly for items I can sell at the auction house in order to build up my gold account.  I am working on a couple of low level alts, including a Panda monk with full heirlooms, just to see how ridiculously fast I get levels in a given play session.   He leveled three times doing Shadowfang Keep at one point.

But the fires have faded some.  I have joined the ranks of those who are starting to feel that Azeroth might need a little something to carry us through to the expansion at the end of the rainbow.

That feeling was enhanced this week with the Noblegarden holiday, for which I got all the achievements back in 2009.  I do not have the mount that was added in 2012, but I am not sure I can bring myself to run the holiday events even for that.  We’ll see.  And then next week is Children’s Week, the one holiday event keeping me from the holiday meta achievement because I refuse to do the battleground achievements.  Clearly some bitterness on my part there, and certainly not something that is going to raise my enthusiasm for WoW at the moment.

On top of that, we had what was effectively a narrowing of the gap as to when WoD will ship.

Previously Blizzard had said “Fall 2014,” conspicuously pointing out that “Fall” lasts until December 20th.  But the optimists in the crowd could at least console themselves with the thought that Fall stars in late September, so WoD wouldn’t necessarily have to be a “week before Christmas” launch.

Well, Blizzard has rained on those hopes, at least in my opinion, with the announcement of the dates for BlizzCon.

BlizzCon2014

BlizzCon will be November 7th and 8th of this year.  And, as Liore pointed out the other day, you really have to be a cross your fingers and toes optimist to think that Blizzard is going to launch their big expansion of the season BEFORE BlizzCon.  Who would let their thunder roar before the big convention?

It seems likely that we’ll get the pre-WoD patch before BlizzCon, which will give some people plenty to chew on as they work through the changes in order to be ready for expansion to drop.  But that is still likely to be out in October at the earliest, and that still leaves us with the window for actual new content somewhere between November 7th and December 20th.

Which is probably going to leave a fair number of people in the odd position of having purchased Warlords of Draenor in advance, yet considering unsubscribing until it actually launches.    How strange is that?

I suspect that, unless Blizzard has something up their sleeve, it is going to be a long summer of declining subscriptions.

That whole Azeroth Choppers thing… that isn’t going to be enough.