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Friday Morning Blizzard Roundup April 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, EVE Online, World of Warcraft.
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It is Friday and Blizzard has announced a bunch of things this week, wisely waiting until after April Fools day. (Unlike CCP, which did a Dev Post on drones and Summer expansion forum posts on mining ships and Nosferatu upgrades on April 1st just to torment us. I am still not convinced they are real.)

Several of the Blizz are worth noting, but I am not sure there is a full blog post in any single one yet, so I figured I would just lump them all together.

Reaper of Souls Sales

Blizz reported that Reaper of Souls, the Diablo III expansion, shipped/sold over 2.7 million copies in the first 24 hours after going on sale.  They sold a bunch as pre-orders, but were only able to ship… well, unlock… and recognize revenue on last week.

I am not sure how to parse that number.

It is surely a big number, and probably makes Reaper of Souls one of the top sellers for March, even adding in all comparable platforms.  Go PC gaming.  That number beats The Burning Crusade, which managed 2.4 million copies on the first day.

But with an installed base of at least 12 million players on the PC for a game that has been out for nearly two years, that sounds a little shy of a “hopes and dreams” number for Blizz.  They will still be pushing a wheelbarrow of money to the bank, but they were probably planning to make a few trips.

Did the rough start or always online kill off interest in the game?  Or are a lot of us still playing fresh characters through the original game to soak in the full “Loot 2.0″ experience?

The press release says that the expansion “breathes new life into Sancturary,” I am just wondering how much life.

Warlords of Draenor Alpha

Nobody out there is still holding out hope for a late spring/early summer release for this expansion, right?  We’ve all moved this to our “things to do over Christmas” list, haven’t we?

Anyway, Blizz said that the expansion is now in Alpha, which is no doubt a poke in the eye for those who were all ready for the beta announcement.  For those hoping for an early Fall release, Eldacar tweeted a graph showing the time from “Friends & Family Alpha” (are we even there yet?) to release for past WoW expansions.

F&F Alpha to Release

F&F Alpha to Release

The average is 6.6 months, which puts us nearly into November… if WoD is average and if we are at the friends & family start point.  So it is possible we’ll being playing on Thanksgiving… maybe even Canadian Thanksgiving… but Halloween will likely be free of such distractions.

And, as always…

Warlords of Draenor Patch Note Fun

Lest you think we’ll be bored waiting for Warlords of Draenor, Blizz has also published the first Alpha Patch Notes for the release, so that the hardcore fans can start panicking and complaining right now.

There is a lot to take in.  Even the TL:DR summary is 17 bullets long.  I have to spend some time digesting that.  But I can already see items in the summary that will make people run around screaming as though their hair is on fire.  This should be fun. (Is it really a return to Vanilla 1.0?)

The random perks thing sounds interesting.

And one key take away appears to be that the promised/threatened stat squish probably isn’t coming until the big pre-expansion patch.

Chat in the Battle.net Launcher

Blizzard also updated the Battle.net launcher this week.  I am not sure how widespread it is yet.  I got it when I downloaded Hearthstone, but not sure if it has been pushed to everybody.

But now, in addition to being able to see all of your online Battle Tag and RealID friends in the launcher, you can now chat with them as well.

So I’ll just add that to Steam, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, Skype, Jabber, Microsoft Lync, Raptr, TeamSpeak, Mumble, and RaidCall as another possible way people can try and chat with me while I am AFK.

I think I finally stopped logging into AOL Messenger.  You can no longer chat with me there.  And ICQ.  I think I gave up on that at last.

Did I ever tell you I had a five digit ICQ number?  True story.

April Fools Forever

Blizzard put up a page that lists out all of their major web site April Fools jokes since 1999.  Call The April Fools Archive, you can go back and find some of their best stuff.  I love when a company takes the time to preserve and present things like this.  I wish SOE would take note here, as they seem to toss things down the memory hole on a regular basis.

Still, not everything is on Blizzard’s list.  I though the funniest thing this year was the fake WoW 6.0 Patch Notes.  It is one of those things that is for the community as it pokes straight at contentious items with a laugh.

 

April Fools at Blizzard – 2014 April 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Humor.
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The day is upon us, April Fools, where we must filter through the funny, the flat, the trite, and the just plain mean.

Blizzard has always spent some effort on this front, and usually has something interesting for us each year.  You can look at past reviews:

Last year we got mostly retreads of previous April Fools entries.  This year Blizzard has a few new items.

Draenei Female Model

First up is a news item about the character model updates.  The new models, announced at BlizzCon, have been the focus of front page posts before.  But today’s look at the female Dranei model turns the character into an outlet for someone’s Miley Cyrus jokes, getting some special emotes such as /twerk.

You can find it here.

Blizzard Outcasts

Then there is also a “new game” announcement for Blizzard Outcasts: Vengence of the Vanquished.

Blizzard Outcasts

Blizzard Outcasts

It purports to be a fighting game for using characters from Blizzard lore who… well.. die.  Wirt.  Deckard Cain.  Liddy Raynor.  The video included shows it to be an 8-bit side scrolling fighter akin to Street Fighter.  The game also includes a special new controller that includes a credit card interface to play.

The page for the game, including a list of heroes and a FAQ, can be found here.

Happy Reaper

The Diablo III site features a Blizzard entry into the mobile market, Happy Reaper.

AF02HappyReaper

 

A spin on Flappy Bird, there is even a playable demo (Unity plugin required) linked from the announcement.

Herald of the Stars

There is an announcement regarding the name of the next StarCraft II expansion.  The Protoss focused release is alleged to be called StarCraft II: Herald of the Stars, which purports to be playable with the time stream running in either direction.

AF03SC

The full announcement is here.

WoW 6.0 Patch Notes

All the changes destined for Warlords of Draenor.  Flightmasters will now be Walkmasters, to prevent confusion with that other Blizzard game, the “Hearthstone” will now be called the “Homerock” and so on.  Find the full forum post here.

New Hero of the Storm

Blizzard’s MOBA has announced a new hero today.

Pajamathur!

Pajamathur!

Others Entries

That is all I saw on my early morning run through the Blizzard web sites.  They may put up more later, which I will add when I get a chance.  The new release games, such as Hearthstone and the Reaper of Souls expansion, seem to be free of direct parody, probably to avoid mixed messages with titles still getting established.

So we got some fresh items this year.

Who else has some decent April Fools entries?

 

How Blizzard Got Me to Play Hearthstone March 12, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s Warcraft themed digital collectable card game, went live rather suddenly yesterday.  There was a patch, a press release, and, hey presto, it was no longer in beta.

HearthstoneWhite_450

I suppose I should applaud Blizzard for not keeping the game in eternal beta, though that sort of behavior might have fallen out of vogue here in the post-Zynga world.  Which is fine.  I tend to at least furrow my brow severely at any game that is taking in money while claiming to be in beta.  Or alpha.

I actually downloaded Hearthstone back in January after reading John Smedley’s praise of the game (and how it might get SOE to do something with its own 6+ year old Legends of Norrath collectable card game).  But I did not actually play it then.

I think I launched the game and played the first step of the tutorial and then went back to something else.

Collectable card games are not really my thing.  The last time I took a stab at one was at the height of my daughter’s investment in Pokemon, when she was watching the TV show, seeing the movies, playing the video games, and wanted to round out her devotion by playing the card game.  Unfortunately, she only had me to play with and after a couple runs at it I declined to continue.

And while there are a number of reasons for my disinterest, high on the list was the general housekeeping .  This is why I enjoy games on the computer so much, there is a machine that takes care of the details.  Solitaire used to be a big deal for my grandmother, who used to play several hands of it every day after lunch.  She would pour herself a Coke, light up a cigarette, and deal out a deck of cards to take another try at “beating the Chinaman.”

Apparently some mythical Chinese guy was you opponent in solitaire back in the day.  My grandmother couldn’t explain it other than to say that was what her mother said when she was young.  At that point we’re talking about somebody who was alive while Queen Victoria reigned.

Anyway, I was always fascinated watching her.  But attempts to play myself were always ended pretty quickly by the mere effort of card handling.  And the fact that, after all the work of shuffling and laying out the cards and then moving strings of them this way and that, cheating seemed like a reasonable step once you hit a road block that would undo all that effort.  And once you start cheating you always win so there is no point in playing.

It wasn’t until the late 80s, when I found a good solitaire game on the Mac, that I actually enjoyed playing.  And I enjoyed it because the computer took care of the annoying bits as well as the fact that cheating was no longer possible.  I played a lot of it back then.  And, of course, once Microsoft put a version in as part of Windows 3, it became a vast time-wasting obsession for many people.  A couple companies I have worked for have specifically removed the game from all company computers, lest we fritter away the days playing solitaire.

(Meanwhile, my grandmother quit smoking a few years later… pretty much everybody in my family smoked when I was born and then gave it up eventually… which, in turn, ended her solitaire playing.  The whole Coke, cigarette, solitaire routine was a tight knit package and she couldn’t have one without the other two.)

I am sure after that side-trip down memory lane (I miss my late grandmother), some CCG fan somewhere is tapping their foot impatiently, ready to point out that there are all sorts of digital versions of collectable card games out there that take care of the housekeeping chores… like, say, Hearthstone, which I have already said I downloaded and installed.

Which leads us to the other thing I am not too keen about when it comes to collectable card games:  They are pretty much designed as vehicles to sell product.

I like playing card games.  I have played cards all my life.  I still enjoy solitaire now and again.  My wife and I will play Gin Rummy at the kitchen table.  For a good fifteen years a group of former co-workers and I used to get together every other Wednesday night to play cards.

And never once in that time has the United States Playing Card Company introduced a new playing card to the standard 52 card deck (plus two Jokers and that odd ball rules card that somebody always forgets to remove) that forced me to go out and buy little random packets of playing cards in order to stay competitive.  Sure, there are some fancy decks, as well as the occasional pinochle deck that used to confuse me as a child.  And I have quite the collection of decks with various casino logos on the back.  But otherwise a standard pack of cards stands alone.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, beyond a certain point of play, Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon or whatever other big name CCG you care to name, are all about introducing cards over time to get people to buy new card packs.  It is a fairly lucrative business as I understand it.  I just have no interest in supporting it.

And the same goes for the digital versions, like Legends of Norrath and Hearthstone.  Their purpose in the world is to sell more cards.  Only you don’t even get nice physical cards to hold in your hand and, at least in the case of Legends of Norrath, they seek to replicate the whole “pack unwrapping” process in the most annoying way possible.

So Hearthstone, despite all the praise it has garnered, remained low enough on my list of things to do that it was pretty much untouched since the day I downloaded it.

And then Blizzard said, “How would you like a free mount in World of Warcraft?

Must have it NOW!

Must have it NOW!

They certainly know which button to press.  I will jump through many a hoop for a new mount.  Pretty much my whole reason for grinding all of the factions in Mists of Pandaria is that Blizz was wise enough to give each faction quartermaster at least one mount you could buy, but only after you hit exalted.  And I am not alone in that regard.

So I joined in with probably many other WoW players last night in learning to play Hearthstone.  I managed to shamble my way through the tutorial, learning the game despite myself.  It took me four tries to get past the Hemet Nesingwary part of the tutorial, which was trying to get you to contain your opponents minions.  With Illidan Stormrage I managed to grasp the “go for the throat” message it was sending after only one failed pass.

And then it was off to face my fellow WoW players, all stacked at the bottom of the rankings in what seemed to be a pretty universal pile of poor players in it for the mount.  Or such is my guess, because I managed to win the three games necessary for the mount in only four tries.  The one time I lost I was matched up against somebody who, if they didn’t know what they were doing, they had at least gained more from the tutorial than I had.  They were also the only person I played that wasn’t using the default Mage deck.

The other three though I beat simply because they made even more mistakes than I did.  The most common mistake seemed to be to click the “End Turn” button before having your minions on the field attack.  Must not click that button until you hear the “Job’s done” quip.  The second most common mistake looked to be ignoring the opposing minions altogether in hopes of knocking out the opposition in a concerted attack.  My last opponent made that mistake in spades.

My third win

18 points of hurt ready to go

He knocked me down from 30 to 15 in fairly short order and only then seemed to realize that my minions were going to do him in faster than he could hope to finish me off, in much the same way Hemet Nesingwary did me in three times.  So I guess that segment of the tutorial worked.   The coup de grace was drawing the six damage fireball card when he only had two points left and was already facing an unstoppable minion attack.

But more important that stomping my opponent was getting that mount.

Hearthstone Reward

Hearthstone Reward

Of course, at that point I left Hearthstone to log into WoW to see if my mount had been delivered.  I had read a number of early complaints about people not getting credit for their three wins or not getting the mount delivered or some other sad story.  But when I logged in, it was waiting for me in the mail.

Mei Francis Delivers

Mei Francis Delivers

Of course, I got it out and joined the other people running around and otherwise attempting to be “that guy on the horse” at the various congregation points in Azeroth.  There were plenty of us.  I wonder how many people got the “Hearthsteed” achievement that goes with the mount yesterday?

Before the Shrine of Seven Stars

Before the Shrine of Seven Stars

It isn’t a bad looking mount, all things considered.  The effort spent getting was worth it, relative to many other mounts I have gone after.  I certainly spent more time per mount working on the Netherwing faction.

Hearthsteed closer up

Hearthsteed closer up

An evening well spent, at least in my book.

But will I go back and play Hearthstone after this?

There is the question.

While I was fixated on getting my three wins, I did have fun playing against real people, even way down at the bottom of the skill level curve.  My evening was well spent playing as well as obtaining.

On the other hand, Hearthstone is still well down the list of games to play right now with two other Blizzard titles, World of Warcraft and Diablo III ahead of it.  So I suspect that, for the time being, I won’t be clocking much more time with Hearthstone.

At least until the iPad version becomes available.  I could see Hearthstone as a very viable “away from my computer” game to play.  And while a version for the iPad has been promised, there is no word on when we might see it.  So Hearthstone might be idle for a while.

Unless, of course, the rumors about the Red Hearthsteed turn into something.

Warlords of Draenor to be a $50 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s March 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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And while we were on the topic of insta levels…

Blizzard has finally opened up pre-orders for the Warlords of Draenor expansion.  The price falls between my expectations and my fears.  WoW expansions have been $40 items up until this point, while the EuroGamer article two weeks back said the expansion would be $60. (Though they deleted that without reference when Blizzard objected.)

WoDlogo

The actual price, according to Blizzard’s announcement, is somewhere in between.   The standard edition will be $50, with the usual $20 bump to get the Digital Deluxe edition.  Presumably the physical Collector’s Edition will be an additional $20 on top of that, making it potentially a $90 purchase.  So there is your buy-in price for the next two years of WoW content… once it ships.

There were a couple of items of note in the announcement, starting with that potential ship date.

Pre-order announcement

Pre-order announcement

You probably cannot read it in the thumbnail, but if you expand it by clicking on it, you can see that they have tacked on a line about the expected release being in the Fall of 2014.  My September 9th guess seems even more optimistic at this point.  And, as somebody pointed out, Fall technically goes all the way out to December 20, 2014, though I would imagine that Blizzard would do all it could to get the expansion in the pipe at least a month before Christmas.  Like, maybe at the 10 year anniversary?  We shall see.  (Elsewhere Blizzard says, “Game is expected to release on or before 12/20/2014.”  If this were SOE, that would mean February.  And even with Blizzard, “expected” is a hedge and not a promise.)

Then there are the in-game items you get with the Digital Deluxe and Collector’s Edition.  A mount and a pet are the key items, and you get them as soon as you pre-order.

Dread Raven mount and hatching pet

Dread Raven mount and hatching pet

The other items, StarCraft II portraits and Diablo III banners don’t really thrill me.  Blizzard does insist on these cross-game items though.  Occasionally they are good.

And then there are some details about how the insta-90 process will work, including a 2 minute tutorial on YouTube, and what you will get with your character after you wave the magic level-up wand over it.

  • 150 gold
  • 4 Embersilk (22-slot) bags
  • A stack of 20 food items
  • Full set of spec-appropriate Item Level 483 (blue-quality) gear
  • If a boosted character was already level 60 or above, their existing Primary Professions and First Aid are bumped up to level 600
  • A faction-specific flying mount—a traditional Wind Rider for Horde or Gryphon for Alliance
  • Artisan flying—that’s one rank below max flight speed
  • Northrend, Kalimdor/Eastern Kingdoms, and Pandaria regional flying skills trained

That isn’t a bad list of items.  I’ll happily take one with the expansion, though I am not sure I will fork over $60 for any more after that.

Four 22 slot bags are more than any but my main have on them.  The gear is a decent start on things in Pandaria.  The flight boost, including opening up all the areas that require specific skills, certainly saves you some gold.  And then there is the boost to your primary professions and first aid.  No cooking, no fishing, and no archaeology I guess.  Have to level those up the old fashioned way.  But that is still enough to keep my Death Knight in the running as I try to decide which class to boost to 90.

So there we go.  This will have to keep us all busy… or not… in Azeroth through the summer.

Will Blizzard be able to keep the subscriptions from ebbing between now and then?

Monday Morning March Musings on WoW March 3, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Here we sit.  It is the first Monday in March.  It is wet and cold, even here in California. (If only briefly. It should be 70 degrees by the end of the week again.)  Still, spring seems a long way off, and in the overcast I started musing about the state of various things in Azeroth.

Warlords of Draenor Progress

No word on beta.  No word on pre-orders.  And certainly no word on a potential launch date.

I know that Blizzard works at the speed of Blizzard… which, admittedly, is still at least 2x the speed of Valve… but we are in a winter of at least some mild discontent here.  People were chanting the dungeon finder group cheer, “Go go go go go!” when Blizzard announced Warlords of Draenor, hoping for a spring launch, pinning their dreams on Ghostcrawler’s “Feels like we are farther along…” statement during BlizzCon.  And there still isn’t much out there to grab onto.

While we are still effectively staring a tea leaves and trying to divine the future here, the only tangible benchmark for the current situation I could find… six months from start of beta to go live that seemed to work out for previous expansion… is starting to make my September 9th prediction seem a bit optimistic.  I am not ready to declare for 2015 yet, but I am starting to tap my fingers on the desk in a sign of impatience.

I know software projects always take longer than expected, but there are a lot of people looking at you right now Blizzard… and, subscriptions.  I suspect that we will see some new “just stick with us and we’ll give you a shiny” plan to show up if the fall starts to look dicey for the expansion.  After all, they still haven’t tied Hearthstone into a plan to shore up WoW subscriptions yet.

Veteran’s reward for insta-90

One attempt to keep people interested in WoW while waiting for Warlords of Draenor involved announcing that players would be given their insta-90 boost as soon as they pre-ordered the expansion (when we get to that), which will lead to some hard choices once that becomes available.  I’ve already started pondering which class to boost.

To help muddy the waters… or maybe it provides clarity… Blizzard has thrown in a hitch.   If you choose to boost up a character that is level 60 or higher, you also get max level professions to go along with it.  That suddenly makes the idea of boosting up a death knight a lot more interesting.  My current DK, sitting at level 69, was in part rolled up with the idea of getting the guild a jewel crafter, that being an under represented skill for us. (Engineering seems to be the thing with us, followed by alchemy.)  Getting a level cap DK AND getting jewel crafting in with the mix is quite tempting.  Then again, I returned to my warrior alt this past weekend, pushing into the 40s, so he could be in contention as well by the time push comes to shove.

Squishing Stats and Abilities

Blizzard put up a post about the upcoming squish which basically said they are doing it because they are afraid all those big numbers scare us.  There was some talk about the squish being required because of raid boss hit point inflation, which is admittedly climbing up there in digits.

Too close to fail this time

Too close to fail this time

That made me wonder how they were handling their data.  A signed 32-bit integer  will get you to two billion, and unsigned will double that.  But who knows how their software is structured and what made sense a decade back.  I once worked on a platform where, 15 years earlier, somebody decided that the magic cap would be 500.  Then processors got better and suddenly, one day, 500 seemed like a serious restriction.  But it was in the foundation of the product, to the point that it became easier just to hack together a method two run two copies of the main process to get around it.

Going along with the “too much for our players” thread, Blizz is also talking about paring down various class skills and racial abilities as well.

The promise is still there about being able to roll through older content as easily after the squish as before.  But I am still bouncing through things like Obsidian Sanctum for big bags now, because my ability to beat each mini-boss timer seems to rest entirely on my putting up huge DPS numbers.  Not sure how that will translate post-squish.

Inscription Recipes

One thing the wait for Warlords of Draenor has allowed me to do is catch up a bit on things left undone from past expansions.  For example, there are innscription recipes from Wrath of the Lich King.  There were something like 80+ recipes I needed to research through Northrend Inscription Research, a once per day recipe, along with Minor Inscription Research and the Pandaria version thereof.  I have been diligently logging on and doing that every day, to the point that there is now light at the end of the tunnel on that front.

A few Northrend recipes left

A few Northrend recipes left

That will leave me with just Pandaria recipes to pick up, most of which are drops within the expansion, so I will have to get out there and actually play the expansion.

Guild Level 21

Our guild made it to level 21 this past weekend.

TCLevel21

This turned out to be a surprisingly important level for many of us because it unlocked the Ride Like The Wind guild perk, which boosts the fight speed between flight points by 25%.  And, as much as it helps to spend less time on the bird crossing great distances, I think the real problem was that a number of us were tired of being passed all the time by people in guilds who had that perk.  We wanted to be fast too!  And now we are.

Factions in Pandaria

Along with the inscription research, I have been pretty good about working on factions in Pandaria.  Blizzard really sank the hook on that front by giving them all mounts you can only buy when you hit exalted.  But it hasn’t been all that much of a grind.  I just can’t do more than one or two at a time.  Some were quick, silly fun, like the Lorewalkers.  Some of the dailies were fun and easy, like the Golden Lotus.  I still do a couple of their dailies if I am in the neighborhood.  Fun is fun, and 20g is 20g.  But I am getting down to the last few factions now.  I am going to finish up The Klaxxi this week, which has gone kind of slow.  (And how many bugs do I need to kill?)

Once The Klaxxi are down, I will be left with the Kirin-Tor Offensive (which I guess is Jaina Proudmoore and Isle of Thunder), The August Celestials (I have no idea where they live), the Shado-pan Assault (which I started on a bit), Emperor Shaohao (which means Timeless Isle), and the Black Prince.

I’ve gotten far enough ahead in trillium production for living steel that I have been doing some of the farming dailies for faction, just to help move things along.  We will see how long I remain motivated for mounts.  Emperor Shaohao might be left behind, as the charm of Timeless Isle wore off rather quickly.

Pseudo Server Merges

Blizzard has been carrying on with their connected realms operation, where servers are joined together in order to boost population numbers.  The linkage is just shy of a server merge, so nobody has to change their character or guild name. (Good news for the 200+ guilds named “Bloodbath and Beyond.”)

This past month our server, Eldre’Thalas, was linked up with the server Korialstrasz.  I wasn’t sure we really needed that.  Eldre’Thalas seemed to be humming along pretty well on its own, though that can be hard to determine.  There was already cross-realm shared zones and all of the various grouping and matching services work across multiple realms, so by this point I think we’re all pretty used to seeing people running around with a different realm appended to their name.

The one place that was still realm exclusive was the auction house.  So that is where I actually could see the change.  I run the Auctioneer addon to scan the auction house and keep track of pricing.  The number of auctions… and thus the time it took to run the scan… pretty much doubled with the change.  That, and the price of some key commodities, living steel for example, dropped in price due to an increase in sellers undercutting each other.

We’ll see what happens when Warlords of Draenor comes out and we get a surge of players logging in more often.

Diablo III Version 2.0 February 26, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment.
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7 comments

Blizzard dropped… after a fashion… the 2.0 patch for Diablo III yesterday.

That was the first of the three events planned for the next month or so for Diablo III.  There is the patch, the removal of the Auction House on March 18th, and the release of the (first?) expansion for the game, Reaper of Souls, on March 25th.

I am completely in favor of the removal of the auction house which, even by Blizzard’s own admission, hasn’t worked as planned.  I feel I know why they put the auction house in, but the way they coded loot drops for the game seemed designed specifically to drive people to it, so I remain a bit skeptical at their protestations that they were surprised by its popularity.

But it is going away, so water under the bridge.  It won’t be a problem soon.

And then there is the expansion.  More content and a new class, the crusader, that sounds interesting.  I am not willing to buy it quite yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out eventually.  It depends on the 2.0 patch.

Because the patch, the 2.0 version of Diablo III, is where the meat of the changes are coming.  This was the reason I wanted to patch Diablo III last night.  And once I was able to log in, Blizzard was keen to let me know what was new. (Patch notes here.)

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Splash Screen of 2.0 Features

Of all of that, I think Loot 2.0 is the most important.  If they are going to dump the Auction House, they need to make the loot you do get much more viable.  Some of it sounds like it came from the loot lessons they implemented in Mists of Pandaria and what they have planned for Warlords of Draenor.  “Smart Loot” includes more drops appropriate to your class and no class items with stats that are not important for that class any more.

Of course, they have also made higher quality items bound to your account.  No trading, because Blizzard still wants to keep the real money market down.  The whole point of the Auction House, to my view, was to eliminate that market by controlling it.  With the Auction House gone, other methods were required.

Diablo II Shop

It burns…

There are a host of other changes.  There were changes to classes, to monsters, to difficulty scaling, to bosses, to the paragon system, along with the addition of community items like guilds.  I am actually quite happy about that last bit.  While I am kind of past having to be in a guild in every game, we had to create our own ad hoc guilds back in Diablo and Diablo II.  Nice to see that Blizzard has finally acknowledged that this is a thing.

And, of course, Blizzard also had a splash screen in the game about the wonders of the new expansion as well.  Always be closing.

Reaper of Souls info

Reaper of Souls info

With all of this, I thought it might be time to return to the game and see how these changes feel.  I rolled up a new character… best to start from scratch I think, with all the changes… to try it out.  I did not actually get very far, but I want to try to find some time this weekend to at least get through the first act to see how it goes.

How about you?  Does the 2.0 version of the game have any appeal?

Warlords of Draenor to be a $60 Expansion? And Something About Insta-90s February 25, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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39 comments

A controversial bit of information slipped out last week when Blizzard accidentally let the “boost to level 90″ option show up in the in-game store at one point during patch day.  The error was quickly fixed, but the word was out.  WoW Insider had a screen shot indicating that Blizzard was not only officially on-board with insta-levels as a paid character service, but that the price to get to level 90 appeared to be $60.

The alleged price of level 90

The alleged price of level 90

There were discussions on various sites as to whether that price was right or not and whether it was too much or not enough.  Lots of theories were put up that seemed most based on who the assumed audience was for such a service really was.

My gut feeling on the price previously was that it had to be more than any current individual character service… so greater than $25… but less than the cost of the Warlords of Draenor expansion.  After all, if you made it more than the price of the expansion, which comes with an insta-90 character boost, why wouldn’t I just buy multiple copies of the expansion to boost multiple characters if the expansion costs less?  Since I assumed that the expansion would be the usual $40, I pegged the level boost at $35.

Over in the comment thread at Herding Cats I added in two additional thoughts:

Conspiracy theory: It will be $60 for exactly that reason, to push more WoD boxes to set an expansion sales record.

Fear: This is actually a signal that the expansion will be $60.

Today however, Blizzard has been over talking to EuroGamer about the price point, defending $60 for the insta-level 90 in terms of maintaining the value of leveling up yourself, and one of the first items put out there in the article is that the expansion itself will be $60. [Addendum: As noted in the comments below, EuroGamer has since deleted that from the article without any notice of a correction.  Because EuroGamer.]

And my initial response was, “Really? We’re going $60… the defacto price of a new AAA game… for an expansion now?”

See you guys in the fall?

Orc Chieftains don’t work cheap

The sad part is that I will pay the price anyway.  Heck, I was already toying with the idea of the collector’s edition and I never buy the collector’s edition.  But with past CE’s being double the price of the standard ($40/$80) I have to wonder if Blizzard is now going to go all the way to $120 for the CE, or just cap it at $99.99 to stay within the realm of sanity. (Said the guy who bought the EVE Online Second Decade Collector’s Edition.)

$60 for an expansion.

On the one hand, you can always argue that I will get at least as much entertainment value out of the expansion as I will from any new AAA game you care mention.  On the other hand, I am also paying that subscription fee every month to play, so it isn’t like I am not supporting Blizzard enough as it is.

You charge what you think the market will bear.  Of course, into the mix is the fact that expansions aren’t holding their price point nearly as long.  Burning Crusade was still $40 a year after it shipped.  Mists of Pandaria was on sale at half price a few months after it launched.  As I have been trained by Steam sales on this sort of thing, I now have to ask myself if I need the expansion on day one, or if I can wait… as I did with MoP… until the price comes down.

I don’t actually need a level 90.  I will easily have three by the time the expansion hits.  Maybe they will throw something else in with the pre-order to sweeten the deal a bit.  Or maybe I can just think of it as buying the expansion and getting two-thirds off of my first insta-90. ($40 + $20)

What do you think?  $60 for an expansion?  Even with a level 90 boost?

As for selling the insta-level 90 for $60, I am somewhat indifferent.  It isn’t a service I expect to use… I cannot even decide what to do with the one I will get with WoD… and I find any argument about it being too expensive to be more foot stomping than anything else.  How much should a level 90 character cost?  It is a luxury item after all.  And anybody returning to the game who wants a level 90 will likely buy WoD to get one along with the new content.

And what happens when the price of the expansion comes down, as it inevitably will?  Eventually Warlords of Draenor will be $40 or $20 on sale and then will end up as part of the World of Warcraft Battle Chest.  What happens to insta-90s then?  Will Blizz remove the option from the expansion at some point?

I suppose we shall see how this plays out.

Addendum: I like where Ars Technica says “Only 67 cents a level” in their Economic Reality post.

Quote of the Day – Hearthstone, SOE, and Historical Inevitability January 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment.
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5 comments

Actually after seeing what Blizzard did with Hearthstone it’s given us some other ideas…. LoN is an awesome card game. We can take that to the next level.

John Smedley, Reddit AMA on plans for Legends of Norrath

Okay, that is actually a quote from a few days back, but the Reddit Ask Me Anything that John Smedley did last Friday is a gold mine of quotes.  I have to salute Feldon at EQ2 Wire for picking out some of the prime samples for his post.

And I have to hand it to Smed for not flinching from some tough question and answering things the way he did.  He laid out a lot things there, and not all of them were flattering to SOE.  He also left a lot of meat on the table to discuss, from SOE operating Vanguard at a loss for “a long time” to consolidation of IPs plan (again, is DC Universe Online safe with that going on?) to EverQuest Next being headed for the PlayStation 4 (not good news in my book, at least when it comes to a ship date… or user interface choices).  You could get a month’s worth of blog posts out of that AMA.  I am sure bloggers will be feeding on this all week.

But the item quoted at the top… I think speaks volumes in just two sentences.

The online collectible card game Legends of Norrath was launched back in late 2007, when it was integrated with EverQuest and EverQuest II, giving players a game to play within a game.  No mixed message in that.  Later it got its own stand-alone client, but the integration with the EverQuest games was still prime.  Legends of Norrath borrowed the stories and metaphors of the EverQuest games for theme and mechanics, and offered up in-game goodies for players of the two MMOs along with throwing out the occasional reward to the community by including somebody on a card.

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

Brent from VirginWorlds got a card

And, as far as I know, the game has been a success.  It survived the great purge of the Denver and Tuscon studios that seemed to spell the end of online card games being anything like a focus at SOE. (There are some good historical Smed quotes on the old SOE Blog, and some interesting posts from others about company plans. I am surprised it hasn’t all been sent down the memory hole yet.)  Legends of Norrath survived along with Magic The Gathering: Tactics, though the latter is slated to be shut down at the end of March.  Another aspect of the recent blood bath I guess.

And then along came Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.

HearthstoneWhite_450

Actually, it hasn’t really come along yet.  It just got out of closed beta and is now downloadable by anybody who wants to be in the open beta (Europe too now) and who has a Battle.net account.

Hearthstone compares directly to Legends of Norrath.  It is an online collectable card game based on the lore of a popular MMO, it is free to play with its own client, you can buy cards, play against other online, and so on.

However, unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone isn’t integrated into World of Warcraft.  For now the linkage is only in lore and sharing a Battle.net login with WoW and your other current Blizzard games.  Also unlike Legends of Norrath, Hearthstone has gotten a lot of praise from both inside and out of the MMO player community.

Not that I have heard people slam Legends of Norrath, but it never seemed like a big deal either, not the way Hearthstone has been hailed.  Part of that is no doubt the fact that Blizzard games are much more visible, popular, and highly rated than games from SOE.  A lot of people will try anything Blizzard ships.  Simple truth: Blizzard has a lot more fans than SOE.

And part of that is no doubt the application of Blizzard magic to the Legends of Norrath idea, which made Hearthstone shinier, easier to get into, and more appealing to players for whom collectible card games were never really a thing to do.  Plus there is the promise of an iOS and Android version of the game.  The iPad will likely be the Hearthstone platform for me.

This is, of course, pretty much a parallel to EverQuest and World of Warcraft.  SOE got out there first and succeeded, but then Blizzard took what they saw SOE doing and created something an order of magnitude more successful.  And so I suspect will be the case with Hearthstone.

Of course, not everybody loves Hearthstone.  As the hardcore early EverQuest players derided World of Warcraft (even as EverQuest tried to become more and more like WoW ), so some serious CCG players have declared that Hearthstone is a shallow game only fit for casual scrubs, bitter that people are not playing “more deserving” games.  And so it goes.

But the generally favorable reviews of the game got even me to download the Hearthstone open beta, and I am well into the “CCGs are not for me” camp. (I tried the Pokemon CCG a few times, but never enjoyed it.)  I haven’t actually played it yet… or even launched the app… but I have it downloaded.  And that brings me to yet another SOE vs. Blizzard parallel.

In downloading and installing Hearthstone, I found out that to use it required the still-in-beta Battle.net launcher… erm, excuse me… the Battle.net Desktop App.  Oh, and that replaced the launcher for all of the current Blizzard games, including World of Warcraft and Diablo III.

The Hearthstone install did not warn me about that and I was PISSED!

I was pissed because I have been through the single, unified launcher/updater wringer before.  Of course, that was with SOE which was trying to push their version of that sort of thing quite a while back.

Station Launcher of yore...

Station Launcher of yore…

The fact that Station Launcher never quite worked right was compounded by the fact that the SOE website kept telling people to use it after they had stopped supporting and it had ceased to function.  I had to open a support ticket to get the response of “don’t use that” from SOE.  So my anger was entirely based on having problems with this sort of thing before.  I would have avoided downloading Hearthstone had I known what it meant.

Only, in the ongoing parallel between SOE and Blizzard, the new Battle.net launcher… Desktop App… just works.  I log into Battle.net through it and can kick off World of Warcraft just fine.  It shows me all the news tidbits that the WoW launcher did and, in addition, shows which of my Battle Tag friends are online and in which game.  No problems at all.

My anger was thus short lived, which brings me back around to the quote at the top of this post.  SOE deciding to copy Blizzard, who copied SOE in the first place seems to be the natural order of things.  I am sure somebody can make quite a list of the things that SOE copied back from Blizzard.  So it is no surprise to me that, upon seeing what Blizzard has done with Hearthstone, that SOE has been moved to action.  Because, when left to their own devices, SOE can come up with some clunkers. (Not to mention being a bit tone deaf at times.)

I suppose the only thing wrong with Station Launcher was that SOE didn’t leaving hanging around long enough for the Blizzard version to appear so that they would know what to do.

Did Blizzard Just Hint at the Warlords of Draenor Ship Date? January 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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10 comments

It’s the New Year, and 2014 is going to be a big one for World of Warcraft. This November marks the game’s 10-year anniversary and the 20-year anniversary of the entire Warcraft series. We’re looking forward to celebrating these milestones with everyone, but in the meantime, we’ve got a few Warlords of Draenor–related updates to share.

-Blizzard, Warlords of Draenor Scouting Report Post

Okay, it is a stretch, but kicking off a Warlords of Draenor post with references to events coming up in November?  It is enough to make you go, “Hrmm…”

See you guys in the fall?

See you guys in the fall?

Plus, when you add in the fact that the post goes on to say that now would be a good time to opt-in for the closed beta, which means that it is probably at least weeks, if not a month or more away, and the timeline for the Warlords of Draenor expansion starts to look more and more like something we’ll see when summer has faded and autumn is upon us.

My 2014 prediction for the expansion release is September 9th.  Am I looking warmer now?

And, while we’re on the subject of predictions, Blizzard is talking about finding a way to sell players additional insta-level 90 boosts.  That is another on my list. (And it sounds like Blizz is going to give you your insta-90 as soon as you pre-order… once pre-orders are available. No waiting for the expansion to launch.)

In the mean time, I still have plenty to catch up on in the game.

SOE All Access Changes… yet again… And the Future January 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
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17 comments

Last Friday SOE announced changes for SOE All Access and Gold subscribers.  Come February SOE was going to take away the 500 Station Cash stipend for those accounts, replacing it with the ability to purchase a single Station Cash Store item with a value up to 2,000 SC per month.

Once known as Station Access...

Once known as Station Access…

This did not get a lot of positive response.  The loudest group of people appear to like to accrue Station Cash, not be given a single “use it or lose it” purchase.  And there was the usual concern that nobody would buy anything small with the 2,000 SC single buy because that would “waste” SC.

Smed went on Reddit and talked about why they did this and what else they might do.  The most interesting among the reasons for me was this:

Second – it helps us deal with some internal issues regarding accrual of balances of SC for people who aren’t playing or spending. There are a lot of people who play and have SC in their wallets and don’t spend it ever.. this accrues over time and it’s a problem.

Now, he said that was not the most important reason, but it was a driving factor for this move.  However, the fact that the first reason he gave, that people feel that 500 SC a month isn’t enough to buy anything, turned out to be largely incorrect based on feedback might be seen to move the second reason up to first place.

You might reasonably think that, especially since SOE has been working hard to dig themselves out of their Station Cash monetary problems.  They weren’t exactly Greece-like in scale, but SOE certainly wasn’t anywhere as sound as Germany either, to push a metaphor.

He also mentioned that they were thinking of making SOE All Access, formerly Station Access, available for just $14.99 a month.  At least the All Access Subscribers would be happy.

Then, late yesterday, the latest revision broke.  It is described as “not baked yet” but where SOE’s “head is at” on the subject.  Full details over at EQ2Wire, but the basics are:

  • SOE All Access is $14.99, gives you access to all SOE games.  All subscriptions will be converted to SOE All Access
  • The 500 SC monthly stipend is back, though you have to log in to collect
  • Something vague about European players and PS3/PS4 titles

So that is where we stand today.

This is one of those things where, if SOE had started with this deal, they would have been heroes.  But now, a couple of iterations in… and with things still not set in stone… I sort of want to say “SOE WTF?”  Being a responsive company is good… but tossing out plans that appear not to have been thought through fully and then changing your mind in public after your user base complains loudly?  That seems to be just a way to train players to complain early and often.  As we saw in EVE Online after Incarna, every dolt with a gripe against CCP now goes straight to “shoot the monument in Jita!” because that worked once.  Loudly complaining about SOE has worked… how many times now?  (Note the graphic Feldon chose to use for the EQ2 Wire post linked above.)

Clearly SOE’s stated primary premise for the change was wrong for at least the loudest portion of their audience.  I know I would rather accrue 500 SC a month than be given a “use it or lose it” monthly purchase, which came with its own set of terms and restrictions. (No Player Studio items at one point.)  This strikes me as the sort of option that seems like a good idea after a couple of hours in a conference room; what I call the “sensory deprivation chamber” decision.  Seems fine until you show it to the first person who wasn’t in the room, who should immediately point out the state of the emperor’s casual wear.

Their so-called secondary reason, that people accruing Station Cash is a problem for SOE, still strikes me as the only business reason for this move, and thus more important than Smed made out.  And I guess making people log in to collect once a month will slow down some people who just leave their accounts active but don’t play.  It won’t stop obsessives like me… I log into LOTRO once a month when not active just to get my 500 Turbine Points… but it will serve to punish a class of people who give SOE money for nothing.

And it is interesting to see where SOE All Access has landed in pricing.  It started out as Station Access, a $21.99 option, way back in 2004, jumping to $24.99 as time went on. Station Access peaked in price in 2007 when the price was jacked up to $29.99 a month.  That made it a penny more expensive than just having subscriptions to two SOE games on the face of it, and you could widen that gap considerably with the 3, 6, or 12 month subscription options, which were discounted for individual games but not for Station Access.  Complaints about the price change then didn’t seem to register with SOE.

Then, about two and a half years back, SOE renamed the package to SOE All Access and dropped the price to $19.99 a month, making it a good deal again for people who play multiple SOE games.  Of course, in the age of Free to Play, $30 a month was not a tenable position to hold.

And now here we are, about to say farewell to individual subscriptions to SOE games as SOE All Access drops in price to $14.99 a month.

In the end, I think this could be SOE stepping into the future of PC online gaming.  As Micosoft has their Xbox Live and PlayStation has… whatever it has… I own a PS3 and couldn’t tell you… so the PC online gaming market seems likely to move towards similar deals, where a monthly fee will give players access to bundles of games and benefits.

Actually, SOE lead on that, with Station Access back in 2004, then lost their way for a bit.

And I suspect we will see other companies that focus on online games follow suit.  Blizzard already offers benefits across games when you pre-order or go for the collector’s edition of one of their titles.  And one of my predictions for 2014 is that Blizz will give WoW subscribers some tangible benefit in Hearthstone.  That could lead the way to a Blizzard-wide subscription plan that gave you access and benefits across their Battle.net titles.

How about you?  SOE’s stumbles aside, do you think XBox-live like cross-catalog subscriptions are a coming thing in the PC online gaming world?

Addendum: This looks like it might be the topic of the day, so I’ll link out to others commenting on it.