BlizzCon – Warlords of Draenor Features Announced! November 8, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: BlizzCon, Warlords of Draenor
BlizzCon is upon us and Blizzard had lots of things to talk about at the opening ceremonies.
They talked about Hearthstone and actually kind of piqued my interested in it. I like that it will be on the iPad or iPhone. I am not sure I need another game on my desktop. Michael Morheim himself stood up and gave the big Diablo III auction house mea culpa. As was mentioned before, the auction house is coming out and the game itemization is being redone. That got a lot of cheers. There was talk about the Blizzard MOBA, called Heroes of the Storm this week.
And then there was the big announcement, the next World of Warcraft expansion: Warlords of Draenor.
The lore bit is that Garrosh Hellscream is going to escape from prison and travel back 35 game years in the past and through the portal to Draenor before it was wrecked.
And, of course, we have to go stop him.
Undecided if the time travel thing is rad or weird, but fact is that this is expansion #3 with an "orcs are warmongering jerks" theme.—
Jessica Cook (@Liores) November 08, 2013
Heh, yeah. Orcs are like that I guess.
The basics are:
- 10 new levels – Level cap will be 100
- Everybody will get one insta-level 90 option with the expansion
- 7 new zones
- Garrisons – a sort of housing
- 7 new dungeons, and 2 new raids at launch
- Character model updates for original races
- Inventory improvements
- A new open world PvP zone and a few updates and changes
I took some screen shots of the live stream and, thanks to 720p quality, they are not bad. I have those plus the details I gleaned after the cut.
On to BlizzCon 2013 and the Next WoW Expansion November 5, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: BlizzCon, Free-To-Play, Jay Mohr, Mentoring, Player Housing, Warlords of Draenor
BlizzCon is coming up. In fact, it kicks off this Friday.
We did not have a BlizzCon last year. Blizzard claimed it was too busy to do the event. And it did have a lot of stuff going on last year.
The last BlizzCon was 2011, which happened to be the third BlizzCon in a row that I watched via DirecTV. While it had the big Mists of Pandaria announcement (and the subsequent groaning from just about everybody) I was kind of growing tired of the spectacle of BlizzCon. I called it the BlizzCon Blues, because a lot of the aspects of BlizzCon… the tournaments, the costume contest, the dance contest, the talent show, Jay Mohr’s jokes… don’t really change from one year to the next.
And while I don’t want to be one of those people who says that Blizzard shouldn’t hold BlizzCon unless they have a big announcement… I am sure the people who attend will have a great time no matter what is said at the keynote or in various panels… those of us on the outside looking in are mostly interested in the news and insights aspect of the convention.
Fortunately, Blizzard appears to have a big announcement teed up for us. Rumors began to fly when it was reported that Blizzard applied for a trademark on the title Warlords of Draenor. The consensus is that this will be the title for the next World of Warcraft expansion. Since this is coming from the same sources that have been correct on previous occasions, it seems likely to be the case.
People are already speculating about how this will fit into the jigsaw puzzle of lore that makes up World of Warcraft at this time, with blue space goats, pandas, and the Caverns of Time wildcard option. Telwyn and Rohan both have some ideas about where this might fit. (And likely a good call by Green Armadillo for pointing at the Burning Legion.)
For me though, the lore is a second tier issue. I will be interested in it, but this isn’t the same as Lord of the Rings Online where blue space goats would be an abomination. Blizzard owns the lore and it is what they say it is. If people can get past blue space goats and pandas, then I think we can get past whatever they have coming.
No, the primary concern for me is the mechanics of the expansion. What will it actually add to the game?
History suggests that it will be five more levels, a new overland adventure area that is about 1 level per zone, so five zones. This will be accompanied by some instances with various levels of difficulty available, raids, a battleground, and uplifts in all the various professions. There might be a new class or a new race along with an expansion of what races can be what classes. And all of this will be delivered next year around this time.
Actually, the progression of level cap changes suggests that this ought to be a 2.5 level increase, since the pattern so far has been to cut it in half every two expansions, though I doubt we’ll see that.
But 5 levels and all the rest, that is the safe bet. It is almost mathematical.
And if that is what you want, you can probably rest easy. Blizzard will probably try to add in some new game mechanic as a hook. Maybe a new trade skill or some such. We will probably find out Friday.
The question in my mind though is what should Blizzard add to World of Warcraft?
The game is about to hit its 9th anniversary and will be close to 10 by the time this expansion goes live. It has been immensely successful, the industry leader for such games, and has set the standard in many areas, like system requirements, polish, and UI responsiveness. It has been at the top of the heap for a long time, pretty much since it decisively dethroned EverQuest subscription levels in 2005.
However, being the biggest player, the company with the most market share, the 800 pound gorilla comes at a price. Being on top often means becoming obsessed with staying on top, which generally means being very conservative so as not to screw up and alienate your customers or otherwise give a competitor an easy inroad on your position. But that way tends to lead to stagnation and strange obsessions, which can be just as harmful. For example, do you think anybody asked Microsoft to please make their desktop computer interface resemble that of a tablet? No, that was all a product of Microsoft’s internal obsession about making ALL devices run on Windows, and since tablets are the latest big thing, Windows must look like a tablet! So screw you if you don’t have a touch screen or see utility in the Start menu of old.
Unfortunately for us, Microsoft still has a stranglehold on the desktop, so you have may have to go with their awful ideas since your company probably makes you run Office and Outlook and whatnot. Or your favorite game only runs on Windows.
Blizzard, however, does not have a similarly unassailable position. There are a lot of competitors in the MMO space and in the gaming space in general. Blizzard has seen its numbers slide from “over 12 million” to 7.7 million at last count, and I suspect that we will see quarterly drops until the next expansion. And even then, I would be surprised if the game popped up to beyond 9 million again unless there was something huge to bring people back.
So what could Blizzard add to the game that might be a draw?
Well, not to cut too much on Blizzard, but they are really good at taking other people’s ideas and refining them into something better. Note their homage to EverQuest at a past BlizzCon. Without EverQuest there would be no World of Warcraft. I would thus exclude anything really new and different. So any new feature would likely have to be something a competitor already has.
What would that give us as possibilities?
This one has gone back and forth. At one point Blizz said they were looking into it. Later, they said that they did not want to pull people out of the common areas and into their own little zones. Every company has their own cultural obsessions, and Blizz is obsessed with its servers looking populated and busy. They like bustling home towns and crowded zones.
So housing seems like a long shot, which is sort of a shame. I think Blizzard could do a really good job with housing, it could open up a whole new harvesting and crafting path akin to carpentry in EverQuest II. There is the option of additional storage, trophy displays, prestige housing that would take gold out of the economy, guild housing, and so on. Other games have really gone deep on this, and it is one of those things that will keep people tinkering after they have hit level cap.
Being able to go down in levels to experience content you have blown past or to be able to play with lower level friends without being the overkill king has its appeal. Right now levels are a separator in WoW. If your friends are at level cap and you are still on the 1-60 run, you won’t be playing with them any time soon.
Other games have attempted to solve this. EverQuest II has had mentoring for ages. Rift has it as well. Guild Wars 2 forces you down levels when you go into lower level zones. And the various implementations seem to mostly work. Down leveled players always seem to be somewhat overpowered.
The question is, how would you want this to work in Azeroth. In my heart of hearts, I would like to see the Guild Wars 2 method, though I think it would cause such an outcry from level cap players that it would end up hurting the game.
This worked for EverQuest and EverQuest II, as well as showing up in other games like Neverwinter. This lets you fill out your party or be able to go do multiplayer content alone.
I am not sure this would be a fit for WoW. There just isn’t any overland multiplayer content any more, is there? In EverQuest all of the overland content is pretty much multiplayer, so it was almost a required enabler to let people play when groups were becoming scarce. But I don’t think this actually solves a problem for WoW, unless you think a tanking or healing mercenary will make Dungeon Finder queue times go away for DPS players. And I do not think that it would fit in with Blizzard’s philosophy of the game. They have Dungeon Finder and Looking For Raid to help players play with other players.
Free to Play
As much as Blizz loves crowded servers, I think they like buckets of money slightly more. This change would give them more players, but every conversion is different and when you are already making buckets of money, even a strong likelihood that you could make more might not be enough. A bird in the hand and all that. Plus it would be incredibly disruptive. We have seen with other such conversions that content updates pretty much go on hiatus while your team works on free to play. And then there is simple pride. Games go free to play when they cannot cut it on the subscription model. No matter what you say, it is perceived in many quarters as a desperation move.
I could see them going on a path towards a monthly subscription getting you more. Maybe there will be a tie-in or benefits with Hearthstone or Titan or other games. But going the free route does not seem likely to me.
Player Designed Content
Cryptic has the Foundry. SOE has its Dungeon Maker in EverQuest II and is pushing ahead with Landmark, its player focused building tool for EverQuest Next. And player designed levels have a history with Blizzard in games like StarCraft and Warcraft III. That is where DotA came from. So there is precedent for this.
On the flip side, player created content is very uneven. How many Dungeon Maker modules are “level you up fast” as opposed to actual adventures? And the Foundry, while it has lead to some truly wonderful instances, does give players ample opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot of create otherwise crap content. I think Blizzard could only do this if they committed themselves to vetting every single piece of content, a job which I think is beyond their abilities.
What else is out there that Blizzard might have latched on to in the last year? I would love them to steal the music system from Lord of the Rings Online, but it won’t happen. Public quests or open zone events? Level cap heroic versions of all instances? An alternate advancement path? Twitter and Twitch.tv and other social media integration?
What will World of Warcraft need when it hits its 10 year anniversary?
And what else do you think will come out of BlizzCon this coming weekend?
Blizzard Killing The Diablo III Auction House September 17, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment.
Tags: auction house, RMT
Reality has finally sunk in down in Anaheim I guess. The in-game auction house, both gold and real money sides, will be shut down on March 18, 2014.
When we initially designed and implemented the auction houses, the driving goal was to provide a convenient and secure system for trades. But as we’ve mentioned on different occasions, it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot. With that in mind, we want to let everyone know that we’ve decided to remove the gold and real-money auction house system from Diablo III.
We feel that this move along with the Loot 2.0 system being developed concurrently with Reaper of Souls™ will result in a much more rewarding game experience for our players.
We’re working out the details of how the auction house system will be shut down, but we wanted to share the news as soon as we made the decision in order to give everyone as much advance notice as possible. Please note that the shutdown will occur on March 18, 2014. We will keep everyone informed as we work through this process.
Josh Mosqueira and I wanted to provide everyone with a little more information behind this decision, so please have a look at the video, and stay tuned to this site for further updates in the months ahead.
I was a bit surprised at how long it took them to realize (or at least admit) that the auction house was taking over the game, something that some suggested might happen before the game even launched.
As it turns out, it is better to put up with a bit of this…
…than to kill off the key game play component of your game.
At least Blizzard has recognized the issue and is acting on it. It is painful to come out and admit you have made a mistake. While there is no release date for the Diablo III expansion, Reaper of Souls, I doubt they pulled that March 18, 2014 date out of thin air. At a minimum I suspect that the change will be part of the ramp up to the expansion.
Hopefully with a re-tune of the loot drops and an expansion on the way, Diablo III will be a better game and one more worthy of its lineage.
Now, is doing this almost two years after launch going to be enough?
Blizzard – Subscribers and Independence of a Sort July 26, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Activision, Subscription Numbers
Activision-Blizzard announced some preliminary numbers in advance of their quarterly report and investors call. Earnings are up, profits are up, subscribers are down.
On the subscription watch front, it was announced that World of Warcraft dropped from 8.3 to 7.7 million subscribers since their last report, again proving that they work in a completely different scale from other MMOs. How many MMOs even have 600K paying customers? And how many could afford to lose that many?
And while a loss of 600K subscribers is a blow, warnings of ongoing subscriber attrition was brought up previously. And at least 600K is less than the 1.3 million subscribers they shed in the previous quarter.
All of which is a discussion point as those who attempt to track such things make another mark on their charts.
But the reason that there is even a preliminary report is because Activision-Blizzard is buying itself out of Vivendi.
Vivendi has been looking for ways to plunder the cash cow that is Activision-Blizzard in order to stave off its own financial woes. Now it seems that Vivendi will get some money, but will lose control of Activision-Blizzard, its ownership stake dropping from 60% to 12%.
Now, will this change alter anything for Blizzard? Bobby Kotick will still be in charge, and all the more so with an investment group he leads buying into the new situation. But as Activision-Blizzard was the cash cow in Vivendi’s eyes, Blizzard remains such in the Activision-Blizzard family. Blizzard in general, and World of Warcraft in particular, carries the company freight three quarters out of four in every fiscal year. In that fourth quarter a Call of Duty game ships an eclipses Blizzard for a bit. As long as Blizzard keeps to that role, I suspect that they will continue to operate as before. But dropping subscriptions have to be a cause of worry. There may come a point where WoW ceases to be insanely profitable. And with Titan pushed out and nothing else big on the horizon, Blizzard needs to keep Azeroth well populated for a few more years.
Azeroth Needs to Stay Strong Until at Least 2016 May 29, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, World of Warcraft.
According to Venture Beat, the Blizzard project code named Titan, the potential next big thing from the company, has been sent back to the drawing board and is now unlikely to see the light of day before 2016.
Developers have been diverted to other projects while the core team starts over.
So, World of Warcraft will be paying most of the bills at least until then, which puts a little bit of pressure on the franchise after it dropped another 1.3 million subscribers last quarter. Still insanely profitable, but that line is headed in the wrong direction.
Meanwhile, no Diablo III expansion has been announced yet. StarCraft II just got an expansion, so the next one is probably two years off. And Blizzard All-Stars, a free-to-play MOBA is reported to be coming along, but I cannot imagine that will be live before the end of the year.
So far this week has not bee full of good news for Blizzard.
There was the 1.08 patch for Diablo III, rolled out on US servers the day before yesterday, which was touted as bringing serious improvements to the game, including changes to the surprisingly popular auction house.
Unfortunately, one side effect was the introduction of a bug that allowed players to basically create gold out of thin air… or virtual thin air… thus putting the whole in-game economy in peril. I don’t think that was the auction house fix they were looking for, and continues along with Diablo III’s somewhat hard luck tale.
Blizzard jumped right on this, once they noticed it, shutting down the auction house. They have since reported that the bug has been fixed. However, there remained the question of what to do. There was talk of a complete roll-back to a pre-patch save. However, they chose to do it the hard way, opting to manually fix each account that used the bug. I have not seen any word about people being banned for using what was obviously an exploit, but I suspect there will be some sanctions.
As of this time, the auction house on US servers remains closed, and will stay so until all current auctions expire.
The updated has been fixed and should roll out without the exploit on EU and Asian servers.
Then there was the Activision Blizzard quarterly report where, after a rise in subscribers with the release of Pandaria and then holding steady the next quarter, a drop of 1.3 million subscribers was announced for the past quarter, the subscriber base moving from 9.6 million to 8.3 million players.
As has become a standard part of these sorts of announcements, it was stated that most of the losses were in China, which have a much smaller impact on revenue, it was allowed that there were subscription losses in the west and that the company expected the subscriber base at the end of the year to be smaller than it is now.
Expect nothing new for WoW this year I guess.
Bobby Kotick was quick to point out that WoW remains one of the most successful video game franchises and, no doubt, continues to be insanely profitable.
The quarterly report is available here.
Tags: Assault on Wall Street, darkfall, MegaWars III, Stellar Emperor, Twitter
Digging into the mail bag, another reminder that I haven’t felt inspired to write about much new of late.
Darkfall: Unholy Wait
Back in September of 2012 they announced that the original Darkfall would shut down on November 15th to make room for Unholy Wars, which was slated to launch on the 20th of the same month. And then… well… the Aventurine reputation needed to be maintain. So here we are, seven months after that announcement, and the game should launch next week.
Now, the press release points out that this time was well spent, that much was learned from the beta. We shall see next week. Maybe.
Blizzard Remains Steadfast
After running out my seven free days of World of Warcraft, I remained on the fence about whether it would be worthwhile to subscribe or not. And then, ten days later, I received an email from Blizz with a subject line asking me to resubscribe to the game.
I was intrigued. I wondered if Blizz might sweeten the deal now that they had me thinking about the game. A special offer might have been enough to tip the balance.
But there was no special offer. It was just a link to the standard subscription page. Blizz isn’t at a point right now where it feels the need to anything special to get people to come back.
Twitter Pushes Advertising
Twitter has decided that I am a small business and, as such, I need to advertise on their service. So I received a whole stream of messages from them offering me a free $50 advance on my advertising.
I have not taken them up on their offer, having no idea what I would even promote.
Mega Wars IV
Crimson Leaf Games, which recreated the classic CompuServe game Mega Wars III that I poked my nose into ages ago, has taken the idea a step further and created Mega Wars IV which includes a full graphical client done in Microsoft Silverlight.
Interestingly, Stellar Emperor, the version of the game that ran on GEnie, which I have also covered, went this route in the early 90s, adding on a graphical client and updating the game, thus diverging it from what stated off as its twin, Mega Wars III.
Populist Wish Fulfillment
I keep getting press releases around a film titled Assault on Wall Street. The synopsis for the picture is:
Jim is an average New Yorker living a peaceful life with a well paying job and a loving family. Suddenly, everything changes when the economy crashes causing Jim to lose his job, home and wife. Filled with anger and rage, Jim snaps and goes to extreme lengths to seek revenge for the life taken from him.
The poster shows the star, Dominic Purcell a pistol in one hand, a combat rifle in the other, with bullet riddled NYPD cars and SWAT teams deploying in the background.
So, yeah, gun violence. I guess that takes Occupy Wall Street up a notch. Let’s go kill the 1%!
Given that the only name I recognize in the cast is Eric Roberts, and that they are sending press releases to random gaming blogs, I am going to guess they couldn’t get any funding from those in the 1%.
World of Tanks Rolls On
Wargaming.net is very good about sending out regular press releases. Two big things they have coming up are the World of Tanks 8.5 update, which includes more German tanks, redone maps, and changes to what non-premium accounts can do. There is a preview over at The Mittani.
And then there is World of Tanks Blitz.
This is Wargaming.net’s attempt to bring World of Tanks to mobile platforms. Featuring 7 vs. 7 battles, I will be interested to see how they translate their Windows shooter to that mobile world.
April Fools at Blizzard – 2013 April 1, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: April Fools
April Fools at Blizzard this year is either less ambitious or more subtle than before.
Or I am missing something.
He has some new and amusing dialog and I guess is part of the tradition now. And if you go down the right conversational path, the one where you talk about sports, you can watch him try on various hats.
But I have to wonder, how many people even remember Clippy, of which Crabby is a parody.
But other than that, all I could spot was some disagreement as to when the Noblegarden event was taking place, with it either being March 31 through April 6 or April 24 through May 1. That must be funny in some way I am not getting.
The Diablo III site seems to be completely free of April Foolery, unless that thread asking Is This Game Good Yet? is some sort wry commentary. But if it wry commentary you want, there is better to be had, pointed at juicier targets. And then there is the great Diablo III non-joke from GDC.
And over at the StarCraft II site there is a somewhat predictable April Fools joke.
The Warhound was a unit slated to be part of the Terran forces in the Heart of the Swarm expansion for StarCraft II. However, it was found to be too powerful and was removed during beta.
But today’s announcement says it is back, but they have a plan to cure the balance issue.
- The Warhound has been added for Terran because robots are cool and the art is amazing
- The Warhound has been added for Zerg to remain competitive with Terran.
- The Warhound has been added for Protoss to keep Protoss players from whining about them on the forums.
There is also a Dev Q&A page about the Warhound that answers questions like why their isn’t a female Warhound as well as linking to its background story page. But at least they did something. Almost as much fun as a space cockroach.
A check of the European versions of the sites showed similar entries all around.
So did I miss something? Are they holding out for a mid-day US/evening EU reveal? Is this a year of subtle humor? Or did a busy 2012, in which they did not even have time for BlizzCon, keep Blizzard from going as far with April Fools as they have in the past?
The following links will bring you to past coverage of Blizzard April Foolery as a comparison:
Addendum – April Fools in some other online games:
Blizzard Blindsided by Diablo III Auction House Popularity March 29, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment.
Tags: auction house
While the auction houses reduced the fraud and effectively killed grey-market transactions between players and item- and gold-farming companies that hurt the online Diablo II community, Blizzard did not expect players to use them on the scale that they started to as soon as the game launched. Almost every player uses one or the other, according to Wilson, and nearly half use them regularly.
GameInformer article on Jay Wilson’s GDC 2013 Presentation
Two comments on this.
The second is, what do you mean you did not expect it? Have you guys actually played the game?
The itemization that I experienced was such that nearly every single equipment drop I got was not only many levels below being useful for my character, but also many levels below the monsters dropping it. Unlike Diablo and Diablo II, where gear you had to grow into was relatively common, I never got a drop like that in Diablo III.
So I went right to the auction house to sell the useless lower level gear in order to buy gear closer to my level. And I assumed that this was all part of the master plan to make people use the auction house. I got that sense almost right away that low level drops were all part of the scheme to prime the AH pump. He says right there that nearly every player uses the auction house at some point. The strategy totally worked!
Now they are saying that it wasn’t intentional?
I cannot tell if I should be skeptical or flabbergasted.
In the article, he said they are working on a plan to fix the auction house problem.
This I gotta see.
[Related: Green Armadillo and Player Motivation]
Wrapping Up My Seven Days of Azeroth March 25, 2013Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
Tags: Northern Stranglethorn, Stranglethorn Vale, Western Plaguelands
I wrote some about my return to the comforts of Azeroth last week, but I still had a couple more days in which to play. So I spent a bit of time wrapping up the zone now known as Northern Stranglethorn Vale.
I finished up all the quests from the rebel camp and the Nesignwary compound, the latter earning me the Green Hills of Stranglethorn achievement. However, with achievements shared across characters, I technically had it already.
I am not sure about how I feel on the achievement sharing change. On the one hand I am happy enough not feeling like I should repeat some of them or being able to divide up the burden between among characters. On the other hand, each characters story is mixed in with the others.
After those two quest hubs, there is a third down at the south end of the zone where I got in the remaining few quests for the zone achievement.
That is one I did not have before.
I actually stuck around for one final quest, Be Raptor.
That was kind of a cute one. You take control of a small raptor who has to escape from Zul’Gurub. I am not generally fond of quests that make you be somebody other than your character, but this one was simple enough. You have to get through a couple stages of evading to escape. But if you fail, you only go back to the start of a given stage rather than the whole thing again. I eventually escaped and collected a bit of upgraded equipment. You get some nice blue equipment as choices.
At that point I was done with Northern Stranglethorn and needed a new place to go. The quest givers handed me a quest to head south into the cape, which is the southern half of what was once Stranglethorn Vale. However, given how far ahead of the zone I managed to get in levels, I thought I had better seek something closer to my level.
So I headed back to Stormwind to see what the big board had to say.
More after the cut.