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Orc Villains, Best Villains – WoW Passes 10 Million Subscribers Again November 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in World of Warcraft, entertainment, Blizzard.
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IRVINE, Calif.—November 19, 2014—On November 13, millions of Azeroth’s champions enlisted for the war against the Iron Horde with the launch of World of Warcraft®: Warlords of Draenor, the fifth expansion to the world’s #1 subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.* Blizzard Entertainment today announced that as of the first 24 hours of the expansion’s availability, more than 3.3 million copies had sold-through and the game’s global subscriber base had passed 10 million, with growth across all major regions.

Blizzard Press Release

It looks like orcs might trump pandas (and destroying the old world) when it comes to igniting the WoW player base.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Warlords who get it done

I am not sure what it means when you have more than 10 million subscribers, up 2.6 million in the last month and a half, but are talking about moving 3.3 million units of the expansion in the first 24 hours.  Does that 3.3 million number include all the early sales?  Is that an indication of what the US/EU player population is, as the rest of the world was waiting for the expansion to drop? (It launched in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau today according to the press release.)

Subscriber numbers (what constitutes a subscriber is mentioned in the press release) had dropped to 6.8 million in the second quarter of 2014, down further from the slight dip to 7.6 million in the first quarter when the first blush excitement for the expansion had passed, and which was likely only that small because Blizzard said they sold through 1.5 million pre-orders of Warlords of Draenor back then to people interested in getting their insta-90s early.  Then in the third quarter subscriptions bounced back, hitting 7.4 million, with the announcement of a date for the expansion.

Now WoW is back above the 10 million mark, something we have not seen since the post-Cataclysm climb down from the 12 million subscriber high water mark before pandas appeared on the scene. (First quarter of 2012 the subscribers were listed as 10.1 million.)

Now, where will the number be in a month and a half, when we close out the fourth quarter of 2014?

Addendum: Visual aids from Twitter on subscriptions.

I am surprised that WotLK held as many subscribers as it did over its two year run.  I mean, I sat there and ground out everything in the Argent Tournament during that second year, I just didn’t think so many other people did as well.

Blizzard Offers Up 5 Days for Draenor Launch Problems November 19, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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As I suspected, once things calmed down a bit Blizzard came out with some compensation for the troubles people were experiencing with the launch of Warlords of Draenor.  This was posted in the forums earlier today.

WoW Community:

I know how much everyone was looking forward to this expansion, and once you were able to get in and start having fun, all the comments I’ve seen indicate that this is one of our best yet. But the quality of the content does not excuse the subpar launch experience we delivered, and I apologize for that.

The first two days of the expansion were not a great experience, with many of you facing high queues or significant gameplay problems. We worked around the clock to tackle the demand issues and technical challenges, and fortunately things started looking better on Saturday. While millions of you were able to get in and play over the weekend, with many already reaching level 100, others still ran into very lengthy queues, particularly on the highest-population realms.

To help address this, we’ve expanded the new instancing tech we used to improve queues on Saturday and we’re continuing the process of applying that to raise the capacity of all realms again. This will result in approximately double the prelaunch capacity on each realm, which should greatly reduce queue times for most realms if not eliminate queues altogether.

In recognition of the difficulties so many of you ran into when trying to play over the first few days, we’re adding five days’ worth of extra time to every subscription in the Americas, Oceania, and Europe that was active as of Friday, November 14. Things are already in a much better place than they were going into the weekend, so I hope you’ll now be able to focus on having a ton of fun with this expansion.

I also hope you’ll accept my apology and keep your faith in us. The support voiced by many of you as we worked through the challenges was immensely appreciated. We’re extremely grateful to be part of such a passionate community. We love World of Warcraft, and we’re very proud of this expansion, so stumbling out of the gates like this was very disappointing for all of us.

On behalf of the World of Warcraft development team, as well as everyone at Blizzard, thank you all again for your patience and understanding.

See you in Draenor.

Sincerely,
J. Allen Brack
Executive Producer, World of Warcraft

Looking at my account history… which is kind of strange, as it runs back to 2005… this 5 days will mean that Blizzard has comped my account a total of 19 days for various reasons, not including a “return for 7 days free” offer.  It is also the largest credit, the previous high water mark being a 3 day credit awarded back in November of 2008, which corresponds with the launch of Wrath of the Lich King.  I don’t remember what I might have gotten the credit for, but there were queues going on back then as well.

Blizzard – Up All Night Working on Draenor Queues November 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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We’re making preparations for the Europe maintenance beginning in just an hour, and along with hardware upgrades we will be implementing some of the performance improvements we’ve been testing. One of these is a fairly large change to the way the game world is run by the servers—expanding the phasing tech used for the Tanaan intro experience to the entire continent of Draenor. This will allow us to run multiple copies of Draenor simultaneously, spreading out server population, while attempting to keep guilds and parties within the same copy.

-Blizzard, Warlords of Draenor Launch Update

A little over 48 hours into the Warlords of Draenor launch Blizzard has upped the ante.  To counter the “we didn’t quite think this through” problems associated with too many people congregating at key spots in Draenor… problems that made the company limit server populations, thus making for horrendous queues on the more popular servers (insert my usual “shards are bad, mkay” rant here)… Blizzard is going to apply phasing, used in the intro experience to keep players more spread out, to all of Warlords of Draenor.

We’re not quite getting the zone copies that SOE has had going since 2004 to accommodate players crowding into specific areas of the game, something I mentioned might be handy in my post on Thursday.

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea zone

But we are getting something akin to it.

Blizzard had server down time last night to make this change and upgrade hardware, and so far this morning things are looking… better.

My daughter has some characters on a high population server, and hasn’t been able to get on there because the server queue has consistently been 4K or higher.  This morning, no queue.  Things seem to be better according to Blizzard.  There are still problems, I still see some servers locked, but huge queues do not seem to be as prevalent.

We’re continuing to monitor realms and track any individual issues as they occur. We’re still seeing some issues occurring now that Europe is in their peak playtime, but with greatly reduced frequency compared to before maintenance.

All realms are now set back up to their normal population caps. Queues being experienced now are due to demand beyond what the realms are normally capable of handling, and we’ll be looking into how to reduce them further.

Now, how will this play out through the weekend?  Since they have made garrison’s an OCD delight by giving us followers and missions to check up on, queues will cause some of us grievous mental distress if we can’t get in and take care of business.

I'd just sit here and play Hearthstone if this worked

I’d just sit here and play Hearthstone if this worked

Are you able to get into the game now?

Warlords of Draenor Day November 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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The date has finally arrived.  Warlords of Draenor, the long awaited 5th expansion for World of Warcraft has landed.  And if, like me, you were somewhat underwhelmed by the attention the game got inside of BlizzCon, rest assured that outside Blizzard was spending a lot of time drawing attention to the game.

WoD ad in Times Square

WoD ad in Times Square

The expansion launched in the US at midnight my local time, and midnight CET in Europe.  Blizz had a mini FAQ about the launch and how to access it, assuming you’re not already deep into the expansion.  I did not stay up for the launch (despite my daughter’s pleas) or play hooky for day one fun.  I will get online to see it tonight.  Everything should have settled down a bit by then, as there were reports of servers going down, denial of service attacks, and the usual set of “too many players in one location” problems.

I am looking for the announcement that somebody in Europe hit level 100 about the time I went to bed last night and some larger count of players who arrived at the level cap before I awoke. (Yeah, this.)

I spent the evening running up to the launch getting my rogue, mentioned in yesterday’s post, up to level 85 and into Pandaria.  I would say that there is something unique about getting into one expansion just hours before the next one launches, but there were a bunch of people also in the process of leveling up one last character before WoD.  I do not know if I am just on an especially active server or if that whole cross-server zones is tricking me, but I was never alone in a zone pretty much all the way up the ladder.  There was always somebody on the same quest, or running through the same quest hub.

Of course, the joined servers and cross-server zones might not seem like the best idea today, with people pouring back into the game.  This is where SOE’s ability to spawn multiple versions of zones pays off, awkward though it can sometimes be when you and your friends aren’t all in the same zone.

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Many versions of the Frostfang Sea

Piled with heirloom gear, going from level 83 into Pandaria did not take much time, so I looked into getting in on a Garrosh run.  If I had been an ilevel 550 or above healer, I could have gone on a mythic level run, but as an ilevel 515 retribution pally I couldn’t even find a normal mode group.

Earl was on as well, and he defended the honor of the guild, finishing up the epic quest line… which earns both a personal and a guild achievement… with just 7 hours to go before the expansion, at which point her turned around and got in on a Garrosh run and walked away with an ilevel 550 1h heirloom sword that will grow with him to level 100.  He will be a mighty DPS tank in our group… not that he hasn’t been up until now.

Ula had also found some time to get online and hit 600 in tailoring, finishing off the last tradeskill we needed for another guild achievement.  That also unlocked the heirloom pants at the guild vendor.  Trianis made it to Pandaria without heirloom pants!  Are they going to boost heirlooms to work until level 90 at some point, the way they boosted them from 80 to 85 previously?

Anyway, the dark portal looms, Draenor awaits, the focus of the game for probably the next two years will be on this map.

The Draenor you have

The Draenor you have

I also logged into EVE Online for a little while last night to participate in an operation.  I had not logged in for nearly a week (good thing that we are still deployed at the same location, or I would be a little lost lamb in the middle of Omist) and I suspect that I won’t be logging in this weekend unless there are serious problems with Warlords of Draenor.

Addendum: I noticed that when Mists of Pandaria came out I put up a list of the expansions and the gap of time between each, so I figured I should carry that forward.

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days

Average time between expansions: 728 days, up 8 days from the previous launch.

A Vaguely Dissatisfying BlizzCon… For Me November 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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If I were to take at random a set of video game genres and stack rank them from those that interest me most to those that interest me least, it might look a little something like this:

  • MMORPG
  • Action RPG
  • RTS
  • Online CCG
  • MOBA
  • FPS

That sort of defines what I am looking for from one particular company.  I realize that is just me, but that is the perspective I have.

So when one particular company runs their big convention and their priority list is pretty much that list turned upside down, well… what are you going to do?

And such was BlizzCon.

Before it hit, I wrote up my dreams and desires about what might be said.  This was the way it played out viewed through the lens of my own expectations and perceptions.

World of Warcraft

They keynote opened up talking about WoW.  Here we were, 10 years down the road from the launch of Blizzard’s biggest game, and 20 years gone from the launch of the Warcraft franchise with the first of the RTS titles, Warcraft: Orcs vs Humans.

A decade of this

10 Years of Azeroth as MMO

There was lots of cheering and some nostalgia and then they packed that all away in a box and ignored Azeroth for the rest of BlizzCon.

Yes, there were two WoW panels.  One was pretty much an “in case you missed it” refresher course in things already widely discussed about the upcoming expansion and 6.0 patch.  I mean, we’d been playing with 6.0 for a couple weeks at this point, so this was more by way of “yes, you discovered what we changed, and this is why we did it” sort of thing.  And then there was the Q&A panel, which I haven’t watched yet, and I am not sure that I will.  I tend to find audience Q&A painful to watch, though I have to admit that WoW nerds have been some of the more polite, literate, and to the point in their questioners in past years, so I should probably give it a shot, or at least read the transcription.

There was also a panel about the Warcraft movie, which I enjoyed.  There was a lot of enthusiasm for how the story was being presented, 50% human and 50% orc perspective.  In fact, there was a lot of enthusiasm about most things, including the fact that key members of the production team are World of Warcraft fans.  But, being something of a plug for the movie, nobody had any business being anything but enthusiastic on that stage.  And, like so many things Blizzard does, they were talking at BlizzCon about something more than a year out.  Coming to theaters in March of 2016.

There was also the premiere of the Looking for Group documentary about WoW, which I haven’t gotten to yet, but it is up on YouTube when I have the time.

So I guess I got the answer to the big question, which was, “What will Blizzard talk about when it comes to WoW, what with the next expansion less than a week off?”  The answer was that Blizzard decided to talk about WoW as little as possible.  Which, I have to say, if you’re all about WoW relative to their other titles, was a bit of a pill.  There was nothing forward looking about WoW.  There was no vague plan to reassure player that they wouldn’t be treated to another 13 month content drought, nothing to indicate that expansions wouldn’t continue to drop at the current rate of one every couple of years, and certainly no mention whatsoever of what the next expansion might be.  Nothing was said that might distract from this week’s Warlords of Draenor launch, which mostly meant saying nothing at all. I think I WoW got more screen time outside of BlizzCon than in it, as commercials were running on TV and at the movies.  My wife and I saw Interstellar on Saturday and there was a Warlords of Draenor ad in with the trailers.

But fuck it, we get the expansion in a couple days, that ought to be enough, right?  I’ll be happy.  Hell, I was happy still pottering around and cleaning stuff up in preparation for the expansion.

I did get one reminder of the state of things during the keynote.  During the talk about the origins of Warcraft and how it got to where it is today, there was a clear statement about how World of Warcraft was the evolution of the franchise.  Bascially, WoW is Warcraft IV, and we are unlikely to ever see Azeroth done as an RTS again.

Diablo III

On the Diablo franchise front, things were about the same as World of Warcraft, only without a movie or a significant anniversary to talk about, and there had already been an expansion this year.  So basically some “Hey, isn’t Diablo III doing well!” and then off to other topics.  There was nothing new.  So I guess it is a good thing I am more of a WoW fan or I might be feeling really left out.

StarCraft

The one and only remaining RTS franchise at Blizzard finally got some news about the Legacy of the Void expansion.  The whole thing has been held up in an effort to really try to capture the Protoss point of view or some such.  And, honestly, they didn’t give a release date or anything, so we are probably looking at November/December of 2015 at the earliest.

But they said “My life for Aiur!” a lot on stage.

And they mentioned that StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void would be a stand-alone expansion, so you wouldn’t have to purchase StarCraft II and the Heart of the Swarm expansion in order to play it.  They also announced a new cooperative play mode, where two players control the same base.  A friend of mine was excited about this feature, as he and his wife like to play StarCraft II.  However, I do wonder if attempting to control the same set of units and resources will bring them closer or become one of those things, like trying to assemble Ikea furniture together, than can really test a relationship.  We shall see, whenever it ships.

Hearthstone

Blizzard’s collectible card game got plenty of attention.  It will be coming to the Android platform in early 2015 and its first expansion, Gnomes vs. Goblins is also headed our way in December, dropping 120 new cards into the mix and no doubt really kicking off a Magic: The Gathering-like arms race when it comes to cards.  Only buying in will keep you competitive.  Since I have played exactly enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed in WoW, this all sort of washed over me.

Heroes of the Storm

I have to admit that Heroes of the Storm looked good.  My first thought, as they were showing demos, was that you could make a really good Warcraft IV on that engine, forgetting already what I mentioned above on that topic.  Since we’re getting down to the lowest rungs of my hierarchy, it is pretty safe to say that MOBAs are not my thing, for the same reason that battlegrounds aren’t my thing in WoW.  I do not particularly enjoy fighting the same battle over and over again.  I had a League of Legends account, but I found the game tedious after a couple of matches and my user name has long since been recycled and returned to the pool, though I am sure they are still counting me on the roll of total registered users.

Heroes of the Storm, in addition to looking good, has the advantage of pulling heroes I know from Blizzard lore.  But is that enough to make me play it?  Anyway, there is a semi-solid date for closed beta (December) and some hand waving about dates beyond that.  Stay tuned I guess.

Overwatch

This was the new hotness for Blizzard, their first new IP since… StarCraft?  It is a first person shooter.  Everybody stared in amazement for a moment at Overwatch

Look, a new thing!

Look, a new thing!

…and then collectively said, “Team Fortress 2.”

Well, everybody but me.  I was stuck thinking, “Wait, wasn’t “Overwatch” from Half-Life 2?

They run Earth, right?

They run Earth, right?

Still, reductio ad valvium or some such.

And, yes, I think the art style and the fact that Blizzard was piling into the FPS arena in a big way made most people jump straight to the idea that Blizzard is ripping off Valve to flesh out its game lineup.  It was certainly an easy jump to make on the surface.

However, I think Blizzard is going for something a bit different here, at least as far as I could read.  Granted, I am long beyond my FPS days and if you check my Steam profile you will see that I have downloaded Team Fortress 2 but have played less than an hour of it.  Shooters and the quick reactions required to be anything more than a target are in my past.  But TF2 feels like a classic FPS game with its modes and classes.  The whole thing is streamlined, but we’ve seen the types before.

With Overwatch, Blizzard seems to be going less for the classic FPS and more for something like a First Person Shooter MOBA.  FPSMOBA?  With what I heard… six players per team, specific scenarios, more potential heroes to play than slots on a team… it sounds more like a mix-and-match special teams game.  And, as such, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up financing itself in the MOBA style by being free to play but then selling the latest overpowered heroes, so that anybody wishing to stay competitive feels they have to buy in.

Or maybe I mis-read the whole thing.  I have to admit that between the big new game being a shooter and everybody and their brother saying, “TF2 clone!” my eyes began to glaze over and I went back to actually playing video games rather than watching people talk about them.

Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday

That is a saying from the old days of NASCAR, back when they drove cars that at least started their lives on the same factory floor as the ones sold at the dealer showroom.  Back then, a marquee that won races could look forward to a boost in sales and the various car companies would produce special models just to help them dominate on the track. (See: Galaxie 500, Torino Talladega, or Superbird)

I bring this up because I was a bit taken aback at how much of the BlizzCon coverage was devoted esports.  Three of the BlizzCon video streams were pretty much devoted to nothing else,  and the other two spent some time there as well, to the point that panels felt few and far between relative to watching other people play video games.  That is not my thing at all.  Like real world sports, I can watch for a while, but I tend to want to go and do something else… like actually play video games.  But there are plenty of people who seem to enjoy it and who are selling… or in many cases overselling… how popular it is.

So I started to ask myself if games like League of Legends are popular and thus become esports, or if games become popular because they get pushed as esports.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I think at this point we can divine what Blizzard thinks.  Just about every game they have now has some esports aspect, from the WoW arena to Heroes of the Storm, with Overwatch looking to be focused on the esports thing as well.  Diablo III, with only a seasonal ladder, seems to be the odd man out, so I suppose an early prediction for next BlizzCon is a change to that.  Blizzard seems to be convinced that being an esport, or at least a popular esport, drives sales.  Sell on Monday.

Which I suppose is fine, so long as they don’t leave their WoW players high and dry for another long stretch.  We shall see.

Anyway, BlizzCon has passed, leaving not much of a ripple for me.  I will have to console myself with a brand new expansion come Thursday, and all the last minute tasks I am suddenly feeling compelled to finish before then.  I played little else aside from WoW all weekend, a situation unlikely to change during the near future.

What Will BlizzCon 2014 Bring? November 5, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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BlizzCon is just a couple days away at this point and my mind is starting to wander onto what might be on display for the big event.

BlizzCon2014

Blizzard is at a pretty high point right now.  The Activision-Blizzard report for the 3rd quarter of 2014 is just out and there were record profits, the boost in WoW subscribers, and portents of future success.  The good times just keep going.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Blizzard Q3 2014 Slide

Blizzard Q3 2014 Slide

Meanwhile, third party analysts at SuperData are claiming that Hearthstone, Blizzard’s “dumbed down” collectible card game, has already brought in more revenue this year than MMO competitors such as Lord of the Rings Online or EVE Online made in all of 2013. (For specific definitions of MMO.)  It launched when?  April?

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

SuperData 2014 YTD Numbers

But while that is all great for the folks down in Anaheim, it also steals at least a bit of potential thunder for BlizzCon.  The subscription number for Q3 has been out for a while now , we know there is an expansion coming, and Titan has been out of the picture for a while now.  What will the BlizzCon keynote be about?  You can’t just have Mike Morhaime up on stage rolling around in a giant pile of money.  As I have said before, BlizzCon doesn’t have to have any big announcements.  It can just be a big party for the attendees.  But if you’re selling virtual tickets to the live stream for $40, you do have to have something for the folks at home besides an in-game pet and some empty talk about how great things are going.

So I am going to, as I tend to do, take a stab at what they might talk about.  Not because I feel I have any special or deep insight into Blizzard, but because it is a chance to collect my thoughts about what Blizzard looks like from the outside.  Plus a few wild ass guesses to laugh about later are always fun.  Naturally there are a few potential BlizzCon topics to cover.

World of Warcraft

This BlizzCon is happening on what might be literally the worst of all possible dates for WoW.  Big subscription and financial news is out of the bag.  The new expansion, Warlords of Draenor, will go live in less than a week after BlizzCon ends.  The World of Warcraft 10 year anniversary is a just a couple weeks down the road.

A decade of this

A decade of this

What do you talk about on the Azeroth front that we aren’t already being inundated with?  This is the big money maker, the foundation that funds every new thing that the company does.  They dare not ignore it or give it short shrift.

The one thing they cannot talk about is the next expansion.  As was pointed out on the Cat Context podcast a while back, it would be pretty dumb to try to direct excitement towards the next big thing when you’re still banking on more people buying the big thing you’re about to release.  Scott Adams has re-used the joke about the company killing current revenue by telling customers that they have something even better in development.  If you have a strong message, do not derail it by confusing the issue.

So my guess is that we will be treated to a lot of nostalgia.  Blizzard, with WoW subscriptions well past their peak, is starting to cultivate nostalgia.  Not to the degree that SOE does.  Blizzard could steal some more ideas from SOE on that front.  But they are starting to acknowledge that the installed base, people who have played WoW, are the easiest people to get to subscribe.  There will likely also be something special for people who are subscribed and who log in during the 10 year anniversary, something they have not yet announced.  The pet is fine, but I suspect there will be more, something to drive people to opt-in just to get it.

As for looking forward, which they will have to do at some point, I suspect that we will get a vague framework around WoW content going forward in an attempt to make us feel that the company won’t again leave players hanging for more than a year without any new content.  Group content for Warlords of Draenor looks a bit light at launch, which is no doubt because they have held some back to dole out at later dates when the user base has again clumped up at the level cap.  But it will be pretty loose in terms of commitment, Blizz no doubt still smarting from the comments at last BlizzCon where Tom Chilton said they were further along with WoD than they had been with Mists of Panderia when it was announced, leading a great many players hopeful of a launch before the summer.  Some people were certainly saying, “No way!” when I broached the idea of a November release back in January, the expectations having been inadvertently set.

Another thing they will not talk about is any change to the subscription model.  The game is still making money by the truckload, there is no incentive at all to messing with that.  The game may no longer be at its peak when it comes to subscribers, but it is still the game that distorts perspective when it comes to counting paid subscribers.

Diablo

The Diablo franchise, for all the problems it has had since the launch of Diablo III, is still a solid money maker.  It is doing well on consoles.  It would be the star of many studio lineups, but in the house of Blizzard it has to live in the shadow of WoW.

I expect that Blizzard will have realized not only the error of its ways when it came to the auction house, but also how they handled Diablo II.  Blizzard let Diablo II whither on the vine after one expansion.  They could have easily rolled a couple more expansion, a mod development kit, special play styles and any number of other things if they had focused on the game.  So I think we will hear about medium and long term plans for Diablo III.

In the medium term, by mid-2015, there will be some content updates to keep the hardcore players active and sweet on the game, while for the long term there will be another expansion announced.

Hearthstone

Hearthstone should be easy.  It is the new kid.  There is much still to be exploited.  I imagine there will be a new expansion announced and plans for new play modes and details around new platforms to be supported and just a general celebration of how well it is doing.  Hearthstone is still too young to be looking for something big.

StarCraft

If there isn’t a StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void ship date announced, I say StarCraft II players should just riot.  Just burn the place down.

Seriously though, if Blizzard can’t get off the dime for a StarCraft II expansion, I don’t know what to say.

On the flip side, I guess I shouldn’t expect it to take less time than the last expansion, Heart of the Swarm, which hit the shelves nearly three years after StarCraft II.  And, frankly, I do not know how well StarCraft II is doing in the grand scheme of things.  The original was the be all, end all of esports back in its day, the national obsession of Korea.  StarCraft II has to live in a world where League of Legends and DOTA 2 are things, where the old school RTS model feels a bit tired, under the shadow of its illustrious predecessor, and in a company that is largely financed by an MMORPG which is trying to jump on the MOBA train as well.

In that contexts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t hear anything at all about StarCraft II.

Heroes of the Storm

Heroes of the Storm is, to my mind, the other easy/predictable one.  It will, I suspect, echo how they played Hearthstone last year at BlizzCon.  Lots of talk.  A vague timeline to launch.  A harder date for a wider beta.  Maybe something special to entice WoW players to give it a try.

That last one will probably wait for launch.  Again, from the Hearthstone launch playbook, give WoW players something shiny for trying the game and making it through some basic level of play.  I’d do that for another mount.  It was the only reason I downloaded and played Hearthstone.  And while the game did not stick with me, I am sure it was worth putting out a mount for those that did convert and spend money.

And, in the grand Blizzard scheme of things, they will announce this as if they were alone in the MOBA market.

Warcraft

This is where I go out on a limb.  A limb attached to a tree of crazy.

We are at the 10 year anniversary of World of Warcraft, but we are also at the 20 year anniversary for the Warcraft franchise.  What were you doing in 1994 when Warcraft: Orcs and Humans came out?  I wasn’t big on the game, but I had a lot of friends that were, and by the time Warcraft II came out I had to buy a copy because that was what we were playing at the office on Friday nights.  It was somewhat eclipsed by StarCraft as an RTS, but Warcraft is at the root of Blizzard’s success.  And while WoW has carried the franchise torch for a decade now, there is still some calling for the past iterations, before it was an MMO.  It has been a long time since Warcraft III.

Arthas and Jaina and dead murlocs

Arthas and Jaina before WoW

So my radical prediction is an announcement that Warcraft IV is under development as a story driven RTS RPG that will attempt to evolve (steal) in a new direction.  This will, of course, be in a symbiotic relationship with World of Warcraft, with lore details from one feeding into the other.

Wildcards?

Will there be something new from Blizzard?  Everything above, even my nutty Warcraft IV prediction, is playing to past strengths, working with the three franchises that essentially make up the three pillars of Blizzard.  Could they have something new in the wings?  With the demise of Titan, I suspect not.  But that is also the complete outsiders view.

What do you think Blizzard will announce at BlizzCon?

And what do you want them to announce, even if it is unlikely?

 

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.