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Slammed in Nagrand August 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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After finishing Terokkar Forest last week I was feeling a bit optimistic about the next zone on my Loremater project checklist.  I was headed to Nagrand.

Nagrand Map

Nagrand Map

I was optimistic for a few reasons.  The first was because Nagrand is a zone that I seem to carry some fondness for in the back of my brain.  I remember doing the Kurenai faction grind, which is pretty easily accomplished if you have a yen for slaughtering ogres and collecting their war beads.  I finished that effort and have all of the talbuk mounts to prove it.  And while Hemet Nesingwary was lurking out there in the zone, what could he possibly do to me that he hadn’t done a dozen or so times before?

Hemet's Camp/Crash Site

Hemet’s Camp/Crash Site

The second reason was because I was already underway in the chase for the 75 quests needed for the Nagrand achievement.  Finishing up Terokkar required me to start in on Nagrand to pick up a quest line that would lead back to Terokkar.  So I was starting 10 quests up.  Go me.

Finally, Nagrand is kind of a pleasant zone, made up of rolling green hill with some rivers surrounded by hills, which keeps you from thinking about the color of the sky.

Flying in Nagrand

Flying in Nagrand

There are only a few ogre mounds and floating rocks and other oddities that mark much of the terrain of Outland.  And even the floating rocks are covered in green turf.

What could go wrong?

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Are We All in the Draenor Beta Yet? August 23, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Congratulations, you’ve been selected to participate in the beta test of World of Warcraft®: Warlords of Draenor™!

So said the email that arrived earlier this week.

Some war chiefs

Some war chiefs squeeze into the picture…

Yes, nearly two months after the beta started (but more than two months before it goes live), the net appears to have been cast wide for testers.  At the same time I got the email, one also came for my daughter’s account and two other people I know also got an invite this past week.  All we have in common is being subscribed, opting in for betas on Battle.net, and having pre-ordered the expansion.

You can download the client now! Be ready to log in to the game from Friday, June 27, at 2:00 PM PDT, when new content will be available to play.

As a beta test participant, you’ll experience the new content and features of Warlords of Draenor before the expansion is released. Over the course of testing, you’ll venture through the Dark Portal, establish your Garrison, and fight back against the Iron Horde!

Install is pretty easy now too.  The new Blizzard Battle.net combined launcher keeps track of your installs for you and will pull new ones down.  So if you have been given beta access, there are no codes or anything, you just select the beta and tell it to install.

Install now... or wait?

Install now… or wait?

My daughter was, of course, dying to install it on her system.  I, on the other hand, am debating my usual pattern of averting my eyes from anything I’ve already decided on.  I’ve pre-purchased the expansion, so I am going to play, there is no doubt.  Do I spoil that first day of discovery in November by running around in the expansion now?

For now I think I am going to stick to my plan.  I have a project under way in Azeroth already, so I am not starving for some new content.  I think it is best to keep things fresh.

I will just have to try not to listen to my daughter too much.  She is very excited about the new character models and she keeps trying to tell me about garrisons.

Better put on my headphones.

Two Shy in Terokkar Forest August 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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The chase for the Loremaster title continues in Outland.  Having decided to go through the unfinished zones the hard way, at level with a character new to each zone, it was time to get started.  My rogue, Trianis, ran through some of Hellfire Peninsula in order to gear up a bit and get to level 62 so that quests would be available, then headed into Terokkar Forest.

Map of Terokkar Forest

Map of Terokkar Forest

I will start off by stipulating that everything I bitched about while doing Bloodmyst Isle is present in Terokkar Forest as well; too many “kill 12 things” quests, the “kill 12 things” quests where there are only 15 things so if two people are trying to do the quest you start to hate each other, horrible drop rates for quests that require drops, having to run back and forth across the zone, being sent to kill minions and running back to the quest giver only to be told you now have to kill the boss behind all the now respawned minions, too many quests available to the player at one so that any story thread gets lost, and at least three escort quests where the NPC seems to actively seek out hostiles.

It is all there in the Blizzard of 2007, “People like quest? Then we will drown them in quests!” vision of how to make an MMO.

As I have said before, I have pretty much bought into Blizzard’s more recent vision of how to do a zone, where they limit you to two or three quests at a time to keep the story clear, pop up the “kill the boss” quest right then and there once you have killed the minions (or at least put the minions in combat with some of your allies so you don’t have to clear the field every time you need to pass through), and do not rely quite so heavily  “go kill a dozen foozles while we figure out where to send you next” mechanics.

And before you ask, no I don’t hate The Burning Crusade.  It has/had some of the best dungeon content in the game.  The instance group had quite a time there.  It is just the solo, overland quest philosophy that aches now even more than it did back then.

Anyway, all of that is there and… at least from this point forward… I will try not to dwell on those aspects of the zone.  They were at least mitigated by having access to a flying mount (though I started to yearn for the faster mounts after a few round trips) and playing through with a rogue who could at least stealth through bad guys at need.

So on to the zone… after the cut.

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Warlords of Draenor – Expendables Style August 17, 2014

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

Quote of the Day – Prescience at GDC 2007 August 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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…because of wow, and all the dumb money and all the publisher pressure, there’ll be lots of games that shouldn’t have been MMOs but would have been great boxed products. Lots of publishers are pushing for that subscription pie, but they’ll fail.

-Rob Pardo,  MMOs Past, Present, and Future Panel at GDC 2007

Back in early March of 2007 I wandered up to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  I grabbed an expo pass to go up and meet up with Brent from VirginWorlds and a couple of other people, as well as scouting around to see what I could see on the expo floor.

GDC2007Logo

It wasn’t a great expedition on my part.  I was coming down with a cold or something.  I spoke to a few people, but did not hang around very long.  It wasn’t a GDC where I hung around to have dinner with anybody.

But on the way out I happened by the booth where they were selling what was essentially a pre-purchase of the audio from various panels.  There were a couple of different career tracks that you could order, and one looked particularly interesting, so I put down my credit card and ordered it.

Some time later I received it, ripped it to iTunes, and listed to the whole thing.   And then I forgot about it.  My iTunes library has more than 7,000 various items in it, so things can get lost.

Last weekend I was running through a list of tracks, looking for something interesting when I came across the audio I ordered for 17 panels on the whatever track it was and started listening to bits of it.  There was a panel on Korean MMOs and how they succeed and rant session that really laid open some astounding day one problems with Windows Vista.

And then there was the panel titled MMOs Past, Present, and Future.

Just looking at the list of names on the panel… Raph Koster, Gordon Walton, Mark Jacobs, Rob Pardo, Mark Kern, and Daniel James… and you have to marvel at the breadth of  experience and influence thay have had on the MMO world.  All that was missing is somebody from SOE to represent EverQuest.  And they were there to talk about lessons learned and the future of MMOs at what was something of a transition point in the genre.

Right then, in March 2007, Blizzard had recently launched their first expansion for World of Warcraft and sales were booming.  Star Wars Galaxies had launched a few years back and had done well, but had not eclipsed EverQuest, a crime for which it was then was put through the NGE. Vanguard was faltering, but still wasn’t part of SOE yet.  The Wii was still a big deal.  Lord of the Rings Online had yet to launch and was just in open beta.   It was that age of expectation I wrote about the other day in reference to Vanguard, where we were getting a new top dog every few years.

And this group of heavy hitters who all influenced the genre in their own ways, chose to wade in on the subject, leading to some great quotes.  The Rob Pardo quote at the top seemed the most prescient, though Daniel James seemed to have a good sense of things as well.  There was also a lot of focus on polish, echoing what Rob Pardo said six months before at the Austin Game Conference. (I remembered off the cuff that Brent had transcribed that 8 years back.)  And lest you think Rob Pardo was the only one hitting that note, there is this:

I don’t think big media companies will be able to execute their way out of a paper bag. A lot of people will lose their shirt in this space.

-Daniel James

and:

Here come the mass media, and they’re shouting, omg we wanna be just like World of Warcraft. Here’s a lot of money, make a great game, but there’s only a handful of people who know how to make it really well. I’m predicting disaster.

-Mark Jacobs

Though that one might be a bit mitigated by his statements that there will be another WoW, that an MMO will come along and beat WoW.  And that could still happen, but I get the sense that Mark had a shorter time frame in mind.  At least he said that he didn’t think Warhamer Online would be the game that beat WoW.  And there was Gordon Walton on the panel, listening to all of this, who then went off to Star Wars: The Old Republic which at one point EA said was going to hit 11 million subscriptions. a clear “beat WoW” number financed by a dump truck of money.  SWTOR has been a success in the long term, just not by any metric EA chose in advance.

All and all it was a good panel to listen to, both back then and seven years down the road.  But how to share it with people?

If you are a GDC member, which costs a hefty $500 a year, you can find it in the GDC Vault.  There are some free sessions available, but this one is a members only selection.

So I dug around for transcripts, and found a pretty good one over at Wonderland Blog, which covers most of the key quotes.  It is missing some of the intro and clips Raph’s quote about how people keep just remaking Diku MUD and Lambda MOO, but most of the meat is there.

 

 

Whither Outland? August 15, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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After finishing up the 1-60 achievements for my Loremaster project, culminating with the Bloodmyst Isle run, I hit a bit of wall in my effort.  I can be a very goal oriented person, but once the goal has been achieved I sometimes drop right off.  So while I had a lot of fun going through all of the zones I had not previously finished after Cataclysm, I was now facing a new goal in the form of another set of zones in Outland.  Five of the seven level 60-70 zones from The Burning Crusade,waited for me.

Outland Map

Outland Map

Those five zones held a total of 434 quests to be done.

  • Terokkar Forest  62-65 – 63 quests
  • Nagrand  64-67 – 75 quests
  • Blade’s Edge Mountains 65-68 – 86 quests
  • Netherstorm 66-70 – 120 quests
  • Shadowmoon Valley  67-70 – 90 quests

After Bloodmyst Isle I was not ready to face that, so I slept for a bit.  My WoW play time pretty much dropped off a cliff.  If it had not been for Darkmoon Faire, it might have dropped to zero.

But this week revived my spirits a bit.  With the release date announcement coming, I knew it would also put a limit on how much time I had to screw around with old stuff before the fresh, new expansion fun began.  So the question had to be answered: How was I going to deal with Outland?

The easiest path was to just dig through some of my higher level characters who had already made it through the expansion and use them to finish up whatever zones they were close to being done with.  I have characters that are within 25 quests of being done for the first three of the zones listed.  That would rush me through some of it, but would leave me two zones I left to run.

The downside of that plan is the fact that running zones with a high level takes a lot of the fun out of things.  One shotting mobs gets old… and annoying when you have a quest that requires you to get them down to 20% health and apply a gizmo to them… and is a sure fire way to turn the whole thing into a numbers game.

The other option was to draw from a set of characters I had ready for Outland… I ended up my 1-60 run with a level 58 Monk, a level 59 Warrior, and a Level 61 Rogue… press through the early bits… I already have Hellfire Peninsula and Zangarmarsh done… and take on the zones at level.

The real upside to this plan, beyond doing the quests at level so as to feel some connection to things, is that it feels like it might be a perfectly timed review of the Outland content before Warlords of Draenor shows up and presents a different view of these zones.

A Better Draenor vs. Outland map

Draenor vs. Outland map

To test this out I brought my level 61 Rogue, Trianis, through the portal… soon to be “the old portal” I suppose, though with time travel it might just be “the other portal” or some such… to see if I was really ready.

On a bombing mission before we had the whole vehicle thing...

On a bombing mission before we had the whole vehicle thing…

Things went okay, though my good feelings were mitigated by a couple of factors.

The first was that Hellfire Peninsula is literally the most familiar place in Outland for me.  As the starting, kick-off zone, I have been through at least the first half of it with every single character over 60, just to gear up some before running instances if nothing else.  So I knew the story, I knew which quests out of the big pile to do in which order to avoid retracing my steps repeatedly, I knew where the named mobs hung out even without the little skull on the mini-map,  and I knew exactly where to find those damn prayer beads for the exorcism.  (Not to mention what to do during the exorcism, which is confusing even if you have read the quest text.)

Plus, having hit level 60, I had the skill and access to a wide selection of flying mounts, so I was able to avoid pounding back and forth through the same mobs.

And, being a rogue helps.  The whole stealth thing lets you bypass trash and get straight to the point.  Plus, at level 60, I got the “I Win!” button… or skill.

Cloak and Dagger...

Cloak and Dagger…

I chose this skill after hitting level 60 because… well… it is yet another reason why people who don’t play rogues hate them.

I just have to stealth myself within 40 yards of my target and activate one of my “Hey, surprise, gotcha!” skill and I am teleported directly behind the mob and get that first attack pretty much for free.  And with at level mobs, my pair of heirloom weapons, and a crit, that can be a one-shot kill.  Even I hate me for having access to that sort of skill.

So I was able to carve a path through the zone, upgrade his gear, and get him to level 62 in fairly short order.  Now I have to find my way to the starting quest for Terokkar Forest, the first zone on the list.  My memories are pretty sparse when it comes to that zone.  There are some blood elves and a big spider, right?

Yeah, that one...

Yeah, that one…

That screen shot was taken back in 2008.

We shall see if I have a pre-WoD tour of Outland in me.  If I can get on that bicycle, there will be a few more zone touring posts.

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

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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The age of the whimsical panda is over…

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

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

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

Metzen stands up

Metzen stands up

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

Coming soon - A Dark Portal

Coming soon – A Dark Portal

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

(direct link)

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

Just three more months to wait.

World of Warcraft – 10 Years 10 Questions August 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest II, World of Warcraft.
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Over at ALT:ernative chat there is a survey request centered around the impending World of Warcraft ten year anniversary.  Since bloggers do it for an audience, I will answer the questions in the form of a blog post (as bloggers were encouraged to do.)  You are encouraged to respond as well.  Please go to the site linked for recommended response methods.

Victory over VanCleef

Victory over VanCleef 2006

1.Why did you start playing Warcraft?

Back in the day a number of people I knew from EverQuest started cajoling me to come over and take a look at WoW.  They had left EverQuest, spent a month or so in EverQuest II, then hopped to WoW, never to return to either SOE title in any serious way.  Meanwhile, Gaff and I and a pack of TorilMUD players stuck with EQII.  In March of 2005 I gave in to the calls to come try WoW, as EQII was having problems and Vanguard wasn’t ready yet.

I did not like WoW all that much on my first venture, leaving after two months.  A few months after that our EQII guild pretty much abandoned the game and came to WoW.  That was fun, but we were a bit of a group without a rudder.  It wasn’t until late 2006, just after I started this blog, that the regular instance group got together and began its journey through Azeroth (and a few other games).

2. What was the first ever character you rolled?

I rolled up a dwarven paladin on the Hyjal server, and that character was part of the reason that WoW did not stick with me initially.  I didn’t like the dwarven character models (I’ve since grown used to them), I didn’t like the dwarven starter area (snowy zones are all just bland white), and I didn’t like the Paladin (this was the age of no ranged pull for paladins, so a lot of running to mobs only to have some mage zap it before you got there).  That character has long since been deleted.

3. Which factors determined your faction choice in game?

Faction choice was entirely dictated by what my friends were playing.  I have since played characters on both factions, but everybody I knew was playing alliance when I started.

4. What has been your most memorable moment in Warcraft and why?

When our standing five person group killed Archaedas in Uldaman for the first time back in 2007.  It was our third run, it was after midnight, we had wiped already, and we won just by the skin of our teeth.

The Moment of Victory

The Moment of Victory

I found that I was shouting loud enough after the fight that I woke up my wife in the other room.

There have been lots of other memorable times, but for some reason that particular fight stands out even seven years later.

5. What is your favorite aspect of the game and has this always been the case?

The five person group content, the single group dungeon crawl.  We have a standing group that has been doing that content off and on since 2006.  That is the structure around which the game revolves for me.  I do lots of other things in game, but that is the baseline.

6. Do you have an area in game that you always return to?

Not really.  I used to have a very same-ish leveling path for characters back in the day, but Cataclysm and other changes to WoW have killed that off.  Now I am all over the place.

7. How long have you /played and has that been continuous?

I have been playing off and on since March 2005, but over too many characters on half a dozen servers such that I am not going to go add them all up.  (Plus that might be a very scary number.)  In that time there have been about 20 months where I have not been subscribed, most of that coming after Cataclysm.

8. Admit it: do you read quest text or not?

About 60% of the time I only look the objectives, which sometimes gets me in trouble.  I always seem to not pick up the magic dingus next to the quest giver that you need to finish the quest at the far end.  You fail to read, you pay the price.  If a quest is clearly related to the story being told in the zone, I usually stop and read it.

9. Are there any regrets from your time in game?

Nothing significant.  There are always plenty of, “I wish I knew this before I set out…” sorts of moments, but that goes for anything and they sometimes lead to the more memorable situations.  Failure is often more interesting that success.

10. What effect has Warcraft had on your life outside gaming?

WoW itself?  Not a lot in general, as I was playing online games for nearly 20 years before it came along.  I do play with my daughter and my mother, so there is something of an out-of-game bonding that comes along with the shared experience of the game, which is great.  My daughter and I can go on for hours in the car talking about WoW, though that does drive my wife mad at times.  And there are lots of fine memories.  I even did a video at one point about the first year of our regular instance group.

All in all, a fine game.  Four and a half stars, would play again.

You can find a listing of other blog, video, and podcast responses to these questions here.

Bloodmyst Isle – The Worst Zone in WoW August 7, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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I know I have rolled up a Draenei character or two at some point.  There was a time that, if you wanted a shaman on the alliance side of things, you had to make a Draenei.  I am sure I gave this a whirl at some point.  But when I looked through my list of characters, I could only find a Draenei death knight.  Since death knights start at level 55, that means he never went through the whole Draenei starter zone.

So Draenei have not been my thing, what with only a single blue space goat in my roster.  Now however, with the whole Loremaster project going on, it was time to return to the Draenei level 10-20 zone, Bloodmyst Isle, and the last achievement I needed for the alliance 1-60 part of the game.

Bloodmyst Isle MAp

Bloodmyst Isle Map

This should have been a doddle.  The first twenty levels are often cited as the fun part of MMOs.  It gets you out in the open air, you run through some easy-peasy quests, you level up quickly, gain new skills, and generally experience a lot of the things that seem fun before ending up in the torpor of the mid-levels. But the Draenei experience lasted hours. It was a slow, horrible death process.  So much so that I am making it the official position of this blog that Bloodmyst Isle is currently the worst zone in World of Warcraft.  And I say this with the perspective of having done most of the 1-60 zones in the game over the last year, including Silithus, the Eastern Plagulands, most of Vashjir, and the blood elf starting zone.

I get to laying out the sins of this zone after the cut.

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

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Blizzard, Diablo III, entertainment, World of Warcraft.
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Activision-Blizzard got out in front of the press today to talk about quarterly results.

ActiBlizz450

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

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

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

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

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

Slideshow Highlights for Blizzard

Slideshow Highlights for Blizzard

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