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Seven Pillars of Wisdom September 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, PlayStation 3.
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11 comments

All men dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I actually have a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom on my bookshelf, a 1938 US post-death edition of the 1926 version of the book.  It came from my grandfather, who picked it up somewhere along the way.  I took a couple shots at reading it when I was much younger, and now I am hesitant to even pick it up due to its age.

All of which is really an aside to explain the reference in the title, but which will make a bit more sense shortly.  Maybe.

Destiny launched last week.

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And while I wasn’t caught off guard like some, I would have to say that its impact on me has been minor.

I have fond memories of some past Bungie games.  Pathways into Darkness was good and many hours were spent playing Marathon and then Myth at the office.  But once Bungie got bought up by Microsoft and became just the Halo studio of the XBox division at the company, they faded from my consciousness.  It was to the point that when somebody would actually connect Bungie and Halo for me, I would get that squint on my face and say something like, “The same Bungie that made Marathon? They are still a thing?”

Anyway, through some machinations Bungie is still a thing and is free of Microsoft and the need to do things exclusively for the XBox.  That they managed to do this… though Microsoft got custody of Halo in the divorce… only to jump into bed with Activision might make your head hurt.   But, let’s face it, Bungie is a AAA developer so they need to go out and get screwed by hook up with a publisher that has the ability to move AAA titles.

So Destiny came to be.  It is a shooter of some sort… which given Bungie’s history is no big surprise… with MMORPG elements to it.  And while it is available on a platform I actually own… I still have a PlayStation 3… I doubt I will end up playing it.  Due to a variety of factors, our PS3 is used primarily for video streaming, to the point that I cannot remember when we last played a game on it.

Let’s see, so far I have a T. E. Lawrence quote and some chatter about a game company that used to be important to me but whose games I haven’t played this century, a trend that looks to continue into the foreseeable future.

Such deep insight.  Are you still awake?

Okay, time to wrap this up by reaching for the bit I could have probably pasted in at the top and let sit on its own.

As part of reading about Destiny, I came across a couple of references to Bungie’s “Seven Pillars of Design” and how the company uses this as the foundation for creating its games.  Naturally, I had to go look up those pillars, which were enumerated as such:

  1. A World Players Want to Be In
  2. A Bunch of Fun Things to Do
  3. Rewards Players Care About
  4. A New Experience Every Night
  5. Shared With Other People
  6. Enjoyable By All Skill Levels
  7. Enjoyable by the Impatient and Distracted

Not a bad list, the distillation of their own gaming wisdom, garnered through more than twenty years in the industry.  I especially like that last entry, though I might have tacked on something like, “but not in a way that annoys the rest of the audience.”  Or am I the only one who has been in a Dungeon Finder group with “that guy” whose sole phrase during the whole run was, “Go go go go go?”

It sure beats that fourth pillar hype, the most interesting aspect of which, more than four years down the road was it being plagiarized by another game.

It almost makes me want to play it at some point, just to see how they did on the list… though that gets us back to the list of reasons why we don’t actually play games on the PS3 at our house again.

The game itself seems to be doing well, with sell through for the first week reported by Activision at some insane number… $325 million in five days?  That is… well… insane.  They certainly won’t be in a hurry to port to the PC.

With that number, I guess we can say that Activision did their job for Bungie.  Pity about the bonuses after all that green was raked in.  Metacritic puts the game in what we might call the “mediocre” range of the review spectrum.  A lot of the reviews are heavy on complaints.  My current favorite piece on the game is over at Forbes with the title “Destiny Is A Bad Game, But I Can’t Stop Playing It.”  Meanwhile VG24/7 has attempted to compile every complaint about the game and call it a review.  (You have to have your satire sensors engaged though.)

And so it goes.  I guess the real test will be if people are still talking/complaining about Destiny six months or a year down the road.  Bungie has created a sizable installed base on little more than its reputation, now to see if they can do something with it.  Did they meet their design goals?  Is this the dawn of another Halo-like epic franchise?  Is the team at Bungie made up of dreamers of the day?

Blizzard – Subscribers and Independence of a Sort July 26, 2013

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

Activision-Blizzard announced some preliminary numbers in advance of their quarterly report and investors call.  Earnings are up, profits are up, subscribers are down.

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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.

Blizzard – Down Nearly 2 Million Subscribers, But Still Insanely Profitable November 9, 2011

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

The big news for MMO watchers in Activision Blizzard’s quarterly report was the mention that World of Warcraft was down to 10.3 million subscribers, a loss of nearly 2 million from its 2010 peak.

Wait, where did I get that 2 million number?

Last year’s end of year report from Activision Blizzard stated that, as of Dec. 31, 2010, there were more than 12 million World of Warcraft subscribers.

As of October 7th, 2010 Blizzard claimed 12 million subscribers world wide.

Cataclysm came out between those two, which must have bumped up the subscriber base some, though we cannot tell exactly how big of a bump that was.  Still, selling 4.7 million units in in the first month probably a reasonable indication that some players came back for the expansion, especially since China did not get Cataclysm until this past summer.

So I think we can safely assume that, at some point in December there was a subscription peak at least close to 12.3 million.  And with the statement that WoW is down to 10.3 million, 2 million missing subscribers seems to be a reasonable estimate to throw around.

So that is my number.

What does it mean?

While I feel some of it is repudiation of the direction Cataclysm went, with its very solo-centric feel, my gut say that having just five levels of content, and pretty easy content, just wasn’t enough to keep the non-raiders hanging around.

The raid-or-die crew will blast through the content to get to work on raiding, but will hang out doing that for a long time.  People like me are more invested in a slower climb through the new zones, and those five zones were pretty fast.  That and I think the value people put on the new 1-60 content was pretty low.

Anyway, mistakes were made and at some point next year Pandas will either fix them or make them worse, we shall see.

But does being down 2 million subscribers, a 17% dip from peak (my estimate), mean doom for Blizzard?

Probably not.

The Activision Blizzard third quarter results bear that out pretty strongly.

Way down near the bottom, the results are broken out by “segment,” which means three different sections of the company:

  • Activision Publishing (“Activision”) — publishes interactive software products and content.
  • Blizzard — Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. and its subsidiaries (“Blizzard”) publishes games and online subscription-based games in the MMORPG category.
  • Activision Blizzard Distribution (“Distribution”) — distributes interactive entertainment software and hardware products.

Revenue for Activision was $253 million for the last quarter and $898 million for the year so far.

Revenue for Blizzard was $297 million for the last quarter and $968 million for the year so far.

So the Activision and Blizzard sides of the houses are not far out of syn when it comes to how much money they bring in before expenses.  And the numbers for Distribution, just to round this out, were $77 million for the last quarter and $214 million so far in 2011.

Then there is income, which is the amount of money left after they paid all the bills but before they paid taxes.

Income for Activision was… well… they fell short $36 million dollars last quarter, and for the year it has made a grand total of $42 million.

Income for Blizzard was $120 million last quarter and it has made $425 million dollars in 2011 so far.

And Distribution is in for a million dollars of income this year.

So with revenues that are reasonably close, Blizzard has made TEN TIMES as much income this year as Activision.

Not only that, Blizzard makes more than 43 cents on every dollar it takes in.  So of your $14.99 subscription fee, $6.58 cents go into a bucket that might as well be labelled “Profits and/or Bail Out Money for Bobby.”

Okay, yes, it is a bit more complicated than that.  There are other costs and taxes that come in after that number.  And the numbers are down from last year, which is partially because Blizzard didn’t ship anything new in 2010 and partially because of the subscription slide I am sure.  But those are still really solid financials.

So when Bobby the Tick comes out and says “Profits tripled!” it does not mean, as has been reported in the media, that Call of Duty saved the day.

Call of Duty merely meant that Activision wasn’t nearly as big of a drain of Blizzard’s money making acumen as they might have otherwise been.

Blizzard has been saving the day since was joined up with Activision.