Daily Archives: February 6, 2015

Two Paths Forward – Blizzard Watch and Massively Overpowered

Just a week ago we were being hit with the official news that AOL was shutting down its “enthusiast sites” on the Joystiq domain, including Massively and WoW Insider.

But within hours of the farewell posts for both sites, plans were already in action by the form staff members of both sites to bring new versions of them to life.

The WoW Insider crew struck a lightning blow and had Blizzard Watch up and going almost right away, starting up the site with a subset of the original team while they firmed up recurring monthly financing via a Patreon campaign.  So far that campaign has passed the $13K mark and the site is coming together, though they have more work on that front.

The Massively side of the house has been more conservative.

MassivelyOverpoweredThey had a Twitter account and a podcast feed and a Google+ page and a Facebook page and a channel on Twitch up pretty quickly, but an actual web presence took a while longer.  And once they were up on the web, the presence was a placeholder for the future, not an immediate launch into coverage the way the Blizzard Watch crew went.

I am not the one doing the work or putting my neck out, but the web site and written coverage of the MMO genre is what Massively was about for me.  But I gather that they know their own demographic mix better than I, so perhaps a Twitch channel and a podcast were vital first steps.

Meanwhile, on the financing front, Massively Overpowered has decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign in order to build up a war chest to get the web site going.  They are going with a 28 day campaign that is looking to raise $50,000.  As it is explained as part of the Kickstarter pitch, they want to do this right.

To make Massively Overpowered both profitable and sustainable and replace the corporate infrastructure we’ve left behind, we need to do it the right way, all the way. We’ll be a company with legal and bookkeeping support. We’ll have a professional web designer and tech engineer. We’ll have scalable, high-traffic hosting that can handle the hit spikes you send our way. We’ll have an ad sales person who is actually a person and not an algorithm. We’ll have a website that doesn’t burn your eyes and widgets that actually work. And we’ll have writers who are actually paid what they deserve for their considerable efforts.

And there is certainly a logic to that and more of what is up on the Kickstarter page.  They want a sustainable funding plan, something that Patreaon might not deliver.  More than 2,500 people appear to be happy to kick in every month for Blizzard Watch today, but will they all be as enthusiastic six months or a year down the road.

Anyway, by the usual Wilhelm Kickstarter Tracking Metric(tm), the Massively Overpowered Kickstarter campaign looks like it will meet its goal handily having already come close to the halfway mark within the first few hours. (Watch on Kicktraq as things progress.)

So I guess I will have to keep reading MMORPG.com for a month or more while Massively Overpowered gets their foundations set.  And, while I am not pitting one against the other, I will be interested to see how each site moves forward as things settle down and the day to day need to make money and pay bills becomes reality.

Small Items for a Friday in February

Well, small in terms my point of view.  More like things I wanted to mention, but which didn’t quite justify a full blog post.

Five Years of Star Trek Online

I got an email from… whoever it is that runs STO these days… that the five year anniversary was upon us.

That five year graphic

That five year graphic

I like that they zero-padded the number.  It shows a determination to get to ten years.

Five years is bitter sweet, as this was perhaps the second-to-last MMO I was very excited about before launch, but which I ended up putting down very quickly.  I have been reading about Werit’s return to the game, and have been tempted myself.  But I always want to play every game that launches or that announces an expansion or that says “pink fuzzy bunny” five times fast.

That I have a lifetime subscription also weighs a bit on me, though I am not sure how I would go about even finding my account again, much less getting it all squared away with whatever operational entity now runs the game. (Werit’s troubles in that regard serve as a warning.)

So rather than get into that tangle and stretch myself even more thinly… I have five freakin’ garrisons to maintain dammit… I will just note the anniversary and wish the game well.  Five years is not nothing in this field.

Heroes of the Storm Closed Beta

One of the comments I heard a number of times after Blizzard announced the Heroes of the Storm Founder’s Pack was that nobody was ever going to be invited to the closed beta again.  If you wanted in, you were going to have to pay the $40 toll.

And, while I am mildly interested in seeing what Blizzard has done with the MOBA thing for mopes like me (and even more so after Ben Kuchera’ article at Polygon), there was no way I was going to pay to get in.

So color me surprised to find myself invited to the closed beta.

Heroes of the Storm calling...

Heroes of the Storm calling…

And, while people get grumpy about the whole Blizzard launcher thing, and I personally got a bit shirty on that past push by Blizzard to combine all of our accounts into a single Battle.net account, the combination of the two meant that actually getting the game on my machine was a snap.  I went to the “already there” button for Heroes of the Storm on the Battle.net launcher where I found the “Buy the damn Founder’s Pack!” button had been replaced with an “Install” button.  4GB later, I was all set.

I have yet to launch the game, but it is there to try out… once I finish working on my garrisons.

Owning Dragon Age: Inquisition for about a Day

Last weekend my daughter and I were out shopping for a birthday present for my wife.  Once we had completed that, we headed straight to GameStop to look at all the things they had for sale… mostly because my daughter had received a $50 gift card for the store at Christmas.

The GameStop experience… it is a thing.  We wandered around a somewhat cramped little store while a very enthusiastic employee shadowed us, asking if we were looking for anything in particular and handing us print outs of games on sale.  We were happy when somebody else walked in and such attention was halved.

Platform wise, we were only really interested in PlayStation 3 or Nintendos 3DS games, though we did take a moment to look at the sad little display of used Wii games in the corner.

Eventually my daughter’s eyes landed on a used copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for the PlayStation 3.

You don't see a left handed hero every day

You don’t see a left handed hero every day

She showed it to me and I said, “Well, I don’t like BioWare games (or at least any BioWare game since Baldur’s Gate), but this is YOUR money, so it is up to you.”  And then we had a long discussion about the merits of BioWare, which at least established our nerd cred in the room, during which she said she had read some good things about it on the WoW forums and wanted to give it a try.  Again, her money.

So she ended up getting a used copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition and a new copy of Diablo III – Ultimate Evil Edition  (which includes the base game plus the expansion, all for only $20, so hurrah for arriving late to the party) both for the PS3.  The checkout process was the usual amount of “Our club, corporate policy requires I spend five minutes telling you about it no matter how often you ask me to stop, so let’s just get through this together, just say “no” whenever I make eye contact, because this is my job and I’d like to keep it for now” before I was allowed to pay and walk out of the store.

Once home, my daughter spent about two hours playing DA:I and then asked if we could return it.  She didn’t like it.  The text was really tough to read on screen, even for her young eyes, and it really felt like a game that needed to be played on the PC to her.

Fortunately, GameStop’s policy is that you can return used games for a full refund, no questions asked, so long as you keep your receipt and do it within three days.  Or five days.  I forget.  But we did it the next day.

And, to GameStop’s credit, they took the game back and even credited my AMEX rather than giving me store credit or another gift card.  I did have to quickly affirm that I had heard the full club spiel in the last 48 hours before the clerk felt safe in skipping the hard sell on that front.

He did ask, after we had the refund, why we brought it back, and we related the whole text and complexity thing.  He said that there had been a number of complaints about text legibility on the PS3 and figured that BioWare had botched something when porting the game back from the PlayStation 4.

And so we owned Dragon Age: Inquisition for less than 24 hours and now she has a credit at the Bank of Dad.  We are going to give Diablo III on the PS3 a shot this weekend.

I did have a fourth item for this post, but it actually grew into a full blog post as I wrote it… so I guess I was wrong up at the top.  That will show up at a future date.

Activision Blizzard Making More Money, WoW over 10 Million Subscribers Still

The Activision Blizzard results for the fourth quarter of 2014 were announced yesterday and, to probably nobody’s surprise, the combined companies reported making huge amounts of money.

ActiBlizz450What with Destiny still selling well, the latest Call of Duty installment somewhere out there, a World of Warcraft expansion, and Hearthstone apparently worthy of repeated mentions, the money was pouring in.

Actual footage of Bobby Kotick and Mike Morhaime during the call

Actual footage of Mike Morhaime and Bobby Kotick during the call

You can find summaries of the announcements around the web, or you can go to the Activision investor relations site to see the full financial report and the presentations.

Of course, I am more interested in Blizzard around here than the Call of Duty Activision side of the house.  The Blizzard slide shows about what we would expect.  Best annual revenues ever.  More registered users.  More good stuff coming.

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

Still, there is a point there that will be seen by some as losing by not winning enough.  Only 10 million subscribers?

I know, it says “over” 10 million, but if it was over, say, 10.5 million, they would have said over 10.5 million.  Past behavior indicates that.

And 10 million was the number they gave back in November after the expansion finally came out.  That only got us up to the Mists of Pandaria peak.  With the history of the game, anything less than 12 million will be failure in the eyes of some.

But at least this chart hasn't changed!

But at least this chart hasn’t changed!  Lich King, Best King!

Of course, that dissatisfaction with not getting back to the peak subscriber number ignores the scale of WoW’s subscriber base.  The jump from 7.4 million subscribers to over 10 million at the launch of Warlords of Draenor… 2.6 million subscribers… how many other popular MMOs would we have to stack up before we hit 2.6 million subscribers?  Not just registered users or those tagging along for free, but people who signed up to pay that $15 a month?  And what about that 10 million number?

The churn of users just coming and going since the expansion launched would probably kill some games.  You can sure as shit bet if EverQuest II had 10 million subscribers… or 7.4 million… or even 2.6 million… Smed would be telling the PlayStation people what to do rather than being sold into bondage.

World of Warcraft remains the outlier that distorts the scale when we talking about MMOs.  Comparing it to other things just doesn’t work, because even down from its peak it is still too big.

Anyway, that is the big news from Blizzard.  All money, all the time.

Oh… and one more thing.  StarCraft II – Legacy of the Void.  The mention of it being the “Final” expansion to the StarCraft II series stands out for me.  Maybe they said that back at BlizzCon and I missed it, but seeing that word “Final” on the financial presentation makes it stand out for me.

So what will the RTS team at Blizzard be doing when they have wrapped that up?

Should we read anything into the fact that the RTS team appears to be playing around with the Warcraft III assets?