Category Archives: Blizzard

The Dawn of Diablo IV

Depending on where you are and whether or not you pre-purchased the right version, you could be playing Diablo IV in about six hours from when this post goes live.

Diablo IV

The client download was enabled on Tuesday, and if you purchased anything beyond the standard version, the early access is yours.

Diablo IV Early Access Launch Map

There it is.  At 4pm Pacific time today, you will be able to log in… or you will be able to try logging in.

I don’t necessarily want to be that guy… but there is a bit of a history of launch day problems with Blizzard in general and Diablo in particular.

Oh, I remember that

Blizzard has said that they are “confident” that they can handle the opening night load… and I guess we will see if that confidence was warranted. (Though they have since hedged a bit in later interviews.)

For the rest of the player base, those who opted for the standard edition, the game will open up on June 5th at 4pm Pacific Time.

Diablo IV world wide launch map

So the game probably won’t feel the full load of players until the weekend after that.

And where will I be as all of this goes down?  Playing something else most likely.

I am somewhat interested in Diablo IV… but not enough to feel I have to jump in on day one and into that scrum.  I can wait.  But I will be interested to see how Blizzard’s confidence plays out.

Congrats to Blizzard.  I was somewhat skeptical when they announced the June launch date, expecting a slip between then and now.  But they made it.  Good on them.

On the other hand, Bobby Kotick remains a horrible person and pretty much a living indictment of unfettered capitalism, if you need a reason not to buy Diablo IV.

Blizzard Announces WoW Classic Hardcore Mode is Coming

Rumors of this have been circulating in the wild since some code showed up in a WoW patch referencing a hardcore server mode, but last week Senior Game Producer Josh Greenfield announced on the Hardcore All-Stars stream that hardcore mode was coming to WoW Classic.

In this case, the central aspect of “hardcore” is perma-death, the idea that if you character dies on its journey through Azeroth, you are done and have to start over again.  There are other rules that some people follow, like no grouping for overland content or no using the auction house, but the death thing is the main feature.

People adopting self-inforced strict rules for their gameplay is hardly new.  If a game doesn’t come with difficulty levels then we’ll makes some up.  So Pokemon has the Nuzlocke Challenge rules and back in original Diablo we used to play a hardcore variant where you couldn’t go back to town once you entered the dungeon, so no vendor gear and no repairs, just what you could find along the way, and lots of other titles have similar ways to challenge yourself on a repeat play through.

It is just average, every day emergent game play, people finding ways to make a title a bit more challenging and, hopefully, fulfilling.  So, with WoW Classic now coming up on four years of service, people have gotten into the routine of looking for ways to keep the magic going in the old content.

One of the key problems is that the old content is entirely a set of solved problems, so the expansions and updates have to come faster to keep people invested.  So these sorts of personal challenges are a thing, because even the increased pace is still too slow for content that most have us have done before.

The question is WHY Blizzard has decided that they need to make an official mode for this.  I’m not knocking the play style, just wondering why it needs an official server to cover what people have managed to do on their own with some addons and like.

Yes, it is cool to have your playstyle validated with an official server setting and having the rules enforced universally by the code and maybe even having a leader board or you own personal history available is an excellent add to the whole thing.  I won’t dispute any of that.

But that isn’t the real “why” of this when I ask why Blizzard is doing this.

Blizzard is a corporation and, while developers are people and will do things just because they’re fun or cool, a corporate entity will, in the long run, only do things that it feels will generate a return on investment.  What do they expect to get out of this… and, honestly, how much are they going to invest in the idea?

The latter is key I suppose.  My first read of some of this was that they were going to roll up a hardcore server.  That is what we see in the code that was sniffed out back in March.

Realm Select Hardcore Warning

But the phrase being used now is “hardcore mode” which could be just a flag you set when you create a character, similar to the way it ended up in the Diablo series.  That would be a pretty cheap addition to make, just have the code prevent resurrection on death and you can wander the world as a ghost when you get in too deep with the Defias in tat cave out in Westfall.

But even with that minimum effort, they clearly expect more engagement in return.  And this is where I wish they would roll up a special server for hardcore because I would like some sense of how big that community really is.  I’ve spent the last 25+ years hearing various people saying “If only you supported my pet feature you would get a bunch more players,” usually from hardcore, full loot PvP proponents who loudly lobby for PvP in all the things.

Is this feature going to make an impact on WoW Classic subscriptions?

Now, if you’re a fan of this mode you’re disqualified from answering because of course you think it is the greatest thing and everybody will want to join in.  Likewise, if you hate the idea you aren’t exactly a neutral observer.  And if you are somewhat neutral… then you probably don’t care enough to have a strong opinion, so I don’t trust any of the reactions I see to be any sort of indicator of success.

Plenty of people loudly declared that WoW Classic would be a flop… and some still claim that despite all evidence… so unsubstantiated opinions of the fan base should be taken with the skepticism they deserve.

Which is why I really hope that Blizzard will put in the effort and roll up a dedicated hardcore server.  A stand-alone server dedicated to the premise that hardcore mode should be a thing seems like an excellent test of the idea.

Now, if this were Daybreak or CCP or some other modest sized studio, I might get huffy about diverting resources from already under served titles to go do an experiment like this.  But we’re talking about Blizzard here, which has the money and the resources… or used to have the resources, though the demand that work from home end and people return to the office daily has reportedly thinned their ranks and caused some concern about delivering Dragonflight content… so I am in favor of them running this as a test.

There are issues that may need to be addressed.  Syp, who has gone all-in on the whole WoW Classic hardcore lifestyle has a post up on MOP that lists out some, though it does pre-suppose a level of popularity that has yet to be demonstrated.

Anyway, like I said, bring it on.  I want to see how this plays out.  Blizzard has promised actual details at some future date, so we’re just waiting for that.

And if Blizzard has some free time, roll up a full loot, nowhere is safe PvP version of WoW Classic as well.  I want to see that theory tested while we’re at it.


Blizzard Q1 2023 Financials were Both Up and Down while the UK Rejected the Microsoft Deal

Activision Blizzard (ABK) released their Q1 2023 financials on Wednesday… they were supposed to land yesterday, but we’ll get to that a bit later… and was quite chipper about how well they did when compared to their Q1 2022 numbers.

Activision Blizzard

As has been the case since the Microsoft acquisition was announced, ABK once again declined to talk to investors, give a presentation, or take any questions.  They have a deal that says Microsoft will pay them $95 a share, what the hell else do you want?  Nothing else matters besides making that deal go through.

But until the deal happens they are still an independent, publicly held company, so they have to give investors something every quarter.

Overall the company’s revenues were $2.38 billion, up from the $1.77 billion seen in the first quarter of 2022.

Likewise, when breaking out Blizzard, the company was quick to point out that their revenue was up by 62% over 2022 in the first quarter, ringing up $443 million in sales.  Not bad, but that 62% year over year calculation is both accurate and deceptive at the same time.

The company doesn’t exactly go out of its way to remind anybody that Q1 2022 was the recent nadir of Blizzard earnings.  Let’s do a quick review of the last two years:

In that selection of quarters, Q1 2023 is decidedly mid-pack.  $443 million is literally the median number, in the exact middle of those nine quarters.  So it was a good quarter, given recent history, but I wouldn’t exactly be spiking the football and doing an end zone dance on the year over year metric.

That said, it could have been worse.  As I noted with the Q4 2022 report, Blizzard had nothing set to launch in Q1 2023, so the whole quarter was going to be something of a judgement on the quality and stickiness of Dragonflight as a WoW expansion.  So good on that.

But… it is $40 million shy of Q2 2021, which was a similar situation where revenue was largely driven by the residual subscriber effect of the Shadowlands expansion.  So I am somewhat mixed on how much praise Blizz should get.

Yay, Dragonflight didn’t die off right away, but neither did Shadowlands and if you want to lay the blame for Q1 2022 on anything, Shadowlands would be your go-to choice.  And Blizz did suggest that Dragonflight hadn’t started off as strongly as expected.  We never got a “Dragonflight exceeds past WoW expansion sales” press release, which was a staple of the game for every expansion up through and including Shadowlands.

So good, but not great, with the weight of the past seeming to weigh down on WoW.

Likewise, the Monthly Active User count, about which I rely on MOP’s reporting, was down bigley, dropping to 27 million in Q1, way down from the 45 million seen in Q4.  Again, that isn’t the low point for Blizz MAU numbers, which were down to 22 million in Q1 2022… that cursed quarter… but it does indicate that some of their holiday boost for their buy to play games like Hearthstone and OverWatch were transitory.

As for what else was said about Blizz, here is the excerpt:

  • Blizzard segment revenue increased 62% year-over-year in the first quarter, with each of Warcraft, Overwatch and Diablo contributing to growth. Segment operating income was broadly stable year-over-year, reflecting higher development and marketing costs, including launch investment ahead of the second quarter release of Diablo IV.
  • The Overwatch and World of Warcraft teams delivered substantial in-game content and live operations to excite and sustain their communities following major product launches in the fourth quarter. Following the November release of the DragonflightTM expansion for the Modern game, our World of Warcraft team is delivering more content faster than ever before, and subscriber retention in the West is higher than at the equivalent stage of recent Modern expansions. While Overwatch engagement moderated versus the Overwatch 2 launch quarter, hours played were approximately twice the levels seen prior to the release of the free-to-play experience. Season 3, which launched in February, drove strong retention and consistent player investment versus the prior season.
  • Diablo ImmortalTM on mobile and PC also contributed to Blizzard’s first quarter net bookings growth, with the game experiencing stable trends across engagement, retention and player investment. Elsewhere on mobile, Warcraft: Arclight RumbleTM, an action strategy game internally-developed at Blizzard, continues to progress well through regional testing.
  • Diablo IV, the next major installment in the genre-defining series, will launch on PC and console on June 6. Public testing of the game in March saw very high engagement and positive feedback, and pre-sales are strong. This ambitious title will serve as the launch for a compelling live service, with regular seasons and story-driven expansions planned to drive engagement for many years to come.

That strikes me as a whole lot of hand waving about other things, while the hope for sales in Q2 and Q3 are pretty much pinned on Diablo IV being a huge success.  Basically, that is all they have on their road map.

I do not doubt that Diablo IV will be a big success, and we should see a big revenue spike in Q2 2023.  We shall see how it matches up with Q4 2022 and the Dragonflight launch.

Then there is the Microsoft deal.  I kind of expected this to be the final ABK quarterly report, that the deal might close before we got to a Q2 2023 report in late July or early August.

Then the bad news started to roll in on the deal, with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announcing early on Wednesday that they had decided to block the Microsoft acquisition, which I am pretty sure is what got the financials released a day early, so it could include an immediate counter to that decision.

The CMA decision naturally has Bobby Kotick spitting nails and threatening to kick puppies all the way to Westminster where he’ll demand to speak to the manager about how big business isn’t getting the service they expect from the Tory government they purchased.

He has become some sort of Gordon Gecko/Yosemite Sam cross over character in my head at this point, but he is sure he can fix this.

The odd bit was the CMA highlighting the need to protect the emerging cloud gaming market as a key part of its criteria for blocking the deal, something that got a very quick “wut?” reaction from me… and apparently from ABK.

On April 26, 2023, the United Kingdom Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) announced a decision to block the merger, stating that competition concerns arose in relation to cloud gaming and that Microsoft’s remedies addressing any concerns in cloud gaming were not sufficient. Activision Blizzard considers that the CMA’s decision is disproportionate, irrational and inconsistent with the evidence. Microsoft has announced its decision to appeal the CMA’s ruling, and Activision Blizzard intends to fully support Microsoft’s efforts on this appeal. Activision Blizzard continues to believe that the deal is pro-competitive, will bring Activision Blizzard content to more gamers, and will result in substantial benefits to consumers and developers in the UK and globally. The parties continue to fully engage with other regulators reviewing the transaction to obtain any required regulatory approvals.

I mean, I am extremely dubious about this deal being “pro-competitive” in any reasonable sense of the term.  It will do what most such mergers do; lead to layoffs, increase costs to consumers, limit consumer choices, and raise the barrier to competition.

It will, in short, enrich large stockholders to the detriment of nearly everybody else.  Welcome to America, where we have returned to the 19th century era of corporations and nested trusts (which we now call “Capital Management Groups”) and the Pinkerton company… Pinkertons are still a thing for fuck’s sake… and railroad conglomerates destroying towns while getting the government to fight unions over simple requests like sick leave… it is the freaking Gilded Age all over again.

So to have all that to work with and then to lead with cloud gaming…

Cloud gaming?

Like the thing that nVidia, Sony, and Microsoft… you know, the main player in this deal… have been trying to make happen for quite a while now?  The thing that Google just gave up on with Stadia?  The thing that CCP just gave up on with EVE Anywhere?  The pipe dream that various companies have gone bankrupt pursuing for a couple of decades?  THAT cloud gaming market?  That is the big worry?

Am I missing some other cloud gaming option here?

Suddenly quite on point

As I have written in the past, big corporations have been trying to bring back the thin client, terminal connected to a mainframe, version of computing since the first desktop PC escaped into the wild.  It is all about controlling, and the fear of, the end user.  The problems and costs facing the idea still outweigh the benefits, as we have been reminded over and over.  “Fetch” will be a thing long before cloud gaming is anything to worry about when it comes to video game market share.

Also the CMA is pretty sure that Call of Duty won’t run on a Switch, probably because somebody’s nephew saw a post on Reddit about it, so they’ve said “No” to the whole thing.

All of which might just be a tempest in a teapot… which is the generally accepted metaphor to describe UK post Brexit… because the EU and the US FTC haven’t give their responses yet.  The former is due later this month and the latter not due until August.  We know the EU simply hates US tech firms… not without reason, but they go beyond reason… to the point of making up specific regulatory categories mostly focused on them. (China gets a nod too, but they couldn’t find an EU company anybody had heard of for a fig leaf to show they aren’t just targeting the foreigners.)  So that might be a bigger worry than the UK.

Meanwhile, even with a Democratic president in the White House the bar Microsoft needs to clear to be approved is about 2mm higher than the nothing it was under the last administration because I won’t claim that UK politics are bought and sold at the corporate suite level and then pretend that the same isn’t true in the US.  Still, maybe we’ll be surprised.

So when Microsoft is out there pouting publicly that this CMA announcement represents its darkest day, I can only suggest that the horizon may hold even darker days still.

Also, is nobody at Microsoft old enough to remember the late 90s and early 2000s when literally EVERY government agency in the world hated the company and wanted to drop it for Google Sheets or Open Office or whatever?  JFC Microsoft, get a grip!


Some Small Gripes About Wrath Classic

We have been having a good time in Wrath Classic.  We are almost done with the current set of dungeons, have done a few events, chased some achievements, and generally enjoyed ourselves.  Wrath Classic has been good.

But not perfect.  Not that it was perfect back in the day.  There are always problems.  For about a year in the original I had an issue where my client would crash if I was in Dalaran for more than about five minutes.  It only went away when I upgraded my video card, but I didn’t have a bad video card to start with.

So I though I would take a moment to drag out the things that irk me.  None of them are game breaking… well, not completely… but they are things that get on my nerves.

  • Draw Distance

This isn’t new to Wrath Classic.  It has been an issue throughout the WoW Classic era.  The draw distance for live interactable objects and mobs is ridiculously short.  While it comes up as an issue all the time trying to see even bosses in dungeons, on if my favorites is up in Ulduar where the summoning stone is just a short walk from the flight point… but you cannot see it.

Invisible Summoning Stone

I can even see a couple of other players around that stone, but cannot see the stone.  The trees beyond it, fine, the stone, no.

I doubt Blizz will do anything about it at this point, but it is one of those things that manages to be surprisingly annoying on a regular basis.

  • The Launcher still says Play

This is more of an “has it always been this way?” sort of gripe, but when I click on the “Play” button to launch WoW Classic it changes for a moment, then goes back to saying “Play” pretty quickly.  Meanwhile, the app itself takes its sweet time doing anything, no doubt taking a deep breath and psyching itself up a bit before committing to a launch, an interval that is just long enough to make me question whether the whole launch has been scrubbed and I might need to click the button again.

And the button is sitting there saying “Play,” which only compounds my doubts to the app’s commitment to the whole venture.

The app generally does something just before I go for the button again, but the interval is enough to make me think about it.

I thought perhaps the button returning to “Play” might be something for multi-boxing, but you have to go swap accounts to do that.  Maybe Steam has just spoiled me with the states of its “Play” button.  Or maybe the gripe here should be that the app takes a little too long to launch.

  • The Way WoW Names Screen Shots

I am following the format I learned in college, which recommended sticking your weakest points in the middle of your presentation.  That way they get lost or forgotten between your big opening point and your strong closer.

Anyway, the fact that WoW names screen shots in such a way that they don’t show up in chronological order when you sort by name is something I find irksome.  I don’t get into arguments about how the US does its dates versus the EU because it generally doesn’t matter. (BTW, we write the dates that way because that is the way we speak them.  Stop trying to apply logic, it is a language thing and the English language defies all logic.)

But when we’re doing things on the computer you will do dates in file names that makes them sort chronologically even if you sort by name.  I do not want to see shit like this.

WoW Screen Shot Sort

I know, somebody will say “just sort by date then!”  And I do.  But my apps don’t always follow suit.  In particular Windows Photo Viewer can only order files by name.

My graphics apps

I could use another app, but WPV is so light and fast and allows me to flick through screen shots so quickly and easily that I won’t give it up.  Alternatives take seconds to render images while WPV is as close to instantaneous as one could reasonably expect.

So at the start of every new year I rename my WoW screen shots folders by prefixing them with the year so I won’t find myself with screen shots from different events mixed together.

But seriously, lots of other titles do this correctly.  EVE Online has done it right since before WoW launched.  I suppose I should be happy that Blizz at least gave up on the .tga file format of the early days of the game.

  • Starting Quests from Items that Drop

We’re still in minor annoyances, but this one comes up regularly.  If you get a drop that gives you a quest, when you click on that item and the quest window pops up, it doesn’t go away when you accept the quest.

I clicked accept and it is still there

Yes, I can just close the window.  This isn’t a “stop the presses” bug.  But quests from drops became more common in Wrath… or it feels like they did, maybe because of this bug… and the quest window isn’t behaving as designed.

  • Looting Stacks of Items

One that you’ll see if you do the daily Dalaran cooking quest.  Your reward is in a package and when you open it you generally get a small stack of Northern Seasoning.  But auto-loot will only loot the first two, so if you get three to five in a stack, the loot window just sits there making everybody feel uncomfortable until you drag your cursor all the way up to the upper left hand corner of the screen to click on the rest of the stack and finish the transaction.

Playing this on a 34″ monitor makes this just annoying enough to put it under gripes.

  • Water in Wintergrasp

Not the open world Wintergrasp, which HAS to have water in it because there is a fishing daily that requires it.  No, it is when you go into a Wintergrasp match you find that all the water is missing.

Just riding down this frozen empty stream bed

Again, not exactly the crime of the century, but it does change the dynamics of the battlefield by removing barriers that can slow people down and also depriving Death Knights the ability to show off with their Path of Frost skill.

  • Memory/stability problems in the client

And the big closer, which isn’t even something I can take a screen shot of because it just sort of happens.

It feels like if I play for two hours or more I will eventually hit a state where the WoW Classic client will stop responding to input.  At first it will be unreliable, requiring me to do something a couple of times until it responds.  But not long after that it will stop taking most inputs.  I’ll still be in game, I will still be able to move around and such, but vendors won’t open up, my bags won’t respond, clicking on things in the world won’t get the expected action.

Now, this could be crappy AddOns… I have Questie, which gets its fingers into everything, and Auctioneer, which has seen better days… but the strange decaying of responsiveness still feels like the client isn’t managing resources correctly.

And, unlike the “client crash if I am in Dalaran for more than 5 minutes” routine I mentioned at the top, other people in our group see this crop up as well.

So those are my gripes, my minor complaints about WoW Classic at the moment.

Are there any other small grievances I should be aware of?  I threw this together off the cuff… like almost every other post here… and feel like I’ve forgotten one or two.  I didn’t have enough for a top ten, but I thought I would be closer than to it than seven.

Blizzard April Fools No More

Over more than a decade I have dedicated the first of April to reporting on what Blizzard had gotten up to, and it was, at times, a pretty fun and amusing series of posts to write.

There were times when people at the company went all-in on some pretty funny ideas, which often stood out as much for their relative quality as anything.  If New Years is amateur hour for partying and St. Patrick’s Day is amateur hour for drinking, then April Fools can very much be amateur hour for humor.

But this year I am giving it a pass.  Blizzard hasn’t been down with the idea for years at this point.  I am sure we’ll get some secret release notes post to the WoW forums and maybe Googly Eyes in OverWatch, but that is about it. (Here are the patch notes, btw. So I have done my annual duty all the same I guess.)

Googly eyes at the hero select screen

So, instead of that I asked Google’s new text AI, Bard, to write me a history of April Fools jokes at Blizzard, and this is what it gave me:


April Fools’ Day is a day of pranks and jokes, and Blizzard Entertainment has a long history of getting in on the fun. Here is a look at some of the best April Fools jokes from Blizzard over the years:

In 2007, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new game called “StarCraft: Ghost” for the Nintendo Wii. The game was supposedly a first-person shooter starring Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades. However, the game was actually an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

In 2010, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new expansion for World of Warcraft called “Cataclysm”. The expansion was supposed to add a new continent called Azeroth, which would be destroyed by a cataclysmic event. However, the expansion was also an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

In 2012, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new game called “Diablo: Immortal”. The game was supposed to be a mobile game that would allow players to experience the Diablo universe on their smartphones. However, the game was also an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

In 2014, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new game called “Hearthstone: Heroes of WarCraft”. The game was supposed to be a digital collectible card game that would allow players to battle each other using cards based on the Warcraft universe. However, the game was actually an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

In 2016, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new game called “Overwatch: The Board Game”. The game was supposed to be a board game that would allow players to take on the roles of their favorite Overwatch characters and battle each other. However, the game was also an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

In 2018, Blizzard announced that they were developing a new game called “StarCraft: Remastered”. The game was supposed to be a remastered version of the original StarCraft game, with updated graphics and sound. However, the game was also an April Fools joke, and it was never released.

Blizzard has a long history of April Fools jokes, and they have always been able to keep their fans guessing. It will be interesting to see what they come up with next year

Now that actually made me laugh.  There were a couple in there I kind of wish were not jokes, but that is just me.

And if you are interested in past coverage, here are posts I wrote in previous years about April Fools.

From that list I think things pretty much peak by 2017 and it gets pretty quiet after that.

The Diablo IV Early Access Weekend Gets Some Mixed Reviews

As I noted previously, I can wait for June and the real launch of the game.  But some people are keen to get in there early and see what the new version of Diablo is all about, so I have been keeping an eye on public comments about how things have been going.

It is here, this weekend and next

On the bright side, the opening game play sounds like it was compelling enough that people wanted to play and keep playing.

But the technical issues that cropped up… well… they were a problem.  There were apparently issues all along the path depending on when you logged in.  At peak hours there were queues… did Blizzard not know how many keys they had given out, and have they not been making live service games for 20 years… and once you got in there was a fair chance of being disconnected or having the game client simply crash.

Now, of course, finding these sorts of issues is why you have these events.  The company needs to get the live and chaotic sort of load that only actual end users can provide in order to test their game from end to end.  This was part of the reason I had little interest in this early access event.  I have my own software to test.  And they certainly want to get that all worked out before the actual launch.  Many of us remember the Diablo III launch.

Oh, I remember that

However, Blizzard reputation has been built on design and polish one of my early posts in the first week of the blog was in reference to Rob Pardo speaking at the Austin GDC about the design principles of Blizzard, and there is a whole section in there about polish.  And while there were some free keys given out for this weekend, a lot of people bought a copy of the game early to get in on it.  Paying customers have different expectations.

The price to get in

I know that polish doesn’t mean perfection.  But I do still wonder if this early access in Q1 was as much a stunt, rushed out early to assure Microsoft that the company is on track to its financial goals and commitments as agreed to in the acquisition fine print.

I will say, however, that the opinion of some I have seen is that, when they did get to play, that the game was very good, with references to the way Diablo II felt being brought up a few times.  And, of course, the game is available on PC and consoles, so sometimes it helps to know which platform the person is using.  My general take is that PC gamers are a bit happier with it than console gamers.

Anyway, we’re here at the last day and I hope those who jumped in are having a better time now than they were on opening night.  And I want to thank all of you… um… game individuals so eager to jump into those untested waters that those of us who might play in June will have a better experience.


Blizz Offers a Free Dragonflight Weekend with Caveats

Blizzard has announced that from today, March 9th, through Sunday, March 12th, if you are a lapsed WoW subscriber you can log in and play the Dragonflight expansion for free.

WoW Dragonflight

The specific statement is:

Grab your favorite character and we’ll grab you a Dragon! This is your chance to soar through the magnificent Dragon Isles and experience Warcraft at its nostalgic best. All players with an inactive WoW account will receive trial access to Dragonflight*. And if you don’t have a level 60, check the launcher app – there may just be a gift for you!

If the gift isn’t a level boost, then they have done something very wrong.

Actually, it looks like you get to create a level 60 Dracthyr, the new race that launched with the expansion, if you want to try that out.

Create an evoker

Blizzard would, of course, very much like you to buy a copy of Dragonflight, pretty please, because they don’t have much else going on in Q1 and it is March already and it would be great if their numbers didn’t completely tank for this quarter.

In order entice you further, all versions of the Dragonflight expansion have been discounted 20% through March 15th, in the hopes that the free trial will convince you to buy.

The catch, such that it is, is that you will not be able to level up past level 60 until you purchase the expansion.  Any experience you earn will be “banked” and held for you, to be awarded once you make the purchase.

I was curious to see who actually would be given free access to the expansion.  The emphasis in the announcement felt aimed at those not currently subscribed.  But the odd cases… people who own the expansion but who are not subscribed as well as people like me, who are subscribed but not playing Dragonflight… appear to be covered.  I can go play the new expansion this weekend if I want.

However, they do make clear that this free period gets you access to retail WoW only.  You cannot use this grace period to slip into WoW Classic and see what is going on there.


Is Season 28 the Last Diablo III Season?

I haven’t thought about Diablo III for a while.  It has been nearly 11 years since it launched and now Diablo IV is around the corner.  And yesterday Diablo III kicked off its latest season, number 28, which some suspect might be its final season, what with a successor coming.

Diablo III – Season 28

It has been a long run for Diablo III and, I will say, that Blizzard hasn’t let it languish the way it let Diablo II sit over a decade.  And while Diablo III doesn’t seem to evoke much in the way of emotion these days, it did have a turbulent launch back in 2012.

If you were there and paying attention you probably remember outrage because it was too brightly lit or too colorful, it lacked LAN play, it was going to be always online, it was going to have an auction house… and a real money auction house… and what was Blizzard thinking?

And even as all that was coming up, the team that had made Diablo and Diablo II were rolling up Torchlight II, which many claimed would be the REAL successor to the Diablo franchise… an idea the team making it, still bitter about their split with Blizzard, were happy to encourage.

Then there was the dark horse contender, Path of Exile, which promised to be free to play and had all sorts of crazy ideas about talent trees.

It was a pretty crazy time for Diablo-esque action RPG titles.

And then there was the Diablo III launch and the memes about error 37.

One theory…

That doesn’t even begin to account for the problems like how the auction house, both gold and real world currency, distorted player motivation, helped along by the awful itemization curve… every drop seemed to be far too low level for you… that seemed made by design to drive you to the auction house.

Wyatt “don’t you guys have phones” Cheng to this day bristles when people suggest Blizzard designed it that way on purpose, but the alternative is that Blizzard was really dumb on two things that went together, and I am not sure which is less flattering.  I might opt for the evil over dumb.

It was not a smooth path for the game.

But, to Blizzard’s credit, they did get things right eventually.  With the Reaper of Souls expansion update the auction house went away and itemization was fixed so that the simple reinforcement mechanism of the Diablo series… pick up cool loot and find upgrades that make you more powerful… was back on track.

I still think I like Diablo II more, but Diablo III became fun and much more viable.

It made it to multiple platforms, sold a lot of copies… though 1.2 million of those copies were via people like myself who bought the WoW annual pass to get it for free… and, as noted, it has been maintained and updated and moved to new consoles and had new seasons with new gear and new goodies going for quite a few years.

Which brings us to season 28.  Will it be the last season?

Somehow I think not.  Among other lessons, Blizz has learned over the years that some people will stick with a game and will buy new copies for new platforms as the years wear on.

I am tempted to roll out with the new season.  It has been quite a while since I played Diablo III.  My problem is that I generally only like a couple of the classes and do I want to play yet again as a barbarian or a paladin?  I could try something else, but I have done that in the past and always end up with the classes that suit my own play style.

We shall see.  I am getting a bit ahead in Wrath Classic, so I could use something else to fiddle with.

If you want to see what Season 28 offers, Blizzard has a post with the patch notes to tell you all about it.

The Blizzard Q1 2023 Plan is… Early Diablo IV

After Blizzard’s record setting revenue results in Q4 2022 the big question was; so what will Q1 2023 be like?

Wall Street (and probably Microsoft) only cares about what you’ve done for them lately.  Blizz roared through Q4 on the backs on the late Q3 launch of Wrath Classic, Team Fortress 2 Overwatch 2, and the Dragonflight expansion for WoW.

But the forward looking statements in the financials had Diablo IV in Q2, leaving something of a launch gap in between now and then.  Unless somebody was hoping for Warcraft Arclight Rumble to appear out of nowhere, Q1 looked like it might depend on holding WoW subscribers at all costs and selling more copies of Dragonflight at a discount.

And, honestly, we’re almost to the end of February here, so Blizz has between now and March 31st to make stuff happen for the Q1 results. (And yes, I know that arbitrary timelines are no true measure of a company, but I don’t make the rules.  I’ve just lived through them for the last 30+ years.)

So this past week Blizzard came out and announced that Diablo IV would be available in March for early access and open beta weekends. (All the details here)

It is coming in March

Is it just me, or is it weird that early access is before open beta?  I feel like that is not the way things should work… but, as noted, I don’t make the rules!

All you need to do in order to join in on this early look at the game is BUY A COPY NOW!

The most expensive one is pre-selected, in case you were wondering which option Blizz favors

Also, I guess they had early access and open beta in mind… and in that order… back when they announced the June 6th launch date.

So yeah, they are clearly looking to boost those Diablo IV sales right now dammit.

“But Wilhelm,” I hear you asking, “What good is this push to get people to pre-order in Q1 if they can’t recognize revenue on any of this until they ship on June 6th?”

Yeah… I mean, I can imagine a scenario where they might try to sneak “early access” in as a product delivery for the sake of revenue recognition, but that seems likely to be challenged.  If it were that easy the CFO at a company I used to work for wouldn’t have been subjected to an FTC investigation for fudging revenue numbers before an IPO. (Though that was back in the 90s when the FTC still pretended to give a shit.)

But here’s the thing.  As Blizzard has been demonstrating with their perfunctory quarterly earnings announcements, they’re not really worried about the market and what Wall Street thinks.  Microsoft already has an offer on the table at a set per share value for Activision Blizzard, and that has a lot more influence on the stock price than Blizzard botching Q1 by once again not having anything new to ship.

No, the only audience that Activision Blizzard needs to impress is Microsoft, and they can go to Redmond and say, “Sure, Irvine didn’t do so well on the Q1 results, but look at all the pre-orders and interest they have built up for Diablo IV.  Look at all those sales on XBox!”

Hell, if you were to believe a word Bobby Kotick said, you might think that the Microsoft acquisition could be a done deal before Activision Blizzard even has to announce their Q1 2023 financials.  Yes, they’ll still have to do it, but if you think their current reports have been perfunctory, I suspect we’ll hit a new level of not giving a shit about any audience beside Microsoft.

And if they close the deal before June 6th it won’t even matter if Diablo IV ships late.  Activision Blizzard will be part of the Microsoft financial numbers and they’ll disappear, absorbed into general line items that will make even their final kiss-off report seem like a wealth of information about the company.

So we shall see how it goes.  But Blizz would like you to please go buy a copy of Diablo IV.

Blizzard Continues to Disappoint – Mike Ybarra Edition

If you think that executives are making a lot of money and you aren’t, you’re living in a myth.

-Mike Ybarra attempting to gaslight Blizzard rank and file

I don’t know why I keep thinking that Blizzard will turn the corner and come back to being a company we can respect.  It isn’t like there are a lot of examples out there for them to emulate.  Like some mockery of the Newtonian laws of motion, a company that sucks will continue to suck no matter how many external forces act upon it.  Case in point: UbiSoft.

Actual footage of Mike Ybarra practicing for this Q&A

And, of course, we know now that Blizzard was just very good at hiding its internal issues behind the facade of World of Warcraft for a long time.  Earning about a billion dollars a year buys a lot of looking the other way.  Slip off the top of the charts and people start noticing the blemishes.

Anyway, back to Blizzard’s dirty laundry being aired once again.  One time Co-Leader of Blizzard and now President of the organization, Mike Ybarra, held a company-wide Q&A to address issues and employee satisfaction problems and came away having made everything worse.

This immediately leaked to the press and I woke up Friday morning to find Game Developer spilling the tea on the failed pep talk where leadership, despite having pre-screened and prepared for the questions they would be asked… they learned from the Diablo Immortal 2018 BlizzCon affair I guess… managed to simply sow more discord.

Chief among the issues being discussed was the return to the office plan.

Ah, remember the heady days of mid-2020 when Covid sent us all home and companies discovered that not only did this not kill employee productivity, it increased it in many cases.  A lot of companies thought they had found a magic bullet for facility costs; there is no need to rent all that office space if you can make people do the job from their kitchen table. (Literally the case for my boss in 2020.)

I worked in a satellite office for a mid-western company that had its lease due in September of 2020 and the company opted not to renew it, forcing all of us to convoy through the falling ash of the uncontrolled forest fire just a few miles from our building to collect our stuff and cart it home so they didn’t have to pay one more day’s rent than they had to. (Due to Covid worries we were all assigned days and times to show up, and the people immediately after my time slot were told to stay home due to the fires.  Lucky me.)

However, no panacea lasts forever and we all know some managers who feel they have to keep a close eye on their team lest they slack off on the company time (the joke is on them as “looking busy” in a tech job is remarkably easy), and these types seemed to be ascendant in recent months.  I won’t say I was laid off a year back because there was no office for me to return to… I was laid off because I was old, as explicitly noted in my severance package, which required me to sign away any right to sue or be a witness against the company if I want to collect that package… but being far from the corporate flag pole certainly didn’t help my situation.

So we have seen a lot of companies that were gung-ho on remote work suddenly deciding they needed to see their staff toiling in the data mines in person and not at home, and Activision Blizzard is on that list.  The problem is that working from home is really good for a lot of people… over my career I have managed to repeatedly sit in locations near unofficially designated places where things had to be discussed loudly, the point that I once put up “no loitering” signs… and even those who were tentative about the idea… I do like a bit of social activity… managed to adapt and reshape their lives based on the idea that this whole thing was going to be a permanent transition.  I’m pretty sure HuffPo or Salon had a headline that declared this to be so.

And now those people who had adapted or moved so they could adapt or moved because they could afford a much better quality of life an annoyingly long drive from central Irvine, they all have to get back into the traffic nightmare that is the OC and the LA Basin along with all the other workers at other companies being called back.  Once again, traffic will be a topic of conversation on par with the weather.

This was all handled ineptly and inconsistently and in the ham fisted way we have become accustomed to, with some people being off the hook for the requirement, some people not knowing why they are on the return list, and some people who were hired during the pandemic explicitly to work remotely being told their presence is expected in Irvine if they want to keep getting paid.  And nothing at this meeting settled any of that.

Then, speaking of getting paid, it was also announce that, on the heels of record setting Q4 revenue numbers and multiple products being successfully shipped in 2022… which is saying something for Blizz, which occasionally looks from the outside to have problems walking and chewing gum at the same time… that people would only be receiving 58% of their potential bonus.

Hard work and success?  Sorry, not enough.

Blizzard is not known for its high salaries, even relative to its industry, which itself doesn’t pay well for the skill levels required, but they have bonuses as a potential off-set.  Except when they skimp on paying out on them.

That got a justifiably negative response… they do like to do things like this right at peak moments of success… and Ybarra apparently tried to commiserate by complaining that bonuses were cut up and down the ranks and that executives weren’t making a lot of money.  When your QA and support staff make $22 and hour and you’re bringing in $300K, it is a little hard to feel anything but the contempt management obviously has for its staff.

Although, one has to admit that Ybarra has had problems seeing equity in pay before… as when his former co-leader, Jen Oneal, was getting paid less for literally the same job, something he tried to say wasn’t actually so.

And then there was the whole stack ranking thing, that relic of Jack Welch, who felt you needed to fire 10% of your staff annually to keep everybody motivated.  Literally the devil take the hindmost.  That completely failed to get addressed in any sort of adequate way.

If there is a good look to be had out there, Blizz does seem to go out of its way to avoid it.

Add in the threat that Bobby Kotick is going nowhere if the Microsoft merger fails and it wasn’t a good week.

The tricky bit is going to be what he says after we see the Q1 2023 results.  Blizz has nothing in the queue to ship, with Diablo IV, the next big launch, being out in June, and the usual post launch worry about whether the current WoW expansion has staying power or if WoW Classic will need to doing something to hold the line.  Maybe they’ll put the Dungeon Finder into the Wrath now that we’ve had time without it.  It would sure make leveling alts through TBC easier.