Category Archives: Blizzard

World of Warcraft 15th Anniversary Collectors Edition Announced

In addition to the WoW Classic launch date being announced there was also a news item about a World of Warcraft 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition.

WoW at Fifteen

While the box won’t be available until early October, you can pre-order it today for $100, because of course you can.  And when I say box, I mean box, as this appears to be focused on physical items.

Things you get

The list of items for the CE are:

  • Ragnaros Statue
    Behold Ragnaros, he who is ancient when this world was young! Bow, mortals, before this 10+ inch immortalization of the Firelord himself.
  • Onyxia Pin
    Add to your pin collection and adorn your home with the head of Onyxia, Broodmother of the Black Dragonflight.
  • Map of Azeroth Mouse Pad
    Gaze upon the realms your character has explored these past 15 years while you prepare for the next adventure.
  • Fine Art Prints
    Reach into Azeroth’s vivid past with eight frameable fine art prints.
  • 30 Days of Game Time
    Extend your stay in Azeroth with 30 days of game time to aid you on your next adventure.
  • Alabaster Mounts
    Take to the skies with these majestic alabaster mounts—living stone tributes to a pair of familiar flying creatures.

    • Alabaster Stormtalon for Alliance characters
    • Alabaster Thunderwing for Horde characters

While I am fond of collector’s editions for WoW (I regret not getting the original one) I am not really big on physical items, save for maybe the sound track.  At my age I am already carrying too much baggage when it comes to little nick nacks and dust collectors, so a ten inch tall Ragnaros doesn’t thrill me.

The mounts… maybe.  I’d prefer battle pets, but mounts are still good.

The Anniversary Mounts

But Blizz has me covered.  If I want just the mounts, they will be available on their own in the Blizzard shop in August.  If you buy them there then buy the CE you will get a $25 credit in the Blizzard store to cover the overlap.

And if you don’t want to spend any money on this, Blizz has plans for in-game anniversary gifts for the 15th anniversary for all subscribers.  We’ll get both a mount and a pet.  Blizz had put up a video of them.

So, in addition to WoW Classic, we have some things to look forward to later this year.

 

WoW Classic Coming August 27th

The announcement has finally hit, we now know the date for WoW Classic.

Classic is as Classic does

I thought that given the spotty reception that the Battle for Azeroth expansion was getting would get Blizzard to reel in the launch closer to June.  But Blizzard will move at its own pace, so late August it is.  One more of my predictions proven wrong.  Two, actually.  Par for the course.

There are, of course, lots of details as to what classic really means.  People have been following the announcements and compiling lists to keep track of what is in and out.  I watch the one in the forums and the one on Reddit when I want to see where things stand.

We know it will be based on WoW version 1.12, which has already made some people scream “That’s not classic classic!” or some such.  There is no way to please everybody on this.

There will also be the six phases of raiding unlocked over time, though we do not have and sort of unlock schedule or plan as yet.

Recently it was announced that your character count on WoW Classic will be separate from your main WoW character count.  If you have used up all 50 character slots in WoW you will still get 50 in WoW Classic, limited to 10 characters per server.

There is also a list of things that were not in classic that will be in WoW Classic.  From the forum post list:

  • The client will not run on 32-bit systems.
  • Accessibility options such as colorblind will be present, though modified to fit Classic.
  • Widescreen monitors are now fully supported.
  • Right-clicking on a player to report them has been enabled.
  • The modern engine no longer permits certain behaviors that could be used to get out of bounds.
  • Battle.net chat will be integrated into Classic.
  • Loot Trading will be introduced to Classic, allowing players to trade Bind on Pickup items to other players who participated in the same kill for up to 2 hours after the loot dropped, and assuming the item was not equipped.

The lack of support for 32-bit surprises me.  Does normal WoW not support 32-bit still?  I don’t get that, but there it is.  The loot trading thing caused a fuss a while back, but it is one of those things that solved a headache for Blizz as people would petition on accidental looting, so this just keeps that being a problem yet again.

And there are, of course, the things Blizz has said will not be in WoW Classic.

  • LFR/LFD
  • Cross realms
  • Races after Vanilla
  • Any content beyond Vanilla (as of right now)
  • Transmog
  • Achievements
  • Progressive itemization

I don’t think any of those are controversial.

I expect that WoW Classic will be a big success at launch and that among the things from classic we will be reliving, server queues will be one of them.

If you cannot wait for August the beta for WoW Classic is launching tomorrow.  You can opt in for it with your account where you opt in for all betas.

Now I am just waiting for the “When do we get The Burning Crusade classic servers?” question to start pouring in.  Oh wait, I think it already has.

Body Blow to Blizzard Margins

Oddly enough, I had a sense that things were off.  I picked up Candy Crush Saga again… I know, I said I was done there, but another post on that later… a couple months back and noticed over the last few weeks that they had added a ways to earn boosters by watching video ads.  You can get an extra booster every level for watching a video, an extra spin at the booster wheel for watching a video, and so on.

When this showed up my first thought was, “Somebody is looking for a way to boost Q2 earnings.”

And then the Activision Blizzard Q1 2019 financial report showed up yesterday.

You can find all the data they have shared, plus a replay of the analyst call on the investor relations site, but let me just summarize by saying it isn’t pretty, at least for Blizzard.

Overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.  The bottom line exceeded the guidance they gave, and that counts for a lot.  Activision gave us a warning last quarter and laid off 8% of its workforce in anticipation of tighter times.  The over payed executive staff didn’t share any of that pain, but they never do.  It is hard to look bad when you spend money on share buy backs to support the stock price.  From the report:

Two-year $1.5B stock repurchase authorization, started Feb 14, 2019

But expectations were set that things would be slowing down for the company.  On the Activision side of the house you only get one Call of Duty release a year, so you only expect one big quarter a year out of them.  They’ll be back in Q4 with big numbers.

But Blizzard and King, they are the reliable revenue generators, or so it usually goes.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2019 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 10

King looks to about on par.  They are down some from Q4 but are hanging tough on the margins front and align pretty well with Q1 2018.  Down a bit, but not much.

Activision is way off but, again, no Call of Duty release this quarter.  Margins are a bit dicey compared to Q1 2018, though revenue was actually up just a bit.

And then there is Blizzard.

It is tough to compare them against Q1 2018 because they had the Battle for Azeroth pre-order going, which boosted sales.  And, of course, in Q4 the game was still on its Battle for Azeroth high, with some people dumping in some extra cash for the 6 month subscription for an exclusive mount.  Well, it was exclusive.  You can buy it straight up ala carte now in the cash shop.  I suspect, again, something to goose earnings a bit for Q2.

The operating margin for Blizzard though… 16% is abysmal for a software company.  And that is noted as having been offset by “lower costs.”  They laid people off and likely cut back on something.  We might be seeing a reason here why Blizzard isn’t going to Gamescom this summer as well as looking for ways to offset more of the cost of BlizzCon this year with higher prices and special big spender packages.  Conventions like BlizzCon, despite what you might think, are not money makers.  Blizz is just trying to limit the bleed.

And what does this say about Blizzard games?  I see people say regularly that nobody plays WoW now, though that is patently false.  The servers are more lightly loaded, certainly, but things still seem to be buzzing and I run into other players everywhere.  However, those people who bought in on the free mount deal got to skip paying Blizz any money in Q1, having paid for six months up front.  That certainly might have left a hole in the income column.

And the Blizzard MAU for Q1 2019 was 32 million, which is down from 38 million last year, but still pretty high.  And when you have other games, free or non-subscription games, mixed into that number, it is meaningless unless you can get further details.  But clearly fewer people are spending money on Blizzard games.  SuperData was saying that there was burnout on the Hearthstone front and Overwatch has been reported as sagging since last summer.

And what else does Blizzard have?  Diablo III is in its forever seasonal holding pattern.  StarCraft II is kicking around without anything to sell people.  Heroes of the Storm is now a hobby as much as anything, its professional league having be shut down.  It makes me wonder how much Blizzard made via GoG.com with Diablo and Warcraft.

But more damning is perhaps what the presentation said about Blizzard, which wasn’t much at all.  Aside from a mention of the Overwatch League season, the Blizzard was pretty much left out.

But then, what else do they have to talk about on the Blizzard front?

WoW Classic is still out at some unspecified date in the summer.  The only new title on the horizon is Diablo Immortal, the mobile game that got such a bad reception at BlizzCon last year that I have to wonder if Blizzard is sitting on it until they have some other Diablo franchise news to report.  And that is about it.  There will be no announcements and Gamescom and BlizzCon doesn’t hit until November 1, 2019.  If it wasn’t for WoW Classic they would have nothing coming up.

And so it goes.

Carbot DiabLoL

Carbot Animations has made their mark on YouTube doing cute, funny little videos based on the Blizzard properties.  They’ve been successful enough that items based on their work have been featured in the Blizzard Store. (Alas, the Carbot plush zergling is no longer available.)  I highlighted their World of Warcraft series about five years back.

They have a new-ish series that I really like based on the original Diablo.

I find the mix of their animation style, the effects and music straight from the game, and the recognizable situations from the game to be quite charming.

But there was an additional aspect to this.  The series was announced around BlizzCon, which ended up being a bit awkward due to the Diablo hype that was ruined by Blizzard’s Diablo Immortal announcement.  It seemed like bad timing for a series based on that IP.

But then Blizzard and GoG.com released a version of Diablo that would run on today’s machines, which I have mostly played through, making the timing of the series seem incredibly spot on.  I am not sure I would have enjoyed it half as much if I had not just been playing the game.

April Fools at Blizzard 2019 is Pretty Much No Fools

There have been points in the past where April Fools was a pretty big deal at Blizzard and each game would have a special joke, a silly new game or outrageous feature, on their respective sites.

Blizzard Outcasts from 2014

Things are no longer that funny around Blizzard these days I gather.

There are a variety of reasons likely for that, but they all add up to declining fortunes.  World of Warcraft, still huge, isn’t as huge as it once was.  Overwatch has seen a decline over the last year and reports are that Hearthstone is suffering from franchise fatigue.

As such, this year’s entries are pretty much non-existent, somehow managing to be a step down from even last year’s low turn out.  I have logged below what I found on the US sites, which I will update if new items show up.

Blizzard Overall

There is a translator up that will show you Blizzard sites in the Murloc language.

The Murloc language is, of course, Nerglish.  This was also part of the Hearthstone April Fools last year.

World of Warcraft

The annual April 1st patch notes are up, titled Patch 8.6.7 Build 5309, a nod to a bit of 80s pop culture.  Some traditions never die.  Still, it is a somewhat tepid listing this year, featuring entries such as:

  • Feral Druids can now be crowd-controlled by throwing a slice of cheese on their head.
  • Groups of 5 Feral Druids can come together to form one super-bot.
  • Due to noise complaints, Stonebark has been fitted with a shock collar.

But that is it.  The WoW site has no new entries for April 1.

Overwatch

Nothing

Hearthstone

Nothing

StarCraft

Nothing

Diablo III

Nothing

Diablo: Immortal

Already confirmed as not an April Fools joke at BlizzCon.

Heroes of the Storm

It is still there… but no April Fools joke.

Past Years

If this year’s lack of effort leaves you longing for bigger or better gags, you can always look back at past years:

I think it might be telling that the official Blizzard April Fool’s archive stops at 2015.

We may be at a point where we can declare April Fools no longer really a thing for Blizzard.

But if you’re dying for something on April Fools, I guess you can go play Minecraft 3D.  The over-the-top April Fools spirit has hit Mojang… though I am not sure that their impression of a 1994 version of Minecraft is all that different from what they have today.

Diablo Returns via GoG.com

While Valve was out making itself look bad in front of the world, Blizzard and GoG.com were conspiring to bring back a video game classic, the original Diablo.

Diablo at GoG.com

Seeing the news about this over at Ars Technica, I immediately went to GoG.com and bought a copy.

You actually get two versions of the game for your $10.

Diablo Launcher

There is Diablo (Classic), which is pretty much the original game, fixed up a bit to run, and able to get onto Battle.net.

Then there is the GoG.com Diablo, which has been jiggered to run better and scale to larger monitors.

Having tinkered with the original Diablo on Win7 a couple years back… you could get it to run, but there were some quirks to be sure… I was keen to try the GoG.com version.  And, just a ways in, I can say it sure feels like the real deal.

Wandering Tristram

I got in and went straight for the dungeon looking for an old friend.

Enter The Butcher!

The game looks and plays like it is 1997 again… which means the graphics are crap and the whole thing feels extremely primitive.  But it is true to the times.   After all, I think my phone has more processing power than every computer I owned during the 90s combined.  And it certainly has better graphical resolution than any monitor I owned.

And then there is the way the game plays.  A lot of what I think of when it comes to the Diablo series comes from Diablo II.  It took the original and lifted it, improving the game in many ways.  So I was reminded how things used to be… like there being one potion per hotbar slot.  Were there belts in the original Diablo?  Or was that a D2 thing?  And then there is the fact that when your gear runs out of durability it is destroyed.  I lost almost all of my gear fighting the Butcher, but I killed him in the end.  And a good thing too, I needed that weapon.

The Butcher Down and Me Disarmed

It is also hard to just find loot on the dark dungeon floors.  I don’t think that is just because my eyes are 20+ years older now.

Whacking skeletons with the Butcher’s axe

I doubt this is a game that will impress anybody not old enough to have played it when it came out.  Back then it was a revelation.  The Blizzard North team got a lot of stuff right.  It is sure more authentic than the Darkening of Tristram event that Blizzard put into Diablo III.

I suppose the real question is, “Why GoG.com?”

Blizzard goes on in that post I linked about not being able to put it into the Blizzard launcher because it doesn’t tie into the current back end architecture, but that begs the question.  Blizzard has the kind of resources to fix or update the code.  However, they let GoG.com do the improvements.

I mean, good for GoG.com and all.  They just had some layoffs so something that helps support them is probably a good thing.  Maybe they have the retro-restoration experience that Blizzard does not for this sort of thing.  And it sounds like they may get to do similar work with Warcraft and Warcraft II.

All of which is great, but I still want a full remaster of Diablo II.

Quote of the Day – Possible Side Effects

Further, there can be no assurance that our business will be more efficient or effective than prior to implementation of the plan…

Activision Blizzard – SEC Filing about the impact of laying off 8% of staff

Activision Blizzard caught more than a bit of heat last month when it announced record revenue and layoffs in the same investor call when going over its 2018 financial reports.

But, you know, Activision Blizzard is a publicly held business and so cannot rest on its laurels.  It has to set expectations for the next period, which it said would see a decrease in revenue.  To show they were addressing that up front they opted to give the axe to 8% of the company.  It was their fiduciary responsibility.

I do wonder how fiduciary responsibility plays out when CEO Bobby Kotick is asked to explain the $33 million in compensation he received last year.  Is he really worth the 100+ senior developers that kind of money could hire?  That number was enough to earn him the #2 spot on the Top 100 Most Overpayed CEOs list, which ranked CEOs on the financial performance of their company relative to their compensation.  He is ranked worse than Virginia Rometty, the latest charlatan trying to keep the corpse of IBM shambling down the road just long enough to cash in.  Not a good look.

Anyway, people got the axe because the company needed to trim sails for 2019.  It was required.

And then this past week came the SEC filing that covered the planned staff reduction, which said this about it:

In February 2019, we announced a restructuring plan under which we plan to refocus our resources on our largest opportunities and to remove unnecessary levels of complexity and duplication from certain parts of our business. While we believe this restructuring plan will enable us to provide better opportunities for talent, and greater expertise and scale on behalf of our business units, our ability to achieve the desired and anticipated benefits from the restructuring plan within our desired and expected time frame is subject to many estimates and assumptions, and the actual savings and timing for those savings may vary materially based on factors such as local labor regulations, negotiations with third parties, and operational requirements. These estimates and assumptions are also subject to significant economic, competitive and other uncertainties, some of which are beyond our control. Further, there can be no assurance that our business will be more efficient or effective than prior to implementation of the plan,or that additional restructuring plans will not be required or implemented in the future. The implementation of this restructuring plan may also be costly and disruptive to our business or have other negative consequences, such as attrition beyond our planned reduction in workforce or negative impacts one employee morale and productivity, or on our ability to attract and retain highly skilled employees. Any of these consequences could negatively impact our business.

Basically, this planned layoff might not change anything and could possibly make things worse.

Now, I know that in the litigious world in which we live a public company has to cover its ass lest their publicly announced plans not go as expected, leading to lawsuits.  It is pretty much the same way that drug companies have to list all possible side effects… and I love when “death” gets its own spot on those lists… so that they can later claim that they warned you that you might end up with eczema, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, or death.

But it still undermines the confidence shown on the call that laying off almost 800 people from the company was necessary to see it through 2019.  And it further exposes the assumption that a CEO like Bobby Kotick is paid so much because he knows what to do, that his expertise is somehow worth all that money.  The ATVI stock price, the all important absolute measurement of a company’s value for Wall Streets, seems to indicate that over the last he wasn’t all that.

Meanwhile, as a side note, buried in that filing, is a statement about the top franchises of Activision Blizzard:

For the year ended December 31, 2018, our top three franchises—Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and World of Warcraft—collectively accounted for 58% of our net revenues.

So if you’ve been gloomy about WoW, or worried that something else might be taking over the main focus at Blizzard, you can feel a bit better.  If you’re an Overwatch fan though… well… Overwatch made the “top franchise” cut in 2016 and 2017, but appears to have fallen below the line for 2018.  The line is apparently set at the 10% or more of total revenues mark.