Category Archives: Blizzard

Fine, You Can Fly in Draenor, But Only AFTER You Hit an Arbitrary Content Threshold!

I nearly did a spit-take when I saw this announcement.

Blizzard has responded… or changed its mind… or caved in to the mob… or stuck to its principles… or screwed over one group for another… or completely failed to understand the issue at hand… pick whichever option fits your personal narrative… and announced that players will be allowed to fly in Draenor after all.

This all started a couple weeks back when Blizzard announced that they were not going to enable flying in Draenor.  The top level reasoning was:

Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways

Basically, flying meant that people ended up not playing the game the way Blizzard wanted.

Flying lets you bypass all our hard work! How can you not see that?

Flying lets you bypass all our hard work! How can you not see that? Look at this terrain!

You can put whatever other spin you want on it, but that really seems to me to be the essential point.  They designed all this content assuming you’d be on the ground, but when you can fly, you can bypass it all.

I love when I can fly by the form hasn't drawn yet...

Sometimes I bypass having a flying mount or flight form altogether and just fly!

For me, the great unanswered question in all of this remains how much control over their game should a developer be allowed, whether or not the dev’s view of how their game should be played should trump the player’s view, whether MMO studios be dictating a “right way” to play and should players accept that or not?  Maybe that should be a question for Blaugust, when we’re all struggling to post for 31 days straight.

Anyway, that aside, Blizzard has come up with what feels to me very much like a “have your cake and eat it” solution to the rage about flying.  Or maybe it is a good compromise.  It is hard for me to tell at this point.  However yeah, you’ll be able to fly in Draenor, but first these things you must achieve, ‘ere the freedom of the sky ye see!

When you have achieved…

…and collected 100 treasures in Draenor, AND raised three Tanaan Jungle (a new area coming with the 6.2 update) reputations to Revered (I bet it was exalted in the first pass), then and only then will you be granted the Draenor Pathfinder meta achievement which will reward the Soaring Skyterror mount and unlock flying in Draenor on your account for all your characters at or above level 90… once they patch that in.

The money quote for this:

We believe this strikes the right balance between ensuring ground-based content lives up to its full potential, while providing players who’ve already fully experienced Draenor’s outdoor world extra freedom to “break the rules.” This also provides a general blueprint going forward for content to come. Players will explore new and undiscovered lands from the ground, and then once they’ve fully mastered those environments—a notion that continues to evolve with each new expansion—they can take to the skies and experience the world from a new vantage point.

And I can guess the results of this now.  A large group will be quietly happy and we’ll never hear from them again.  But they were probably quiet this whole time anyway.

Meanwhile, those who very much oppose flying will feel betrayed because content bypassing and dropping in on mobs from above and all the other complaints will be enabled on alts the moment they hit Draenor.  At least back in Pandaria every character had to hit level cap before getting to fly.

And those who have been demanding the ability to fly… well, it would be hard not get the sense that they want to fly so they can do all the things now required to get flying by… well… just flying.  If you’ve already done all that, flying doesn’t help you out as much.  I cannot imagine that unbridled happiness will ensue as this group expected the Pandaria deal, just get to level cap and part with some gold and let me fly dammit!

But somehow the world will keep spinning and the sun will still come up tomorrow.

At least that is how I see it… and I don’t even have any of those achievements.  That would require me to leave my garrison… or log in, which has been getting harder of late.

But others are talking about the great flying compromise of 2015 as well.

Fear of Flying

In one of those “note the date, something big was said” moments, Blizzard has announced… through a proxy at least, if not via an official press release… that they likely won’t allow flying mounts in Draenor… or maybe in any future expansion.  You can read about it over at Polygon, where the fateful words came as part of an interview.  I think this sums up the justification.

Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways

There is a bit of irony in that, seeing that Outland, an alternate timeline Draenor, was the first place to feature flying mounts, but Draenor will be denied them.  Flying mounts have been a thing in WoW since 2007.  But the interview goes into all the thing people tend to bring up as the downside of flying mounts.

Certainly, flying has been a contentious thing in WoW.  And Blizzard has no doubt been aware of the trade off that flying brings with it since The Burning Crusade.

Back then you only got to spend what seemed like a ton of gold on a skill and a flying mount… back when buying the mount was the expensive bit… when you hit the level cap.  At that point you got to fly and there was some content that required flying to access.

Then came Wrath of the Lich King, and there was much moaning because flying went away the moment you hit Northrend, at least until you got to level… 77? 78? not quite the level cap… at which point you could train Cold Weather Flying and move into some of the content that required a flying mount.  That was a hint at the problems to come, as once somebody has something, it is a hard task to take it away.

Cataclysm gave us flying from the first moment and pretty much proved to me that flying had its problems.  Aside from Vashj’ir, which was under water (though you could make the case that your under water mount was effectively a flying mount), you had access to your flying mounts in all of the new zones, which took much of the effort out of them.  There were a few points where you needed flying, but for the most part flying felt like a pass to flit past any opposition to get to a quest objective.  It basically sped up leveling, something I am not sure WoW really needed.

Blizzard pulled back from that with Mists of Pandaria, going back to the model of allowing flying mounts only at level cap.  There was even a bit of content that required a flying mount, though nothing like the level of content in Outland or Northrend.  But that led us back to the cycle of losing flying with the next expansion again, and Blizzard hemmed and hawed about flying in Warlords of Draenor.  There was a promise to look into flying, an assumption that we would get flying, but no concrete statement that it would be so.

And now we have the word… or perhaps it is just a trial balloon that Blizzard can deny was the official line if the rage grows too strong.

Personally, I get what is being said when it comes flying.  It does make the world feel smaller.  It does trivialize travel.  It does let players bypass all that annoying “content” to go straight their objective.  It does make an already too fast and too convenient game feel even faster and more convenient.  Exploration ceases to be a thing… there being little or no effort in exploring on a flying mount… and some types of adventures just don’t happen when you can fly.

It is just a shame that flying is so much damn fun.  Here is what I wrote back when I got my first flying mount in WoW.

Flying… it is good enough that it feels like cheating.

Yeah it does.  And I never get tired of it, especially when it comes to druid flight form.  I could easily spend an idle hour amusing myself with my druid just jumping off of tall buildings and then going into flight form as I fell.

Patience got me Flight

Druid just floating above the world…

Once you have a druid with flight form, even flying mounts feel a bit awkward.

I love when I can fly by the form hasn't drawn yet...

I love when I can fly and the flight form hasn’t drawn yet…

And, like any really good, empowering cheat, it is very tough to let go once you have used it once.  I never think, “Oh, I should just ride or walk, flying is too easy.”  I just fly.  It would take a serious effort of will to walk or ride when flying was available.

So I can see why people are upset at the even the suggestion that we might not get to swan about on flying mounts everywhere in Azeroth.  We’ve all had that bit of heroin in our veins by now, and it is a tough habit to break.

But I also can’t help but see something of a parallel between how a few people are responding to this and how some botters responded to their bans recently; petulance and declarations and speaking for the community as a whole along with threats to never give Blizzards another nickel.  The usual stuff.

I just can’t get all that worked up about it myself.  If I could press a button and turn on flying in Draenor, I probably would.  But I also have a bit of a fatalistic outlook when it comes to video games.  I try to look at things like this as obstacles to conquer as opposed to things that I should spend much time pouting/raging about.

And, coming of age with video games when I did, I also seem to give developers a lot of leeway in shaping their game to be played the way they want it to be played, as opposed to the way the players think it should be played.  That is one of the great philosophical questions of our age, the relative importance of developer vision versus player desire, and one that gets deftly avoided time and again when people, including myself, write about games.

That doesn’t mean I don’t bitch and moan about some decisions, or count the cost of a particular change… that’s great fun at times… or occasionally think I am smarter than the devs on a given issue, but you’ll note that I mostly focus on the games I keep playing anyway.  It is more a matter of my wanting to talk about games than any desire to impose my will.  Just last week I took the time to note that the harsh death penalty of TorilMUD was being relaxed.  I had suffered from that harsh penalty more than a few times in the past, but always considered it to be part of the game and altered my play style to accommodate it.  Now that has changed, and likely the game itself will change because of it… though given the low population of TorilMUD these days the range of the impact likely won’t be great.

Anyway, there is a mob howling about flying.  I won’t be upset if Blizzard holds to their current vision for flying mounts.  I think Blizzard has some legitimate points, ones that have been brought up time and again.  But if the heat is too much for Blizzard and they decide that putting the toothpaste back in the tube is beyond their means, I’ll be riding around in the air on my flying mount like everybody else.

Other bloggers looking at the whole flying mount thing:

 

WoW Subscriptions Drop to 7 Million on Purpose

Last week the Activision-Blizzard earnings announcement indicated that World of Warcraft had dropped from over 10 million subscribers, a position held from November 2014 through at least the end of the year, to 7.1 million subscribers, putting its player base back down to where it stood during the 13 month Pandaria content drought.

Blizzard's slide from the deck

Blizzard’s slide from the deck

That is a tough drop to explain away as “expected and consistent” so soon after Warlords of Draenor and given past history.  The much reviled Cataclysm expansion bottomed out at 9.1 million, while Mists of Pandaria took at least 18 months to hit low ebb at 6.8 million subscribers.  (MMO Champion has a nice chart showing this.) Their might be a seed of something in SynCaine’s hyperbole.

So it seemed like an odd moment for Blizzard to turn around and ban more than 100,000 accounts, unless it was an attempt to get all the bad news in at once.  Only, the bans won’t be reflected in the subscription numbers until the next quarterly report, so that doesn’t really fly.

The first I noticed that something might be up was yesterday morning on Twitter when, in amongst the widespread moaning about the Jem and the Holograms trailer I saw a tweet (since deleted) from somebody enraged that Blizzard had banned a friend’s WoW account for NO REASON.

And then, as the day wore on, we found out that there was likely a reason after all.  The official Blizzard announcement was:

We’ve recently taken action against a large number of World of Warcraft accounts that were found to be using third-party programs that automate gameplay, known as “bots.” We’re committed to providing an equal and fair playing field for everyone in World of Warcraft, and will continue to take action against those found in violation of our Terms of Use. Cheating of any form will not be tolerated.

Blizzard is serious about this sort of thing.  It is ingrained in their corporate culture, forged by their experiences with the original StarCraft, which practically became the national sport in South Korea, that cheats are bad and a threat to their long-term success.  And so they are very aggressive in seeking out any hacks, cheats, or exploits, and have been since day one of WoW. Blizzard’s Warden software has been around a long time.

Of course, there are a lot of “but I was only…” sorts of defense comments out there from the banned.  There is a fine collection of them over at the bottom of the latest post over at The Nosy Gamer, who covers botting and RMT topics regularly.

But we all know it was cheating, both those making the lame rationalizations and those of us reading them.  I ran a poll about six years back where I listed out a bunch of behaviors and let people choose what they felt was cheating.  The results stratified into three groups, with the “we all know they’re cheating” items at the top, the uncomfortable ones in the middle, and the pet peeves at the bottom.  And botting, automation of complex tasks, was right there at the top of the list.

But even if we were going to rationalize and try and kid ourselves that maybe botting some things isn’t so bad, that boring game play somehow legitimizes it, or run off and try to whitewash gold farming to frame it as a good thing, it doesn’t really matter because, as I said above, Blizzard’s corporate culture cannot see it as something besides a bad thing that must be fought.

I used to think the term “corporate culture” was a bullshit phrase.  But that was more because describing corporate culture to somebody is often like trying to describe water to a fish.  It is just there, all pervasive, yet just part of the environment, just the way things are.  Even if you change jobs, moving to another company, it can be hard to really see the full embrace of the culture.  One person just assimilates and learns how things are done.  To really see corporate culture you have to go through a merger or an acquisition and see two different cultures clash.  That is one point when you can really identify what the culture is, when it appears in sharp relief.

At my last company we went through a series of such moves over the course of a decade, and I went from my opinion about corporate culture being bullshit to wondering how some companies survive given how immutable corporate culture can be.  Culture is like a tangible substance.  It can be like mold in your attic, where sometimes it is just easier to tear the house down and start over.

At one point we were acquired by a hardware company that desperately wanted to be a software company.  We went from just shipping a disk or a download to a long and convoluted certification and sales process that looked remarkably like what you would do to sell hardware.  I had a 200-page guide covering everything we needed to do to move software from “we’re done, ship it!” to the point when sales could sell it.  And we couldn’t do a thing about it because they bought us, so their culture “won,” so we had to be a software company that worked like a hardware company, right down to refusing just to sell software unless we installed it on the hardware on which it would run before it left our building.

That quickly strangled sales, until we were acquired again.  This time though it was by a company that was a spin off from the phone company, with all the baggage that implies to anybody who has ever worked for/with any of the one-time Baby Bells.  For somebody from Silicon Valley with a background in start ups, it was almost literally like living in a Dilbert cartoon.

So when I see a company like Nintendo clinging to a hardware based business philosophy while pundits shout that they need to get into selling software, I know what I am seeing is corporate culture… or maybe corporate identity is a better term… at play.  Yes, they have recently made some minor moves in the direction of software only business, but for all they have said, it still strikes me as something to appease stock holders rather than a serious effort to change how the company works.  They still see themselves as a hardware company, measure their success by the number of Wii U or 3DS units sold, and see software as a way to move hardware rather than a revenue stream unto itself.  We’re not going to see core Pokemon RPG games or Mario Kart on iOS or Android.  It will take a near-extinction level event to get there, and while the Wii U has been a serious disappointment, that has been off-set by very healthy 3DS sales, which no doubt reinfoces the idea inside Nintendo that the problem with the Wii U was one of execution and not a call to change business models.

All of which is a very round-about way for me to say that it comes as absolutely no surprise to me at all that Blizzard chose to ban more than 100,000 accounts (and remove the corresponding revenue) right on the heels of announcing that they were down nearly 30% when it came to subscriptions.  Corporate culture will dictate.

Draenor Tourism Season is Over, WoW Back Down to 7.1 Million Subscribers

Blizzard Entertainment had the largest Q1 online player community in its history, up a double digit percentage year over year despite no major launches in the quarter. As expected and consistent with our experience following prior expansions, we saw a decline in the World of Warcraft subscriber number. Subscribers ended the quarter at 7.1 million. World of Warcraft’s revenue performance at constant FX has been more stable, driven by continued strong uptake on value added services, and price increases in select regions, which partially offset subscriber declines, particularly in the East. World of Warcraft remains the No.1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world.

Activision-Blizzard Earnings Report for Q1 2015

The East is always letting World of Warcraft down.  What is it they want over there?

Well, we knew subscriptions would go up when Warlords of Draenor shipped, though perhaps how early the number went up was a bit of a surprise.  And it lasted through the end of 2014 as expected.  The real question was how long the bad guys in Draenor could hold the 10 million subscriber number.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

How can you leave these guys?

The answer is, apparently, less than six months.

Not that 7.1 million subscribers is anything to balk at.  That is still a player base any four current MMOs could divide amongst themselves and each feel like a huge success.  (And that same subscriber drop would kill any competitor.)  But this is World of Warcraft and forever will that “more than 12 million” number dominate its destiny.

Of course, the money is still coming in hand over fist, though the strong dollar looks like it will be an issue.

Given the weakening of foreign currencies versus the U.S. dollar, the company’s 2015 international revenues and earnings are expected to be translated at lower rates than in 2014. This impacts the company’s 2015 outlook as compared to 2014 actual results given approximately 50% of the company’s revenues, and a higher percentage of profits, are generated outside the U.S.

So you have to have to wonder if the game will continue its “expansion about every two years” trajectory as subscribers bleed off during the between times.  I won’t even say “the dead period” as there still seems to be a lot to do and more is coming up.  But for some people, the leveling game is all she wrote, and those were a quick ten levels.

The report mentioned other irons that Blizzard has in the fire.

Blizzard's slide from the deck

Blizzard’s slide from the deck

There was also a bit in there specifically about the WoW Token being launched.  Though that might keep some gold-rich subscribers in the game longer, it isn’t any sort of revenue machine like the base subscription.

So are we going to see an expansion sooner this time around?  Or will there just be more content released before the next box shows up?

Jacked Up But Clearly Not Good to Go!

I played a lot of StarCraft back when it was new… which was back in early 1998.  My friends and I played it after work at the office and at home via Battle.net.  As so many have said, it was a very well balanced RTS with three distinctly different factions to learn.  Our interest in it kept going right through the Brood War expansion. (Though when I look at the dates, Brood War came out eight months after the main game, which might be some sort of Blizzard record for shipping an expansion.)

Anyway, I have written a bit about StarCraft before and it has come up now and again for our group as a possible game to go back to.  The primary arguments against it tend to be the fact that it runs at 640×480 resolution and that none of us are really into RTS games much any more.  It was a game from a specific point in my timeline, and that time may have passed.

But I still have strong memories of it.  Even my wife remembers the game.  Back when it was current my then wife-to-be and I shared an office in her condo so when I played video games I either had to put on headphones or share the audio experience with her, and the audio StarCraft left its mark.  To this day she will, every so often, as if I ever play “Jacked up and good to go!” any more, that being one of the more memorable Terran Marine quotes.

Since then StarCraft II has (finally) shown up, but while I have written about it a bit… mostly in the context of Blizzard as a whole… I have never gotten around to buying the game.  I have thought about it, but since I play MMOs now, and since those tend to consume all available gaming time, I am not sure when I would play.  Plus, for me, it was always a group game, so buying it myself would seem… odd.  The campaigns were never the high point, it was always about playing with friends.  (Though with playing at work a thing of the past due to IT policy, I am not sure I would miss LAN play.)

So I was a bit surprise/amused/happy to get a note from Blizzard letting me know I had been given access to the closed beta for the upcoming Legacy of the Void expansion for StarCraft II.

Why thanks!

Why thanks!

Blizzard had some details out about this back at BlizzCon last year, but it seems like things are really in motion if they are already sending invites to random opt-ins like me. They want feedback early according to the details.

For this reason, we decided to start the beta sooner than we normally would have in the past, providing ample time for feedback and iteration.

Though I gather from the Beta FAQ that my purchase of a virtual ticket to BlizzCon 2014 put me on the list.

I mentioned that I got the invite to my wife and she said the line, “Jacked up and good to go!” and told me I had to play… and that I had to have the audio run through my speakers so she could hear what the units were saying.  So it had to be done.

I downloaded the beta, though I first tried to do it through the “Download Now” button in the email, which only succeeded in downloading the StarCraft II starter edition.  Not that that was a bad thing.  I got that going and ran through the tutorial mission just to make sure I still knew the basics.  I slaughtered the CPU guided foe with ease following the tutorial instructions along with some vague memories of how to play from back in the day.

After that I went back to the Battle.net launcher and downloaded the Legacy of the Void beta directly and got that up and running.

That was what I wanted to see

That was what I wanted to see

I got in there and looked at what options I had.  They were limited to 1v1 multiplayer games over Battle.net, which was to be expected given the blurb in the invite.

This phase of the Legacy of the Void closed beta test focuses on the multiplayer aspects of the game, including the new cooperative Archon mode, so ramp up your APM and dive into the battle.

So multiplayer it was the option.  How bad could it be, right?

Actually, the more accurate question was, “How bad could I be?”

I played three games in quick succession… and they were quick because I ended up surrendering after being wrecked much earlier than expected.  I am not just bad at StarCraft II at this point, but I am apparently so much worse than the average player in the beta… who are much more likely to be self-selected individuals who are really into StarCraft II as opposed to happy memory dilettantes like myself… that after the third humiliation I closed down the game and went back to Azeroth to work on my second druid (mentioned last week) healing for random Dungeon Finder groups.  At least there when things are going bad I can at least tell why.

Hitting level 90

Hitting level 90!  Another garrison soon

It just isn’t worth my time simply because I do not care enough about StarCraft II to put in the effort to be more than a very small speed-bump on somebody’s road to victory.  Those days are gone.

And the most disappointing bit in the whole thing… the Terran Marine units don’t even say, “Jacked up and good to go!” any more.  I had to check the list of quotes to be sure, and it isn’t there.

But I will always have memories of 1998.

CCP Copies Blizzard’s WoW Token Idea

I suspect that the headline above is how some World of Warcraft players will react to PLEX, should they ever hear about it or the existence of a game called EVE Online, now that Blizzard’s WoW Tokens are going live in North America.  That is the way these things tend to go.

But $20 will apparently get you 30,000 gold in WoW a some point today.  (There is even a video to show you how it all works.)

The WoW Token highway has no exit

The WoW Token highway has no exit

You and I though, we know better.  We know that EVE Online has had PLEX for over five years at this point.

Current prices are around 800 million ISK in Jita

Current prices are around 800 million ISK in Jita

And we know that, after CCP introduced PLEX into New Eden other MMOs adopted similar currencies to allow their players to exchange real world money for in-game currency.  So we have:

  • KronoEverQuest & EverQuest II and maybe other titles.
  • CREDDWildStar
  • GRACEAnarchy Online
  • DUELDarkfall
  • REXRift
  • APEX – ArcheAge

Interesting experiments, with a mix of subscription-only and free to play titles to observe.  But those are all small time compared to WoW, with populations totaled all together barely matching a small percentage of the 10 million players last reported in Azeroth.

With WoW Tokens, the PLEX idea is hitting the big time and, going forward it will like be the benchmark system against which all others are compared.  PLEX may have come first, but WoW Tokens will likely be the biggest such item for a long time to come.

Of course, Blizzard is taking steps to cover itself on the WoW Tokens front.  The WoW Token market is setup region-wide, so they have populations larger than EVE Online to keep the prices stable.  And should stability be an issue, they have setup a system where they can control prices.

I will be interested to see where the prices go over time.  30,000 gold for $20 seems like a reasonable price, enough to steer people away from illicit RMT.  We will have to see if, over the longer term, 30,000 gold is worth 30 days of game time to the richer players in game.  That joke about CREDD might come true for some in WoW.  And I do find it interesting that, while the starting price for WoW Tokens is 30,000 gold, the intro video I linked above shows a payout of nearly half that.

15,864? Where is my 30K Gold?

15,864? Where is my 30K Gold?

I am waiting for somebody to setup a site to track the pricing and compare it across regions.  It will be interesting to see what sort of split, if any, ends up being necessary to support pricing sufficient to fight illicit RMT.  How much gold will Blizzard have to inject into the WoW economy in its own version of quantitative easing?

Will WoW Tokens have the same effect that PLEX did in EVE Online, where suddenly everything can now be converted to a real world value, where we know how much a titan is worth in dollars and euros and yen?  The mainstream press obsesses over that conversion when it comes to EVE Online because dollar amounts make for better headlines.  I am waiting for the WoW addon that converts all gold values to real world currencies.

Also, now that WoW gold will effectively that have a real world monetary value, we can examine the exchange rates between currencies in various games.  Right now it looks like about 27,000 ISK in EVE Online will buy you 1 gold coin in WoW, which feels about right I guess.  That would give me about 200,000 WoW gold worth of currency in EVE Online.  More than I have in WoW, but ISK is probably more important to me in New Eden than gold is to me in Azeroth.  Necessities versus luxuries.

And, finally, I am now waiting for some site (like maybe The EVE Onion) to start valuing the cost of battles in EVE Online in terms of WoW gold.  So that 75 billion ISK brawl in Pure Blind the other day, that was worth nearly 2.8 million gold!

Hrmm, I might need to put together a conversion spreadsheet to track that exchange rate.

Anyway, others writing about WoW Tokens on their launch day:

And, from the comments, a site to track the price of WoW Tokens.