Category Archives: Blizzard

Warcraft Arclight Rumble Announced

I was on a plane on Tuesday when Blizzard rolled out the intro to their new entry into the Warcraft franchise, Warcraft Arclight Rumble, so I am still trying to catch up and figure out what it really is

The Warcraft mobile vision

I think part of the problem here is that I do not play a lot of mobile games, so in watching the game play trailer I had the strong sense that the whole thing was knocking off some key element of the mobile gaming genre… this is Blizzard after all, and their method, as has been noted in the past, has always been to take some game they’re playing and refine and remake it in their own vision… but I couldn’t tell you what it really was.  Clash of Clans maybe?

I guess it looks okay.  It has that Warcraft and Hearthstone feel to it.  Collectible units like Heroes of the Storm. The bullet points:

  • Collect over 60 characters from across the Warcraft universe—brought to life as lovingly sculpted tabletop miniatures.
  • Triumph through an epic single-player campaign with over 70 missions.
  • Play cooperatively with your friends or put their armies to the test in competitive player-versus-player mode.
  • Engage in dungeons or take on demanding co-operative raids.
  • Join a guild, engage in PvP, and much more.

And it is on mobile like… um… Diablo Immortal?

The presence of Diablo Immortal is somewhat amusing to me in the scope of this new title.  There has been a rumor of a Warcraft mobile game for a while now.  I think Mike Morhaime even said at one point that Blizz likes to take on genres they’re playing, and the key people in the company were all into mobile at that moment, which was certainly a hint.

But Warcraft Arclight Rumble is going to end up being the second Blizzard mobile title, after Diablo Immortal, which they outsourced to NetEase.  Furthermore, Diablo Immortal is going to be playable on PC because Blizz openly admitted that they were sure a lot of people would just play it on their PC in emulation so they figured they might as well just make a PC playable version. (The fact that Apple and Google won’t get a cut of PC cash shop sales probably entered into that plan as well.)

If that was a concern for Diablo Immortal, I wonder if it will end up being a concern for Warcraft Arclight Rumble.  Does the same thing apply?

Otherwise, I guess it fits in with the Warcraft franchise, being something more akin to the RTS game than WoW.  And it looks like it won’t be on the menu any time soon.  You can pre-register for the beta on Android, with iOS beta details still to come.

Related:

Blizzard Declines Hard in Q1 2022 While Diablo Immortal Finally Gets a Launch Date

Activision Blizzard pushed out their Q1 2022 financials at 7:30am Eastern Time yesterday which, while it isn’t the Friday at 4pm routine, still strikes me as an hour suited to attracting less attention or getting bad news out of the way quickly.  And Elon Musk promptly buried that news by buying Twitter.  So there you go.

The date was a bit earlier than I expected as well, the pattern generally being that one gets the announcement in the first week of the second month of the quarter.  But I guess if you aren’t going to do anything fancy you can get things out more quickly.

And Activision Blizzard isn’t doing anything fancy because of the Microsoft acquisition.  They don’t have to impress analysts with a cool slide deck or an engaging conference call or throw out a buzzword salad because Microsoft has said they are going to pay $95 a share when the deal closes, which puts a pretty hard ceiling on the share price.

Of course, Activision Blizzard also has to not screw things up between now and when the deal closes because I am sure the contract for the acquisition is miles long and contains many provisions where by Microsoft can pay less or walk away if Bobby Kotick and company degrade the value of the company in any substantial way… or more so than they have already in any case.

This is the part where I tell you that they aren’t doing very well on that front at the moment.

The overall company reported revenue of $1.77 billion, down from $2.28 billion a year ago in Q1 2021 as both the Activision and Blizzard portions of the company slipped hard so far in 2022.

King, however, was up.  Candy Crush Saga abides while Call of Duty and World of Warcraft fall.

I am only really interested in the Blizzard corner of the business, so how badly did they tank in Irvine?

Blizzard revenue in Q1 2022 was $274 million.

For comparison, Blizz brought in $419 million in Q4 2021, which itself was down noticeably from the $493 million posted in Q3.  That was also off from the $433 posted in Q2 and the $483 million posted in Q1.

The holiday season was off for Blizz because they had nothing new to sell, but the new year was brutal, as even the low point of 2021 looks pretty sweet when compared to how 2022 is breaking for the division.

To go along with that, the Blizzard Monthly Active User count went down another 2 million users in Q1 2022.  Over at Massively OP they have been tracking the user count decline, which went from 38 million users in Q1 2018 to just 22 million users in Q1 2022.  Even during the peak COVID lockdown Blizzard’s user numbers were flat.  Now we’re closing in on losing half of their user count in four years.

So not happy times down in Irvine.

What did they have to say about it?  It was the usual hand waving about the product cycle of World of Warcraft and promises of better things to come.

Blizzard’s first quarter financial results were lower year-over-year, primarily reflecting product cycle timing for the Warcraft® franchise. Blizzard’s teams reached important milestones across its key franchises in recent months, and the second quarter represents the start of a period of planned substantial releases across Blizzard’s portfolio.

Blizzard continues to work on numerous new experiences to delight and expand the Warcraft community. The newest Hearthstone® expansion, Voyage to the Sunken City™, launched on April 12. Blizzard’s teams are working on major new content for World of Warcraft® including World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, the innovative upcoming expansion for the modern game, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King® Classic. Blizzard is also planning to unveil more details about its first Warcraft mobile experience in the coming weeks.

Diablo® Immortal™ will launch on June 2, 2022 in most regions around the world, with the remaining regions in Asia-Pacific gaining access a few weeks later. Over 30 million people have already pre-registered for the game. In addition to offering a deep, authentic, and free-to-play Diablo experience on the mobile platform, Diablo Immortal will also be available free-to-play on Windows® PC, initially as an open beta starting on June 2, 2022, and will support cross-play and cross-progression.

Development on Diablo 4 and Overwatch® 2 is also progressing well. Company-wide internal testing of Diablo 4 is underway, and external testing of the player-versus-player mode of Overwatch 2 begins tomorrow, April 26, 2022.

This is a reminder, once again, as to how important World of Warcraft is to the company and its bottom line.  Nothing delivers as much revenue as reliably as WoW, so the company is chained to it.  They can never walk away from WoW as it keeps the lights on and the paychecks flowing while the company farts around trying to create a new cash spigot from one of its other franchises.

So the forward looking good news was about WoW Dragonflight and Wrath of the Lich King Classic and the recent Hearthstone expansion and some empty milestones related to the Diablo and Overwatch franchises that won’t be anywhere close to launch in 2022.  I think they would have pre-orders open if they had any confidence in a 2022 release.  Remember how far in advance Shadowlands pre-orders started?

The one release with a hard date, the one new thing that Blizzard has lined up to sell in 2022, is Diablo Immortal.

I have been more than a bit dismissive of Diablo Immortal since it was announced at BlizzCon 2018, referring to it as Candy Crush Diablo at the time.  But it was primarily the tone deaf aspect of the announcement… gather all your PC and console fans in a big room and tell them you’re launching a mobile game… that struck me.  How do you get that so wrong?  The phrase “Don’t you guys have phones?” will live on for a decade or more due to that event.

And, the other thing I have harped on about Diablo Immortal was its long development time.  They had a playable demo version at BlizzCon 2018.  Here we are in 2022 and we’re just now getting a release date.  Diablo Immortal will finally launch on June 2, 2022.  How does this take so long?

As it turns out, Blizzard seemed to get it that their core player base was not on mobile, so they ported Diablo Immortal so we could play it on PC as well.

That is actually a pretty impressive demonstration of the company actually trying to listen and respond to user feedback.

I am not sure I would have delayed the mobile release for too long, and technically PC users are only getting access to the open beta of Diablo Immortal on PC on June 2nd, but getting it at all on PC was completely unexpected for me.  (System requirements for phone and PC are up now.)

Pretty exciting stuff in that.  But is it enough?

I am going to guess that the Diablo Immortal release date, with PC only in open beta, is primarily in place to shore up expected ongoing declining numbers for Blizzard.  They need people to get in and spend on that cash shop.

After that, though, 2022 is looking light.  Wrath of the Lich King Classic could easily be a Q3 2022 launch, which would carry the company another quarter, but I am not really feeling like WoW Dragonflight is going to make Q4 2022, which would make for another light holiday season.  And, as I noted above, WoW is what makes or breaks Blizzard.  They need players subscribed.

There we go.

I will say that at least Activision Blizzard knows how to mitigate bad news.  They hit us with the bad news in the earnings announcement, then turned around and gave us the Diablo Immortal announcement with the good news about it being available on PC.  Going through the gaming news headlines, there are bland entries about financials and excited ones about the ship date, PC compatibility, cross platform play, and all of that.  Diablo Immortal on PC will dominate the news cycle compared to the financials.

They did not, pulling a random example out of the air, give us a bunch of bad news on a Friday afternoon and then opt to let it fester for two weeks with a vague promise of good news to come.

You may not like Activision Blizzard, but they know what they are doing in many regards… though that is sometimes the problem as well.

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The Coming of Wrath of the Lich King Classic

In addition to the WoW Dragonflight announcement on Tuesday, which I covered already, there was also the announcement of Wrath of the Lich King ClassicThe WoW Classic page is now dominated by the grim icy visage of the Lich King.

I suppose I could have covered both in a single post easily enough… words are words and all… but WotLK occupies a very different spot in my relationship with World of Warcraft and felt like it should get its own post.

The classic comes to classic

Also, WotKL Classic is supposed to be arriving this year, which might make it a standout from Dragonflight.  Blizz has to ship something this year.

I have, at various points, attempted to rank WoW expansions via various dubious methods, and I always work it so that WotLK comes out on top.  Not that it is the incorrect result, it is more a matter of my metrics being less than scientific.

Still, it remains a stand out for me, the only expansion I played from the day it launched until the day the next expansion launched without a break.  While there are lots of factors that play into that run, they all added up to me going all in on the expansion like no other before it.  Wintergrasp, the Argent Tournament, leveling up alts, crafting, grinding faction, running the instances, building the chopper, it was my peak effort in WoW.

So I should be totally stoked for WotLK Classic, right?  I was stoked for WoW Classic.  There were points between beta and launch that all I wanted was just to play WoW Classic.  And I was pretty excited for Burning Crusade Classic, wasn’t I?

Then why am I not feeling it?

Sure, part of that is the Blizzard malaise, the discovery that the company is problematic on many levels along with a feeling of tiredness about the whole genre at the moment.  It happens.  I don’t want to be down on the whole thing, I just am.

But I am also wary of going back to try and relive what might have been my peak time in the game.  I worry that WotLK was great in its time, both in the state of the genre when it came out and at the point in my life when I played it, but that it might not be all that when it comes to nostalgia.

The thing is, I have been back to Northrend a few times over the years with alts at various times as the game has gone on and I have never, ever stuck it out when I didn’t have to.  Even after the level squish, when getting to the level cap was suddenly much quicker and you could choose which expansion you wanted to level up in, I tried WotLK, but ended up opting for Legion or Battle for Azeroth to finish out some alts.

And then there is the practical aspect of the whole venture, the fact that we ran out of steam when it came to Burning Crusade Classic.  The overland content in Outland was every bit as grindy as I had said over the years, and the four of us were not quite enough to get through five person instances without having to simply be better than we’re every likely to be.

So I have a level 62 paladin in Outland.  That is a ways to go, six levels at least, before you can hope a boat to Northrend.

Yes, Blizzard will happily sell me a level 70 boost.  They are even going to let death knights get an early start so they can be level 70 before the expansion drops in the land of classic.  But do I want it that bad?  And what awkward mount package will they sell this time around?

Meanwhile, there is some controversy about there being no Dungeon Finder available in Wrath Classic, which seems odd to me.  My most popular post yesterday wasn’t about Dragonflight or CSM17. Those two weren’t even close.  The big attraction here at TAGN yesterday was a twelve year old post about some early good/bad experiences with Dungeon Finder that got linked in /r/wow due to all of this.

I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft.  Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.

We no longer had to schlep out to a dungeon in some zone, maybe use the summoning stone, then enter the instance… or, in places like Scarlet Temple, fight to get to the instance… to get rolling.  We also no longer had to have our dungeon quests all lined up before we walked in.  There was still some connection to the zones, still quest chains that culminated in an instance run, but more and more quests were given inside the instance, right at the start, because people were just being teleported right into the dungeon from Stormwind or Orgrimmar or where ever.

You can argue whether or not it was a good change… my recollection is almost a dozen years of non-stop complaining about its problems and being castigated for defending it now and then… but it was a radical update that changed how we played the game and, frankly, marked the end of what I would consider the classic era of WoW.

But I see a bunch of people angry that Dungeon Finder isn’t in Wrath Classic, including a column over at Massively OP which says I am a selfish gatekeeping ogre for even considering the idea, which baffles me a bit, given the above.  So many years of people complaining about it has led me to expect that is the default reaction to the feature.  I guess not.  There is an attempt to lay the blame on Holly Longdale due to her history with EverQuest and the contested raids thing that eventually got scrapped in favor of instanced raids on retro, which isn’t even close to a parallel situation, but if you were ever seen as gatekeeping… and what is a classic server but an exercise in gatekeeping… then you get painted with that brush forever I guess.

Oh well.  Just because I define classic one way doesn’t mean anybody has to agree.  Certainly the comment thread on that Massively OP post seems to be completely on the side of Dungeon Finder.  I expect Blizz will, if not cave, hedge on the issue due to the outcry, and then we’ll hear the other side of the issue howl.

Selfishly speaking I hope Blizz sticks to this because Dungeon Finder (and achievements frankly) would undermine the whole experience for me… should I decide to play… which isn’t even feeling likely at the moment even if they don’t include it, so I shouldn’t really care about it but I clearly DO care about it and… I don’t know, it is a mix of emotions.

I know, I am in a mood.  And moods pass.  Maybe, when the launch date is closer I will find some enthusiasm for Northrend again.

The WoW Dragonflight Expansion has been Announced

Yesterday was the big announcement, the next World of Warcraft expansion, which will be Dragonflight, and I am not sure how I feel… except that I regret saying at one point in the distant past that dragons and dragon fights were special because, as a genre, fantasy MMORPGs have since worked pretty hard to make sure they really are not.

WoW Dragonflight

I am reluctant be be either effusive or dismissive, as both of those come with their own set of baggage and assumptions.

To be upbeat you have to assume that that Blizzard has latched on to the right plan this time, which is a bit tough in the face of Shadowlands.  Also, I have been really excited about past expansions that have been a bit of a bust.  I was amped up for both Cataclysm and Warlords of Draenor and both had their issues.

On the flip side, it is really easy to shit all over Dragonflight and Blizzard because they have been screwing up so reliably for the last couple of years so that, as I noted previously, it is tough for them to do anything that can’t be cast half measures or desperation or whatever.  And the one expansion I was quite dismissive of in the past, Mists of Pandaria, ended up being one of my favorites.

Basically, there is a lot of emotion tied up in anybody’s reaction, so I am trying to tread carefully because… well… I am not sure how much I care at the moment.  Clearly I am trending on the “feeling burned by Blizz” side of the equation, but I am mostly just not feeling any strong emotion either way on the expansion.  Take that as the guide to my reaction.

So what are they offering up with Dragonflight?

Some of it is the usual, new locations, new dungeons, new raids, and a rise in the level cap to 70 all sound familiar to anybody rolling into a new MMORPG expansion.  I guess the level cap answers one question I had previously… no, we will not be getting a level squish with every expansion.

Is that a good thing though?  I am not sure.  After I got a bunch of characters to level cap in Battle for Azeroth… which I’m pretty sure people thought sucked at times… I got exactly one character to level cap in Shadowlands before I got bored and wandered off.  So now I have one character ready to go for Dragonflight.  But maybe one will be enough again.

A new, available to both factions race, the Dracthyr, with a new class, Evoker, are something special.   Blizz literally poured new races on us with the allied race concept over the last couple of expansions, but we haven’t had anything really new since the demon hunter.

These guys, and the dragons, made me think of The Serpent’s Spine expansion for EverQuest back in 2006.  It was dragon themed with a dragon humanoid race.  But The Serpent’s Spine was also a pretty bold attempt to change how one might play EverQuest.  (It was 2006 and being able to quest to level cap in old Norrath was not a thing.) I am not sure Dragonflight is quite that sweeping in overview.

Dragon riding, a new form of flying mount travel, with some interesting dynamics, is also worth a peek.  Blizz says you’ll get a dragon to ride right away, so I guess they have decided which direction to roll this time in the flying mount plan… or have the?.  Do you get flying with your old mounts AND a dragon, or will there still be some achievement unlock for old mounts?  Or will dragons be so much better that you won’t care? (Update: Dragon flying only, old mounts be walking for now.)

Blizz is also pushing a redo of talents and crafting, which would be kind of neat if they hadn’t played that card so many times before.  Doesn’t EVERY expansion come with some sort of redo on talents?  I’ll wait for the jury verdict on those.

And then there is the new UI, which could be interesting.  But, once again, messing with the UI can cut both ways.  It could be a huge improvement… or it could just break every UI addon, and how many don’t have any active support now… for benefits that are not worth the cost.

So, yes, I am a bit cynical.  I’m certainly not running to opt in for the beta.  I’ve been too hyped up in the past to feel more than a bit tired with some of this.  Sometimes not buying into the immediate hype is a good thing though.  I’ll watch and see how things develop.  I have other games to play and there is no launch date in sight.  Plenty of time to get on board the hype train later.

Related:

April Fools at Blizzard 2022 in the Shadow of Many Things

I have been doing this post, or something like it, for 13 years running now, and almost every year there is something different in the mix.

This year finds Blizzard embroiled in a government investigation related to hostile workplace allegations which has led to a chunk of the company’s leadership leaving to “pursue other opportunities,” and which has tarnished the reputation of the company.  The company is also in danger of falling into the “what have you done for us lately” situation, since 2021’s big releases were Burning Crusade Classic, a remake from 2007, and Diablo II Resurrected, a remake from 2000.

Also, Microsoft is in the process of buying all of Activision Blizzard, so we’ll just ad that into the mix of things that have happened since last year’s post.  Certainly that is no April Fools joke, and seems to be in for some serious scrutiny.

So I fully expected things to be quiet again this year, as they were last year.  Blizzard is studious about not even posting real news on the first.

The first place I went was the World of Warcraft forums where I found that they were keeping up the annual tradition of the April Fools Patch Notes.

As usual they are made to look like a leak with “Highly Confidential” and “Do Not Forward!” at the top.  It has things about new raids, new dungeons, new professions, and a host of silly class changes, like that of the warrior:

Warrior

  • Warriors have grown tired of being so focused on warring all the time, so in this patch the class is getting a major redesign:
    • Intimidating Shout has been reworked and is now named Shout Shout: The warrior lets it all out, declaring all of the things they can do without. Come on, I’m talking to you.
    • Furious Slash is now Slash: The warrior transforms into a famous guitar player with long curly hair and a top hat.
    • Casting Slam now puts your name on the list at the coffee shop so you can get up on their little stage this evening and present your poetry.
    • Charge now debits other players’ accounts and provides them with tickets to come see you perform.
  • Producers’ note: Ummm I think we’ve invented the BARD here?

Other than that I have yet to spot anything on the April Fools front at Blizzard.  No doubt there are other things going on in the various games.  I suspect those playing Overwatch might have googly eyes again.  I’ll check back later just to see if there is anything new.  But the era of the big web site joke post seems to be over for now at Blizz.  That seems to have fallen off past 2016.

For those wishing a recap of past years, here is the list:

If you are looking for other April Fools updates from the MMO space, Massively OP has a post charting  out what other companies have been up to.  Also, all of their posts today have a cute animal videos embedded at the end.

Diablo Immortal Possibly Set for Launch by June 30th

Blizzard is going to do something in 2022 that it hasn’t done in quite a while… it will ship a new game.

Phone Diablo

Diablo Immortal is reported up on the various app stores with a text preview available.  Here is the lead-in from the Apple Store:

The Lord of Terror rises again! This time he’s bringing his limitless power to your iPhone and iPad in Diablo Immortal—the mobile debut of the celebrated action-RPG franchise.

Diablo Immortal™ is a brand-new game in Blizzard Entertainment’s genre-defining action role-playing game series set between the events of Diablo® II: Lord of Destruction® and Diablo III®. Explore the nightmarish realm of Sanctuary like never before, now a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where angels and demons wage an endless war over dominion of the mortal realm. Join forces with countless other players on an epic quest to collect the shattered fragments of the corrupted Worldstone and prevent the Lord of Terror’s return. Fans of Diablo and new players alike will embark on an adventure across a vast open world where they will clash with armies of demons, collect epic loot, and gain unimaginable power.

Well, “brand-new” for specific definitions of term I suppose.  There was a playable demo back at BlizzCon 2018, which was also the scene of the “Don’t you guys have phones?” fiasco where the core PC and console fans were present in the audience and… well… they were not expecting a mobile game, that is for sure.  Talk about subverting expectations.

Over in the Apple Store you can… uh… pre-order the free to play app.

Is it really a pre-order if it is free?

There was an image going around online from the Apple Store that said the expected date for the launch was June 30th, though that appears to have been removed since the image was taken.  (This was later explained to be a placeholder for the final date.)

Backing that date up were past Blizzard plans from the Q2 2021 report that said the title was planned for the first half of 2022.  June 30th is the last possible moment to make that first half of the year goal, so we might even get it earlier.

Currently the official Blizzard site for the game doesn’t say anything and is still referencing beta.

As for what you get when you click the GET button to “pre-order,” well… it is just a marketing pitch for the game with some images that might be screen shots.  You can see it all here in a browser.

Now will it run on my aging iPad Air 2?  We’ll have to wait and see.

The Next World of Warcraft Expansion to be Announced on April 19th

I haven’t played retail WoW in over a year, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep an eye on the news.  This past week Blizzard gave us a date for when they would announce the next World of Warcraft expansion.

I had other posts planned and, honestly, an announcement that they’ll tell us something more than a month down the road didn’t seem to me to be a dramatic story that needed to be discussed right that minute.  Even the post by Blizzard features a gray map of Azeroth as its header image, not something that exactly sets fire to your soul.

Can you feel the excitement this gives off?

And the statement itself… at least the part about the next expansion… was very brief.

On April 19, the World of Warcraft development team will reveal the next expansion. We’re excited to show you what we’ve been working on and where your adventures in Azeroth will go next.

The rest of the press release was about Hearthstone and Shadowlands and other items unrelated to the next expansion.

Normally an expansion announcement like this would come at BlizzCon.  What, if anything, is BlizzCon useful for other than a big announcement with follow on panels to go into the details?

But there was no BlizzCon 2021, when we might have expected to get news of the next WoW expansion.  The pandemic and its own internal and legal troubles kept that from being a thing.

Likewise, there was no BlizzConline.  The pandemic didn’t stop that, but internal turmoil no doubt made it untenable.  That and the fact that Microsoft was negotiating to buy Activision Blizzard, as announced back in January put a damper on things.

But business must go on, and the cycle of business for Blizzard is a new WoW expansion every other year or so.  That is a revenue stream the company would be loathe to skip.

Back at the start of the year I predicted that Blizzard wouldn’t ship an expansion for WoW this year and I still feel somewhat confident in that prediction.  Again, turmoil at the company, the acquisition, and the need to come up with something good to undo the damage that the Shadowlands expansion all mean that Blizz cannot be too hasty.

They cannot delay too long either though.  A December expansion launch might be in the cards.  Maybe even late November.  But the time between announcement and launch of past expansions has rarely ever been short enough for me to believe they could squeeze this into Q3 2022.

But, as I said, the clock is ticking.  The time between Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands was already the longest stretch between expansion launches.  The expansion gap list:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 779 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 656 days
  • Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 714 days
  • Battle for Azeroth to Shadowlands – 832 days

If Blizzard could manage a December 1, 2022 launch, that would put us at 737 since the Shadowlands launch, which would give us a mid-pack gap.  However, I would find that a rather aggressive schedule, again given the company turmoil, and if they give us a Q4 estimate in April I suspect that it will be late Q4… some time in December… and that the initial launch will be shy of a lot of planned content.

Of course, not throwing everything at us at launch might not be the worst plan.  If Blizz has a problem with their two year expansion cycle, it is that they have not shown themselves to be consistent at metering out content over time.  But I wouldn’t want them to make that problem even more pronounced by showing up at launch day with a very light content delivery that people play through then leave before Blizz is ready for the next installment.

And, finally, they cannot put of another expansion forever.  WoW expansions and WoW Classic launches are the tent pole events in their financial forecast.  Blizzard has revenue numbers to meet and neither Overwatch 2 nor Diablo IV are going to show up to save the day in 2022.  That leaves Diablo Immortal as the backup plan and maybe some sort of WoW mobile title, unless they have Classic Wrath of the Lich King ready to go this summer.  The new lords and masters at Microsoft will want some payoff for the 69 billion dollars they are spending on Activision Blizzard.

As for what the expansion will be focused on… well, it had better be good.  But not another re-roll of The Burning Crusade again.  We’ve been after the Legion and the array of bad guy orcs enough I think.

The Orc Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Will it be new locations, old locations revived, or some mix?  There was that whole Empire of Dragons thing floating around a couple of months back, but the consensus seemed to be it was a fake because the logo lettering was well below Blizzard’s standards for such things.

We will see in a little over a month.

Blizzard Sinks Slightly in the Low Key 2021 Financial Results Announcement

Citing the planned Microsoft acquisition, Activision Blizzard did not feel the need to go through the full dog and pony show when announcing their Q4 2021 and full 2021 financial results.

No fun graphics, no fancy slide deck, and no investor call for questions.   The minimum financial reporting requirements were met and that was it, no time for awkward questions about unions, the ongoing problems with the state of California, Blizzard’s product roadmap, or exactly how much cash Bobby Kotick will walk away with when he hands over the keys to Phil Spencer.

It will all be Microsoft’s problem soon enough I suppose… if the FTC is good with that.

As I noted at the end of my month in review post, should Microsoft’s purchase go through, we’ll probably be getting even less detail about what is going on at Blizzard, as they’ll be a part of a much bigger organization.  I’m not sure it will be like SOE being completely invisible in Sony’s financial statements back in the day, but they probably won’t get their own slide in a presentation once it happens.

Anyway, over on the investor relations site… and that will go away once the deal is done, so somebody back that up… you can find a press release and a PDF file that has all the bits and pieces of information we usually get.  Just, as I noted, no snappy graphics.

Overall the company earned $2,163 billion in Q4 2021, down from the $2.413 billion earned in the same quarter in 2020, but that was still a bit more than the advisory they put out in Q3 2021.

Blizzard itself earned $419 million in Q4 2021, down noticeably from the $493 million posted in Q3.  That is also off from the $433 posted in Q2 and the $483 million posted in Q1, making the normally lucrative holiday season the lowest quarter for the division.  But that is what happens when you don’t have anything new to sell for the holidays.

Overall Activision Blizzard brought in $8.8 billion in 2021, up from the $8.09 billion they booked in 2020, largely on the back of Activision figuring out new ways to make the Call of Duty franchise pay.

By itself Blizzard brought in $1.827 billion of that in 2021, down from the $1.905 billion the division earned in 2020, but that is what you get when you ship zero new products and have to rely on remakes and remasters.  Over at Massively OP, where they have been tracking the Monthly Active User numbers (MAU), they reported that Blizz only pulled in 24 million MAUs in Q3, down again, with the long term trend showing 14 million monthly users fewer than back in Q1 2018.

The report had this to say for Blizzard and its prospects:

  • Within the Warcraft franchise, fourth quarter World of Warcraft reach and engagement continued to benefit from the combination of the Modern game and Classic under a single subscription. In 2021, World of Warcraft delivered its strongest engagement and net bookings outside of a Modern expansion year in a decade. Hearthstone fourth quarter net bookings grew year-over-year, driven by a steady cadence of new content.
  • Blizzard is planning substantial new content for the Warcraft franchise in 2022, including new experiences in World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, and getting all-new mobile Warcraft content into players’ hands for the first time.
  • In the Diablo franchise, Diablo II: Resurrected sold through more units from its September release until the year end than any other Activision Blizzard remaster over an equivalent period. On mobile, Diablo Immortal concluded its public testing with positive feedback.
  • Blizzard is making strong progress on its pipeline, including new experiences in Warcraft, ongoing development in Diablo and Overwatch, and an exciting new IP.

Basically, various flavors of WoW, along with Diablo II Resurrected, carried most of the water for the division, though the company does like to be coy and put Hearthstone under the Warcraft IP banner.  But WoW still probably brought in close to a billion dollars in 2021, even with a foundering retail experience.

Nostalgia has paid off as WoW Classic has turned out to be as popular as many of us thought it would be.  I know I said I’d lay off him on his famous quote, but I really want to ask J. Allen Brack where Blizz numbers would be today if we really didn’t want vanilla.

As for the future, Diablo Immortal is still being dangled out there, as is the threat of some sort of mobile Warcraft related experience. (Some speculation on that here.)  Wake me when they have something to ship.  And there is a reference to the unannounced survival game that Blizzard announced last week, but it is so far out in the future it doesn’t even have a name yet, putting it somewhere behind Diablo IV and Overwatch 2, neither of which will see the light of day in 2022.

Still, things went pretty well for Blizzard considering their legal problems and the fact that they spent much of 2021 living off of 15-20 year old content.  But I suspect they’ll need to ship something new in 2022.

WoW Inches Towards Cross Faction Raids and Dungeon Groups

Monday was kind of a big day for announcements.  There was the Sony/Bungie thing, which I posted a quick piece about, the whole Wordle acquisition, which I might get to at some point, and then Blizzard announcing that World of Warcraft would be allowing cross faction groups for Raids, dungeons, and arena PvP.  The wall between the Horde and Alliance crumbled a bit, but only just a bit.

No orcs in that group back in 2004… killing rats though, totally a thing in WoW

After reading through it, this cross faction change for WoW feels like another half measure, or less than a half measure. Somewhere in its collective heart, Blizz still really wants to keep the two factions separate and distinct, despite having made them more and more similar over the years.  You only have to dig into the announcement to see that they are seriously hedging on the whole cross-faction thing.

  • Players will be able to directly invite members of the opposite faction to a party if you have a BattleTag or Real ID friendship, or if you are members of a cross-faction WoW Community.
  • Premade Groups in the Group Finder listings for Mythic dungeons, raids, or rated arena/RBGs will be open to applicants of both factions, though the group leader may choose to restrict the listing to same-faction applicants if they so choose.
  • Guilds will remain single-faction, and random match made activities like Heroic dungeons, Skirmishes, or Random Battlegrounds will all remain same-faction (both because there is less faction-driven pressure around random groups, and to avoid compromising the opt-in nature of the feature by randomly placing a queuing orc in a group with a night elf).

So cross-faction won’t be everywhere, only where you opt to make it happen.  If you’re queuing as Alliance for a random in a server group that is heavily Horde, your queue time isn’t going to get any better.  And Blizzard reiterates in their announcement that they want cross-faction to be the exception, not the rule.  You can choose to mingle with the other side, but that isn’t going to be the way the leaders of the factions behave… unless somebody’s plot line requires it.

Oddly, the announcement undermines the first accusations I saw about it, which was that this was a panic move by Blizzard to shore up their low population numbers by making the pool for random groups larger.  That actually seemed like a legitimate quality of life goal for the game tome.  But that is explicitly not part of the deal.  We can’t, as they say, have orcs and night elves adventuring together randomly.

There are times when the two sides being distinct is good.  Some people like to style themselves as orcs or trolls, and there is an edge to being Horde versus the goody two-shoes Alliance.  (And does that mean bad people only have one shoe?  Or three?)  And the division can play well when an expansion offers different experiences for the two sides.

I did not love Battle for Azeroth, but the Alliance and Horde stories were different and it made playing through both factions worthwhile.  For an expansion down my list of favorites I played a lot of it, in part because it had two sides.  That is a way to get players to stay subscribed, to see something new.

But distinct story lines are not always the norm.  One of the many failings of Shadowlands in my eyes is that both sides end up doing pretty much the same content in the same zones from the first moment.  And if you’re going to do that, then why bother keeping the factions apart?

The root of all of this goes back to the use of discreet servers.  Yes, that was no doubt a necessity at launch and for many years going forward.  But it has always led to population and population balance issues.

Blizz has, over the years, joined servers, made server groups that go into the same queues, and even had cross-faction battlegrounds before now, but inevitably a good chunk of servers are grossly imbalanced causing queues for one side to be unbearably long or populations for raid content made unsustainably thin, with the only solution being a server transfer, which is both expensive and inconvenient if you have more than a single character and/or have friends you still want to play with.

So, in the end, who does this change really help?

The demographic that Blizzard sees as core to their vision of the game, the mythic raiders with pre-made groups that need a bigger bench to support their raiding rotation and the ranked PvP players.  It doesn’t really feel like a move towards tearing down the wall between the factions, and Blizz has been explicit in saying as much.  This is just a move to help support the status quo in Azeroth.  Welfare grouping for mythics, if you want to recycle an old accusation.

Others on this topic:

Blizzard Announces its Unannounced Survival Game

Blizzard tweeted out yesterday with a message and an image indicating that their next project was going to be an entry in the survival genre.

If you announce something unannounced is it still unannounced?

There was a link to a post on the main Blizzard site, but references to the game itself were fairly vague and minimal.

Blizzard is embarking on our next quest. We are going on a journey to a whole new universe, home to a brand-new survival game for PC and console. A place full of heroes we have yet to meet, stories yet to be told, and adventures yet to be lived. A vast realm of possibility, waiting to be explored.

They are going to do their usual routine and jump into a genre that is already established and try to give it the Blizzard polish and spin, making things shinier and more accessible.  I’ve been through that before in a post. (Though you should look at the first comment on that post.  Winner!)  That plan has worked in the past.  In fact, that plan is pretty much the whole story of Blizzard.

  • Warcraft: Blizzard does Dune!
  • Diablo:  Blizzard does a Rogue-like!
  • StarCraft: Blizzard does Warcraft in space!
  • Diablo II: Blizzard refines Diablo!
  • World of Warcraft: Blizzard does Everquest!
  • StarCraft 2: Blizzard does StarCraft again!
  • Diablo III: Blizzard tries to find something new in Diablo!
  • Overwatch: Blizzard does Team Fortress 2!
  • Hearthstone: Blizzard does Magic: The Gathering!
  • Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard does Dota 2!

Unfortunately for Blizzard, there is a bit of an inflection point there after WoW, where things are not always an automatic success just because Blizzard did them.  StarCraft 2 has never really stood out from the original, Overwatch managed to fumble its initial success, and the less said about Heroes of the Storm the better.

Basically, since the launch of WoW, Hearthstone has been the most consistent success, though Diablo III did sell a lot of copies… it has just been a decade since it launched.  And, more recently, we’ve just had expansions and remasters.

But now we have Blizzard announcing that they’re going to jump in with Valheim or Don’t Starve or Oxygen Not Included or Just Survive or half a hundred other survival style game.

Which might not be a bad thing.  We’ll have to wait and see… with an emphasis on the waiting part, because most of the announcement is a recruiting message asking people to apply to come work at Blizzard on this unannounced survival game.

Of course, wags in the audience noted that working at Blizzard seems like its own form of survival game.  On the corporate side of things, Blizzard seemed to be encouraging their employees to tweet about how excited they were about this project, as I saw a lot of line member hype from Irvine yesterday.

I find this an interesting development, but it is a long way from hype for me.  Given that we still haven’t seen the launch of Diablo Immortal yet, a title that had a playable demo at BlizzCon 2018, I suspect that it will be some years before we get a chance to play this new game.

Still, Blizzard actually doing something new for the first time since Overwatch is worth a mention.

Related: