Category Archives: Blizzard

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

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

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

Actual footage of Bobby Kotick and Mike Morhaime during the call

Actual footage of Mike Morhaime and Bobby Kotick during the call

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

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

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

Blizzard slide from the presentation deck

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

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

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

But at least this chart hasn't changed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heroes of the Storm – Another Unreleased Game Selling Access?

It is mildly interesting… and somewhat amusing to me at least… that in the midst of a lot of navel gazing about selling early access to online games caused by the state of H1Z1 and its entry into the field (along with the long, long Landmark early access experience) that Blizzard should choose this week to pop onto the stage and offer an early access package of their own.

I’m not sure Blizzard as a company was even aware of H1Z1, much less the minor stir it caused, though I am sure the devs in the company were.

Anyway, if you play any Blizzard games you probably know by now, via email or the big ad on the front of the Battle.net launcher, that Heroes of the Storm, having finally settled on a name, has a Founder’s Pack available for $40.

Heroes of the Storm is very purple

Heroes of the Storm is very purple

When viewed from the right angle, it is more of the same, selling early access to a game that will eventually be free to play.  We have seen this deal in a lot of games over the last few years.  It just so happens that at this very moment there is considerable ill will against selling early access, at least in our small corner of the web, due to SOE’s ideas on how far along a game should be before it starts demanding money in order to play.

Of course, if we are angry about people selling unfinished games, then Heroes of the Storm probably shouldn’t worry us too much.  People blogging about it describe a game that sounds pretty much ready to go, even by Blizzard standards.  That makes it almost the antithesis of the state of H1Z1 (or Landmark a year back) charging for early access.

In fact, the only criticism I have seen of Heroes of the Storm as a game… as opposed to the business model… has been that it is a dumbed down version of the MOBA genre.  Basically, the same criticism that got leveled at Hearthstone by fans of collectible cards games, as though, here in 2015, we hadn’t quite figured out what Blizzard’s standard play was.  They go for a different audience, people not in the hard core, which is probably why Hearthstone is the only CCG on Raptr’s most played list for December.

Three Blizzard titles on this list

Three Blizzard titles on this list

Of course, unlike CCGs, that list is dominated by Blizzard’s MOBA competition.  It will be interesting to see where Heroes of the Storm sits on that list, if it makes it to that list, six months after is launches.

As for the Founder’s Pack itself, it looks like very standard fare for the launch of a free to play game.  You get some heroes, some skins, a bit of the in-game currency, and a special item that will mark you as a founder.  Here it is a mount.  In World of Tanks a couple years back, it was a special edition tank.  The only difference is that they Heroes of the Storm beta isn’t open yet, and may never be, so if you want in before launch you need to pony up $40 for the Founder’s Pack for one last item, beta access.

I can wait.

But I am not big on the MOBA genre in any case.  It has the same problem that the RTS genre does for me, in that every battle becomes a repeat of the last.  My issue, not the genres, so it was unlikely I would be buying the Founder’s Pack in any case.

I did think about it though, when I saw it included a mount, on the off chance that it might also be a mount in World of Warcraft.  We all have our price.  But the mount is just in HotS.  And with that I stopped even toying with the idea of the Founder’s Pack.

I will likely still give it a try.  And I am still holding out hope for a mount of some sort.  That is, after all, how Blizzard got me to download and play Hearthstone.

Is One MMO Enough for a Studio?

CCP was on the cusp of becoming a respectable multi-MMO studio, but then it jettisoned World of Darkness and pledged undying loyalty to the EVE universe.

Syp, MMO studio report card: Where are our leaders?

Syp had a post a while back about MMO industry leadership that had a strongly implied and, to my mind, not well supported assumption about what such leadership amounts to.  Subscribers/customers wasn’t a factor.  Not to pick on Syp, but he does tend to see the negative in all things Blizzard, so he would have to either throw that out or say something nice about Blizz.  The latter may have stuck in his throat, thus leadership has nothing to do with audience size or the influence that goes with it.

Nor does it have anything to do with who is following whom, a simple definition of leadership.  That way lies madness… or Blizzard again.  Lots of people have been following Blizzard, adopting features haphazardly over time like EverQuest II, setting themselves up as alternatives with “WoW Plus” games like Rift at launch, or just copying chunks the game wholesale like Alganon.

No, not Azeroth!

Mentioning Azeroth acknowledges its leadership

Whether or not World of Warcraft being viewed as a leader… it is by outsiders if nobody else, and they seem to have all the money… has been good for MMOs over the last decade is an open sore of a topic.  Are the stifling aspects of Blizzard’s behemoth on the industry (go into any MMO beta and count the number of times somebody is essentially complaining in general chat that the game in question isn’t WoW) worth the players that WoW brought into the genre and who went on to play other titles?  So goes the debate.

No, the only aspects that seemed to count on his list was having multiple MMO titles in play and who was making new MMOs.

But are more MMOs better for a company or not?  And do more MMOs really mean leadership?

Perfect World Entertainment, which includes the perennially troubled Cryptic Studios and the “disappeared off the map for two years and not making a Torchlight MMO” Runic Games, has many MMO titles available.  However, aside from the output of Cryptic, their titles tend to be Asian imports that do not play well in the west.  And even the Cryptic titles are not all that strong.  Neverwinter has a following and some features of note, but I rarely hear much good about the rushed to market due to contractual requirements Star Trek Online and almost never hear anything at all about their “let’s remake City of Heroes” title, Champions Online.  Maybe PWE isn’t a good example, especially when they are pointing at their US operations as hurting their bottom line.

How about NCsoft?  Again, they have a range of MMO titles from their home studio in South Korea along with titles from ArenaNet and Carbine Studios.  Certainly GuildWars 2 is a strong candidate, though the financials indicate that the execs in Seoul will be forcing ANet to ship an expansion box to boost revenues.  And all focus at ANet is on GW2, with GuildWars left to run out its days unsupported.  WildStar though… I haven’t heard any good news there.  And when it comes down to it, NCsoft gets most of its revenue from South Korea, and largely from its 1998 title Lineage.  Meanwhile, it has closed a lot of MMOs, which could be bad news for Carbine if they don’t get their act together.  Is this the multi-MMO company model we want others to follow?

And then there is Funcom, which has shambled from disappointment to disappointment.  They launched LEGO Minifigures Online a little while back which, true to Funcom’s history, has failed to meet expectations.

Okay, maybe we should ignore all those foreigners and look at a US-centric company like Sony Online Entertainment.

I love SOE, but at times they seem to be the MMO studio embodiment of Murphy’s Law.  If they can do the wrong thing, they will, and in front of a live studio audience.  Granted, they do tend to fix things in the end and do the right thing, but sometimes getting there is painful to watch.  However, they are the US champion for a multi-MMO company, at least in terms of number of titles.  But has this made them better or just spread them too thin?

They have two flavors of EverQuest and a third on the way at some distant future date.  There is LandmarkMinecraft for people who don’t like pixels, and the engine on which the next EverQuest will someday ride… in progress.  They have PlanetSide, PlanetSide 2, and H1Z1 (Zombie PlanetSide) in development.  And then there is the Asian import flavor of the month, previously Wizardry Online and currently Dragon’s Prophet.

That list of titles feels like too much stuff, and all the more so when you consider that SOE also cranks out an expansion for both EverQuest titles every year.  While those expansions mean revenue, SOE could be operating with as few as 50K subscribed players on EverQuest II and probably less still for EverQuest.  That is a big investment in the past while we wait for EverQuest Next.

Then there is Trion, which does a respectable job with Rift, which remains their best received title.  But Defiance has been problematic.  ArcheAge, which had the potential to be a big hit, has been mishandled. And then there is Trove, which seems to Minecraft for people who want bigger pixels and brighter colors.  Multiple MMOs hasn’t been a stellar success for Trion.

And, finally, on the US front there is Turbine which, inexplicably in hindsight given the size of the company, has the rights for Dungeons & Dragons AND Lord of the Rings and which has manage to turn both huge franchises into awkward niche titles.  Other than that they have Asheron’s Call, the distant third of the “big three” break-out MMOs from the end of the 90s, and Asheron’s Call 2, revived from the dead because… I still don’t know why.  I think it speaks volumes about Turbine’s outlook in that they are betting on a MOBA to save their flagging fortunes.

Stack those up against companies with just a single MMO.

Blizzard.  Do I need to say more about the very, very rich company in Anaheim?  One MMO has been very good to them.

CCP.  They seem to get into trouble only when they wander away from EVE Online.  When they focus on their main product, which in the past meant stealing resources from World of Darkness, things tend to go well for them.

EA.  Okay, EA has three MMOs, but they bought two of them and have farmed them out for another company to run, leaving them with just the BioWare MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.  It was never a WoW-killer, and it has its problems (roll stock footage about subscriber retention and selling hotbars), but it makes money.  Not as much as EA would like, but that may be as much because Disney gets a cut as anything.  That is the rub with a licensed IP, they come with more overhead.

Zenimax.  The Elder Scroll Online might be the weak point in the single MMO theory.  I don’t know how the game is doing, other than things are still being fixed and that the console versions of the title, a big part of the plan, have been pushed out into 2015.

And then there are the MMO-ish niche titles of the future, Star Citizen, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained.  Those are being made by small companies that can only afford to invest in a single game.  And while those titles are playing the nostalgia card for all it is worth, they are also potentially mapping out new paths in the MMO world as smaller titles are able to do.

All of which is just so much talk, punctuated with some admittedly unfair characterizations both of various companies and of Syp.  I am not saying that companies should run one or multiple MMOs.  Clearly some companies do well, or well enough, running multiple games, while others seem best suited to focusing on a single title.  But I wouldn’t categorize any company as not being a real MMO player just because they only have one such title.

What do you think?

Another Busy Night for Blizzard

I don’t know if it is a continuation of the Warlords of Draenor surge, the Blizzard store sale (where I am tempted to finally pick up StarCraft II for $10), or just an evening where everybody wants to play online games, but I ran into a new type of queue.

Battle.net queue

Battle.net queue

Fortunately, Blizzard was smart enough to not make Battle.net the gatekeeper for their games.  You can click on the “go offline” option at the bottom of that alert (not shown) and then bring up World of Warcraft and log in the old fashioned way.  Going that route I was able to get into game.  Unfortunately, there were other issues.  I seemed to be okay in my garrison, but when I flew out to the Spires of Arak to pick up where I left of question (but not fishing), Vikund got stuck for a couple minutes just trying to summon his mount.

He looks like he has an evil plan...

He looks like he has an evil plan…

It was then that I looked at the network status and saw the ping time was exceeding 2K ms.  As I was writing this Blizzard CS reported that there was a DDoS attack under way.

It looks like a night to play something else.

 

Orc Villains, Best Villains – WoW Passes 10 Million Subscribers Again

IRVINE, Calif.—November 19, 2014—On November 13, millions of Azeroth’s champions enlisted for the war against the Iron Horde with the launch of World of Warcraft®: Warlords of Draenor, the fifth expansion to the world’s #1 subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.* Blizzard Entertainment today announced that as of the first 24 hours of the expansion’s availability, more than 3.3 million copies had sold-through and the game’s global subscriber base had passed 10 million, with growth across all major regions.

Blizzard Press Release

It looks like orcs might trump pandas (and destroying the old world) when it comes to igniting the WoW player base.

Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Warlords who get it done

I am not sure what it means when you have more than 10 million subscribers, up 2.6 million in the last month and a half, but are talking about moving 3.3 million units of the expansion in the first 24 hours.  Does that 3.3 million number include all the early sales?  Is that an indication of what the US/EU player population is, as the rest of the world was waiting for the expansion to drop? (It launched in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau today according to the press release.)

Subscriber numbers (what constitutes a subscriber is mentioned in the press release) had dropped to 6.8 million in the second quarter of 2014, down further from the slight dip to 7.6 million in the first quarter when the first blush excitement for the expansion had passed, and which was likely only that small because Blizzard said they sold through 1.5 million pre-orders of Warlords of Draenor back then to people interested in getting their insta-90s early.  Then in the third quarter subscriptions bounced back, hitting 7.4 million, with the announcement of a date for the expansion.

Now WoW is back above the 10 million mark, something we have not seen since the post-Cataclysm climb down from the 12 million subscriber high water mark before pandas appeared on the scene. (First quarter of 2012 the subscribers were listed as 10.1 million.)

Now, where will the number be in a month and a half, when we close out the fourth quarter of 2014?

Addendum: Visual aids from Twitter on subscriptions.

I am surprised that WotLK held as many subscribers as it did over its two year run.  I mean, I sat there and ground out everything in the Argent Tournament during that second year, I just didn’t think so many other people did as well.

Blizzard Offers Up 5 Days for Draenor Launch Problems

As I suspected, once things calmed down a bit Blizzard came out with some compensation for the troubles people were experiencing with the launch of Warlords of Draenor.  This was posted in the forums earlier today.

WoW Community:

I know how much everyone was looking forward to this expansion, and once you were able to get in and start having fun, all the comments I’ve seen indicate that this is one of our best yet. But the quality of the content does not excuse the subpar launch experience we delivered, and I apologize for that.

The first two days of the expansion were not a great experience, with many of you facing high queues or significant gameplay problems. We worked around the clock to tackle the demand issues and technical challenges, and fortunately things started looking better on Saturday. While millions of you were able to get in and play over the weekend, with many already reaching level 100, others still ran into very lengthy queues, particularly on the highest-population realms.

To help address this, we’ve expanded the new instancing tech we used to improve queues on Saturday and we’re continuing the process of applying that to raise the capacity of all realms again. This will result in approximately double the prelaunch capacity on each realm, which should greatly reduce queue times for most realms if not eliminate queues altogether.

In recognition of the difficulties so many of you ran into when trying to play over the first few days, we’re adding five days’ worth of extra time to every subscription in the Americas, Oceania, and Europe that was active as of Friday, November 14. Things are already in a much better place than they were going into the weekend, so I hope you’ll now be able to focus on having a ton of fun with this expansion.

I also hope you’ll accept my apology and keep your faith in us. The support voiced by many of you as we worked through the challenges was immensely appreciated. We’re extremely grateful to be part of such a passionate community. We love World of Warcraft, and we’re very proud of this expansion, so stumbling out of the gates like this was very disappointing for all of us.

On behalf of the World of Warcraft development team, as well as everyone at Blizzard, thank you all again for your patience and understanding.

See you in Draenor.

Sincerely,
J. Allen Brack
Executive Producer, World of Warcraft

Looking at my account history… which is kind of strange, as it runs back to 2005… this 5 days will mean that Blizzard has comped my account a total of 19 days for various reasons, not including a “return for 7 days free” offer.  It is also the largest credit, the previous high water mark being a 3 day credit awarded back in November of 2008, which corresponds with the launch of Wrath of the Lich King.  I don’t remember what I might have gotten the credit for, but there were queues going on back then as well.