Category Archives: Blizzard

Scoring My BlizzCon Projections

The tenth BlizzCon has come and gone.  It always seems short at just two days.  Even wee EVE Vegas ran into Sunday.  But Blizzard knows how to pack a bunch of stuff into two days.

blizzcon2016

Granted, most of what was packed into those two days wasn’t of interest to me.  If you got the Virtual Ticket as I did you found out pretty quickly that four of the six available streams were devoted exclusively to “esports.”

The schedule - smaller dives into products not streamed

A schedule snippet – smaller dives into products not streamed

I was also mildly amused at the confusion over this being the tenth BlizzCon, as announcers kept saying “ten years of BlizzCon,” which is incorrect.  The first BlizzCon was in 2005, but they skipped 2006 and 2012.  So ten BlizzCons, not ten years.

However I was not amused at all to find out that the “Weird Al” concert at the closing ceremony was only viewable live with the Virtual Ticket.  We were out when th concert kicked off, but I figured I could watch it the replay the next day.  Blizzard makes a point of saying that we get to view replays for 14 days.

The concert appears to be an exception though, as it is not available in the video archive.  Since that was one of the key reasons I bought the damn virtual ticket, I am pretty unhappy with that.  I am sure it says something about the concert in the fine print somewhere, but if it had been more obvious I would only have the one chance to see it, I would have made an effort to be home for it.

Anyway, enough carping about that I guess.  Did Blizzard cover what I thought they would?

World of Warcraft

There was a time when BlizzCon could have been called “WoWCon.”  A decade back World of Warcraft was pretty much their only going concern, the company having been practically swallowed by the overwhelming success of the game.  The next release after WoW was StarCraft II, six years later.

For long time observers of BlizzCon, the event has gone from WoW being the only story to now having to share the stage with five siblings.  And since WoW is clearly past its peak, it is in Blizzard’s interest to promote other titles.  The Azeroth gravy train isn’t dead yet, but some alternative revenue streams are clearly part of the plan.

So WoW, which just got an expansion (along with a movie) recently, did not get much attention at the keynote.  I saw some bitter comments on Twitter about Blizz passing over WoW, but it is to be expected.  You had to get into the “Legion – What’s Next” panel to get any details about the game.  Here is what I thought Blizz was going to talk about when it came to WoW:

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

We got a bit of the “woo hoo! Legion!” at the keynote (fastest selling blah blah), along with a mention that Blizz would continue delivering content for the expansion, and a plug for the film (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray).

At the Legion panel they went much deeper and covered what will come before 7.2, 7.2 itself, and and eye to what 7.3 will bring.

Coming soon-ish

Coming soon-ish

So what I would consider the minimum was pretty well covered.  I do wish that Blizz was still announcing subscriber numbers, if only to see if a constant stream of content really does make a difference.  After all, Warlords of Draenor may have left people high and dry for a year, but the big dive in subscriber numbers started well before we hit the 6.2 patch that opened up new content and, eventually, flying.

Speaking of flying, 7.2 patch is also supposed to bring us to the point where we will be able to unlock flying in the expansion.  That will give us all something to work on when it hits.  I doubt I will move a single alt in the Broken Isles until I unlock that with my main.  So that point was covered.

I saw nothing about any special, nostalgia, or retro servers, so pretty much as expected.  This did not sit well with the Nostalrius crew, which vowed to return.  I don’t think they understand how slowly (and conservatively) the wheels grind at Blizzard.

And I didn’t hear any Tom Chilton quotes, regrettable or not, so I guess Blizz kept him busy elsewhere.

All in all, not a ton of news about WoW, but about the minimum amount of news that Blizz needed to provide to keep fans going.

Diablo

Here is where I had high expectations.  With the 20th anniversary of the franchise just weeks away, I expected the announcement of Diablo IV or, at a minimum, a new expansion for Diablo IIIDiablo III is well past the four year mark, and the Reaper of Souls expansion is 2.5 years old now.  As a franchise that makes money by selling boxes, it sounds like it needs a new box on the market.  Anyway, this was what I put down:

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs and China [Edit: MAUs, we are not sending Marines to China!]
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

We didn’t get anything about MEUs or China, but the Diablo 20th anniversary was covered and we are getting something new.

Just not a new game or an expansion.  Well, “sort of” on the expansion front, but I’ll get to that.  And there will be new zone content coming to appease the people doing season runs.

Instead, to feed the nostalgia hungry, they are remaking the original Diablo in Diablo III.

I think this is something I actually put forth as an option in a previous post.  Yes, here it is“Diablo and/or Diablo II being ported to the Diablo III engine.”

So that sounds pretty interesting, especially since they are attempting to simulate the more primitive graphical style, movements, and sounds of the original.  I am very interested to see how this ends up playing.

The downside is that they are going to make this a special event called “The Darkening of Tristram.”  This event will only be available every January in order to mark the launch of the series.  So I hope you are in the mood for nostalgia then, because you won’t get to play it for the rest of the year.

The other big announcement was the addition of a Diablo II class to Diablo III, the necromancer.  Blizzard has a post here about it.  Interesting, and a clear nostalgia play, but the necromancer was never a big deal for me.  This will be part of a Rise of the Necromancer “pack” which will be available at some future date with some unspecified amount of content (or not) for some unspecified price.

So you can say they announced an expansion… they just didn’t tell us enough about it to get a feel for what it will really be.  If it is just a “buy a new class” thing that they have announced so far, then it doesn’t really count as much of an expansion in my opinion.  If it ends up including more levels (which will be awkward after paragon levels and all that) or a new story line, then we are there.

Finally, we did not hear anything about the Diablo II remaster that they were advertising for last year though.

StarCraft

My interest starts to wane about here.  I like StarCraft for nostalgia reasons, I played a lot of the original back in the day.  But I don’t even own StarCraft II, much less any of the expansions, so my opinions here are dubious at best.  All I know is what I heard at the keynote.  What I said:

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

There was a firm date announced for Nova Covert Ops part III.  Previously listed as “before December 1” it will be available on November 22.  There was also something about StarCraft II being used in conjunction with AI research, a new story line, new maps, and “War Chests” coming to the game.

There was also plenty of tournament play.  There was, however, no mention of the original StarCraft being remastered.

Other Titles

And then we get to the three Blizzard titles where I have no investment.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

No Manic Murloc Melodrama mobile app.  No Overwatch on MacOS either.

On the other hand, SynCaine’s suggestion that Blizz might not mention Heroes of the Storm was totally unfounded.  They are still fully behind the game and, as you can see by the schedule snippet I have at the top, it had a whole channel dedicate to league play.  They even mentioned the Cho’gall unit from last year, though they did not say if it ended up being all that popular or not.

In fact, most of the keynote seemed to be devoted to these three titles and all of the new stuff they are getting, with Overwatch even getting a new league devoted to it, and how much Blizzard has been paying out in prize money over the last year.  None of that interested me as I am not an “esportsball” fan.

And, of course, I may never know if “Weird Al” had a song about a Blizzard product.

So that was that.  It was interesting to see the keynote and a couple of the panels, but without the concert I feel like I wasted $40 as I could have gleaned all that information and more by just reading the gaming news.

Remind me of that in a year when BlizzCon returns.

Projecting on BlizzCon 2016

I must admit that this year’s BlizzCon doesn’t have much going for it in my book.

blizzcon2016

The only game of theirs that I have played in the last six months is World of Warcraft, and that got an expansion just about two months back, so there didn’t seem to be much in it for me.  I wasn’t going to actually GO to BlizzCon or anything, which would be a totally different experience, if only because I just got back from EVE Vegas… and, also, tickets to BlizzCon sell out in seven seconds.

So I was tempted to simply ignore the whole thing and ready about it in the funny papers next week.

Then Blizzard went and announced that “Weird Al” Yankovic was going to be the closing musical guest and I decided I kind of wanted to see that.  I mean, he isn’t Permaband, but he does have more than five songs.  With my daughter keen to see the costume contest and my wife always amused by the dance contest, I subscribed to the pay per view version of the event.

So there we are.

And if I am paying for the event, I am certainly going to pay attention to it and get at least two blog posts out of it, so here we go with the first one.  As with previous years, my mostly uninformed preview of the event will include what I want to see and what I actually expect to see.

World of Warcraft

As I noted above, WoW just released an expansion, so the options are limited.  It likely won’t be a WoW year on the main stage.

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

Diablo Franchise

Unlike WoW, the world of Diablo is prime for something new.  Diablo III is going to turn five next May and even the expansion will be three in March.  Presumably, with more than 30 million copies sole, Blizzard isn’t going to let there be another decade gap between releases.  Plus, the 20th anniversary of the original Diablo is coming up.  They have to do something.

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs MAUs and China
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

StarCraft

The StarCraft franchise is in an awkward place as Blizz has sort of finished up what they initially planned to do for StarCraft II.  Last year the big news was DLC missions to come after Legacy of the Void shipped.  We got a three part module in this year in the form of Nova Covert Ops.  The first two parts have been released and the third is promised for December 1.

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

Other Titles

I don’t play the other Blizzard titles so I will lump them under a single heading to hide the paucity of entries about individual games while condensing the cynicism into a single, bitter pill.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

And that is about it.  I hope it will be a big year at BlizzCon for Diablo, give the 20th anniversary and all, but I have been disappointed on the Diablo front so many times in the past that wouldn’t bet on it.

What else should I expect to see… and what do you want to see at BlizzCon?

World of Warcraft Reported to be Sitting at 10.1 Million Subscribers

About two months back, when Activision Blizzard announced their Q2 2016 results, I was speculating that they might be anxious to start talking about subscription numbers after vowing to not report on them about a year back.

ActiBlizz450

That was an easy thing to vow when the game had bottomed out after the Draenor exodus, hitting subscriber numbers not seen since 2005.  But with the last quarterly report things were starting to look rosy again with the Legion expansion coming up, Blizzard was beating around the bush, trying to say how wonderful things were going without actually bringing out the number that would prove it.  Sure, the Legion expansion sold well on day one, but how many subscribers were there in the game?

Well, somebody couldn’t hold their tongue… somebody being Tom Chilton.  According to a report over at PvP Live, he said, in an interview with the Polish gaming magazine Pixel… well… the following:

Pixel: You guys reached your peak by capturing 12 million users. By the end of 2015 it was only 5.5 million, and after that Blizzard stopped providing statistics. Can we ask, about how many users currently have a paid subscription?

Chilton: As we speak, it’s about 10.1 million. It’s hard to say what future will bring. We have an internal competition in form of Overwatch, but it’s possible we will reach 12 million once again. The potential is there as there are over 100 million registered accounts.

Pixel is apparently a magazine is of the old school print variety, so no link to the original source in Polish, but translations have been popping up on Reddit and forums like NeoGAF. [Edit: Picture of the Polish text.]

So there it is, out in the open again, a subscriber number.  Another data point in the cycle of life that is MMORPGs.

Did Tom Chilton get advance clearance to talk about that number?  The man has blurted out some unfortunate things in the past that have come back to haunt the company, things like equating garrisons to housing and such.  Ah well.

And what does that number mean.  Blizzard’s partner in China recently changed over from an hourly to a monthly subscription model.  Did that change how the count was done?  Is it more accurate or less?

Finally, if he did get the okay, is this how it will be going forward, with Blizzard?  Are they going to tell us about peaks but go silent when it comes to valleys in the subscriber wave?

Hat tip to Liore for sending this my way.

Addendum: Blizzard denies everything.

“Our policy for almost a year now is that we do not talk about subscriber numbers,” said the Blizzard spokesperson. “And Tom did not do that with this publication.”

Today We Are Legion

The day has finally arrived.  After months of waiting it is here, later than it probably should have been, but sooner that it likely could have been.  The sixth World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, went live at midnight Pacific time today.

WoW Legion coming to a server near you

The time has come to head to the Broken Isles

I didn’t stay up to play, mostly because I do not have a copy of the expansion yet.  Amazon says I should have my copy… actually, two copies, one for me and one for my daughter… some time this afternoon.

Which doesn’t mean I didn’t spend last night playing.  I went out and got one last character to level 100, an Alliance warrior.  He had to run the Westfall invasion a few times to get there, but made it through.

One more recruit for the Broken Isles

One more recruit for the Broken Isles

I did hedge a bit to get him there.  I upgraded a couple of the plate heirloom pieces and my daughter reminded me about that 20% exp boost potion available from the garrison vendor.  Good thing I ran him through the Draenor intro and he had some garrison resources handy.

20% more on top of it all

20% more on top of it all

I actually enjoyed the last few weeks of invasion events.  As I said over on a comment on Bhagpuss’s blog, it did get a lot of people out and playing and probably helped people come to grips with the class changes.

Stacked up to land at Sentinel Hill

Stacked up to land at Sentinel Hill

The gear drops were a bonus and the whole thing gave people some random boss training.  And, of course, the levels were good.  I know Blizz was trying to poo-poo this as a way to level up all your alts, but people seemed to want that and eventually Blizz tuned it about right, so that active players could level up pretty handily, which made it a popular success.  It proved once again that Edward Castronova quote that irks Bhagpuss;

Being an elf doesn’t make you turn off the rational economic calculator part of your brain.

Essentially, levels were on deep discount and a lot of people rushed in to get some.  If I recall correctly, I picked up 100 levels across the four characters I played the most.

Along with some random alts I played, I used the invasions to push a new warrior from level 12 to 60, a druid from 94 to 100, and another warrior, the final one from last night, from 74 to 100.  I was tempted to try for another level 100… I had already moved a mage from 35 to 55… but I wasn’t quite up to it.  I liked the invasions as an event, but I could only run so many before I had to go off and do something else.

At the end of all of that, I am left with the final big character question; which one should hit the Broken Isles first?  I have eight immediate choices:

The lineup against the Legion

The lineup against the Legion

  • Vikund – Human Paladin (retribution)
  • Alioto – Night Elf Druid (feral)
  • Tokarev – Draenei Death Knight (spec TBD)
  • Tistann – Dwarf Hunter (beast)
  • Trianis – Night Elf Rogue (outlaw)
  • Makarov – Human Warrior (arms)
  • Hurmoo – Tauren Druid (feral)
  • Haakron – Tauren Warrior (fury)

That is seven level 100s, plus a level 60 warrior who is likely to be my level 100 boost.  Plus, I will also be able to roll up a Demon Hunter as well, once I get the expansion, giving me nine options to choose from.  In thinking about that I haven’t even bothered to consider where I might head first in the Broken Isles.

Hrmmm... shaped kinda like Outland when you look at it...

Hrmmm… shaped kinda like Outland when you look at it…

Actually, I haven’t thought about the actual content at all.  I have tried to follow my usual plan of averting my gaze when it comes to new content, absorbing just enough to get me there but not so much that any surprises are spoiled.

Anyway, all that awaits me tonight when the new adventure begins.

If WoW Expansion Were Done Pokemon Style

Ideas that come unbidden in the night when you’ve been thinking about Pokemon and World of Warcraft too much.

What if Blizzard did World of Warcraft expansions the way Nintendo and Game Freak do new Pokemon titles or was simply influenced more by Pokemon than EverQuest?

This is where this ends up...

This is where this ends up…

  • Each expansion would be a complete 1-100 experience, but would require you to start at back as a new player each time.
  • You get to create exactly one avatar per expansion copy.
  • There would be two versions of each expansion, each with rewards not in the other, and the only way to obtain them would be through trading across expansions.
  • Occasionally there would be a single expansion that was just the previous two merged together, slightly altered, and with a few more rewards.
  • Every once in a while the two different versions would have completely different groups to fight, though the story and quest line would be essentially the same.
  • Interaction with quest givers initiated solely by making eye contact.
  • It would be a solo experience, where you created parties for dungeons and raids from the NPCs you captured while battling along the way.
  • Party size is now six.
  • You don’t level up, only the followers in your party do as they fight for you.
  • Your followers can be different classes, which have a rock/paper/scissors dynamic to them.  There is no holy trinity.
  • Draenor garrison-like need to collect all possible followers emphasized in the game.
  • Only mounts: Roller skates and a bicycle.
  • Flight points unlocked only after defeating a dungeon half way into the game.
  • Dance contests!
  • Geography of each expansion loosely based on a real world location.
  • Blizzard offices cleverly hidden in each expansion, allowing you do rage at the devs through your avatar.
  • At some point each expansion would require you to wake up a sleeping ogre that is blocking your progress.
  • Defeating the story antagonists just lets you move on to your real goal; Defeating the final four and then the Azeroth League Champion.
  • We still end up waiting at least two years between expansions

What other Pokemon tropes would likely infect Blizzard were this true?

And would any of this necessarily be a bad thing?

I Bet Blizzard Really Wants to Mention Subscription Numbers About Now…

World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription‐based MMORPG in the
world.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2016 Financial Results

It is easy to justify dumping a metric when it isn’t portraying you well.  But once you’ve publicly vowed never to bring that metric up again, and suddenly it might show you in a good light, what do you do?

Apparently you beat around the bush hinting about it.

Yesterday was the Activision Blizzard call for the Q2 2016 financial results.  All the data and slides are over at the investor relations site.

ActiBlizz450

The company had plenty of good news to report.  Revenue was strong, their monthly active user (MAU) metric was up, and they had a hot new title to brag about in Overwatch, which has sales in the $500 million range to date.

They also highlighted Blizzard in general, which had strong growth, and World of Warcraft in particular.  Along with the quote at the top of the post, they say:

…strong pre-expansion momentum for World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft MAUs double digit growth quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year

[Legion] per-purchases tracking in-line with the last expansion.

Strong momentum in China following the Warcraft film…

That all sounds great, but they are just words.  What does “momentum” really mean here?  If you don’t publish per-game MAUs, which are a bullshit metric anyway, is double really that good?  Why aren’t they ten times better?  And if you make the claim that your game is the #1 subscription based MMORPG, I think it is incumbent on you to back that claim up.

Yes, the categories on the balance sheet where WoW fits in are up quite a bit, a sign that something is going on.  And if you’re playing WoW right now, it likely “feels” like the so-called “momentum” is building, that more players are back in the game.  I doubt anybody would seriously argue, with the WoW Legion expansion this close, that numbers are not up.

But you know what would seal the deal?  A nice little statement about how, at the end of Q2 2016, back on June 30th, after a year long content drought, subscriptions were already trending up on anticipation of the expansion with a hard number.  Anything higher that 5.5 million would do, though I think if they could have said 7 million it would have been a massive validation that the game is still strong and still has its own legion of loyal fans.

But instead, last November, when things were down, Blizz said they were not going to talk about subscription numbers any more.

I made what I felt was the case for continuing to report them every quarter.  Saying you’re number one is fine, but it isn’t news.  Trotting out a 7 digit subscription number though, that guarantees some headlines, be it up, down, or stable.  That gets your game in the eye of the press and being talked about.

I wonder, if WoW Legion does well, really well, and subscriptions are up into 8 digit figures again, if Blizzard will be content to just claim they are number one still, or will they roll out a special press release for that?

Last Minute Garrison Gold Grubbing

The WoW 7.0 pre-Legion patch goes live tomorrow.

WoWLegion_500

The WoW 7.0 patch notes have the following two items about your Draenor garrisons:

  • Many sources of gold from the Garrison has been reduced or removed.
  • Newly obtained salvage from the Salvage Yard no longer contains equippable items. Salvage obtained from before the patch remains unaffected.

Both were expected, but you might not be aware of just how much your gold revenue will be taking a hit.  I knew that follower missions that paid off in gold were done for, but I did not know that follower equipment, which is worth a decent amount of gold today, will be worth just 1 copper after the patch tomorrow.

I’ll be cashing all those in when I get home.

Blizzard Watch has a guide up to help you extract as much last minute gold out of your garrison as possible.  Get it tonight, because tomorrow will be to late.