Category Archives: Blizzard

Will Nostalrius Drama Shift the Sleeping WoW Giant?

The developers however prefer to see the game continuously evolve and progress, and as such we have no plans to open classic realms or limited expansion content realms.

February 2011 repost of an earlier Blizzard response

People have been asking for a Vanilla server for a long time now.  That quote is from the old forums, which are no longer available.  When Tom Chilton stands up and loudly declares a vanilla server can’t be done and, even if it could be, that nobody would really want it, I believe his real motivation is encapsulated above. That has always been the sense of things that I have taken from the company and its statements.  They want to move forward, that today is always better than yesterday, and that tomorrow will be better still.

That quote at the top was posted less than three months after the Cataclysm expansion removed the original 1-60 game content of Azeroth.  But it was brought forward from the old forums, so it certainly pre-dates Cataclysm.  The whole vanilla server idea isn’t new.  It didn’t just come up this month.  Customers asking for it isn’t new.  Blizzard saying “no” isn’t new.  Even this reminder that Blizzard knew people wanted the old world back when it was still current and available, yet decided to do nothing with it until enough time passed to allow Tom Chilton to say it is too hard isn’t even that new.

A day that will live in infamy...

A day that will live in infamy…

What is new, what has sparked this constant smoldering hum of people asking for some sort of classic server… probably since The Burning Crusade launched… into an actual conflagration was Blizzard going after a private/pirate vanilla server that was an outlet for 150K players looking for that old school experience.

Serving the Nostalrius server with a cease and desist notice got people stirred up and brought the question of classic servers, long simmering, to a full boil.  We got a few choice blog posts in our corner of the internet when this kicked off:

Blizzard immediately tried to dismiss the whole thing in the way they always have.  However, the tide was already rushing in and, in a world where 5 million subscriptions, down from 10 million a little over a year ago, is the new normal somebody, and the game missed bringing in a billion dollars in revenue for the first time in a long stretch, somebody at Blizzard apparently decided that they might want to listen to that increasingly loud segment of the World of Warcraft fan base.

And so there was a blue post in the forums this morning, which I will quote in full at the end of the post.

It starts out with a statement that Blizzard’s silence on the subject shouldn’t be taken as a lack of attention on their part.  After years of silence, punctuated by terse and glib dismissals of the idea, that seems a bit disingenuous.  I mean, I have your pre-Cataclysm quotes handy if you want them.  So I will take it as read that there has suddenly been enough noise of late that they are actually taking the idea seriously for the first time.

That is followed up by a statement that Blizzard has to protect its IP and doesn’t know how to grant Nostalrius any sort of license to operate that would also protect the World of Warcraft brand.  I might suggest they check out what SOE did with Project 1999, but Blizzard hasn’t been interested in copying EverQuest since 2005 or so.  So Nostalrius will likely remain dead.

Then there is the return to why Blizzard won’t do a classic server; because it is hard.  If it were easy, of course they would do it, but it isn’t, so they won’t.  Pre-Cataclysm Azeroth is forever gone from Blizzard servers.

The post then offers up the idea of some sort of special, fresh start server that sounds remarkably like something I outlined in a comment over at SynCaine’s blog and what Rohan wrote about at Blessing of Kings. (And refined in a follow up post.) My own statement from about two weeks back:

Blizz has never been a company to take a step in a direction that hasn’t been well trod or to take big steps when little steps would do. So them jumping to a Vanilla server, even if they could get past the mental block and do it without too much cost, seems unlikely.

I think they would first venture into an alternate rules server test, something like a “hard mode” server. Crank up MOB damage and hit points, tone down exp gain, normal mode dungeons tuned up to not be face rolls, no transfers or insta-level characters, no heirlooms, flying restricted to only in Outland after 60 70 and Northrend after 68, 78 and some bits and pieces like that. Throw in some special achievements… or maybe just a gold border on current achievements that you get when you do them in hard mode, and I bet that would be a draw.

That is, after all, pretty much all SOE is doing with their nostalgia servers.

I think there is some merit in that option.  A fresh server experience with some differences and greater difficulty with everybody starting off at level 1 would be a draw for some.  Bhagpuss has said in the past that he wouldn’t want to play what would be simply a more difficult version of the same content available on live servers.  And that is a legitimate point of view, certainly.  But some people would.  I bet a lot of people would.

Yes, I know, that isn’t vanilla.  While I actually like some of the 1-60 Cataclysm content myself, having run through every zone now for my attempt at the Loremaster achievement, it still isn’t the same.  It isn’t old Westfall, old Deadmines, old Stranglethorn Vale with its myriad of pages to collect, or old Sunken Temple with its long series of challenges.

But it might be a start, a step in the right direction, an admission by Blizzard that their same old routine of the last eleven years of an expansion every two years with a one year content drought can’t just go on indefinitely.  Maybe they are finally feeling the need to do something different, to offer up a server that isn’t PvE, PvP, PvE-RP, or PvP-RP.

World of Warcraft is still the cash cow at Blizzard.  It still has a big team.  It still could make a billion dollars a year in revenue if it could attract back some of the lapsed player base with something a little different.  Maybe this is the first step to vanilla.

I doubt it.  I think that so long as Tom Chilton is calling the shots, Blizzard will continue down its standard path. (He is becoming the Blizzard version of Smed when it comes to quotes, especially after calling Garrisons the WoW version of housing.)  But it could happen.

Is today’s post a sign of a shift at Blizzard, or an attempt to calm people down and hope the whole issue goes away once the Warcraft movie premiers and the WoW Legion expansion launches?

Others writing on the topic, updated as they pop up:

Today’s blue post quoted in full after the cut:

Continue reading

WoW Legion to Ship 22 Days Before Summer Ends

It looks like August 30, 2016 will be the ship date for the WoW Legion Expansion.

WoW Legion coming to a server near you

WoW Legion; coming to a server near you

People have been asking the “when” question about the expansion since it was announced, myself included.  Look at the poll on that post.  I thought dates past July 2016 were not even worth mentioning.  Eventually we got the target window of summer, which using the calendar they have on the wall down in Anaheim, meant as late as September 21, 2016.

(Cue the inevitable comment about the dates for summer between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer.)

Optimists felt that this left open the ability for Blizzard to ship the expansion with the Warcraft movie, which is set to hit theaters on June 10, 2016.  Others, myself included, were more inclined to believe that the release would come much closer to the end of summer.   Maybe not on the last day, but within a month would be about the norm for Blizz.

And now we have the date.  On the scale of between-expansion gaps, that puts WoW Legion at the faster end of things, with the average being about 719 days.

  • 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 – 778 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 670 days

Of course, it isn’t the gap between expansions that hurts Blizz so much as the inevitable year long dry spell when no new content is introduced before the next expansion hits.

With the expansion date now out and about there are two additional things I am waiting to hear about.

The first is when the pre-launch patch is going to hit, as that usually ushers in the story and often includes limited time events.  True believers will resubscribe for that.

And the second is somebody complaining that Blizzard has deliberately chosen the date to mess up some other game’s launch.  It really isn’t a WoW expansion without that.

Blizzard, Nostalrius, and the Classic Server Question

I spent yesterday hiking in Muir Woods where, among the giant redwoods, there is no WiFi service.  I didn’t bring my iPad with me in any case, but it was a day away from the internet.

Still, the last story I saw in Feedly before my wife and I headed out stuck with me.  As you may have guessed from the title, it was about Blizzard sending its legal team after Nostalrius.

Nostalrius is/was hosting a private/pirate World of Warcraft server that was offering a classic/vanilla WoW experience, along with a classic Burning Crusade focused experience.

That is not a new thing.  A simple Google search will turn up some alternatives offering various WoW experiences.  Such servers come and go.  I spent a bit of time poking about on the now defunct Emerald Dream server.  Posts from that interlude can be found by following the right tag.

You no take catch phrase!

You no take catch phrase! Also, a metaphor!

It has been a while since Blizzard has bothered to go after such a server.  The last I recall was the case against Alyson Reeves and Scape Gaming.  However, that case was special because the Scape Gaming server was bringing in real money from players, to the tune of 3 million dollars.

That one appeared to be about the money, with Blizzard getting a life-ruining 88.6 million dollar judgement at the end of the trial.

If Nostalrius was in it for the money, then this is probably about that.  Running some alternative experience for free is one thing, but making money off of a Blizzard trademark won’t stand.

Nostalrius, on their site and in their open letter/petition at Change.org, doesn’t mention money.

So let us assume for the moment that money wasn’t the issue, if only because the whole thing isn’t very interesting unless money was not a factor.

Why go after Nostalrius if they are not making money off of Blizzards works?

While it may not be about money, I imagine it is still about numbers.  Nostalrius claims to have had over 800,000 registered users and as many as 150,000 active users on its classic experience servers.

150K, if true, is a pretty respectable user count, and doubly so for such a server that must, by necessity, keep a low profile.  That is a big enough number to attract attention.  I’d bet there are some live MMORPGs out there that wouldn’t mind being able to claim 150K active users.

In that scenario, if it isn’t about the money, is Blizzard flexing its legal muscles just to smack down somebody who has gotten a bit too popular, a bit too brazen?  Is this like being the most popular speakeasy in town during prohibition, something that expanded to far to allow the authorities to pretend isn’t there?

Or is this more of a reaction to the discontent many players… or many former players… feel for World of Warcraft these days?  Because you cannot deny that there is some level of discontent.  Having nearly half your player base unsubscribe… and maybe more than half by now, but we’ll never know because the news was so bad that Blizzard stopped reporting it… is not an endorsement for staying the current course.

And, if it is a reaction, will there be any upside?

Because there is a sliver of hope that this might mean Blizzard has seen the light when it comes to the retro experience.  With multiple classic servers having popped up over the years, with 150K users on the one they just effectively shut down, and with the success of retro servers for EverQuest, EverQuest II, and RuneScape, that maybe, just maybe, somewhere down in Anaheim the ball may have started rolling that will eventually give players some sort of official vanilla WoW experience despite past statements that they would never go that route.

Blizzard has the money, they have the staff, and they have a huge number of former players who would resubscribed just to try something like that out, enough that costs would likely be covered very quickly, leading to profits.

I know it isn’t as easy as just pulling some old code out of source control and throwing it out there.  To do this right, and Blizzard couldn’t bring themselves to do this in a half-assed way I am sure, it would likely have to be played as a separate game with its own version of the client.  No transfers from current WoW, no cash shop, no flying mounts, no WoW Tokens… basically a bunch of the extra-cost addons that Blizzard has attached to the game over the years to boost revenue.  So an official WoW classic server done right would not have the same revenue potential as any of the current servers.

However, the cynic in me doesn’t think that even enters into it.  That part of me doesn’t believe for a second that Blizzard even sees the distinction between a WoW classic server and the current state of the game.  That part of me strongly suspects that somebody down in Anaheim thinks that 150K… or maybe 800K… people were playing WoW for free and that they needed to put a stop to that right now.  If people want to play WoW, they can pay the $15 a month like everybody else.

Which is fully within Blizzard’s rights.  They can, and one might argue must, step in and defend their intellectual property.

But in that scenario, there is no official WoW classic server, or even an acknowledgement that such a thing could even be.  Unfortunately, the cynic in me is right more often than not.

So what is the real reason and the view towards the future with WoW?

Others on this topic:

April Fools at Blizzard – 2016

The day has come again.  April Fools is a thing down in Anaheim.

Past years fun, for those who want to catch up:

However, this year all the humor at Blizzard seems to be focused on the World of Warcraft side of things.  Heroes of the Storm is in the midst of a tournament, Hearthstone announced a new ranked play season, StarCraft II is pushing mission packs, Diablo III only mentions that Season 5 is ending soon, and Overwatch is focused on its upcoming launch.

I am sure some conspiracy theory can be thrown together that this indicates that somehow Blizzard may not be serious about WoW any more, at least relative to its other titles.  Or maybe the other jokes just haven’t been published as yet.  Anyway, we go with what we have to hand:

World of Warcraft

In Azeroth, there was the introduction of the Frostdoge Clan.

Such Faction! Very Expansion!

Such Faction! Very Expansion!

There was concern from flight masters around Azeroth as a new service called Flyt arrived.

Because we couldn't figure out anything with Uber

Because we couldn’t figure out anything with Uber

Then there was Azeroth TV, featuring shows like Void Storage Wars and Keeping Up with the Barovs.

As with real life, nobody can explain why we watch, we just do...

As with real life, nobody can explain why we watch, we just do…

This was on the WoW page, but is focused on the collectible card game front; the announcement of Hearthstone: The MMO in a video.

And no April Fools day would be complete without some release note fun, so here are the latest updates for the WoW Legion Alpha.

And that is all I have seen so far, though I am sure I missed something.  The forums are often a source as well.  I will update this post if I find anything new.

Meanwhile, what other games have something good for April Fools?

Some items of note:

  • Psychochild’s new venture is RetroVR

WoW and the Case for Subscription Numbers

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

-Oscar Wilde

Late last week Activision-Blizzard had their quarterly results conference call and presentation.

ActiBlizz450

This has always been a must-attend for WoW watchers because along with the dry financials and vague statements there were those subscription numbers.  That was always the real “health of the game” indicator, a number of substance, some hard data we could track and chart and argue about.

Then, of course, as part of the Q3 2015 results last year, at which point WoW seemed to be stable at 5.5 million subscribers, it was announced that they would no longer be providing subscription numbers.  Instead all we would get were revenue numbers, hand waving, and their completely fatuous “Monthly Average Users” or “MAUs” metric.

So I was curious as to how the earning call would go this time around, whether there would be some WoW news to go with things or not.  Because, if nothing else, Blizzard seemed to feel compelled to give us some news with every dip in the subscriber count.   I am pretty sure, for example, that we got the WoW Legion announcement early in order to counteract the big drop in subscribers announced that same week.

The whole thing was quite dull, at least if you were looking for any news about World of Warcraft.  There was a general statement about people buying lots of the current charity pet, granting the company a nice tax deduction I am sure.  There was some unsubstantiated statement about growth, but it was so vague that some fan sites put the word in apologetic quotes.  And there was some non-news said in a way to make it sound like news about the WoW Legion expansion.  We knew all of this already.

Blizzard Q4 2015 slide

Blizzard Q4 2015 slide

Seriously, telling people that the expansion was going to release this summer, after the Warcraft movie barely even qualified as a rehash of what we already knew.  It couldn’t release before the movie and be during the summer, since the movie releases on June 10th, ten days before the calendar declares the start of summer in North America.  And the data set contained by the parameters “after the movie release” and “Summer 2016” still extends out until September 21, 2016.  They could launch on that last date and still have told the straight up truth.

I even held off on this post through the weekend, just in case there was something else that Blizzard might want to throw out there.  But there was nothing further about WoW.

And so the earnings call was barely a blip on the WoW news front.  Many sites posted the obligatory “something was said” stories, but when you’re given nothing of substance, the story cannot be sustained.  One mention and sites moved on to other things.

However, if Blizz had given us a subscription number, up, down, or stable, I am sure we would have been bouncing that around for a week or more, discussing what it really means and whether or not this unprecedented for Blizzard alpha access to the expansion was helping to hold things together or not.

But maybe that is the way Blizzard wants things.

For the first five years after World of Warcraft launched, Blizzard was the company that made WoW and used to make some other games.  Then for a few years it was the company that made WoW and was remaking those games it used to make.  And then, finally, in the last couple of years, Blizzard has become the company that made WoW and a couple remakes AND a couple of new games.  Yes, World of Warcraft still brings in most of the revenue.  Without WoW I suspect the name of the company would just be “Activision” at this point.

The company clearly wants to talk about Hearthstone and Overwatch, which was reflected in the questions from the investment analysts on the call.  When question time came, nobody asked about WoW or StarCraft II or Diablo III or even Heroes of the Storm… which on could argue is something of a DOTA legacy remake in any case.  No, the questions, when it came to Blizzard products, were all about Hearthstone and Overwatch, the mobile game… and mobile is the current hawtness still, which even Blizzard seems to recognize… and the cartoon copy of Call of Duty… which is no doubt seen as part of the ongoing effort by Activision to cash in on its first person shooter dominance.

So the lack of WoW emphasis suits their needs.  It wasn’t quite that moment when john Riccitiello said that SWTOR wasn’t their most interesting property as a dodge when asked during an EA earnings call about subscription numbers, but it was clearly a step away from WoW.  The subscription number metric always overshadowed everything else, in part because WoW pretty much pays all the bills and then some, but also because of the assumed direct correlation between number of subscribers and total revenue for the game. (Though, as we can see, revenue is still pretty stable even with the big subscriber drop, so Blizz clearly has its ways of coping on that front.)

I do wonder though if, when the time comes to actually ship WoW Legion and the company actually wants us to focus on WoW again, if anything short of announcing a big jump in subscribers… which will be tough to do when you’ve banished that metric… will suffice.  Because if they think MEUs are something of substance, they are kidding themselves.

Basically, to get back around to the quote at the top, Blizzard has successfully gotten WoW to not be talked about… or at least talked about less outside of some very narrowly focused media outlets.  I wonder if they will end up regretting that some day.

Friday Bullet Points About Games I’m Not Actually Playing

It is the middle of January already in the year 2016, a date that literally seemed like “The Future” when I was a kid.  Yet it feels really normal, right up until I watch some TV re-run from the early 90s… my daughter and I started watching The X-Files earlier this week, starting with season 1 episode 1… and not only aren’t there any iPhones or iPads or flat screen TVs, but there aren’t any cell phones at all present.

Clearly, future me is some sort of alien, since I can barely remember a time without such things.  1992 wasn’t THAT long ago, was it?

Anyway, some small items to note.

Diablo III Patch 2.4.0

We’re getting pretty much the only thing Blizzard deigned to speak about on the Diablo III front when it came to BlizzCon last year.

D3Patch240_500px
I was disappointed by the lack of new stuff for the Diablo franchise… like another full expansion or something about Diablo IV…  but I must admit that, reading the 2.4.0 release notes, they did deliver a decent pile of stuff.  A new island, some expanded areas in older zones, new rifts, a new season, and the inevitable new gear sets.

It makes me want to go back and take a look.  On the flip side, I am more about playing through the story… and exploring every single square centimeter of the map… than I am about the post-story gear grind.  Maybe I will start a season 5 character and run through the story again.

WoW Legion Alpha

I keep reading bits about the alpha for the upcoming WoW Legion expansion.. because it has no NDA… and I have to wonder what this means.  Is this how Blizzard is trying to keep their fans invested, by letting them into the next expansion even earlier than usual?

LegionScene_500px

My gut says that this might mean the actual launch will be far closer to the September 21, 2016 than, say, the Warcraft movie release.  We’ll see.

I also wonder if this now constant exposure to the expansion content starting in alpha will make the post-launch enthusiasm window for the expansion even smaller than we saw for Warlords of Draenor, which lost 46% of its audience in under six months.  Basically, will all but the non-hardcore be mostly “done” with the expansion before it starts?

Anyway, I am averting my eyes from this… which means not reading a couple of blogs and avoiding some stories that are grinding through every detail… so as to keep myself fresh for the eventual launch.

Amazon Prime Discounts

Amazon announced that Prime members would be getting a 20% discount on new and pre-ordered  games this week.  We have Prime at our house, and get our value out of it largely via the video service, the occasional free Kindle book, and a bit of free shipping now and again.  But now I can pre-order the WoW Legion expansion at 20% off months before it goes live.

Remember back when The Burning Crusade stayed at list price for nearly a year after it launched?

Stormhold Moves On

During the summer I was trying to get myself engaged in the Daybreak first run at an EverQuest II nostalgia server; specifically the Stormhold PvE time-locked expansion server.

That is Daybreak's graphic for the idea

That is Daybreak’s graphic for the idea

I failed to get there… I played a bit, and actually had some fun, but I never got quite enthusiastic enough about the whole thing to get very far.

Time, however, moves on… as noted at the top of the post.  Last week the Stormhold and Deathtoll servers both moved to the Kingdom of Sky expansion, which also moves them out of my prime nostalgia zone.  That whole pacing question comes to mind again I suppose, but my nostalgia for the game sort of ends with Desert of Flames, with everything after that feeling like “the new stuff.”  Again, time is strange.

New LOTRO Servers

Earlier this week the team at Turbine moved Lord of the Rings Online over to their new server farm.  This was part of their 2015 plan that also involved server merges to boost populations along with promises better performance and all the other things that go with fancy new hardware.

Unfortunately, with new hardware there can also be new problems, something the game has been experiencing.  On the bright side though, the server upgrade did fix my inability to log in on the Brandywine server, something that shut down my nascent return to Middle-earth in early December.  Maybe once they get this settled down I can get back to Mirkwood.

Boot Camp Denied

I have a spoiler laden post about Star Wars: The Force Awakens sitting around waiting for the right time to post.  Maybe this weekend.  But as an indicator of the reaction at our household, my daughter had the sudden urge to play Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I gave her a taste on my computer, but to get that back I had to promise to setup a Windows partition on her iMac.  Easy stuff, right?  She has a fairly recent iMac… it is probably the best computer in the house… I have the Windows 7 media and an extra license key and there is plenty of drive space on her system.

And it mostly worked, right up until Boot Camp wanted to install the drivers for the iMac hardware, at which point it announced that the version of Boot Camp was not for this Mac model.  Google gave me a variety of possible solutions (the problem seems to come up a lot), none of which solved the problem.  Without the drivers, I have a fairly useless version of Windows 7 hanging around the house.

Now I have to guard my computer to keep her away from it.  Nothing is ever simple.

Such is life in the video game lane for me this week… at least for some games I am interested in but do not actually play.

Legion in September 2016 is… about Average for Blizzard

The big bomb last night was somebody on Reddit discovering a web asset that indicated that the next World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, would be available “on or before September 21, 2016.”  I saw this first over at Blizzard Watch, so I’ll give them the link credit as I steal the image from them.

Legion pre-order specials

Legion pre-order specials

My gut reaction to that last night was something akin to, “OMFG are they insane?!?!”

Right?  I mean in the world of this week, with subscriptions down 45% from the 10 million peak when Warlords of Draenor launched, to the point that Blizzard is no longer going to talk about subscription numbers, along with some vague past promises about getting content out faster, how could anybody in Anaheim think this is a good idea?

In a world where the EverQuest team used to produce two expansions a YEAR in support of one tenth the number of subscribers that WoW has today, and can still crank out one a year even after being pared down and combined with the EverQuest II team… which itself is cranking out an expansion a year… how can Blizzard honestly imagine that 22 months is a winning strategy?

And yes, all of that doesn’t add up to a fair comparison.  Still, even in the cold light of morning I was thinking that September… and I wouldn’t read any more that a couple weeks of leeway into the phrase “on or before” here… was still way out in the future.  That would make the long summer drought in Pandaria seem like an oasis.

The problem is, looking at past expansions, September is about right.  Here are the gaps between launches so far:

  • 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 – 778 days

And if we just buy into the September 21st date for the moment, the next gap is:

  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 691 days

That puts it mid-pack for timelines.  The average time gap up to this point was 728 days, and if we add in this last estimate it goes down to 722.

So technically, Blizzard is getting this expansion out a bit faster than normal even at the September 21 date.  And if they pull it in a few weeks it could be close to the fastest expansion turn-around ever for Blizzard.

All of which will be cold comfort in Anaheim if they don’t have some additional incentives or a bit of extra Draenor content to tide us over until Legion hits.  Whether they want to talk about them or not, subscriptions are a cash IV straight into the veins of organization.  Losing them will show in the numbers over time.

Anyway, BlizzCon will hit shortly.  We shall see if they have something else to show us.