Category Archives: Blizzard

The EverQuest Expansion Machine and the Future of WoW

I was a bit surprised to see a post over at Blizzard Watch which, as the name implies, is mostly about Blizzard and their games, musing about the fact that EverQuest was warming up to launch its 28th expansion, Terror of Luclin.

The Terror of Luclin approaches

And it is a nice smooth read, not too deep in insight, but respectful of what the EverQuest team has managed to pull off over the 22 years the game has been around and how it continues to put out annual expansions.

Of course, it isn’t all that surprising that they are expanding on the topics they cover.  Blizzard is both a mess, wracked by its own internal issues and a government investigation, and doesn’t really have much new on the horizon.  Since the launch of Burning Crusade Classic in May and Diablo II Resurrected in September, there hasn’t been much to write about.  You can can’t go on forever on the stagnation of the Shadowlands expansion for WoW or some tidbits about Diablo IV.

It says something that the big news out of Blizzard this year… erm… the big product related news that is… has been about remakes of a 20 year old title and a 14 year old expansion.

You can see why somebody at Blizzard Watch might glance over longingly at the Daybreak stable of games and wonder what it might be like to write about some titles that are actually planning to ship some new content.  LOTRO, EQ, EQII, DCUO, they all have new things on their plate this year.  And EverQuest is the king of that pack with its 28th expansion landing later this year.

I’ve been hard on SOE and Daybreak in the past, and justifiably so for some of their missteps, but I always given them credit for their ability to package up an expansion annually for both Norrath franchises.

They may not be as grandiose as they once were… the Visions of Vetrovia has four zones (not far off from how many as a recent WoW expansion generally has, delivered in half the time) while the Gates of Discord, the EQ expansion on which that content is being based, introduced 18 zones into old Norrath… but they still deliver expansions annually, with a major mid-year update as well.

And they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t making money and keeping people subscribed.  I joke about expansions for the two titles being a bit of a commodity, with a requisite number of zones, dungeons, raids, collections, house items, pets, AA levels, and whatever else bundled up in those annual releases.

But the Norrath team is a content machine, able to turn out those expansions year after year while not having anything close to the resources that a title like World of Warcraft has available.

And the Norrath teams also launches special servers every year too.

Which does make one wonder what is really going on at Blizzard.

Yes, they have a different culture and a different view on how their IP ought to be presented and probably look down their noses a bit at how much the Norrath team reuses locations and how chaotic or easy to ignore a lot of their lore can be… I mean, I played through Blood of Luclin two years back and couldn’t really tell you much about it now beyond the fact that it was on the moon of Luclin and it looked pretty good… and how often a new expansion just leaves the old one behind without much in the way of transition, but there has been a whole additional expansion since I played Blood of Luclin and another one is arriving soon.

Blizzard has always prided itself on quality and polish and getting this just right, while SOE and Daybreak have had a much less intimate relationship with those qualities at times.  And the success of WoW enabled them to live on that reputation and the huge user base it built early on in the history of the game, even when they were annoying their base or letting the game drift without news or updates for months at a time during their two year expansion cycle.

Now, however, with content droughts becoming the norm for WoW, I have to wonder if they couldn’t learn a lesson or two from the Norrath team at Daybreak about content pacing and what they ought to be able to deliver.

After two lackluster expansions in a row and a the whole hostile work environment fiasco that broke loose earlier this year, it might be time for the WoW team to think hard about what they really need to do to keep their user base engaged and happy.

It has been more than three years since we saw the end of Legion, the last strong WoW expansion, and it will be at least another year until Blizzard can deliver a new one.  A two year expansion cycle feels like a long time when you get a lemon that doesn’t keep you invested.

I may not like all the Norrath expansions, but I will tell you true that knowing another one will land come the holidays takes some sting out of that.  I am not sure that the WoW team can managed that.  For all the pain of being understaffed, a small team can also be a more nimble team.  Too many cooks can slow things down.  But it feels like Blizzard needs to do something to get themselves and their WoW fan base on board and invested and looking forward to something new.

Playing Diablo II Resurrected on Battle.net

Diablo II Resurrected has been my game of choice for a couple of weeks now for a few reasons, not the least of which was the server and queue issues that New World was having at its launch.

Seems a bit ironic now, doesn’t it?

We heard you liked queues

As I mentioned at the end of Friday’s post, Blizzard has a whole post up of their own about the problems they have been having and some of the fixes they have put in place, including that queue shown above.

I find the whole thing quite interesting, both because I am a bit impressed that 20 year old net code is holding up as well as it has, and because it is interesting to see how player behavior has changed over the two decades the game has been around.

The end game of Diablo II was always a grindy effort to get that perfect drop that you knew had to be out there.  The RNG is a cruel mistress in Diablo II.  My “almost done with nightmare” necromancer is still using some gear from Act II of normal mode because literally nothing better for my spec choice has deigned to drop.

But now, in 2021, the game is a solved problem, with guides to which specific mobs to farm for your item.  So people have been putting up BNet games, killing the mob, leaving them, and putting up a fresh one over and over in order to farm for items.  And, of course, that is rippling back on the servers and everybody else just the way it did in WoW when people were constantly resetting instances to farm a specific boss.

No new problems, just new circumstances.

Of course, this isn’t the first time BNet has had problems, and my gut reaction after having played Diablo and Diablo II at launch has been to simply avoid making BNet characters if at all possible.  A lot of the outrage about there being no local character mode for Diablo III wasn’t because we were all still keen to drag our computers over to a friend’s house for a LAN party, but because we’d all been there with online character before.

The Diablo III launch proved that point.

Then there is how quickly Blizz used to be in deleting your Diablo II BNet characters if you hadn’t logged on for a few months.

So the solution seemed to be to make offline characters.  They’re stored on your drive, the world is spun up and save locally, and you even get the same map for your ongoing local game.  One of the pissers about BNet games is that your exploration is always for naught once you leave your game.

And that was certainly my go-to when Diablo II Resurrected landed.  My first few characters were offline.

Then the group picked up the game and… well… there is no more LAN option, so if you want to play together you play on BNet.  So I started rolling up characters for non-group play on BNet as well, including my necromancer who has made it all the way through.  I might as well keep all of them together now that we have those three tabs of sweet shared storage… which I have totally filled up already.  I can’t bring myself to start tossing yellow and gold items until I am out of storage.  And I have been saving every rune, gem, or jewel as well.

Overall, playing on BNet hasn’t been much of a problem.  There are occasionally some network blips and we had a problem yesterday where I couldn’t join anybody’s game and they couldn’t join mine.  But I had been online and logged into BNet for a couple hours at that point playing one of my other characters, so the service seemed to have tucked me off in a corner on my own.  The issue was fixed by logging out and then back in again.

In the end, I have only see a queue twice so far.  The first time it was only a few people deep and I was connected in a couple of minutes.  That was Saturday when EU and US prime time was overlapping.  The second time, the 70 deep queue pictured above, was at 10:30pm Pacific time on Saturday night, which seemed a bit odd to me.  I guess people to the east of me were up late playing.  But Diablo and Diablo II were always games suitable to late night play.  Their atmosphere is enhanced by darkness and a late hour.

And even that queue was down to a single digit in the time it took me to go grab a drink and make myself an evening snack.

I don’t know what the policy is on character deletion there days though.  I hope they’re a little more lenient now that storage is a damn sight less expensive than it was 20 years ago.  The support site still says they’re purged if inactive for 90 days.  That was another reason to roll up a local character.  We’ll see how that plays out I guess.

Remaking our Diablo II Group

After the three of us played Diablo II Resurrected on an off week, the return of Beanpole brought up the question of whether we should get back to Outland in WoW Classic or keep running in Diablo II.

Diablo II, being something different, won out, though Beanpole did suggest we would do just about anything to forget how to play our classes in WoW.  But now Diablo II is an instance group thing.

A larger group meant a restart with fresh characters.  We hadn’t gotten that far before, so it wasn’t a huge burden to re-roll.  And, in re-rolling it was a chance to try a new class.  There was some discussion as to what we ought to play, and Potshot asked if it would bother anybody if he played an assassin, a class locked as female.  I immediately say no, indicated that we would likely make fun of him at some point, which I guess was enough to throw that idea in the bin.  We’ll probably have to roll up a group at some point where Ula plays a barbarian and the three men play female classes.

But for now the boys each grabbed a male class, Potshot going with druid, Beanpole grabbing the necromancer, while I went with a paladin.  Paladin was kind of on my over-played list, but I thought it might be different with a group due to the aura thing that paladins get.  Ula went with an Amazon, which gave us the following characters.

  • Talon – Amazon
  • Ulfar – Druid
  • Ernest – Paladin
  • Kevin – Necromancer

Beware Kevin

Then we had to spend a bit of time sorting out how to play Diablo II again, as Kevin hand’t played it in many years and even I was still remembering things.  The whole skills and talent tree and right click swap assignments and accidentally hitting the W key which swaps you weapons were all refreshed.

Hanging out in the Rogue Camp while things get sorted

Still, we were out into the world soon enough, fighting the first few creatures as we made our way around to the Den of Evil, the first quest objective of the game.  We made our way into there and set about clearing it out.

Down in the Den of Evil

It was time for a couple of teachable moments.  Kevin got himself killed in a scuffle with a mini-boss, but I was able to open a town portal for him to get back quickly.  We also learned a bit about BNet issues.

You can see the four of us, Talon, Ernest, Kevin, and Ulfar in that picture.  Ernest has his might aura up, and you can see it glowing at the feet of everybody save Ulfar.  He was in the game, but somehow wasn’t fully connected.  It also turned out, as we went back to the rogue camp, that he couldn’t use the portal that I had to put up, and had to cast his own in order to return quickly.

We thought maybe the problem would sort itself out, so went off after Blood Raven.  However, even though we finished up that fight successfully, I noticed when we were going into the crypt in the graveyard, that Ulfar was still not getting my aura.

No aura for you

He also had to take his own town portal home yet again.  He could see mine, but couldn’t enter it.

We did a bit of disconnecting and reconnecting after that and eventually got everybody on the same page connection wise, with everybody getting the paladin aura and able to use each other’s portals.

Of course, after the Blood Raven quest everybody got a rogue mercenary.  With four of those, and Kevin’s growing skeleton followers, and Ulfar with a couple of wolves, we were starting to become a bit of an army.

From there it was on from the Stony Field, through the dark tunnel, and into the Dark Woods and the Tree of Inifuss for the scroll for Akara.  Being the old hand at this, I insisted that we explore a bit more to get the waypoint in the Dark Woods.  We would be needing that later.

From the waypoint it was back to the rogue encampment and Akara.  By that point we’d been playing for quite a while.  We were just warming up as a group so things were going a bit slow.  But I got everybody to come along for one last push.  I figured we could get to Tristram easy enough.

So it was back to the Stony Field and the Carin Stones, which opens the portal to Tristam.  Then it was into the portal and into town to rescue Deckard Cain and clear the place out.

Clearing out the town square while Cain waits in his cage

We cleared the town out, freed Deckard Cain, who took a portal back to the rogue camp, then swept around the town to make sure we got everything.  I made sure we found Wirt’s corpse and that somebody grabbed his leg.  I will do the cow level some day, I swear.

Then it was back to the Stony Fields, because the waypoint was next to the Carin Stones.  No point in wasting a town portal scroll while we were still poor.

Leaping back into the Stony Field

Then it was back to the rogue encampment, where Deckard Cain thanked us and promised to identify all our items, which is also a bit of a gold saver this early on in the game.

So that brings us up to where we stand in Diablo II Resurrected.

That actually wasn’t last weekend, but the weekend before, which was probably a good thing.  Apparently Diablo II Resurrected is doing very well, to the point that the servers were falling over last weekend, at least during EU prime time. (I played in the evening Pacific Time and never saw a blip, but by that time the load had passed.)

Blizzard actually has a long post about the troubles the servers are having, which is in part because the code from 20 years ago didn’t face as much traffic as it is getting now, and because people are starting new games in rapid succession to farm specific mobs for drops because the end game of Diablo II has always been trying to get some crazy rare item in the rain of loot that litters the game.

There is a list of things they are doing to handle the problem.  People have been making a comparison between this launch and the Warcraft III Reforged launch.  But that feels like a false comparison.  Both saw problems, but not the same problems.

Warcraft III Reforged launched missing a lot of features and some petty restrictions that left a bad taste in the mouths of many.  Blizzard ended up having to offer refunds on demand.

Diablo II Resurrected feels more like it delivered what it promised.  It isn’t anything new, just better looking.  But that seemed to be the right mix to get enough people on board to swamp the servers trying to recreate a 20 year old experience.

Blizzard Goes Back to the Vanilla well with the WoW Classic Season of Mastery

With the team spending their time scrubbing questionable content while Shadowlands founders and their legal problems continue, Blizzard has decided to play the nostalgia card again, returning to the WoW Classic well that got them out of the doldrums of Battle for Azeroth.

Classic is as classic does

Last week Blizzard announced WoW Classic Season of Mastery, which will be their second run at a vanilla experience.

That means some new fresh start WoW Classic servers will be coming our way at some as yet unspecified future date.

But wait, there is more.

Taking lessons from the original WoW Classic run Blizzard has decided to move the dials a bit when it comes to how the game plays.

To start with, players will level up faster.  Per the announcement:

We’re planning on increasing experience gains from what they were in the first iteration of WoW Classic. Our current plan is to set them close to what the 1-60 XP rates are in Burning Crusade Classic with a bigger focus on quest XP increases.

That should flatten out the slump from the late 30s to the late 40s when it comes to the leveling curve, or at least keep players from having to scrounge for every single quest in every zone before moving on.  I do like the pace of the Burning Crusade Classic 1-60 leveling, but I somehow managed it with three characters before that hit.

There are also a couple of “quality of life” changes mentioned in the announcement:

  • Meeting Stones converted to Summoning Stones
  • Increased Mining and Herbalism nodes

The former seems like a bit of a cheat, though I suppose I am biased having gone through WoW Classic without summoning, but mining and herbalism nodes did seem to be a bit of a choke point.  As Blizz points out, more players are on classic servers than were back with the original launch, so maybe that deserves a review.

Blizzard is also going to introduce honor system and battlegrounds right away rather than trying to simulate the progressions (and problems) that were seen both back in the day and with the WoW Classic phases.

But the big focus of this appears to be on raiders and raiding guilds.  Do I once again detect the hand of Holly Longdale guiding this?  Certainly raiders were a key demographic for the EverQuest retro servers.

While the new servers will go through the same six phase plan that WoW Classic did originally, the goal is to roll them all out at an every other month cadence, so the final phase will be available in less than a year.

Meanwhile, the team is concerned that the raid bosses seemed a little bit too easy in WoW Classic, so they are making some adjustments to increase the challenge in order to make groups wipe at something closed to the 2004 rate rather than the 2019 rate.  Those include:

  • World buffs (like Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer and others) disabled in Raid instances
  • Restoring mechanics that were removed early on to some Raid bosses
  • No boss debuff limit (up from 16 debuffs in WoW Classic)
  • Increased health on bosses, to offset player buffs and the removed debuff limit

So get set your raid calendar I guess and get ready for tougher fights.

Now I wonder how popular round two of WoW Classic will be.  There was at least a decade of pent up demand to see the content that had been missing since Cataclysm when it first launched in 2019.  Who will be queuing up this time around?

Somebody will, I am sure.  If the EverQuest progression server experience has taught us anything, is is that there is always SOME demand for a fresh start retro server experience.  Daybreak seemed to be able to swamp a server and have queues throwing a fresh one out there every other year.

But Blizzard and WoW… well, they have their own complications.  Leaving aside that the company is in bad odor due to its own bad behavior, they haven’t had Burning Crusade Classic running for all that long at this point, which has a lot of draw for raiders as well.  I am certainly not feeling any huge draw for the vanilla experience… or a slightly reformed version there of… right now.

As noted, the launch date for this new round of servers has yet to be mentioned, though beta testing for them started yesterday.  My invite must have gotten lost in the mail.  Blizz has tried to address some of the outstanding questions, but we’ll have to see how this rolls out going forward.

Diablo II Resurrected Arrives

Diablo II has been resurrected at last.  Well, it never really died, there being a community that still plays it and the various mods to this day.  But it has been remastered.

And it has been a long time getting there.  Much has happened since Blizzard had an ad for developers to work on some remasters they had planned, which was almost six years ago at this point.

The return of the classic

We got a remaster of StarCraft back in 2017, which came quickly enough to give hope that the other two titles were on their way soon.  They weren’t, but at least we had a slightly better looking/sounding version of StarCraft.  A modest update with a modest price that mostly got a modest reaction, but it served an audience.

Then in early 2020 we got Warcraft III Reforged, which was… less good.  Broken and missing features along with a draconian licensing agreement that simply proved that Blizzard remained aggrieved that somebody else was getting paid for Defense of the Ancients.  It was very much a black eye for Blizz, a company that at least had a reputation for polish and quality until then.

We were left hanging on Diablo II until BlizzConline in February of this year, blowing right past the game’s 20th anniversary.  Maybe it wasn’t ready yet.  Maybe Blizz learned a lesson.  But the company was still in mostly good odor at that point.  Shadowlands was still fresh and people were eager for its first big content update, Burning Crusade Classic was keeping the old school Azeroth fans happy, and now they had a classic to update for fans new and old.

And then, of course, Blizzard’s world fell apart when the State of California sued the company based on its two year investigation, which the company denied and minimized, a reaction that just got more people to come forward publicly and tell their tales of the company.  The company that could do no wrong for many is now the pariah that couldn’t get a favorable headline if it suddenly cured COVID and achieved world peace.

But you get to sleep in the bed you made.  These are Bobby Kotick’s chickens coming home to roost and execs down in Irvine have been jumping onto the evacuation slide… or are they being pushed… with grim regularity.  The circus has years to play out I am sure.

But they shipped Diablo II Resurrected.  It went live on Thursday.  I downloaded it when it became available, having pre-ordered it ages ago, but I didn’t even get around to playing it until last night.  I wasn’t in a rush.  I didn’t need to take the day off work or spend that night playing.  I knew what I was getting.

The beta, as I wrote, tempered my enthusiasm for the title a bit, though not necessarily in a bad way.  The title wasn’t going to make be 20 years younger just by playing it and I was reminded, as I have always been reminded when I gone back to play the original, that it is a product of a different time.

Still, I played last night and it was good.  It sticks to the original in the important aspects, even the ones that don’t always thrill me.  That “one respect per play through” is still a huge penalty if you spec wrong.  But I remember Blizz relenting and giving us that respec because it wasn’t there at launch.  Things could be worse.

I gather that the launch was less than perfect.  I saw one article that called it Blizzard’s Latest Disaster.  I kind of want to write in and remind them of the Diablo III launch, next to which the list of issues I saw seemed pretty minor.   I know the editorial slant these days is to hit Blizz hard on everything, which they certainly deserve.  But given the scope of disasters the company has managed so far in 2021, this launch seems like a non-event by comparison.

Of course, that is a problem for Blizz too.  The coverage feels grudging save for sites that have hooked their brand up to the Blizzard name.  Sorry Blizzard Watch, that is kind of the path you chose.

For me, last night, things seemed to be working well.  Though, child of the original Diablo that I am, I remain dubious of making character on Battle.net unless I have to… as during the beta… and rolled some local characters for my kick off.  That shielded me from many problems I am sure. (Something that wasn’t an option for Diablo III as we all well recall.)

The animation, which seemed a little janky and off back when I played in beta looked to be locked down.  The “weapon swings, hits mob, makes swinging sound, mob dies, makes striking sound…” audio coordination also seemed to have been addressed.  But maybe that was just Battle.net.  I remain wary.

As for the critical aspects of the game, which has always been atmosphere for me, that seems spot on.  The graphical update managed to enhance the light and shadow movements.  Things feel very good, and the old sound track and sounds, tuned up, are all spot on.

Meanwhile, some of the fire and magic effects are huge improvements.  When that shaman throws a fireball at you it looks very good.

Here comes the heat

This isn’t going to be a new obsession.  I’ll want to play through and see all the locations redone.  But the reality of my history with the game is that I have played through Act I dozens of times, and Act II nearly as many, but my enthusiasm tends to wain a bit with the tepid Act III.  If I do get through Act III and generally go straight through Act IV, though its brevity doesn’t make that too difficult.  Then there is Act V, which I think I have played through three times top, and once was in my play through of the original last year.

But it is in my library and I am happy to have the option to play it when the mood strikes me.

Was the WoW Level Squish a Good Idea?

It will be coming up on a year next month since Blizzard introduced the big level squish as part of the run up to the Shadowlands expansion.  I started thinking about it as part of the mudflation post earlier in the week and whether or not it was worth the effort.

Of course, I have no way of measuring its impact beyond my own perception, and I am not sure if even Blizzard could answer that question right now, there being so many other factors impacting their user base this year.  But a lot of work went into making it happen and details like not being able to answer a question has never stopped me from asking one.

So this is going to be more of a gut check I suppose.  An emotional response.

And even that isn’t going to give a clear answer.  I am of mixed emotions on the topic even a year down the road. (It feels like more than a year ago to me, but time is a blur.)

To start with, I didn’t even think Blizzard would do it.  I am on record a number of times thinking the idea was too risky for Blizz, which can be very conservative on game changes.

That conservatism was apparently outweighed by the growing absurdity of levels in between any new player and the current content.

So in I went to the level squish and… I did okay.  It took me a bit to figure out that there was both an old school path through to the level cap as well a series of parallel paths through to the cap.

My vision in Excel format

I got a couple of characters leveled up through the new system before Shadowlands.  It was definitely speedier than before.  So technically a win.  And I feel like making all the expansions viable paths through the game was a good idea.

On the other hand, the whole thing was more complicated that needed, which is kind of the traditional Blizzard method.  If you were a new player it put you on the Battle for Azeroth path, but if you were making alts you had to go find Chromie and get on the path you wanted, and you had a chance of accidentally ending up in the old layer cake path through the game.

The horizontal stack with level caps on each expansion

And if you made a Demon Hunter, as I did, you might not realize you were in that layer cake model until you found that the mobs all grayed out before you made it to 50.

So the whole thing seemed like it had some good ideas and clearly had the intent to serve both new players and veterans alike.  But did it?  Is it a long term win?  Was it worth the effort… and reworking every expansion to scale and be viable for levels 10 to 50 was a lot of work… make that a thing?

Part of it is hard to appraise because you’re viewing from the outside.  And when you add in the long content drought after the Shadowlands launch and then the company blowing up with the lawsuit it is easy to think that Blizz could have spent their time better.

So I am left feeling neither all that positive or all that negative on the change, which is odd because a year ago I it seemed like a big freaking deal.  So it goes.

The Blizzard Name Will Go

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit against Activision Blizzard has revealed a carbuncle of toxic culture within the company and exposed it to the world.

In fact, it hasn’t just exposed it.  The whole thing has encouraged many current and former employees to come forward and confirm the situation.  The headlines just keep rolling in and every day or two some employee of note is fired for their involvement.  The whole thing has been a disaster for the company, one of its own making.  The state only sued after a two year investigation because the company clearly wasn’t serious about making any changes.

And, when the lawsuit hit, they doubled down on the line, claiming that these were all old issues and that everything was fine now… right up until it became clear to everybody that everything was not fine.  Then it was suddenly expedient to reverse course and talk about change.

The fact that the company is now firing people who were implicated in the toxic behavior at least puts them moving in the right direction.  Key members of the Diablo IV team were in the latest round who got the chop, which at least indicates some level of seriousness.

It would have been a lot easier if they had cooperated with the state before the lawsuit, but Bobby Kotick, the subject of a sexual harassment lawsuit himself back in 2010, felt he could brazen it out.  Now the company pays the price.

And with the state now committed, things will have to change at the company.  I’ve worked for a few companies that have been sued for bad behavior.  The state will make sure every employee gets the word, usually through some sort of mandatory training at regular intervals.  Sometimes it takes.  Sometimes management buys in on doing the right thing.   And sometimes your CEO gets up and snarks about how they have to play nice now and respect everybody since they got sued when they fired somebody because they got a sex change operation. (A Texas company that no longer exists.)

Activision Blizzard might very well be a better place at some future point.  But that is not likely to be enough.  We didn’t think the company was this bad until the lawsuit hit, so how can we possibly tell if things change.  Meanwhile those tales from the lawsuit will continue to dog the company.  Something will need to visibly change, and when a reputation has been damage, a name change often seems the easiest plan.  It nearly worked for ValueJet.

The thing is, while the lawsuit names Activision Blizzard in general, and includes Activision in some sections, the vast majority of the dirt seems to be on Blizzard specifically.  They are getting all the headlines.  Maybe I am just reading the wrong news sites, but I have yet to see anything about, say, the Call of Duty team at Infinity Ward making booze-fueled work day tours through the cubes to harass female employees or the like.  The Activision name might be safe.

But the Blizzard name has to go.

The company name will be changed.  Maybe it will be Activision.  Maybe it will become Activision King.  Hell, if they’re worried, the whole thing might become King., though that might be a little too tied to the patriarchy I suppose.  But it is always easier to rebrand to a name you already own.

Blizzard will become just another studio under the new company.  Its special standing gone.  That special standing, which it has managed to hold onto since it was first acquired back in 1994, has been largely based on the success of WoW during the Activision era.  Mike Morhaime got the CEO of Blizzard title because the game was bringing in a billion dollars a year.  J. Allen Brack got to be President because, though WoW was no longer as big of a deal, it was still a consistent money maker.

Now though, WoW seems headed for a fall with the bad news while Activision has figured out how to make Call of Duty pay out big for more than one quarter a year.  Blizzard is not so special anymore.

The name will have to go.  There will be a studio re-org, at least on paper.  I suspect that they might do a Daybreak and give each respective group their own studio name, at least for WoW, Diablo, and Overwatch.  But maybe they will keep it all one group, just under a different name.

Anyway, that is my Friday prediction, that the Blizzard name will go away before all of this is over, and with it Blizzard’s special status within the company.  At a minimum it gets dropped from the main company name.

Meanwhile, if I were Activision I might emphasize that their upcoming title, Diablo II Resurrected, was done by Vicarious Visions, which is in Albany, New York, far from the current scandal.  Maybe get them on board for Diablo IV as well.

Activision Blizzard, the Lawsuit, and the Q2 2021 Financials

You don’t want to do that either. You think you do, but you don’t.

-J. Allen Brack, BlizzCon 2013

I am pretty sure that J. Allen Brack would be pretty happy just being known as the guy who arrogantly pissed all over, and probably helped delay, the huge money maker that WoW Classic turned out to be.

I am also pretty sure both he and the company wish that statement was worst thing to come out of BlizzCon 2013.

But yesterday saw him step down as President Blizzard… a polite way to say he was the first big sacrifice in the wake of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing hostile workplace lawsuit.  He was joined by the SVP of HR, Jesse Meschuk

Not that he didn’t deserve it.  Sure, a lot of the most egregious behavior happened on Morhaime’s watch, but Brack was still in the thick of things, still a leader in the company during that time as well.

Brack was replaced by new Blizzard “co-leaders” Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, both of whom have roots outside of Blizzard.

For those of you who like the “Bobby Kotick is cementing his dominion over Blizzard” narrative, it has been noted that Morhaime was CEO of Blizzard, Brack was President of Blizzard when he replaced Morhaime, and Oneal and YBarra are co-leaders now, whatever that means.

And the Brack announcement went out in advance of the Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 financial results announcement, no doubt following the theory that you get bad news out of the way before and hope that you have good news during and after.  So was it a good thing that Kotaku pointed out that the company is losing T-Mobile as a sponsor of their Call of Duty and Overwatch esports league before the call as well?  And then there was the expected shareholder lawsuit.

Which brings us to the report.  You can find the detailed financials, the presentation, and the recording of the call over at the investor relations page.

The presentation opened right up with five actions the company is taking in light of the lawsuit and the protests both from outside and within the company.  They are:

  1. We have asked Jennifer Oneal and Mike Ybarra to assume responsibility for development and operational accountability for Blizzard.
  2. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and complaint that we receive. When we learn of shortcomings, we will take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we will be adding additional staff and resources.
  3. We will terminate any manager or leader found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences.
  4. We will be adding resources to ensure and enhance our consideration of diverse candidate slates for all open positions.
  5. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We will be actively reviewing that content and removing it, as appropriate.

Again, this is a change from the stubborn defiance that was the hallmark of the initial response from the company, but is unlikely to be enough in itself to soothe anybody.  The employee organizers are still not buying the company’s new tack.

When it came to the numbers, all three pieces of the company saw a decline in revenue from Q1 2021, though that is not unexpected given the roll back in pandemic restrictions we saw midway through the quarter.  People went outside and did things, a trend that will no doubt continue into Q3 if the price of airline tickets and rental cars are any indication.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 11

Blizzard alone was down $50 million in revenue when compared to Q1, which was a direct hit to margins.

When it came to singing Blizzard’s praises, the song remained the same, a tale of Azeroth making the money while other franchises languish.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

WoW bookings doubled year over year, with much of the credit going to the launch of Burning Crusade Classic.  A lot of people bought that pack with the lizard mount.

Hearthstone kept on rolling as well, cranking out yet more expansions.

And while Diablo II Resurrected holds promise for the company, Diablo IV is still on the distant horizon and Diablo Immortal has been pushed back again, this time to the first half of 2022.  We could see a four year gap between when it was announced at BlizzCon 2018 with a playable demo and when it finally ships.

Meanwhile over at Massively OP, where they have been keeping score, the running tally of monthly active users for Blizzard continued its downward trend, with the company shedding another million users.  We don’t know where they came from or where they went, but they aren’t hanging out in Blizzard games anymore.

After being down in revenue and players in Q2, we have yet to reckon with Q3 and the iceberg that is the California lawsuit.  The only thing Blizz has in the near future is Diablo II Resurrected and some likely misguided hope about “stronger engagement” with the Shadowlands expansion.  But people were already leaving retail WoW for FFXIV before the shit hit the fan.

I appreciate that Activision Blizzard seems to have finally decided that they need to clean house, though the cut off for responsibility is clearly enforced before you get to the C-level suite, but the company clearly needs to step things up a couple notches or the Q3 results will be a bloodbath.

Friday Bullet Points Vying for Medals

The Olympics are going on right now in Tokyo.  They’re a year late and the local population isn’t happy about having a bunch of strangers show up when we’re still in a pandemic, but if I turn on live TV… which I hadn’t done since January 6th… and find the NBC channel, there they are.

I saw some sort of skateboarding event, and I was surprised to find that women’s softball made a return to the games because the US women’s team is so dominant that they removed it as an event, so I am not sure what changed there.

Anyway, I have some “not quite a full post” items again, so I figure I will make them vie for medals as well.  Who will win the coveted Friday Bullet Points gold medal?

  • Blizzard Continues to Blow Up

After last weeks lawsuit and the company’s “nothing was broken and we’ve fixed it in any case” response, names from Blizzard’s past, including Morhaime, Metzen, and Street, popped up with minor mea culpas about their failings which both stirred things up and served as a counterpoint to Fran Townsend’s statement, which drew on her nearly four months of experience with the company to reject the results of the two year investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

While more hostile workplace workplace stories continued to pop up about the company, many current employees… the people who have to put up with much of the bad environment that senior management and HR have allowed to fester… were very unhappy with both Ms. Townsend’s and the company’s response to the lawsuit.  Word was that work at the company had pretty much ground to a halt.  Around two thousand current employees signed a petition and a walkout was staged to protest the company’s response to the lawsuit and to demand that they fix the company’s toxic culture and roll back some of their more oppressive policies.

This got Bobby Kotick to finally release a statement apologizing for the tone deaf nature of the company’s response to the lawsuit along with a promise to do better, which included hiring a law firm to make sure any accusations were taken seriously.  And then somebody pointed out that the firm they hired was the same firm that Amazon uses to break unionization movements in their ranks and it all seemed like just more of the company trying to protect itself from its employees.  Employees getting organized makes management panic.

And then even more stories showed up, this time fueled by the social media accounts of male staffers who seemed quite unashamed about their behavior.  More just keeps showing up.

At least the WoW Team started removing mentions of former Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who the company admitted was fired last year due to his behavior.

There’s a new field marshal in town… at least in retail

Meanwhile, institutional investors are mulling over a lawsuit about all of this.  Yes, you do have a fiduciary responsibility to not run a company like a frat house until the government sues you.

Medal Status:  Disqualified for doping… as in the place is run by dopes.

  • California has Standards

I was trying to figure out why a post I wrote early last year about a state of California sponsored study in to video game related power usage was blowing up in my stats earlier this week when MMO Fallout pointed to an article over at The Register about how Dell won’t ship certain computer configurations to California.  This caused a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and headlines about gaming PCs being banned California.  How will gamers in the golden state survive?

The reality was a bit more nuanced.  Actually, The Register article was nuanced, but a lot of the follow on seems to be more fearmongering than reality.

The restriction isn’t even on peak power consumption, but how much power a configuration consumes when it is idle.  And it has nothing to do with building your own.  You can order your parts and put them together however you like.  Dell and other builders can figure this out.

Medal Status: 80 Plus Bronze score

  • Neverwinter Embraces Bards

The Bard class is one of those MMORPG things that, when done right, can be magical.  Bards in EverQuest, for example, were incredible, and all the more so because players figured out how to push them beyond their expected limits.

Sing “heal” dammit!

So when I saw that the next Neverwinter expansion included a bard class, I was immediately interested.  I haven’t touched the game in years and I doubt that will change, but I am curious about how bards will work out.  Their promo reads:

A versatile adventurer, the bard commands the power of song to be a powerful healer or a stylish combatant. Regardless of their path, it is a bard’s ability to perform that determines how far they can go

Seems in tune, but I will wait for the reviews.  The game is also undergoing a level squish, always a daring venture.  I wonder if the effort that goes into it will be worth the reward.

Medal Status: Silver tongued

  • Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons Expansion

ArenaNet has announced the target launch date for the next Guild Wars 2 expansion.  Called End of Dragons, it should be arrive in February of 2022.

But we get to end them, right?

As with Neverwinter, I don’t really pay much mind to GW2, but an expansion is worthy of note and Bhagpuss says it will even include fishing.  Sounds interesting.

Medal Status: Golden dragon scale of hope

  • Crimson Desert Mirage

Meanwhile Pearl Abyss, known for Black Desert Online and, to a lesser extent, their ownership of CCP and EVE Online, announced this week that their next bit title, Crimson Desert, has been delayed indefinitely.

The desert is implied I think

While Peal Abyss has other titles in the pipeline, Crimson Desert has been the big focus, so its delay may impact how the company does on the market.

Medal Status: Did not finish

Friday Bullet Points from a Leading Smoke Exporter

Fires have begun burning on the west coast of the US as predicted, thanks to droughts, record heat, and dry lighting strikes.  But the smoke from the fires, which in past years has settled in on top of the SF Bay Area where I live, has decided that it too wants to travel this summer and has been hazing up sunsets back east.  So while we’re sending out smoke I thought I would cover another set of things that I didn’t want to work up a full post around.

  • Blizzard Blows Up

Already foundering for being unable to bring home a win with retail WoW and the 9.1 update, causing many players to head for Final Fantasy XIV, the company took another body blow this week when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Activision Blizzard for creating a hostile work environment.  While Activision got most of the headlines, the complaint is full of examples of how Blizzard specifically let a wide range of egregious behavior go unchecked and failed to respond to complaints.

Singled out in the complaint was Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who had been with the company since 2004 and who had left quietly last summer.  He is referenced in WoW in a number of places, including as Field Marshal Afrasiabi out in front of Stormwind.

Welcome to Stormwind baby!

The disturbing nature of the issues detailed in the complaint was topped by the company’s response to the suit.  With the Blitzchung affair they didn’t seem to know what to say, but this time around they lashed out immediately (text at the end of this post) at the state agency, decrying government overreach and complaining about unaccountable State bureaucrats driving companies from the state, very much politically motivated talking points.

Otherwise the company statement claimed that while some of the things detailed may have been true in the past, the company is all better now, everything is fine, and nobody needs to be held accountable for anything.  They want to have it both ways, saying both that the state is wrong and that they’ve fixed everything in any case.  It is usually better if your statements don’t tend to contradict each other.

Any adult that has worked for a big company knows that corporate culture doesn’t change quickly.  It takes a lot of effort, and the word is that the company hasn’t gone there yet.  That references to Afrasiabi remain in the game is a testament to the lack of progress they have made.  And the internet is compiling testimonials about the company’s problems.

Anyway, the Q3 2021 Activision Blizzard financial report ought to be a real charmer after this.  Massively OP, in their coverage, rehashed the litany of problems the company has been facing in recent years.  It ain’t pretty.

  • A New World Beta

Amazon’s MMO New World went into what is supposed to be a final, pre-launch beta this week.  I don’t think they’ll yank the game back from the precipice this time around, but you never know.  I have been interested in the game and was in one of the big early NDA protected test runs a couple of years back

Just how new is it at this point?

I liked what I saw back then… it seemed like what H1Z1 ought to have been before they went all-in on battle royale, but I guess John Smedley being at Amazon Games now might explain that.  I did not pre-order, so no beta invite for me, but Bhagpuss seemed happy with how things looked.

The one thing that seems to be dominating the press coverage is a problem where high end video cards seem to be failing in the beta.  We’ll see how that works out.

  • EverQuest and the Ghost Collector’s Editions Past

EverQuest pretty much lives on nostalgia, with their retro and special servers keeping a good portion of their players invested in a $15 a month subscription.  But they have to farm the live servers as well, so they get an expansion every year an a cash shop that is always looking for something new to sell.  Now they are trying to farm a bit of nostalgia from the live server players by offering a pack that features items from the collector’s editions of no longer available expansions.

Missed out? Fear not!  But act fast or you WILL MISS OUT!  AGAIN!

For just 7,999 in Daybreak Cash, which is about $80 in real world cash depending on your purchase quantities, a selection of no longer available items can be made available to you.  It is like nostalgia for fear of missing out!

  • Path of Exile Expedition

I have something of a checkered past with Path of Exile.  On paper I should enjoy it, and I am always into it when I start out.  But something… network performance, bugs, no knowing what to do next… always seems to stymie me.  But I think about it every time the offer up a new expansion, and one if launching today.

Play the Expedition Expansion Today

This one is interesting in that Grinding Gears Games has decided to try and roll back player gear and power in an attempt to revitalize the feel of the game and to give it an overall more satisfying experience.  But it is always a risky move, taking power away from players.  Destructiod’s headline about the expansion is an illustration of that risk:

Path of Exile is nerfing everything, and players are unhappy

We shall see how it plays out I suppose, but a power reset might be a good time to jump back in.  Maybe? I took a look at the patch notes, which are a freaking book, but can’t tell either way.