Category Archives: Blizzard

StarCraft Resurgent

The remastered version of the original StarCraft/StarCraft: Brood Wars went live last week.  For $14.95 you can have an updated version of the original 1998 title.

Splash Screen Remastered as Well

I picked up a copy just to see what a Blizzard remaster felt like.

This is a true remaster, in the same sense that something like Dark Side of the Moon was remastered.  There is nothing new to be found in the game, everything that ever was there is still there, from the slow AI to menus that you have to click and hold on in order to select from.  It plays exactly the same and you have as much of a view of the world on your screen, even if it now displays in 1600×1200 detail [for me, your resolution may vary] versus the 640×480 limit of the original.  Everything just looks and sounds much better.  We went from this:

Build order? What is build order?

To something more like this:

Still screwing up my build order at the opposite end of the same map

Graphics were updated, some colors changed, but Blizzard did not mess with game play.  It is, so far as I can tell after a couple of quick run, completely true to the individual and all of your favorite maps still work, even the one where you have all those minerals so you can turtle up and never bother expanding.  So the remaster is just that, in probably the purest sense of the word.

What is perhaps more interesting to me is that StarCraft also suddenly has a spot on the Blizzard launcher.  Older Blizzard games that they still sell… Warcraft III, Diablo II, and, until last week, StarCraft… have been stand-alone affairs, as they were before Blizzard had a unified launcher/sales platform.

Now however, there is StarCraft on the launcher, right down the list from its successor StarCraft II.  What does this mean?

Also here, Activision

It could be simple enough.  It might be that Blizzard now considers StarCraft, in its remastered format, to be worth promoting again.  They have invested in it, so they no doubt want to sell some copies since it now looks more like a title from this century.

But it is hard not to at least consider this a bit of a rebuke to StarCraft II.

StarCraft II occupies an uneasy position.  Nobody wants to be the sequel to one of the best selling games ever.  But even though StarCraft II has sold well enough to be considered a success on its own, moving 6 million copies, that still puts it just over half way to the 11 million copies the original sold.

StarCraft II suffered a bit from Blizzard’s conservatism in that they wanted to make a sequel to StarCraft that was different enough to sell, but not so different that it wasn’t StarCraft.  So it changes things up a bit, has a few new features, and looks better than the original, but when you play it you still know it is StarCraft.  But original StarCraft wasn’t that bad, so why make the move unless you really want another online-only title from Blizzard.

And, of course, StarCraft II never became the cultural phenomenon in South Korea that the original did.  Instead, when it comes to esports StarCraft II has to live in the shadows of both the fame of its predecessor and the new wave of MOBAs, such as League of Legends, which are the darlings of esports now.

So part of me wonders if this is a half-hearted attempt by Blizzard to turn the clock back and get the original StarCraft back in front of people so as to reclaim some of its past glory and a bit more of the esports spotlight.

Anyway, I do hope we will see the remastered versions of Diablo II and Warcraft III that Blizzard brought up back in 2015 along with StarCraft.

Friday Bullet Points – Financials Time

August, being the second month of Q3, is the herald of the Q2 financial results.

Activision Blizzard – Q2 2017

The quarterly results for Q2 2017 were out last week for Activision Blizzard.  Blizzard remains the big money maker in the A/B/K company mix.  You can find the data over at the company’s investor relations site.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2017 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 11

In the details the company reports that the Legion expansion continues to out perform the Warlords of Draenor expansion, which isn’t too surprising, given that players finished up the latter content and left in droves such that the company stopped reporting subscription numbers.

Apparently unhappy with monthly average users, MAUs, they also dropped a Daily Average Users claim, DAUs, on the report as well.  I am not sure why they felt the need, the nonsensical MAUs didn’t really need propping up so far as I could see, but maybe there was some empty space on the slide they felt they needed to fill.

Overall though, Blizzard remains the consistency champion in the company.  The mercurial Activision will blitz past it on quarters where it has a big release, but Blizzard delivers quarter after quarter with much less fluctuation.

SuperData Reasearch – 2017 So Far

I post the monthly chart from SuperData Research on the theory that even data of dubious completeness can be of value if collected consistently over time.  One problem is that the charts are just rankings and do not include hard numbers, so one cannot know how much weight to give the bottom half of the chart, the only portion that tends to change from month to month.

SuperData has thrown us a bone on that front with a six month roll-up chart for 2017 so far.

SuperData Top Ten – First Half of 2017

This gives a somewhat better idea of who is in it for the long term as the sudden blips due to updates or promotions get ironed out over time.   World of Warcraft seems pretty secure in the fifth spot on the PC front, while CS:GO is on the cumulative list even though it dropped off the top ten monthly list last time.

On the mobile front, neither Pokemon Go nor Candy Crush Saga make the cut.

This chart isn’t up on the SuperData Research blog.  It went out to people who are on their mailing list along with another chart of data tidbits and an invite to download the associated report.

SuperData First Half of 2017 Highlights

Mobile is the largest digital platform, but League of Legends on the PC remains the biggest game.  Also, they could only come up with a big number for VR by projecting forward to 2020.

NCsoft sees Lineage Slump

NCsoft financials tend to be pretty predictable.  The 1998 title Lineage will be the big earner, the further we get from an expansion release, the lower the Guild Wars 2 revenue will be, and there will be that game we’re all pretty sure is going to get shut down because it has slumped so bad that it stopped getting its own chart.

But Q2 2017 changed things up. (Report available here)

NCsoft Sale by IP – Q2 2017

Okay, sure, GW2 is tracking to form, and has an expansion on the way, and we’re still pondering the future existence of WildStar, but the change with Lineage is nothing short of shocking in the context of the company’s history.

As it turns out, the only thing that can kill Lineage is Lineage.  Lineage is tanking because NCsoft released a mobile version of the game, Lineage M, which they track under “mobile games,” a category which is suddenly number one on their list.

And with that, the majority of the company’s income still comes from a Korean audience playing a variation on a 1998 title.

 

SuperData Splits WoW into East and West Again

As the end of a month approaches SuperData Research publishes their digital market top ten lists for the previous month on their blog, so here are the stacks from April.

SuperData Research Top 10 – April 2017

This month sees World of Warcraft split out into East and West on the PC list.  This arrangement  first showed up on their January chart.  It was initially on their February chart, but the chart was revised to combine East and West later.  The March chart saw the single combined WoW on the list.  And here we are in April with East and West split out once again.

There is a temptation to ask SuperData to make up their mind.  But, as I have noted before, an analyst firm like SuperData requires the cooperation of the companies they study if they want access to raw data… data they can slice and dice and package to sell to investment managers and such.  That gives the company leverage, so I am going to say that if WoW is split into East and West, or combined into a single enter, it is because somebody at Activision-Blizzard wants it that way.  And I follow the changes just to see if they’ll tell me which way the wind is blowing.

Anyway, for this month League of Legends continues its reign at the top of the PC list, followed by three Chinese titles, then WoW West.  That seems to indicate either a boost in fortune for WoW outside of China, or a fall in the fortunes of World of Tanks, which dropped to sixth place.

Behind that is a new title on the list, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, a $30 early access game on Steam that more than a million players pain in for and which might be bad news for H1Z1: King of the Kill as it seems to be targetting the same audience with a survival battle royal theme.

Then there is WoW East followed by Overwatch, which overtook its nemsis CS:GO after falling behind it the previous month.

Dropping off the list from last time is Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands and Lineage.

On the mobile side of the house, Pokemon Go held on to 8th place again this month.

The notes for the month talk up Overwatch’s MAUs, which confirms to me that Activision-Blizzard is pushing their agenda.  A jump up the revenue list would have been more impressive.  Other notes from the post include:

  • U.S. digital slows down but still shows year-over-year growth. U.S. digital revenue is up from April 2016 but down from March 2017. Free-to-play MMO, console and mobile all had high-single-digit revenue growth, more than offsetting slight declines in social and premium PC revenue.
  • PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds tops this month’s premium PC digital revenue despite being in Early Access and breaks into the top 10 PC overall list with titans like League of Legends.  While still in Early Access, made an estimated $34 million in gross digital revenue in April.
  • March’s new releases, Mass Effect: Andromeda and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, experienced sharp declines in digital revenue in April, possibly due to mediocre reviews.
  • Hearthstone mobile fully recovers from February, one of its worst months ever in terms of digital revenue, on the back of its latest expansion “Journey to Un’Goro”.
  • EA dominates the top console rankings. FIFA 17 and Battlefield 1 were the top grossing console titles in April. FIFA 17 digital revenue jumped double-digits y/y, a large portion of which came from Ultimate Team. Battlefield 1 was down slightly from March but still showed strong traction for the recent DLC “They Shall Not Pass”.
  • Grand Theft Auto V benefits from a new online update. GTA V digital revenue is up from last year. This was primarily driven by an uptick in GTA V Online micro-transaction revenue on the back of the “Tiny Racers” update, which was a unique throwback to retro, top-down, racing games.

Finally, in a post earlier this month, SuperData mentioned that  the Chinese giant Tencent Holdings, which counts Riot, developer of League of Legends, in its portfolio, might be looking to license Daybreak’s H1Z1: King of the Kill.  The quote from the May 2nd post:

Sources show that Tencent WeGame is surveying users’ intention if H1Z1 is to be moved to a “non-Steam platform,” leading to the discussion around whether the company has decided to publish H1Z1 on its newly rebranded WeGame platform. The game’s launch of a China-limited patch, altering police cars to cabs and blood to black fluid, are also considered signs of DayBreak prepping the game for officially entering China.

The source of the information is a web site in Chinese, so I’ll take their word for it since Google translate barely helped make the statement clearer.  The news, should it come to pass, could be a big bonus for Daybreak.

Agnarr Server Success and the Nostalrius Question

It looks like Daybreak did manage to get their new EverQuest nostalgia server, named Agnarr for a raid boss of old, up and running and open to the public around their 2pm Pacific time target.

While I was at work, I make this assumption after the fact because there was already a thread up in the EverQuest forums by 2:01pm complaining about overcrowding.

Agnarr the Stormlord approves… I think…

Reading the forums there was apparently over a 4 hour queue to log into the server, problems with user creation, problems with disconnects, problems with zones crashing under load, and a problem with some starter zones being denuded of MOBs by the rush of new characters.  And, just to pile on, Massively OP reports there is even a duping situation on the server, something that can destroy a server economy.

Just another day at Daybreak where “dey break games” in the grand SOE tradition, right?

And there is certainly an element of that in the situation as the crew down in San Diego carries on the SOE habit of being unprepared as events carry the day.  Laugh at them, they’re used to it by now.

But the element that pervades every nostalgia server opening is overwhelming popularity.  Before the Agnarr server launcher, the most popular EverQuest server was Phinigel, also a progression server, followed a ways back by Firiona Vie, the RP preferred live server.

After Agnarr launched, looking in last night and this morning, Angnarr and Phinigel both have full server status indicators and Firiona Vie is out in third place.

Nostalgia sells, these servers are popular, they offer something people want and, more importantly, something people are willing to pay for.  You have to have a Daybreak All Access subscription to play on these servers, so everybody sitting in the queue trying to get on is a paying customer.

This is all the more interesting when you recall that just over two years back SOE blessed Project 1999, the EverQuest classic server emulation project, which you can totally play on for free.

Conclusions one might draw:

  • Nostalgia is popular
  • People are willing to pay for it
  • People want an official server

All of which brings my mind back to another MMO that stopped talking about subscription numbers because they were tanking so bad a while back, World of Warcraft.

Things are better now, or were better with the WoW Legion expansion at least until the end of Q1.

And yet Blizzard wants nothing to do with this nostalgia stuff.  A development team that probably has a larger head count than all of Daybreak combined won’t even glance in the direction of a special server.  Last year Blizzard were keen to shut down Nostalrius, the rogue WoW classic server emulation project, but had not plan to offer anything of the sort on their own, claiming to be unable to even manage what a small group of outside amateurs did.

Initially unmoved by the ensuing drama, Blizzard did eventually agree to meet with the Nostlrius team, listened to them politely, took their user data and code, said a few bland words, mumbled something about maybe a special server of some sort at some future date, then threw the whole thing in the trash bin and went back to working on their master plan to make unlocking flying in the Broken Isles a horrible grind.

In a situation where the burning question for the WoW team ought to be, “Do we have a wheel barrow big enough to hold all the money classic servers would bring in?” the team has stuck to their trifecta of responses, claiming that it would be too hard, nobody wants it, and that the current game is better in any case.

The first is offset by money.  Doing that difficult task would earn money that would make it worthwhile.  And I know it won’t be easy, something you assign to the summer intern, even if that was pretty much the Nostalrius level of effort.  Blizzard has quality standards that they would not want to compromise.   But this isn’t the impossible task that some are making it out to be.  We are not living in some dystopian fantasy future where mankind has lost the ability to make a pre-2007 World of Warcraft server.  While I hate to that guy, since I have been on the recieving end of this quip several times in my career, but it is only software.  When you have coded something once, doing it again is much easier because you solved all the real problems the first time around.

Again, The WoW team is huge, beyond 300 members last I heard, and yet they cannot do what the tiny EverQuest team does and put up a nostalgia server… and get an expansion out every year?  Yes, the two courses are not parallel.  The Daybreak team is a lot more keen to take risks, that they fall on their face before us as often as they do is evidence of that.  And, of course, the EQ team didn’t destroy their original content when pressed for an expansion idea, a fact that does make WoW’s path to nostalgia more difficult.  But a game that is still bringing in more than half a billion dollars a year has the budget to get past that.

The second is just bullshit.  The popularity of the Nostalrius server, the popularity of the EverQuest nostalgia servers, and the willingness of EverQuest fans to pay to play when a free alternative exists argues heavily in favor of any official WoW server offering being off the hook popular.  WoW and EQ share a common bond in that they were, in their times, the first and formative MMO experience for a lot of players.  The key difference is that while EQ peaked at 550K players, WoW peaked beyond 12 million.  That means there is a huge patch of fertile ground on which Blizzard could farm nostalgia.

And the third… the third just seems like ego… ego or fear.  If the current WoW team did roll out some sort of nostalgia flavored server and it turned out to be as hugely popular as I suspect it would, it would be, in the parlance of the genre, a slap in the face.  Nothing hurts like being the new guy and people loudly and exuberantly extolling the virtues of the old guy.  There has to be a strong desire to avoid that sort of public comparison on the team.  It would be bad for them if WoW fans voted with their wallets heavily in favor of the old stuff.  Better to claim it can’t be done.

However, while I argue in favor of some sort of special WoW server, I doubt we shall ever see such a thing.  Even as Blizzard is exploring the idea of farming nostalgia… there was the unsatisfying attempt to recreated Diablo in Diablo III along with the coming remastered versions of StarCraft, Diablo II, and Warcraft III… the WoW team doesn’t seem at all enamored with any such move towards the past.

Still, the ongoing popularity of EverQuest nostalgia does seem to be getting around.  Over at Trion, a team with some old SOE members, there is some talk about special servers for Rift.  I am not at all keen on the challenge server idea, but Trion rolling up an original content server with some special achievements and such might get me to install their launcher again.  Original Rift… vanilla Rift… had some of the tightest, well put together zones I have ever played through.

Anyway, if you’re keen for nostalgia in Norrath, you’re in luck yet again.  If you’re seeking other worlds, your mileage may vary.

Friday Bullet Points for a Warm Spring Day

Well, it has been warm in Silicon Valley this week, with temperatures up to 90 degrees at times.  After a wet winter that means that more than spring is in the air.  Pollen is a serious, palpable thing outside right now for those of us with allergies.  But a runny nose and a desire for some of those good old “makes you drowsy” allergy meds from my youth won’t stop me from at least doing a bullet points post.

Pokemon Go in the Grass

Bulbasaur knows what I am talking about!

Clearly in the spirit of my pain, Niantic is having a Grass Weekend mini-event for Pokemon Go.  Starting this afternoon and ending early Monday grass type Pokemon are supposed to be out in force.  In addition, lures dropped at Pokestops are supposed to last 6 hours rather than the usual 30 minutes.  Will that be enough to lure me out of the house?

Pokemon Sun & Moon Bean Collecting

Meanwhile, in Pokemon Sun & Moon, there is an in-game event around collecting Poke Beans at the Poke Pelago.  As with the Pokemon Go event, it runs until Monday.  The minimum and bonus thresholds have already been reached, so all you have to do to get some Festival Coins is register in the Festival Plaza, collect some beans, and then go back and update you status.  Details are at the link.  If you are a registered Pokemon Global Link player, you get double the Festival coins plus a level ball and some rare candy as well.

We’re well past the 6 million bean stretch goal…

Ashes of Creation Campaign Status

The Ashes of Creation Kickstarter that I wrote about earlier in the week seems to have hit the mid-campaign doldrums already.  After passing a million dollars in the first 36 hours, pledges have slowed down.  That is to be expected.  I will be interested if they have a mid-campaign plan after their very strong start.  Meanwhile, there has been some concerns about Intrepid’s Creative Director and CEO Steven Sharif and the depth of experience of the Ashes of Creation team.  Sharif has responded via an interview with Massively OP.

Activision Blizzard still Touting MAUs

The Activision Blizzard first quarter results were announced yesterday.  You can find all the data, such that it is, over on their investor relations site.  Blizzard and King were tied as the first quarter net earning powers, with King ahead it gross revenue but Blizzard having a higher margin.

Revenues on Slide 10 of the investor presentation

And yet the big “we’re doing good!” metric remains Monthly Active Users, or MAUs.  I have griped before that MAUs are meaningless without context.  The fact that the two net earners have wildly different MAU numbers (41 million for Blizzard, or less than Activision, and 341 million for King) seems to require at least some details about their disparate business models.

Meanwhile, the report also celebrates Overwatch becoming Blizzard’s eighth “billion dollar” franchise, making me strain my brain to come up with that many.

  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Warcraft
  3. StarCraft
  4. Diablo
  5. Hearthstone
  6. Overwatch
  7. Heroes of the Storm
  8. Lost Vikings

They must be slicing and dicing what constitutes a franchise to get eight billion dollar earners… or Lost Vikings was more popular than I imagined.  Also, I would argue that WoW is a continuation of the Warcraft franchise.  But marketing will segment how they see fit.

Anyway, back to the land of Benedryl for me.

SuperData Shows Blizzard Still Slipping in March

As the end of one month approaches, SuperData Research posts their top ten revenue list for the previous month.  I’ve now come to expect this pattern.  Anyway, here are the usual categories.

SuperData Research Top 10 – March 2017

We shall see if they come up with a revision like they did last month.  However, no revision can keep the unified World of Warcraft from sliding as it dropped to sixth place, falling behind World of Tanks and a resurgent New Westward Journey Online II, the latter a Chinese title that hasn’t been on the list since December.

Pokemon Go has also slipped, dropping from fourth to eighth place on the mobile list, while Lineage 2 Revolution, a mobile MMORPG using the Lineage II lore licensed from NCsoft, dropped from first to tenth place over the course of a month.

Items that SuperData noted as part of their post:

  • In March, Overwatch generated less total revenue than Counter Strike: Global Offensive on PC for the first time since its launch.
  • Ubisoft continues their string of successful post-holiday releases with Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, finding surprising success with both the western and eastern audiences.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda disappoints, as digital revenues only increased by mid-single-digit percentages against 2012’s Mass Effect 3, despite the growing shift towards digital purchases.
  • Hearthstone shows signs of recovery. Hearthstone’s mobile March revenue doubled what it was in February, but is still significantly less than its recent peak in December. Growth came on the back of pre-sales for an upcoming expansion.

As I usually add, SuperData’s perspective is limited, they watch only the digital market and likely only that of companies that agree to share data with them directly, but I do find some value in seeing how the results of their specific measurement change over time.

StarCraft Goes Free to Play

And, as usual, the term “free to play” has certain restrictions.

StaCraft II is not free and neither will the upcoming 4K remaster of StarCraft, which Blizzard confirmed a while back, be free.

Coming some time this summer we’re told

But the original StarCraft, along with the essential StarCraft: Brood War expansion, those are now available to play without giving Blizzard any money at all.  You too can play the 19 year old classic game that pretty much became the national sport of South Korea and which pretty much made esports a thing in all of its 1998 technical glory.

Build order? What is a build order?

That screen shot is a full size grab of the actual resolution supported by the game; 640×480. In 2017 the full StarCraft screen fits in a window within a window on your monitor.

Yes, the game will scale up to your monitor, but even back in 1998 I had a 19″ multi-sync CRT monitor that supported double that resolution and remained crisp and readable (at least to my 1998 eyes), so jumping to the smaller resolution made everything… big.  Likewise, playing it on my now twelve year old 20″ LCD monitor, which supports 1600×1200 as its native resolution, makes everything seem very big as the game scales up to 2.5x to fill the screen.

And I have an archaic old monitor with a 4:3 aspect ratio.  I am not sure what happens if you try it at the now more common 16:9 ratio.

But at least it was fast.  It is all sprites, with no 3D rendering required, and doesn’t need to move that many pixels around, which is one of the reasons it became an after hours game of choice at the office back when most of us still had 200MHz Pentium Pro processor based machines with basic Matrox or S3 graphics cards.  The game ran like a champ with those specs, even with a mass of units on screen.

Blizzard even threw in a few fixes and updates according to the 1.1.8 patch notes.  Links to download the game are in the patch notes as well.

I don’t really need to download the game as I have the CDs sitting around somewhere… probably two sets… but it is likely easier.  The installer is tiny.

In the mean time, Blizzard has been showing off what the art for the upcoming 4K remastered version… which, again, you will have to buy separately… will look like.  It is sort of like everything is coming into focus.  I am still waiting to see what the price will be for the remastered version and whether or not it will be accepted by the still thriving StarCraft community and whether or not having the classic units and game play in high definition… along with LAN support… will scavenge players from StarCraft II.

Of course, some minor irony clings to this remaster effort.  While the World of Warcraft team says they can’t do a classic server and that it would be bad and that nobody would want one anyway, other parts of Blizzard are actively mining the power of nostalgia.