Category Archives: Blizzard

Change of Leadership at Blizzard

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

-J. Allen Brack, BlizzCon 2013

The word is out via a Blizzard press release that Mike Morhaime is stepping down as the president of Blizzard Entertainment.  He will be replaced by J. Allen Brack, senior vice president and executive producer for World of Warcraft.

Mike Morhaime will remain with Blizzard in a strategic advisory role, but a statement from him published by Blizzard doesn’t go into detail as to why he chose to step down at this time.

In addition Ray Gresko, a ten year Blizzard veteran who was involved with both Diablo III and Overwatch is stepping up to be chief development officer, while Blizzard founder Allen Adham, who rejoined the company about two years back, will also be joining the executive team to oversee the development of “several new games.”

What does all this mean?

When a long time leader like Mike Morhaime steps down after 27 years, it is generally because somebody is tired.  He is either tired of the position or somebody else is tired of his style.  And an advisory role can be many things; a thank you for years of service, a route to keep him from moving to or creating a competitor, or a way to keep a warm backup handy if the new leadership messes up.

And what does J. Allen Brack’s ascension mean?  Blizzard is a big organization, and is part of an even bigger one, so this won’t have the impact of somebody like Smed leaving Daybreak.  But it may mean change is in the wind.

You can make up all sorts of theories if you set your mind to it.  What does it mean when the executive producer of WoW steps up to run the company?  And what are these “several new games?”

Anyway, I expect we will get some additional info at BlizzCon in a month.

Addendum: A Venture Beat interview with Mike Morhainme at Blizzard’s 25 year mark, if you want some history.

Other Coverage:

Blizzard Will Give You a Mount if You Will Just Subscribe to WoW for Six Months

I think we’ve seen this before.

Back during Cataclysm Blizzard offered players a “free” copy of Diablo III if they would just commit to subscribing to World of Warcraft for a year.  The old Annual Pass gambit.  It seemed like a ploy back then to keep subscriber and revenue numbers up during the second year slump time of Cataclysm.  Is there a Battle for Azeroth slump already that they need to run this sort of deal again?

This time around you won’t be getting a video game with a $60 shelf price and a mount.  This time it is just a mount.  But you only have to commit for half the time.

For a limited time… between now and October 21, 2018… if you go to the Blizzard store… in game or at the web site… you can buy in on a special offer that gives you six months of game time for $77.94.

That is the usual price for a six month subscription, the longest time increment currently offered, coming out to $12.99 a month.  The bonus is the mount.

This is your bonus

The alleged reason for this is yesterday’s Talk Like a Pirate Day celebration, but I have to wonder if there isn’t another reason that Blizzard wants to lock players in for half a year.

If you were going to stay subscribed to WoW in any case, then this is basically a free mount.  If you are uncertain however, you might want to ask yourself how badly you really want this ride in Azeroth.

Others react:

Another Studio Acquisition Story

Or a few stories really.

Acquisitions are much on my mind still and since Massively OP is still going on about the concept I’ll carry on as well.  Previously I meandered on about reasons for them and often how things can go bad.

Getting acquired can suck.

There can be a loss of prestige in not being able to make it on your own.  And, of course, there is always some loss of freedom and autonomy as you have to answer to the new owners.  Plus the company doing the buying doesn’t always know how to treat their acquisition.  Culture clash can be an issue and can lead to key developers heading for the exit.

But sometimes things do work out for the better.

For example, there was a company called Silicon & Synapse, Inc.  Founded in 1991, it did some platform ports to start off with, then moved on to a couple of original games that were published by Interplay.

A brain was their mascot, of course

The name of the company wasn’t as brilliant as the founders thought and they changed it to Chaos Studios, Inc.  However they were soon acquired by Davidson & Associates and ended up having to change their name again because somebody else held the rights to the name and they couldn’t afford to purchase them.  There was even a little story in the Technology section of the LA Times by one of the staff writers who probably drew the short end of the stick on that one.  It is short enough to quote in full. (Hopefully the LA Times won’t come after me for that.)

May 24, 1994|Times staff writer Dean Takahashi

From Chaos to Blizzard: Chaos Studios, a developer of video and computer games in Costa Mesa, has changed its name to Blizzard Entertainment.

Part of the reason is to reflect its new ownership. Davidson & Associates in Torrance, an education software company, bought Chaos Studios earlier this year in a $6.75-million stock deal.

The Costa Mesa game company, which formerly developed games for other publishers, will publish its own games as a result of an infusion of money from Davidson.

Another reason is that the rights to the Chaos name were owned by a small holding company in New York, Chaos Technologies, which also owns a video game company.

Allen Adham, president of Blizzard, said Chaos Studios couldn’t afford to pay for those rights, so the name was changed to Blizzard, which had a nice ring to it.

“We’re still the same lovable company,” he said.

We’re still the same lovable company!  That has to be one of the most low-key “before they were famous” news stories.

But look how things worked out.  Despite having been acquired just three years into their existence… and before they even had their name fully settled… Blizzard went on to be a powerhouse.  Blizzard has essentially never been a stand-alone company, not under that name.  Its success came after it was acquired.

Success grants you some power and Blizzard itself, having done well with Warcraft, was able to acquire Condor Games, renamed Blizzard North, which turned out Diablo and Diablo II.

While that turned out well initially, problems with then Blizzard owner Vivendi led key members of the Blizzard North team to leave and found Flagship Studios.  The studio was dissolved after  Hellgate: London failed to take off and some of the people from that venture ended up at Runic Games, the makers of Torchlight and Torchlight II, while key team member Bill Roper landed at Cryptic Studios.  Both Runic and Cryptic were later acquired by Perfect World Entertainment.

Some key people from Runic left PWE to form Double Damage games, and the whole dance continues on.  A few things succeed, others don’t pan out or make just enough to be of interest to another company.

And, just to bring this back to yet another small world story, Dean Takahashi, who wrote that little piece in the LA Times so long ago, is currently the lead writer for the Games Beat section of Venture Beat and was the author of three posts over there last week, one about CCP being acquired by Pearl Abyss as well as two key interviews interviews, one with Pearl Abyss CEO Robin Jung and the other with CCP CEO Hilmar Petursson.

WoW Battle for Azeroth Sales Stacked Up Against Past Releases

Fortunately I did some of the groundwork for this post back with the WoW Legion release.

It is here and it is selling

Blizzard announced today that the Battle for Azeroth expansion for World of Warcraft, which went live around the world on August 13th and 14th, sold more than 3.4 million copies.  From the press release itself:

Heroes everywhere turned out in force, and Blizzard Entertainment today announced that as of Battle for Azeroth’s first full day of launch on August 14, more than 3.4 million units of the latest World of Warcraft®expansion had sold through worldwide—setting a new day-one sales record for the franchise and making it one of the fastest-selling PC games of all-time.*

I was a little worried about that asterisk at the end, but that just points to this:

Sales and/or downloads, based on internal company records and reports from key distribution partners.

So nothing dramatic there, just a clarification without much information.

To put that number in perspective here is how it shakes out relative to past launches:

  • Battle for Azeroth – 3.4 million
  • WoW Legion – 3.3 million
  • Warlords of Draenor – 3.3 million
  • Mists of Pandaria – 2.7 million (first week)
  • Cataclysm – 3.3 million
  • Wrath of the Lich King – 2.8 million
  • The Burning Crusade – 2.4 million
  • World of Warcraft – 240,000

That bodes well for the expansion.

Of course, you have to have some perspective when looking at that list.  Back in 2004 people had to go buy a physical box to play World of Warcraft and it has only been over the years that the process has become mostly a digital download experience.  But back then even that 240K number set a record for single day sales.  That number could have been bigger, but they effectively ran out of copies.  At BlizzCon they told the tale of the truck load of collector’s editions meant for employees being diverted to the retail channel because the game had sold out.  And that was US sales only, as it didn’t expand to the rest of the world until later.

The Burning Crusade number is probably the most impressive on the list, since it is made up of people who went out to a store and bought a physical copy on day one.  I went down to Fry’s on launch day… not at midnight for the launch party event… that used to be a thing back in the day… but closer to noon, to find pallets of the expansion out in the front of the store.  Blizzard was not going to run short like they did with the initial launch.  The cashier told me that people had been lined up outside the store for a copy earlier, so it was a pretty big deal.

I think the last time I went to the store to buy an expansion was for Wrath of the Lich King.  It has either been digital or Amazon discounted pre-orders since then.  WotLK was also a big seller considering how much of it was physical boxes.

And then there is Mists of Pandaria in the middle there, which they extended out to the first week of sales because it had to fight against both the sense of betrayal that some felt after Cataclysm and the lightweight perception that people had about it because it featured Pokemon-like pet battles and pandas as a race.  It turned out to be a fine expansion, but it had some work to do to overcome that.  I didn’t buy a copy until almost a year after it launched.

Anyway, the 3.4 million number is impressive, though the there ought to be an asterisk after it as well to remind people that the number includes all pre-launch digital sales.  You’ve been able to buy a copy of Battle for Azeroth since late January, so they have had a lot of time to pack in the sales, making the “fastest selling” claim a bit dubious.  (I am pretty sure that title really belongs to The Burning Crusade.)

But there were reasons to buy the expansion early, aside from the usual max level character boost (and mounts and pets if you bought the digital deluxe version).

There were four allied races to unlock (for which we received four more character slots per server) and level up, with special transmog gear if you hit level cap with them.  So, as a “giving people something to do” option it had some additional pull relative to past expansions.  And even that was only worth an additional 100,000 sales I guess.

The real number we’d all like to know, how many people are actually subscribed to World of Warcraft, remains hidden.  Once a staple of the Acitivision-Blizzard quarterly reports, they have kept it hidden since the dark days of late Draenor, when the number dropped to 2006 levels.  I suspect that if the subscriber base passed 13 million they would issue a press release, but the days of being able to track that quarter by quarter… or even pick out WoW‘s revenue from the financial statements… are long gone.  The irony of being a public company; they are required to report important data, but they get to decide what is important.

We will see how Battle for Azeroth does in the longer term.  A lot of people are very happy with the open world story and quest lines and the look of things in general.  But there is still the whole question of Sylvanas, a story line that upset some people in the pre-launch events. (#notmyhorde) And then there are the recycled bits from WoW Legion that pop up pretty quickly.  Those aren’t bad, but they aren’t new either.  Blizzard has had time to learn how to keep people engaged with an expansion.  They did well enough with WoW Legion, even if they did open up the Battle for Azeroth pre-orders seven months before it was done.  They will get to show us what else they have learned I suppose.

WoW Classic – Blizzard Picks a Vanilla Point

With the looming launch of the Battle for Azeroth expansion for World of Warcraft, I haven’t been expecting to hear much about WoW Classic.  For the most part, my expectations have been met and rightly so.  Talk of WoW Classic would just get in the way of the expansion, better to leave anything big for BlizzCon in November.

So I was surprised to see a Dev Watercooler update from Blizzard about WoW Classic.

Classic Vanilla Flavor

The update has some discussion of the technical issues and changes that the development group has had to deal with.

Probably the biggest bit of news in the whole thing is that they seem to have picked a version that will be WoW Classic.  From the update:

The first—and among the most important—decision we had to make was which version of the game to focus on. As many of you have noted, the classic period was two years long and full of changes. Core features like Battlegrounds were introduced in patches after WoW’s original launch, and class design similarly changed over time. After careful consideration, we decided on Patch 1.12: Drums of War as our foundation, because it represents the most complete version of the classic experience.

Version 1.12 brings us all the way back to late August of 2006, literally weeks before the instance group started its journey in Azeroth. (Full recap of the instance group in Vanilla available in this post.)

Us back in the day

All of the Vanilla raids and dungeons had been in place for a while and Blizz was just tuning things as they worked on the first expansion, The Burning Crusade.

I personally cannot remember much else back that far, but you can find patch notes for it all over the web.  From that I can see that 1.12 did indeed usher in cross-realms battlegrounds as one of its features. (Old WoW Insider did a look back at the 1.12 update back in 2011 that you can still find on Engadget if you want narrative and context.)

Anyway, that was a decent nugget of new, a point in time having been picked.  Fans of Captain Placeholder are no doubt disappointed, but it seems like a reasonable place to call Vanilla to me.

Friday Bullet Points Gaze into the Future

Another Friday where I have a few items that I could probably force into full length posts, but I just don’t have the stamina to get there.  So I will pack them into one post.

Truth in Advertising?

There was a recent Star Citizen weekly update from RSI that seemed to unintentionally confirmed my suspicions.

It barely feels like it has been 25 years

The update itself was a lore item about some in-game entity celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the first glace at the top of the message made me wonder if they were admitting it was going to take 50 years to get where they plan to go.

Apple and OpenGL

One tidbit that came up at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was the plan to deprecate OpenGL support with the Mojave release of the MacOS and in iOS 12.  This led to a panic about there being no more video games on the Mac.

I haven’t been to a WWDC since 1995…

OpenGL has been around for a long time and, among other things, its openess helped nVidia get in and dethrone 3dfx Interactive and their proprietary Glide API back in the day.  And deprecate doesn’t mean pulling it out wholesale.  It will still be there for a couple of years.  But if you find a problem or need an update, Apple isn’t going to help you.

Still, Apple will drop it eventually.  Past history says that will probably get announced in 2020 or so.  Apple would like you to use their Metal interface instead, and some companies have support for that on the way.  You can use Metal with World of Warcraft currently if your hardware and OS are current. (And probably should use it, as it fixes a crashing issue with WoW.)  But if you are a serious PC gamer you probably have a Windows partition on you Mac, if not a Windows machine already.

Blizzard and Diablo IV

It was noted that Blizzard had posted a job listing looking for a dungeon artist for an as yet unannounced Diablo project.  This led to a hysteria of complaints and the projection of personal feelings onto the idea.  Just Google “diablo iv” and look at the headlines. (And yes, I am going to call it Diablo IV at this point.)  Everything from “when are we going to get it?” to “Oh lord, no!” pops up.  So I figured I ought to note this as the week the controversy began.  We know nothing so far, but some people are already angry.

I for one welcome our new demonic overlords.

Despite the one-two punch of the auction house and the horrible itemization (the latter which I remain convinced was there to drive you to the auction house), Blizzard eventually got the game in order by killing the auction house and fixing itemization, making Diablo III a pretty decent game.  The “always online” bit is still annoying, but Blizz is hardly alone in demanding that.  And they have continued to tend the now six year old game, which is more than they ever did for Diablo II.  By any practical measure the game is a success and warrants a sequel. (It sold lots of copies on the PC and consoles.)

Hopefully Blizzard will run with what they have learned and stick with the roots of Diablo as the foundation for the next game rather than, say, making it a Battle Royale title or something.

Minecraft Subnautica

On a closer horizon, the Minecraft Java Edition 1.13 release, the Aquatic Update, looks to be slowly making its way to us.

Under the sea…

The update entered pre-release at the start of the week, whatever that means, so I think we should be getting the official release soon.  I have actually been avoiding our Minecraft server, knowing that I’ll want to go play when this hits.

Free Games for Amazon Prime Subscribers

In yet another benefit for Amazon Prime subscribers, you can now download any of five free games before the end of June.

Amazon Prime benefits

The games are Tumblestone, Treadnauts, Strafe, Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2.  You need to have the Twitch client to download them (the Twitch client is what the old Curse client became when Amazon bought Curse… and Twitch) and you need to have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account.  This sounds like a recurring deal, so there will likely be more games in the future as the Amazon Prime largess train continues on.

As an aside, the first version of this Amazon post I saw said it was six games.

Is it five or six?

However the image only shows five games and I didn’t click on the link until later, so I don’t know if there was a sixth game at one point, if a sixth game was planned but was removed and the word didn’t get out, or if it was always five games and somebody just messed up.  (h/t to Corr who first linked this to me and who had that second image handy.)

Pokemon Zygarde Download Event

Despite the impending end of Pokemon on the Nintendo 2DS/3DS, download events continue for the current core RPG titles.  During the month of June in the US you can go to your local GameStop for a download code for a shiny Zygarde.

Zygarde

This event is only for Pokemon Sun & Moon and Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon.  Instructions for claiming the legendary Pokemon are available at the Pokemon site.

Blizzard Second Among Equals in Q1 2018 Quarterly Report

Yesterday saw the release of earnings information for Activision-Blizzard for the first quarter of 2018.

As I have complained about in the past, the company has gone to great lengths to scrub all but the most basic data from these reports over the years.  Long gone is any talk of subscription numbers or line items that single out subscription revenue.  They have even reduced emphasis on their bullshit monthly average users metric.  As soon as something stops looking good they stop talking about it.

Still, they can’t hide everything.  As a public company they have to give some standard information in formats acceptable to the accounting and investment industries.  So we have, as an example, slide 9 of their presentation.

Revenues on Slide 9 of the investor presentation

This is generally where they brag about what went well.  Last year in Q1 for Blizzard in was World of Warcraft, still high on the Legion expansion, and Overwatch.  At that point Blizz was behind King for revenue, but tied with King for income, giving them the lead in margins.

This year Blizz has fallen back from that.  We expect the Activision side of the house to be in third place in any quarter when they did not have a Call of Duty release.  Still, they did pretty well year over year, largely based on Call of Duty digital sales if I read that right, but at least they have managed to get revenue out of it over more than a single quarter spike.

King grew as well.  Like each of the three segments of the company, they rely heavily on one title, Candy Crush Saga in this case.  But they managed to milk that for a lot making them both the top earner and the best in margins.

And then there is Blizzard whose revenues grew, but not by as much as the other two.  Income from that is down over last year and margins are now back in third place.

Q1 2018 Revenue and Income

The upside news from the Blizzard front seems to be mostly about keeping Legion going with updates and pre-sales of the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion.  Overwatch League is also mentioned, but I am not sure how much I buy that given that it is also listed under the reasons why margins have slipped.

Blizzard’s investments in “key growth initiatives” is blamed for the reduction in margins.  On them, the one I wonder about is “mobile incubation.”  With King on board I though they were handling all the mobile.  Then again, with King on board and dominating revenue, income, and margins, maybe there is a push to get the Blizzard brand on mobile in a form that makes money.

We shall see.  I suppose it is nice to see World of Warcraft still so strong, but Blizzard needs one of its newer titles to pick up some slack here as WoW declines, be that decline gentle or not.

Anyway, the reports, presentation, and audio from the call are all on the quarterly reports page of the investor relations site for Activision-Blizzard.