Category Archives: Blizzard

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.

April Fools at Blizzard 2017 – Not Much to Talk About

Here we are again, another April Fools has rolled around and… Blizzard doesn’t seem in the mood.

There are a couple of items up for StarCraft II that have an April 1 date on them, so I assume they are humor.  There is the the Instability / Co-op Mutation announcement.

D4rK V0ic3? What does this picture even mean?

Then there is the Overlord Announcer customized announce package.  It speaks Zerg.

Overlord, with sound samples

It’s funny because you can’t understand anything in the sample sounds I guess.

And that was about it.

Over on the World of Warcraft site they are still focused on the Tomb of Sargeras 7.2 update and its ongoing hotfixes, all of which has turned into a bad joke in and of itself.

On the Diablo III site, season 10 opened (finally available on consoles!) and there something about the coming necromancer update announced back at BlizzCon, but nothing humorous.

The Hearthstone site is on about the upcoming Journey to Un’goro card pack.

Heroes of the Storm news is all about the 2.0 plan to fix the game and make it popular.  I am sure you can make a joke about that, but that likely wasn’t Blizzard’s intent.

And the most recent update about Overwatch involves a statue of Windowmaker for $150.  That they have to say, “Limit – 2 per customer” should be funny… or sad.  I can’t tell.

So not much of an April Fools from the team down in Irvine.  Digging around, it seems like there may have been some things done in-game for players, but the usual medium of outrageous new features and fake patch notes on the various sites seems to have fallen by the wayside.  I’ll have to check Blizzard’s April Fools archive next week to see if anything else was added for today.  But for now, that is all I have seen.  I’ll amend the page if something new comes up.

Addendum, thanks to the comments:

My own archive of past years:

World of Tanks Passes WoW West According to SuperData Research

SuperData Research put up their top ten lists for February 2017 this week.

SuperData Research Top 10 – February 2017 (original)

I noted last month that Blizzard decided to break out their World of Warcraft numbers for SuperData into East and West, which one can assume meant China and the rest of the world.  There was no statement as to why that change occurred, but I speculated that it might have been done to give Overwatch a boost on the list.  Splitting WoW in two pushed Overwatch up into third place.  Or maybe they just wanted to push somebody else off the list.

A month later things have changed. While the East/West designations are absent, I think we can assume that the higher WoW is “West” as it was the higher of the two last month.  World of Tanks swapped places with Overwatch in February while the nineteen year old Korean MMO classic Lineage jumped ahead of WoW East.

Otherwise the list is unchanged from February, with only Blizzard titles losing ground.  I wonder how Blizzard felt about that?

Oh, wait, I bet I know!

It seems as though they called up SuperData and told them to get rid of that East/West split, so that first chart disappeared from their site to be replaced by a new one.

SuperData Research Top 10 – February 2017 (revised)

The recombined World of Warcraft is back ahead of World of Tanks, Overwatch is still down in sixth place, DOTA 2 is up a spot, and For Honor gets a spot on the list.  I suspect we shall hear no more of an East/West split in WoW numbers.

Meanwhile, the report also has more bad news for Blizzard:

Hearthstone hits a new low on mobile. Hearthstone marked its lowest point since releasing on both Android and iOS smartphones. Revenue is down significantly year-over-year and month-over-month. Recent gameplay decisions have been unpopular with the Hearthstone community, and the result has been a sharp decrease in conversion on mobile. Desktop revenue is also down, but to a lesser extent, perhaps due to the more “hardcore” demographic on PC.

Not a good month for Blizzard.

Other items of note… at least items that interest me… Pokemon Go is still holding on to 4th place on the mobile chart, a surprising performance for a game several people have told me is “dead,” and Candy Crush Saga dropped off the chart completely, having lost its hold on the 10th rung of the ladder.

StarCraft Remastered Announced

I was hoping to hear something about this at BlizzCon back in November, but everything takes longer than you think it will, and at Blizzard you have to dial that up by another half again.  So while the word first leaked almost a year and a half ago, Blizzard has finally announced the remastered version of StarCraft.

About damn time indeed

The StarCraft site has the current details.  Sort of…  And there is a trailer.

The key bullet points for the remaster are:

  • Remastered Graphics
  • Revised Dialogue and Audio
  • Blizzard Friends and Matchmaking
  • Classic StarCraft Gameplay

The graphics will be 4K HD, which is quite a step up from the 640×480 the game has run on for the last 19 years.  The whole thing will still be 2D perspective, it will just finally look good on your widescreen monitor.

The revised dialog and audio… well, I guess if you are in there and changing stuff, higher quality audio might be something you want to change, but I worry a bit about that one.  A lot of StarCraft to me is the way it sounds.  If the marines don’t say, “Jacked up and good to go!” it might be an issue for me.

Blizzard “friends” and matchmaking are fine as far as it goes.  But the important/traditional aspect of the game, the LAN connection, remains which seems to indicate that it won’t be converted into another Blizzard game that requires and internet connection in order to play.  For a stretch back in the day StarCraft was our after hours game at the office thanks to LAN play.

And then there is “classic” StarCraft game play.  This is, after all, the game that was an esport before people were talking about esports, the game that pretty much became the national video game of South Korea.  So while remastering is good, I do wonder how it will impact game play with more data on screen and the whole “zoom out” view.  Part of the challenge of StarCraft was dealing with limited view of the terrain that you were given.  If you didn’t have scouts out and your eyes on the mini-map, your foe could surprise you.

The target date for the release of StarCraft Remastered is this summer.

As part of this, the original standard definition version of the game is getting an update and will be free, which certainly implies that the remastered version will cost you something.  I wonder what a price tag will do to enthusiasm for the project.  Of course, I was happy enough to shell out for Age of Empires II: Age of Kings when the HD remaster of that came out, so maybe that won’t be a barrier.

Of course, the other question that springs to mind is what does this mean for StarCraft II?  I haven’t heard anything bad about the successor title aside from the gripe that, in an effort to not screw up a good thing, Blizzard did not stray very far from the original, so that it did not stand out on its own.  But at least it had up-to-date graphics and supported modern screen resolutions.

What happens to StarCraft II now that the original is coming back in a remastered format that should “fix” the key barriers to playing it?

And, finally, I wonder where things stand on the other two remaster projects, Warcraft III and Diablo II?  The trio being remastered represent the greats of the pre-World of Warcraft era for Blizzard.  What happens when they return fit to be played on modern machines?

WoW East and WoW West

SuperData Research just put out their January Top 10 lists.  Despite my skepticism about their methodology and the likely incompleteness of their data set (not every company hands over data to them) I do like to watch it month after month on the theory that watching data over time can mark trends, even if any individual data point is suspect.

This month, however, brought a new twist, with World of Warcraft being broken out into East (meaning China, presumably) and West (which I would then assume was the rest of the world, which Blizzard runs directly).  So divided, WoW manages to take up two spots on the PC top 10 list.

SuperData Research Top 10 - January 2017

SuperData Research Top 10 – January 2017

I am curious as to why Blizzard would break those numbers out.  Did they want to push somebody off the list? (I posted the previous month’s list here if you want to compare and see who might have fallen off.)

Or did Blizzard want to boost Overwatch further up the list?  Last time WoW was above Overwatch, but splitting Azeroth into two parts drops them both below the shooter.

Is this another attempt to prove that Blizzard isn’t completely dependent on the fortunes of WoW?  It certainly seems to be a testament to WoW’s strength that it can hold two spots on the chart.

Meanwhile, Candy Crush Saga continues to hold on to that 10th spot on the mobile list while Pokemon Go remains in 4th position despite not adding much of anything in January.

Trying to Find Data in the Activision Blizzard 2016 Financials

The final Activision Blizzard financial results for 2016 were announced yesterday.

ActiBlizz450

You can find all that was said and posted over at the company investor relations site.

Gone are the days of straightforward information when they used to tell you the World of Warcraft subscriber numbers and listed out revenue from those subscriptions as a separate line item.  You knew how the game was doing in straight up, hard numbers.

Now though, now the finance team has done all they can to declare everything is wonderful without really telling you where the money is coming from.  Now it is mostly bullshit like Monthly Active Users, as with this slide:

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 7

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

I mean, when the division that brings in the least revenue, King, has almost an order of magnitude higher MAUs, you’ve pretty much proven that MAUs are divorced from financial reality.  That is playing, not paying.

And then there are the oddly specific brags as we see on the next slide.

 Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 8


Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 8

I like this particular quote about WoW:

World of Warcraft time spent grew Q/Q, surpassing Legion’s launch quarter and all non launch quarters in the last 4 years

Time spent playing went up in Q4 compared to Q3.  That makes sense, really, since WoW Legion launched at the back half of Q3, so play time was probably going to ramp up after that.  But then things sort of fall apart as the quote goes on.  It surpassed all “non launch” quarters in the last four years.

So it isn’t doing as well as Warlords of Draenor or Mists of Pandaria launches I guess.  Seems like an odd thing to bring up.  And pining it down to just four years means… that things were better before that?  There was a quote previously about concurrency hitting a post Cataclysm high previously along with first day sales numbers.  So they are being cagey about anything that might allude to actual subscribers.

Still, it isn’t like Blizzard isn’t making money.  According to slide 10 of the presentation, Blizz is no slouch in net revenues and is the champ of operating income.

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 10

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 10

Activision topped Q4, but they released a Call of Duty title, so their previous quarters were not so hot.  Blizzard was a little more consistent over the last three quarters, if you dig into the financial model spreadsheet from the investor relations site.

But it is the highlights part under Blizzard that caught my eye.  Specifically, it says:

In 2016, >60% of segment revenue from non-World of Warcraft franchises…

That seemed like something from which I could get a hard number.  I decided to take a strict reading of that sentence and declare that it just mean WoW and not Hearthstone or any part of Heroes of the Storm.  Elsewhere in the presentation it was stated that Blizzard revenue was driven by WoW and Overwatch, so I don’t think assuming WoW-only for that statement is way off base.

Also, I chose to take 60% as a hard number, since if it was much more than that, they would have said so, since declaring that Blizzard isn’t totally dependent on WoW appeared to be part of the exercise.  It it had been 65% or 70%, they probably would have said that instead.

Given that, we can see right there on the slide that Blizzard’s revenue was $2,428 million, which indicates that WoW revenue for 2016 might be as high as $970 million.  Not bad for a twelve year old game.   Not as much as League of Legends in 2016 no doubt, but a bit more than Pokemon Go made in its first six months, if the number is correct.  Even if it is off by… say… 100 million… that is still a lot of income.  (That margin of error is more than GuildWars 2 made in 2016, as an example.)  The billion plus earning years might be behind the game, but it is still a money printing machine unlike any competing MMORPG.

As noted, Overwatch also got special mention in the presentation, so it must be doing well.  And even Hearthstone got a mention, having boosted its MAUs year over year, for whatever that is worth.

That leaves two of the Blizzard properties unaccounted for.  Diablo III didn’t have anything new to sell, so there was no real reason to expect that to show up for a special mention.  And then there is Heroes of the Storm, which has already been called out for problems that keep it from being a contender in its segment.  No mention gives that credence.

Overall though, Blizzard continues to make bank and WoW can support its 300 member development team (according to a GameSpot interview) and still turn a profit.  But with that many people working on the game, there isn’t any excuse for another long content drought.  We shall see if they can manage to avoid that before the next expansions.

2017 – Predictions for Another New Year

Has 2016 stopped looking our way yet?  Yes?  Good.

Glad to be done with that, because a new year is like a new roll of the dice right?  Completely independent of the last year/roll?  Aren’t they?

My daughter even drew me a brand new pic for a brand new year.

kidpixtigerredraw2017

That is her re-draw of a picture she did in 2009 to celebrate getting her first mount in World of Warcraft.  Her talent has grown over the years.

Anyway, here we are again at the arbitrary point in time where we declare a “new” year and start yet another roam around the star we call the sun.  And with that, I will carry on my own minor tradition of greeting the new year by attempting to foresee what may come to pass.

Previous runs at this sort of thing:

Given past low scores I persist in making predictions.  So here is my list for 2017.  All predictions are worth 10 points each, with partial credit possible.  And, just a reminder, these are predictions and not wishes.  I am not rooting for many of these things to come to pass, it is rather that I fear they will.  A list of my actual wishes would look different and probably be even less likely to happen.  Such is life.

1 – Long in the Legion – Blizzard is going to use their ongoing content additions to WoW Legion as an excuse to not announce a new World of Warcraft expansion in 2017.  BlizzCon will come and go without a word about a new box and people will predict that it means the death of the game.

2 – Roll Credits – A second Warcraft film will be announced… for the Chinese market.  There will be no plans for a theatrical release in the West.  The announced plan will have it arriving as a dubbed straight-to-video option on the market some time in 2018.

3 – Really Big Storm – Blizzard is going to make radical changes to Heroes of the Storm in 2017 in an attempt to get it at least somewhere in the same market as DOTA 2 and LoL.  Different modes, different maps, and better stats will be featured, the latter accompanied by changes that will make individual contributions stand out much more.  So rather than talking about a new WoW expansion, Blizzard will be talking about this.

4 – CEO of the Kill – I am going to re-roll last year’s prediction and say that Daybreak is going to get a new president… a real new president, not the current Columbus Nova overseer… with actual game industry experience; console or mobile experience, take your pick.

5 – More Than Just a Title – Daybreak also has a lot of positions open on its home page, which seems to indicate that they have some new project plans under way.  We will hear about the first of those projects in 2017, and the biggest shock will be lack of support for the PC platform.  In a world where Daybreak’s sweetest paying title is probably DC Universe Online on the PS4 and where Nintendo is cranking out hit after hit on mobile (or at least licensing to companies making hits for them), Windows will seem like yesterday’s market.

6 – Milestone Really – Yesterday’s market will get smaller at Daybreak as well as they close down Landmark and the aptly named H1Z1: Just Survive.

7 – Trash Cash – The change with H1Z1: King of the Kill getting its own currency was just the start of death of Daybreak Cash good across all games.  The real money currency market at Daybreak will continue to fragment, with DCUO and PlanetSide 2 getting their own currency.  Only EverQuest, EverQuest II, and Landmark will keep Daybreak cash.  As with King of the Kill, there will be an open period where you can transfer your Daybreak cash to one of the new currencies.

8 – My Card – When the currency revamp is complete, Daybreak will launch new retail game cards for some, but not all, of the currencies.  Daybreak cash won’t get cards.

9 – Point Break – At Standing Stone Games, the statement about nothing changing will last for a bit, and then changes will come.  Among those will be changing Turbine Points to have new, game specific names, since you couldn’t transfer them between LOTRO and DDO in any case.

Those new currencies for SSG titles will be part of Daybreak’s currency revamp and you will be able to buy into the new currencies with Daybreak cash for a limited time.

10 – And Access for All LOTRO and DDO will be on Daybreak All Access before the end of the year.

11 – Hardcore Death – NCsoft will announce the end of WildStar by the end of 2017.  Another re-roll from last year.  Yes, I know you love it, but look at the numbers the NCsoft financial statements.

12 – Cloud Imperium Crisis – Push will come to shove at the house of Star Citizen in 2017… as in the need to shove something out the door that they can sell, both to generate revenue and to establish some credibility that they can ship something.  Star Marine will end up as a stand-alone purchasable product by the end of the year.  You won’t need to buy it if you’re already invested, but it will only be available after its “launch” a la carte.

13 – Hello World – Hello Games will continue to quietly grind out updates for No Man’s Sky, eventually turning it into a decent single player space sim/RPG.  Game sites will re-review it and give it a positive nod.  Multiplayer however will remain a lie that will haunt the game and its developer.

14 – Future Gates – CCP will wait until FanFest where they will finally announce the next step in their road map forward.  The announcement will be new space.  It will be available only through one-way gates that will only allow frigate sized ships to pass and once you’re on the far side you’re stuck there.  No death clones back even.  Return will depend upon completion of a giant, dozen-keepstar level of effort project has been completed by your corp/alliance/coalition.  Said gates will not allow capital ships to pass, but you can always bring blueprints.

15 – PCME? PCU! – The lasting effect of the Ascension expansion will settle down to a PCU count of about 3- 5K addition players online at any given time over the pre-expansion numbers.  For a game that runs on one server that handles time zones around the globe, that adds up to a lot of additional people, but it still isn’t the heyday of 2013 and the “EVE is dying” chorus will continue sing its near constant refrain.

16 – Switcharoo – The Nintendo Switch will hit store shelves come the Fall, but the big deal for this “is it a bit handheld or a small console?” unit will be the announcement that versions of Pokemon Sun & Moon will be available for the unit, so you will finally be able to play Pokemon on your big screen TV and even stream it on Twitch or Yahoo or Facebook if you want.  But you still won’t be able to take screen shots.

17 – Let’s Hear It for the GameBoy – Following on the success of the 3DS Virtual Console versions of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow, Nintendo will follow up with an ongoing series of legacy Pokemon titles, with the generation 2 titles of Pokemon Gold, Silver, and Crystal next up.

18 – Forsaken AvatarShroud of the Avatar will finally hit its launch state and announce it is live and ready for the wide world to join in.  However, in yet another hard lesson about early access, sales won’t jump.  The core audience has already bought in and new comers will be scared off by the reviews on Steam that are the outcome of the early access run.  If it even appears on the front page of Steam’s the top seller list, it won’t stay there for very long.

19 – Not ShippingCamelot Unchained, Crowfall, Pantheon: Rinse and Repeat, and Amazon’s New World will all be no-shows on the release market for 2017.

20 – Back on Track – After another year of tinkering with the game, NCsoft is going to put the screws to Arena Net and a new expansion will be announced for GuildWars 2.  That will give ANet something to talk about for months. It will also kill of any Heart of Thorns purchases given past behavior.  And, sure enough, as the new expansion gets close HoT content will become free.

Extra Credit Wild Ass Guess – Daybreak hires an ex-Riot person as chief exec and announces they going to make a MOBA!  Double points if it is Norrath based!

So those are my guesses at the new year.  At ten points each, that is a possible of 200 total, with an extra ten extra credit points for the wild guess of the year.  I will be back in eleven and a half months to score that, and if I do better than 40% it will be yet another Festivus miracle.

Others forecasting events of 2017: