Category Archives: Blizzard

Legion in September 2016 is… about Average for Blizzard

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

Legion pre-order specials

Legion pre-order specials

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

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

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

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

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

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days

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

  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 691 days

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day – The First Rule of Subscription Club…

Note that this is the last quarter that we plan to provide subscriber numbers. There are other metrics that are better indicators of the overall Blizzard business performance.

-From the Q3, 2015 investor call, quoted by GameSpot

Well, that is it.  In the end, even World of Warcraft in reality cannot compete with World of Warcraft of legend.

Past its peak of 12 million subscribers, having to report numbers less than half that amount is a burden, a sign of failure, even when nobody else is anywhere close to having those numbers and the revenue is still very strong.  I will be surprised if institutional investors don’t raise a stink over this.  Deciding to cease reporting on an easily understood metric seems against their interest.

And so Blizzard will join the bullshit metrics club and will talk about MAUs (monthly average users), or some other value that sounds good but bears not real relationship to the financial performance of a game.  Registered users!  Applications for beta!  Total downloads!  Combined revenue for three completely different games!

What else will they come up with?

5.5 million subscribers.  That is the last solid number we’re likely to see for Blizzard’s cash cow, their billion dollar (annual revenue) baby.  On to BlizzCon!

Hat Tip to Shintar of Going Commando who mentioned this in the comments of the previous post.


WoW Subscriptions Stable at 5.5 Million, Activision Buys Candy Crush Saga

The big news today was supposed to be the Activision Blizzard investor call for the third quarter of 2015 at 1:30pm Pacific time.  There we would get the usual earnings information, some insight into the combined companies goals, and the World of Warcraft subscription numbers.


And then yesterday after hours Activision announced that they had purchased Candy Crush Saga maker King for 5.9 billion dollars which, as Keen points out, essentially makes it more valuable than the Star Wars franchise or, if you prefer, more than twice as valuable as Minecraft, which Notch sold to Microsoft a year back for $2.5 billion.

They also published the basic quarterly financial report for the company.  In the latter was the World of Warcraft subscription number.

World of Warcraft® subscriptions remained relatively stable, ending the quarter at 5.5 million subscribersC. Players are excited about the upcoming expansion, Legion, which will feature a new class, customizable Artifact weapons, class order halls, and much more. World of Warcraft remains the No. 1 subscription‐based MMORPG in the world.

So there we go, the WoW subscriber base is holding for now on Taanan Jungle, time walking, and the promise of WoW Legion at some point, down just 100,000 subscribers from the 5.6 million number reported three months back.

There wasn’t much else of real interest about Blizzard in the report, so I still wonder what the big keynote announcement at BlizzCon will be.  Getting to see the Warcraft movie trailer is nice and all, but with the movie seven months away, that really isn’t a sustainable interest right now.

I guess we will find out on Friday.  At least the opening ceremony will be streamed for free, as I am not buying the $40 virtual ticket this year.  There isn’t enough “there” there, so far as I can tell.

So the big new remains the King buyout, which Activision bills as:

The Most Profitable, Successful Standalone Interactive Entertainment Company in the World. During the last twelve months Activision Blizzard had non-GAAP revenues of $4.7 billion and King had adjusted revenues of $2.1 billion, and for the same period, adjusted EBITDA of $1.6 billion and $0.9 billion, respectively. The combined company will have further diversified and recurring revenues, cash flow generation, and long-term growth opportunities to propel future value creation for shareholders. Activision Blizzard believes the Acquisition will be accretive to 2016 estimated non-GAAP revenues and earnings per share by approximately 30% and significantly accretive to 2016 estimated free cash flow per share. Activision Blizzard expects the combined company to maintain a disciplined capital allocation policy and strong balance sheet.

Part of me sees this as the big King cash out, as SynCaine put it.  King, having peaked on pretty much one game, which they stole from somebody else (a key part of the King business model), decided to sell out while they still have value in the market.

Basically, the Zynga story done right… for specific definitions of “right” I suppose.  Zynga thought FarmVille (another stolen idea) meant they were smart rather than lucky.  King appears to have figured out that they were lucky rather than smart and decided to get out while still on top.  That is the cynical, cold world, core gamer gut response view.  It is certainly where my brain went immediately.

On the other side, King did bring in over $2 billion in revenues over the last twelve months, which basically means it earned about twice as much as World of Warcraft made over the same period of time… all with crappy, over-monetized, rip-offs of other games.

Well, not “crappy” actually.

Hate the business model and the complete lack or originality as much as you like, but King does put a pretty coat of polish on its games.  They are shiny and bright and happy and, at least in the case of Candy Crush Saga, work well and are updated regularly.  They add new levels all the time, the game having gone from 480 (if I recall right) to 1,250 in a recent update, along with other additions to the game.  And it still runs very well on my aging iPad 2.

Yes, I still play, though I have never spent a cent...

Yes, I still play, though I have never spent a cent…

Polished up versions of other people’s ideas that have low system requirements?  Where have I heard that idea before?

Could the King business unit, within Activision Blizzard, and thus having access to a range of IPs and other assets, end up being the engine to for Activision to get a serious presence in mobile?

Over at Ars Technica they have an article up about how each company’s market presence looked individually and then together as a single unit.  And King is still bringing money in despite not having been able to repeat their Candy Crush Saga success with another game.

I don’t know where this merger will end up.  Activision isn’t quite as good at buying and the destroying companies as EA, but they have still screwed a number of people over as the years have passed.  I suppose we will see.

So what is left for the investor call?  Some PowerPoint slides?  I’ll put the Blizzard one up once I find it, if only because that has been a regular part of these posts in the past.


Here is the Blizzard slide from the call, and some weak tea at that, as the big news was something else altogether.

Blizzard Q3 2015 results slide

Blizzard Q3 2015 results slide

BlizzCon 2015 – Announcements and Need vs. Greed

BlizzCon is coming up at the end of this week, time once again for Blizzard to strut its stuff and gets its fan base excited about what it has in store for the next twelve months.


Of course, Blizzard announces things at other points during any given year.  But BlizzCon is a time of special focus, two days of all Blizzard and nothing but Blizzard that will focus the wider gaming and tech focused press on the company and its wares.

However, Blizzard already had to give us a big announcement this summer, the intro to the next WoW expansion, Legion. (Otherwise known as The Burning Crusade II – Part 2)

Single word expansion title? Really stretching so far!

Single word expansion titles worry me…

Of course, it sure felt like Blizzard was pushed to announce Legion this summer, rather than waiting until BlizzCon, due to the fact that the Activision Blizzard second quarter 2015 results came out and indicated that WoW had dropped to 5.6 million subscribers, which set them back to late 2005 numbers.

And so, two days after that bombshell, Blizzard got on stage at GamesCon and announced WoW Legion.  The timing of the announcement, and the fact that the cinematic wasn’t ready yet, sure made it feel like Blizzard had to announce something to rally its fan base.

Now comes BlizzCon and we’re in something of a similar situation.  The convention opens this Friday, November 6th (along with the new James Bond movie here in the US).  But the Activision Blizzard third quarter results are also due this week, coming out tomorrow, November 3rd, at 1:30pm Pacific (19:30 UTC), and will carry with it the WoW subscription numbers.

At this point they cannot simply opt out of reporting those numbers, having done so in the past and the numbers being such a material indicator of the health of their billion dollar (annual revenues) baby.

What will the numbers be?  My gut says down, but not by a lot.  Maybe down to 5 million at the most, but a small enough drop to claim stability.  However, anything besides stability or growth in that number will need something big to counteract it later in the week.

Anyway, with that in mind, I will now project my feelings and personal biases onto what I think is coming at BlizzCon.  As usual, I will divide that into two categories.

Need – What I think they HAVE to have/say/do at BlizzCon

Greed – What I really want them to have/say/do at BlizzCon

World of Warcraft

So often called and 800 lb. gorilla that I am surprised that isn’t the franchise logo.  When you bring in a billion dollars a year, what happens to you matters.  Hearthstone might have a better ROI and Overwatch might be the exciting new shiny, but WoW is where the big money is.


  • The cinematic
  • Chris Metzen on stage having an orgasm about the lore in Legion
  • Hard dates for beta
  • Something vague about a ship date that will narrow it down to a three month window
  • A decent “hook” for Legion beyond “ten more levels and a class from Diablo III


  • A ship date
  • Ravenholdt as the rogue Order Hall
  • Some reason to resubscribe today
  • Some tie-in with the Warcraft movie


Blizzard has been touting how many boxes the game has sold.  Given that is the main way the game makes any money, I would expect that another box would have to be in the wings.  I do not think Blizz is going to let the franchise sit idle for a decade like they did after Diablo II.  And since they pretty much setup the story to continue at the end of Reaper of Souls, well…


  • A new Diablo III expansion
  • A vague timeline for beta
  • Something else special for people who complete season objectives


  • Diablo IV announced – I actually think this is the way to go
  • Diablo and/or Diablo II being ported to the Diablo III engine
  • Diablo or Diablo II coming to tablets


StarCraft II is launching what everybody expects to be the final expansion for the game, Legacy of the Void,next week.  Given that, they cannot really muddy the waters with new announcements.  So there is not much to say there.


  • Wooo, Legacy of the Void!


  • Secret, surprise feature, like the ability to play the original StarCraft in SC2.


Now we’re getting into the Blizzard titles that don’t really hold any sway over me.  Still, I think I can call it for Hearthstone.


  • New card pack that will make the old ones feel obsolete and bring in some more money


  • Another new battle mode
  • The ability to play within WoW, with benefits for WoW subscribers.

Heroes of the Storm

Is Heroes of the Storm still a thing?  I mean, Hearthstone is at least an adjunct to WoW.  HotS is a MOBA, and for me MOBAs are like a one unit RTS, neither fun to play nor watch. (The same applies to LoL and DOTA2 frankly.  HotS isn’t uniquely bad from my point of view.)


  • Reasons for people to spend money


  • Non-dull play mode


Last year’s big announcement.  And they have already announced beta for it.  What else can they possibly add for Overwatch at this BlizzCon?  And given how little it appears on the schedule, when would they announce it?


  • Whoo hoo, Overwatch!!1!
  • More cinematics
  • More beta slots


  • Vague gesture at a possible launch date
  • Even more cinematics
  • How this totally isn’t Heroes of the Storm crossed with Team Fortress 2
  • Some sort of benefit for WoW subscribers

And that is all I’ve got.

You can tell that, aside from some Diablo III, and I am not very invested in Blizzard at the moment. I am not even predicting any surprised, like a Warcraft IV RTS, as I tend to do.

I am honestly more interested in what tomorrows investor’s call will say about WoW.  Did the Legion announcement and things like time walking stop the bleeding.  Are they down to the core, always stays subscribed audience yet. (Five million credit cards on auto-pilot would be a hell of a business model on its own.)

What do you think the big number will be tomorrow?

Addendum: The correct answer was “About the same” with subs dipping just 100K, to 5.5 million.

A Diablo for All Seasons

Like a few other people in the neighborhood, I have been dabbling again with Diablo III.

I will reiterate what I believe I have said elsewhere, that the re-itemized, post-auction house Diablo III has really shaped up into a very nice game.  The base game was always beautiful, with a world that set a mood and shook or came apart in the face of your wrath, so shaping up the loose ends made it into a winner.  That opinion led me to pick up the Reaper of Souls expansion back around Christmas when it was half off.


It has just been a matter of there always being a couple of games ahead of Diablo III on my list of things to do that has kept me from playing it.  However, as summer has drawn to a close it finally bubbled up the list enough for me to start playing.

I rolled up a crusader… because of course I did, the crusader being the new class in the expansions… and started in with the story again.  I hadn’t gotten very far when Gaff pinged me on IM about playing Diablo III.  He got in game with me with a barbarian of about the same level and we ran through most of Act II together this past weekend.

Gaff and I in some dark tunnel

Gaff and I in some dark tunnel

Barbarian and crusader worked pretty well together, though one of the powers of Diablo III as I understand it is that most classes work well together.  It was fun to play with somebody else again and having another player in game notches difficulty and rewards up a bit as well, so all good there.

However, now that character is my “play with Gaff” character, and I don’t want to run away from him in levels.  So when Gaff had to log off I stopped as well.  The ever present problem of keeping in sync and party progression.

I could have brought out one of my older characters… I have a post-2.0 patch barbarian that should be good, though I wonder about the viability of the pre-2.0 characters in my stable… but Gaff was talking about rolling up a season 4 character, which got me pointed at the whole season thing with Diablo III.

I don’t get it.

Yes, I get the whole special rewards things.  I even took a screen shot of the new season splash screen.

Season 4 specials

Season 4 specials

And I get the concept I guess.  I’ve read the update they posted, with the key quote being:

Seasons are an optional, recurring game mode that offers PC players the opportunity to periodically start fresh, leveling new Normal or Hardcore heroes from level 1 without any currency, resources, items, or previously earned Paragon experience.

A way to start really fresh… I guess.  The problems with sharing between characters, you hate to have to re-do some things, right up until you want to re-do those things.  So that and special prizes and leader board for the competitive and such, I get that.

I guess I am struggling with the why, as in why is Blizzard doing this?

Yes, keeping people interested in the game will sell more boxes.  But they have already sold a lot of boxes, to the point that I have to think they’ve hit the state of diminishing returns.

Meanwhile, with no other income… there are no subscriptions and there was no cash shop the last time I looked… for a game that requires you to be online and logged in to play… and that is my one remaining major complaint about Diablo III, that you have to stay logged in and you get kicked (and lose your progress) if you AFK for too long… it feels like promoting this sort of thing actually costs Blizzard more money with not much in the revenue cards.  Maybe box sales are still strong enough to justify this?  I don’t know.

But it is starting to feel like they are treating Diablo III like an MMO.  Sure, it opened with achievements, but lots of games have those, and the disaster of the auction house.  But now there is the whole cosmetic system so you can customize your character to get the look you want along with the whole season thing, things that are obvious hooks to keep people engaged with a game that, given the historical context of Blizzard and their tradition of one expansion for Diablo games, ought to be done, for lack of a better word.

But is it done?

Can we expect another box… another expansion… with more levels, another act, another class, and whatever at some point?  Or will we just be getting a cash shop at some point to fund the ongoing work on the game?  Patch 2.2.0 opened up a cash shop in Asia, complete with pets, cosmetic items, experience boosts, and the like.  Is that in the future for US/EU players?  Or did the taint of the real money auction house taint that idea forever in the west?

Things to watch for at BlizzCon I suppose.

It isn’t that I am unhappy with Blizzard continuing to work on the game.  Far from it.  But that costs money, which means it needs revenue.

Anyway, I made a demon hunter as a season 4 character to play when Gaff isn’t on.  We’ll see how that progresses.

Flying Comes to Draenor

The day has finally arrived.  Among the items the World of Warcraft patch 6.2.2 delivers today is the ability to fly in Draenor.

Soon this could be you

Soon this could be you

It was just a little over three months ago, at the end of May, when Ion Hazzikostas got the community worked up by saying that flying would not be coming to Draenor, with the money quote probably being this:

Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways…

That, of course, set a lot of people off, and responses were all over the map.  Some people were supportive of the “no flying” idea wanting to keep the feel of the world.  Others were enraged that they were to be denied flying.  Many arguments full of venom and denial and spurious logic and just plain old inability to concede any point that did not support ones own view on the topic raged across forums and comments threads and blog posts and where ever.

I took something of a middle path myself, conceding that I got the points Hazzikostas was making while still feeling that, in the right measure, flying was pretty awesome.  In my usual way I also linked out to others who posted on the topic, both for and against.

I love when I can fly by the form hasn't drawn yet...

I do love flight in about any form

But on the internet the path of reasonableness rarely wins.  Or maybe it does.  Who is to say which side is reasonable in a largely emotional issue?

Anyway, there was that outrage plus the fact that, through cancellations and bans, WoW’s subscriber base had shed 3 million players since the end of 2014, dropping from above 10 million at the Warlords of Draenor peak to 7 million.

So through some combination of reasons Blizzard felt the need to bring flying back, announcing that it we would be able to fly in Draenor just a little over two weeks after they said we wouldn’t be able to fly in Draenor.

Of course, there were some hoops to jump through in order to be able to fly.  Some achievements to earn, some faction to work on, some treasures to collect.  Again, that made various people happy or unhappy.

Much of the support work for the flying unlock went in with the 6.2 patch back in June, which oddly enough is the exact point in which garrison fatigue hit me and I pretty much stopped playing WoW.

According to Blizzard, the 6.2 patch… and presumably the announcement that flying would come to Draenor eventually… held the line on defections from the game so that subscriptions were “only” down to 5.6 million at the end of June 2015.

Of course, since then most of the talk has about about WoW Legion, which is starting to feel like it might be the Deathly Hallows Part 2 to Warlords of Draenor.  I mean, we’re going to get to the real bad guy from The Burning Crusade finally.

I haven’t logged more than 20 minutes of WoW time since the 6.2 patch, so I wouldn’t be able to fly today even if I did log in.  But I am sure lots of people will.  The skies will be filled with people happy to be able to move to and fro in Draenor without the restrictions of flight points or the need to engage with any of that ground clutter content.

Is it too soon to ask if we’ll get to fly in the Broken Isles?  I mean, once we get there.

WoW and the Token Subscriber

I was interested to see, in the wake of this week’s subscription announcement, how a few people commenting on the 5.6 million number felt the need to clarify that this included people who were subscribed via WoW Tokens, the PLEX-like item that Blizzard introduced to Azeroth back in April.

The WoW Token highway has no exit

The WoW Token… it’s like recycling, see the arrows!

My inference from this is that they somehow view those who subscribe using WoW Tokens as not being real subscribers.  After all, they aren’t actually paying to play the game any more, they’re just using the gold they have accumulated.

I’ve heard that same line of reasoning in EVE Online as well.  And it is completely bogus.

In fact, it is almost the opposite of the truth, because every single one of those WoW Token funded accounts is actually paying more money into Blizzard on any given month than I ever did with my account.

I tend to go for the “every three months” option, which gets me a small discount while not committing me to a long stretch.  It works out to $13.99 a month.

But a WoW Token, good for 30 days of game play, that is $20 here in the US.  Anybody financing their subscription with in-game gold is handing Blizzard $6.00 more than I am for the month of August, and I am getting 31 days while they are only getting 30.

And the quickly seen objection, that they are not, in fact, giving Blizzard any money out of their own pocket is irrelevant, because SOMEBODY is.  Saying that they are not a subscriber is like saying somebody isn’t a subscriber because their mother pays their bill.  Money has in fact been given to Blizzard that, in turn, has been used to add time to an account, and more money than Blizzard would have gotten otherwise.

Yeah, I know Tobold already posted something like this last week, but I had this written already and I need something for Blaugust.  Besides, I don’t think the topic is “used up” yet in any case.

Anyway, while we’re on this track, I have also seen people claiming that WoW is already free to play because of the WoW Token.  Again, no, because somebody has to pay for every active account.  Remember when WildStar tried to make that argument back before launch, that their CREDD system, another PLEX-like currency, effectively made their game free to play? (They liked to call it a “hybrid” model.)  Well, guess what they are working on right now?  Yes, they are actually turning WildStar into a real free to play game, because their claims about CREDD were marketing BS.  Free did not enter into it.

Finally, I was interested to see how some reaction in the WoW Token market during this week’s double whammy of announcements from Blizzard.  Looking at the WoW Token Info site, you can see that the price of a WoW Token in-game finally got back up to its original 30,000 gold price, peaking just beyond the 32K mark.

WoW Tokens this week...

WoW Tokens this week…

I am not sure what that means.  Why would it spike on the fifth just before the subscription number announcement, before dropping back down to its usual range, and then jump back up again after the Legion announcement?  And why was this a US WoW Token market only phenomena, as the markets for the other regions remained flat through the same period.

Are US subscribers going on hiatus and just keeping their accounts ticking along with the piles of gold they have accumulated?  Because an increase in demand is the only explanation for a price spike in this sort of market.