Category Archives: Blizzard

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.


Quote of the Day – The WoW Legion Cinematic

The full cinematic is being actively worked on, but it isn’t quite complete yet.

Tom Chilton and Ion Hazzikostas in an interview with Icy Veins

I hope that isn’t actually a direct quote in the context it was given.

There is a summary of an interview with Tom Chilton and Ion Hazzikostas over at Icy Veins that provides a great set of follow up details to Thursday’s WoW Legion announcement.  And yes, in the absence of a decent acronym, I have decided to refer to it as WoW Legion, since Legion alone lacks context to my mind.  So it shall be called and tagged here at TAGN.

Single word expansion title? Really stretching so far!

Pretty much says WoW Legion right there

If you are at all interested in the expansion you should go read the resulting post over at Icy Veins.  Here, I will link it again.  It is worth the effort.

As good at is it is however, once we get down to what I consider the real question of the hour, a ship date, the response was that no date had been set yet, followed up by the quote at the top of the post.

My hope is that this was poor editing on the part of Icy Veins, somebody throwing that line in there since it didn’t fit anywhere else, because if somebody at Blizzard thinks “no date set, but we’re working on the cinematic!” is the answer to a question anybody is asking, then there is a serious detachment from reality going on.

The cinematic for expansions is nifty.  We’ll watch it over and over.  People will analyze it frame by frame for predictions as to what it means for the lore.  But it isn’t the expansion.  It is fluff, a garnish, some frosting in the shape of a pretty rose on the cake.  We all dig it.  But “When will we get the cinematic?” isn’t likely to be a question on the top of many minds at this point.


WoW Legion – Slouching Towards The Broken Isles

Warlords of Draenor wasn’t close enough to The Burning Crusade, the good old days for WoW by many accounts, so this time around Blizzard is just going to go all the way and bring back the Burning Legion and demons and all that.  So say hello to World of Warcraft: Legion.

Single word expansion title? Really stretching so far!

Single word expansion title? Really stretching so far!

Go visit the official site and you’ll know all there is to know I suppose, but my gut was sort of this:

Key bullet points:

  • Ten more levels… because we like that more than five
  • More raids, more dungeons because of course more raids and more dungeons!
  • Demon Hunter, the new OP hero class, because Burning Legion demons.  Elves only though!  Suck it Syp!
  • A new PvP honor and progression system, because some people PvP. Ranks are back.
  • Legendary Weapons from LOTRO, only with a talent tree and some cosmetic effects
  • A free character boost to 100, so you’ll have yet another level cap character sooner
  • Revamped transmog… hopefully less annoying
  • Class Specific Garrisons… I mean Order Halls, complete with fewer followers
  • A new area, The Broken Isles
  • And more… or so they say
Hrmmm... shaped kinda like Outland when you look at it...

Hrmmm… shaped kinda like Outland when you look at it…

Yeah, there are lots of details, and I have clearly injected some sarcasm into that list, but that is the big picture.

I am no doubt influenced by the fact that I am on a down cycle in my relationship with WoW, but I have to say straight up, right now, this feels like more of the same.  Nothing new to see here.  No business model change (so I was totally wrong there), no ideas picked up from SynCaine, just one straight from the generic MMO expansion playbook so far as I can tell.

That will work for some I am sure.  Not hitting home with me though.

But if Blizzard is not really stretching itself on this expansion, maybe we’ll see it in less than a year then?  Maybe that is the plan?  They beefed up the team and subscriptions are back into 2005 levels, so sooner is the real plan here, right?

Either way, my initial feeling isn’t “must pre-order today!”  I will hold onto that $50 for now.  I am feeling more like I could wait until there is a sale on World of Warcraft: Legion at some point after launch.  We’ll see how that progresses I suppose.

Other reactions to the announcement, updated as I find them:

Maybe somebody will spot the silver lining for me.

Meanwhile, at least CCP appears to have given up on EVE Legion, so no conflict there.

Addendum: A follow up interview with more expansion details over at Icy Veins.

Relating to Azeroth

So the big announcement is coming up at GamesCom today.  However, it is at a mildly awkward time for me, so a blog post about it will probably have to wait a day.  But still, I feel a good deal of anticipation as the clock ticks down towards the big reveal.  (And I have to get a post in today for Blaugust.)

Blizzard could, after delivering the bad news on Tuesday, announce fundamental and sweeping changes to the game in an attempt to renew Azeroth and find a new path which will restore it to its former glory.

Or they could just offer up some tweaks and more fucking orcs, as I noted last night.

The Garrison Slide

Once this seemed like a good idea…

But even if they get up on stage and announce they are shutting the whole thing down, I’ll go along pretty much as before.

Yes, if they go insane and pull the plug I will end up writing dozens of nostalgia posts about Azeroth, but I’d do that anyway, right?

Azeroth - The Burning Crusade timeframe

Remember when THIS was Azeroth? Ahhh… sweet memories…

Because while I like World of Warcraft and have spent many hours playing and have defended it against various accusations now and again, it isn’t exactly my first rodeo.

Playing WoW is just a step in a long progression of online games.  Before WoW there was EverQuest II, which I played for a full year before really making the move to Azeroth, a game that I still find some charm in and which offers up an interesting experience when approached correctly.

And before that there was EverQuest, which launched so many people into the idea of online gaming in a shared persistent world.  I was there in March of 1999 staring in awe at what SOE had created. (Or Verant, or 989 Studios, or whatever corporate camouflage Smed had to use to ship the damn thing.)

But part of what made EverQuest special was that it borrowed so heavily for TorilMUD, and its predecessor Sojourn MUD, which I had been playing regularly since 1993.

And there were other online games during the 90s, and before that there were games on serviced like CompuServe, GEnie, and AOL.  My online gaming experience go back to Air Warrior, Stellar Emperor, and Stellar Warrior, which gets us all the way to 1986 and an Apple ][ computer with a 1200bps modem.

As with Izlain, even my relationship with Blizzard long pre-dates World of Warcraft.  We played WarCraft II at the office and I remember my friend Xyd telling me I had to go and pick up this new game called Diablo and, later, defeating the game with him and another friend together online.  And then there was Diablo II and StarCraft, both played to death.

Oh look, a quest!

Oh look, a quest! Wonder if they’ll use that idea again?

And in the time since WoW launched, I have played many other online games, as the pages of this blog attest.  In fact, when I created this blog back in 2006, the idea of dedicating it to a single game, of making it a WoW blog, because WoW was the primary game I was playing at the time, never even occurred to me.

Games come and go.  I have walked away from WoW a few times over the year and no tears were shed.  I was never as invested as Liore, as she details in a recent post of hers.

I tend to just stop playing if I am not having fun.  Sometimes I stop having fun because the game has changed and sometimes I stop having fun because you’ve worn the game out for the time being,   But I won’t play… or pay for… a game where I am not having fun.

In the end, while I have no doubt that World of Warcraft was the right game at the right moment back in 2004 and deserves all the success it has garnered, what makes the game special for me in the end is the people I have played with.  That is the highlight of the game for me.

That is the highlight for me for every online game.  Like the games, love the people.

As Belghast put it in his post today, video games are so much better with people.

Anyway, bring on the big announcement already!

In Which I Predict The Next Big World of Warcraft Feature

I felt compelled to write a post making some sort of prediction about what the next World of Warcraft expansion might bring us, a bit of comedy more or less, in before we get real information about what is coming.  A bit of fluff to be laughed at before it is swept away in the storm that follows.

WoWLogoBut to write a post like that you have to start somewhere, and I usually start with what I might want from the game.  And I can certainly pull a few out of where ever it is I store these sorts of things on my person.  My list might include:

  • Real Housing… no, REAL Housing Blizzard!
  • Guild Garrisons
  • Special Rules Servers
  • A New Race
  • A New Class
  • Dual Classing
  • Mounted Combat… no, REAL Mounted Combat Blizzard!
  • Alternate Advancement
  • New Trainable Skills for Battle Pets
  • A Level Cap Squish
  • A Viable Crafting System… no, a REAL Viable Crafting System Blizzard!
  • Mentoring/De-leveling
  • More Freakin’ Storage
  • More Freakin’ Five Person Dungeons
  • Player Made Dungeons
  • Player Made Zeppelins
  • Rip Off Minecraft Somehow

And I could discuss the merits of each and why Blizzard won’t be giving us any of them, because I can come up with damn good reasons why each of those don’t align with Blizzard’s own goals.

Because that is always what it comes down to with Blizzard.  They make slick, best-selling games, and they have succeeded largely by focusing more on works for their goals than for ours.  Sometimes that has worked out fabulously, sometimes less so. (Diablo III Auction House, I’m looking at you.)  But in the long term it has been a good plan.

So rather than asking myself what *I* want from the game, I decided to ask myself what Blizzard wants from the game?

And for me, the big clue came already this week.  The game, having peaked at 12 million subscribers back in the day, has been viewed as “in decline” ever since Cataclysm shipped about five years ago.

What I believe Blizzard thinks it needs is to be freed from that comparison.  It is a millstone around their neck, something that the analysts are going to peck at during every single earnings call.

So I am going to go way, way out on a limb here and predict that the big expansion announcement will include a business model transition.

World of Warcraft will be going free to play.

In one fell swoop they can wave bye-bye to subscription numbers and, as we all know, free to play transitions always see big initial success.  They remove the stigma of decline and revenue soars.

There will still be subscribers in some form.  There always are.  They will get some special benefits and some sort of stipend for the new cash shop currency that will be introduced.  They already have a cash shop in the game, it just uses your credit card currently.  How tough could it be to change that to a new currency they control?

And Blizzard, having seen how all of these other games… and the list is pretty long with Dungeons & Dragons Online, Lord of the Rings Online, EverQuest II, DC Universe Online, The Elder Scrolls Online, and so on and so forth… have done it and fared, might be able to steal this idea and make it their own, imbuing it with that special Anaheim magic (which I am sure they are siphoning off from Disney illicitly) as they have done so often in the past.

Tomorrow we might see the dawn of a shining new free to play utopia, the business model done right, and we will be able to look forward to full servers and special perks and sparkle ponies as far as the eye can see.

Or we’re getting more fucking orcs.

That’s my call, either free to play or more fucking orcs.

We shall see.