Category Archives: Blizzard

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:

 

Looking Back at 2016 – Highs and Lows

Lord, what did we do to deserve this year?  I’ll just steer away from politics, the world, and celebrity deaths for this if you don’t mind.  Wow, 2016.

Blog2016

Still, it is time for this post, where I look back at the year gone by and look at some aspects over it, a tradition going back to 2010.  Past entries:

This annual post tends to be even more haphazard than my standard fare, an exercise in stream of consciousness writing as I add things to the list as they pop into my head.  No links, no explanations, minimal punctuation, and lots and lots of bullet points.

Blizzard

Highs

  • Still makes tons of money, actually has several popular, profitable games
  • Just to reiterate, “Money, money, money, money, money!”
  • Celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding… and the 22nd anniversary of when it was first bought by another company
  • Shipped a WoW expansion, Legion, which sold well
  • the lead-in preview events before the Legion launch were pretty good
  • Actually appears to have a plan to keep content coming for Legion rather than the usual year long drought
  • Blizz still does a good job with new players and level boosts to let you jump straight to the current content with your pals
  • WoW Tokens haven’t destroyed the in-game economy or anything
  • Overwatch is totally a stellar success, you can tell by the amount of rage that comes from one character getting just an okay holiday outfit
  • Oh, and Overwatch got its own paid professional league
  • Hearthstone is doing pretty well, getting new expansions and coverage on Twitch as a casual alternative to whatever
  • Diablo III is getting some new stuff
  • Hell, even StarCraft II is still chugging along selling mission packs

Lows

  • If you are a fan of just ONE Blizzard game, you probably don’t think they give your game enough attention
  • If you are a WoW fan, you’re probably pissed about how much attention all the new shit is getting
  • The old instance group… totally not playing WoW, except for Earl who never stops playing it
  • Chris Metzen, Mister Lore Enthusiasm, retired
  • BlizzCon has become mostly a Blizzard eSports event
  • Legion made the long, long tradition of alts a pain in WoW
  • WoW classes in Legion are pretty much designed around a legendary weapon, so feel off until you get into the current content
  • Have you seen the path to get flying in the Broken Isles?
  • The whole Nostalrius saga, which really brought out some horrible people on both sides of the issue
  • Blizzard continues to steadfastly fail to understand why somebody would want to play an old version of WoW
  • Mark Kern injecting himself into the Nostalrius saga, which just seemed to make any progress forward less likely
  • Nostalrius expecting fast action from Blizzard and just relaunching when they didn’t get it… this will end well
  • The Diablo III new stuff is really nostalgia driven… which is okay for an older IP, but won’t sell many boxes as, say, Diablo IV would
  • Uh… Heroes of the Storm… you still there?

Daybreak Game Company

Highs

  • Really, things seemed to be well if you were a long time EverQuest or EverQuest II player; expansions, updates, free things, all good
  • DC Universe Online has a happy community and seems to be doing well, especially on PlayStation
  • H1Z1 King of the Kill seems to be popular on Twitch and is getting off of Station Cash
  • Some sort of publishing deal for LOTRO and DDO through the new Standing Stone Games… that should be worth some money, right?
  • Lots of job reqs on the Daybreak site, so they must be working on something new

Lows

  • EverQuest Next got the axe after the traditional SOE long silence
  • Without EverQuest Next, Landmark got shoved out the door, ready or not… mostly not
  • Has Daybreak hit the point of diminishing returns for special/nostalgia servers for EQ/EQII?
  • “Free to Play, Your Way!” became “There is a cover charge at the door and a two drink minimum”
  • If you think you’re going to buy a level boost for EQ or EQ2 in order to play the new content, think again!  This ain’t WoW, the path through Norrath is not well marked
  • Haven’t heard much about PlanetSide 2 since its console launch
  • H1Z1 Just Survive might have a name that is too close to the reality of its situation
  • If Station Cash is so bad that they’re getting H1Z1 King of the Kill off of it, what does that say about the games left behind?
  • Pulled support for retail game cards; no more bringing your allowance to GameStop to pay your subscription, you have to pay online now
  • Good-bye Legends of Norrath
  • No more open world PvP in EQ2 (I’m sure somebody considers this a low point, even if I don’t really)
  • No more EQ2 Worlds mobile app either (That’s bad, right? Or was that just another distraction?)
  • With Russell Shanks gone, Columbus Nova doesn’t even have the pretense of a gaming exec running the show

Standing Stone Games

Highs

  • No longer part of Turbine or on WB’s balance sheet, so no more margin requirements… can actually spend money on development
  • Being able to just run DDO and LOTRO is probably the best thing possible for both games at this point
  • Mordor is in sight in LOTRO
  • DDO still seems to be in good shape

Lows

  • Asheron’s Call and Asheron’s Call 2 have taken their final call and are being shut down
  • With nothing new in sight, SSG is playing through its own company end game as a caretaker
  • As their own company they gain the overhead for internal tasks that WB was likely doing for them, things like HR and payroll and such
  • LOTRO and DDO are both licensed properties, so SSG still needs to send out checks for that every month, which is more overhead than a fully owned property like EveQuest or Ultima Online has to deal with
  • Daybreak is now their publisher, which means they will need to get paid too
  • Despite the “nothing is changing” FAQ, this move will mean changes eventually
  • Able to run their own show, the first reaction seemed to be “revamp avatars!” which is code for “screw the current player base, I want new people around here!”
  • Can they even afford to make new avatar models that are good enough to make a difference to anybody?

CCP

Highs

  • They have the most popular VR app for the Oculus Rift in EVE Valkyrie
  • Two big expansions, Citadel and Ascension that changed the face of New Eden
  • A new New Player Experience in EVE; this time for sure!
  • Citadels everywhere!
  • Rorqual becomes the most popular capital ship in the game, figuratively if not literally
  • We had a great big war, a two year PCU high mark, and the most people ever in a single battle this year
  • CCP ends gambling, confiscates tainted ISK, and bans the RMT barons who fomented The Casino War after the Imperium called them out for being involved with RMT
  • Skill injectors let new players “catch up” to vets in training
  • The new CSM hasn’t been a distraction/embarrassment/hostile force this year

Lows

  • DUST 514 went dark
  • Rated 6/10 due to the shallowness of the game, EVE Valkyrie doesn’t have much competition and costs $99 if you didn’t get it for free
  • Being the most popular VR app in the Occulus Rift fragment of the market is like being the most proficient thumb sucker in pre-school, an honor that just isn’t going to last
  • F2P option boosted average PCU for EVE, but it is still 15K below the 2013 peak
  • Banning RMT tainted casino accounts came too late to save the Imperium, but a dish served cold was better than no dish at all
  • After the The Casino War Goons went to Delve while PL and NCDot started a rental empire at the expense of their erstwhile allies… nothing new in space, so just replay the greatest hits I guess
  • Ummm… no, really, citadels everywhere
  • Welcome to the new super cap arms race in null sec!
  • Suddenly becoming the most popular anything in New Eden is a sure sign of a balance issue
  • Not sure where the New Eden road map is headed next, and we probably won’t hear until Fanfest
  • Skill injectors pretty much made the powerful more powerful, as the rich now can have insta-trained alts
  • Not sure CCP is actually listening to the CSM
  • RIP New Eden solo industrialists
  • Still a loud faction out there that thinks walking in stations will “save” EVE Online
  • Rumors of CCP being sold… you may not love those vikings, but who else would have even tried to make EVE what it is today?

Nintendo

Highs

  • 20th Anniversary of Pokemon
  • Re-release of Pokemon Red, Blue, & Yellow on Virtual Console
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon, a great new core Pokemon RPG, was a bit seller
  • Pokemon Go takes the world by storm, boosting Pokemon related sales on all fronts
  • Super Mario Run followed on Pokemon Go as a huge immediate success on mobile
  • Announcement of a new mobile console thing, the Switch

Lows

  • End of the line for the Wii U… but at least it outsold the Saturn and the Dreamcast
  • Pokemon Sun & Moon performance on old model 3DS units is laggy
  • They must Amiibo all the things these days I guess
  • Pokemon Go problems… it wasn’t ready to be a phenomena
  • Will the Switch be more of a handheld or a living room gaming console?
  • The “not a successor” designation for the Switch no doubt means no backward compatibility for any of your current Wii U or 3DS games.

Other Games

Highs

  • Star Trek Online made its way to consoles
  • Star Citizen shook off Derek Smart eventually
  • Rift got an expansion out, as did SWTOR
  • Black Desert Online had the MMO spotlight for a while
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to have turned a corner to success/stability
  • Minecraft continues to boom, with new updates, high sales, and a happy fans
  • Project: Gorgon has been available and improving and got some more funding via Indiegogo
  • WildStar lives yet!
  • Dark and Light sputtered back into existence after an eight year server downtime
  • No Man’s Sky had everybody excited for a cool, new indie space exploration game
  • Stardew Valley shows one dev can make a compelling game

Lows

  • The usual array of F2P fuckery, as J3w3l would put it, in various titles trying to boost income; I think Rift and Black Desert Online get a special mention for 2016
  • A special bonus mention for SWTOR and its “new content is for subscribers” plan; can’t buy it ala carte, gotta pony up
  • Black Desert Online fulfilled its prophecy and pretty much a re-run of ArcheAge, but that seems to be the way of these things no matter what MMO launches
  • ArcheAge got an update, the main feature of which seemed to be killing the servers
  • Consoles seem to be the main focus for Star Trek Online, so if you play on the PC you are probably behind on new features.
  • Just because Derek Smart hasn’t posted about Star Citizen in a couple months doesn’t mean all is happy, as the whole package is still in alpha, still nowhere close to all those promised features, has moved to a new engine (which they forgot to mention for months), and still seems to be run in a haphazard and/or amateurish fashion
  • Jesus, did any fucking Kickstarter I back even ship this year?  Camelot Unchained? No!  Shroud of the Avatar? No! Project: Gorgon? No! MineServer? No!  Even Jason Scott’s documentary trio hasn’t shipped a single video yet.  Dammit people, you know when you promise and don’t deliver you screw over the people trying to get funding after you, right?
  • While I am complaining, early access has turned into something like, “We got the code to run, give us some money!” of late
  • If WildStar’s revenue drops any further the studio is going to turn into a tax write-off for NCsoft
  • Main line PC Minecraft needs to get off Java already
  • The return of Dark and Light hardly seemed worth the effort
  • No Man’s Sky was just the intersection of many bad things, with unmet promises, overreacting fans, and a level of post launch company support that might be best summed up with, “Have you tried turning it off and then back on again?”
  • Seriously Hello Games, if you go on TV and say people can play No Man’s Sky with their friends, and they cannot, you have earned a pile of negative reviews
  • The LEGO Minifigures Online closer punches Funcom in the gut yet again
  • The rocky ride and sudden end of Hero’s Song
  • Yahoo shut down Yahoo games, because literally anything Yahoo touches turns to shit… and then just gets worse from there

Media

Highs:

  • Rogue One, a new Star Wars movie, was pretty okay
  • Fantastic Beasts, a new Harry Potter universe movie, was pretty okay
  • Westworld kept me going for ten weeks
  • I am not a big super hero movie fan, but Deadpool did make me laugh

Lows:

  • The end of Downton Abbey
  • Rogue One isn’t going to get anywhere close to $2 billion in the box office revenue, probably due to a lack of Skywalkers
  • Also, Rogue One continued the tradition of crying about a vast SJW conspiracy because a female got a lead part in an action movie
  • Akin to Rogue One, a lack of Potters does limit the appeal of Fantastic Beasts
  • The Warcraft movie was really a for-the-fans-only venture, unlikely to expand the player base of the franchise
  • I think super hero movies have hit saturation point… maybe we can do some westerns or something?
  • So many celebrity deaths… crap, I wasn’t going to mention that… but Jesus Christ, even Carrie Fisher?

The Blog and Blogging and The Internet

Highs:

  • Continues to chug along with 360 posts this year, or almost one a day, up 7 from last year
  • I still enjoy writing
  • I still very much enjoy writing after I have writ and can go back and see what was up a year later
  • Still a decent rang of blogs out there to read
  • Massively OP still does a regular call out to blogs
  • Reddit does has some very good and informative subreddits

Lows:

  • My enthusiasm for new and different MMORPGs has largely faded, so I tend to write about the same half dozen games over and over
  • My style… crank out a first draft then press “publish,” after which I start to find errors and typos… remains largely unchanged
  • I still have to fight the urge to start every paragraph after the first with, “And,” “So,” “Then,” and “Meanwhile.”
  • Readership is down to about 2009 levels, though I suspect the core regular readership is about the same, it is just less new people showing up… sort of like an aging MMO, which seems oddly appropriate
  • I still don’t link out to other blogs as often I think I should
  • Blog attrition and fading has passed the replacement level in our corner of the net, or maybe I am so out of the loop that I simply no longer see new blogs as they pop up being an old fart
  • Other MMO gaming news sites pretty quickly forgot about blogs after a flurry of paying attention to them last year
  • AOL killed the Massively and WoW Insider archives… or at least broke all the links going to them… At least we still have the Internet Archive
  • Reddit does make blogs feel redundant unless you are a fan of long form
  • /r/eve

Anyway, that is what I have in my brain here at the end of 2016.  I am sure I left a lot out, so feel free to add anything you feel needs a mention in the comments.

A new year approaches, which at least implies two more of my yearly posts are yet to come, my outlook for 2017 and the inevitable New Years Day predictions post.

Others looking back at 2016:

Scoring My BlizzCon Projections

The tenth BlizzCon has come and gone.  It always seems short at just two days.  Even wee EVE Vegas ran into Sunday.  But Blizzard knows how to pack a bunch of stuff into two days.

blizzcon2016

Granted, most of what was packed into those two days wasn’t of interest to me.  If you got the Virtual Ticket as I did you found out pretty quickly that four of the six available streams were devoted exclusively to “esports.”

The schedule - smaller dives into products not streamed

A schedule snippet – smaller dives into products not streamed

I was also mildly amused at the confusion over this being the tenth BlizzCon, as announcers kept saying “ten years of BlizzCon,” which is incorrect.  The first BlizzCon was in 2005, but they skipped 2006 and 2012.  So ten BlizzCons, not ten years.

However I was not amused at all to find out that the “Weird Al” concert at the closing ceremony was only viewable live with the Virtual Ticket.  We were out when th concert kicked off, but I figured I could watch it the replay the next day.  Blizzard makes a point of saying that we get to view replays for 14 days.

The concert appears to be an exception though, as it is not available in the video archive.  Since that was one of the key reasons I bought the damn virtual ticket, I am pretty unhappy with that.  I am sure it says something about the concert in the fine print somewhere, but if it had been more obvious I would only have the one chance to see it, I would have made an effort to be home for it.

Anyway, enough carping about that I guess.  Did Blizzard cover what I thought they would?

World of Warcraft

There was a time when BlizzCon could have been called “WoWCon.”  A decade back World of Warcraft was pretty much their only going concern, the company having been practically swallowed by the overwhelming success of the game.  The next release after WoW was StarCraft II, six years later.

For long time observers of BlizzCon, the event has gone from WoW being the only story to now having to share the stage with five siblings.  And since WoW is clearly past its peak, it is in Blizzard’s interest to promote other titles.  The Azeroth gravy train isn’t dead yet, but some alternative revenue streams are clearly part of the plan.

So WoW, which just got an expansion (along with a movie) recently, did not get much attention at the keynote.  I saw some bitter comments on Twitter about Blizz passing over WoW, but it is to be expected.  You had to get into the “Legion – What’s Next” panel to get any details about the game.  Here is what I thought Blizz was going to talk about when it came to WoW:

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

We got a bit of the “woo hoo! Legion!” at the keynote (fastest selling blah blah), along with a mention that Blizz would continue delivering content for the expansion, and a plug for the film (now available on DVD and Blu-Ray).

At the Legion panel they went much deeper and covered what will come before 7.2, 7.2 itself, and and eye to what 7.3 will bring.

Coming soon-ish

Coming soon-ish

So what I would consider the minimum was pretty well covered.  I do wish that Blizz was still announcing subscriber numbers, if only to see if a constant stream of content really does make a difference.  After all, Warlords of Draenor may have left people high and dry for a year, but the big dive in subscriber numbers started well before we hit the 6.2 patch that opened up new content and, eventually, flying.

Speaking of flying, 7.2 patch is also supposed to bring us to the point where we will be able to unlock flying in the expansion.  That will give us all something to work on when it hits.  I doubt I will move a single alt in the Broken Isles until I unlock that with my main.  So that point was covered.

I saw nothing about any special, nostalgia, or retro servers, so pretty much as expected.  This did not sit well with the Nostalrius crew, which vowed to return.  I don’t think they understand how slowly (and conservatively) the wheels grind at Blizzard.

And I didn’t hear any Tom Chilton quotes, regrettable or not, so I guess Blizz kept him busy elsewhere.

All in all, not a ton of news about WoW, but about the minimum amount of news that Blizz needed to provide to keep fans going.

Diablo

Here is where I had high expectations.  With the 20th anniversary of the franchise just weeks away, I expected the announcement of Diablo IV or, at a minimum, a new expansion for Diablo IIIDiablo III is well past the four year mark, and the Reaper of Souls expansion is 2.5 years old now.  As a franchise that makes money by selling boxes, it sounds like it needs a new box on the market.  Anyway, this was what I put down:

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs and China [Edit: MAUs, we are not sending Marines to China!]
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

We didn’t get anything about MEUs or China, but the Diablo 20th anniversary was covered and we are getting something new.

Just not a new game or an expansion.  Well, “sort of” on the expansion front, but I’ll get to that.  And there will be new zone content coming to appease the people doing season runs.

Instead, to feed the nostalgia hungry, they are remaking the original Diablo in Diablo III.

I think this is something I actually put forth as an option in a previous post.  Yes, here it is“Diablo and/or Diablo II being ported to the Diablo III engine.”

So that sounds pretty interesting, especially since they are attempting to simulate the more primitive graphical style, movements, and sounds of the original.  I am very interested to see how this ends up playing.

The downside is that they are going to make this a special event called “The Darkening of Tristram.”  This event will only be available every January in order to mark the launch of the series.  So I hope you are in the mood for nostalgia then, because you won’t get to play it for the rest of the year.

The other big announcement was the addition of a Diablo II class to Diablo III, the necromancer.  Blizzard has a post here about it.  Interesting, and a clear nostalgia play, but the necromancer was never a big deal for me.  This will be part of a Rise of the Necromancer “pack” which will be available at some future date with some unspecified amount of content (or not) for some unspecified price.

So you can say they announced an expansion… they just didn’t tell us enough about it to get a feel for what it will really be.  If it is just a “buy a new class” thing that they have announced so far, then it doesn’t really count as much of an expansion in my opinion.  If it ends up including more levels (which will be awkward after paragon levels and all that) or a new story line, then we are there.

Finally, we did not hear anything about the Diablo II remaster that they were advertising for last year though.

StarCraft

My interest starts to wane about here.  I like StarCraft for nostalgia reasons, I played a lot of the original back in the day.  But I don’t even own StarCraft II, much less any of the expansions, so my opinions here are dubious at best.  All I know is what I heard at the keynote.  What I said:

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

There was a firm date announced for Nova Covert Ops part III.  Previously listed as “before December 1” it will be available on November 22.  There was also something about StarCraft II being used in conjunction with AI research, a new story line, new maps, and “War Chests” coming to the game.

There was also plenty of tournament play.  There was, however, no mention of the original StarCraft being remastered.

Other Titles

And then we get to the three Blizzard titles where I have no investment.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

No Manic Murloc Melodrama mobile app.  No Overwatch on MacOS either.

On the other hand, SynCaine’s suggestion that Blizz might not mention Heroes of the Storm was totally unfounded.  They are still fully behind the game and, as you can see by the schedule snippet I have at the top, it had a whole channel dedicate to league play.  They even mentioned the Cho’gall unit from last year, though they did not say if it ended up being all that popular or not.

In fact, most of the keynote seemed to be devoted to these three titles and all of the new stuff they are getting, with Overwatch even getting a new league devoted to it, and how much Blizzard has been paying out in prize money over the last year.  None of that interested me as I am not an “esportsball” fan.

And, of course, I may never know if “Weird Al” had a song about a Blizzard product.

So that was that.  It was interesting to see the keynote and a couple of the panels, but without the concert I feel like I wasted $40 as I could have gleaned all that information and more by just reading the gaming news.

Remind me of that in a year when BlizzCon returns.

Projecting on BlizzCon 2016

I must admit that this year’s BlizzCon doesn’t have much going for it in my book.

blizzcon2016

The only game of theirs that I have played in the last six months is World of Warcraft, and that got an expansion just about two months back, so there didn’t seem to be much in it for me.  I wasn’t going to actually GO to BlizzCon or anything, which would be a totally different experience, if only because I just got back from EVE Vegas… and, also, tickets to BlizzCon sell out in seven seconds.

So I was tempted to simply ignore the whole thing and ready about it in the funny papers next week.

Then Blizzard went and announced that “Weird Al” Yankovic was going to be the closing musical guest and I decided I kind of wanted to see that.  I mean, he isn’t Permaband, but he does have more than five songs.  With my daughter keen to see the costume contest and my wife always amused by the dance contest, I subscribed to the pay per view version of the event.

So there we are.

And if I am paying for the event, I am certainly going to pay attention to it and get at least two blog posts out of it, so here we go with the first one.  As with previous years, my mostly uninformed preview of the event will include what I want to see and what I actually expect to see.

World of Warcraft

As I noted above, WoW just released an expansion, so the options are limited.  It likely won’t be a WoW year on the main stage.

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

Diablo Franchise

Unlike WoW, the world of Diablo is prime for something new.  Diablo III is going to turn five next May and even the expansion will be three in March.  Presumably, with more than 30 million copies sole, Blizzard isn’t going to let there be another decade gap between releases.  Plus, the 20th anniversary of the original Diablo is coming up.  They have to do something.

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs MAUs and China
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

StarCraft

The StarCraft franchise is in an awkward place as Blizz has sort of finished up what they initially planned to do for StarCraft II.  Last year the big news was DLC missions to come after Legacy of the Void shipped.  We got a three part module in this year in the form of Nova Covert Ops.  The first two parts have been released and the third is promised for December 1.

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

Other Titles

I don’t play the other Blizzard titles so I will lump them under a single heading to hide the paucity of entries about individual games while condensing the cynicism into a single, bitter pill.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

And that is about it.  I hope it will be a big year at BlizzCon for Diablo, give the 20th anniversary and all, but I have been disappointed on the Diablo front so many times in the past that wouldn’t bet on it.

What else should I expect to see… and what do you want to see at BlizzCon?

World of Warcraft Reported to be Sitting at 10.1 Million Subscribers

About two months back, when Activision Blizzard announced their Q2 2016 results, I was speculating that they might be anxious to start talking about subscription numbers after vowing to not report on them about a year back.

ActiBlizz450

That was an easy thing to vow when the game had bottomed out after the Draenor exodus, hitting subscriber numbers not seen since 2005.  But with the last quarterly report things were starting to look rosy again with the Legion expansion coming up, Blizzard was beating around the bush, trying to say how wonderful things were going without actually bringing out the number that would prove it.  Sure, the Legion expansion sold well on day one, but how many subscribers were there in the game?

Well, somebody couldn’t hold their tongue… somebody being Tom Chilton.  According to a report over at PvP Live, he said, in an interview with the Polish gaming magazine Pixel… well… the following:

Pixel: You guys reached your peak by capturing 12 million users. By the end of 2015 it was only 5.5 million, and after that Blizzard stopped providing statistics. Can we ask, about how many users currently have a paid subscription?

Chilton: As we speak, it’s about 10.1 million. It’s hard to say what future will bring. We have an internal competition in form of Overwatch, but it’s possible we will reach 12 million once again. The potential is there as there are over 100 million registered accounts.

Pixel is apparently a magazine is of the old school print variety, so no link to the original source in Polish, but translations have been popping up on Reddit and forums like NeoGAF. [Edit: Picture of the Polish text.]

So there it is, out in the open again, a subscriber number.  Another data point in the cycle of life that is MMORPGs.

Did Tom Chilton get advance clearance to talk about that number?  The man has blurted out some unfortunate things in the past that have come back to haunt the company, things like equating garrisons to housing and such.  Ah well.

And what does that number mean.  Blizzard’s partner in China recently changed over from an hourly to a monthly subscription model.  Did that change how the count was done?  Is it more accurate or less?

Finally, if he did get the okay, is this how it will be going forward, with Blizzard?  Are they going to tell us about peaks but go silent when it comes to valleys in the subscriber wave?

Hat tip to Liore for sending this my way.

Addendum: Blizzard denies everything.

“Our policy for almost a year now is that we do not talk about subscriber numbers,” said the Blizzard spokesperson. “And Tom did not do that with this publication.”