Category Archives: Diablo III

Looking Forward to BlizzCon 2019

BlizzCon is coming and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Not that you would want to stop it.  I certainly don’t want to stop it.

In fact, I am more than a bit excited to see what it will bring.  It is exactly a month away and I already want to start talking about it.

Last year’s BlizzCon was a bit less than thrilling.  It came a couple of months after a WoW expansion, so while there were some update items to reveal, there was no big Azeroth announcement.  WoW Classic was already known so, while we got to play a demo, the only big news was penning in the ship date to summer.  Hearthstone got a new expansion, OverWatch got a new hero and a cereal, Heroes of the Storm felt lucky just to get mentioned, StarCraft received the tiniest of nods, and if it had not been for the Diablo Immortal brouhaha there wouldn’t have been a headline worthy announcement out of the whole thing.

It wasn’t as dull as some made out, but it was a lot more details than big picture, and big picture is what gets attention.

This year though, this year has some potential.  So it is time to go once again go through what I expect to hear, what I hope I will hear, and maybe a couple of things somewhere in between.

Going down the list of franchises:

World of Warcraft

New expansion announcement.

Yes, there will be all sorts of anniversary related things to talk about, with special panels and goodies and videos and whatever, and rightfully so, but there had better be a new expansion announcement on the list.

If there isn’t a new expansion announced for retail WoW the stock price will crash, there will be unrest in the streets, we won’t be able to trust anybody ever again, and the world will pretty much end.

Okay, maybe it is not that bad, but it would be an unprecedented break in the pattern of the ages not to announce a new WoW expansion here.  It would be very bad to not have one to announce. A new expansion will make fans of WoW retail will feel better and we might get a bit of insight into what Blizz has learned from the summer of slumber in Zandalar and Kul Tiras.

But where do we go from Battle for Azeroth? I know the lore is pretty pliable, but that map of Azeroth doesn’t have a lot of wide open seas left in which to discover yet another continent. So what is it going to be?  Time travel again?  Khadgar leading us through some new portal into another world?  Will it be time for another invasion from an external source (please, no more Burning Legion) that will, once again, push the Horde and Alliance back into cooperation again?

And what will be the hook to get people back and playing?  I don’t think a new race by itself will work.  I think the whole allied races thing represented a draining of all interest in going back to that well any time soon.  How many alts do people need?

So a new class then?  Is there a class niche they haven’t explored yet?  Berserkers?  Technos?  Rangers? Necromancers?

Most things I come up with sort of fit in or between the current classes.  How is a Berserker not a fury Warrior?  How is a Techno not a Dwarf/Gnome Hunter with the engineering profession?  How is a Ranger not just a Hunter without a pet?  How is a Necromancer not just a cross between a Warlock and a Deathknight?

If I had to bet, it would be some sort of magic using class I guess.  While I see the cross over, Necromancers might still have potential.

And will Blizz try something new with levels?  Maybe they have some form of alternate advancement in the works.  Or will this be another ten level expansion?  With the company floating the idea of a level squish, it would be strange for them to simply carry on as before.

While I am not playing retail WoW right now I certainly plan to go back to it at some point, which means I am still quite interested in its future.  BlizzCon is the chance for the company to set a course for our expectations.  I hope they don’t blow it, either by coming up empty or setting expectations that lead to eventual disappointment.

WoW Classic

WoW Classic is the difficult bit for Blizz.  It has succeeded beyond expectations.  I think that is a pretty safe claim when the company had to more than double the server count (see the numbers) AND THEN double the amount of people a server was allowed to hold.  Also, there is that 223% increase in subscriber revenue.  All that has put WoW in the headlines again and may have even pushed up the stock price.

Which means you can’t just say nothing about it.  You can’t just say, “Wasn’t that great?  Aren’t we all having fun?” and move on to the next topic.  There has to be a plan communicated.  It doesn’t have to be deep or detailed, but somebody has to get up there and at least hand wave an idea of how Blizz keeps this party going.  Things I think they might bring up as options.

  • 100% Sure – Phase Plan – This is, to my mind, the bare minimum they can communicate, some idea of when the next five phases of WoW Classic will unlock.
  • 80% Sure – Other Expansions – The logical follow on for WoW Classic is The Burning Crusade Classic.  I expect the minimum they will say is that they are looking into it.  The upper limited of my expectations is a declaration that they will make this happen without any details.
  • 10% Sure – More Classic Servers – I will be interested to see if Blizz “gets” what makes up all of the appeal loaded into WoW Classic.  It is rooted in nostalgia, certainly.  But as SOE learned eventually, this is an evergreen proposition, not a one and done effort.  People want to start on FRESH servers and be in that wave of level one players.If they do get this, there will be a mention of a new round of servers at some future date.  Daybreak has found they can roll out a fresh progression server every other year and it will fill to overflowing.  Blizz could easily make this a filler for non-expansion years for WoW.  Maybe they don’t need 70+ servers, and it would be good if there was some sync between finishing up the phases and rolling out a new generation.
  • .001% Sure – Alternate Reality – SynCaine really brought this one up for me.  With WoW Classic essentially standing as an independent game with its own client separate from retail, Blizzard could realistically create a different way forward for the game with its own exclusive expansions.  If anybody has the resources for such a thing, it is Blizz. On the other hand, this is also very much a coloring outside of the lines move, not a Blizz strong suit, and if they can only get an expansion out every other year for retail, I am not sure they have the talent and other non-cash resources capable of producing something that would not lead to disappointment.

Diablo

Diablo IV or go home.

Seriously, if that is not announced after last year’s tease and follow ups, Blizz might as well give up on the franchise.  They have started calling Diablo III a “classic” title. I guess it is already more than seven years old.  So a new Diablo on PC/consoles seems due.

Also, give me a damn Diablo II remaster already.  I would take a GoG.com version.  I have already proven that when I bought Diablo from GoG.com.  Just give it to me already.

Oh, and we do want to hear what happened with Diablo Immortal, but only after you’ve made us all happy with the wonders of Diablo IV.

Heroes of the Storm

Auto Chess or go home.

HotS is still a thing, still getting some minor updates, and will probably get a special new hero for BlizzCon, but the esports body-blow still has many convinced the game is dead.

But Blizz has a unique opportunity here.  With Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics out there having stolen the thunder of the Auto Chess mod, the company could step into the fray with their own version.

However, it needs some special sauce, something tight to set it apart.  And I don’t mean putting making the play grid triangles rather than squares of hexagons.  They need a leap in the concept, because Teamfight Tactics seems to be doing pretty well.

Overwatch

Overwatch 2 or go home.

Okay, I am not sure whether Overwatch 2 is a good plan or not, but reports are revenue has been sagging and you know the Activision side of the house makes damn good money releasing slight variations of the same damn shooter every year.  Somebody might force that issue.

Otherwise, what else have they got?  A new hero?  A new map maybe?  A new cereal?

Hearthstone

More card packs.  Maybe a new play mode.  What else are they going to do besides milk this cow?

But I also don’t “get” Hearthstone in some deep way.  I mean, I understand how to play, I just don’t find it all that interesting.  I put the client on my iPad every six months or so, play a few hands, then wander off.

StarCraft

Yeah, I got nothing here.  I mean, StarCraft II has been out for more than nine years now… is it “classic” at this point too… and the base game has gone free to play, while StarCraft, its now 21 year old predecessor, has gotten a remaster and a DLC skin overlay.  The company is pottering around with tidbits, but nothing that is worth a headline.

What could revive the StarCraft franchise?  I think a third RTS would be pointless.  StarCraft was so well done that StarCraft II had to be, almost by necessity, nearly a direct knock-off of the original.   A new campaign module might interest some.  But something like a first person shooter would collide with Overwatch and my gut says that Blizz will never do another real MMORPG.  So what is left?

Maybe StarCraft is where Blizz goes with the Auto Chess thing?  Rather than just selecting from a random set of heroes you have to commit to one of the factions and only draw from their units?

New Stuff

There needs to be something new.  Like, really new.  As much as I dig Warcraft III or Diablo II remaster ideas, or even the thought of Diablo IV, there might be a need for some fresh blood down in Irvine.

The Blizzard tradition has been to remake a game that the devs are currently playing.  That literally covers the history of the company from its founding forward.  So what have the devs been playing?  Last year Blizz said mobile games were hot with the dev team, so what will they copy?  Pokemon Go?  Clash of Clans?  Honour of Kings?

Waiting

That is what we get to do for a month, wait.  BlizzCon is November 1st.  I am sure we’ll get more hints about what to expect as the month progresses.  The schedule, for example, is always something you can read things into.  Whichever game gets the first presentation after the keynote tends to have the biggest announcement, which will set expectations.

Of course, that can lead to disaster.  Last year that position of honor had “Diablo” written on it, but then they announced Diablo Immortal.  I expect they won’t make that mistake again.

So what is it going to be?  What will BlizzCon bring?  And when will the Virtual Ticket go on sale?

Addendum:  Just before this was slated to go live the Virtual Ticket was announced.  A couple of battle pets, murloc versions of Anduin and Sylvannas, along with cosmetic “Wendigo Woolies” transmog items for retail WoW players.

 

The Virtual Ticket battle pets have been some of my favorites, so even if I wasn’t already on board for the Virtual Ticket I’d be leaning heavily towards it.

I am also happy that replays of panels will be available for longer than previous BlizzCon Virtual Tickets.  I can re-watch things until March 31, 2020.  But more about the Virtual Ticket later.  Now the wait for the event schedule to be posted.  Who will get pride of place after the keynote?

My MMO Outlook for 2019

I’m going to try this again.  It isn’t quite the famous quip about insanity being repeating an action and expecting different results, but the results have not always been spectacular.  Though, in my defense, that has on occasion not been my fault.

For those seeking a history of this particular post, I have a list:

This time around I am going to make this less of a goal setting session, where I declare I am going to run off and play some new games… or some old games… or some games in between that I have not played before.  Instead, this is going to attempt to be more predictive.

Didn’t I just do predictions yesterday?

Well, I didn’t attempt to predict what I was actually going to play in 2019, so this is a different avenue.  I’ll open up with the usual suspects.

Easy Picks

  • EVE Online

Pretty much a lock since I played it 12 out of 12 months in 2018.  If I log in today and play, I’m covered, and it seems likely that I will do so and continue to do so over the course of the year.  As long as Reavers deploy a couple of times I’m probably good.

  • Pokemon Go

The other game I played pretty much daily throughout 2018.  It helps that this is the one video game that my wife and I play together.  Also happens to be the only active Pokemon title on a platform I own, since Nintendo is abandoning the handheld model and throwing everything onto the Switch.  Not that I am bitter or anything.

  • WoW Classic

I think this one is a no-brainer.  I will certainly subscribe and log in for the spectacle that will be the launch of WoW Classic.  The real question is how bad will it be?  I don’t mean to suggest there will be any glaring lack of fidelity.  I feel Blizz will be about as true to the idea as they can be.  The question will be how slammed will the servers be and how fragmented will the community end up as Blizz opens up more and more servers?

  • WoW Not-So-Classic

This one is likely a gimme as well.  While Battle for Azeroth just didn’t capture me, the fact that the same subscription will get you into both WoW and WoW Classic makes it very likely that I will log into the former to play.  There will probably be a boost in people on regular WoW servers corresponding to the length of the server queues on WoW Classic.

  • Lord of the Rings Online

Lifetime subscription and the Legendary server… and the fact that I am still playing it right now, if not as actively as I was when the server kicked off… makes this another shoe-in for the list.  I may not last once it gets past Moria, but up until then I am probably in.

Somewhat Likely

After those titles we get into a more gray area.  Still, there are some candidates that don’t seem to be complete long shots.

  • EverQuest II

If things go badly for Daybreak, or if they have a good plan for the 15th anniversary of the game, it seems reasonable that I will be in for either a last look or another visit.

  • Project: Gorgon

The game I keep meaning to play seriously but somehow never quite get to.  I own it already, always a plus, and it gets good marks for its quirky nature.

  • Minecraft

Our server has been pretty quiet for the last year, but the panda update is coming.  That might at least get me back on long enough to scout out a bamboo grove to find them.  Technically not an MMO, but close enough.

Wildcards

Titles that might happen, if certain conditions come to pass… being something other than early access garbage being a key item.  I’m trying not to encourage the developer line about, “I’ll gladly ship on Tuesday if you’ll just buy my game today” by paying into that sort of thing any more.

  • EverQuest

Hey, it will be the 20 year anniversary of the game shipping come March 16th.  There is a distinct possibility that Daybreak will have something lined up that will make me want to log in, at least for a bit.

  • Atlas

Whether you see this as re-skinned Ark or not, a some people I know are getting into this… when it is running and you can log in… so there is the glimmer of a possibility that I might give it a try.  The whole early access aspect of it will be the factor keeping me away if I don’t play it.

  • Torchlight Frontiers

I don’t think it will ship in 2019, and I am not going to beta test it, which is what makes it a wildcard.  I’m interested to try it even if I am not amongst those publicly wetting themselves in anticipation of it.

  • Camelot Unchained

Didn’t I pay for this almost five years ago now?  It would be cool if there was something there both playable and worth playing.

  • Destiny 2

We got the base game for free back in October and I downloaded it.  So it is installed and ready to go if I decide I want to try it.

  • Diablo III

Also technically not an MMO, at least by my own measure, but if maybe Blizzard were to add something fresh to the game I could find myself playing again.  I enjoy it, but can only play through the story and seasons so many times.

  • War Thunder and/or World of Tanks

I have a bunch of time invested in both over the years.  They tend to be good games for quick action, but neither hole my attention for very long either.  Battles often become the same situation repeated ad infinitum.

  • Something Else New

I mean, somebody is going to ship something new this year, aren’t they?

Non-MMOs

Again, I don’t like to set goals, but I look at my Steam library and it there are games I know I will play and games I want to find time for.

In the former category are:

  • Civilization V
  • RimWorld
  • Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings

In the latter:

  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Grim Dawn
  • Afghanistan ’11
  • Space Engineers
  • Valkyria Chronicles

And then there are games on my wish list that maybe I might yet buy.  The Steam Winter Sale still has two full days left to run.

  • GTA V (mostly for the mod where you can play as the police)
  • O.G.R.E. (played the original board game)
  • Darkest Dungeon (The Wizardy-esque vibe keeps in on my list)
  • Frostpunk (Overlaps a bit with RimWorld though)

So there are some options.  We’ll see at the end of the year what I ended up playing and what fell by the wayside.  As like as not something else will come up mid-year and I’ll divert into that.

Looking Back at 2018 Highs and Lows

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

-James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion

We stand together again at the end of of another year; at least those of us who survived the journey do.  And, as has become the tradition here, I set aside some time to reflect and sum up the year that was 2018.

As usual, this is more of a stream of consciousness sort of affair as opposed to a rigorous study of the year.  Some things loom larger in my mind than others, especially the more recent.  I can’t really remember what happened in January, but BlizzCon was in November so my brain is still full of that.  Because of the method, and my general laziness, I don’t link out in this post (save for one exception this year).  You sort of have to know what I am talking about or else just let it pass.

For comparison… I suppose there is a study that could be done on my moods and views over the years… you can read the versions of this post that has come up in past years.

Not everything listed as a “low” is necessarily a tragedy, nor is everything listed as a “high” really something that was headline news to celebrate.  One year I inserted a “middle” category and then found I wanted to put most everything in there, so I set that aside.

There is also something of the accountant in me that tries to turn this into a balance sheet, with every “high” having a corresponding “low” on the list.  That works a lot of the time, but not always.  Some things are just one or the other.

Also, I remain undecided on punctuation in this sort of post.  To my mind, bullet points shouldn’t get punctuation.  Sort of.  They do when the bullet point is a question.  Also, I use a lot of semi-colons while eschewing the sentence ending period.  And then there is that exclamation point.  Does that wreck everything?  I think my life would be easier if I just made them sentences, but I am writing this after all the stuff below and I am NOT going back to change all that.

Anyway, on with the show.

Blizzard

Highs

  • A decent start of the year for Blizzard, building momentum for the WoW expansion and BlizzCon
  • Battle for Azeroth launched very well, with the build-up to the expansion drawing a lot of attention
  • Hearthstone did very well, even breaking into the digital revenue top ten on the PC platform
  • BlizzCon for once did not ignore any of the main Blizzard franchises
  • Blizzard showed they were very serious about getting WoW Classic right
  • There is even going to be progression in WoW Classic so the raiding is done with the right gear
  • We got an official announcement for the second of the three planned remasters, Warcraft III Reforged
  • Plans for upcoming Battle for Azeroth content
  • New expansion for Hearthstone
  • New hero for Overwatch
  • New champion for Heroes of the Storm, plus more plans to fix the game
  • New co-op commander for StarCraft II
  • New game for the Diablo franchise
  • Hey, Lindsey Stirling was one of the BlizzCon closing ceremony acts

Lows

  • BlizzCon seemed to kill fan enthusiasm for the aforementioned momentum
  • Even I am starting to feel that the BlizzCon formula might be wearing a bit thin
  • They say that all press is good press, but burning down that tree is going to take a while for some people to get past
  • After a strong start, flaws in Battle for Azeroth around gear and such began to tarnish the experience
  • Wait, as my ilevel gets higher mobs actually get harder rather than easier to kill?  And Blizz thinks this is fine?
  • BlizzCon divided up by six franchises means a preciously small slice of pie for any fan of only a single franchise
  • WoW Classic might be so authentic as to do to retro servers what WoW did to fantasy MMORPGs
  • Did you say WoW Classic would have progression?  This will inevitably lead to people wanting progression into expansions
  • Still waiting for news on that third remaster, Diablo II
  • The Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t all that exciting, even for a year with no expansion announcement
  • Unsure if the Battle for Azeroth content wasn’t exciting because the game is getting old and tired or I am… or both
  • Heroes of the Storm is losing its epsorts league and most of its devs as Blizz restructured it to keep it going with a smaller staff
  • I’m not even sure what a co-op commander is in StarCraft II
  • Complete fail on the part of Blizzard for expecting core Diablo fans to embrace  the mobile title Diablo Immortal
  • Failed to mitigate the above by not mentioning anything about Diablo VI, more Diablo III content, the Diablo II remaster, or anything else the core fan base might care about; vague references to multiple Diablo projects doesn’t cut it
  • Trifecta of Diablo franchise fails when rumors hit that they were going to announce Diablo IV but pulled it at the last minute, followed by a statement that the rumor wasn’t true, all of which will pretty much pull the punch from any future Diablo IV announcement
  • Gaming press proceeded to vilify Diablo fans, pretty much going full on “Imma let you finish…” over Blizz even as Blizz was owning up to badly setting expectations
  • Few people attended, and no press covered, the “Play Nice, Play Fair” presentation at BlizzCon which, among other things, presented evidence on how vilifying your player base as toxic tends to actually enable toxicity from your worst fans while alienating the 99% of your fan base that isn’t a problem
  • Allen Adham says senior devs at Blizzard are playing mobile games now, and Blizzard makes games they want to play by improving the games they are currently playing, so expect anything new from them to be on your phone

Daybreak

Highs

  • Company not shut down due to connection to Russian oligarchs via Columbus Nova
  • EverQuest still holding on as the standard bearer
  • EverQuest turned 19 and launched a new progression server called Coirnav
  • The Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest progression server is still running
  • Likewise, EverQuest II celebrated its 14th anniversary
  • EverQuest and EverQuest II both got an expansion again in 2018
  • DC Universe Online continues to hum along, getting some updates
  • As rumors indicated, PlanetSide 2 got a new map and some updates
  • Rumors also mentioned a new Norrath game, possibly EverQuest 3
  • H1Z1 actually left early access and went live, adding in a new vehicle mode along the way
  • H1Z1 became a success on the PlayStation 4
  • Some sort of joint venture with NantWorks to redo H1Z1 as Z1 Battle Royale
  • Just Survive looked to have received a last minute stay of execution
  • They finally announced a new game, PlanetSide Arena, the first since they ceased to be SOE
  • They actually sold out their 4,000 lifetime memberships at $299 a pop for a nice influx of cash

Lows

  • Not sure who is still playing on the Fippy Darkpaw EverQuest server, its been up for eight years
  • Company changed its mind rather abruptly about who owned it when asked about Russian oligarchs, deleting all references, attempting to scrub Wikipedia, and claiming that they misstated who actually owned the company for three years and on just about every document and press release they published
  •  After all that, Jason Epstein is/was still clearly tied to Columbus Nova
  • In the midst of changing its mind on the ownership question Daybreak took a moment out to lay off a chunk of their staff, showing that all is not well
  • Then, earlier this month they laid off another big chunk of the team
  • H1Z1 pretty much fell by the wayside in the market under pressure from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds then Fortnite
  • The deal with Tencent to bring H1Z1 to China also failed when the Chinese ethics review board rejected H1Z1 because of “blood and gore” and “vulgar content”
  • There went that H1Z1 esports league
  • The NantWorks joint venture, NantG Moblie, seems pretty nebulous so far, and uncertainty isn’t helping
  • The NantG Mobile plane, such that it has been stated, sounds suspiciously like “What if H1Z1 were more like Fortnite?
  • EverQuest is tied up in this deal in some way, but nobody has explained how
  • Just Survive’s stay of execution turned out to be an illusion and it was shut down
  • The new game, PlanetSide Arena, seemed to be just PlanetSide 2 with well worn shooter modes… including battle royale, of course
  • Lifetime subscribers are all people who won’t be paying a subscription going forward, so Daybreak essentially took a one-time buyout from some of its core fanbase
  • Lifetime subscriptions only apply to the four oldest games, nothing new-ish is covered nor are any console players covered
  • Not sure if NantG Mobile ought to come under the Daybreak heading
  • Not sure how many products Daybreak really has now
  • Not sure how healthy Daybreak is at this point
  • Nothing so far has really quashed the rumors from early in the year about Daybreak’s plans, for good or bad

Standing Stone

Highs

  • Found new ways to expand LOTRO and hey, it was free content
  • Raised the level cap in LOTRO to 120
  • Continued updating character models
  • High elves were added in, because we need more elves in Middle-earth
  • Possibility of a new class for the game
  • Female dwarves in Middle-earth, so now the Tolkien purists can be angry
  • Some mention of a 64-bit client in the offing
  • LOTRO Legendary server proves so popular they have to open a second server
  • A new musical instrument was added, so now you can play the bassoon
  • LOTRO lifetime subscription remains the best MMO deal I have ever made, all the more so since I am back playing
  • DDO got a new race, so you can unlock your inner wood elf; go team elf
  • DDO also got some other updates I think and sold some of those two year subscription deals

Lows

  • Nothing else on the horizon for the company at all
  • Still really don’t know who owns SSG
  • LOTRO remains difficult to pick up with an aging and awkward UI, a balky client, a patcher that is in no hurry to get you patched, and that whole legendary weapon thing which should have been left behind in Moria
  • The rise in the level cap was not universally applauded, but you have to gate content somehow
  • Managed to screw up the Shire for a bit like they were Sarumann
  • The need to make money meant more focus on lootboxes and making the in-game currency situation worse by adding “ember” currency to the list
  • An announced new Middle-earth game won’t shut down LOTRO, but it won’t help it either
  • The “legendary” aspect of the LOTRO Legendary server seemed more than a bit oversold
  • And yet SSG managed to poorly promote the whole LOTRO Legendary server thing at the same time
  • LOTRO Legendary seems most popular with those already invested in the game, so likely pulled a lot of its population from the live servers of players
  • Those LOTRO Legendary queues pretty much went away inside of two weeks
  • A second server and no more queues portends a server merge when the new server joy wears off
  • DDO news was so sparse that I don’t really have anything besides the wood elf to add
  • There was bluster about what the two year subscription might get you, but since two years of normal VIP actually cost $100 less I expect to hear some buyer’s remorse

CCP

Highs

  • CCP purchased by Pearl Abyss ends having to please direct investors
  • CCP and Pearl Abyss claim to be sympatico in their outlook on games
  • CCP says they will get to keep operating on their own
  • CCP got recognition from Guinness finally for the battle at 94P-I
  • A new war in null sec has made some additional headlines
  • Lots of people got to get their titans out and shot things
  • Lots of updates and improvements over the course of the year
  • Abyssal Deadspace was especially popular
  • It is a good time to be farming Gilas
  • In game events are generally getting better
  • CCP is FINALLY trying to fix War Decs
  • With FLEX structures the problematic POS code is almost ready to be expunged from New Eden
  • New Activity Tracker shows you what you’ve been doing in New Eden
  • New games, EVE Echoes and Project: Nova coming next year
  • Working with NetEase, their new partner, to re-launch EVE Online in China
  • Didn’t lose any major third party sites on which EVE Online depends
  • EVEMon is actually back again after the swap to ESI
  • EVE Vegas was a lot of fun
  • I gave a presentation at EVE Vegas

Lows

  • Pearl Abyss, whose reputation from Black Desert Online is that of “cash shop pay to win atrocity horror show” now owns EVE Online.
  • We will see just how sympatico the two companies really are
  • CCP trading external investors for one owner probably means a lot more direct scrutiny
  • CCP will get to run their own show only as long as the money keeps flowing, you can bet on that
  • Monthly updates, some of which can be quite meaty, do make it hard for named expansions to stand out for EVE Online
  • The New Eden concurrency number keeps slowly moving down
  • Null sec wars only last so long, then we all go home and mine
  • Peace is boring since I neither rat nor mine anymore
  • I may, in fact, be a bitter vet at this point
  • The null sec balance of power is now skewed such that the China syndrome seems a possibility, where one power bloc essentially “wins” null sec and everybody else quits
  • Faction Warfare has gone stagnant, with key players leaving it completely
  • The change from passive income to active moon mining sent some low sec groups into decline, hurting low sec even more
  • I’ve added “when will the in-game economy collapse?” to my list of concerns about the game
  • Even the people who used to bristle when it was claimed low sec was dead are starting to feel that low sec has gotten much less active
  • Abyssal Deadspace depends on RNG to stay fresh and still has become mostly a solved problem save for some very bad luck draws
  • Still can’t figure out how CCP went this long without looking into War Decs given how completely problematic the data ended up showing they were; they were pretty much universally declared as horrible years ago
  • Seems likely that CCP will muff fixing war decs, though in their defense there is no simple answer that will please everybody nor one that adheres to the spirit of the game
  • I am going to miss the good old POS bubble when they’re finally removed
  • What were they thinking with that Federation Grand Prix event?
  • Activity Tracker is essentially achievements for New Eden
  • Activity Tracker doesn’t count anything you did before Nov. 13, 2018, which kind of stings for those of us around for more than a decade
  • EVE Echoes is a NetEase mobile game completely disconnected from the main game
  • Project Nova looks nice and could connect to New Eden, but otherwise seems to lack a distinct personality and CCP wants to make it as complicated as EVE Online if they can
  • Oh, and even CCP thinks Project Nova has issues, so it has been delayed
  • Total EVE, EVE Files, and Dotlan EVE Maps all stumbled this year, making us all aware of how fragile the third party ecosystem for New Eden really is
  • There is always a period of post-event malaise for me after the excitement of an event like EVE Vegas wears off
  • In a room with seating for 800 people easy, I had 30 people at my presentation at EVE Vegas, with even some fellow bloggers blowing me off
  • My presentation was also neither streamed nor recorded, so it remains just a special moment in the memory of a very select group
  • Whatever happened to that EVE Online TV series?  I am sure Netflix would buy it

Nintendo

Highs

  • The Switch continues to prove itself a surprising force in the console market
  • Among titles arriving on the Switch was Diablo III
  • Pokemon for Switch looking to be popular
  • Pokemon Go revenues keep on going
  • Pokemon Go released the 4th generation Pokemon, which was a nostalgia rush for me
  • There will be a link between Pokemon Go and the new Pokemon titles on the Switch

Lows

  • The Switch version of most games cost more than on other platforms
  • The Switch isn’t up to supporting ports from other platforms for some games
  • All that Switch news is cold comfort if you’re invested in the neglected DS handheld platform
  • The Switch is not a handheld, portable platform; it is too big, too fragile, and lacks the battery life to be considered as such
  • No more Pokemon on the DS line, ending more than 20 years of the franchise’s link with Nintendo handheld platforms
  • Hilarious attempts to justify the easy nature of the Switch Pokemon games by claiming that those games are “for children” as though the past 20 years of Pokemon handheld games were not
  • Nintendo actively pushing its latest/last handheld model, the 2DS XL, while pretty much winding down the new game queue for the platform in something that feels a lot like dishonesty
  • Pokemon Go is pretty much the only winner in Nintendo’s mobile strategy
  • Pretty much have to admit that Pokemon games on handhelds were the last thing Nintendo had that interested me, in case you missed that, so they probably won’t even get a category here next year

Other Games and the Gaming Industry

Highs

  • TorilMUD made it to 25 years; long live the MUD!
  • Fortnite found its niche and conquered
  • I enjoyed some time with Rift Prime
  • Having enough leftover credits from the free to play conversion, I didn’t even have to spend a single dime on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar left early access
  • Project: Gorgon arrived on Steam
  • No Man’s Sky seemed to be finally living up to some of its pre-launch promises
  • The Elder Scrolls Online seems to be a rock, able to carry on even as other titles falter and fall into neglect, maintenance mode, acquisitions, or closure
  • Everybody seems to be raving about Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Finally, somebody mad about loot boxes and set to do something about them
  • A ruling from the Library of Congress extending DMCA exemptions for video game archiving and study to include server/client based games like MMORPGs
  • We got a good Minecraft expansion with the Aquatic Update and Pandas are on the way
  • Steam declared they weren’t going to reject any games based on content, save for those titles it felt were just “trolling”
  • Civilization V got an update… it was only to the launcher, but the launcher needed it
  • Bomber Crew ended up being a nice little game, I should write about it

Lows

  • This section is getting harder to write every year as I rarely seem to play anything new
  • Fortnite has become popular enough to start facing backlash like a ban by the NHL
  • Battle Royale as a feature is now a requirement in all shooters
  • Rift Prime, like Rift the first time around, was guaranteed to lose my attention at Storm Legion; as it was I didn’t even make it that far
  • Trion’s games were bought by Gamingo as Trion folds up shop leaving an uncertain future for their titles; I guess I wasn’t the only one not spending money on Rift Prime
  • Shroud of the Avatar then proceeded to go free while the studio laid people off
  • I still haven’t given Project: Gorgon much of a shot
  • I can’t really tell anymore, is Star Wars: The Old Republic on an uptick or a down tick this year?
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea developer Portalus Games is calling it a day, leaving it to an even smaller group to run which does not fill one with confidence
  • Wildstar and Carbine Studios are no more, victims of their own hype as much as anything
  • Tried Anarchy Online and, as it turns out, nostalgia for the “good old days” only applied to reliving your own hardships, not the hardships of others
  • Every time I see “RDR2” my brain converts it to “R2D2”
  • RDR2 is a console game and my latest console was a PS3, not counting the 2DS XL
  • Loot boxes became a political football for those looking to score points on the “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” front; actual change outside of Belgium was pretty much zero
  • Riot  Games giving the industry an even worse reputation as Kotaku exposes their caustic bro culture
  • Riot Games attempting to fix their horrible culture through platitudes and PR; I only wish I played League of Legends so I could quit dramatically
  • Library of Congress ruling is essentially useless as it only allows museums and the like to archive MMORPGs if they can legally obtain the server code, which just isn’t going to happen
  • The eventual crashing of fan euphoria as they found out the DMCA exemption also prevents remote, off-site connections to preserved MMORPGs; The Library of Congress is not interested in letting you play SWG just because you miss it
  • The last refuge of closed MMORPGs remains the pirate emulator, which live a perilous existence in the gray space between popularity and a lawsuit
  • The Civilization V launcher update seemed primarily put in place to serve as an advertising platform to push the disappointing Civilization VI
  • Just to repeat, Civilization VI was quite the disappointment so I uninstalled it and play Civilization V when I have the Civ urge
  • As it turns out “trolling” isn’t well defined and Steam pretty much rejects the same games it always has, only now that is their excuse
  • All the same, the number of new games to hit Steam every day continued to grow, leaving only those studios that can afford marketing or who have a solid reputation likely to make any money at all
  • Many game developer careers remain Hobbesian in nature (nasty, short, and brutish) as studios abuse the seemingly endless supply of young developers seeking to do what they love in order to live the dream; the dream being 80 hour weeks, low pay, and no long term employment stability
  • Gaming media, another realm where an endless supply of replacements await those who can’t generate clicks, continues to play both sides of the game as they stoke up fan expectations with uncritical assessments of studio promises and then tar video game fans with whatever negative euphemism comes to hand (e.g. entitled, man babies, entitled man babies) over any backlash when the expectations they helped set fail to deliver; but controversy gets views man
  • And yes, some fans just need to shut the fuck up; but drawing attention to them, bringing them fame, and reporting their every complaint isn’t going to make that happen… and conflating the words of a tiny minority with the views of a whole community remains asinine

Media, Social and Otherwise

Highs

  • Even more Star Wars in theaters
  • Lots of new shows and movies on services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu
  • Season five of Bojack Horseman was excellent
  • The First was slow, but good; despite his personal life, about which I could stand to never hear about again, Sean Penn remains an actor dedicated to his craft
  • Still some really nice, serviceable shows on what one might still call “basic cable” these days
  • Better Call Saul might be better than Breaking Bad
  • Honest Trailers and Honest Game Trailers just never get old for me; the Screen Junkies team is awesome
  • Honest Trailers Commentaries is my new YouTube addiction
  • Somehow Zero Punctuation has stayed pretty fresh for me as well despite the fact that I still reference videos Yahtzee made over a decade back
  • Twitter, for all its faults, remains pretty useful to me

Lows

  • Even Disney now believes that there can be too many Star Wars movies now
  • Solo was there to answer questions nobody was really asking
  • Is there any series or movie so bad that Netflix won’t pick it up as an exclusive?
  • House of Cards ends on a silly/disappointing season though, like the original, the first season was all that really made it matter
  • Whoa, have you seen the Netflix earnings lately?
  • Every network now seems to think they need to get on the exclusive streaming service train to gate in their content leading to market fragmentation and, likely, eventual failure for all but the strong
  • The strong are, inevitably, Amazon and Disney, and we know what they’re like
  • There are so many options on basic cable that I often miss good stuff until a season is part way through and then have to wait until it makes it to Hulu or Netflix in order to watch it
  • Kind of starting to resent shows that only drop an episode a week; I want to binge… and binging helps me keep the plot and characters straight
  • Screen Junkies owned by yet another new company now, I hope they continue to survive
  • CinemaSins has gotten pretty stales for me; I like to hear Jeremy talk on the podcast, but the same old complaints, like “47 seconds of logos,” have been beaten to death
  • Pretty sure at this point that Zero Punctuation is all that is keeping The Escapist alive at this point
  • The Escapist pretty much broke being able to watch Zero Punctuation on their site back in July; I hope they get revenue from posting it to YouTube, because that is where I go to see it now
  • Google announced that, due to low usage and a security issues, they would be closing Google+ in August 2019
  • And then another security issue came up and Google moved the end date for Google+ to April 2019
  • That threat by people to leave Twitter made me realize how much I depend on it
  • Mastadon, a Twitter alternative, is great… if you just want to be in a tiny echo chamber of stifling conformity
  • Facebook looks worse as a company with each passing day

The Blog, Internet, and Like Items

Highs

  • Somehow, after a dozen year, here I am still
  • The month in review posts have become pretty special to me as I get to review past posts every month
  • The MMO Blog Feed in the side bar continues to function, amazing given the hack that it is and that several times the companies involved were set to make changes that would break it completely
  • A really nice Blaugust event this year, combining both the usual activity with some of the Newbie Blogger Initiative stuff
  • Blaugust was low pressure and not even gaming blog oriented, which brought in a lot of faces, new and old, to participate leading to a lot of good cross-pollination
  • Blaugust Discord was fun and has kept going as a place to chat for some of us
  • The whole thing was objectively a success on many fronts, including traffic, which ticked up noticeably
  • Traffic to this site was not only up for August, but stayed up for the months following
  • For the first time since 2012 traffic is actually up for the year when compared to the previous year
  • Average word count per post was up this year; I assume that is a good thing
  • Also, and odd metric, but “likes” were up quite a bit on the site, something I think was directly from Blaugust
  • Stalking the tags and categories feature in the WordPress.com Reader has actually led me to several new blogs, which should be a reminder that people should try to use standard tags if they want their blog to be found

Lows

  • Blogging continues its decline as an influence, remaining a hold out for those of us who prefer long form, words, and being able to collect our thoughts into a single site
  • The month in review posts are becoming more bloated and no doubt helping to inflate that average word count
  • Always somebody keen to declare any social event like Blaugust a “failure” if their own independent measure wasn’t met, even if they did not participate or understand the premise
  • Not sure traffic boost was solely related to Blaugust as search engine quirks seem to be in play as well given the specific posts that are seeing ongoing interest
  • While likes were up, comments were down for the year, and rather dramatically so; on balance, a good comment is worth a half a dozen likes in my book
  • There are days when I feel I am stuck between people who can accept no criticism of their current favorite game and those who feel that in order for their game to fully succeed somebody else must fail
  • My cynicism about new titles remains driven by the unwarranted optimism certain repeat offenders seem willing to invest in studio generated hype even after they have time and again become resentful when reality fails to meet their inflated expectations
  • So much for net neutrality
  • So much for the alleged benefits of dumping net neutrality as the promised increase in infrastructure building actually went the other way
  • So many bloggers use bad tags or categories for their blogs (e.g. “wow” rather than “warcraft” or “world of warcraft” and “eve” instead of “eve online”) which makes finding them a low percentage accident at the best of times
  • WordPress.com ads have officially crossed the line into obnoxious, proving once again that ad block is pretty much a requirement on the internet
  • My brain has started auto completing words for as my fingers type them, and the result is even worse than when my iPhone does it

Final Thoughts

My temptation is to continue to beat to death the “and so it goes” line from Vonnegut.  I read a lot of Vonnegut in college… I actually read all of Vonnegut in college, or all that there was at the time, short stories included… and it clearly influenced my somewhat fatalistic outlook on life.  Maybe “no damn cat, no damn cradle” would be better.  That might be the lesson of life in the end.

Another year has passes and the trivial pursuits of our lives continue.

Why Fan Expectations for Blizzard are Hopeless

Fallout from BlizzCon and the Diablo Immortal announcement continues and some fans who feel betrayed by it are now looking at every Blizzard word and action trying to find new reasons to be angry at the company.

Time for the daily minute of hate

There was that whole statement made, then retracted, about Blizzard having planned to show a trailer for Diablo IV at BlizzCon.  Blizzard keeps coyly stating that they have “multiple” Diablo project ongoing, but their refusal to give us a hint as to what is really in the bag just gets more frustrating every time they repeat it.  It is feeling less like a reassurance and more like a taunt every time they say it.

And then there was Allen Adham’s statement at a press conference:

Many of us over the last few years have shifted from playing primarily desktop to playing many hours on mobile, and we have many of our best developers now working on new mobile titles across all of our IPs. Some of them are with external partners like Diablo Immortal. Many of them are being developed internally only, and we’ll have information to share on those in the future.

That practically set the hair of enraged on fire.

The statement was quickly interpreted and repeated as Blizzard moving on to only doing mobile titles, with all their good developers are working exclusively on mobile, and that Blizzard is essentially abandoning PC and console games to whatever interns happen to be handy to take over the reigns.

This panicked point of view both accepts and ignores the long history of Blizzard.  Ben Kuchera did an excellent article over at Polygon about how Diablo Immortal broke the “rules” of Blizzard.  The essence is that Blizzard only ever makes games that are improvements of existing titles, trotting out the evidence with which many of us are already familiar, summed up in this list:

  • World of Warcraft: Blizzard does Everquest!
  • Warcraft: Blizzard does Dune!
  • Overwatch: Blizzard does Team Fortress 2!
  • Hearthstone: Blizzard does Magic: The Gathering!
  • Heroes of the Storm: Blizzard does Dota 2!

Unfortunately, he missed a key aspect of the Blizzard story.

While it is absolutely true that Blizzard does this, they also only do this whole improvement cycle for games they are actively playing.

I was just reading David Craddock’s Stay Awhile and Listen Vol. I, received as part of my Kickstarter pledge for Vol. II, which details the early days of both Blizzard and Condor.  Blizzard’s first big title was the original Warcraft, which was, as note above, an improvement over the game Dune, which the team had played and loved.  Condor, which was purchased and became Blizzard North, was working on the original Diablo, which was a graphical version of Rogue, incorporating the random levels and monsters and loot ideas from the text game, which the key people at Condor had played to death in college.

Ben Kuchura, while mentioning David Brevik and his plans for an action RPG in his article, missed the whole Rogue angle.  It should be on that bullet point list above as “Blizzard does Rogue-like RPGs!”

So Blizzard doesn’t just improve games that are already out there, they improve games they actively playing and enjoy.  So you can see from the list above not just what they did, but the games they were playing and passionate about that got them on track to make the Blizzard versions.

And we’ve had ample evidence of this, up to and including not only tales of the Blizzard dev team recruiting from their EverQuest guild but a full on homage to EverQuest as their inspiration for WoW as part of the keynote of a past BlizzCon.

So you can see the problem here.  Blizzard devs play a game, love it, then make their own improved version.  And what happens after that?

Sure, sometimes they play their own game and realize they can do better.  Warcraft begat Warcraft II which begat Warcraft III as the tech and the team capabilities improved.  Likewise, Diablo led to Diablo II.

But when the game is good and the devs aren’t inspired to improve it because they like it as it is or have moved on, where do you go?

You get things like StarCraft II.

StarCraft II isn’t a bad game.  But the design is so close to StarCraft in so many ways that is feels like it was made just to get the original on a better engine rather than evolve the franchise in any significant way.

Likewise Diablo III, also a decent game, started off with some bad ideas likely because it was made by people who didn’t get the core of Diablo II.  When your core fans are complaining about the game being too light and colorful and that the itemization sucks… and that the cash money auction house is killing the game and looks like a cash grab… it might be better to pay attention rather than dismiss them.

But Blizzard rarely pays attention to fans.  They make the games they want to make because those are versions of the games they already play.  Clearly there wasn’t a big Diablo contingent left at Blizzard when Blizzard North left the building over a dispute with how Vivendi was pushing them towards things they didn’t want to do.

And we see it with World of Warcraft with every expansion.  In 2004 they launched something based off of the EverQuest template.  Since then they have fumbled about looking for ways to improve things.  When you’re making a product, you have free reign over ideas.  But when you have a product in production you suddenly have to listen to the customer support team and the GMs and IT team and whoever else has to keep things going every day.  You stop being as focused on innovation and start solving complaints to keep people from tying up the support line.

World of Warcraft was an improvement for MMOs the way the mini-van was for family transportation, replacing EverQuest the way the mini-van replaced the station wagon.   But after that you just refine.  The Blizzard team is adding cup holders and such.  And it isn’t because of the live team, B-list developer rumor perpetuated by angry fans.  It is because Blizzard mostly got what they wanted on the first pass, but the game made, and continues to make, so much money they felt they had to keep extending it.  You don’t walk away from a billion dollar a year game.

And so it goes.  Blizzard is never going to make another MMORPG because what would they copy?  They are never going to make another RTS because what would they copy?  It isn’t even a matter of competing against themselves as, say, another collectable card game would inevitably do.  It is simply that once you’ve made the game you really want and refined it a bit, you’re done.  After that you just fiddle and add some content or features to generate some more revenue.

So what does Blizzard do now?

They find a new game to copy and refine.  In this case, as Allen Adham stated above, the senior developers have been playing a lot of mobile games.  What does Blizzard do historically?  They copy and improve the games they are currently playing.  So this statement is a clear indicator where Blizzard is going.

The odd bit is the deal with NetEase.  That is not something Blizzard does.  So my guess on that front is that Diablo Immortal is a move more to sate the board of directors and the large investor groups than what they really want to do.  Blizzard is part of a publicly held corporation and has to bow to the whims of the shareholders, and we know rule by the masses rarely leads anywhere fruitful.  The only mistake was thinking Diablo fans would give a shit about it.

I suspect that, at best, this is Blizzard setting their mobile baseline and learning the ropes from NetEase while they work on the mobile game they really want to make… and grab some of the China market along the way, since the Chinese government is no longer approving foreign video games for domestic consumption.  But the end result, given what Allen Adham said, is that the next real Blizzard title… not Diablo Immortal, but whatever it is they are actually working on down in Irvine… will be a mobile title.

It isn’t a cash grab or a betrayal, it is just the way Blizzard works.  It is how they harness their passion for what they do best.  It is following the same system that made them the company they are today.  You can’t put a gun to their heads and force them to be passionate about WoW or Diablo again.  It just isn’t possible.  The moment has passed.

The actual cash grab is the stuff that likely interests fans more.  StarCraft RemasteredWarcraft III ReforgedWorld of Warcraft Classic.  Those are milking the fans by attempting to relive past glories.   Remastering an old title to stoke nostalgia is an excellent way to get money from your installed base.

I am not saying Blizzard doesn’t love those titles, that there isn’t a ton of affection for the days when WoW or WC3 were fresh and new.  You could see that affection at BlizzCon, when the devs on those projects… often devs who started at Blizz working on those titles… were talking about them.  But there isn’t a long and successful and lucrative tradition where Blizzard remakes one of their own titles fifteen years later.

So we will eventually get a “real” Blizzard mobile game… because, again, Diablo Immortal isn’t it… that might make people rethink mobile games.  And we will get the remakes and remasters, which will make the old school happy.

And maybe we’ll get a Diablo IV.  But it won’t be anything new.  At best it will be a good refinement based on lessons learned from Diablo III, the same way all the other games Blizzard has essentially “finished” keep going.  At least that is the way it looks to me.

BlizzCon Yawns 2018

Well, BlizzCon has come and gone and some of it was pretty tepid.

BlizzCon 2018

My rough draft title was just “BlizzYawn 2018,” but it wasn’t all that bad.

As I have said in the past, the problem with BlizzCon is in part because it was effectively WoWCon for a number of years, so if you were a WoW fan you had a lot of people catering to your needs and whims during that time.

Now with six franchises sharing the spotlight, if you are only interested in one of the titles, and they split the coverage evenly, 83% of the show is not of interest to you.  Nobody is getting all the attention, or even most of the attention anymore.  And if your title doesn’t even get equal time… like Diablo last year and StarCraft almost every year… or if what Blizz shows isn’t anything you’re interested in… like Diablo for a lot of fans this year… then you’re not off base to feel left out.

Anyway, I spent a bunch of time watching with the Virtual Ticket and I still found a lot interesting, even if a lot more wasn’t for me.

Opening

Mike Morhaime came out to open the show and greet everybody as he does every year. However, this time it was a farewell tour. He introduced J. Allen Brack, new CEO of Blizzard, got a handshake, and was sent off stage left for likely the final time on stage at BlizzCon.

I am still not sure how I feel about the change of leadership.  The leader gets blamed for all bad things and praised for all good ones, but in many companies is more likely riding the wave of events rather than shaping them.  So maybe the change won’t matter.  Blizz is old enough to have a culture set in concrete, and there is nothing so difficult as trying to change corporate culture.

And, of course, J. Allen Brack is this guy.

World of Warcraft

With J. Allen Brack now at the top of the pyramid they had to have the new chief of WoW come out and speak. While not an impressive figure, John Hight isn’t nearly as tall as his predecessor for instance, he did show more charisma on stage than the unemotive J. Allen Brack.  I mean, he was no Chirs Metzen, but who is? (Except for that guy in line at the WoW Q&A.)  Still, he seemed excited and invested and glad to be there.

When we got to the actual “What’s Next” presentation for WoW Ion Hazzikostas took the stage to actually get into the details as to what is coming with the Tides of Vengeance update, which is coming on December 11.  Basically, they are trying to follow the successful path they went down in Legion while improving on some of the things, like azerite armor and such.

He was followed up by Ryan Shwayder, formerly of SOE, the 38 Studios fiasco, and the Nerfbat blog, who spoke of new allied races coming with the 8.1.5 update, changes to Darkmoon Faire, holiday updates, Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin remaster, and portal rooms in Stormwind and Orgrimmar.

Basically, lots of things are coming and, while I am not totally invested in WoW at the moment, there were things on the list for me.  Blizzard is still trying to tend to its biggest money maker, not that I doubted they would.  They haven’t addressed every little concern, but clearly there is still a lot going on.

WoW Classic

This was the interesting bit of BlizzCon for me.

First, the big news.  We got a ship date… well, a ship season anyway… for WoW Classic.  It is slated to launch in Summer of 2019, so at some point before September 23.  Going back and looking at what I have said in the past, I was clearly betting on 2020.  But the timing of Summer 2019 seems about perfect as that would put it a year after the Battle for Azeroth launch, about the point when many expansions start shedding players in large numbers.  It will also be pretty close when all those “six months for a mount” subscriptions start to come due.  It is like they planned that.

The other item is that WoW Classic access will be part of your WoW subscription, something I fully expected.  No conspiracy there to my mind.  You want to make it easy for customers to give you money.

And then there was the “Restoring History: Creating WoW Classic” presentation.  I wish they would put this up on YouTube, because it was great to watch. They spoke about how they managed to unearth all of the WoW 1.12 data from a backup of a backup and how, to solve the problem of making it run, merged it into the current WoW cand Battle.net framework.   With just some adjustment to data formatting they were able to get a prototype running.  This solved a lot of infrastructure problems for them and gave them a solid platform that works with their current systems.

Now there is a matter of paring back some of the things that come with that framework which led to a segment about their design philosophy.

Overall design philosophy

The last bit means if something is working the way it was back in 1.12, that is the way it should work.  There were some easy choices to make.

The easy stuff to eliminate

Other things were less obvious items, such as the debuff limit.  In 1.12 you could only have 16 debuffs on a boss.  That was a technical restriction, not a design choice, that they managed to get past later, so the number is now 255.  But since it was 16 back then it will be 16 in WoW Classic because to change it might change the raid and dungeon meta.  Other things they might let in, but only after close scrutiny.  You will likely be able to shift-click on in-game mail to collect attachments, but in-game mail will take an hour to be delivered.

Also, because WoW didn’t spring on us fully formed certain things will be introduced over time in waves.  The time frames are not set yet, but this is what they are considering, including the appropriate in-game events to go with them.

Raid progression

This opens the question as to whether or not they will be starting new servers over time as well, because maybe you want to run the Onyxia era raiding, but the server has already progressed to AQ.  We shall see.

And then there was the WoW Classic demo, which let you run around either Westfall or The Barrens in a character boosted and geared to the right level.  On the first day there were so many people that Westfall was effectively scourged of NPCs, even on a low population server (there were 20 servers up), but I was able to run around a bit.

Later in the evening, when the BlizzCon people stopped playing, things got more manageable and I was able to hunt the Defias and such.  While I didn’t go in with a strong mind as to how things ought to be, every time I touched the UI I was reminded of how things had changed and remember what it was like back in the day.  For example, remember how “B” used to just open up your first bag by default?  There were lots of those revelations.

Blizz has done a really good job so far, though there is clearly some work left to do.  Some random screenshots:

I am actually really impressed with how serious the WoW development team seems about WoW Classic.  This feels like Blizzard getting serious about a project and being determined to do it right, a welcome change and pretty much a complete about face from the “it can’t be done” and “you think you want this” messages of the past.

Candy Crush Diablo

This was the surprise disappointment part of BlizzCon for me.

Here is where Blizzard learned that if your user base is mostly PC gamers, with a smattering of console fans in the mix, announcing a new mobile title might not be the best BlizzCon plan.

Diablo Immortal, the NetEase created game set to bring the Diablo franchise to mobile platforms, was the only thing Blizzard had for the franchise, and did not sit well with fans in the Diablo hall at BlizzCon. Blizz had their most dedicated fans in the audience that day and managed to disappoint them en masse.

This seemed to be one of those polarizing moments. It you were an outsider or a member of the gaming press, you were likely fast to criticize the reaction of the fans. More entitled toxic gamer hate.  This is why we can’t have nice things.  Do you guys not have phones?

On the other hand, imagine if you were a fan and saw the primacy of place given to the “What’s Next for Diablo” presentation on the schedule, something that sets expectations even when Blizz tries to cool down the anticipation. The IP with the biggest announcement is always up first after the keynote. You have spent money on the Virtual Ticket or, worse, spent a lot of money getting to Anaheim for BlizzCon, and the announcement Blizzard has about the Diablo Franchise is essentially not for you. You might rightfully feel more than a bit betrayed if the only news you got was for somebody else, somebody not even at BlizzCon.

Blizzard had their core audience right there and was talking past them to some potential future fans who weren’t even watching.  I mean, they literally said that Diablo Immortal was for a market segment that doesn’t play Diablo.  So the complete lack of cheering or any enthusiasm in the crowd was a big red flag at an event where cheering is the norm. You have to have made a pretty serious con mistake to get there.

Guess what? Platform matters. Blizzard makes games for the PC platform with some titles available on console, and I am honestly surprised the PC and console players get along as well as they do. Yes, Hearthstone is available on mobile, but given that it only ever cracks into the top ten on the PC charts, my guess is that the PC demographic dominates. And Hearthstone fans were not sitting in the Diablo room.

Nor were Hearthstone fans or other mobile players at BlizzCon interested in the demo it seems. Pictures  from the demo area for Diablo Immortal showed sparse interest in the title from all BlizzCon participants who lined up to play all the other demos.

And the response from fans was entirely predictable.  We have seen it before.  We watch Disney kill Club Penguin with its mobile plan, ignoring the loud complaints of its installed base.  We saw a quite a tepid response to EVE Echoes, the mobile EVE Online game also being made by NetEase, just two weeks ago.  The saving grace at EVE Vegas was that we knew a mobile game was in the works and CCP had the good sense not to make the EVE Online keynote all about an outsourced mobile game.  Blizzard totally missed the expectations of their fans and is paying the price.  The Diablo Immortal videos on YouTube are getting a huge amount of down votes, so much so that they have removed and re-posted them in hopes of clearing the down vote tally.

You know what could have alleviated the pain of Diablo fans? Literally any news about something new for the franchise on PC.

A teaser for Diablo IV would have been oil on turbulent waters.  A mention that they were working on a remastered version of Diablo II, something we’ve suspected for three years now, would have dissipated most of the outrage.  But the only other news to announces was that Diablo III for the Switch was now available, but Nintendo had been bombarding us with that for weeks already.  Good for Switch owners, not all that interesting to the core Diablo fanbase.

I might hope we have a lesson learned here, but probably not.  Blizzard is certainly trying to walk this back without blaming the fans.  They love to stoke up that fan passion when it is going their way, so they have to eat it when it gets out of their control.  It is at least good that they get that.

As for own feelings about Diablo Immortal, I am sure it will do well with some demographic, but that isn’t me.  I like slower games on my iPad and on my iPhone I only ever play Pokemon Go, mostly because I have a small iPhone, which I prefer, so I need to put on glasses to see tiny text on the screen.  And given that the gaming press, which was so quick to jump on Diablo fans, could barely string together three nice things to say about Diablo Immortal in their own write ups, it seems unlikely that I will bother to give it a look.  Oh, and it is always online, just like Diablo III.  No single player for you!  The hits just keep on coming.

Of course, while this grabbed so many headlines and hot takes, it was only a small part of BlizzCon overall.

Addendum: And now word is going around that Blizz considered mentioning Diablo IV, then decided against it, leaving them with anger at BlizzCon and removing some of the surprise from any future announcement because now we know it is a thing.  Now they’re just using it as damage control.

Addendum 2: Now Blizz admits there was a Diablo IV video made, but denies there was ever plans to show it at BlizzCon.

Overwatch

Unlike Diablo fans, those there to see Overwatch seemed pretty happy.  They got a new character to play, Ashe, and a couple of cinematics.  I don’t play Overwatch, so it is difficult for me to gauge how much this meant.

They are also getting a kids cereal with loot box prizes inside.

Lucio Ohs

This is really a thing coming in December.  A free loot boost is now part of this complete breakfast.

Hearthstone

No surprise here, a new expansion was announced, Rastakhan’s Rumble, a troll and Stranglethorn Vale themed package.  Seemed to get all the cheers Blizz could ask for.

Heroes of the Storm

A new character to play, Orphea, who is free to all BlizzCon participants.  There was also some gameplay updates slated for 2019.  I’m really at sea when it comes to HotS, but fans seemed happy.  But since I hear so little about HotS outside of BlizzCon, my suspicion is that they are happy to be getting as much attention as they do.

StarCraft II

StarCraft II got Zeratul a new co-op commander.  Also coming are building skins and the ability to earn skins and such by watching SC2 esports events.  I keep thinking I will go run the single player campaign for this, since the base game is free now… but somehow I never do.

Warcraft III Reforged

The good BlizzCon surprise, even though I mentioned it as a possibility last Thursday, was Warcraft III Reforged.

The return of RTS again

This one interests me.  I’ve been back to play Warcraft III and blogged about it.  It was the last Warcraft RTS, was very popular, and a player mod for the game, Defense of the Ancients, essentially kicked off the MOBA idea and is largely responsible for what became League of Legends and DOTA 2.  But it also came along in 2002 and once World of Warcraft hit in 2004, Warcraft III fell into the background, like everything else at Blizzard, as the company tried to get hold of the overwhelming success of WoW.

It’s legacy is huge, but timing put it in the shadow of its younger sibling, so I wonder how the remaster will play out.  It is available for pre-order at $29.99, which includes the expansion The Frozen Throne.  Or, for ten dollars more you can get the Spoils of War Edition, which gives you items in other Blizzard games including a mount in WoW.  Given that $25 is the usual toll for a WoW mount, that might be a deal.

Also, now that we have this and StarCraft remastered, Blizz might finally get to Diablo II remastered.

Destiny 2

Activision continues to try to horn-in on the Blizzard launcher.  They already have Destiny 2 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 in their own little roped off section.  It was announced at the start of BlizzCon that the Destiny 2 base game was available free to download from the Battle.net launcher, and would remain so until November 18th.  So if you want to try it out and have about 80GB of drive space to spare, there it is.  Of course, they hope to get you hooked so you’ll buy the expansions.

Panels and Other Events

If the gaming press had really wanted to roast gamers, they might have spoken up about how sparse the crowd was for the “Play Nice; Play Fair” panel.  That was an empty hall.  But I am going to guess the gaming press didn’t bother going either given that Google didn’t show me a single result when I went looking for which gaming news site covered it.  The press isn’t as different from the fans as they would like to think I guess.

I have long since gone off the cos-play and dance competitions.  I’m just not into it enough to care after watching it for a few years.  There are too few fresh stand-outs for me.

There were also five channels at BlizzCon devoted to “esports,” which I am putting in quotes just to annoy people, and I didn’t watch a single minute.

Still, I watched and enjoyed quite a few of the panels.  There are still some I want to watch before the time runs out on the Virtual Ticket and they disappear forever.  I think I might have enjoyed “Build A Panel: World Creation in WoW” the most, as it combined my enjoyment of looking behind the scenes on how things are made with just enough silliness.

Overall I suspect that for the rare Blizzard fan who loves all of their games equally, this was a reasonably satisfying event.  Everybody got a little something… well, except for the core Diablo audience.  But it you love Blizzard uncritically, as some seem to be demanding we should, then Diablo Immortal was good for you too.

Of course, people have been complaining about BlizzCon since the second one, during that dream era when it was just WoWCon.  The long time complaint was always that Blizz shouldn’t bother unless they have a huge announcement.  The few times there has been a huge announcement do tend to set a high bar.

However, I am fine with a tepid BlizzCon when it comes down to it.  In the end there is always more going on than I am able to watch and sometimes the fine details are more interesting than the big announcements.  And I got to play WoW Classic, which got me back to playing some WoW, so op success for Blizz on this front I guess.  I might even hit level 120.

Others in the neighborhood talking about BlizzCon 2018:

Looking Towards BlizzCon 2018

BlizzCon starts tomorrow, so it is about time I got around this post.  I have ordered the Virtual Ticket, so I will be watching all of what is coming.  However, the question is, what will we actually see?

BlizzCon 2018

  • World of Warcraft

There will no doubt be some words about Battle for Azeroth, how everything is fine and wonderful and even if it isn’t Blizz will be making things better shortly.  There might even be a mention of some new content and plans and maybe a reference to how the game will be fifteen years old next year.

But the main thing will be WoW Classic.  Once I ordered the Virtual Ticket I figured out how to download the demo so I could play it once it goes live.  It doesn’t get its own entry on the Blizzard launcher… not yet at least.  Rather, it is one of the options under “Region/Account.”

The option to select

There are not any Patch Notes, the link there points to to WoW 8.0.1 patch notes.

Once you have selected it, you can click the “Install” button and off you go.

The download

The download itself is… substantial.  It weighs in at 11.5GB, so I suspect we are getting more than just The Barrens and Westfall as part of the package.

Given that I said last year that this BlizzCon would be all about WoW Classic, at least on the WoW front, I suspect that will be the case.  I don’t know what else they would go on about.

The play time people will be allowed for WoW Classic, even for the home download, is reported to be capped or otherwise limited, which I am sure will bring out some rage.  And reports indicate that the experience will be very much in the classic vein.

  • Diablo Franchise

There has been considerable buzz around the Diablo franchise over the last few months, with speculation that we might get a Diablo IV announcement.  And, looking at the BlizzCon schedule, the first item on the main stage is Diablo: What’s Next presentation.  That primacy of place usual goes to the franchise with the big reveal.

On the other hand, Blizz has been dumping cold water on rumors, warning people not to expect too much.  So who knows.

I would still like to hear something about Diablo II remastered, something they mentioned ages ago.  Other than that, and taking Diablo IV off the table, I don’t know what else they would have to present.  I mean, Diablo III on the Switch is nice and all, but it is old news by now, even if it officially launches tomorrow.

  • Overwatch

A new hero seems to be in the works.  A new map or a new play mode would be interesting, but as with the Diablo rumors, Blizz has been trying to set expectations low.  Since I don’t play Overwatch, I am not sure what else they might announced.  New cosmetics maybe?

  • Hearthstone

Hearthstone seemed to do pretty well as a franchise over the last year.  But with a collectible card game the path forward is always clear; new decks and new play modes.  Would anybody bet against one or both being announced?

  • Heroes of the Storm

It is getting a “What’s Next” presentation on the main stage, so something is up.  I suspect we will hear more about how they are going to make it better and/or more competitive with its rivals… though, it main rival, League of Legends, has been down so far in 2018, so maybe the MOBA thing is fading.

Also, new heroes and new cosmetics I am sure.

  • StarCraft

What do you do when your franchise doesn’t get a “What’s Next” panel until mid-way through day two?  I suspect that means no big announcements.

StarCraft and StarCraft II have their own room and channel for the esports league competition, so the franchise remains a staple there.  I expect that the most likely news will be some sort of adventure pack for SCII.

  • Others

Along with the StarCraft and Diablo II rematsers, there was also talk of a Warcraft III rematser as well.  Maybe we might hear something about that?  StarCraft made it and is on the launcher, so the trail has been blazed.

And then, of course, maybe Blizzard could announce something new.  They have been hiring for new projects and they are good at announcing and keeping momentum going through until launch.  But I don’t see any large, unaccounted for open slots on the schedule.  Maybe that “Inside Blizzard” presentation is just a decoy?

Anyway, that is my somewhat mild forecast for BlizzCon.  Blizz could still shake things up with a surprise or two, but unless there really is a Diablo IV announcement I think WoW Classic will be the big item for the event.