Category Archives: Diablo III

April Fools at Blizzard 2020 is Centered on Overwatch

This year it seems it was the Overwatch teams turn to embrace the day, or at least be the theme of the day.

Googly eyes at the hero select screen

It has become something of an annual tradition here to cover what Blizzard has been up to every April Fools.  There have been years where the company has put a lot of effort into various items for the day and there have been years where April Fools has barely been a thing at Blizzard.

This year seems like an outlier, with a different feel altogether.  In the past the level of effort has often correlated to highs and lows with the company itself.  Last year, for example, was not a great year for the company, so it wasn’t surprising that people had little time for this sort of thing.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging around the world, I was curious to see if there would be any mirth on the first at all.  Blizzard has been giving players benefits in light of the crisis, like an xp boost in WoW and unlocking all the heroes in Heroes of the Storm and co-op commanders in Star Craft II.  It would be completely understandable to give the whole April fools thing a pass.  But a little bit of humor in the right dose wouldn’t go amiss either.

And some of these ideas take a while to put together.  I am going to guess that the giant cat that Bhagpuss wrote about over in Guild Wars II wasn’t rolled up over the weekend but planned well in advance.

Which brings us to Overwatch and its googly eyes on heroes at the select screen, and in the play of the game clip at match end, which I mentioned above. (This came as a tip from Blueline Basher.  The screen shot is one from many in the forum.)

Following on that, over in the Heroes of the Storm forums there were April 1st PTR patch notes posted that included the addition of a new hero, Mercy.  I got that Mercy was an Overwatch hero, but I know so little about HotS that I couldn’t really tell if the patch notes were a joke or if somebody on the team unironically posted an update on April 1st.  And then I watched the video linked in the patch notes, which doesn’t really reveal itself until the very end.

 

The other Blizzard games, Diablo III, Hearthstone, StarCraft II, and World of Warcraft have all been quiet so far as April Fools is concerned.  No news items or fresh blue posts with an April 1 date.  It is still early in the day on the west coast, so maybe something else will pop up, in which case I will add it here, but for now that is all I have seen.

Update: We now have the annual WoW April Fools patch notes, in draft form, for patch 8.8.8.  Icluded in the notes:

  • High Dwarves
  • Kul-Tiran Worgen
  • Highmountain Goblins
  • New Essences
  • Class Updates
  • New WoW Classic Flavors

If you are jonsing for a Blizzard April Fools joke beyond those your best bet is to look at past efforts.  You can look at the posts I have done over the last decade:

If you want to go back further than that, there is the official Blizzard April Fool’s archive, though that stops at 2015, which is probably meaningful in some way.

In a way I am kind of happy they did something this year, if only to keep the long tradition alive.  They haven’t missed a year since 1999, even if some years have been rather sparse.

For other games you can check out the post over at Massively OP where they are trying to round up the MMO front.

Other April Fools items:

My Gaming Forecast for 2020

If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.

-Woody Allen

There are days when I want to quit my job, sell the house, cash in my 401k, and do whatever the modern MMO equivalent of buying a VW bus and following The Grateful Dead would work out to be.

I can’t quite imagine what that would be, and it is all a bit of fantasy, as much as the virtual worlds I wander around in.  Also, I have a now adult daughter whose college education needs paying for, not to mention what my wife might have to say about such notions.  And my 401k only recovered from the last recession due to the money I have shoveled into it since.

Reality dictates a more modest vision.

So when a part of me wants to fly free, do new things, and maybe actually play Project: Gorgon or some other game less than a decade old, I have to temper myself with an examination of what is really likely to happen.

And so any such list has to start grounded, setting a foundation of the likely or obvious.  What will I play in 2020?  Here is the forecast.

The Sure Things

Games I will almost assuredly play in 2020.

  • WoW Classic

I’ve almost certainly logged in and played this, even if just for a short time, since the clock struck midnight and the new year was rung in.

And why shouldn’t I play it?  I am enjoying it, I have friends to play with, and it is a voyage both nostalgic and fulfilling.  Four months into the game and in our 30s, the instance group is maybe a third of the way

  • EVE Online

The way my main account is setup right now I will remain an Omega clone into 2021 thanks to one final bump from the Fansite program.  There is no reason not to log in and keep things going.  But I am also feeling a bit weary of New Eden.  I have been subscribed and playing since late 2011, when I came back to see if the Crucible expansion would be a worthwhile return point after the fiasco of Incarna.  In December of 2011 I went to null sec and straight into a war and have been there ever since.  But wars in null sec are barely a thing anymore.  I’ll play some EVE Online, but it might be time for a change of scenery.  But what I may or may not do is something for another post.

  • EverQuest II

My last couple of runs back in Norrath have gone pretty well.  In fact, I did so well in November that I bought the Blood of Luclin expansion, having managed to get a character up to the level cap and ready to take part in it.  Having thus invested it seems pretty sure that I will play.  How long I will play is another question though.

The Likely Candidates

Titles that history indicates are probably going to get played.

  • WoW Shadowlands

This would have been a sure thing a couple of years back.  When was the last time I didn’t run straight to a WoW expansion launch? (Answer: Only twice, The Burning Crusade and Mists of Pandaria, both arguably very good expansions.)  But a decade haunted by wrong turns leaves me less than excited at the prospect of another WoW expansion.  We’ll see if I am saying that when the pre-expansion events kick off.

  • RimWorld

It seems probable that I will go back to this for a bit.  The build up part, the struggle to get to a stable state that can withstand setbacks is still quite enjoyable.  Whether I will be able to endure another long mid-game is another story.  But it is an easy game to pick up and while away the hours with as I listen to podcasts or audio books.

Possibilities

Titles I have a fondness for and which I wander back to now and then.

  • Civilization V

When I am in a mood for a strategy game there is always Civ V there waiting for me.

  • Stellaris

If not Civ V, then this is the other likely alternative.

  • World of Tanks

I keep thinking I am going to log in and play this again.  I think I like looking at the tanks more than I like playing, but it is still fun.

  • Minecraft

While I took down the Minecraft Realms server due to nobody playing, a big new update might get me back to poking around.

  • The Witcher

I just bought it on Steam for a buck and half, maybe I should play it.

The Long Shots

I might log into these now and again, but I am not sure I will commit to any real play time.

  • Lord of the Rings Online

The Legendary server proved to me once again how much I like the initial 1-50 content.  I suppose I might wander back into that.  The problem is, as I have said before, the Siege of Mirkwood is an impenetrable barrier for me, and the live servers hold no temptation.

  • EverQuest

For all the nostalgia I spew about EverQuest back in the day, it has not always aged well.  It looks and runs better than any 20 year old game has any right to, but that doesn’t mean it is the best game for me.

  • Diablo III

Not beyond the realm of possibility if I get the simple ARPG urge.  The problem is that I really only enjoy two classes in the game and I have played those multiple times.

  • Elite: Dangerous

Somebody said they have automated docking.  Since I could never quite master that, maybe it is worth a look back in at the game.

  • New World

I played in the closed test phase for Amazon’s new game last year.  It had its merits.  It was kind of interesting.  I just don’t know that it really grabbed me all that much.

I Should Make Time

But if history is any indicator, I likely won’t.

  • Project: Gorgon

I keep thinking I should go play, but it is always a few places down the list.  You find the time to do the things you really want to do, so that I have not found the time must mean I don’t really want to play I guess.

  • Grim Dawn

I should dedicate a month to just getting into this.  I dipped my toes into it previously, but didn’t get that far in.

  • Something Else from Steam

My list of unplayed, or underplayed, games in my Steam library is annoyingly long.  It weighs upon me if I stare at it too long.

Something New?

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you’re probably of the opinion that new isn’t really my thing.  And it would be difficult to argue with that, though I would point out that a lot of “new” seems synonymous with “the same old stuff we’ve seen before.”  I think the only “new” I saw last year was the auto battler genre.

Still, I live in hope.  Maybe there will be something new in 2020 that will catch my eye.

My Games of the Decade – A Look Back from 2019

I have noticed that a number of people and gaming sites are taking a moment to celebrate the coming change in the tens column of the year to take a look back at the last decade, the teens, and to pick out high and lows and bests and worsts and whatever.  As an end of year summary post is an easy pitch, so too must an end of decade summary pitch.

I didn’t do this back at the end of 2009.  I know, I checked and back in December of 2009 my posts… all 38 of them… showed only a low level of reflection, and that involved reviewing my gaming goals and predictions.  But the blog was just past the three year mark back then and I had yet to settle down and recognize how a recurring topic makes an excellent writing crutch.

With that in mind and some empty days to fill I thought I would join in on the retrospective action and pick out a list of what I consider to be my games of the last ten years.  I do have a decade of blog posts to refresh my memory here.

How I picked them is vague mixture or memory, blog posts, and any measure of how much time I spent with a given title over the time frame.  And, just to make this a bit more difficult, I am going to try to break these out into categories like some sort of award show, which will allow me not only to pick a winner, but then ramble on about other possible choices.

MMORPG – EVE Online

MMORPG is a special category in this list.  First because MMORPGs are the main focus of this blog and, second, because MMORPGs constantly renew themselves with expansions and updates.  So, unlike the other categories, I am not limiting this to games that launched this decade.  I would be hard pressed to pick an MMORPG I cared about that launched since 2010.  Maybe Rift?  And Rift fell apart for me with the first expansion.

So, with that out of the way…

Based on hours spent playing, number of posts written, and amount of time continuously subscribed, it would be impossible to pick anything besides EVE Online.  I’ve been playing EVE Online in a continuous arc since November 2011, when I came back to the game to see if the Crucible expansion would get the game back on course after Incarna.  And then I got tied up in the tales of null sec, where the stories are all player created, and have stuck around as a player/tourist ever since.  And, to loop back on how MMORPGs change, 2019 EVE Online is a lot different than 2011 EVE Online was.  Better or worse is up for debate, but definitely different.

As for other choices, World of Warcraft would probably place second, but a distant second.  I might even make it third behind WoW Classic if that wasn’t barely four months old.  Three disappointing expansions (Cataclysm, Warlords of Draenor, and Battle for Azeroth) and an inability to make things better has left me flat on the game.  They heyday of WoW was last decade, which is what WoW Classic is telling us.

And after that, what other choices could I justify?  I spent stretches of time in LOTRO, EverQuest II, Rift, Neverwinter, SWTOR, and a few others, but not nearly as much as either EVE Online or WoW.  So New Eden gets the nod, as nothing else comes close.

MMO – World of Tanks

I will make the definitional cut between MMORPG, where you can see or interact with hundreds or thousands of players in a virtual world, and MMOs, which are just online titles where a bunch of people can be in the same lobby, but actual game play is in limited arenas.

This was kind of a tough one, as I have pretty clearly spent more time playing War Thunder and I haven’t spent any time playing World of Tanks recently.  But when I do play, I like the way World of Tanks looks and feels, even if I am bad at it.  Also, I am way worse at War Thunder.

Other potential titles for me here included World of Warplanes (where I am even worse than War Thunder) or maybe World of Warships, though that never really clicked with me so my time with it is pretty minimal.  I never did play Destiny or the sequel or anything else along those lines, so World of Tanks it is.

Action RPG – Diablo III

This could arguably fall under the MMO banner, but I have chosen to break it out because there was actually some competition here.  The ARPG race this decade included Diablo III, Torchlight II, Path of Exile, Grim Dawn, and even Titan Quest Anniversary Edition, all of which I played.

In the end though, I have to give the nod to Diablo III.  It started off badly, with the real money auction house yielding results predicted before launch and an itemization scheme that seemed designed to make that situation even worse.  But somebody at Blizzard finally got the memo and, with the Reaper of Souls expansion, things were turned around.  The good game play and simple story let me click away happily for many hours.  I have spent as much time playing Diablo III as all of the competition combined.

On paper Torchlight II ought to have been the winner, with offline play and mods and such.  But all the mechanics in the world couldn’t save it from simply feeling bland and aimless.  And Path of Exile, while it felt closer to the Diablo II source of the ARPG genre, died for me under latency issues that they never fully solved and the desire to be something of an MMORPG which made going back later a pain as they had added so many additional bits and pieces to the game.

Grim Dawn probably gets short shrift in all of this.  I feel like I should go back and play that some more, but I never quite get to it.  If I were CCP, Grim Dawn would be my Faction Warfare updates… always on the list, but never high enough to get the attention it deserves.

While I do not go back with every new season, I have ended up playing and enjoying Diablo III more than any of its competition.

Strategy Game – Civilization V

For me, Civilization V is pretty much the culmination of the series.  I have owned and played the whole run, plus the side paths like Alpha Centauri (good) and Beyond Earth (not good), and Civ V is it for the decade.  And I write that having played Civ II, Civ III, Civ IV, Civ VI Alpha Centauri, and Beyond Earth this decade as well.

Civ V isn’t perfect.  It has flaws, both unique to itself as well as the usual flaws of the series (slow and overweight at launch along with the whole mid-game drag), and it was controversial at the time, but it has weathered the decade for me.  I was annoyed I had to make a new Steam account to play it, having rejected Steam after Valve screwed up my old account in the early HalfLife 2 era.  But I got past that.  I played it in 2010 and I was still playing it in 2019.  Hard to argue with that.

Other possible picks were direct competitors like Stellaris, excellent war games like Vietnam 65 and Unity of Command, literally the rest of the Paradox strategic game catalog, which I own, as well as RTS titles like Age of Empires II HD and a good chunk of the Total War series, all of which played and enjoyed.  But for my strategy title of the decade I cannot justify anything besides Civ V.

Builder Sim – RimWorld

I created this category pretty much to find a place for RimWorld.  I mean, I guess it is something of a genre.  The direct competitors for this on my list included Stardew Valley, Oxygen Not Included, Medieval Engineers, Space Engineers, and Kerbal Space Program RimWorld was pretty much a lock here… and then I looked down the list of games and found Minecraft.

Minecraft isn’t an MMO or MMORPG and is a full on multi-player builder sim and holy cow I spent a lot of time playing it this decade.

But, technically, Minecraft became available to backers in 2009.  So it is really a last decade game, no matter how much I played it.  The early access thing muddies the water.  And while it gets updates, it doesn’t get the MMORPG exemption in my book.

So RimWorld gets the nod, but with an asterisk for Minecraft.

First Person Perspective – Portal 2

Another force category.  When I was looking down the list of shooters I had played over the decade, thinking that FPS could be a category.  But then there were also a few outliers that were not really shooters but which had the first person perspective.  That led me to expand the category, which then went from me trying to balance Sniper Elite III and Doom to just handing things over to Portal 2.

And I think that is the right answer.  I played the game, I own the sound track, my daughter and I know the words to some of the songs, and it had enough cultural influence that, of the games I played, it has to be the winner.  Also, it was a very good game.  But I also own none of the Call of Duty or Battlefield titles from this decade either, so I am not much of a first person perspective fan.

Racing Game – Need for Speed World

I actually own a few racing games.  More than I expected, such that I decided I had better make this a category.  This is one area where console titles might fit in.  But when reviewing what I played, the one game I miss is Need for Speed World.

It had a lot of problems, not the least of which was being published by EA, but its simplicity and bits of destructible terrain and shared world and excellent customization options made it something I spent a lot of time playing.  And, honestly, there hasn’t been anything quite like it since.

Console Title – Pokemon SoulSilver

Proof that I am not much of a console gamer.  Yes, we have still have a Wii and a PlayStation 3 still. The former is now in a box and out of sight and the latter has spent more time streaming or playing DVD or BluRay discs than actually acting as a game console.  I did put in some time with both, most commonly with the LEGO Star Wars titles.  But that was really a last decade thing.  The Nintendo DS and 3DS series was really the console I played this decade, and for me that console is all about the Pokemon titles.

And if I have to pick one of the DS titles… and I’ve played them all… it has to be Pokemon SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Mobile Game – Pokemon Go

As with console games, I don’t really play all that many mobile games.  Stretching the definition to include things on the iPad I probably have a few options.  I played Neko Atsume (in Japanese, back when it was cool) and Monument Valley and DragonVale and Words With Friends and Prose with Bros and some less memorable titles.  Ticket to Ride got a lot of play time, though I’ve faded on it over the years.  And let us not forget all the time I spent hate-playing Candy Crush Saga just to try to beat it without paying.

But the one mobile game I get out and play every day is Pokemon Go.

It helps that it is the one and only video game my wife plays, so we play together.

Crowdfunded Title – Defense Grid 2

This was a depressingly easy pick because almost every crowdfunded gaming title I have been involved with either hasn’t shipped (e.g. Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen) or was kind of shit (e.g. Shroud of the Avatar, Planetary Annihilation).  Some I haven’t played (Project: Gorgon) and others fell apart (Hero’s Song). This decade saw the emergence of crowdfunding, along with early access, but it hasn’t really been a boon for my own game play.

But the one outlier was Defense Grid 2.  I played that and enjoyed it quite a bit.  Its only problem was that it wasn’t quite as good as the original Defense Grid: The Awakening.

Pirate Server – Nostalrius

I guess the polite term now is “emulator,” but they are still pirate servers.  They still exist by stealing somebody’s IP and work, and the noblest intentions in the world won’t change that.  These days every shut down online game that ever had half a dozen loyal customers seems to have an emulator project going for it.

That means there are lots of such servers out there to choose from.  There are even competing projects for games like Star Wars Galaxies and City of Heroes, not to mention the actual server software from CoH out in the wild.  I am still waiting for the legal shoe to drop on that one.

But Nostalrius, and the family of WoW emulators that preceded it, have racked up a special achievement.  They got a company as conservative as Blizzard to roll out the version of the game they were trying to bring back.  These servers were popular enough to get the company’s attention and had enough support that the idea managed to get past the obvious corporate reluctance to go there.

Basically, WoW Classic is a thing due to the work that went into pirate servers like Emerald Dream and Nostalrius.  Bravo!

Best Hardware Purchase – Blue Microphones Snowball

Not really a game thing, though something that helped with gaming.  Having gone through various headsets with good earphones but crap microphones I decided to opt out of the voice side of the headset thing by buying a decent desk mic.  So during the 2018 Black Friday sales found the Blue Microphones Snowball on sale and bought it.  And it has served me well ever since.  I am now free to use whichever headphones I like and nobody complains that they cannot hear me anymore.  I am fully ready to be a podcast or streaming guest!  Of course, I have also reached a point of irrelevance such that people have stopped asking me to be guests on such things, but I am ready if my topics ever begin to trend again!

Worst Hardware Purchase – Mineserver

I almost skipped this as a section, being unable to think of any gaming related hardware I bought in the last decade that was worthy of scorn.  And then I remembered the Mineserver.

Technically, I didn’t purchase this, I backed it as part of a Kickstarter campaign.  The campaign, launched by tech columnist Robert X. Cringely in Fall 2015, it was supposed to be delivered by Christmas that year.  The campaign funded successfully and we got rosy reports initially.  This was going to be easy.

And then it wasn’t.  This is what I get for trusting in the word of somebody who is not technical to assess the technical issues of a project.  I should know by now that things that look easy to those on the sidelines are often not easy down in the code.  Also, Cringely’s next successful business venture will be his first.  I had forgotten about that.

This was also a bad example, amidst many bad examples, of how not to run a campaign post success.  Communication was sporadic.  The excuse was that he only wanted to report when there was good news, but apparently there hasn’t been any good news for a couple of years now.

Cringely was blowing smoke up our collective asses with some pie in the sky “maybe this will turn into a business and I’ll give you all shares” nonsense, but then his house burned down in the Santa Rosa fire and he has declined to update the Kickstarter campaign page or send anything directly to the supporters since.  Instead he occasionally makes reference to the campaign, mostly to blame people who are angry about the whole thing for the lack of any progress. In his world, all of the problems are the fault of the backers.  Money down the drain.

Best Game Purchase – Minecraft

This was a tough one.  There have been a lot of games I have bought and gotten a ton of play out of, that ended up being great and bargains at the price I paid.  Defense Grid: The Awakening was a candidate, as was the Mists of Pandaria expansion for WoW and even the first year of Rift.

In the end though, I am going to call Minecraft the winner, because the criteria here is purchase during the last decade, and while Minecraft became available in 2009, I didn’t buy it until 2015.

Even with renting a public server for a shared experience, the dollar per hour value of the game was pretty damn high.

Worst Game Purchase – Star Trek Online Lifetime Membership

There were a lot of competitors on this front, like every single game in my Steam library that I purchased and never played.  But none of them could measure up to the cost and impact of Star Trek Online.

I pinned such hopes on Star Trek Online and it ended up being so not the game for me.  While many will point to Warhammer Online as the end of hope for a MMORPG that would eclipse WoW or Star Wars: The Old Republic as the last gasp attempt at a big budget MMORPG, Star Trek Online was the boiling pot of hope that burned my hands and convinced me not to get invested in an MMO before it is live.  And no more up front lifetime subscription purchases ever.

Disappointing at launch with mundane and repetitive game play (even for an MMO), I probably ended up paying the most per hour played for it since the time of CompuServe and GEnie and hourly connection charges.  I tried to return to the game a couple of times, but Cryptic just piled on features to try and keep the game going, turning it into a confused jumble that still held no seed of attraction for me.  It was so bad I was surprised when it went free to play mostly because I was sure it must have already gone that route.

So if you want to know why I am such the cynic now, occasionally mocking those who get excited and invested in games based on a vague feature list and a few artists concept drawings, Star Trek Online is a big factor.  And yes, I know it is somebody’s favorite game.  Everything, no matter how bad, is somebody’s favorite.  If you enjoy it, carry on.  But for me it is an example of the kind of garbage, half-assed MMORPG effort that tarnished the genre and sped up its decline.  And none of that was helped by the game embracing things like lock boxes.

STO will be mentioned in the next few month in review posts as we get through its 10 year anniversary, but I doubt I will ever post about again until I write an obituary about it.  I generally don’t waste my time on games I do not like.  This post was an exception.

A New Decade

And so it goes.  I made it through this post and only had to reach into the past decade twice.

Soon it will be 2020 and a new decade will be upon us.  Not that an arbitrary changing in numbering means anything really, but we like to put things into nice neat categories even if we have to make them up.  I certainly made up a couple above.

I do wonder what the video game industry will be ten years down the line.  Mobile has become the big money maker while things like VR, hailed as the future, languish due to various technical and physiological reasons. (The puke factor is real.)

I especially wonder about games in my MMORPG category, the shared world online experience that seem to go on and on.  Ultima Online and EverQuest are still going past the 20 year mark, while World of Warcraft and EVE Online are now past 15.  Will we be celebrating 25 and 30 year anniversaries when 2029 is coming to a close?  Will I still even care?

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.