Category Archives: World of Warcraft

My Games Played for 2021 and Looking Forward into 2022

It is that time again, time to look back at what I played last year and maybe try to get an idea as to what I might play in the coming year.

2020 plus 1

Past Entries

Last year I wasn’t really feeling it for what I might play, probably because the list I made didn’t really pan out, so when I made the call for 2021 I kept it short and sweet.

The likely candidates were:

  • WoW Classic
  • EVE Online
  • Retail WoW
  • Burning Crusade Classic

I also threw out RimWorld, Civilzation V, and maybe World of Tanks as possible candidates to which I might return.

So now is when I look at what I actually played.  I don’t go as into as much detail as Belghast, but my chart is more colorful!  The top ten titles, which represent the games I spent 10 or more hours with in 2021, were:

2021 in gaming for me

Overall I tracked time for 20 games, so the bottom half of the list did not make it to the ten hour mark.

  1. WoW Classic – 29.61%
  2. Valheim – 23.10%
  3. EVE Online – 18.73%
  4. Diablo II – 7.18%
  5. New World – 6.67%
  6. Forza Horizon 4 – 3.68%
  7. Forza Horizon 5 – 2.36%
  8. RimWorld – 2.21%
  9. EverQuest II – 1.77%
  10. Pokemon Pearl – 1.21%
  11. World of Tanks – 0.92%
  12. War in the Pacific – 0.56%
  13. MMO Tycoon 2 – 0.49%
  14. The Fermi Paradox – 0.48%
  15. World of Warcraft – 0.38%
  16. Flashing Lights – 0.36%
  17. Runes of Magic – 0.18%
  18. Art of Rally – 0.13%
  19. Hearthstone – 0.05%
  20. LOTRO – 0.05%

EVE Online was the only title I played through all year, and even that was fairly light once World War Bee ended, which explains why it ranked in third in overall time played.

WoW Classic, which includes Burning Crusade Classic, topped the total time played, but petered out when we were reminded that we did not exactly love The Burning Crusade the first time around.  Our WoW Classic time probably peaked in Blackrock Depths, which we ran into a dozen times at least.  Leaving was made easier by having Blizzard’s behavior exposed.

Valheim, which came out of nowhere to become our obsession for a few months managed to come in second.  We got our money’s worth out of that title, though the content ran out of steam for us and the small team working on it was overwhelmed trying to just keep things going.

Diablo II Resurrected was also a good time for a bit.  New World showed up in September, but we didn’t really start playing it in earnest until more than a month had gone by and the login queues began to subside.

The two flavors of Forza Horizon were in there as well.  I combined them into one row on the chart, though they would have easily both made it on their own.

RimWorld made the cut when the Ideology expansion hit, giving your colonists their own belief systems to work around.

I wandered into EverQuest II for a bit, as I tend to do, but didn’t make a big commitment.

Once it arrived, Pokemon Shining Pearl was a hit for me, making it into the top ten for time played in just the last five days of the year.

And then there was World of Tanks, after which time played starts to drop off rather quickly on the chart.  I suppose my one regret was not being able to get into War in the Pacific, though honestly the biggest hurdle was how tiny the print was on my 34″ monitor.  It is a war game from an earlier age of small monitors with large pixels.

So of the four likely candidates, I did end up playing three of them.  Retail WoW quickly fell off the rotation for me in 2021 as the Shadowlands expansion turned into a repetitive grind for somebody not interested in raiding.  Technically I logged in for quiet a while into the year, but I am not sure you should count the monthly run at Darkmoon Faire as really “playing” the game.  I only did that because I was already subscribed and playing WoW Classic.

Which I guess brings us to the 2022 outlook.

2022 is what we get

Here is what I can see from where I sit this week.

Sure Things

  • EVE Online
  • Forza Horizon
  • New World
  • Pokemon Shining Pearl
  • Stellaris

I already have time logged for all of those this year.  I might give up on them sooner rather than later, but they will be somewhere on the list.  I certainly have much still to do in Shining Pearl and the group seems committed to New World for the time being.  And I just bought some of the DLC for Stellaris, so I’ll play a bit of that I am sure.

Likely Candidates

  • EverQuest II
  • RimWorld
  • World of Tanks
  • WoW Classic Wrath of the Lich King

I own the latest expansion for EQII and am subscribed for another two months, I’ll probably play some.  Likewise, it is easy enough to pick up World of Tanks whenever.

And, naturally,l I started thinking about RimWorld again since I started writing this, which makes it more likely that I will go back and play it.  It happens.

WotLK Classic though, that depends on Blizzard actually shipping it this year, though it feels like that is all the WoW team will manage in 2022, and Blizzard not being a complete shit show that makes me feel bad handing them money.  I am biased towards playing it, that expansion representing what is my likely peak in Azeroth, but I am also wary of Blizz and how they might screw it up or just make doing business with them so unpalatable that I’d rather just stick with the memories.

Maybe, Maybe Not

  • Age of Empires IV
  • LOTRO
  • Valheim

AOE4 is part of the XBox PC subscription, so I just need to download it.  I am just wary of another 100 megabyte download for a title that might not pan out for me.  I haven’t liked anything in the series since AOE2.

LOTRO I want to go back and play now and again, but it looks so bad on my big monitor that they have to do something for wide screen support before I will commit.  If they do that I’ll give it a shot, otherwise I’ll pass.

And then there is Valheim.  I am wary of this because any updates they ship will only apply to unexplored areas, and on the world we build up we explored a lot, including into biomes that should be getting content.  So going back for new content means started over again on a new world, abandoning all of our work.  That might be too much to ask.

Unlikely

  • World of Warcraft
  • Burning Crusade Classic
  • WoW Season of Mastery
  • Diablo Immortal

Okay, I might  try Diablo: Immortal when it arrives, having a phone and all that… though I’ll likely play it on the iPad instead.  But otherwise the theme here is clearly Blizzard games I would be likely to play in past years not drawing much appeal from me in 2021… and honestly it is as much because of their own lack of merit as much as because of anything Blizzard is up to.

And then there are the new games that might show up.  As I have noted in the past, in January of 2021 I wouldn’t have called Valheim, New World, or Pokemon Shining Pearl even being options, yet they all made the cut.  So I am open to some new things, but I cannot see far enough into the future to tell what might show up and tickle my fancy.

Predictions in the Face of 2022

We’re here again at the arbitrary start of another year.  I remember a time when New Years Day was a day of optimism, a day of resolutions about making yourself a better person.  Now… now I am reminded of a Life in Hell comic where Bongo prays every night for tomorrow to be better than today despite the fact that his prayers are never answered.

2022 is what we get

So, yeah, welcome to the new year.  It is an even numbered year which means national (but not presidential) elections in the US and some sort of Olympics… I think we get the cold kind this year, but they’re in China, so time to celebrate repressive regimes I guess.  I’m sure the year will be just dandy.

I am going to go with predictions this year, after having taken a year off with questions for 2021.  As I always point out, I have a history here, checkered and/or dubious and mostly wrong.  But as my boilerplate for this post says every year, I’m fine being wrong if the discussion is interesting.  Anyway, past events:

I was tempted to run with questions yet again, but I made a bold prediction back in 2021 and promised that I would include it in any New Year’s predictions post, so let’s get straight to that.  You will probably be able to tell from the tenor of some of my predictions that I am not exactly in a happy, optimistic, “everything will be great” sort of mood.  So be it, maybe the new year can step up and prove me wrong.  I would be happy enough to let it do so.

1 – Activision-Blizzard will drop “Blizzard” from the Corporate Name

I made this call back in August, when things seemed really bad for Blizzard, and committed to making it a prediction, so here it is in the first spot.  There was a possibility that they could have straighten up and fixed their issues, but I have such confidence in the indelible nature of corporate culture… every time somebody says “we’ve always done it this way” they might as well add “because this is who we are” to it… that I remain unsurprised by the company’s inability to clean house effectively.  Even when they admit that there might be a problem, it is all they can do to keep from fighting that idea, pushing back on the state and, by proxy, all the complaints against the company.   If you cannot candidly admit there is an issue then you cannot fix it.

And the problem has damaged their brand, damaged their income, and alienated them from a chunk of their once loyal fan base.  Meanwhile, Activision, having finally figured out how to milk the Call of Duty cow year round, doesn’t really need to be dragged down with all those problems which, outside of Bobby Kotick’s connivance, seem to be focused just on Blizzard’s team.

The prestige of leading the Blizzard brand has already been downgraded over time.  Morhaime was CEO, Brack was President, then it was Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra were “co-leaders” of the studio… until Oneal left because the company sill pays men more for the same jobs.  I think Ybarra became Office Manager at that point.

All of that points to the Blizzard brand not being as big of a deal.  The only counter to this slide in the brand is how Bobby Kotick has taken center stage of late in the company issues.  It is possible that his bad behavior, and endorsement of the bad behavior of others, could draw enough heat directed solely at Blizzard so far.

Overall though the trend for Blizzard has been to be third of three when the quarterly reports come out, so even if the Blizzard name isn’t gone I’ll give myself a small partial credit win (2 points) if the company name is officially Activision Blizzard King by the end of 2022.

2 – No WoW Expansion in 2022

I am going to go out even further on a limb when it comes to Blizzard and suggest that the disruption they have been facing and the need to retool things a bit to look better when compared to FFXIV are going to slow down their development process even more than usual. As such I think we’ll be seeing the largest gap between expansions in the history of the game as the next expansion wanders out into 2023.

3 – The Arthas Hail Mary

Wrath of the Lich King Classic will be announced to great fanfare.  This will be the big 2022 announcement for the WoW franchise, and it will be as stale as you expect.  While I love the whole retro server scene, and WotLK as well, there is a reason that Daybreak doesn’t put out a press release every time an EverQuest progression server unlocks a new expansion.  And it will be tainted by the same things that hurt Burning Crusade Classic, like a special deluxe package with a horrendous mount to single you out for ridicule.  It will be more popular than whatever is going on with Shadowlands, an admittedly low hurdle, but it won’t launch until Q4 so we won’t see any financial impact during the 2022 calendar year. (Q4 financials won’t show up until February 2023.)

4 – Immortality is Overrated

Diablo: Immortal will finally ship in time for summer… after all, NetEase is the one doing the work here.  It will get a lot of hype from the company because WoW Classic and Hearthstone updates can only carry so much water for them.  It will be briefly popular, because we do in fact all have phones, combining as it will everything Blizzard promised (something like Diablo) and everything fans feared (cash shop from hell), but the Q3 2022 financials will only mention it in passing.

5 – Activision Will Settle with the State of California

The cost of fighting on multiple fronts… the company is being assailed in various ways by the government, its employees, customers, and shareholders… will wear the company down because none of it is good for business.  Somebody on the board will eventually force the issue and make the company do something to make these problems go away… something besides denial, platitudes, and union busting tactics, which has been the Activision tack so far.

Riot, which played the same game for years, largely due to being able to turn a big profit for Tencent even as the fight went on, eventually settled and agreed to pay out $100 million, $80 of which went to compensate employees and contractors mistreated by the company.  The state is tenacious and the price of fighting eventually becomes more of a burden and it will make sense to simply not be discriminatory jerks as a matter of policy going forward.

As a public company Activision, and with Blizzard development seemingly moribund in the face of the crisis, won’t be able to diddle as long as Riot.  A year of this will be too long for stockholders.  The company will have to pony up double what Riot did, so they will have to write a check for at least $200 million in penalties and compensation, agree to mandatory training for management (though everybody VP and above will just have their admins do the training for them, so no change there), and agree to let the state keep an eye on the for a few years.

6 – Bobby Kotick Will Remain in Charge at Activision

I feel I have to remind people now and then that these are predictions, not wishes, and this is one of those times.  Bobby owns too much stock and is in too deep with the board, which has backed him all the way, to lose his seat.  Any sense of irony is completely lost in the executive suite, so the fact that he knew about and endorsed what was going on that caused the company so many problems won’t disqualify him from continuing to collect a huge compensation package for running the company.

7 – Enad Global 7 will Announce Marvel Universe Online

Maybe they won’t call it exactly that, but there will be a new MMO from them based on the Marvel IP, which Daybreak had the rights to make before EG7 purchased them, that will look suspiciously like DC Universe Online to those who know where to check.

And it will be on the PC and consoles and it will be kind of a big deal when it ships.  But I’m only saying they’ll announce it in 2022.

8 – H1Z1 Will Remain in Limbo

Of all the titles in the Daybreak portfolio, none must be as vexing for EG7 as H1Z1.  It sold a ton of copies, it was huge for a season or two, and it was the type of brand that Daybreak always dreamed of creating.  Then Daybreak screwed it up and has spent a few years now trying to catch that lightning in a bottle again.  And with Fortnite and PUBG out there still making bank, there is always that hope for a comeback, yet the chances are so sketchy that the company can’t bring itself to actually invest in it.  They simultaneously know it won’t happen and yet still believe it could.  So they’ll keep talking about H1Z1 in 2022 yet do nothing new.

9 – LOTRO Old and New

There won’t be a console release for LOTRO, but there will be news.  We will find out that, in order to support current generation consoles, the game needs to be re-written, a process that will end up with there being an old LOTRO, the current game, and a new LOTRO, for PC and consoles.  This will put old LOTRO in semi-maintenance mode, with limited updates and no new expansions, while the team focuses on the new LOTRO.

10 – Nothing New in Norrath

And that won’t necessarily be a bad thing.  Despite being the foundation of the company, EverQuest and its younger sibling will just continue on as before, with an expansion each in Q4.  EG7 talks up the original IPs it owns, but it only sees potential in the popular IPs which it has licensed.  EverQuest Next, EverQuest III, or EverQuest the small group RPG, those are all still dead until Amazon or Netflix wants to make a Norrath streaming series.

11 – Ji Ham Confirmed as CEO of Enad Global 7

His acting career pretty much demands it at this point.  The search for a suitable candidate will come up dry and he will be the default choice.  Things could be worse.

12 – CCP will Circle the Wagons to Defend Against Player Feedback

The last year has demonstrated that CCP will stick to its own pet theories when it comes to the game, ignoring player feedback by covering its collective ears and repeating over and over that everything is fine, that the players don’t understand, that the company can dictate the correct way to play, and blah blah blah “I can’t hear you!”  Angry players should be ignored, where “angry” is defined as anybody who disagrees with the company line.  Nice players agree wholeheartedly with everything the company says.

To further support their position 2022 I predict that we will see the company start cutting back on the data players have been using the assail the company.  The Monthly Economic Report will cease to be published.  The data feeds that EVE Offline uses to create its PCU charts will be turned off.  The current online player count will disappear from the launcher.  Dev blogs will be more message, less substance than we’ve been used to.  Then CCP will be able to control the message without having their own data constantly contradicting them.  How can you say “EVE is dying!” if you don’t have any data to back it up?

13 – New Eden Economic Times

To make it abundantly clear, scarcity is not the new reality, this is a temporary phase and it will end.

-CCP, December 2020 Economic Outlook

While taking measures to silence dissent, CCP Rattati will continue to lead the charge against the economy.  The tenants of their economic outlook from 2020 remain unchanged.  They were:

  • Abundance breeds Complacency and Scarcity breeds War
  • Predictable Inputs lead to Stagnant Outputs
  • Autarky is Anathema to Free Trade

And while they appear to have had the opposite effect… scarcity ended a war for a starter… CCP will continue to fixate on the idea that if they just keep putting the screws to players and making them poor and miserable that we will all snap to and play the game the correctly sooner or later.  The idea that the game should be fun, that players might not want to fret about losing ships they can no longer afford to replace, or that the economy is the critical aspect of the game will not enter the company’s philosophy in 2022.  More of the same, the economic beatings will continue until subscriber numbers improve.

14 – New World on Consoles Announcement

One of the odd things to master in New World has been the UI, which is decidedly different that the WoW-centric UI conventions of the MMORPG genre.  It isn’t bad, though it sometimes seems a bit awkward, but for the most part it just takes some getting used to.

And then I started playing Forza Horizon 4 and 5, which is a title designed to play on Windows PCs and XBox consoles, and some similarities clicked for me… the New World UI is setup to be playable on consoles (in a way that, say, LOTRO is completely not).  They have minimized the keys used for many things, movement and positioning can all be done via the analog sticks, special combat moves map to buttons, the main attacks… I guess the shoulder controls.  It all pretty much fits.

This is probably a blinding flash of the obvious for some of you, but to a non-console player it didn’t spark until I had another cross platform title in my face.

Add to this the fact that Amazon seems fine letting Steam host its front end and the XBox or PlayStation store aren’t likely to get in the way either.

The official stance is that there is no plan for consoles, but it sure feels like it was made to be on consoles, so that might just be Amazon playing coy after getting pestered for five years about when the PC launch was going to happen.  As with above, the announcement only is being predicted, though I wouldn’t be completely surprised by a Q4 2022 ship date.

15 – New World Store Update

New World did very well on box sales in 2021, and I am sure they plan to repeat that on consoles as well, but the in-game store will still change in 2022 as the pressure to keep bringing in cash begins to mount.  Those AWS servers don’t pay for themselves.

The store has been entirely focused on cosmetic gear, the one in-game store item that seems the least objectionable.  It is kind of expensive to my mind, but some people seem to be buying the stuff.  I see it around Windsward now and then.  But it won’t be enough in the end.  Every MMORPG with a cash shop goes down the same path in the end.  So before the end of 2022 I predict that at least three of the following will be available in the cash shop:

  • Premium Housing
  • Fast Travel Tokens
  • XP Boosters
  • Faction Boosters
  • Trade Skill Learning Boosters
  • Learning Speed Boosters for Weapon Mastery
  • Cosmetic Items with Stats
  • Mounts
  • A second character slot on your server

16 – Crypto Mania will Continue and yet Yield Nothing of Value

UbiSoft, EA, Pearl Abyss, and a host of smaller studios and studios started for the express purpose of jumping on the bandwagon, will continue to talk about crypto, blockchain, play to earn, and NFTs.

And it will all net out to nothing a year from now because, despite the bleating of the crypto bros and the sheep following them, there is really no upside for a studio like EA to hitch its titles up to somebody’s block chain and give up income when there is nothing crypto could do that they couldn’t already do… or haven’t already done… themselves.

And the downsides? Whoa Nelly, if you think lock boxes look like gambling, I am pretty sure when they become NFTs with the intent that they can be bought and sold for real world money that even the government will suddenly agree that it is gambling.  Even skirting that, there are tax implications for “play to earn” if it gets too lucrative… and that will fall outside of the studios hands… that make the whole thing a nightmare.

The UbiSoft test case will fall flat because they will end up having to impose such restrictions to stay within the law and away from expensive entanglements as to end up not achieving any of its promise, and no studio with live games will see fit to follow suit.

17 – Metaversary Rhymes

Then there is the whole fairy tale metaverse aspect of crypto that people are on about.

The main item here are the crypto bros who think NFTs are the future and will act as transferable tickets for virtual goods so that you can buy a car in Need for Speed and drive it in Forza or Mario Kart.  That ain’t gonna happen.  Leaving aside the complexity of getting different studios with different motivations needing to get together on some sort of agreed upon standard for… well… literally anything anybody would want to move from game to game, no studio is going to buy into that.

Any game that makes money selling cars, using the example above, wants you to buy their cars.  That is how they make money.  If you can just bring all your Mario Kart stuff into Forza Horizon… again, leaving aside the huge elephant in the room issue of standards… Forza loses.  So Forza isn’t going to join that venture.

And we’ve been to the internet, right?  How long do you think it would take for somebody to mass produces knock-off cars for a buck that could be used in all those metaverse titles?  This is a dead end as there is no upside for the development studios that would need to implement it.

So this will go absolutely nowhere in 2022, despite the myriad start ups jumping on board the bandwagon trying to milk a bit of that sweet venture capital by throwing around buzzwords.

18 – Non-Fungible Fiascos

Even with the above pair of predictions I know that some company’s won’t be able to help themselves and will stick their hands in the fire and get burned.  I predict crypto/NFT/play to earn nonsense will at least get an official announcement and plan for the following titles (2 points per correct call):

  • EVE Online
  • Star Citizen
  • Black Desert Online
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Wild Card: Some Gamigo Title

I am not saying that any one of them will be implemented… player push back will be huge… but the blue sky press releases will go out.

19 – Chapter and Metaverse

Meanwhile, there is the other metaverse story, where Mark Zuckerberg, who apparently missed out on Second Life, wants to create a VR world that he controls.  He is so bent on it that he renamed the company Meta… and totally not because Facebook has a horrible reputation and he needed to distract from that.

In his metaverse there is none of this NFT movement nonsense, because you won’t ever leave his domain once you strap the VR headset onto your face and log in.  In Zucktopia you will see what he wants you to see, which is generally the right wing propaganda that pays top dollar.

The problem is that you can’t goose-step around with your neo-fascist buddies if you don’t have legs, which means all torchlight rallies will be limited to less than a dozen people.  Limitations of the platform I’m afraid.

And so this too will go nowhere in 2022.  At best we’ll see some more creepy demos with uncanny-valley Mark Zuckerberg… and I leave you to decide if I mean his avatar or himself… talking up his dystopian future where all the bad parts of Facebook will be injected straight into your eyeballs via a VR mask strapped to your face like something reminiscent of Clockwork Orange.

20 – A Better Metaplace

The year started out with me poking at some of the vague statements that Raph Koster was making about his own multiverse plan, wondering at how his new company was going to address some of the more obvious issues, like who would be paying for all of it.

But that was me quibbling over details.  Here at the dawn of 2022 I don’t know anybody else I would trust as much as Raph to speak of a future vision of virtual worlds.  Most of the metaverse talk is castles in the sky, next to which Raph seems to be a guy with wood, nails, and a hammer, ready to build something real.

So, to try and turn this editorial into a prediction, I am going to say Raph Koster and Playable Worlds will deliver something tangible in 2022.  Not a complete product, but enough to get past the vague teases that have gone before and cement the company as serious in a sea of pretenders.

21 – Non Starters

I have to have a couple of gimme predictions on the list, so lets run down the quick list of things that won’t ship in 2022 (2 points per correct guess):

  1. Crimson Desert
  2. Star Citizen
  3. Squadron 42
  4. Camelot Unchained
  5. Pnatheon: Rise of the whatever will get us a headline

Extra Credit Guesses

A bonus 10 points each if these come to pass

  • CCP will go really overboard on defense and decide that electing the CSM is a bad idea, since that process tends to fill the seats with people who have independent ideas.  Instead, taking a cue from Blizzard, they will let players apply to be on the CSM, picking the candidates that most suit the company needs.
  • Meanwhile, the WoW Player Council will be a one-time production.  After a year of shooting down ideas from the current council, Blizzard will thank members for their service, declare the whole thing a wonderful success, then not ask for applications for a new council as the team goes off to do whatever they were planning to do in the first place.

Scoring

As I usually do, each prediction is worth 10 points if I get it correct, with partial credit available.  I have already marked some of the predictions with “points per correct call” for multi-title guesses. With 21 predictions, that is 210 possible points.    Extra credit predictions don’t count against my win percentage, which I assume will be very low, as it is most years.

Again, I want to remind some readers that these are predictions, not wishes.  My wishes for would be sunshine and lollipops compared to what I have laid out above.  This is just what I think could happen after having been through both 2020 and 2021, a pair of years that saw fit to try and beat any cheery optimism out of me.

Which isn’t to say I don’t want to hear any contrary positions.  As I said at the top, discussion is an aspect of the whole thing and  I expect to be right on 30% of these tops, so in disagreeing with any one of my predictions you are more likely to end up correct in the end.

Anyway, the coming twelve months will reveal the truth and I’ll be back in December to count up the score.

What Hurt Blizzard Most in 2021?

In our little corner of the internet it is broadly assumed that 2021 has been a very bad year for Blizzard, perhaps their worst year ever.  How can it not be?  Look at the scandals!  Look at the headlines!  Look at the stock price!  Look at the employees leaving… pushed or otherwise!  Look at all those influencers jumping ship for FFXIV or whatever!

Blizzard execs in 2021

But, as I have to remind myself from time to time, our little corner of the internet is kind of a weirdo fringe of video game consumers overall.  We are the connoisseurs in our little internet box when it comes to MMORPGs and the companies that make them.  So, for many of us, the scandal at Blizzard, the tales of abuse and institutionally condoned harassment, must be what is hurting the company.  We want to believe that when people do bad things that they eventually pay a price.

[Eliot at Massively OP linked another XKCD cartoon pertinent to our situation, which again boils down to the assumption that people outsize the fringe know or care about the things we fret over.]

Alas, even a headline in the Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem to have done much to Blizzard.

In fact, so far there isn’t much direct evidence that the scandal has hurt the company at all.  Sure, Blizzard hasn’t seen a quarter as big as Q4 2020 in all of 2021, but that was a WoW expansion launch quarter, which traditionally stands out as a high point.  Shadowlands, whatever you think about it now, sold well a year ago, recognizing revenue on 3.7 million copies on launch day.

So Q1 2021 carried over from that launch, logging $483 million in revenue.  Then there is Q2 2021, which saw a dip in revenue, down to $433 million.  But the scandal only broke in June, so it is hard to believe that it was a bigger hit that dissatisfaction with Shadowlands at that point.

And then there was Q3 2021, when revenue went up to $493 million.  The numbers were buoyed by the launch of Diablo II Resurrected, but the scandal was headline news with weekly revelations in Q3.   The argument that D2R sold well in South Korea and they don’t care about the scandal doesn’t hold a lot of water.  South Korea didn’t buy that many copies of the game, not enough to offset the rest of the world walking away because bad people run Blizzard.

Even the stock price, which jumped up past 100 early in the, could have fallen down to the mid-50s based on the game pipeline as much as anything else.  And the stock has started to creep up from its low at the start of the month.

ATVI stock price graph for 2021 so far

So while the righteous outrage at the behavior of the company and the people is totally justified, I have the impression that it is just us weirdos in the box that are doing anything about it, unsubscribing or whatever.  The reason Blizzard is off its game is because it cannot ship anything new, and the one new thing they shipped in the last year, the Shadowlands expansion, has fallen flat.  People unaware of the company’s troubles will leave if they are not having fun.

The Blizzard 2021 catalog has mostly been retreads… Burning Crusade Classic, WoW Classic Season of Mastery, and Diablo II Resurrected… along with the usual new Hearthstone variations and expansions.  And unless things change this quarter, Blizzard is still going to be a billion dollar division in the greater Activision corporate structure.

Now, the reasons they cannot seem to ship a new title may very well be tied up in the problems with how the company is being run, and we have a ways to go to see how Q4 2021 will fare.  Q4 is traditionally a strong quarter for video games… if you ship something new.  If Q4 tanks for Blizzard’s share of the revenue pie, maybe it will be a sign that something else is in play.

So far as 2022 goes, there isn’t much on the agenda aside from Diablo Immortal finally seeing the light of day.  There ought to be a new WoW expansion on the horizon.  We’ll see if their internal struggles allow that to move forward in time.

Answers to My Questions for 2021

Back at the start of the year I eschewed the usual predictions post and instead went in for a round of questions.  After 2020 I was clearly feeling unprepared to predict anything, though this was not the first time I went down that path.  Now we have hit the middle of December and it is time to see if any of my questions got answers we like.

2020 plus 1

There is a long pattern of me making such posts on the first of the year.

Anyway, let’s get tucked in and see what I can come up with.

What will a return to normalcy bring to the video game industry?

Right off the bat I am going to have to object here to the assumption that we’ve returned to anything like normalcy.  We’re not in 2020 anymore, but we’re not not in 2020 anymore either.  The shadow of that year lay heavily over this one, its poison seeping in.  People who can are still working from home, Covid is still spreading, the economy is still in a bind from the pandemic, and the world still seems to be going to hell at a rapid pace.

Will Shadowlands hold players?

Well, at least we have an easy one here.  The answer is “no.”  There are a few reasons, not the least of which is Blizzard not releasing much in the way of additional content and Blizzard being revealed as a nightmarish Dickensian workhouse of misogyny and intolerance.  Also, maybe “run Torghast every day for the next two years” wasn’t the winning plan that somebody thought it was.

Will Diablo Immortal ship?

Another easy one!  And another “no.”   Wyatt Cheng once asked if we had phones.  Many of us probably have new ones since he asked that question at BlizzCon 2018.  Now does he have a game?  That seems to be a more pertinent question at this point.

Does Blizzard have anything new planned?

Three for three here on the easy questions, with another big “no” on the tally.  Diablo II Resurrected is about as “new” as they got, and they had Vicarious Visions do the remaster of a twenty year old title for that.  It was a good remaster, but it wasn’t new.

Along with that we had Burning Crusade Classic and WoW Classic Season of Mastery, also not new.  Even the solo mode for Hearthstone didn’t feel very new.  I guess their bigger company issues got in the way for some of that, but it still feels like they came into 2021 just winging it and hoping something would come up.  And, honestly, they don’t seem to have much lined up for 2022.  How can such a big studio… more people work on WoW than most MMO studios have total employees… deliver so little?

What does Daybreak under EG7 really portend?

A reverse merger, with Ji Ham now at the helm?  I wouldn’t have called that one.  Otherwise there has been some promises for the future, but the first year really seemed like business as usual for Daybreak… except maybe they didn’t lay so many people off in 2021.  That’s a plus.

Will Norrath continue to boom?

Kinda, maybe, sorta.  As noted above, things were mostly business as usual.  That has generally been good for the Norrath titles, EverQuest and EverQuest II, which get an expansion in November/December and a major content drop in late spring/early summer every year.  So things roll on there.

But when it comes to doing anything new, it is LOTRO they want to put on consoles, DCUO they want to update, and an unannounced Marvel IP MMO that gets all the headlines.  They even keep bringing up H1Z1.  But EverQuest as a franchise?  Any plans for that look to be dead.

What happens with H1Z1?

Nothing.  As I wrote above, EG7 keeps bringing it up when they talk about the important IPs they control.  There is clearly some wishcasting going on about the title returning to the top of the battle royale genre. But actual progress?  There was some mention that they had a few people look into being able to run a build, but otherwise nobody appears to be working H1Z1 in any meaningful way.

At least they stopped renaming it I suppose.

Where is Cold Iron Studios?

Not with Daybreak and EG7, we know that much.  Somewhere between the announcement that Daybreak was purchasing Cold Iron and the launch of their game Aliens: Fireteam Elite, Cold Iron went somewhere else.  Details are hazy, the story is mostly inferred, but Cold Iron never made it into the EG7 stable of studios.

What does ArenaNet do after all the departures?

Pretend nothing has changed and announce an expansion?  This is the problem with bringing up studios and games I do not watch closely.  A bunch of key people left ANet last year, but back in August they announced the End of Dragons, slated for February 2022, so I guess everything is good.  Maybe?  I don’t really know.

Where does CCP go next with New Eden?

Nowhere?  Seriously, after the Triglavian story cycle the company has been been focused on the new player experience and trying to force the in-game economy into a form that they believe is best for the long term survival of the game, ignoring the short term “hey, can you give us something fun?” requests from the players.  Short sheeting the economy isn’t fun.  Even if you don’t care about the economy and mock miners and industrialists who are complaining, you have to admit that there is very little fun in what CCP has been doing for the last year.

Will CCP stop strangling the New Eden economy?

No.  There was a promise over the summer that the end of scarcity was coming.  But the Q4 quadrant, New Dawn: Age of Prosperity, involved very little prosperity.  For every relaxation of the economic restrictions there was some matching nerf to offset things, often hidden behind some oppressive new game mechanic.  CCP said they were listening to feedback, but they mostly slowed their roll a bit (compression will be in 2022 now) and tried re-arranging the deck chairs some (“waste” got renamed to “residue”) as they carried forward with the goal of resetting the economy to some past halcyon state.  I am sure this will end well.

How Will World War Bee End?

The side with the 3:1 numbers advantage got tired and went home.

There are many ways to spin who “won” the war.  PAPI can claim that they forced the Imperium down from four regions to one constellation and destroyed trillions of ISK in ships and structures.  The Imperium can claim that they held out, denied PAPI their stated victory conditions, and in the end destroyed as much in ships and structures as PAPI did.

As for losing the war, that award generally goes to the group that loses their space and has to move elsewhere.  That makes Legacy Coalition, the main instigators of the war under Vily, the losers.  TEST, the leading alliance in Legacy, lost their old space, couldn’t hold their new space, and ended up trying to live as far away from the Imperium as they possibly could.  Brave gets a special mention for losing hardest of all, as not only did they lose their old space and their new space, but now the rest of PAPI is attacking them because Brave sold structures to the Imperium so they could at least asset safety their stuff and get some seed ISK in the bank to carry on.

Really though, the honor of ending the war goes to CCP.  It was already somewhat obvious after the second battle of M2-XFE that their servers were not going to be up to a final mighty battle.  And then CCP made changes to resources and production that made capital ships too valuable to expend freely, so the attackers were limited to subcaps.  In the choice between investing a lot of time and effort in a real blockade of the final Imperium constellation or just going home, they opted to go home.

Will Nintendo announce a remake of Pokemon Diamond & Pearl?

Yes, goddammit, yes they did.  About freaking time.  And it has shipped and there is a copy for me and my daughter under the Christmas tree.  We’ll see how that plays out soon enough.

Will crowd funded MMOs finally find their way?

Ha ha ha ha… no.  I mean, Crowfall went live I think.  I am not sure it will survive, but it shipped.  And they are a stand out in the stable of crowd funded MMOs, which mostly promised things they couldn’t deliver.  Don’t spend money on things that you cannot play today.

Project: Gorgon is the right path, as it was in playable form from the day of the first monetary ask. Camelot Unchained is the wrong path, asking for money, blowing through every promised date ever, and starting a new project before the promised one is even in beta.  And then there is Star Citizen… well, they certainly know how to milk a community.  Star Citizen is a lot of things, but being an actual video game seems to be a few bullets down the list.

Is there anything new possible for MMORPGs?

The metaverse maybe?  That seemed to be the topic for 2021.  I don’t know if it is Raph Koster’s desire to remake the simple days of MUDs in the 90s or Mark Zuckerberg’s dystopian vision of an all controlling metaverse that turns our very desires against us, but I guess either might be something new… at least for MMORPGs.

Oh, and something about crypto and NFTs.  But we’ll probably burst that bubble in 2022.

Will I play anything new this year?

Valheim.  That was a bit of a left field star, but ended up being our main game for about two months earlier this year.  New World showed up and, once the initial chaos settled down, the instance group got into the game.  And then there was Forza Horizon 4 & 5.  Open world driving for the win.  There were a couple of other small titles that were new, but nothing that I invested more than a couple of hours in.

That I played three new games made 2021 a departure from the usual routine.  In 2020 80% of my game time was spent in WoW, WoW Classic, and EVE Online.  The year isn’t over yet, but so far those three titles represent less than 50% of my tracked play time.

Will VR get a killer app this year?

Ha ha ha ha… no.  VR will remain a niche so long as it requires a real world obscuring mask strapped to your face… oh, and the motion sickness issue gets addressed.  Ready Player One and Zuckerberg’s idea that we’re all going to live in his ad laden VR metaverse hell is a pipe dream.

Will the industry be smart enough to keep regulators away?

Not really.  The industry’s best defense so far has been regulators being interested in other things to further their own interests.  It has to be a slow news day for lockboxes to make the headlines of late, so politicians and regulators have mostly been busy elsewhere.   Except for Blizzard.   Yeah, Blizzard is having some regulatory issues, though not over lockboxes and that sort of thing, just mundane things like running a hostile, discriminatory work place.  The usual corporate thing.

But the industry keeps on trying to get the government to come down on them hard, with cryto and NFTs on their list of things to try next.

Will We lose Section 230 Protection?

Not yet, though Facebook seems to be pushing to have that taken away, because they have the money and the staffing to deal with any new regulations which would help them cement their place in creating our dystopian future… and present… and recent past.

What will I do when the blog turns 15?

Write a post about it.  That is my answer for most things I suppose.

So that was the list for 2021.  As those were just questions rather than predictions there is no score.

I think I’ll be able to warm up to doing some predictions for 2022.  I have a couple of weeks to get on it.  But first I need to make a 2022 graphic.

I Don’t Know What I Expected from the WoW Community Council

Blizzard announced the whole WoW Community Council plan about a month back as a way for the WoW development team to get feedback from the community

The council will be seated

I was skeptical at the time it was announced based on my experience with other such player committees, and especially the EVE Online Council of Stellar Management.

Not that I think the CSM is necessarily a bad idea, though the “player elections” aspect makes it an outlier and causes it to favor organized groups over the more independent corners of the game.  But, in that process, there is at least an acknowledgement that there are other corners of the game besides null sec, wormhole space, and the occasional low sec PvPer.  People run on other platforms, get covered in the election process, and bring up issues to which the more mainstream candidates often feel that have to respond.

The problem is more the misuse of the resource, ignoring the feedback unless it aligns with the plans of the dev team.  Members of the CSM have spoken against what might be considered the interests of their regions of space.  When CCP proposed making the Rorqual a game breaking super mining ship, something players were not demanding, the response from the CSM was ignored, even though their predictions came to pass just as they said, something that is relevant to the current state of the game as CCP tried to enforce scarcity to undue that whole age of non-stop mining that they unleashed.

So my expectation was that the WoW Community Council would be a fig leaf to allow the WoW team to claim to be serious about feedback so they could safely ignore it and get on with what they saw as the real problems with the game, which I might sum up as “people aren’t wearing enough raid hats.”

What I had not really considered was that they would taint the fig leaf from the get go by packing the council with people who seemed to be on board with the dev plan, that the game is really about raiding with a bit of ranked PvP thrown in to spice things up and try to draw in a bit of esports attention.

Blizzard has picked the 100 members for the first term of the council and kicked off the forums where they will meet and discuss the game while we all watch.  And the first big post was asking for the council members to introduce themselves.

Welcome to having a target on your back in the community.

As I went through the introduction posts… there were about 25 up already when I first looked… they came through at a glance as raider, raider, raider, pvper, raider raider, raider, pvper, raider, etc, etc, etc.

I realize I am being unfair to the members, many of whom are involved in other aspects of the game and who expressed a desire to talk about topics other than raiding or ranked PvP, but the impression it leaves is that World of Warcraft is about two things; raiding and ranked PvP.

But maybe that is all there is left for WoW now.

As somebody who rarely raided or did much PvP (I peaked doing Wintergrasp during WoTLK and have barely run any battlegrounds since) that seems to be the clear message from the WoW dev team with Shadowlands.  The expansion was quick, shooting you to max level in a few days of play, after which you could grind rep, do solo or small group pretend raiding in Torghast every day, or get into a raiding guild and work your way up to mythic+ raiding.  Or go do PvP I guess, though I honestly don’t even know where that is in the game since Battle for Azeroth killed PvP servers.

The core PvE leveling game is pretty much gone.  The level squish made the run to the current expansion a fast run and once you’re into Shadowlands the level cap comes at you fast.  WoW Classic was the last gasp of that, as even the WoW Classic Season of Mastery changes things up to speed leveling and focus on better raiding.

And maybe that is the game’s core audience.  Maybe it always has been.  So why wouldn’t the council reflect that?  Who else is left playing Shadowlands a year later?  I was tired of it in a month and stopped logging in after two months.

I am sure that somebody will want to make the comparison that raiders in the WoW Community Council are akin to null sec players on the CSM in EVE Online.  But the comparison is not apt.  Null sec dominates because the members are elected and only ten people get a seat.  It they doubled that number the balance would shift some and there would be more variety.  But if CCP was allowed to pick the members… I suspect that the CSM would be much more agreeable to everything the company suggested.  The one good aspect of the election process is that the people who do get on are not beholding to the company for their position.

Anyway, I never had much hope for the WoW Community Council and my outlook was only reinforced by the picks I have seen so far.  Maybe somebody will stand up and introduce themselves as not being a raider or pvper, but I won’t hold my breath.  That is all WoW has to offer in any case.

WoW and the Endwalker Excuse

The Endwalker expansion for Final Fantasy XIV will become fully available to all and sundry tomorrow.  There was an early launch for people who had pre-ordered on Friday, but at some point tomorrow everybody will be welcome.

It has been, of course, a mad house with queues and issues and imperfect experiences, but that is what success looks like in the genre.  It will be FFXIV’s turn to dominate the headlines, as befits a leading title in the field.

I won’t be joining in.  But that’s fine.  Every game isn’t for me and I have other things on my plate.  I’ll watch the headlines breeze by and instead see if I can spot the impact that a big launch like this has on the rest of the genre.

EverQuest, which also launches an expansion tomorrow, probably won’t even notice.  Its audience has been winnowed down to the true believers at this point.

New World will probably see a continued decline in concurrent user peaks on Steam as the remaining players that were biding their time there before the expansion move on, and I know there are eyes on the already sagging PCU numbers for EVE Online.

And then there is World of Warcraft.

We are already more than a few news cycles past reporting on the exodus of players from WoW to FFXIV, lead by prominent streamers, due to both reporting on the horrors of Blizzard’s internal culture or harassment and discrimination as well as Shadowlands vying for the prize of being the worst WoW expansion so far.  A pretty serious double whammy in that… though I suspect the latter is the bigger issue when it comes to losing players.

The thing is, on the financials front, Blizzard hasn’t really had to own up to this pair of issues yet.

Q1 still had Shadowlands launch fever going for it.

Q2 had the Burning Crusade Classic launch to cover for Shadowlands, and the headlines about Blizzard misdeeds didn’t hit until late June.

Q3 was always going to have some subscriber hangover.  A lot of players subscribe in 3 or 6 months increments… Blizzard even has special rewards for 6 month subscribers twice a year… so disaster was going to be in the offing.  And then there was Diablo II Resurrected, which sold very well.  But D2R was literally the only good news they had, brushing off WoW as seeing normal, cyclical decline.

So I am very interested to see how the financials will spin Q4 2021 when they come out. Those who declined to resubscribe will start dropping off and Blizzard has almost nothing going for it in Q4 save for the WoW Classic Season of Mastery.  And while the 13 servers that launched with that would be a lot for most MMOs, it pales in comparison with the initial WoW Classic launch.  Furthermore, there haven’t been any headlines about queues or people busting down the doors to get onto those servers.  The blue tracker for WoW Classic issues has been talking about server merges for Burning Crusade Classic.

Furthermore, the new reward for six months subscribers is a transmog item which, while cute, reminds me of the outrage the last time the reward wasn’t a mount but a transmog item; it wasn’t pretty.

A baby murloc backpack

It is starting to look like Blizz is going to have a tough time explaining itself when the financials release this coming February.  There are some potentially tough questions to be asked by investors when MAUs and revenue are both down during a traditionally strong quarter.

But then there is Endwalker, a big expansion from what many consider a direct competitor to WoW at this point.  Blizz could mention this as a mitigating factor, but it would be a huge admission of failure if they do so.

Blizzard in general, and the WoW team in particular, likes to act as though there are no other MMORPGs in the world.  When you are #1 you don’t mention your competitors, that only gives them air.  That is a day one marketing lesson.  Only those back in the pack mention the opposition.  For me it was a major surprise that at one BlizzCon they acknowledged that EverQuest was the inspiration for World of Warcraft.

So I will be very interested to see what the Q4 2021 financials look like for Blizz and how they explain them.  The degree to which they acknowledged competition will likely be a barometer for how much trouble they think they are in.

If they don’t mention the market or competition, then they believe they’re going to be able to pull out of their slump.

If they mention that the market for MMORPGs is crowded or that competition has been stiff due to other launches and expansions, then they are clearly in a bind.

But if they mention FFXIV or Endwalker by name in the financials, they might as well hire a skywriter to spell out that WoW is no longer the market leader in 100 foot letters above Irvine.

We shall see in about two months.

The WoW Classic Season of Mastery Starts Today

The time has come for the next WoW Classic experiment from Blizzard, the WoW Classic Season of Mastery will be available all over the world later today… at least today Pacific time, tomorrow in some places further east.

The Season of Mastery Launch Times

This is Blizzard’s second dip in the nostalgia well for the vanilla WoW experience and I am interested to see how recyclable the idea is.  In 2019 it was huge, but for last week’s name reservation event they put up just 13 servers.  Not that 13 servers is anything to look askance at.  There are a lot of MMOs out there that would love to fill up 13 servers.  I think the EverQuest team is happy to fill up just one server every time they roll out the retro experience.  But it is well shy of the 80+ servers that WoW Classic saw two years back.

Back then they had to have layering and free server transfers to help alleviate the crowding and queues.  Now they are offering free server transfers off of dead servers in the age of Burning Crusade Classic.

Anyway, we shall see tomorrow and in the coming weeks whether or not they have under estimated… or possibly over estimated… the demand for a fresh run at vanilla.

Though, it isn’t really vanilla this time… or even less vanilla than WoW Classic was the first time around.  Blizzard has finally tallied up all the changes they are making for this run compared to WoW Classic, and the list is pretty long.  I might as well toss them in here for posterity:

Systems

  • All characters under level 60 will receive the “Adventure Awaits” buff.
    • This buff will increase the experience gained from quest turn-ins by 40%.
    • This buff will also grant additional bonus experience to Group and Dungeon Quest turn-ins.
  • In raid instances, players cannot benefit from world buff effects such as Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer, Warchief’s Blessing, and Spirit of Zandalar.
  • Buff and debuff limits will be removed.
  • Players who kill an enemy while in a group with one or more players at a much higher level than the slain enemy will receive significantly less experience.
  • Calculations used to determine the experience awarded for enemies that have been “tapped” by one player or group but killed by another player or group were adjusted.
  • The Looking For Group tool from Burning Crusade Classic is present in Season of Mastery.
  • Chat reporting feedback improvements are available.
    • Added in-chat confirmations for players who report misbehavior in chat, as well as for those that someone may report.
    • When reporting a player for verbal harassment or other disruptive chat in-game, players will receive a confirmation when there’s an action against the other player.
    • When your behavior has moderately changed for the worse, you may receive a warning message so that you can modify your behavior before receiving a penalty.
    • When acutely inappropriate behavior from a player is observed, the system may skip a warning and take immediate action.
    • /ignore now blocks characters on the ignored player’s WoW account.

  Content

  • There will be significant adjustments to enemies in Onyxia’s Lair and Molten Core:
    • Bosses and other creatures that are part of boss encounters have had their health increased.
    • Augmentations to many existing boss mechanics and new mechanics introduced to challenge players in Season of Mastery have been made.
  • The availability of Mining and Herbalism nodes has been significantly increased in all zones, as well as:
  • Max-level herbalists have a slight chance to obtain Black Lotus when looting a high-level herbalism node.
  • Western and Eastern Plaguelands will enjoy new spawns of Plaguebloom.
  • There have been adjustments and additions to Herbalism nodes in Dungeons.
  • There’s been an increase in the availability of certain crafting materials such as Elemental Fire, Elemental Earth, and Elemental Water.
  • High Elf Watchers have appeared in Ironforge and Undercity, seeking to chronicle adventurers who bear a “Soul of Iron”.
  • Some dungeon enemies have received slight adjustments:
    • Stratholme – All Undead creatures in Stratholme will now gain immunity to snares 30 seconds after entering combat and gain immunity to roots after an additional 30 seconds of combat.
    • Maraudon – Many creatures in Maraudon will gain immunity to snares 30 seconds after entering combat and gain immunity to roots after an additional 30 seconds of combat.
    • Maraudon – 30 seconds after gaining immunity to root effects, enemies gain 50% increased movement speed.
    • Maraudon and Stratholme – Crowd control of any type (except snares or roots) will reset the snare immunity, root immunity, and speed buffs.
    • Zul’Farrak – Zombie Trolls in Zul’Farrak now drop fewer lucrative treasures. Most of the loot previously dropped by Zombie Trolls has been redistributed to other enemies in the dungeon.
    • The denizens of Blackrock Depths have grown suspicious of criminal activity and will now attempt to stash their most valuable items away if they suspect a thief in their midst.
  • There’s been a reduction in the cost of training riding skills and purchasing level 40 mounts.
  • Dire Maul will be available at the launch of Season of Mastery.
  • The Gordok Tribute chest in Dire Maul can no longer be looted by players not on the tap list for King Gordok himself when the encounter is defeated.
  • Changes made in patch 1.10 to dungeon rewards will be in place at the launch of Season of Mastery, including the availability of Idols, Librams, and Totems, and adjusted drop locations and drop rates of some items such as the Hand of Justice in Blackrock Depths.
  • Changes and additions made to reputation vendors and item drops in patches 1.6 through 1.11 will be in place at the launch of Season of Mastery, with a few exceptions:
    • Items on vendors and items associated with reputations are not accessible until a later content phase, such as the Zandalar Tribe.
    • The (world drop) plans for Titanic Leggings and Sageblade will be made available in a future content phase.
  • Summon elemental Templars and Dukes in the Twilight’s Hammer camps in Silithus to facilitate the completion of the Dungeon Set 2 questlines at the launch of Season of Mastery.
  • Please note that the rest of the Cenarion Hold and Silithus activities associated with Anh’Qiraj will remain unavailable until the Anh’Qiraj War Effort event kicks off later.
  • Level 50 class quests will be available at the launch of Season of Mastery.
  • The healing provided from the Diamond Flask trinket on-use effect no longer benefits from bonus +healing or spell power.

 PvP

  • We have doubled the maximum amount of weekly ranking progress gained. Dedicated players who consistently finish each week at the top of their realm and faction’s rankings each week can expect to move through the ranks roughly twice as fast as was possible in Original World of Warcraft.
  • Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin, and Alterac Valley are available from the launch of Season of Mastery, including their associated reputations and rewards.
  • Season of Mastery brings back many Horde and Alliance Guard NPCs removed from Alterac Valley in patch 1.11 of Original World of Warcraft.
  • At the launch of Season of Mastery, we will enable the World PvP objectives in Eastern Plaguelands.

There are some interesting things on the list.  I think the faster/smooth leveling will appeal to the raiding crowd that wants to get in and start on that without the somewhat uneven ride to level cap that vanilla offered and which WoW Classic faithfully recreated.  I did the grind to 60 on two characters, but was pretty happy with the exp changes that came with the Burning Crusade Classic update.

At this point my WoW account has finally lapsed and I am not interested enough to renew it just for this, but I will keep my eye on the news to see how it is going.

Addendum: Just in time for the launch a new round of horrible insider details from Activision Blizzard.  We’ll see if that puts a damper on things.

WoW Classic Season of Mastery Name Reservations Available Today

Blizzard’s World of Warcraft Season of Mastery, their return to the nostalgia well, is on its way.  This is another fresh start opportunity for those wanting the day one WoW Classic experience, and the whole thing kicks off for real today… or tonight… or possibly tomorrow depending on where you live… with a name reservation event.

When you can get logged in to reserve a character name

There was a similar event for WoW Classic more than two years back, which turned into a bit of a fiasco because they hadn’t put up enough servers.  Not enough servers became a bit of a theme for the launch, with long queues and more servers being added and layering tech, which allowed more players to be on a server than it would otherwise hold, having to run much longer into the life of the game than Blizzard expected.

So I am sure that this time around Blizzard will be prepared.  That have had the big WoW Classic launch, back in 2019, and the Burning Crusade Classic launch earlier this year, to help them size things.

And with all of that experience, they have 13 servers setup for name reservations today, eight in the US and Pacific and five in Europe.

  • U.S. East Barman Shanker PvP
  • U.S. East Jom Gabbar PvP
  • U.S. East Shadowstrike Normal
  • U.S. West Mutanus PvP
  • U.S. West Nightfall PvP
  • U.S. West Obsidian Edge Normal
  • Australia Lionheart Normal
  • Australia Swamp of Sorrows PvP
  • EU Bonescythe PvP
  • EU Dreadnaught PvP
  • EU Ironfoe PvP
  • EU Kingsfall Normal
  • EU Quel’Serrar Normal

That doesn’t seem like a lot of servers.

But I cannot tell if the Blizzard team feels that WoW Classic has been done once, so it won’t ever be as popular again so there is no need to plan on anything like the 80+ servers WoW Classic eventually needed the first time around, or if they feel that Blizzard’s bad odor in the news cycle means nobody will show up for their grand re-opening (though that certainly didn’t seem to be a problem for Diablo II Resurrected).

Now, I suspect that this event is as much to let people reserve names… though this time around you will be limited to one character on one server… as it is a way to test the popularity of the idea.  After the 2019 name reservation event Blizzard started adding a lot more servers.

So we will have to wait and see if Blizzard piles on some more servers between today’s name reservation event and next Tuesday’s launch of the WoW Classic Season of Mastery.

The Coming WoW Community Council

In the further adventures of Blizzard trying to fix the mess that World of Warcraft has become, last week saw them announce the creation of a World of Warcraft Community Council.

The council will be seated

They even created a minute and a half video to accompany the announcement, so they must be serious.

One of the common complaints about WoW from many in the community is the lack of responsiveness to player feedback.

This, by the way, is also a common complain for literally every MMORPG I have ever played, though some are more egregious that others.

In EVE Online there is a long standing tradition of CCP putting things on the test server, collecting feedback, filing it somewhere, then pushing the new feature to the live server only to have to address most of what was given as feedback in patches.

SOE used to be notable for listing to player feedback only after announcing something, then changing their mind in front of a live studio audience as its rebellion brewed in its player base.

Customer feedback is hard to deal with.  It is often emotional, semi-coherent, and based on flawed assumptions about what is easy or hard or impossible to implement.  And suggestion that begins with something like, “All company X has to do is Y” inevitable fails to understand the issue at hand in any meaningful way.

Customer feedback can be contradictory.  One of my repeated observations over the years has been that there is no single feature in any MMORPG that is so bad that it isn’t somebody’s favorite aspect of the game.

And, finally, player councils are nothing new.  Any number of games have had them in some form.  I think EVE Online’s Council of Stellar Management is probably the most interesting, if only because the members are elected, an aspect that gives players something additional to complain about as large groups use their organization power to influence the results.  But players will complain if then studio chooses the council as well.  Complaining is kind of our brand at this point.

In the end though, all such player advisory groups have one thing in common: a complete lack of power to accomplish anything.  My one big example of a council wielding some influence is when the EVE Online player base was mad about the Incarna expansion and the CSM sided with the players against CCP, and even that wouldn’t have amounted to anything if players hadn’t unsubscribed in significant numbers due to the expansion.  To this day, if you go to unsubscribe from EVE Online, one of the default answers to the “Why are you leaving?” questions is “Because of the last update.”  They want to know who is really leaving because of whatever they just pushed to the live server.

And, in this fact, the WoW Community Council will be no different.

So is this all window dressing, a promotional stunt to appease unrest in the player base, a way to deflect those who say that Blizzard does not listen to player feedback?

Maybe.

I do not doubt that there is some desire within Blizzard and the World of Warcraft team to figure out what would make the game more interesting and playable and popular with their audience.  But how do you get there?

The Blizzard plan is to gather together 100 people with the following plan:

  • Submissions are open to any player interested in taking part in the program.
  • Once players are selected, they’ll be given the ability to post in a new discussion forum that is publicly visible to everyone.
    • In this new forum, we’ll ask members to share their experiences and perspectives on anything in the game, and some topics may be started by Blizzard developers and community managers.
    • Responses and updates from Blizzard will be posted there so they can easily be discussed by the entire community.
  • A private discussion will also be setup for Council members to encourage direct interaction between members.
  • Separate conversations between smaller groups of members and Blizzard developers will be encouraged to ensure players with differing perspectives are being heard.

Anybody can apply to be one of the 100, see the announcement post I linked above, and those chosen will be members of the council for a year, after which new members will be selected.

The rest of us get to watch what goes on in the special forum… and complain about it elsewhere… which kind of makes me think that the more interesting discussions, the ones that explore changes, will happen in the more discreet channels.  (I will also be interested to see which member of the council gets doxxed first for saying something unpopular in the public forum.)

Blizzard will be setup with a new channel to get feedback from players.  That is the easy part.

With “only” one hundred people to listen too, that will give them something less than a fire hose of angry customer noise to deal with.

But will that group of one hundred be the right one hundred.  Will they be able to articulate things that will help the game?

And, will the Blizz side of the equation be able to spot those gems if they do arise?

The latter is probably the biggest hurdle.  The problem is that game developers and designers are people with their own values and opinions and you don’t rise to a decision making tier in a company without holding some strong views, and all the more so in a bro culture that is self-reinforcing.  In that position, the voice of even a single person reinforcing their vision probably outweighs a dozen or more expressing some other view on a given topic.

So the real effort will be on that front.  We’ll see if the Blizzard has the vision and the discipline to find something substantial in the feedback that they can bring themself to agree with and work towards.

Nostalgia and the Legacy of Blizzard North Keeps Blizzard Strong in the Q3 2021 Results

For Diablo, our plan to enter an era of unprecedented content scale for the franchise has experienced a strong start with the September release of Diablo II: Resurrected, the return of one of the most acclaimed titles in PC gaming history. First week sales of the title were the highest recorded for a remaster from the company.

-Activision-Blizzard Q3 2021 Presentation

As anticipated, yesterday saw the Activision-Blizzard Q3 2021 financials announced, which covers the period from July 1 through September 30 2021.

I put those dates in there just to be clear as to why I expected at least a little drama on the Blizzard front being that is the timeline when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing hostile workplace lawsuit was headline news in the gaming community.

If players were really mad at Blizzard for being a horrible company, then it feels like there should have been some pain on their bottom line.  Instead, Blizzard posted its strongest quarter in 2021, bringing in $493 million, up $60 million from the $433 posted in Q2 and $10 million ahead of the $483 million posted in Q1.

Those were not “launch a new WoW expansion” numbers like Q4 2020, but they were still ahead of “its a pandemic and we’re all stuck at home playing video games” numbers.

Activision Blizzard Q3 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 13

Margins were down a bit, 38% in Q3 compared to 43% in Q1, but still up when measured against Q2, when they dipped to 33%.

Overall, things were looking up for Blizzard in Q3, which might have been expected to have been the summer of their discontent.  What saved Blizzard’s bacon?

Apparently Diablo II Resurrected is a very popular title.  According to the earnings call it was a huge hit in South Korea, which might explain why I see Battle.net queues close to midnight Pacific time.  While people have been upset about BNet’s performance, it is apparently one of those problems related to being too successful.

That, however, was the extent of the good news at Blizzard as their achievements slide in the presentation deck shows.

Activision Blizzard Q3 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 8

It opens with the quote I have at the top of the post, which honestly could have been taken as faint praise given how the Warcraft III remaster went.  Even the StarCraft remaster wasn’t a huge of a deal.  But Diablo II Resurrected, which launched on PC and consoles in September, was enough to carry the quarter, because the rest of that slide is excuses and qualified successes.

Diablo Immortal, which I keep reminding people had a playable demo at BlizzCon 2018, is now slated for some point in the first half of Q2 2022, while Diablo IV is nowhere in sight.  It seems unlikely for 2022.

The Overwatch 2 entry is likewise vague on when it might be a thing that can generate revenue.  2022 doesn’t seem to be the target anymore.

Hearthstone is hard to judge, so whatever “stable” means, that was what it was.  We’ll see if the new game mode warrants a big mention when they review Q4.

And World of Warcraft, which is running both retail and classic modes now, recorded the strongest engagement for a non-expansion year which, given the cliffs the subscriber base has been driven off of for some of those years, might not be as big of a brag as you might think, especially when they’re running Shadowlands and Burning Crusade Classic in parallel.  That the Monthly Active Users for Q3 2021 stayed stable at 26 million for Blizz while D2R was booming probably means WoW was down by quite a bit.

So I guess a qualified good quarter for the Blizzard side of the house, even if they are the third place studio, such that people are starting to refer to the company as “ABK,” for Activision Blizzard King.

It also seems that bad behavior didn’t harm them as much as it might have.  But gamers are not, as a larger group, an especially politically aware group I imagine.  I noted yesterday that Riot didn’t seem to suffer from bad behavior, with League of Legends remaining hugely popular even as headlines haunted them.  Maybe being a bad place to work doesn’t hurt your bottom line, which I am sure will make everybody toiling in the video games industry happy.

You can certainly argue that the lack of a strong plan for Shadowlands and having no other fresh titles on deck hurt them as much, if not more than, the investigation by the state of California did.

We will see have to see what Q4 looks like, with the new Hearthstone game mode, WoW Classic Season of Mastery, and the cat mount being the only big items visible.  I’m surprised the cat mount didn’t get a mention on the Blizzard slide.

But we won’t get the Q4 news until February, so we’ll see what happens then.

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