Category Archives: World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft Dragonflight up for Pre-Order and Promising a Q4 2022 Release

Blizzard would like you to please give them some money now for their upcoming “all the dragon things we could come up with” World of Warcraft expansion Dragonflight.

Dragons are a thing

Announced back in April (on 4/20 no less) you can roll up the dragon race to play the dragon class on the dragon island where you will fly around on a dragon and do all the dragon things with your dragon pals while seeing all the dragons and dragons and dragons dragons dragons.

I swear, if Hemet Nesingwary isn’t out there asking you to collect dragon poop it will be a travesty, because Blizzard is going so deep on dragons that I’m starting to wonder if they’ll have a dragon colonoscopy quest for us.  We’re going all in, so why not go ALL the way in?

After the descent from “good” to “bleh” that was the Legion, Battle for Azeroth, Shadowlands expansion progression, I still need to be sold on this being more than a few gimmicks to get me to buy a box.

A more expensive box.

When I was looking at expansions and pricing and pre-orders back in late 2019, Blizzard was charging $40 for the base Shadowlands box, $60 for the Heroic option, and $80 for the Epic expansion ride.

But inflation is hitting in places beyond the gas pump, and Blizzard wants ten bucks more for each level now.

Dragonflight pre-order pricing

And then there is the physical collector’s edition box, which will set you back $130.

Once again, you don’t get a character boost with the base box, something we got the last time an expansion was $50.  You need to pony up another $20 for the boost… though given the price of one ala carte is $60, that might be a deal if you feel you need one.

There are also some in-game pre-order bonuses, but you will need to have the Shadowlands expansion it seems.  It is there in the fine print.  A chance to sell even more boxes, though at least they’re selling some of those at half price right now. (Though if you shell out the $90 for the Dragonflight Epic edition you get a $20 copy of Shadowlands if you didn’t own it already.  So I guess if you didn’t own Shadowlands and wanted a character boost it would be cheaper to buy the $90 virtual box.  But I don’t need either.)

I guess if you’re really into dragons, you’re probably all in.  But some of the things they’re bragging about are not all that impressive in the context of the game’s history.

Level 70? What, again you mean?

Meanwhile, the most interesting part of the announcement is in the fine print, as it

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight will be available on or before December 31, 2022.

I had written off a 2022 expansion launch for Dragonflight previously, just based on Blizzard history.  Announce an expansion and ship it in the SAME CALENDAR YEAR?  Unpossible!

But there it is, on the page, as immutable as any web content… which means they’ll change it the second they need to and maybe comp you a mount for your faith in pre-ordering if they do.  I wouldn’t bet money against that happening.

I guess the plan for 2022 is Diablo Immoral for Q2, Wrath of the Lich King Classic for Q3, and Dragonflight for Q4, with whatever Overwatch 2 really is somewhere in the middle, and however many Hearthstone expansions they can fit into a calendar year.  Oh, and Warcraft Arclight Rumble.  How could I forget that?

They have to keep up the product roll outs to make whatever metrics they promised Microsoft when they signed the deal to be acquired.  Remember that from back in January? It slips my mind some days, but all of this may soon be Microsoft’s problem.

I think I might wait until WoW is on the XBox Game Pass PC to come back to retail.  We shall see.

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Planning for Wrath of the Lich King Classic

Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming.  It will land at some point this year.  Probably by the end of summer, if my guess is correct.

The classic comes to classic

The last time I checked there was still some interest in our regular group, a desire to go back to Northrend and face the challenges of what might be the expansion I spent the most time playing.

The question is, how shall we proceed?

Unfortunately Burning Crusade Classic didn’t hold us the way that WoW Classic did.  It turned out my memories on not being really into the Burning Crusade overland content wasn’t just a post-play rationalization.  I felt that was the second time through.

Which leaves us in a bit of a dilemma as to what we ought to do.

I guess the obvious route for us would be to buy whatever level booster that Blizzard will have for us when Wrath Classic finally launches.  We can just skip ahead past Outland like it was never a thing.

I suppose we could save the cost of a character boost with a little effort and just pick up where we left off and power through Outland if we were so inclined.

But Blizzard has come up with a third option.  They have announced that, as part of the Wrath of the Lich King experience, they will be launching some brand new fresh start servers where everybody will start anew again.  The idea is that players coming back for just Wrath might feel like they are behind the curve starting on one of the older servers.  So why not let everybody start at level one again?

Why would I even suggest this route?  If I don’t want to play through Outland, why would I want to play through classic AND Outland?

Well, there is the joy of day one on a fresh server.  And the vanilla content, I could probably do that again.  Maybe we could even swap sides and do it as Horde this time around or some such.  I’ve never done Wrath as Horde.

But when the servers go live, before the actual Wrath Classic launch, they will have the 3.x patch applied, with all the talent tree updates for Wrath along with the change in the xp needed to level up.  So it might be a nice warm up to run through vanilla and a less onerous Outland.

Of course, if we commit, we won’t be able to boost right away on that server if we decide we that we don’t want to take the full ride to Northrend.  The rules have been set:

  • For at least 90 days, you will not be allowed to boost a character on Fresh Start realms.
  • For at least 90 days, Fresh Start realms will not be available destinations for character transfers.
  • Death Knights cannot be created on these realms without a level 55 character on that same realm.

So it will be three months before you can boost your way up.  But we can always boost on the old server if push comes to shove I suppose.

But that is all in the future.  Blizzard has a list of things they want to get done before we get to the Wrath Classic launch.  They are:

  • PvE to PvP transfer restrictions removed*
  • Wrath Classic closed beta test
  • Classic Era clone service retired
  • Existing realms consolidated**
  • New Fresh Start Realms with Wrath Classic pre-patch
  • Wrath of the Lich King launch

*This will include the removal of the restriction on having characters of both factions on a PvP realm.

**Before we consolidate realms, we’re going to remove the restriction on the number of characters you can create on each realm, up to the limit of 50 characters per account.

All of which I suspect will take us out to the end of summer.  Mid-August at the earliest, early September more likely.  We shall see.  Plenty of time to make plans.

Blizzard Declines Hard in Q1 2022 While Diablo Immortal Finally Gets a Launch Date

Activision Blizzard pushed out their Q1 2022 financials at 7:30am Eastern Time yesterday which, while it isn’t the Friday at 4pm routine, still strikes me as an hour suited to attracting less attention or getting bad news out of the way quickly.  And Elon Musk promptly buried that news by buying Twitter.  So there you go.

The date was a bit earlier than I expected as well, the pattern generally being that one gets the announcement in the first week of the second month of the quarter.  But I guess if you aren’t going to do anything fancy you can get things out more quickly.

And Activision Blizzard isn’t doing anything fancy because of the Microsoft acquisition.  They don’t have to impress analysts with a cool slide deck or an engaging conference call or throw out a buzzword salad because Microsoft has said they are going to pay $95 a share when the deal closes, which puts a pretty hard ceiling on the share price.

Of course, Activision Blizzard also has to not screw things up between now and when the deal closes because I am sure the contract for the acquisition is miles long and contains many provisions where by Microsoft can pay less or walk away if Bobby Kotick and company degrade the value of the company in any substantial way… or more so than they have already in any case.

This is the part where I tell you that they aren’t doing very well on that front at the moment.

The overall company reported revenue of $1.77 billion, down from $2.28 billion a year ago in Q1 2021 as both the Activision and Blizzard portions of the company slipped hard so far in 2022.

King, however, was up.  Candy Crush Saga abides while Call of Duty and World of Warcraft fall.

I am only really interested in the Blizzard corner of the business, so how badly did they tank in Irvine?

Blizzard revenue in Q1 2022 was $274 million.

For comparison, Blizz brought in $419 million in Q4 2021, which itself was down noticeably from the $493 million posted in Q3.  That was also off from the $433 posted in Q2 and the $483 million posted in Q1.

The holiday season was off for Blizz because they had nothing new to sell, but the new year was brutal, as even the low point of 2021 looks pretty sweet when compared to how 2022 is breaking for the division.

To go along with that, the Blizzard Monthly Active User count went down another 2 million users in Q1 2022.  Over at Massively OP they have been tracking the user count decline, which went from 38 million users in Q1 2018 to just 22 million users in Q1 2022.  Even during the peak COVID lockdown Blizzard’s user numbers were flat.  Now we’re closing in on losing half of their user count in four years.

So not happy times down in Irvine.

What did they have to say about it?  It was the usual hand waving about the product cycle of World of Warcraft and promises of better things to come.

Blizzard’s first quarter financial results were lower year-over-year, primarily reflecting product cycle timing for the Warcraft® franchise. Blizzard’s teams reached important milestones across its key franchises in recent months, and the second quarter represents the start of a period of planned substantial releases across Blizzard’s portfolio.

Blizzard continues to work on numerous new experiences to delight and expand the Warcraft community. The newest Hearthstone® expansion, Voyage to the Sunken City™, launched on April 12. Blizzard’s teams are working on major new content for World of Warcraft® including World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, the innovative upcoming expansion for the modern game, and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King® Classic. Blizzard is also planning to unveil more details about its first Warcraft mobile experience in the coming weeks.

Diablo® Immortal™ will launch on June 2, 2022 in most regions around the world, with the remaining regions in Asia-Pacific gaining access a few weeks later. Over 30 million people have already pre-registered for the game. In addition to offering a deep, authentic, and free-to-play Diablo experience on the mobile platform, Diablo Immortal will also be available free-to-play on Windows® PC, initially as an open beta starting on June 2, 2022, and will support cross-play and cross-progression.

Development on Diablo 4 and Overwatch® 2 is also progressing well. Company-wide internal testing of Diablo 4 is underway, and external testing of the player-versus-player mode of Overwatch 2 begins tomorrow, April 26, 2022.

This is a reminder, once again, as to how important World of Warcraft is to the company and its bottom line.  Nothing delivers as much revenue as reliably as WoW, so the company is chained to it.  They can never walk away from WoW as it keeps the lights on and the paychecks flowing while the company farts around trying to create a new cash spigot from one of its other franchises.

So the forward looking good news was about WoW Dragonflight and Wrath of the Lich King Classic and the recent Hearthstone expansion and some empty milestones related to the Diablo and Overwatch franchises that won’t be anywhere close to launch in 2022.  I think they would have pre-orders open if they had any confidence in a 2022 release.  Remember how far in advance Shadowlands pre-orders started?

The one release with a hard date, the one new thing that Blizzard has lined up to sell in 2022, is Diablo Immortal.

I have been more than a bit dismissive of Diablo Immortal since it was announced at BlizzCon 2018, referring to it as Candy Crush Diablo at the time.  But it was primarily the tone deaf aspect of the announcement… gather all your PC and console fans in a big room and tell them you’re launching a mobile game… that struck me.  How do you get that so wrong?  The phrase “Don’t you guys have phones?” will live on for a decade or more due to that event.

And, the other thing I have harped on about Diablo Immortal was its long development time.  They had a playable demo version at BlizzCon 2018.  Here we are in 2022 and we’re just now getting a release date.  Diablo Immortal will finally launch on June 2, 2022.  How does this take so long?

As it turns out, Blizzard seemed to get it that their core player base was not on mobile, so they ported Diablo Immortal so we could play it on PC as well.

That is actually a pretty impressive demonstration of the company actually trying to listen and respond to user feedback.

I am not sure I would have delayed the mobile release for too long, and technically PC users are only getting access to the open beta of Diablo Immortal on PC on June 2nd, but getting it at all on PC was completely unexpected for me.  (System requirements for phone and PC are up now.)

Pretty exciting stuff in that.  But is it enough?

I am going to guess that the Diablo Immortal release date, with PC only in open beta, is primarily in place to shore up expected ongoing declining numbers for Blizzard.  They need people to get in and spend on that cash shop.

After that, though, 2022 is looking light.  Wrath of the Lich King Classic could easily be a Q3 2022 launch, which would carry the company another quarter, but I am not really feeling like WoW Dragonflight is going to make Q4 2022, which would make for another light holiday season.  And, as I noted above, WoW is what makes or breaks Blizzard.  They need players subscribed.

There we go.

I will say that at least Activision Blizzard knows how to mitigate bad news.  They hit us with the bad news in the earnings announcement, then turned around and gave us the Diablo Immortal announcement with the good news about it being available on PC.  Going through the gaming news headlines, there are bland entries about financials and excited ones about the ship date, PC compatibility, cross platform play, and all of that.  Diablo Immortal on PC will dominate the news cycle compared to the financials.

They did not, pulling a random example out of the air, give us a bunch of bad news on a Friday afternoon and then opt to let it fester for two weeks with a vague promise of good news to come.

You may not like Activision Blizzard, but they know what they are doing in many regards… though that is sometimes the problem as well.

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The Coming of Wrath of the Lich King Classic

In addition to the WoW Dragonflight announcement on Tuesday, which I covered already, there was also the announcement of Wrath of the Lich King ClassicThe WoW Classic page is now dominated by the grim icy visage of the Lich King.

I suppose I could have covered both in a single post easily enough… words are words and all… but WotLK occupies a very different spot in my relationship with World of Warcraft and felt like it should get its own post.

The classic comes to classic

Also, WotKL Classic is supposed to be arriving this year, which might make it a standout from Dragonflight.  Blizz has to ship something this year.

I have, at various points, attempted to rank WoW expansions via various dubious methods, and I always work it so that WotLK comes out on top.  Not that it is the incorrect result, it is more a matter of my metrics being less than scientific.

Still, it remains a stand out for me, the only expansion I played from the day it launched until the day the next expansion launched without a break.  While there are lots of factors that play into that run, they all added up to me going all in on the expansion like no other before it.  Wintergrasp, the Argent Tournament, leveling up alts, crafting, grinding faction, running the instances, building the chopper, it was my peak effort in WoW.

So I should be totally stoked for WotLK Classic, right?  I was stoked for WoW Classic.  There were points between beta and launch that all I wanted was just to play WoW Classic.  And I was pretty excited for Burning Crusade Classic, wasn’t I?

Then why am I not feeling it?

Sure, part of that is the Blizzard malaise, the discovery that the company is problematic on many levels along with a feeling of tiredness about the whole genre at the moment.  It happens.  I don’t want to be down on the whole thing, I just am.

But I am also wary of going back to try and relive what might have been my peak time in the game.  I worry that WotLK was great in its time, both in the state of the genre when it came out and at the point in my life when I played it, but that it might not be all that when it comes to nostalgia.

The thing is, I have been back to Northrend a few times over the years with alts at various times as the game has gone on and I have never, ever stuck it out when I didn’t have to.  Even after the level squish, when getting to the level cap was suddenly much quicker and you could choose which expansion you wanted to level up in, I tried WotLK, but ended up opting for Legion or Battle for Azeroth to finish out some alts.

And then there is the practical aspect of the whole venture, the fact that we ran out of steam when it came to Burning Crusade Classic.  The overland content in Outland was every bit as grindy as I had said over the years, and the four of us were not quite enough to get through five person instances without having to simply be better than we’re every likely to be.

So I have a level 62 paladin in Outland.  That is a ways to go, six levels at least, before you can hope a boat to Northrend.

Yes, Blizzard will happily sell me a level 70 boost.  They are even going to let death knights get an early start so they can be level 70 before the expansion drops in the land of classic.  But do I want it that bad?  And what awkward mount package will they sell this time around?

Meanwhile, there is some controversy about there being no Dungeon Finder available in Wrath Classic, which seems odd to me.  My most popular post yesterday wasn’t about Dragonflight or CSM17. Those two weren’t even close.  The big attraction here at TAGN yesterday was a twelve year old post about some early good/bad experiences with Dungeon Finder that got linked in /r/wow due to all of this.

I have been down the “where does classic end?” path before, but I think you could make a very strong argument that Dungeon Finder is the dividing line between “classic” and “modern” World of Warcraft.  Yes, Cataclysm changed the world, making Azeroth a different place, but Dungeon Finder changed how we played.

We no longer had to schlep out to a dungeon in some zone, maybe use the summoning stone, then enter the instance… or, in places like Scarlet Temple, fight to get to the instance… to get rolling.  We also no longer had to have our dungeon quests all lined up before we walked in.  There was still some connection to the zones, still quest chains that culminated in an instance run, but more and more quests were given inside the instance, right at the start, because people were just being teleported right into the dungeon from Stormwind or Orgrimmar or where ever.

You can argue whether or not it was a good change… my recollection is almost a dozen years of non-stop complaining about its problems and being castigated for defending it now and then… but it was a radical update that changed how we played the game and, frankly, marked the end of what I would consider the classic era of WoW.

But I see a bunch of people angry that Dungeon Finder isn’t in Wrath Classic, including a column over at Massively OP which says I am a selfish gatekeeping ogre for even considering the idea, which baffles me a bit, given the above.  So many years of people complaining about it has led me to expect that is the default reaction to the feature.  I guess not.  There is an attempt to lay the blame on Holly Longdale due to her history with EverQuest and the contested raids thing that eventually got scrapped in favor of instanced raids on retro, which isn’t even close to a parallel situation, but if you were ever seen as gatekeeping… and what is a classic server but an exercise in gatekeeping… then you get painted with that brush forever I guess.

Oh well.  Just because I define classic one way doesn’t mean anybody has to agree.  Certainly the comment thread on that Massively OP post seems to be completely on the side of Dungeon Finder.  I expect Blizz will, if not cave, hedge on the issue due to the outcry, and then we’ll hear the other side of the issue howl.

Selfishly speaking I hope Blizz sticks to this because Dungeon Finder (and achievements frankly) would undermine the whole experience for me… should I decide to play… which isn’t even feeling likely at the moment even if they don’t include it, so I shouldn’t really care about it but I clearly DO care about it and… I don’t know, it is a mix of emotions.

I know, I am in a mood.  And moods pass.  Maybe, when the launch date is closer I will find some enthusiasm for Northrend again.

The WoW Dragonflight Expansion has been Announced

Yesterday was the big announcement, the next World of Warcraft expansion, which will be Dragonflight, and I am not sure how I feel… except that I regret saying at one point in the distant past that dragons and dragon fights were special because, as a genre, fantasy MMORPGs have since worked pretty hard to make sure they really are not.

WoW Dragonflight

I am reluctant be be either effusive or dismissive, as both of those come with their own set of baggage and assumptions.

To be upbeat you have to assume that that Blizzard has latched on to the right plan this time, which is a bit tough in the face of Shadowlands.  Also, I have been really excited about past expansions that have been a bit of a bust.  I was amped up for both Cataclysm and Warlords of Draenor and both had their issues.

On the flip side, it is really easy to shit all over Dragonflight and Blizzard because they have been screwing up so reliably for the last couple of years so that, as I noted previously, it is tough for them to do anything that can’t be cast half measures or desperation or whatever.  And the one expansion I was quite dismissive of in the past, Mists of Pandaria, ended up being one of my favorites.

Basically, there is a lot of emotion tied up in anybody’s reaction, so I am trying to tread carefully because… well… I am not sure how much I care at the moment.  Clearly I am trending on the “feeling burned by Blizz” side of the equation, but I am mostly just not feeling any strong emotion either way on the expansion.  Take that as the guide to my reaction.

So what are they offering up with Dragonflight?

Some of it is the usual, new locations, new dungeons, new raids, and a rise in the level cap to 70 all sound familiar to anybody rolling into a new MMORPG expansion.  I guess the level cap answers one question I had previously… no, we will not be getting a level squish with every expansion.

Is that a good thing though?  I am not sure.  After I got a bunch of characters to level cap in Battle for Azeroth… which I’m pretty sure people thought sucked at times… I got exactly one character to level cap in Shadowlands before I got bored and wandered off.  So now I have one character ready to go for Dragonflight.  But maybe one will be enough again.

A new, available to both factions race, the Dracthyr, with a new class, Evoker, are something special.   Blizz literally poured new races on us with the allied race concept over the last couple of expansions, but we haven’t had anything really new since the demon hunter.

These guys, and the dragons, made me think of The Serpent’s Spine expansion for EverQuest back in 2006.  It was dragon themed with a dragon humanoid race.  But The Serpent’s Spine was also a pretty bold attempt to change how one might play EverQuest.  (It was 2006 and being able to quest to level cap in old Norrath was not a thing.) I am not sure Dragonflight is quite that sweeping in overview.

Dragon riding, a new form of flying mount travel, with some interesting dynamics, is also worth a peek.  Blizz says you’ll get a dragon to ride right away, so I guess they have decided which direction to roll this time in the flying mount plan… or have the?.  Do you get flying with your old mounts AND a dragon, or will there still be some achievement unlock for old mounts?  Or will dragons be so much better that you won’t care? (Update: Dragon flying only, old mounts be walking for now.)

Blizz is also pushing a redo of talents and crafting, which would be kind of neat if they hadn’t played that card so many times before.  Doesn’t EVERY expansion come with some sort of redo on talents?  I’ll wait for the jury verdict on those.

And then there is the new UI, which could be interesting.  But, once again, messing with the UI can cut both ways.  It could be a huge improvement… or it could just break every UI addon, and how many don’t have any active support now… for benefits that are not worth the cost.

So, yes, I am a bit cynical.  I’m certainly not running to opt in for the beta.  I’ve been too hyped up in the past to feel more than a bit tired with some of this.  Sometimes not buying into the immediate hype is a good thing though.  I’ll watch and see how things develop.  I have other games to play and there is no launch date in sight.  Plenty of time to get on board the hype train later.

Related:

What Makes Housing Worthwhile in an MMO?

Over at Massively OP they had a daily grind question about which MMO housing was the most “usefless.”  That elicited a lot of opinions, many of which with I agree, and even another blogger response, but I still felt like there was some cross purposes in some answers, because “useless” is something of a loaded description.  We all know at least one pedant who will argue that it is all useless by definition because video games have no practical use or some such.  But even among the more sensible, there is a wide range things that make housing something they will use in an MMO, so I thought I would explore some of the items that came to my mind on that front.

Personalization

Basically, can you make the housing your own, or will it always look like everybody else’s place?  This can mean a lot to some, but doesn’t necessarily influence the other items on the list.

I would put Rift and EverQuest II at the top of the list, as both allow free form decor and have crafting that can create house items.  EQII would be my top choice because it allows you to convert things from some special quests into trophies for your home, which is what I tend to display.  Also, there is a ton of wall art.  But Rift gets the nod for overall flexibility and being able to go nuts constructing things.

New World isn’t too far behind, mostly because it doesn’t feel like there as many general “things” in the world for basic decor.  The housing options also feel a bit more constrained.  But it is also new, so it may catch up.

Then there is EverQuest… my list is not exhaustive, I am just going through the titles I know personally… which has borrowed a lot of ideas from its younger sibling and has free form placement, including out in your yard.

Lord of the Rings Online is a bit behind that, largely due to limited items and the fixed hook system that puts a rather low cap on the things you can actually put in your house.

Then we get down to WoW and Warlords of Draenor garrisons, which I am declaring housing for the purposes of this discussion, and not simply to dunk on it because it ranks highly in some regards.  But for personalization it had a very limited range of pre-set options you could unlock, so every garrison felt very much like every other one.

Then, finally, I am going to bring in the captain’s quarters from the EVE Online Incarna expansion, specifically to dunk on it and provide a bottom end of the range for comparison.  The only thing that made the captain’s quarters unique was the presence of your avatar shambling about it awkwardly or sitting on the couch.

Captain’s Quarters

It was otherwise identical to every single other one until they introduced a couple of basic faction options, and then they were identical to everybody who chose the same faction as you.  Not that you could tell, because you were the only one who could enter.  We can argue over whether or now a POS or a station or a citadel counts as housing, but this actual attempt at player housing in the game was absolutely the suck.

Asthetics

Is it pretty?

I am going to be down on LOTRO housing in a number of these categories, but I will say that if you like the art style of the game, then their housing is very nice.  And the limited customization that I mentioned above means that in the neighborhood housing concept that the game uses, you can’t really end up living next to that horrible person who fills their yard with crap that spells out obscene words or political symbols.  The Valar giveth, and the Valar taketh away.

I am going to put New World up high on the list too.  Again, despite its limitations, the housing looks good and is well integrated into the settlements.

Since I brought WoW into the mix, I will say that garrisons look find, fit in to the game, and actually have some fun aspects in their look.  Once more, huge limitations on how much you can customize, but it doesn’t look like crap relative to the rest of the game.

I am a bit iffy on EQII on this front.  It isn’t that there are not some wonderful, pretty housing in the game.  But there are also a lot of dingy little spaces.  If you are a new player and get your first house anywhere save Halas, it probably sucks.  I remember my first one room cracke rbox apartment in Qeynos.

Likewise, Rift has so much potential, but a lot of the new player starting dimensions just look like work rather than a place you want to own.

I am also going to put EQ down here.  While it uses the neighborhood concept like LOTRO, its neighborhoods are kind of shabby and there is always the person who has their decorations for their favorite holiday out in the front yard all year around.  Plus vacancies are very obvious.

And the, finally, just to see if Bree at MOP reads this, I am going to drag the Tatooine trailer park that was SWG housing into the mix as an example of ugly housing in an MMO.

Looks like they had used YT-1300s on sale at QVC

I will grand practicality and integration into the game, however they looked like ass and in places stretched for as far as your draw distance would allow.

Practicality

Can I actually do something useful to the game in my home?

Or, perhaps more to the point, if I can do things in my home would I bother doing them there rather than in town or a guild hall or some other location in the game?

Warlords of Draenor garrisons could barely be personalized at all, and aesthetically it was basically part of the game, which could be good or bad, but you could do stuff there.  So much stuff.  Too much stuff in the end really, as it managed to deliver on the prophecy about housing that Blizz had used as an excuse previously, that it takes people out of the shared gaming world..  I still visit my base when I play retail WoW to craft some 30 slot bags for alts and that sort of thing.  It remains useful.

So, for all of the other knocks on garrisons, they are pretty much the gold standard when it comes to integration with the game.  I mean, you had a flight point, a special hearthstone for the place, and could have a bank and transmog vendor.  I kind of want to dig through Reddit to see if anybody wrote a post about playing the expansion without building their garrison.  Is it even possible?

And after that I guess I would put EQII which, while far behind in function, is integrated into the game in that you have to setup your store front for the broker in your home.  That was a day one item, and no doubt something influenced by SWG, so if you were looking for a compliment on that front after ripping it on aesthetics, there you go.  You can also set up crafting stations, mail boxes, and all sorts of other things in your home that may be of use.  Crafting stations in a home used to be a sure fire sign of somebody who botted their crafting back in the day, but it is still something you can do… craft, not bot.

Then maybe LOTRO, because at least the neighborhoods have a crafting hall.  I found them less than convenient to use, but they are there and you could commit yourself to them I guess.

After that… well, I think the bare minimum, the low bar, is to provide some additional storage space, or access to your bank storage in absence of that.  I think all the usual suspects and a few more that I have yet to mentions, like Rune of Magic, at least give you that.

Viability

I don’t think that is the right word, but it is the one I am running with.  Still, I will explain what I mean.

What I am driving at is whether or not any player, new or old, who wants to engage in housing as part of their play can do so without too much effort or cost.  I supposed “accessibility” might be a better word, but it is also a word weighted down with its own baggage, so I try to avoid it.

So, for example, EQII ranks highly in this regard in my estimation.  The game guides you to player housing in the first ten levels of the intro, gives you some instruction in it, and the rent for basic housing is very reasonable at 5 silver pieces a week.  That was a price that didn’t even bother me back in 2004 when SOE was trying to keep a very tight lid on the economy such that mobs did not drop coin and when I finally got my first platinum coin it felt like a huge achievement.

EQII even hands you some furniture as part of the intro.  Everybody gets that same table and mirror that they have been handing out since launch, back when having an in-game mirror that actually reflected was kind of impressive.

Rift as well, once they introduced dimensions, gave new players a shove in that direction and a basic location right off the bat, though it was not very inviting in my estimation.

Dimension by the Sea with my free items strewn about

Lost Ark, which I haven’t mentioned up to this point, also gets right in there and requires you to take on a stronghold as part of progressing in the story.   You may or may not like it, but you’re getting one… also, it is shared by all your characters on the same server, which I view somewhat favorably.

Runes of Magic also gets you into some housing pretty quickly as a new player, though it was pretty dull and pointless housing as I recall, so I set it up and never returned.

New World throws housing at you as well… but then  makes it too expensive for low level players.  Without grinding for coin specifically I could have bought a house, but upkeep would have been too expensive with all of the other day to day costs of the game.

LOTRO throws housing at you at some point… you get a quest about seeing somebody about a deed or a house or something.  But housing has so little practical purpose in the game and is so out of the way and… at least back in the day… used to be a bit pricey for any new player that it falls way behind.

Then there is EQ, which I am not even sure ever tells you directly that housing is a thing.  I think the only in-game notification I can recall is getting a reward that was marked as something to put in your house, which at least strongly implied there was housing.  I have a whole post from 2010 about the effort I went through to get a house.

Some EQ housing

Also, the EQ housing is very reasonably priced… so long as you’re a veteran playing in the current content.  If you’re a new player still selling rat whiskers to the vendor for 18 copper, housing is way out of your reach.

And then, way down at the non-viable end of the list for me sits any game where your home exists in the actual game world on real estate that only one person on the server can occupy.  So I am looking at you SWG and Ultima Online and FFXIV and a few other title that escape me at the moment.

And yes, I know what you’re going to say if you think that kind of housing is great.  I get that it is very cool that your house, and yours alone is there in that spot and everybody can see it.  But as soon as you make real estate scarcity a thing and put specific locations in demand, housing shakes out into winners and loser and most players will be on the losing end of things.  The argument that it makes the game more “real” doesn’t wash with me.  If I wanted a game with the same pain as real life I’d go play EVE Online…. wait….  Anyway that is my opinion and you are free to disagree, just know that you are unlikely to sway me.  I live in Silicon Valley where real estate PvP is a thing already.

Location, Location, Location

The tired old joke of real estate is that the top three considerations are “location, location, and location.”

In this case I am not referring to the whole “instanced vs in the world” housing which I was going on about in the previous section, though I will say that if new players can’t get a house some place useful, your game fails on this front… which means instanced housing rules for location generally.

For the purposes of this section I mean whether or not housing is some place useful, like in town or near services you might need as a player.  EQII is pretty good on this front, though some locations are better than others.  As a new player in Halas everything you might need is right outside your door, which is great… if you chose Halas.  If not, your mileage may vary.

New World is also pretty good on this front.  Housing is all in settlements.  There is some vagaries around what level facilities will be available, but you will be in town.  That makes it feel like you live somewhere worth living.

Other titles seem a bit more dicey.  EQ puts you kind of off of the Plane of Knowledge, through the guild staging area, if you know where that is.  LOTRO puts you out in the middle of nowhere, though there are fast travel options.  But I seem to recall there also being some mithril coin or other cash shop currency relation options is you need it on demand.

So What?

I’ve gotten this far kind of riffing on memories and old screen shots of housing, and have probably mislaid my point along the way.

Oh yeah, housing being worthwhile.

In this reflection, it sure seems like the genre can be all over the map on the various aspects I have picked out.  In general I am in favor of having housing in our MMOs, but I also feel like if the developers don’t have time to do it well, have it look good, be useful and integrated into the game, and have it available to users in general, then maybe they should spend their development time on other tasks.

April Fools at Blizzard 2022 in the Shadow of Many Things

I have been doing this post, or something like it, for 13 years running now, and almost every year there is something different in the mix.

This year finds Blizzard embroiled in a government investigation related to hostile workplace allegations which has led to a chunk of the company’s leadership leaving to “pursue other opportunities,” and which has tarnished the reputation of the company.  The company is also in danger of falling into the “what have you done for us lately” situation, since 2021’s big releases were Burning Crusade Classic, a remake from 2007, and Diablo II Resurrected, a remake from 2000.

Also, Microsoft is in the process of buying all of Activision Blizzard, so we’ll just ad that into the mix of things that have happened since last year’s post.  Certainly that is no April Fools joke, and seems to be in for some serious scrutiny.

So I fully expected things to be quiet again this year, as they were last year.  Blizzard is studious about not even posting real news on the first.

The first place I went was the World of Warcraft forums where I found that they were keeping up the annual tradition of the April Fools Patch Notes.

As usual they are made to look like a leak with “Highly Confidential” and “Do Not Forward!” at the top.  It has things about new raids, new dungeons, new professions, and a host of silly class changes, like that of the warrior:

Warrior

  • Warriors have grown tired of being so focused on warring all the time, so in this patch the class is getting a major redesign:
    • Intimidating Shout has been reworked and is now named Shout Shout: The warrior lets it all out, declaring all of the things they can do without. Come on, I’m talking to you.
    • Furious Slash is now Slash: The warrior transforms into a famous guitar player with long curly hair and a top hat.
    • Casting Slam now puts your name on the list at the coffee shop so you can get up on their little stage this evening and present your poetry.
    • Charge now debits other players’ accounts and provides them with tickets to come see you perform.
  • Producers’ note: Ummm I think we’ve invented the BARD here?

Other than that I have yet to spot anything on the April Fools front at Blizzard.  No doubt there are other things going on in the various games.  I suspect those playing Overwatch might have googly eyes again.  I’ll check back later just to see if there is anything new.  But the era of the big web site joke post seems to be over for now at Blizz.  That seems to have fallen off past 2016.

For those wishing a recap of past years, here is the list:

If you are looking for other April Fools updates from the MMO space, Massively OP has a post charting  out what other companies have been up to.  Also, all of their posts today have a cute animal videos embedded at the end.

The Next World of Warcraft Expansion to be Announced on April 19th

I haven’t played retail WoW in over a year, but that doesn’t mean I don’t keep an eye on the news.  This past week Blizzard gave us a date for when they would announce the next World of Warcraft expansion.

I had other posts planned and, honestly, an announcement that they’ll tell us something more than a month down the road didn’t seem to me to be a dramatic story that needed to be discussed right that minute.  Even the post by Blizzard features a gray map of Azeroth as its header image, not something that exactly sets fire to your soul.

Can you feel the excitement this gives off?

And the statement itself… at least the part about the next expansion… was very brief.

On April 19, the World of Warcraft development team will reveal the next expansion. We’re excited to show you what we’ve been working on and where your adventures in Azeroth will go next.

The rest of the press release was about Hearthstone and Shadowlands and other items unrelated to the next expansion.

Normally an expansion announcement like this would come at BlizzCon.  What, if anything, is BlizzCon useful for other than a big announcement with follow on panels to go into the details?

But there was no BlizzCon 2021, when we might have expected to get news of the next WoW expansion.  The pandemic and its own internal and legal troubles kept that from being a thing.

Likewise, there was no BlizzConline.  The pandemic didn’t stop that, but internal turmoil no doubt made it untenable.  That and the fact that Microsoft was negotiating to buy Activision Blizzard, as announced back in January put a damper on things.

But business must go on, and the cycle of business for Blizzard is a new WoW expansion every other year or so.  That is a revenue stream the company would be loathe to skip.

Back at the start of the year I predicted that Blizzard wouldn’t ship an expansion for WoW this year and I still feel somewhat confident in that prediction.  Again, turmoil at the company, the acquisition, and the need to come up with something good to undo the damage that the Shadowlands expansion all mean that Blizz cannot be too hasty.

They cannot delay too long either though.  A December expansion launch might be in the cards.  Maybe even late November.  But the time between announcement and launch of past expansions has rarely ever been short enough for me to believe they could squeeze this into Q3 2022.

But, as I said, the clock is ticking.  The time between Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands was already the longest stretch between expansion launches.  The expansion gap list:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 779 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 656 days
  • Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 714 days
  • Battle for Azeroth to Shadowlands – 832 days

If Blizzard could manage a December 1, 2022 launch, that would put us at 737 since the Shadowlands launch, which would give us a mid-pack gap.  However, I would find that a rather aggressive schedule, again given the company turmoil, and if they give us a Q4 estimate in April I suspect that it will be late Q4… some time in December… and that the initial launch will be shy of a lot of planned content.

Of course, not throwing everything at us at launch might not be the worst plan.  If Blizz has a problem with their two year expansion cycle, it is that they have not shown themselves to be consistent at metering out content over time.  But I wouldn’t want them to make that problem even more pronounced by showing up at launch day with a very light content delivery that people play through then leave before Blizz is ready for the next installment.

And, finally, they cannot put of another expansion forever.  WoW expansions and WoW Classic launches are the tent pole events in their financial forecast.  Blizzard has revenue numbers to meet and neither Overwatch 2 nor Diablo IV are going to show up to save the day in 2022.  That leaves Diablo Immortal as the backup plan and maybe some sort of WoW mobile title, unless they have Classic Wrath of the Lich King ready to go this summer.  The new lords and masters at Microsoft will want some payoff for the 69 billion dollars they are spending on Activision Blizzard.

As for what the expansion will be focused on… well, it had better be good.  But not another re-roll of The Burning Crusade again.  We’ve been after the Legion and the array of bad guy orcs enough I think.

The Orc Chieftain Cheat Sheet

Will it be new locations, old locations revived, or some mix?  There was that whole Empire of Dragons thing floating around a couple of months back, but the consensus seemed to be it was a fake because the logo lettering was well below Blizzard’s standards for such things.

We will see in a little over a month.

WoW Classic and What We Left Behind

In the post I did late last month about the metaverse and VentureBeat’s summit, I included a video from the Folding Ideas channel on YouTube about NFTs and crypto and what they’re really about.  I do recommend listening to that video (you can watch it, but I think you get 90% of the content just through audio, which I’ve done twice now) even if it is two hours long.

Impressed by that video, I went an explored what else the channel had to offer, which includes an interesting and deep look at the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings movie from the 70s, but the more relevant gem I uncovered was a video about WoW Classic.

Classic is as classic does

The video, which runs 40 minutes is a look at World of Warcraft back in the day, how it was part of the role playing game genre, its roots in EverQuest, and a comparison between WoW of 2006 and the more recent version of the game.  As with the previous two videos I mentioned, it is a thoughtful examination of the topic, delving into mechanics, social dependency, and self-directed play.

As a note, the video is more than two years old at this point, and much of the comparison being done with vanilla WoW focuses on the Battle for Azeroth expansion though, as you might expect, Cataclysm also come under some scrutiny.

For me, the comparison between Battle for Azeroth and vanilla, and how the myriad of options that expansion offered when it came to things to do could quite easily lead to a sense of obligation, a feeling that you HAVE to do all the things to keep up and current, seems even more relevant in the era of Shadowlands.

Shadowlands, having shortened up the already short run to level cap that Battle for Azeroth offered, stuck me as an expansion almost entirely devoted to generating a sense of obligation within players, a false need to get out there and work on faction rep, do the dailies, run Torghast, and work your way up towards the current raid meta.

Whatever gripes I have or had with Battle for Azeroth, I did play it through, getting multiple characters to level cap, unlocking all the allied races, unlocking flying, and generally “doing all the things” that could be done without having to queue up to play with strangers.

So for me it was interesting to consider the direction Blizzard went with Shadowlands and how its design runs against the idea of self-directed play.  I made it through to level cap with a single character, then fell off the wagon without even a thought of coming back later to pick up the thread.

Anyway, a food for thought video on a Saturday.

Blizzard Sinks Slightly in the Low Key 2021 Financial Results Announcement

Citing the planned Microsoft acquisition, Activision Blizzard did not feel the need to go through the full dog and pony show when announcing their Q4 2021 and full 2021 financial results.

No fun graphics, no fancy slide deck, and no investor call for questions.   The minimum financial reporting requirements were met and that was it, no time for awkward questions about unions, the ongoing problems with the state of California, Blizzard’s product roadmap, or exactly how much cash Bobby Kotick will walk away with when he hands over the keys to Phil Spencer.

It will all be Microsoft’s problem soon enough I suppose… if the FTC is good with that.

As I noted at the end of my month in review post, should Microsoft’s purchase go through, we’ll probably be getting even less detail about what is going on at Blizzard, as they’ll be a part of a much bigger organization.  I’m not sure it will be like SOE being completely invisible in Sony’s financial statements back in the day, but they probably won’t get their own slide in a presentation once it happens.

Anyway, over on the investor relations site… and that will go away once the deal is done, so somebody back that up… you can find a press release and a PDF file that has all the bits and pieces of information we usually get.  Just, as I noted, no snappy graphics.

Overall the company earned $2,163 billion in Q4 2021, down from the $2.413 billion earned in the same quarter in 2020, but that was still a bit more than the advisory they put out in Q3 2021.

Blizzard itself earned $419 million in Q4 2021, down noticeably from the $493 million posted in Q3.  That is also off from the $433 posted in Q2 and the $483 million posted in Q1, making the normally lucrative holiday season the lowest quarter for the division.  But that is what happens when you don’t have anything new to sell for the holidays.

Overall Activision Blizzard brought in $8.8 billion in 2021, up from the $8.09 billion they booked in 2020, largely on the back of Activision figuring out new ways to make the Call of Duty franchise pay.

By itself Blizzard brought in $1.827 billion of that in 2021, down from the $1.905 billion the division earned in 2020, but that is what you get when you ship zero new products and have to rely on remakes and remasters.  Over at Massively OP, where they have been tracking the Monthly Active User numbers (MAU), they reported that Blizz only pulled in 24 million MAUs in Q3, down again, with the long term trend showing 14 million monthly users fewer than back in Q1 2018.

The report had this to say for Blizzard and its prospects:

  • Within the Warcraft franchise, fourth quarter World of Warcraft reach and engagement continued to benefit from the combination of the Modern game and Classic under a single subscription. In 2021, World of Warcraft delivered its strongest engagement and net bookings outside of a Modern expansion year in a decade. Hearthstone fourth quarter net bookings grew year-over-year, driven by a steady cadence of new content.
  • Blizzard is planning substantial new content for the Warcraft franchise in 2022, including new experiences in World of Warcraft and Hearthstone, and getting all-new mobile Warcraft content into players’ hands for the first time.
  • In the Diablo franchise, Diablo II: Resurrected sold through more units from its September release until the year end than any other Activision Blizzard remaster over an equivalent period. On mobile, Diablo Immortal concluded its public testing with positive feedback.
  • Blizzard is making strong progress on its pipeline, including new experiences in Warcraft, ongoing development in Diablo and Overwatch, and an exciting new IP.

Basically, various flavors of WoW, along with Diablo II Resurrected, carried most of the water for the division, though the company does like to be coy and put Hearthstone under the Warcraft IP banner.  But WoW still probably brought in close to a billion dollars in 2021, even with a foundering retail experience.

Nostalgia has paid off as WoW Classic has turned out to be as popular as many of us thought it would be.  I know I said I’d lay off him on his famous quote, but I really want to ask J. Allen Brack where Blizz numbers would be today if we really didn’t want vanilla.

As for the future, Diablo Immortal is still being dangled out there, as is the threat of some sort of mobile Warcraft related experience. (Some speculation on that here.)  Wake me when they have something to ship.  And there is a reference to the unannounced survival game that Blizzard announced last week, but it is so far out in the future it doesn’t even have a name yet, putting it somewhere behind Diablo IV and Overwatch 2, neither of which will see the light of day in 2022.

Still, things went pretty well for Blizzard considering their legal problems and the fact that they spent much of 2021 living off of 15-20 year old content.  But I suspect they’ll need to ship something new in 2022.