Activision Blizzard – Famine in the Midst of Plenty

I already had a post queued up for today, one about EverQuest and the anniversary progression servers they just announced. But events have overtaken that, so it has been pushed off until tomorrow.  It can wait.  Instead there is a fresh turd in the punch bowl calling attention to itself and which I can’t seem to ignore.

Let’s talk about Activision Blizzard for a moment.

There are few things that can raise the ire against capitalism than a company declaring record revenue and announcing layoffs on the same day.  And yet that was yesterday for Activision Blizzard.

Unless this blog is literally the only video game site you read… in which case I am sorry… you have probably seen the news of yesterday’s earnings call spread around.

Bobby Kotick led the investor call yesterday and was able to declare that Activision Blizzard had its best year ever, earning $2.38 billion in revenue.  However, it wasn’t as good as he had previously promised.  Wall Street was led to believe that the numbers would be closer to $3 billion.  Furthermore, there was expected to be some decline from this earnings summit, with 2019 being described as a “transition year.”

To appease Wall Street for this it was announced that the company would be laying off 8% of its staff, adding up to roughly 800 people.  In my mind I see the scene from The Fifth Element where Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg callously approves a layoff, though that probably flatters the Activision.

The company was quick to follow that with a statement that these layoffs would not be hitting the actual game developers and that “in aggregate” it was expected that game development staffing across the company and its many titles was expected to grow 20% over the course of the year.  What “in aggregate” means is left to the imagination, since I doubt that we’ll every see any follow on indicating if or how this came to pass.  In aggregate some more developers at NetEase working on mobile games for Blizzard might count.

But this ritual sacrifice apparently worked for the moment as ACTI stock has been up a bit today, though the share price is still almost half of what it was back in October before BlizzCon.  I’m not saying that BlizzCon tanked the stock completely.  The price was already down to 65 before then.  But the week following BlizzCon it was down to 50, after which it fell into the 40s during the tough December for the market, finally dropping to its recent nadir in anticipation of the overall company not meeting its estimates.

And so it goes with public companies, where stock price and margins are everything.

When I was younger, back in college, there used to be concern about the dividends that stocks paid.  That was a key factor in their valuation.  It was, you know, an actual investment.  There were programs from companies like Coca-Cola that would allow you to buy some of their stock and then use the regular dividends to buy more so that over time you might have an investment that provided a decent income, something to help you later on in life.

That changed, largely because of Silicon Valley, with the trend in the late 80s that companies would deliver value in the form of growing stock prices.  Companies like Apple and Microsoft pay dividends rarely and very reluctantly. [Edit: Okay, those two do now, but they fought doing that for ages, and a lot of tech companies do not.]  Thus the stock market became became much more about speculation.  What was important was not how consistent a company had been in paying dividends in the past but how much the stock would be worth in the future.  You didn’t buy stock to hold but to sell.

So stock price became all important, and margins became the key measure by which Wall Street valued stock.  Margins, the ratio of expenses to revenue, as the Wall Street obsession has its own distorting effect.  You can boost margins easily by laying people off, or at least look like you’re attempt to boost margins.  You can also boost margins by buying other companies for their products rather than building your own.  Activision spending $5.9 billion to develop a mobile games library?  A huge hit to margins.  Activision buying King for $5.9 billion?  No hit to margins at all since it is assumed in all such transactions that what you bought was worth what you paid for it.  Want to know why EA buys so many studios?  That’s why.

Anyway, that is all based on my experience over the last 30 years in Silicon Valley, where the CEO, the board of directors, and the major investors all care primarily about stock prices if your company is public, and about setting up an optimum structure for going public if you are not already.  I don’t like it.  But if I attempted to avoid companies that behaved that way, which is almost every publicly held company and most larger privately held companies looking to go public, I’m not sure how I would get by.  Go read this series about what it takes to avoid the big five tech giants.

More interesting I suppose is what all this will mean for Blizzard, the one part of the company I actually care about.

On that front things do not look good.  On slide six from the investor call presentation the Blizzard portion stands out in its tepidness.

Activision Blizzard Q4 2018 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 6

You may have to click on that to view it full size for it to be legible.

Both Q4 and in 2018 overall Blizzard was third place in margins and second place in revenue, with King running close behind on that front.

Meanwhile the highlights listed are pretty stark.  Activision had a huge Q4 because that is when the release the latest Call of Duty every year, so you expect that to be huge for them.  But this year it set records.

King also showed quarter over quarter and year over year growth and was recognized for having a leading entry in the mobile games market.

And Blizzard?  I don’t think “sequential stability” is a winning phrase on Wall Street.  Signing a renewal with NetEase is nice, but I don’t think that was a surprise after BlizzCon, where we found out that they were building Diablo Immortal.

And World of Warcraft seeing “expected declines” post expansion already is downright depressing.  That used to be what happen at least a year after an expansion launched, then maybe something that was referenced six to nine months down the road.  But Battle for Azeroth launched in August, in the middle of Q3, and we’re being told that the “expected declines” hit in Q4?  That’s not good, not good at all.  I’m tempted to double down on my “early launch for WoW Classic” prediction from the beginning of the year.

I’ve already seen somebody suggest that this means that Blizzard will abandon WoW, which is ludicrous.  It doesn’t track logically at all because Blizzard doesn’t have anything else to fall back on.  Heroes of the Storm getting set aside was easy, it wasn’t a key revenue generator.  WoW is practically the company’s right leg, and the left leg, Overwatch, hasn’t been doing so well recently either.

And, on top of all of that, it has come out that Blizzard has no major “frontline” releases slated for 2019.   I am assuming that WoW Classic doesn’t count towards that and, as I have said, I expect it will do well.  But reviving the WoW subscriber base for the months that WoW Classic with be hot doesn’t sound like it will be enough.  A remaster Warcraft III isn’t going to be a big enough draw either.  And you can only have so many Hearthstone expansions in a single year.  That doesn’t leave much.

So I expect 2019 will become the year that is marked as the one that Blizzard became something else.  The departure of Mike Morhaime, the Diablo Immortal fiasco at BlizzCon, the rumors and leaks that Activision is getting more and more into the daily operation of the division to make it more like the rest of the company… a company run by a man who said he wanted to take the fun out of game development… and less like the Blizzard that could take the time to hone and polish a product before launch.

Anyway, we shall see what happens.  But I do not think it bodes well.

Other posts on this topic:

EVE Online February Update Brings Little Things and the Guardian’s Gala Event

With the update to the EVE Online launcher already in our hands, the February update for the game doesn’t have much in the way of big features.

No UTC Clock yet, but more space for announcements and accounts

Instead February brings us something of a little things release.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  In a complex project like EVE Online with many moving parts there are plenty of refinements possible.

One of the highlighted changes for the update is a reorganization of the Neocom menu structure, including removal of the “holds and bays,” “ship hangar,” and “item hangar” options, as those all roll up into the unified inventory window already.  CCP will also be reducing the number of items that are on the Neocom by default to help with the sensory overload problem that is the game’s UI.

Another change being called out affects the overview, where cynosural fields will be moved to their own selection in the configuration, separate from other beacons, allowing capsuleers to filter on just those.  A placeholder slot was put in the UI in advance of this, to allow people to update and have their overview ready to go.  If you want to see cynos you should probably check and update your settings.

And there there is the dev blog post about many of the other little things that are arriving with the update.  One silly little item I am looking forward to is a change to how links show up in chat, color coding them so you have a better ideas as to what to expect.

Link colors update

There is always somebody out there that forms a link to look like a kill mail, but when you click on it adds you to a specific chat channel.  That ruse will at least be a bit more obvious now.

The UI will also now prompt you when you attempt to map a key already in use, allowing you to reassign the key right then as opposed to having to hunt down the current key and unmap it manually.

This would have been handy a while back

Also in the mix are two larger font sizes for contextual menus, no doubt a boon to the aging population of the game.

The update also kicks off the now annual Guardian’s Gala event in New Eden.

Coming to The Agency today

The event will run from today through until February 25th.  As usual, it is hooked into The Agency interface in the game and will offer special drops from various activities as well as the usual points system used to accrue towards specific rewards.  Expect SKINs, cerebral accelerators, and the like.  Also, special pink SKINs are for sale in the New Eden Store.  I might need the Eagle and Basilisk SKIN.

As usual we’ve gotten word that the update has been deployed successfully.  For the details there are the patch notes and the updates page available for your perusal.

Also coming soon, CCP think they have nailed down the major problems with the XMPP based chat system they introduced last year.  As a reward for our patience, accounts that were Omega status on March 20, 2018 will be getting a 500K skill point reward on the character with the most skill points.  It’s like a free skill injector.  Details here.

And, finally, CCP has announced a new initiative called CCP Please which will act as a tracking methodology for their ongoing work when it comes to quality of life improvements in the game.  You can visit the CCP Please site here.  Among the first items to be tracked, progress towards a 64-bit client.

Burn Jita back for 2019

For the sixth time since 2012… or seventh if you count the year that it became Burn Amarr…  the Burn Jita event returns.

The warning from CCP sometimes seen in the launcher

The word came down, first at the weekly coalition fireside, then on the Meta Show an hour later, and finally in an obtuse post over at INN, that Burn Jita would be held again this year, with the last weekend of the month being the current anticipated target date.

Soon Coercers, stockpiled in the tens of thousands in a station in Jita, will be handed out to all and sundry who care to join in.  The scouts will be out, the bumpers hitting designated ships as the MiniLuv FCs undock wave after wave of sacrificial ships to be spent in exchange for freighters, Orcas, and the occasional industrial.

Gank fit destroyers on the move

The result will likely be billions of ISK in ships and cargo lost as these fleets strike again and again at shipping in the main trade hub of New Eden.  You can read about the aftermath from last year, or the year before, if you like.  Expect more of the same.

An Obelisk learning about Burn Jita the hard way

The crazy bit is how easy it is to avoid.  Not logging in is always an option, but I suspect that if you stayed at least three jumps away from Jita you wouldn’t even notice Burn Jita was going on.  You might even be a bit safer at some of the common gank choke points, if only because so much attention will be focused on Jita.

Yet people will undock and head into or out of Jita in their haulers, laden with cargo.  The event pretty much depends on ignorance, and of all the resources that humanity has to draw upon, ignorance seems to be the most plentiful.  Just look at the current, completely preventable measles outbreaks hitting children this year.

And EVE Online is no different.  Despite the announcements I mentioned, despite all the signs, people will carry on as though nothing out of the ordinary is happening.  CCP can put that warning on the launcher and they will carry on.  Local in Jita will be full of spam related to the event… from warnings by those opposed to the event to offers to sell you a pass to exempt your ship to the ever present “buzz” of the many BJBee alts… and people, many people, will still undock their freighters and set out to unwittingly become part of the carnage.

If 2019 follows the pattern of past years, there will be pretty much non-stop kills during peak hours, as two or three gank fleets undock in rotation to land on another unwary target, blow it up, get blown up in turn by CONCORD and those seeking to pad their killboards with some easy kills, then wait out their timer before re-shipping and doing it again… and again… and again.

There are a couple of wildcards in the mix this year.  MiniLuv, the high sec ganking wing of the Imperium had a falling out with CODE, the other big force in high sec ganking, so that CODE will likely not be joining in on the event.  That may reduce the number of skilled hands guiding the unwashed BJBee pilots on their suicide runs.

Also there is an ongoing battle over the trade hub empire in Perimeter, one gate away from Jita. The fighting there, which pits TEST and the Imperium versus Pandemic Legion, Pandemic Horde, and NCDot, has led to the two sides opening war declarations against each other.

This means that those at war with the Imperium could put up fleets to shoot the gankers preemptively without having to worry about being shot by CONCORD.  This has been tried before, to no great effect.  However, with the conflict in Perimeter currently raging, both sides are already there in force.  While there has been little impact with small fleets in the past, it is possible that a full on push by a big group like Pandemic Horde to suppress the event could make a difference.  Ganks happen fast though, so any opposition would have to be on grid and ready to shoot fast if they want to make a difference.  But those wishing to oppose the event can join those war decs so as to be allowed free fire on the gankers.

Anyway, the preparations continue and, despite the public statements, little word seems to be getting out about the impending event.   I guess it will just be another surprise again this year.

Free Final Fantasy XIV Maybe

I continue to maintain that few things in life are actually free, and this is no exception.

IF you are an Amazon Prime member and you have a Twitch account and you have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account then, right now through May 4, you can get a free copy of the Final Fantasy XIV Starter Edition through Twitch.

Free for a while

It took me a bit to figure out where to claim this.  I saw it mentioned on Twitter and we know that Amazon and Twitch have a couple of methods for handing out free stuff.

As I have mentioned in the past, there is the Twitch Prime page where you can claim games to download via the Twitch client.  It is available there, but due to the way the page is sorted, it is down at the bottom of the list as opposed to up with the free games.

You can also find it via the main Twitch site in a browser.  It is in the Prime Loot menu, the little up at the top of the page.

Prime Loot

You cannot find it in the Twitch Client.  At least I could not find it in the Twitch Client.  It seems like the integration with the client is less than complete.

Claiming your copy seems simple enough.  You click a button to get a code for the game, the follow the link provided to the download page.

Having never played FFXIV, and feeling that was perhaps a bit of an omission on my part, I decided to grab a copy.  I wasn’t burning to play it RIGHT NOW, but could foresee a time in the spring or summer, before WoW Classic looms into view, where I might have the time and inclination to give it a try.  So I downloaded the installer to at least get it setup.

Unfortunately, that is about where my journey ceased.  When I run the installer I get the option to select my region and language:

That’s me!

And then I hit “accept” and the dialog goes away for a flash, only to return and ask me again… and again… and again… and off into the distance so far as my patience will sustain me.

I did the usual thing, ran it as Administrator, but that didn’t help.

The install page, which seemed a little behind the times, suggested that I run it in Windows Vista SP2 compatibility mode… let me remind you that Windows Vista came out in 2006, or a good seven years before FFXIV… but I gave that a shot.  I tried the various Windows 7 modes.  I turned off the virus protection.  I Googled around for some other options, but found mostly variations on the what I had been trying, none of them successful.

I did run across one thread that said if you were running on Windows 10, as I am, that you needed to install DirectX 9 manually first.  That seemed an unlikely solution, since DX9 was from the Windows XP era and we were now getting into things more than a decade before the game launched.

Thinking that there must be an updated installer somewhere, I went poking around for that as well.  I had no luck on the Square Enix site, where downloads were behind a $19.99 barrier.  Likewise, I figured there must be an installer that worked over on Steam.  But that too had a $19.99 tariff in the way.

So I set it aside.  Like I said, I wasn’t in a hurry to play it right away.  I copied the code off for later use.  I’ll poke around a bit more later.  But the option is there.  You can get a free copy, if you have met all the criteria and can get the installer to run.

What Should EverQuest 3 Even Look Like?

The future of the EverQuest franchise as a whole is important to us here at Daybreak. EverQuest in all its forms is near and dear to our hearts. EverQuest and EverQuest II are going strong. Rest assured that our passion to grow the world of EverQuest remains undiminished.

-Russell Shanks, March 11, 2016

We’re coming up to the 20th anniversary of the EverQuest franchise next month.  That is a long time for a game to hang around.

EverQuest is still alive and kicking, still getting updates, and still making money so far as I can tell.  It is long past its population peak, which hit way back in 2003.  There have been multiple rounds of server merges in order to keep server populations viable.  But there remains a sizable active player base… a player base that is, in all likelihood, still larger than the initial target Sony had for the game back before it launched.

Therein lies the problem, the dilemma of these sorts of game.  Titles like EverQuest, which I will call MMORPGs, are not like single player games or even most multiplayer games.  They are more like their MUD antecedents in that they have a social aspect that attracts and holds players and keeps them playing long after they might have walked away from a game that only featured a single player campaign.  MMORPGs, if they grab a big enough audience early on, can stay viable for years and years.

Just about five and a half years after EverQuest hit the shelves SOE launched EverQuest II.  It was supposed to ship before then… at least a year before then according to Computer Gaming World back in 2003… but when do these things ever ship on time?

It was meant to replace the original, but was too different and initially too… broken isn’t the right word because a lot of regrettable aspects of the game were working as designed, so maybe just not well thought through… to lure many away from the first game and not good enough on its own to surpass the original.  And, as I mentioned, people invested in EverQuest ended up declining to  jump to a new game to start anew.  The old game was still there and they were settled in the world they already knew and loved.

So Everquest II didn’t exactly break records on the subscriptions front.

In the scale of the time, where EverQuest was the top dog, it still did pretty well.  We’ve seen the subscription chart before that shows it peaking around 350K subscribers.

Subscriptions – 150K to 1 million

That was well shy of EverQuest‘s 550K peak, but nothing to be ashamed of in the mix of games at the time.  Or it wouldn’t have been had not World of Warcraft launched a month later.

I think the the fact that you couldn’t find a copy of WoW very easily until early in 2005 kept people in EQII longer than they might have stayed.  But many of the 350K fled, either back to EQ or on to WoW.    The lesson learned, according to Smed at the time, was no more MMO sequels.  But if they had kept to that this post would stop right here.

Meanwhile WoW‘s subscription numbers distorted all previous measures.  550K looked great, until WoW was rocketing past ten times that number and continuing to climb.  WoW changed the genre and the expectations of both players and studios.  The era of insanity began, where the potential of the genre seemed unlimited.  Charlatans declared that if you weren’t making an MMORPG.  WoW became the benchmark for success and money chased those who claimed they could reproduce the success of WoW.  However, the plan usually involved copying WoW, sometimes subtly, sometimes brazenly, but WoW was the target.

EQ and EQII chugged along all the same.  They clearly had enough of an audience to remain viable.  They both got updates and expansions on a regular basis.  There was the inevitable change over to a cash shop F2P model since the audience willing to part with $15 a month for a game was limited and, it seemed, concentrated on Azeroth.

Along the way the idea of a sequel began to stir anew.  A SOE Fanfest in August 2010 SOE announced that they were working on a new EverQuest sequel, which had been given the placeholder name EverQuest Next.

The Freeport Next we never saw

I don’t have a post about the announcement itself.  That was back in my naive blogging days when I thought linking out to other coverage was enough.  Link rot has proven that idea wrong.

But I did take a closer look at what SOE considered their lessons learned from the Norrath experience so far.  They sounded reasonable enough in summary:

  • Single world without the need to load zones
  • Instanced dungeons
  • Low system requirements
  • Stylized character models
  • Fewer classes, relative to EQII
  • PvP from day one and “done right”

Basically, it sounded like WoW, except for the PvP “done right” part.  But SOE has never done PvP right in Norrath, so WoW PvP would probably have been a step up.

We heard nothing much else for a long stretch (the usual SOE method) until June of 2012, when it was announced that everything we saw or heard in 2010 was obsolete and should be disregarded.

Come SOE Live, the new name for SOE Fanfest, of August 2013 we were treated to a new vision of an EverQuest sequel.

Firiona Vie makes it to 2013

There was definitely a new plan with a new set of parameters:

  • No Levels
  • Limited Skills Available
  • Skills Specific to Weapons
  • 40 Classes and Multi-classing
  • Six Races
  • Destructible Terrain
  • Parkour-like Movement
  • Combat Roles beyond the WoW Trinity
  • Emergent NPC AI
  • Sandbox nature
  • World Changing Quests

They also adopted EverQuest Next as the official name.  I wrote a long post about each aspect that was covered and linked out to what other people were writing about it as well.  And a lot of people were writing about it, excited by the prospect.

That went on in fits and starts, with long periods of silence, until early March 2016, when the whole thing was finally cancelled.  I declared that the end of the classic open world MMORPG.  Nobody seemed likely to make anything like the original EverQuest again, despite that quote at the top of the post, which came straight from the copy of the EQN cancellation announcement.

But we were into the Daybreak era by then, and closing games had become the rule rather than the exception for the team in San Diego, so a cancellation seemed par for the course.  The development tool-become-game Landmark was all that survived of EverQuest Next, and even its time was limited.

Which brings us to today.  It has been nearly three years since EverQuest Next was cancelled, and I suspect that we will hear no more about it or the goals it had.  Yet still, the rumor of sequels persist.

I had a tip sent to me about two years back that suggested that Daybreak was working on a small scale game based in Norrath, something more like a co-op RPG rather than an MMORPG.  But that was when H1Z1 still included what became Just Survive, which was also supposed to be small scale, with many servers and a co-op or PvP mechanic.  But I haven’t heard anything like that since.  Perhaps the decline and eventual demise of Just Survive kept that from becoming a thing.

Then there was the post-layoff rumor post from last May which had this gem in it:

Everquest 3 has been back in development for a year and is being rebuilt from the ground up. It aims to compete with Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and to be the first fantasy MMORPG to put an emphasis on team battle royal PvP.

Battle royale EverQuest, because when you have a hammer that worked really well for a bit, every problem looks like a nail?  As PlanetSide Arena suggests, Daybreak is still trying to recapture that battle royale magic that they so briefly held with H1Z1.  And I am not sure that really competes with Pantheon.  But Pantheon is still a vision and some demos five years down the road, so who knows what it might end up being.

And then, back in September of last year, there was the NantWorks joint venture announcement which, among other things, seemed to promise some version of EverQuest on your phone.  But the press release also suggested that H1Z1 and some version of EverQuest were running on the Daybreak’s “well tested game engine,” which might have been a mistake, might have been marketing being unclear on the concept, or might have been a slip that indicated that something in the EverQuest domain was up and running on that engine.

So, with all of that context, where does an actual EverQuest 3 fit into the world?

Wait, I’m not done with context.  Did I mention that it isn’t 1999 anymore?

I realize that the fact that time has moved forward ought to be self-evident, but I don’t think that always sinks in as deeply as it should.  There will be somebody out there who wants the original EverQuest, death penalty and corpse runs included, on an updated platform.

And, I have to admit I have pined for that sort of thing myself at times.  Wouldn’t original EverQuest on the WoW engine be something?

But part of what made EverQuest great and popular and a legend is that it came out in 1999, which I am sad to say is now twenty years gone in the rear view mirror.  At that point in time it was a perfect storm of features and design.  Now though?

So what should an EverQuest 3 look like?

Suggesting going back to 1999 feels like trying to get lightning to strike the same spot a second time, only the storm clouds have long moved on.

Building something more WoW-like with the Norrath lore might have some draw, if done right.  But is the lore enough of a draw if the game is otherwise just another free to play, cash shop, and loot box clone in the genre?

And then there are those lessons learned.  There are some tasty tidbits there.  But Daybreak has already folded on that hand once.  Why would I possibly believe they could revive it again?  It may very well be that the “no sequels” lesson was the one they ought to stick with.

During the coming 20th anniversary of the original I suspect/hope/dread that Daybreak will tell us about plans they have for the future of the franchise.  It seems like the optimum point in time, when nostalgia for the franchise will swell and attention will be drawn to the game as it reaches that milestone.  But I am conflicted as to how I will greet the news of any such successor.

Awkward in Azeroth

One of the baseline things of coming back to World of Warcraft after playing another MMORPG is that you are returning to the silky smooth polish that is Blizzard.  Or it has generally been that way in my experience.  This time around it felt a little different.

On wrapping up Volume I of the LOTRO epic quest lines last week I decided, after a pretty focused three month run with the game, to step away for a bit.  I was already feeling that my passion for the game was ebbing a bit.

Usually, going from LOTRO to WoW is a bit of a relief.  I have not been shy over the years about mentioning some of the UI problems with LOTRO, its cramped and awkward style, its responsiveness, legibility, and such.  This time though…

It was a combination of factors.

First, I had setup a rotation for my guardian in LOTRO on specific keys and, after three months of that, my fingers were going to those keys to fight pretty much automatically.  The problem was that my ret pally in WoW, those keys didn’t line up.  My time in Middle-earth had so solidified my response to combat that I eventually just changed my mapping in WoW to mostly line up that rotation to match where my fingers were going.

Second, on returning, I noticed that my bag were pretty full, so I decided to clear them out.  Forgetting the whole “don’t raise your item level or solo mobs will start beating the crap out of you because Blizzard thought that would be funny” aspect of Battle for Azeroth, one of my least favorite bits of the expansion, I emptied my bad by equipping all the much better gear I had stored away and selling off everything else.

I remembered that problem once I got out in the field.

It isn’t the worst thing in the world, this mobs “grow more powerful than you do as your item level goes up” thing.  But I had just come from playing a guardian in LOTRO, a class that doesn’t kill all that quickly, but which can handle a lot of mobs at once.  Running into the thick of things was easy with the guardian, but a big mistake with the ret pally.  One or two mobs were doable, and even three, but after a three mob encounter some healing was required.  I had to die a couple of times before I got a grip on how much less powerful I was at level 120 in WoW versus level 50 in LOTRO.

And then there was the game itself.  I played for a couple of long stretched on Saturday and Sunday, and several times I ended up with the game lagging out or the UI going unresponsive.  I am very much not used to hitting a hot key and the game not catching it.  This seemed to be a particular problem on Saturday evening.  That is a busy time for the game, and maybe that had something to do with it as I haven’t seen anything similar since the weekend.  But for a stretch WoW was not acting in a very WoW-like manner, but no other games seemed to be lagging.

Despite the less than auspicious start, I pressed on.  I wanted to pick up where I had left off back in early November in Drustvar.  I had one more faction to work on before I would unlock world quests.

But even that seemed to be going against me.  All I wanted was to get to honored with the Order of Embers.  The problem was that the zone opens up with a lot of quests, none of which boost you at all with that particular faction.  That, and the coming of the LOTRO Legendary server, put me off WoW for this three month stretch, and in returning I found myself in the same situation.

I persisted though.  The quest lines are, as I have noted, pretty good.  The zones are all pretty well put together and look good as well.  I managed to find my stride and started to just enjoy following up on one task after another.  Eventually I hit quest chains that catered to my particular factional needs, but that didn’t happen until I really got into the far side of the zone.  By that point I didn’t have to go very far before I got the exploration achievement.

Also, the best exploration mount ever

It wasn’t too far after that when I managed to hit my faction goal as well.  That sent me back to Boralus to turn in the quest that unlocked World Quests as a reward.

World Quests

In a way, that might seem like a step backwards.  I earned enough faction to unlock the ability to earn more faction related quests.  But I have to admit I kind of liked the world quest stage of Legion back in the day.  Doing the daily three or four quests for the emissary ended up being a nice little chunk of content to keep me going.

Also, along the way, I seemed to be climbing out of the item level pit.  Or I am getting better at playing a ret pally in BfA.  Either way, I seemed to be doing better.

I still have to finish up the story lines in Drustvar.  There is an achievement to be done in that.  And I seem to be back in the groove again.  But for a strange day or three it seemed like WoW was losing the playability battle against LOTRO.

Addendum: Also, I really got used to LOTRO putting hostile mobs on the mini-map as little red dots, so kept looking for that in the WoW mini-map for days.

The Time Zones of New Eden

This isn’t a particularly insightful post, at least not is you’re really into EVE Online.  This is more of a reflection and maybe a bit of info for those who do not play or to somebody years down the road researching the game I suppose.

It is one of the quirks of there being one EVE Online server for the whole world that the time of day plays into what opportunities you have.

Okay, there is another server.  But the population on the Serenity server in China is small enough that it doesn’t really count.  The current count on the relaunched server is frankly tiny.  And the players in China have ways of slipping through the Great Firewall to play on Tranquility with the rest of the world in any case.

Anyway, there is a pretty consistent ebb and flow of population over the course of the average day on Tranquility, or TQ.  You can see it repeated ad nauseum on the charts over at EVE Offline, the same hills and valleys over and over.

A typical week in New Eden

The deepest valley in the day is down time, the daily restart of the server that hits at 11:00 UTC and kicks everybody offline for a few minutes most days, though it can be longer from time to time.

Since downtime hits at 3:00 am or 4:00 am local time for me, depending on whether or not we have daylight savings time in effect, I’ve never been up and awake and online when downtime has hit.  I’ve been logged in.  I left my ship drifting during B-R5RB and went to bed, getting logged out at downtime, but I was fast asleep.

That, however, is mid-morning for for those in Europe, early afternoon for the Russians, and passing midnight for those in Australia, with the former two already starting to ramp up the online population.  There is something of a daily ski jump in the chart every day before downtime.

From there things keep ramping up as the Euros get into their evening and day breaks in the US, peaking at around 20:00 UTC.  That is still a bit early for me on the west coast of the US, being about lunch time.  The Russians, then the Euros, start logging off as the US and Canada hit their prime time.  I’m usually not able to get on before 00:00 UTC, by which time all the sensible people in Europe have gone to bed.

The steep downward slope flattens just a bit as US prime time hits, but continues on down to the daily nadir around 06:00 UTC, when the population begins to ramp up again for another day.

Exciting though all of that is… sarcasm, sorry…the real impact is what it means for those playing the game at any given time.

And it just isn’t PvP.  Yes, if you want to blow other people’s ships, you’re better off logging in when the population is at its peak.  Likewise, if you want to stage a million dollar battle, it should probably be timed to commence in the evening European time to let the US players get in on it… though, honestly, experience says that a bunch of us in the US will call in sick or find a way to be home for these things if they are early in the day.

But the population count also has an impact all all sorts of PvE tasks.

If I am playing World of Warcraft, the current server population doesn’t have a lot of impact on me.  In part that is because I play on a US timezone server, so the population is likely to be peaking when I am on in any case.  But even if I have insomnia and log in way off-peak, unless I want to use the dungeon finder or queue up for a battleground.  And, even then, the fact that those work cross server means that I am not totally without hope of getting a group of the fellow sleepless together.  But running around doing quests in the open world isn’t much changed regardless of when I am on, give or take running into a few people out in the world.

In EVE there is the obvious effect that, when more people are online, there are also likely more people likely to be hunting you as you go about your business.  There are more gankers waiting for you in Niarja, more followers of James waiting to bump your mining ship, more gangs on gates while you’re trying to haul your PI or minerals back from low sec, and more scouts looking to get you while you’re running anomalies.

But it also affects you even when somebody isn’t looking to shoot you.  I’ve been out doing a bit of ratting with an alt after taking over a year off.  I’m back to running the much beloved Blood Raider’s Forsaken Hubs.  I have a post about that brewing, once I hit a particular milestone.

I make a point of doing that as far from peak hours as I can possibly manage.  That is, in part, for safety.  I’m usually tabbed out as my drones take care of the rats for me, so I pretty much never dock up when a hostile shows up in system and my response time when I get jumped can be comically slow.  Again, there is a tale behind that.  So being on when there are fewer hunters is probably a good thing.

But there is also a competitive need for that.  In a world where the easy and cheap solution to subcap ratting is a Vexor Navy Issue running forsaken hubs, there are only so many such sites to go around in a given system.  When I have tried to do a bit of ratting closer to peak hours it becomes a task finding a system where you can reliably land in a hub and not find somebody’s VNI already feasting on Blood Raiders.  You end up either having to watch the probe scanner to try and jump on a fresh pop or you have to find a system where there isn’t so much competition.

And, of course, the systems without so much competition tend to be pipe systems with lots of hostiles passing through looking for targets or those near NPC Delve where hunters stage.  I’ve actually fewer encounters hanging out in a pipe system, most likely because the hunters probably expect you to be more on your guard, but lots of non-blue traffic coming and going does put you on edge.

I recall, back in the day, that when I was running missions in high sec, that the population of the current mission hub I was hanging out in was also had an effect on how things played out.  There seemed to be a limit to the number of mission spaces the game would allocate in a given system, so at peak hours you could end up being sent out of system, often more than just a jump or two.  I recall one of the reasons for packing up and moving to Amarr space was being in a seemingly safe mission hub system only to have the agent assign me missions half a dozen jumps away in low sec.  At the time I was still figuring out how to deal with NPCs, so having players show up to shoot me discouraged taking those missions.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve arrived at the point I set out to make.  That is the problem with just thinking about a topic and setting it to write before you’ve really nailed down where you want to go with it.  But I’ve used up my writing time and I’ve got nothing else on tap, so this is what you get.