Tag Archives: BlizzCon

Looking for Offense

My mistake was going to /r/eve on Reddit.  Every nugget of useful information found there must be paid for by wading through post after post and comment after comment of nonsense.

I happened to wander in just after a post went up where somebody was outraged about CCP suppressing their freedom of speech.  We’re big on that this week since somebody said something we seem to agree with.  We’ll be down on it again as soon as somebody we don’t like says something we disagree with.  I guarantee it.

In this case the person in question appears to have been dropping mobile depots around Jita and naming them with messages supporting the protest in Hong Kong.

A CCP GM sent him a warning, which he posted in full, that he had been reported for “deliberately creating lag by excessive spamming of structures in a high population system.”  This was just a warning, it contained no sanction, just a link to the policies and an admonition to not do it again.

Now, I have to admit that I figured he must have been dropping A LOT of mobile depots to get that sort of warning.  I have reported on some of the things that people get up to with mobile depots in the past.

That is a lot of mobile depots

In that scenario you need to drop a lot of mobile depots to stand out.  As such, they seemed pretty sure that they were being singled out for political speech.

I suspect that the comments that came in reply to the post almost immediately were not what they were expecting.  Rather than support for Hong Kong the poster found people angry about them bringing politics into the game or thinking they had a right to free speech given the terms of service to which they had agreed.  The responses were nasty and the poster returned fire in kind.

I took a minute to log in an alt I had sitting in Jita and undocked to check out the mobile depot situation.  Unlike the screen shot above, Jita 4-4 seemed bereft of mobile depot spam.  Dscan showed a total of 8 withing the limits of scan range.  I checked a couple of the gates and found a few more, but mobile depots were not out in force.

So I went back to Reddit and replied, mentioning my observation of the current situation and asking the poster if they were sure if they were being uniquely targeted, because it seemed to me that CCP was trying to clean up the usual spam around Jita 4-4.

I received a short, apologetic response and the post was deleted.  Or as deleted as such things can be.  Nothing on the internet for more than a few minutes is ever gone for good.

I was actually a bit surprised at that response.  I have grown so used to people being unwilling to shift their point of view even an iota on the internet, people so keen to favor only facts that support their initial assumption and so ready to discount immediately anything that runs contrary to their contrived narrative.

It is just the way people tend to be.  I have long held the opinion that people make decisions first and fill in the supporting evidence needed to get there after the fact.  I catch myself doing that.  Some times it doesn’t matter.  Picking some music to listen to doesn’t require supporting facts.  Buying a new car though, or picking who to vote for, or making accusations of bad behavior, that should probably be based on facts, though I am quite convinced that is not the case more often than not.

Anyway, I was thinking about this in the context of the next couple of weeks.  We have EVE Vegas coming up next weekend and BlizzCon after that.  Both companies, CCP and Blizzard, are in bad odor with some of their player base.  No matter what they say at their respective events, some people are going to look for the worst, darkest, most damming interpretation of what is said and done.

It is one thing to speculate.  I do that all the time.  You get a few points of data and it is natural to try to string together a narrative or a motivation.  It is a natural response and can be fun.  Interesting discussions can come from such things.

Just don’t go full Gevlon and stop listening to facts that might contradict your carefully crafted conspiracy theory.  Be the person in my story instead.

Looking Forward to BlizzCon 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going down the list of franchises:

World of Warcraft

New expansion announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WoW Classic

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

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

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

Diablo

Diablo IV or go home.

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

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

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

Heroes of the Storm

Auto Chess or go home.

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

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

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

Overwatch

Overwatch 2 or go home.

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

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

Hearthstone

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

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

StarCraft

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

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

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

New Stuff

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

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

Waiting

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Why Fan Expectations for Blizzard are Hopeless

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

Time for the daily minute of hate

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

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

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

That practically set the hair of enraged on fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get things like StarCraft II.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does Blizzard do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BlizzCon Yawns 2018

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

BlizzCon 2018

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

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

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

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

Opening

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

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

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

World of Warcraft

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

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

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

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

WoW Classic

This was the interesting bit of BlizzCon for me.

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

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

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

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

Overall design philosophy

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

The easy stuff to eliminate

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

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

Raid progression

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

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

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

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

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

Candy Crush Diablo

This was the surprise disappointment part of BlizzCon for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overwatch

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

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

Lucio Ohs

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

Hearthstone

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

Heroes of the Storm

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

StarCraft II

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

Warcraft III Reforged

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

The return of RTS again

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

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

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

Destiny 2

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

Panels and Other Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others in the neighborhood talking about BlizzCon 2018:

Looking Towards BlizzCon 2018

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

BlizzCon 2018

  • World of Warcraft

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

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

The option to select

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

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

The download

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

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

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

  • Diablo Franchise

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

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

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

  • Overwatch

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

  • Hearthstone

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

  • Heroes of the Storm

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

Also, new heroes and new cosmetics I am sure.

  • StarCraft

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

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

  • Others

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

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

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

WoW Classic Coming to Your Home for BlizzCon

I had just started thinking about my wish list for this year’s BlizzCon.  With the event coming November 2-3 this year, we’re still more than a month away, but it is never too early to start speculating as to what might find its way to the main stage.  Diablo IV maybe?

And then earlier today Blizzard announced that you would be able to try out a demo of WoW Classic at BlizzCon… even at home, if you bought the Virtual Ticket.

Classic is as classic does

The details, such that there are:

Every BlizzCon, we look for opportunities to bring new aspects of the experience to our community around the world. This year, we’re excited to announce that for the first time ever, BlizzCon Virtual Ticket holders will join BlizzCon attendees as the first people to play the World of Warcraft Classicdemo we’re creating for BlizzCon at home.

Shortly after the BlizzCon opening ceremony on November 2 (on or around 1pm PDT), players will be able to download the same in-development BlizzCon WoW Classic Demo that will be playable on the show floor. Players will have a chance to explore and enjoy a limited questing experience through a pair of classic early-level zones—one Horde and one Alliance—and experience firsthand our recreation of the original Azeroth.

Once the demo is live, you’ll be able to play until 10am PST on November 8, giving BlizzCon attendees a chance to check it out again once they get back home.

While I was very likely to have gone with the Virtual Ticket again, this pretty much seals the deal.  I expected that WoW Classic would be center stage this year, but this goes way beyond what I thought might come to pass.  I expect that this will make the Virtual Ticket a big deal for a lot of people.  Having a week over which to explore what they have done so far will be a big temptation.

And then we can spend the next few months debating and complaining about the things Blizzard decided to include and decided to omit from the Vanilla WoW experience.

Anyway, you can count on me giving it a try.  The question is, will I need to buy a Virtual Ticket for my daughter as well now?

Addendum:

Also, a shout-out to Polygon who put Arthas in their tweet about this.  Arthas, while classic in his own right, is in Wrath of the Lich King and not WoW Classic.

That’s some tip-top research there

 

Monday Morning BlizzCon Thoughts

World of Warcraft

Some big big news for Azeroth fans out of BlizzCon this year, the biggest of which was likely the new expansion, Battle for Azeroth.

Battle for Azeroth

I was genuinely surprised that this did not leak as much as past BlizzCon expansion announcements have.  I was also a bit unimpressed by the name.  I mean, Battle for Azeroth makes for a decent acronym unlike WoW Legion, but even Blizz pointed on that had used this phrase previously, though only as a description.

Also, Warcraft II

And so we have a new expansion headed our way about which I am not entirely enthused.  This is the problem with expansions; they eventually stretch an MMO out to in crazy directions and, unless you keep up and never take a break, it is easy to feel left behind or to ask when enough is enough?

I have in the past criticized Blizz for being unable to churn out an expansion in less than two years.  However, the flip side of that is we haven’t gone as crazy with content sprawl the way its contemporary, EverQuest II, has.  And I couldn’t even make a game list off the top of my head as to the number of zones EverQuest has.  Feeling the need to feed users a new expansion TWICE a year for quite a stretch, and then once a year since then has left EQ with a huge amount of content, most of which has been made obsolete by later changes.  The Fippy Darkpaw time locked progression server started up back in February 2011 and has, with a couple of exceptions, unlocked content at the fastest rate allowed, and still has two expansions to go before it catches up to live.

That is cool and all… it is likely the only way to get  people to replay some of the plethora of zones in Norrath… but holy crap that is a lot of mostly neglected content.

So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Blizz for their rate of expansion release.  Then again, if they could pace the content right, people wouldn’t care so much.  #NoMoreDraenors

Anyway, having purchased the Virtual Ticket and listened through the WoW panels, these are my initial gut reactions to various aspects of the what is coming.

Interesting:

  • New places to play/explore – and a double bonus for a troll themed location
  • Ten more levels
  • Unlocking some new playable races
  • Six more character slots per realm to allow for those new races
  • All the usual new stuff with an expansion
  • Islands expeditions with advanced AI behavior… this will really piss some people off
  • Island expeditions in normal, heroic, mythic, and PvP levels will keep too many people from being pissed off
  • Flying on the same trajectory as Legion
  • Another stats squish… this time with ilevel!
  • Bigger base bag eventually if you use the authenticator

Not so interesting:

  • Horde vs. Alliance being played up as a central theme
  • New playable races look remarkably like current playable races
  • 100% boost in playable elf races
  • Legion legendaries pretty much getting tossed
  • Azurite collection being the real central theme
  • The Heart of Azeroth? Somebody been watching Titanic?
  • War Fronts – Maybe this is Keen’s Warcraft 4 RTS?
  • New social features, if only because nobody I know plays WoW anymore so my friend’s list is almost always gray

Outstanding questions:

  • Will that level 100 boost I haven’t used turn into a level 110 boost?
  • Launch date?

We are, I will admit, a good year away from seeing this, so there is plenty of time to hammer out details, but I wasn’t carried away with that “I’m going to delete all my other games and play this forever!” temporary enthusiasm that can come with new expansion announcements.

Also on the list of things for WoW is expanded zone level scaling.  The whole WoW Legion thing about every zone being the right level for you will be hitting other parts of the game with the upcoming Patch 7.3.5, within some parameters.  You will, for example, be able to play from level 60-80 in either The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King content.  Since, as things stand now, you will burn through the ten levels each provides long before you finish the content, this could be a boon.

Likewise, Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria, both currently five level expansions, will scale from 80-90.  So you can skip Cataclysm and play the excellent zones in Mists of Pandaria.

Sounds good in theory, I will be interested to see how it plays out in practice.  I suspect that you’ll still outrun the levels bracket if you insist on doing both the quest chains and dungeons.  And, likewise, I suspect that you will effectively be able to do one expansion or the other and mostly not level out before you’re done.  They say you can switch back and forth, but the xp curve just isn’t going to support doing all the things from 60-90, the way that the current 1-60 leveling experience fails to support that.

WoW Classic

I’m just going to call this its own product for now.  No details, no timeline, and even Blizz admits that the obvious and potentially divisive “what is vanilla really?” question remains very much unanswered, but lots of reactions.  I think in the local blog neighborhood there were initially more posts and comments about WoW Classic than the expansion.  Some examples:

Posts and comments were all over the map, with surprise, enthusiasm, and disdain all represented, but it was a lot more positive than I thought it might be.  There was a very strong hate vibe towards any thoughts of classic back when Blizz was on that side of the argument.  Now that seems to have dissipated some.  Maybe because WoW Classic is getting its own development team so won’t be seen to be stealing resources from mainline WoW?

And, of course, the press was in in with “What the hell Blizz, you said you wouldn’t/couldn’t do this?”

My own favorite was the Steve Messmer piece over at PC Gamer (I even met him at EVE Vegas!) where he interviewed J. Allen Brack and made sure to take him to task for his 2013 BlizzCon comments about the prospects for a Vanilla WoW revival, the infamous, “You think you do, but you don’t” response. (Recorded and on YouTube of course.)

Telling people the don’t really want something that they’re asking for like you know better is never a winning play, and doubly so in the face of the popularity of other similar ventures in MMOs like EverQuest and RuneScape.  Fun stuff.

Meanwhile, a lot of what Blizz said about WoW Classic was set in the future tense.  It sounds like they had a small group do some research and found a viable path forward.  Everything else, however, seemed to be couched in “we will,” “we’re going to,” and “we want to.”  Basically, when Bhagpuss said something about the year 2020 I realized that we are at the tail end of 2017 and wanted to amend that with “the end of 2020… if we’re lucky.”  As I tend to say, we shall see.

And one of the lingering questions in the back of my head is how much will this cost?  Is this going to be a freebie people get with their current WoW subscription, which seems an obvious but not certain assumption, or will it really be its own product right down to the billing?  My guess is that it will be bundled with WoW… I think part of the reluctance for Blizz to roll another subscription MMO is not wanting to make people choose between their products… but we won’t know until Blizz tells us.

StarCraft

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is now free.  So you have to pay $15 for remastered StarCraft but StarCraft II you can just download.  Yes, that isn’t exactly like matched against like, and old StarCraft is also free, but I find it amusing.

I also continue to feel a barely perceptible vibe that remastered StarCraft is getting a boost as a competitive esports platform while StarCraft II is heading more into a PvE, co-op, story line future.  Maybe that is just me.

Diablo

Not much, as expected.  Really, only two 30 minute panels, one essentially about four Twitch streamers and one about the necromancer visual effect.  The Diablo franchise is asleep.  I suppose it is better than the long hibernation the franchise had after Diablo II, what with seasons and all, but nothing new is on the horizon.

Those Other Games

New heroes, maps, and/or card packs as applicable.  And they’re still fixing Heroes of the Storm.

BlizzCon Itself

As somebody mostly interested in World of Warcraft, I have to admit that I do pine a bit for the days when BlizzCon was really WoWCon with a StarCraft tournament along for the ride.  When I looked at the schedule I didn’t see a lot of WoW, which is something that made me consider skipping the Virtual Ticket.

But then there were the “What’s Next,” “Deep Dive,” and “Q&A” panels for WoW were all informative and worth going through. (The Q&A panel always makes me feel really good about the WoW community, because the questions are often either things I wanted an answer too or wished I had thought to consider) Those three answered a lot of the questions about the new expansion.  The three bullet point lists above about WFA I made during the opening ceremony and then updated as I listened.  I probably still missed some things… I know I did, actually… but I feel more informed.  And, as I tend to say, hearing how the teams present these things adds a layer of information you don’t get from the recap on the news sites.

Likewise the WoW art effects panel and creating a dungeon boss panel were both interesting to listen to, if less informative about upcoming products.  They were interesting from the angle of hearing about process, especially the boss creation

And then there was the Behind Blizzard Worlds panel, which was a nostalgia tour of Blizzard and products and ideas and who championed what and who was against this or that to start.

Contentious items included the whole Horde vs. Alliance things, which the EverQuest players, including Rob Pardo, initially felt would divide friends.  He got over that and we are seeing a renewal of that factional rift again with Battle for Azeroth.  I think, in the end, the server silos divided more people that the factions did, and the two factions did give us two story lines to play through with each expansion.

The real world 24 hour clock of Azeroth also faced a lot of push back.  Again, anybody who played EQ immediately thought of night time as dark and dangerous and thought the game might be nearly unplayable during prime time for most gamers.  Instead Azeroth is gently lit, and very playable, day or night.

And then there were the mistakes they made and the games they cancelled that shaped the company’s philosophy.  Don’t cry for Titan, it wasn’t the first MMO Blizz canceled.  Before WoW there was an MMO called Nomad that never saw the light of day.

So, while I would have liked more WoW on the menu, I guess I got a pretty good fill of information.   I want to go back and listen to the Blizzard Worlds and the Q&A panel again before they disappear from the Virtual Ticket site.  After than I will just have my memories and a pair of goofy mounts.

I think the Horde did better again this year

And so it goes.