Tag Archives: Diablo Immortal

Josh Strife Hayes and The Immoral Design of Diablo Immortal

Diablo Immortal has been out and about for more than two weeks now and has gotten a lot of flak for its monetization.

The push starts small, but it starts right away

I made my own post about the game after playing it for a little over two hours and pretty much walked away from it.  It is uninstalled and I have no plans to go back to it.  I certainly didn’t have any plans to post about it again.

And then I watched the Josh Strife Hayes video about the game and thought I ought to post that as well.

First, this video has a pretty good and detailed look into the monetization scheme for Diablo Immortal.  I didn’t have the patience to go this deep, so it is nice to have a video example that does go far and explains clearly what is going on.

Second, it is actually a reasonable look at the game play of the game, which has its good points.  JSH does see some good in the game and he is always willing to acknowledge when something is done right.  That is part of why I enjoy his videos.

Third, while he likes the basic game, he also manages to pick out almost every issue with the port to windows, beyond just the mobile terminology that is still in the game, that bugged me, and even clarifies one or two problems I saw but couldn’t quite nail down.  But it solidifies what I wrote myself, that Diablo Immortal on Windows is not the solid, polished Blizzard title we have come to expect over the years.

Overall, worth a view if you want a dive into the game and a reminder of what happens to your reputation if you place it in the hands of somebody who doesn’t share your values. (Cue jokes about Blizzard values.)

Blizzard has had to go out of its way to state that Diablo IV will NOT be monetized the way Diablo Immortal has been.  It doesn’t matter that the scheme was the model NetEase uses.  It was launched under the Blizzard banner.  The Blizzard logo is all over it, so Blizzard owns it.  They don’t get to say, “It wasn’t us.”

Diablo Immortal on Windows

The TL;DR – It’s kind of okay, until it starts asking you for money.

If this were a $20 indie title with no cash shop, people would be praising it.

But it isn’t.  Instead it is a mobile title ported to Windows from a company that has previously prided itself on polish and who has set the benchmark for ARPG titles.  And while it is free to start playing, that state only lasts for so long.

Granted, it is still in beta, but the cash shop is fully up and running and, as I have said before, if you are doing that you are effectively live and should be treated as such.

Diablo Immortal on Windows

As such, there are still some issue and oddities that are no doubt artifacts of translating the game from the phone to the PC.  I keep getting told to tap on things and I don’t have a touch screen.

Tap? How? Also, clicking doesn’t seem to work reliably, or the hot spot is off or something

It also feels oddly sterile for some reason, the way Minecraft Dungeons did, where there is nothing particularly wrong with the title, I just don’t feel compelled to keep playing.  It has the sort of vibe you might get from a low budget clone of a Diablo title that repurposed the artwork and some ideas.

NetEase?  Is that you?

So things look familiar but don’t always feel right.

Kill streak

And the world is a bit weird.  You see other people on your server.

Other players with me

But out in the world things can seem oddly out of sync.  You’ll go fight an overland boss and see other people obviously fighting their own version of the boss but visibly attacking nothing from your perspective.

But if you’re dying for a freebie ARPG clicker, it isn’t bad.   And it has the usual online things to try and keep you coming back every day.

A reward for your first kill of the day

As long as it is free everything is fine.  And hell, even early on when it is offering you some low price items, it isn’t a big deal.

Spending some beginner money on a beginner pack for 800% EXTRA VALUE

Even with the one offer only, huge value pressure I was able to say “no” to that, though the fact that the game was very insistent on telling me about this offer was probably a sign.

Okay, game, can I just hang out with Juicybumbum for a moment in peace?

But it does get more persistent as you progress.  There are other items, a battle pass, and the whole “you could spend over $100,000 to max out a character” aspect of the game, which would really tick me off if the game was strong and compelling enough that I wanted to keep playing it.  But after a couple of hours playing over the last week… Diablo Immortal isn’t that.

I suppose, intellectually I appreciate a game I can put down at a moment’s notice and not feel deprived.  But playing… and paying… lives in the emotional part of my brain.  A game that is easy to put down is also easy to simply not pick up again.

So, barring any new controversy or big change, this will probably be my one post about playing Diablo Immortal.  It is okay, and not much more.

Others those, who have found it compelling enough to go deep on… well, they are kind of pissed.  Carbot has a video about the game already that, in his usual style, sums up the feeling of the masses.

Meanwhile, others have written more about the game than I will, so it is a chance for me to be community oriented and link out to others.  Go me.

Related:

Diablo Immortal Launches Today on Mobile and Enters Beta on Windows Tomorrow

I guess I have to stop yanking Blizzard’s chain about not shipping Diablo Immortal after having a playable demo back at BlizzCon 2018.  That “Don’t you guys have phones?” line seems as old as “You think you do, but you don’t” these days.

But today we get to see Diablo Immortal at last.  On our phones at least.  It was supposed to be tomorrow, but hey, early release for mobile.

Phone Diablo

I actually saw Mister “Don’t you guys have phones?” Wyatt Cheng on Twitter saying he was pre-loading the PC version last week, which I first thought was odd because his profile says he is the Game Director for Diablo Immortal, so I am pretty sure he had access already.  And then I went to do the same and was a bit confused.

I mean, first I had to remember my Blizzard password since I haven’t logged into the launcher for about six months. (Hint: everything says it needs an update.)  And, after looking that up, I remained confused because it said I could only download the beta.

The download option says Beta

It took me a minute to remember that today tomorrow is really only the live launch of the mobile version.  The PC version is just going into an open beta of sorts.  Also, the PC version is really only on Windows, so should probably specify because some people do have Macs.  Not enough to keep the Lord of the Rings Online Mac client viable, but EVE Online did just go back to supporting a native Mac client.  So somebody out there is still using a Mac for some games.

Anyway, I should be a little less nitpicky and a little more appreciative that they put it on Windows at all, because that certainly raises the likelihood of me actually playing it.  I, too, pre-loaded the PC beta in order to give it a try… which is good, because it is tiny to the point of being unplayable on my iPhone 8.

A tiny crusader slaying undead

The early reviews seem to find the game good, but the business model sketchy.

Great ARPG-on-phone production values hampered by terrible economic decisions.

Ars Technica summary

There is, of course, the usual Blizzard global launch schedule for its mostly global launch, complete with time zone map, to show you exactly when you can start playing the game on your PC… since it is already on your phone.

The world wide launch tomorrow

7pm in Paris seems a reasonable kick off time for Europe.  I won’t be playing at 10am Pacific time tomorrow, but I have the option.  We will see how “beta” the PC beta is tomorrow.

Related:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blizzard revenue in Q1 2022 was $274 million.

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

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

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

So not happy times down in Irvine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty exciting stuff in that.  But is it enough?

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

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

There we go.

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

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

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

Related:

Diablo Immortal Possibly Set for Launch by June 30th

Blizzard is going to do something in 2022 that it hasn’t done in quite a while… it will ship a new game.

Phone Diablo

Diablo Immortal is reported up on the various app stores with a text preview available.  Here is the lead-in from the Apple Store:

The Lord of Terror rises again! This time he’s bringing his limitless power to your iPhone and iPad in Diablo Immortal—the mobile debut of the celebrated action-RPG franchise.

Diablo Immortal™ is a brand-new game in Blizzard Entertainment’s genre-defining action role-playing game series set between the events of Diablo® II: Lord of Destruction® and Diablo III®. Explore the nightmarish realm of Sanctuary like never before, now a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) where angels and demons wage an endless war over dominion of the mortal realm. Join forces with countless other players on an epic quest to collect the shattered fragments of the corrupted Worldstone and prevent the Lord of Terror’s return. Fans of Diablo and new players alike will embark on an adventure across a vast open world where they will clash with armies of demons, collect epic loot, and gain unimaginable power.

Well, “brand-new” for specific definitions of term I suppose.  There was a playable demo back at BlizzCon 2018, which was also the scene of the “Don’t you guys have phones?” fiasco where the core PC and console fans were present in the audience and… well… they were not expecting a mobile game, that is for sure.  Talk about subverting expectations.

Over in the Apple Store you can… uh… pre-order the free to play app.

Is it really a pre-order if it is free?

There was an image going around online from the Apple Store that said the expected date for the launch was June 30th, though that appears to have been removed since the image was taken.  (This was later explained to be a placeholder for the final date.)

Backing that date up were past Blizzard plans from the Q2 2021 report that said the title was planned for the first half of 2022.  June 30th is the last possible moment to make that first half of the year goal, so we might even get it earlier.

Currently the official Blizzard site for the game doesn’t say anything and is still referencing beta.

As for what you get when you click the GET button to “pre-order,” well… it is just a marketing pitch for the game with some images that might be screen shots.  You can see it all here in a browser.

Now will it run on my aging iPad Air 2?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Blizzard Sinks Slightly in the Low Key 2021 Financial Results Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Games Played for 2021 and Looking Forward into 2022

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

2020 plus 1

Past Entries

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

The likely candidates were:

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

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

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

2021 in gaming for me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which I guess brings us to the 2022 outlook.

2022 is what we get

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

Sure Things

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

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

Likely Candidates

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

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

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

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

Maybe, Maybe Not

  • Age of Empires IV
  • LOTRO
  • Valheim

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

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

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

Unlikely

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

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

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

Activision Blizzard, the Lawsuit, and the Q2 2021 Financials

You don’t want to do that either. You think you do, but you don’t.

-J. Allen Brack, BlizzCon 2013

I am pretty sure that J. Allen Brack would be pretty happy just being known as the guy who arrogantly pissed all over, and probably helped delay, the huge money maker that WoW Classic turned out to be.

I am also pretty sure both he and the company wish that statement was worst thing to come out of BlizzCon 2013.

But yesterday saw him step down as President Blizzard… a polite way to say he was the first big sacrifice in the wake of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing hostile workplace lawsuit.  He was joined by the SVP of HR, Jesse Meschuk

Not that he didn’t deserve it.  Sure, a lot of the most egregious behavior happened on Morhaime’s watch, but Brack was still in the thick of things, still a leader in the company during that time as well.

Brack was replaced by new Blizzard “co-leaders” Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra, both of whom have roots outside of Blizzard.

For those of you who like the “Bobby Kotick is cementing his dominion over Blizzard” narrative, it has been noted that Morhaime was CEO of Blizzard, Brack was President of Blizzard when he replaced Morhaime, and Oneal and YBarra are co-leaders now, whatever that means.

And the Brack announcement went out in advance of the Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 financial results announcement, no doubt following the theory that you get bad news out of the way before and hope that you have good news during and after.  So was it a good thing that Kotaku pointed out that the company is losing T-Mobile as a sponsor of their Call of Duty and Overwatch esports league before the call as well?  And then there was the expected shareholder lawsuit.

Which brings us to the report.  You can find the detailed financials, the presentation, and the recording of the call over at the investor relations page.

The presentation opened right up with five actions the company is taking in light of the lawsuit and the protests both from outside and within the company.  They are:

  1. We have asked Jennifer Oneal and Mike Ybarra to assume responsibility for development and operational accountability for Blizzard.
  2. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and complaint that we receive. When we learn of shortcomings, we will take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area we will be adding additional staff and resources.
  3. We will terminate any manager or leader found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences.
  4. We will be adding resources to ensure and enhance our consideration of diverse candidate slates for all open positions.
  5. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We will be actively reviewing that content and removing it, as appropriate.

Again, this is a change from the stubborn defiance that was the hallmark of the initial response from the company, but is unlikely to be enough in itself to soothe anybody.  The employee organizers are still not buying the company’s new tack.

When it came to the numbers, all three pieces of the company saw a decline in revenue from Q1 2021, though that is not unexpected given the roll back in pandemic restrictions we saw midway through the quarter.  People went outside and did things, a trend that will no doubt continue into Q3 if the price of airline tickets and rental cars are any indication.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 11

Blizzard alone was down $50 million in revenue when compared to Q1, which was a direct hit to margins.

When it came to singing Blizzard’s praises, the song remained the same, a tale of Azeroth making the money while other franchises languish.

Activision Blizzard Q2 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

WoW bookings doubled year over year, with much of the credit going to the launch of Burning Crusade Classic.  A lot of people bought that pack with the lizard mount.

Hearthstone kept on rolling as well, cranking out yet more expansions.

And while Diablo II Resurrected holds promise for the company, Diablo IV is still on the distant horizon and Diablo Immortal has been pushed back again, this time to the first half of 2022.  We could see a four year gap between when it was announced at BlizzCon 2018 with a playable demo and when it finally ships.

Meanwhile over at Massively OP, where they have been keeping score, the running tally of monthly active users for Blizzard continued its downward trend, with the company shedding another million users.  We don’t know where they came from or where they went, but they aren’t hanging out in Blizzard games anymore.

After being down in revenue and players in Q2, we have yet to reckon with Q3 and the iceberg that is the California lawsuit.  The only thing Blizz has in the near future is Diablo II Resurrected and some likely misguided hope about “stronger engagement” with the Shadowlands expansion.  But people were already leaving retail WoW for FFXIV before the shit hit the fan.

I appreciate that Activision Blizzard seems to have finally decided that they need to clean house, though the cut off for responsibility is clearly enforced before you get to the C-level suite, but the company clearly needs to step things up a couple notches or the Q3 results will be a bloodbath.

Blizzard Still Depends on WoW but is Pinning Some Hope on Diablo II

It was time for the Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 fiscal reports, so we can once again see what the company is hyping and what they are mysteriously failing to mentions.  You can find everything I reference on the Activision Blizzard investor relations site.

As usual, it is nice I guess that Activision is doing well with yet another spin of the Call of Duty wheel and that a bazillion people still play Candy Crush Saga, but my interest resides in Blizzard camp where they continue to talk up World of Warcraft and WoW Classic.

Overall revenue was down from Q4 2020, but that was also when Blizzard launched the Shadowlands expansion, which is usually a peak item in their financials.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 9

Margins are very good, but the only title they mention is WoW, while pointing towards “product timing” as a drag on the overall numbers.  Somebody else isn’t pulling their weight.

Details from the quarter again rely heavily on WoW.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2021 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

Shadowlands and the coming of Burning Crusade Classic are up top, followed by another Hearthstone expansion.  But there is always another Hearthstone expansion, isn’t there?  They’ve had so many they’ve got Hearthstone Classic option in the game now.

The only “hope for the future” item on the list that isn’t invested in Azeroth is Diablo II Resurrected, which I will admit I am a bit hyped for myself.  And then there is Diablo Immortal, which continues to take its sweet time getting to a point where it can launch.

After that we have Overwatch League and nothing else.  We heard last report that Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV are not slated for this year.

Meanwhile, the reported MAUs, monthly active users, for Q1 was 27 million which, according to Massively OP, which has been keeping track, down 29% from the Q1 2018 peak of 38 million.  If WoW is still booming… and carrying the company… that means 10 million fewer people are engaged with other Blizz properties.  For those interested, slide 13 defines MAUs as:

Monthly Active Users (“MAUs”) We monitor MAUs as a key measure of the overall size of our user base. MAUs are the number of individuals who accessed a particular game in a given month. We calculate average MAUs in a period by adding the total number of MAUs in each of the months in a given period and dividing that total by the number of months in the period.

An individual who accesses two of our games would be counted as two users. In addition, due to technical limitations, for Activision and King, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would be counted as two users. For Blizzard, an individual who accesses the same game on two platforms or devices in the relevant period would generally be counted as a single user. In certain instances, we rely on third parties to publish our games. In these instances, MAU data is based on information provided to us by those third parties, or, if final data is not available, reasonable estimates of MAUs for these third-party published games

Since I played WoW and WoW Classic a bit each month over the last quarter I guess I count as two users, which seems to imply that Azeroth is possibly propping up the MAU count even more than I might have suspected.

Massively OP also has some notes from the investor calls including some inconsistencies from the company.

Anyway, that is what we have from Activision Blizzard for Q1 2021.

Diablo II Resurrected and the Rest of BlizzConline 2021

BlizzConline has come and gone.  It was certainly more subdued than any BlizzCon though, when you don’t have a packed auditorium cheering, you cannot expect the same energy.

BlizzCon Online over yesterday

Yesterday I went through what I considered the “important bit” for me, the status of WoW Classic and the coming of The Burning Crusade.  But that was obviously not all that Blizzard had to talk about.  So here, in my order of importance, are other bits from BlizzConline.

Diablo II Resurrected

This was the other item I was keen to hear about, and I was not disappointed.  Blizzard officially announced their remaster of Diablo II.  Having just replayed the original last year… and no longer really having the option since my big new monitor simply won’t work with it… I am excited to see this.  I am pretty much a guaranteed sale here.

The return of the classic

What they showed… remastered 3D graphics as well as the option for the 2D experience… up on screen side by side with the original looked very good, both true to the original and updated to current standards.  They also have some improvements… a larger stash, a more comprehensible character and skill sheet… that looks good.  The details are up on the site for the product, including the graphical comparisons.

Plus they are going to launch it on PC, XBox, PlayStation, and Switch.  Seems like they are going all in on this.  They are even hyping up cross-play for different platforms, so you can access your character on any of the above hardware.  I am only interested in it on the PC really, where it will be $40. (Or $60 with Diablo III and all its addons thrown in.)

As with Burning Crusade Classic, the deep dive panel (video here) was less technically focused… again, no slides or charts or numbers… and more about the drive to deliver both an authentic Diablo II experience and bring the game in line with modern expectations.  The level of detail discussed was impressive.  I suspect we’ll hear again from David Brevik about how Blizzard can’t do this, that, or the other thing, as occurs whenever talk of a Diablo II remaster comes up, but Blizz seems set to prove him wrong.

And it is expected to launch in 2021, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they did a repeat of the original for an end of the year release.  That fact that the list December on the page where you can pre-order it… because of course you can pre-order it… seems a likely sign.  We shall see.

I am excited about this, though I know Blizz has dropped the ball on the remaster thing before, back with Warcraft III.  I hope they learned the right lessons from that.  But if they are going out on consoles, this will have a lot of resources behind it.

Shadowlands Updates

It isn’t so much that I dislike the Shadowlands expansion… it seems interesting and fun in its own way, and I jumped on board at launch… it is more than when I stack rank what I want to play on a given evening it tends to fall into third or fourth place… fourth now that Valheim is on the scene.  Unfortunately, that means I am so far behind on covenant stuff (they barely know me at this point) and have missed so much that I am probably out until the second summer of Shadowlands when they smooth out the curve to let the slackers catch up.

Anyway, they announced the first big content drop, the 9.1 Chains of Domination update.  Kaylriene has a write up that covers it and the presentations in more depth than I could manage, so that probably ought to be your destination if this is relevant to your interests.

Blizzard Arcade Collection

Blizzard, on a retro rampage with their 30th anniversary, has brought back their original console titles, The Lost Vikings, Rock N Roll Racing, and Blackthorne, in the Blizzard Arcade Collection.

Back in the lineup

I have never played any of these titles.  I know just enough about them to get the occasional reference to them in WoW… the Vikings, for example, are in Uldaman.  But the games have been brought up to date and will be available on XBox, PlayStation, Switch, and PC.  I might actually give this a try on my Switch Lite.

Diablo Immortal

We have been hearing about this since BlizzCon 2018 when Blizzard failed to manage expectations after putting the Diablo franchise in the position of honor in the schedule, leading everybody and their dog to expect a Diablo IV announcement.  They told us directly to not get our hopes up, but it was right there on the schedule.  And then after the keynote the schedule was updated to say Diablo Immortal.

Phone Diablo

Still, the word out there is that it is a pretty solid title, sitting in the story line between Diablo II and Diablo III.  I would probably give it a try on my iPad if it isn’t to dear in price… absolutely if it is free, though we know how that can go.  Of course, that is part of the problem;  we still don’t know many solid details about the game and the Blizzard site about it doesn’t have much to add.  I feel like I know way more about Diablo II Resurrected after two days than I do about Diablo Immortal after more than two years.

Hearthstone Classic

I’m not going to play this.  I played just enough Hearthstone to get the Hearthsteed mount in WoW, and then a bit more on my iPad, but it isn’t a game that holds me.  I am just amused that they’ve thrown so many expansions and changes into the game that they’re ready to drag out a classic version… though I guess it has been six years.  Time flies.

Diablo IV and Overwatch 2

We heard about the rogue class in Diablo IV and about the myriad PvE missions in Overwatch 2, but both titles are still more than a year out, so I just cannot get myself at all worked up.  There are too many things to interest me between now and whenever to divert my attention.  Also, the announcements were not all that earth shattering.  I’m not saying there isn’t something Blizz could say about either that would kindle a deep interest, they’re just not there yet.

BlizzConline Overall

Not bad.

I mean, it is hard to argue with some of the solid announcements they had.  There was enough WoW focused stuff to keep me engaged along with enough other stuff that it didn’t feel like the “WoWCon” BlizzCons of a decade back.

I was also happy it was free and readily available via multiple services and that the videos from the panels were uploaded and ready on YouTube almost immediately.

Still, it didn’t quite have the full BlizzCon feel.  As I said previously, it felt different not being in front of a live studio audience.  I may love the written word, but writing “the audience roared” and hearing a BlizzCon audience roar of its own accord in reaction to something announced on stage at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I didn’t mind the chatty nature of the panels.  I like to hear the devs talk and they have done some nice videos in the past like that.  I especially remember the series with some of the original devs talking about making WoW as part of the WoW Classic launch build up.  But I am not sure that eight minutes of that in a 30 minute panel that is labeled as a “deep dive” is quite on the mark.

I felt that there was a lot less hard information presented and that the details that were given us often were not accompanied by the bullet point slide pages to which we have grown accustomed from past BlizzCon panels.  It isn’t real unless it is in PowerPoint, right?

I also wouldn’t be surprised to find that the panels and presentations were all pre-recorded and just queued up to play.  With no live audience and nobody holding up today’s paper in frame ransom note style how could we tell?

In fact, in writing that, I will swap to saying that I would actually be surprised to find that most, if not all, of the panels were NOT pre-recorded and queued up to play.  I mean, why wouldn’t you go that route?  Though, if you did, you’d think we’d get more slides.

So, it was good for what it was.  Life in the pandemic dictates what we can do.  I think they could have done better with info, but maybe the things I wanted had not been nailed down yet.  I don’t think it had quite the impact that a live BlizzCon would have, but we still got some very big announcements.