Tag Archives: Diablo IV

Looking Back at BlizzCon 2019

BlizzCon 2019 was sure a hell of a lot better for Blizzard than BlizzCon  2018.

I watched some of panels I wanted to see, but not all of them yet.  So, while this isn’t quite a hot take on the event, it is my impressions about what was announced in a slightly more detailed fashion than my recap of the big four announcements post I did on Friday.  That post has links to all the cinematics and game play videos that Blizz posted as they announced things, if those interest you.

So, lets dive in by categories that almost line up by franchise.

World of Warcraft

A new expansion.  Pretty much a requirement at BlizzCons that fall on odd numbered years.  So they got that right.  But honestly, I am not sure how I feel about Shadowlands.

Part of that is just what you get when your game gets past maybe three expansions, they start to blur for all but the most hardcore.  There are some cool things in the plan.  The covenants things seems like it could make for interesting choices.  I like the return to a plan to focus on classes rather than specs.  A single narrative arc that drives you through four zones in order is back to the old school, and how alts will be handled seems innovative.

No more re-grinding

Better character customization is good direction.  Everybody can be a death knight now.  But the ideas for a new class… again, perfect chance for a necromancer class to show up… seems to have been bypassed.  And thus in its way it will be more of the same, more zones, more levels, more dungeons, more raids, and so on.  And it feels a bit like they were inspired by Stranger Things, which means we will no doubt run into plenty of references to the show.

It sure looks like the Azeroth Upsidedown to me

Wait, did I say “more levels?”  I meant LESS levels.  The level squish is coming.

Leveling up after Shadowlands

I said Blizz wouldn’t do it, so I have clearly been proven wrong on that front.  And my concerns from that post remain, though there are some updsides.  It sounds like they will rescale… again… all of the old content so you can get to level 50 playing through any previous expansion then head into the Shadowlands.  Still, it will be odd to have max level characters in WoW and WoW Classic at the same level.  There were more details about this in the deep dive, which I watched, and I will probably throw together another post just to look at how leveling is going to change with Shadowlands.  But the level squish is coming.

Overall though, you can color me somewhat interested in the expansion.   I am sure the fact that it was made available for pre-order will get hopes up that it will show up sooner rather than later, but I doubt it will show any time before June of 2020.

There is no doubt another post to be made in Blizz moving to three levels of expansion packages, especially just as Daybreak moved to four levels.  No level 120… eventually level 50… boost with the base package either.

MMO Champion has a good outline of the main presentation.  Or you can look at the pretty pictures on the official expansion page.

WoW Classic

We got the very bare minimum of news about WoW Classic, something I indicated might end up being the case back at the start of October.  There was a bit of “isn’t this great!” and the date for the phase 2 unlock (November 12th), and that was that.  No future plans, no talk about expansions, and nothing even daring to look in the direction of somebody low key hinting that there might be anything like original content for the WoW Classic path.

In fact, WoW Classic was stuck in the “oh, by the way” section of the keynote with StarCraft II and Heroes of  the Storm.  Talk about being put on the bench.  Even at the WoW Q&A session the question about future expansions for WoW Classic was pretty much deflected.

But Blizzard moves slowly, something I have to keep reminding myself.  I am sure they are still trying to figure out what to do with this unexpected success story.  We will likely have to wait until next BlizzCon to hear anything new I guess, but that will put it after the Shadowlands launch, so Blizz will be able to focus on it.

I will say though, at least we got a self deprecating crack from J. Allen Brack about serving vanilla ice cream at the BlizzCon concessions.  He didn’t think we would want it, but it turns out we did.

I don’t find Brack to be a particularly compelling or convincing speaker.  He lacks Metzen’s energy or Morhaime’s air of goofy humility.  And, of course, after the infamous quote, I associate him with a level of smug condescension, which biases my perception even when I agree with what he is saying.  We all see things through our own filters.  But at least he was willing to stand up there and remind everybody how wrong he was.

I previously wrote that if he said something about that quote I’d stop bringing it up every time I mentioned him.  I think I can stick to that now.  I won’t mention it every time, though I reserve the right to bring it up when it fits the situation.

Diablo

Diablo IV was announced, to nobody’s surprise.

It looks interesting.  I like the direction they are going.  Darker.  A more open world.  Mounts even.  No RMT auction house.  I have no doubt I will play it some day.  But that day will be… when?  2022?

I guess I can see why they didn’t want to announce it last year.

Basically, I will be a lot more interested in this when it seems like its launch is imminent.

Overwatch

Again, if even I was predicting something like Overwatch 2 more than a month ago, then having that announced was probably not a huge surprise.

I am not an Overwatch player.  I don’t even eat the cereal.  But I am interested in how they are handling Overwatch 2, which is more like an expansion than a new game.

If you own Overwatch, you can keep playing that and your play will overlap with Overwatch 2 players, which includes all the original content plus all the goodies you may have gotten.  Overwatch 2 players will get their own content as well, including a PvE campaign.

I think the latter, the PvE campaign, might be the key here.  The thing that the original lacked was new stuff to sell players… besides loot boxes.  And if loot boxes are you revenue stream it might be prudent to diversify that a bit.  But additional PvE co-op campaigns, that is something Blizz could sell people on.

It is interesting to see how they have chosen to go.  EA gets you to buy their latest Battlefield game by shutting off the servers to the past ones.  I assume Activision does something similar with their Call of Duty games, along with leaving a year gap between launches and trying to add new gimmicks with each annual generation.  In contrast, Blizz wants to keep people playing together.  I suspect that you won’t be able to buy Overwatch once Overwatch 2 is out.  But if you do have the original, you won’t be left completely out in the cold.

Hearthstone

A new expansion.  What a surprise!  It isn’t like we don’t get a few of those every year in any case.

The real surprise was that Blizz decided to take the Auto Chess/Auto Battler idea and integrate it with Hearthstone with their new Battlegrounds play mode.  That demonstrates some oddly un-Blizzard-like thinking, since the obvious route was to copy Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords and build it off of their MOBA.  I didn’t exactly get how this was going to work, in part because the description during the opening ceremony was pretty fast and in part because I have no interest in Hearthstone so I didn’t watch the panel where it would have been explained.

At least I haven’t watched it yet.  It was well down on my list of priorities.  I might still, just to get an idea where Blizz is going with this.

Warcraft III Reforged

The re-release of Warcraft III seems to be getting closer.  No ship date was announced, but they are spreading the beta further afield now.  If you were at BlizzCon or had the Virtual Ticket, you now have access to the beta and can download it from the Battle.net launcher.  I was actually in already, as I saw I was able to install it early last week, though I couldn’t tell you if that was because I was special or because they started opening it up to Virtual Ticket holders early.  Either way, it seems unlikely that I will download it to play before it goes live.

StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm

A new commander and a new AI for the former, and new unit for the latter, all mentioned during what felt like an apologetic side bar in the midst of the opening ceremonies.  I was not expecting much, and so was unsurprised when that was exactly what we got.  Still, being in the same segment where they mentioned the Blizzard Arcade at BlizzCon, where you could go play Rock n Roll Racing and Lost Vikings, does tend to set a tone.

The Heroes of the Storm fans are probably happy for any scraps they get, but the StarCraft II playerbase has to have some mixed feelings since SCII is still one of the Blizz esports titles.

Unmentioned

I did not hear anything about the remaster of Diablo II yet again.  It came up as part of the ideal for Diablo IV, but it was left out otherwise.  I still want this.  I would happily take a GoG.com version updated to run on Windows 10, though I would really like something more akin to the Warcraft III Reforged full remaster for modern screen sizes.  Maybe someday.

Then, maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear anything about Diablo: Immortal.  Did fan reaction really bury that?  My complaint from last year wasn’t that it wouldn’t find an audience, just that it was presented to the wrong audience.  They put some updates on the official site… it was mixed in with the feed on their “all news” page… but they seemed loathe to mention it yet again in front of a live studio audience.

Also, any hope for a completely new game or IP was left in the dust.  Everything was an expansion or a sequel.  There wasn’t even a mobile version of any other Blizzard IPs mentioned.  Hearthstone might have had the only new idea… or, newly stolen idea, this being Blizzard and all… with it picking up the Auto Chess/Auto Battler idea.

Virtual Ticket

The Virtual Ticket plan still seems like an acceptable value to me.  There is still a list of panels I want to watch that I could not make time for over the weekend, so I am able to watch them at my leisure.  As I noted previously, this year Blizz has decided that access to the videos will remain up until March 2020.

One feature I noticed was that Blizz also gave Virtual Ticket holders access to the videos from the past two BlizzCons as well.  So you can, if you want, go back and watch the horrible Diablo: Immortal panel or the informative Play Nice, Play Fair panel that was completely bypassed by the gaming media that often rages about how companies like Blizzard do nothing to contain player toxicity.

BlizzCon Overall

This should have been pretty much the ideal BlizzCon for the company, with four big product announcements.  Back at the start of October it looked to be huge.  And then, of course, there was the Hong Kong thing, which necessitated the apology, which I covered in its own post.

After Blizz banned Blitzchung and the outrage was at its peak there were wild predictions that they might even cancel BlizzCon.  Or, if BlizzCon went on, it would be tightly controlled, a mirror image of the repressive Chinese state on stage in Anaheim.  Would Brack even get up in front of the audience live, or would he just appear on the monitor so the engineers could cut out the sounds of the crowd should they get 40,000 people chanting “Free Hong Kong!” or some such?  Would Blizzard be able to contain the outrage of the fan base?

In the end, things went mostly as they usually do.  The vast majority of the fans were there to see Blizz and to revel in the spectacle and be a part of the event.   Cheering was the norm.  And when, during the WoW Q&A panel, a questioner ended his interaction with a message about Hong Kong, he wasn’t cut off or ejected from the event.  People chanted a bit and Blizz let it all pass like the guy in the Winnie the Pooh costume, who showed up on camera at least once.

People will take whatever message they want from that.  You can read into that the promise of better behavior from Brack’s apology, or you can assume it is Blizz throwing a minimal bone to some fans that does not otherwise reflect corporate policy.  It still puts them ahead of the NBA in either case.

In the end though, Blizz clearly won the news cycle.  Every “What about Hong Kong?” story had to contend with a dozen or more “OMG! New Things!” stories out of BlizzCon.  With that and what will likely be a somewhat rosy Q3 2019 earnings report later this week (thanks to WoW Classic) and the 15th Anniversary WoW events coming up, the company seems to be well positioned for the balance of the year.

BlizzCon 2019 and The Big Four Announcements

Not at all my review of BlizzCon or its announcements, but just a note about what the big four announcements that came up in the opening ceremony.

Diablo IV

As expected, the next entry in the Diablo franchise is finally here.

The focus is darkness, world, and legacy.  They want to get back to what the series was like, while keeping the snappy game play of Diablo III.

There is a cinematic and a game play trailer available to watch.  This was the first of the four main stage presentations lined up for today.

World of Warcraft Shadowlands

The next expansion for WoW.

Sylvannas is off to Ice Crown to take us to the world beyond death.  This ended up as the third unannounced panel on the main stage for today.

The Lich King awaits

Available for pre-order today, launching in 2020.  There is also a cinematic and an expansion overview video.

Hearthstone Descent of Dragons

And then Hearthstone got a new expansion.  I figured on that.

What I did not count on is that Blizzard would decide to go with Hearthstone as the basis for their new 8 player Auto Chess/Auto Battler destination.

There is, of course, a cinematic video for the expansion and a trailer for the new mode, which is called Battlegrounds.  This ended up as the fourth unannounced presentation on the main stage.

Overwatch 2

Not unexpected.

Overwatch 2 will have new modes, new maps, some new heroes as well as a PvE campaign.  It will be linked into Overwatch, so players of the original will get to play with owners of the new game where they overlap and all your goodies and progress will be saved.

This ended up as the second big main stage presentation today.  And naturally there is a cinematic trailer and a game play video to go along with the announcement.

Other Items

There was an statement up front by J. Allen Brack about the Hong Kong fiasco with an apology and a promise to do better, hinged on watching Blizzards actions going forward.  This won’t be enough for some I am sure, but it was more than I expected.

StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm also got small mentions, the usual additions one might expect for titles on the back burner.  Also, Warcraft III reforged is expanding its beta.  I’m already able to download it.

WoW Classic also got a mention.  It was the minimum I expected, the phase 2 unlock date.  But J. Allen Brack also mentioned that they would be serving vanilla ice cream at BlizzCon.  He didn’t think we would want that, but maybe we really do.

The last two unannounced presentation slots were for Diablo IV related panels on day two, so nothing else new to come.

Anyway, much more to watch and think about over the weekend.  Look for a post on Monday I suppose.  I get an extra hour to work on it this weekend as Daylight Savings Time ends on Sunday.

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:

Friday Bullet Points Gaze into the Future

Another Friday where I have a few items that I could probably force into full length posts, but I just don’t have the stamina to get there.  So I will pack them into one post.

Truth in Advertising?

There was a recent Star Citizen weekly update from RSI that seemed to unintentionally confirmed my suspicions.

It barely feels like it has been 25 years

The update itself was a lore item about some in-game entity celebrating its 50th anniversary, but the first glace at the top of the message made me wonder if they were admitting it was going to take 50 years to get where they plan to go.

Apple and OpenGL

One tidbit that came up at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference was the plan to deprecate OpenGL support with the Mojave release of the MacOS and in iOS 12.  This led to a panic about there being no more video games on the Mac.

I haven’t been to a WWDC since 1995…

OpenGL has been around for a long time and, among other things, its openess helped nVidia get in and dethrone 3dfx Interactive and their proprietary Glide API back in the day.  And deprecate doesn’t mean pulling it out wholesale.  It will still be there for a couple of years.  But if you find a problem or need an update, Apple isn’t going to help you.

Still, Apple will drop it eventually.  Past history says that will probably get announced in 2020 or so.  Apple would like you to use their Metal interface instead, and some companies have support for that on the way.  You can use Metal with World of Warcraft currently if your hardware and OS are current. (And probably should use it, as it fixes a crashing issue with WoW.)  But if you are a serious PC gamer you probably have a Windows partition on you Mac, if not a Windows machine already.

Blizzard and Diablo IV

It was noted that Blizzard had posted a job listing looking for a dungeon artist for an as yet unannounced Diablo project.  This led to a hysteria of complaints and the projection of personal feelings onto the idea.  Just Google “diablo iv” and look at the headlines. (And yes, I am going to call it Diablo IV at this point.)  Everything from “when are we going to get it?” to “Oh lord, no!” pops up.  So I figured I ought to note this as the week the controversy began.  We know nothing so far, but some people are already angry.

I for one welcome our new demonic overlords.

Despite the one-two punch of the auction house and the horrible itemization (the latter which I remain convinced was there to drive you to the auction house), Blizzard eventually got the game in order by killing the auction house and fixing itemization, making Diablo III a pretty decent game.  The “always online” bit is still annoying, but Blizz is hardly alone in demanding that.  And they have continued to tend the now six year old game, which is more than they ever did for Diablo II.  By any practical measure the game is a success and warrants a sequel. (It sold lots of copies on the PC and consoles.)

Hopefully Blizzard will run with what they have learned and stick with the roots of Diablo as the foundation for the next game rather than, say, making it a Battle Royale title or something.

Minecraft Subnautica

On a closer horizon, the Minecraft Java Edition 1.13 release, the Aquatic Update, looks to be slowly making its way to us.

Under the sea…

The update entered pre-release at the start of the week, whatever that means, so I think we should be getting the official release soon.  I have actually been avoiding our Minecraft server, knowing that I’ll want to go play when this hits.

Free Games for Amazon Prime Subscribers

In yet another benefit for Amazon Prime subscribers, you can now download any of five free games before the end of June.

Amazon Prime benefits

The games are Tumblestone, Treadnauts, Strafe, Banner Saga, and Banner Saga 2.  You need to have the Twitch client to download them (the Twitch client is what the old Curse client became when Amazon bought Curse… and Twitch) and you need to have linked your Twitch account to your Amazon account.  This sounds like a recurring deal, so there will likely be more games in the future as the Amazon Prime largess train continues on.

As an aside, the first version of this Amazon post I saw said it was six games.

Is it five or six?

However the image only shows five games and I didn’t click on the link until later, so I don’t know if there was a sixth game at one point, if a sixth game was planned but was removed and the word didn’t get out, or if it was always five games and somebody just messed up.  (h/t to Corr who first linked this to me and who had that second image handy.)

Pokemon Zygarde Download Event

Despite the impending end of Pokemon on the Nintendo 2DS/3DS, download events continue for the current core RPG titles.  During the month of June in the US you can go to your local GameStop for a download code for a shiny Zygarde.

Zygarde

This event is only for Pokemon Sun & Moon and Pokemon UltraSun & UltraMoon.  Instructions for claiming the legendary Pokemon are available at the Pokemon site.