Tag Archives: Friday Bullet Points

Friday Bullet Points from a Leading Smoke Exporter

Fires have begun burning on the west coast of the US as predicted, thanks to droughts, record heat, and dry lighting strikes.  But the smoke from the fires, which in past years has settled in on top of the SF Bay Area where I live, has decided that it too wants to travel this summer and has been hazing up sunsets back east.  So while we’re sending out smoke I thought I would cover another set of things that I didn’t want to work up a full post around.

  • Blizzard Blows Up

Already foundering for being unable to bring home a win with retail WoW and the 9.1 update, causing many players to head for Final Fantasy XIV, the company took another body blow this week when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the Activision Blizzard for creating a hostile work environment.  While Activision got most of the headlines, the complaint is full of examples of how Blizzard specifically let a wide range of egregious behavior go unchecked and failed to respond to complaints.

Singled out in the complaint was Senior Creative Director Alex Afrasiabi, who had been with the company since 2004 and who had left quietly last summer.  He is referenced in WoW in a number of places, including as Field Marshal Afrasiabi out in front of Stormwind.

Welcome to Stormwind baby!

The disturbing nature of the issues detailed in the complaint was topped by the company’s response to the suit.  With the Blitzchung affair they didn’t seem to know what to say, but this time around they lashed out immediately (text at the end of this post) at the state agency, decrying government overreach and complaining about unaccountable State bureaucrats driving companies from the state, very much politically motivated talking points.

Otherwise the company statement claimed that while some of the things detailed may have been true in the past, the company is all better now, everything is fine, and nobody needs to be held accountable for anything.  They want to have it both ways, saying both that the state is wrong and that they’ve fixed everything in any case.  It is usually better if your statements don’t tend to contradict each other.

Any adult that has worked for a big company knows that corporate culture doesn’t change quickly.  It takes a lot of effort, and the word is that the company hasn’t gone there yet.  That references to Afrasiabi remain in the game is a testament to the lack of progress they have made.  And the internet is compiling testimonials about the company’s problems.

Anyway, the Q3 2021 Activision Blizzard financial report ought to be a real charmer after this.  Massively OP, in their coverage, rehashed the litany of problems the company has been facing in recent years.  It ain’t pretty.

  • A New World Beta

Amazon’s MMO New World went into what is supposed to be a final, pre-launch beta this week.  I don’t think they’ll yank the game back from the precipice this time around, but you never know.  I have been interested in the game and was in one of the big early NDA protected test runs a couple of years back

Just how new is it at this point?

I liked what I saw back then… it seemed like what H1Z1 ought to have been before they went all-in on battle royale, but I guess John Smedley being at Amazon Games now might explain that.  I did not pre-order, so no beta invite for me, but Bhagpuss seemed happy with how things looked.

The one thing that seems to be dominating the press coverage is a problem where high end video cards seem to be failing in the beta.  We’ll see how that works out.

  • EverQuest and the Ghost Collector’s Editions Past

EverQuest pretty much lives on nostalgia, with their retro and special servers keeping a good portion of their players invested in a $15 a month subscription.  But they have to farm the live servers as well, so they get an expansion every year an a cash shop that is always looking for something new to sell.  Now they are trying to farm a bit of nostalgia from the live server players by offering a pack that features items from the collector’s editions of no longer available expansions.

Missed out? Fear not!  But act fast or you WILL MISS OUT!  AGAIN!

For just 7,999 in Daybreak Cash, which is about $80 in real world cash depending on your purchase quantities, a selection of no longer available items can be made available to you.  It is like nostalgia for fear of missing out!

  • Path of Exile Expedition

I have something of a checkered past with Path of Exile.  On paper I should enjoy it, and I am always into it when I start out.  But something… network performance, bugs, no knowing what to do next… always seems to stymie me.  But I think about it every time the offer up a new expansion, and one if launching today.

Play the Expedition Expansion Today

This one is interesting in that Grinding Gears Games has decided to try and roll back player gear and power in an attempt to revitalize the feel of the game and to give it an overall more satisfying experience.  But it is always a risky move, taking power away from players.  Destructiod’s headline about the expansion is an illustration of that risk:

Path of Exile is nerfing everything, and players are unhappy

We shall see how it plays out I suppose, but a power reset might be a good time to jump back in.  Maybe? I took a look at the patch notes, which are a freaking book, but can’t tell either way.

Friday Bullet Points on Deck for Summer

Back in the day I used to have a regular “mail bag” feature that took items from the blog inbox… reader submissions and press releases… that I thought might be interesting.  I don’t get much reader email these days and the press releases… where to even start?  Leaving aside the non-gaming updates, and the interview offers for random “experts” on even more random topics, the best one I’ve seen in months was about a Hello Kitty mobile app.  It even has a video, if that is your thing.

Bullet points though… I can pull those from anywhere.  All of which was a too long way of saying we’re back to the Friday Bullet Points thing again.

  • Steam Deck

Probably the big PC gaming announcement of the week was the Valve announcement of the Steam Deck.

The Steam Deck hardware

Basically it feels like Valve looked at the Nintendo Switch and said, “Yeah, we can do that and then some.”  No doubt experience garnered with the failed Steam Machine helped them along

It runs on the Linux based SteamOS, plays games directly from your Steam library, has a docking option that allows you to hook up a keyboard, mouse, and monitor if you so desire, and is supposed to be available by December, with pre-orders opening up today.

Pricing is “aggressive” according to the company, starting at $399 for the 64GB base model and rising to $649 for the 512GB top end unit.  It seems pretty cool.  There are games in my Steam library that certainly favor a controller for input, and $400 for a mini gaming PC seems like a pretty good deal.  But I’ll probably wait and see on this one all the same.

Picking additional coverage to link to is tough as literally any web site that has any connection to video games has an article up by now, so there is plenty out there about the device.  Still, IGN’s article links to a FAQ they put together with Valve, so I’ll link to that.

  • Pokemon Go Fest

Pokemon Go turned five this month and the annual Pokemon Go Fest is this weekend to celebrate.  I haven’t really felt the need to buy the $14.99 in-game ticket to join in on the event in the past.  Some things, like all the special raids, are there for everybody.  But this time around they knocked the price down to $4.99 and have a pile of thing available for those who buy in, so my wife and I spent the money.

the 2021 event price

It is summer, we can go outside again, and it isn’t like the war in New Eden will miss me for a couple of afternoons.  I also have to go feed somebody’s cat on Saturday, a walk which will take me past at least three gyms.

  • Pokemon Go Five Year Collection Event

It is lucky for Naintic that we bought the event tickets before we finished the warm up event.  For the five year anniversary there was a run to collect all of the starter Pokemon from the first six generations of the game.  They were out in the wild, so the first dozen or so were easy enough to collect.  But there are always a few who seem reluctant to show up.  We found out that the daily tasks related to the event always had one of the starters, so the night before the deadline we were out at the community center, which has a a bunch of Pokestops, doing tasks to try and get the last two we needed.

Take 5 pictures of a wild Pokemon was a common task

After some persistence, my wife ended up getting her final catch.  I got my final one the next morning… a totodile if you are interested… so we were able to collect the rewards.

All of the starters checked off

They were some Pokeballs (yawn), a few rare candies (decent), and a special encounter.  The hope was that it would be something good.   Instead it was the anniversary Pikachu.

5 year Pika

That would have been cool… had that Pikachu not been littering the pavement throughout the event.  They were everywhere.  I wasn’t even bothering to catch them.  My wife about exploded when she saw the reward for the effort.  So here is hoping we get a bit more from the weekend’s run.

  • Pokemon Go Raid Achievements

Earlier this month, in advance of the anniversary, Pokemon Go got some big updates on the graphical front.  It is no longer either day or night.  Dusk and dawn see the light change as the sun moves through the sky.  Shadows are also more realistic.  When joining a raid there are some splashy new graphics.  And, there are now raid level achievements for things like most damage, final blow, and best dressed.

My wife got the final blow, but I just make this look good

There are, of course, badges for getting raid achievements… achievements for achievements are my favorite achievements I guess.

I can hit hard when I want

The interesting one is the traveler award, which goes to the remote raid pass person furthest from the gym.  I’ve had one friend from Japan get the furthest I’ve seen so far.

That is pretty far away… I was about 1km from the gym

  • Diablo II Technical Alpha Updates

I am trying to be cool about Diablo II: Resurrected.  We’re not getting it for a while, so no need to get all excited about it.

The return of the classic

But then we get updates from the company about how the technical alpha is going and it becomes hard to sit on my hands.  I want to play.  As a pre-order I will get a chance in about a month I guess.  That isn’t too far down the road.  Time flies.

  • Reserve Bank Keys are Coming

Back when CCP was nerfing ratting by forcing the ESS on it last November, they setup a main bank, which can be stolen from ratters, and a reserve bank, which would require special keys that were not yet available.  Since then trillions of ISK has built up in the reserve banks across null and low sec space.

CCP has announced that the reserve bank keys are finally coming.  They have put the keys, which can be found in low sec sites, up on the test server so people can try them out.

I expect comedy will ensue.  A few keen players will get in, figure out the system, keep quiet about whatever flaws there are, and otherwise position themselves to act the moment that the keys are released on the live server, at which point there will be a rush for them.  The winners will likely be the preppers and large groups that will rob their own reserve banks.

I expect that the reserve bank keys will be live on July 27th unless some tragic flaw is found, reported, and actually investigated by CCP.  At least they put the ISK payout flow on a timer,  made the keys specific to a particular quadrant of New Eden, and gave us two flavors (5 minute and 15 minute) so all the reserve banks won’t be empty in a week of furious activity like they did with structures a while back.  And, like the main bank, the payout is in bonds that need to be redeemed at an NPC, so they can be lost even after the heist.

 

Friday Bullet Points about Things Old and New

Here it is, another Friday bullet points post that future me will curse as I try to write up a month in review.  But I live for the day, and there are some things I wanted to mention but couldn’t really work up into a stand alone post.  How have I not made this a blog category yet?

  • Crowfall Ships!

Holy crap!  Color me shocked!

Seriously, I was interested enough in Crowfall to have created a category for it… something generally reserved for regular features and titles I play a lot of here on the blog… back when the Kickstarter campaign launched… which was in February of 2015.  So, its been about six and a half years.

Is this even still their logo?

This was back when I had stopped backing MMO Kickstarter campaigns but still held out hope that something might come of them, before the great cynicism fell on me after every date offered by an MMO Kickstarter campaign winded up being as much a fantasy as their IP.  The ship date projected during the campaign was December of 2016, and it featured in a number of my annual prediction posts as an easy “this won’t ship” call.

But here it is.  Live.  That puts it well ahead of titles like Camelot Unchained, a title that has helped sink backer confidence almost as much as Star Citizen by this point.

Anyway, congrats to the team.  I have no idea what they ended up shipping or if it is anything close to the “Game of Thrones meets EVE Online” catch phrase they were bandying about, but at least I could find out if I had even an ounce of inclination left in me.

  • Burning Crusade Classic Beta Stats

Blizzard sent out an email to those who participated in the Burning Crusade Classic beta back in April and May.  I was invited a bit late to that party, and honestly wasn’t all that into it, but I logged in long enough to find a few issues and to feel concerned about whatever Blizz was up to.  The beta felt pretty wonky in a way that belies the stability now that it has shipped.  But I apparently reported seven bugs… mostly related to hunter issues.

What I did in the beta… not much

Overall the community reported quite a few things.

The stats for everybody

It seemed to do some good I guess, because Outland has been pretty stable, at least on our server, though I am still a bit annoyed at the whole draw distance thing, but that was in WoW Classic as well.

  • The Next 6 Month Mount From Blizzard

Those of us on the six month subscription plan for WoW got a new mount for being such dedicated customers.  This time around it is the Sapphire Skyblazer.

The latest in a series

Part of me isn’t all that impressed. I have a few hundred mounts now, so another blue bird… eh.   Then again, at least it isn’t some cosmetic pajamas this time.  I am pretty sure Blizz learned their lesson on that front.  I’ll take a mount every time, thank you.

Six month subscribers also got a special prize in Burning Crusade Classic, the Imp in a Ball.

Available at an Inn near you

The Imp in a Ball toy actually went into the game with the Burning Crusade Classic pre-patch, so I have had one on my characters for quite a while now.  They come from a quest that the city innkeepers have, and are basically an Azerothian Magic 8-Ball… ask it a question… say it out loud or whatever… then activate it for a comically indecisive answer.  Your mileage may vary.

  • New Switch Disappointment

Rumors have been floating around about Nintendo possibly launching a new Switch model with 4K or a faster processor or whatever.  So there was some disappointment apparent when Nintendo announced a new model with an OLED screen.  Yay higher quality screens of the same size?

The Switch line up

It does have double the RAM built in and some other improvements, but it was very much an incremental upgrade to the product line… which is a very Nintendo move, really.  But it does mean that demand has slowed down enough since the pandemic rush on units that they feel they can tinker with the new models.

  • RimWorld Ideology

It was announced earlier this week that the survival game RimWorld, number three on my list of Steam titles I have played the most, will be getting a new DLC package soon.

A new drama generator

Called RimWorld Ideology, it will allow your colony or clan to create a belief system, allowing the configuration of things such as rituals, veneration, dress, adornment, and social roles.  You can play as a tribe of tree worshiping cannibals if you want.  I am sure this will crank base drama up a few more notches.

  • Minmatar Liberation Day

It feels like we just finished up Gallente Federation Day and we’re already on to Minmatar Liberation Day.  They always have the cards and decorations out so early.

Have a Brutor Libre, the official drink of Minmatar Liberation Day!

As is the usual pattern these days, there are login rewards (12 days worth), in game events, SKINs in the New Eden Store, and some SKINs you get as an add on when you buy some PLEX.  There is a full run down of events and rewards over at The Nosy Gamer.

Friday Bullet Points from Outland

Bullet points posts are often tidibits of news that I want to mention.  This time around it is mostly just about me and Burning Crusade Classic, with a couple of news items mixed in, just to get them all into a single post.

  • A Druid for Outland

I have somehow managed to get my druid, who was level 36 when the pre-patch hit, all the way to level 58.

Level 58 out in Silithus

I will say again that the leveling path from 36 to 58 has been smoothed out considerably with the 2.5.1 patch.  The dead spots seem to be taken care of with new, or newly visible, quests.  I know the stuff in Theremore is new, but the fact that available quests appear on the mini-map means I probably picked up more quests that I likely missed the fire couple of times through the content.

This now gives me four characters available for Outland.  I suppose that means I should stop screwing around so much and go play in Hellfire Peninsula.  I do wonder if my druid should bother at level 58 or wait until 60 to go through.  There are still plenty of quests for him in Azeroth.

Plenty of quests at Lights Hope Chapel still

On the flip side, there is a lot of hugely improved gear if I go through the portal.  We shall see.

  • Hot Market

I mentioned previously that the pre-patch before Burning Crusade Classic was clearly pulling people back into the game, with my primary evidence being the number of pages of auctions that were coming up in Auctioneer.  That number had sagged down into the mid-to-low 200s towards the end of WoW Classic, but jumped into the 600s with the pre-patch.  And now with the Dark Portal open and Outland at our feet, that number can reach into the mid 700s over the weekend.

There is a lot of economic activity going on, at least on the Bloodsail Buccaneer server, with demand for commodities that aid in leveling up trade skills being particularly in demand.  As such I have managed to make a bit of gold in the game for once.  Not a ton.  I am just not that invested, so to speak, but before the pre-patch I was worrying about scraping together the 350 gold for the Paladin Charger quest, thinking I would need to loot my other characters.  Now, a few weeks later, I have that much gold just on my pally, so I am happy with that.

  • Fast Market

For a bit there after the patch, and even more so after the opening of the Dark Portal, the auction house was starting to drag quite noticeably when it came to searches.  People were complaining and Blizz looked into the issue, applying the following hotfixes:

  • Implemented settings changes intended to lower the time it takes to search the Auction House.
  • Players who list, bid, buy out, or cancel a very large number of auctions may now incur a delay between consecutive actions.

The latter is one of those annoyances that keeps coming up.  I am not sure what advantage is bestowed by listing dozens of the same thing, often a commodity that would sell fine as a stack, as a bunch of singles, aside from maybe trying to obscure your competition by driving them off the first page of results.

Anyway, Blizz says they are monitoring the situation.

  • Falling for Shattrath

I have already fallen to my death in Shattrath trying to run for the elevator out in front of the inn in the Aldor area.  This is one of those “seriously, why did I just do that?” recurring events that I remember from the expansion back in the day.

I’ll step out of the Aldor inn, get on my mount, and as I ride towards the elevator, it will already be at the top so that, just as I get close it starts to drop and I instinctively jump for it.  The descending platform and my forward motion then carries my over my  target and I fall to my death.

I did this often enough back in the day that with my pally I got good at hitting Divine Protection to save myself.  But this time I did it with my hunter who has no such option.  A passing priest ressed me, which saved me the run back at least.

As for “Why Shattrath?” that is where the portals back to the main cities are, which include the auction houses.  Shat isn’t one of my favorite cities in the game, but it is the transit hub for Outland.

  • Arena Season 1

Finally, Blizzard announced the start of Burning Crusade Classic Arena Season 1 for those who were waiting for more PvP options.  Available to teams of 2, 3, or 5 players, rewards include gear, titles, and even a special mount.  Not my thing, but everything doesn’t have to be about me.

Blizz did make a mistake and enabled some season 2 rewards, then had to track down the 81 players who cashed in on that.  The transactions were reversed and the honor refunded.

Friday Bullet Points with a Sore Arm

It is time for some bullet points again.  My arm is sore because I managed to get my first COVID-19 vaccine shot this week.  How easy it is to get an appointment for a shot varies from place to place, but here in Silicon Valley it was rather like trying to get Madonna or Lady Gaga concert tickets… only there were about half a dozen different web sites to check.  The state had one, my healthcare provider another, and then a few different store chains with their own.

Several times I had an appointment slot, but by the time I filled out the necessary form, all the appointments had been taken.  I finally lucked out on Safeway’s site and ended up getting my first shot on Wednesday at the store I worked at back in college.

I’m a bit tired still, which is a common side effect, and my left arm hurts.  But I still have enough in me to write up some bullet points.

  • Diablo II Resurrected Alpha

We first officially heard about Diablo II Resurrected at BlizzConline back in February, with a promise that it would ship at some point in 2021.  This weekend is the start of the technical alpha and it is getting some buzz.

The testing has begun

Some of the buzz is due to Blizz doing a give-away for access, but there does seem to be some general excitement about the remaster of this classic ARPG.  For this stage those invited to participate will be able to play the amazon, sorceress, or barbarian, single player, through acts one and two, with no level cap restrictions.  Acts one and two are the best of the game, so I am feeling a bit jealous that I opted in for testing and didn’t get picked. (Invites were all sent by 7am PDT and there was nothing for me.)  But I’ll be able to play soon enough I guess.

  • Enad Global 7 Completes Another Acquisition

I alluded to the fact that EG7 was buying another studio in my EverQuest at 22 post in March because Daybreak titles are now highlighted when EG7 speaks about the IPs they have.  They have now closed the deal, announced back in February, to acquire Innova, a publisher that runs MMORPGs in the EU and Russia.  The price was 109 million Euros (and not $109 million as was reported elsewhere.  The dollar amount is closer to $130 million.  But what’s ~$20 million between friends?)

Crowfall released in 2018? Who knew?

While the titles they have listed do not excite me, Daybreak having access to people on the ground to run games further afield than the greater San Diego metropolitan area might mean something good for them in the long term.  It would certainly be a better plan than selling their players to Pro.SiebenSat.1 or the like.

  • CCP Talks About A Shooter They’re Not Talking About

About two years back CCP said that their planned shooter, Project Nova, which they had been hyping up as late as EVE Vegas 2018, when we were encouraged to sign up for alpha, was going into a transitional stage.  It was going to get a new name and they would not be telling us the name or talking about it until it was ready.

Project Nova no more

Well, now CCP is talking about it, whatever it is now, again.  Sort of.  There are no details, but the new head of the UK studio that is working on the project, Adrian Blunt, gave an interview where he brags that they’re working on a “hugely ambitious” and possibly “genre defining” shooter.  The Nosy Gamer took a look at the whole thing and, so far as I can tell, the only solid information was that 40 people are working on the project.  I’ll be impressed when they have something to actually demo.

  • Runes of Magic has More Things for You

I wrote a bit about Runes of Magic and their twelfth anniversary on Monday, and they were soon back with an addition.  Later that day a message arrived with an offer of more goodies.

You actually have no idea how fast I have leveled up ever

Clicking on the “collect your gifts” link got me to a page that said they had given me a advanced experience charm, a potion of some sort, and 250 gold.  However, where all of that was delivered remains a bit of a mystery.  It wasn’t on my character on the super new EU server.  A friend suggested that it might be a US server thing, but it wasn’t on my character there.

At this point I suspect it went to my old account, which I mentioned they managed to block me from accessing, so the charm and the potion are probably hanging out with my lost diamonds wondering when I will return.

And that is all I have.  I get to head back for my second vaccine shot on the 28th.  Until then, I am still staying home and safe.

Friday Red Dot Bullet Points about EVE Online

It is time for another Friday bullet points blog post, this time to pull together some bits of EVE Online news that have popped up in the last week or so.

  • The Red Dot Option

The Red Dot has been a hot topic for some since its introduction.  I wouldn’t mind it so much if it just worked consistently.  But it doesn’t.  I can be in my ship, in space, sitting still, and the damn red dot will pop up on my inventory icon over and over, even when I have done nothing.  And I am one of those people who cannot leave an alert like that alone.  I must make it go away, and when it keeps coming back for no reason I want to scream.

This week there was a small patch update that had this item.

Added a toggle to general settings in-game allowing UI Inventory Badging (Red Dot) to be enabled or disabled.

You can now turn off the Red Dot!  Just go to the general settings tab and look for the Inventory Badging option.

Banish the Red Dot here

I can already see Brisc Rubal running for another CSM term on the slogan “We Banished the Red Dot for you!”

  • EVE in a Browser

CCP has started beta testing EVE Anywhere, the option to run EVE Online in a web browser.

EVE Anywhere except in my Firefox browser

One of the goals of any online game is to reduce the effort required to get players into the game.  Free to play takes away the credit card barrier, allowing players to start without a financial commitment.  But the dream has always been to avoid the client altogether and to let players jump right into playing without a long download and install.  Several MMORPGs have worked on this in the past… Runes of Magic tried this for a while… but it hasn’t really become an option.  Now CCP is giving it a run.

The beta is open to Omega accounts in the US.  I tried it for a bit and it mostly seems to work, though the security settings in Firefox seemed to prevent their site from even giving me to option to try it.

Going to Microsoft Edge the big yellow “Play in a Browser” button was displayed and I was able to get into the game.  The resolution is limited to 1080p and has to run full screen.  Also, every setting saved locally by the regular client is missing from the browser, which quickly becomes annoying.  But if you needed to log in to update your skill queue or do some market updates, it would be viable.

  • Federation Grand Prix

If you haven’t started collecting login rewards for the Federation Grand Prix event, it is too late to grab them all now, as the event ends early next week.  But, there is easily time left to actually run the event and collect a bunch of special SKINs as rewards.

Federation Grand Prix 2021

You just have to fly to the Luminaire system and warp to the start line to get your first detestation.  Be wary though, especially during prime time hours.  You have to fly through low sec, and even some NPC null sec, space and the route is known, so smart bombing ships and gate camps will be out trying to zap you.  An interdiction nullified interceptor will get you past most gate camps, but you should avoid warping directly to gates if you want to bypass smart bombers.

  • Skill Rentals Now with Ships and PLEX

CCP has already launched a new round of Expert Systems, the rent a skill program introduced earlier this month.

The new Mindstorm Experience packs include an exploration package that comes with a fully fit T1 exploration ship and a mining package that comes with 50 PLEX that the player can sell to help them buy their first mining barge.  Expert Systems persist through death, but ships do not, so I wonder how new players who buy the pack will feel when things inevitably go awry.

There is a deeper look at these new packs over at The Nosy Gamer.

  • Coming Quality of Life Improvements

CCP announced a series of quality of life improvements coming to EVE Online next week, which include changes to clones, ECM burst modules, and wormhole mass limits.

The clone change is huge, allowing players to store multiple clones in the same citadel.  As somebody who has several clones with specific implant sets stashed in 1DQ1-A, this is kind of a big deal even for me.  I’m a little sad about the ECM burst changes, as I enjoy doing that and, given the number of ships I have lost doing it, it is clearly a counterable play style.  But players in general hate ECM and CCP has a history of nerfing it into uselessness.

 

The Friday Bullet Point is GameStop

January is almost in the rear view mirror and it has already been a strange year.  I figured it was about time for me to grab some smaller items from the month and do a Friday bullet points post.  Obviously, GameStop was the top item for me.  But, after that, everything else sort of faded into insignificance.

  • The Revenge of GameStop

A year ago, in my predictions for 2020, I said that GameStop was headed for bankruptcy.  That seemed like a gimme prediction given the company’s situation.  But then came the pandemic and we all needed video games and the company revived.

Still, things were not looking great for storefront video game sales.  The company’s stock price (ticker: GME) was around $4.00 a share a year ago and had buoyed up close to $20 thanks to holiday sales.  And then, earlier this week it was past $450 a share.

Melvin Capital Management (MCM) decided to short the stock… basically a bet that the price would go down… when it was sitting in the high teens, which the Reddit group Wall Street Bets decided to go all in the other way, driving the price up to punish MCM, costing them a lot of money as they had to cover their position.

As if many were not convinced already that the stock market has simply become a casino for the wealthy, Robinhood, E*Trade, and TD Ameritrade, all of which cater to small investors, stopped allowing their users to trade GameStop (along with AMC, BlackBerry, Nokia, and a few others which was also seeing unexpected movement).  Robinhood denied it was a political move, claiming problems with margin exposure and reconciliation, and they are kind of a dicey edge case in the market, being already under investigation by the SEC and some states.

But TD Ameritrade E*Trade are not.  They’re really in the Wall Street club first, and no doubt this move was to defend the extremely wealthy… which includes themselves… as much as anything.  The casino gets upset if the suckers start costing them too much money and start changing the rules.  And there have already been calls for the SEC to control this sort of outsider behavior so that the peasants can’t rise up again.  Populist politicians on both sides of the divide are already looking to make hay out of this and there may be congressional hearings… because political donations from Wall Street are all important.

As a rule, small investors are only safe… or not at complete risk… investing in index funds, usually through their 401k retirement program, because Wall Street can charge a recurring maintenance fee and then use the money to prop up the stocks that benefit them the most.  The little guy is allowed to benefit, but only if Wall Street can make its money first.

And people may be cheering that MCM lost a bunch of money on this, but other big firms either sold off or got in with their shorts when the price was high and made money on the backs of the Redditors.  Meanwhile, individuals who saw GME prices taking off and jumped in later and who didn’t sell before the dive will lose out.  As always, Wall Street wins in the end and the small investors mostly lose.

In the end, none of this helps GameStop  the company even one iota. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find some senior execs and board members sold off part of their positions.)  The stock price only matters when the company offers new shares to the public.  This was all people trading shares the company had already sold, so the price… $4.00 or $400… doesn’t mean much to their daily operations.  The company is still in trouble.  This is all people trying to make money from nothing but perception… it is straight up gambling.

This sort of thing happens every so often.  The NPR podcast Planet Money did a story earlier in the year about Hertz Car Rentals when declared bankruptcy earlier this year… due to the fact that they had no cash reserves to speak of because they have spending all their money on stock buy backs which are what most benefit the CEO, board of directors, and Wall Street in the short term, so were completely unprepared for the pandemic downturn… and how their stock suddenly shot up because people were playing the market and wanted to make a quick buck.  The GameStop thing was only news because Wall Street lost control of the situation for a brief moment.

And yes, I am a bit cynical about Wall Street after watching them wreck the economy with sub-prime mortgages fifteen years back only to pay no price and get handed billions of dollars in quantitative easing so they could pay themselves bonuses while many suffered.

After the great depression of the 30s a lot of regulations were put in place to keep a titanic event like that from happening again.  For a brief time in history the stock market was what my finance professor described back in college, a way for company to raise money in order to expand or invest in the business.  That has long since been chipped away and we’re not so far from the days of Joseph Kennedy bilking small time investors.

Anyway, this seemed like something worth noting, even if it is only tangentially gaming related.  I’ll be interested to see where things stand in a year when I review this post.

For those interested in more details about GameStop:

 

Friday Bullet Points Including a Free WoW Weekend and Multi-boxing

It is Friday and I have a few short but timely items to write about, so it is time to go into PowerPoint mode and crank out some bullet points.  I will read them directly off the slide during my presentation just to annoy you.

  • Free World of Warcraft Weekend

Blizzard has declared that November 5th through the 8th is “Welcome back Weekend,” which means you can log in and play WoW for free as though you were a subscriber.

Free for a while

This will allow you to check out the new starting zone experience and the level squish.  I am sure a dedicated player could get a fresh character to the level cap in just a weekend.

The one thing this offer does not include is WoW Classic.  See the fine print.

  • WoW and Multi-boxing

Blizzard posted a notice this week that has been widely misinterpreted as a ban on multi-boxing.  There are a lot of bad headlines out there that say multi-boxing has been banned.  This is not technically true.

Rather, Blizzard has decided that software like ISBoxer that can be used to broadcast keyboard and mouse inputs to multiple clients will no longer be allowed.  The statement specifically calls out that, and that alone, as what is being banned.

Veterans of EVE Online know what I am talking about, as ISBoxer and like software has been banned there for a while.  Once upon a time there was a player who would fly a fleet of stealth bombers and do exactly timed bombing runs.

In WoW you can spot people using such software that fairly easily.  The classic example from a while back was a full group of shaman moving in unison, dropping the same totems as a group, and casting the same spells at the same time.

Warnings will be issued for those using such software now, ramping to “account actions,” up to and including bans, over time.

But you can still multi-box and long as you are not using input broadcasting software.  There are even some addons out there that will help you out with that.  But no more ISBoxer.

  • Shadowlands Beta

I think it is pretty safe to say that if I have now gotten an invite to the Shadowlands beta, then anybody who wants in can probably get in.

Something in my inbox last week

While it is getting close to the launch date there is still time to get in and provide feedback.  Blizz has been posting about areas and items they would like people to try.

  • BlizzConline will be Free

While BlizzCon was cancelled this year to the pandemic, Blizzard previously announced they would be doing a virtual BlizzCon, BlizzConline, February 19th and 20th of next year.

BlizzCon Online is the way I always attend anyway

In an eight minute fireside chat video with J. Allen Brack, he confirmed that the online event, which will also mark Blizzard’s 30th year as a company, will be available for free;  no virtual ticket required. (~50 seconds into the video)

 

Friday Bullet Points on a Tuesday just to Catch Up

Basically, the month slipped by and ends tomorrow and there were several things I think I should have mentioned, if only to set their place in the timeline of what happened this month.  So on to summaries and links and bullet points.

  • LOTRO Planning a “Mini” Expansion

Standing Stone Games announced that Lord of the Rings Online will be getting a mini expansion pack titled War of the Three Peaks next month.  SSG will be treating it like an expansion in that it will be available in three different versions:

  • Normal Edition – $20
  • Collector’s Edition – $59
  • Ultimate Edition – $99

SSG has been less than forthcoming as to what players will get for the extra $39 or $79, aside from the possibility of boar mounts.  Reaction to this mini expansion has been mixed.

I’m holding my own opinion on value until SSG comes out with more details, but my past experience with Adventure packs, an idea that shows up at Daybreak every so often, only to be disavowed, places my expectations low.

  • EVE Online Mineral Redistribution Plan

CCP put out a dev blog on Friday about the next steps in their economic work, calling it a “redistribution” plan.  However, it reads much more like a continuation of the “starvation” plan that they have been working on so far, with more things being removed from various areas of space and reducing yields on what remains.  The forum thread regarding this change exploded, which was no surprise.  Likewise, the chat in the live stream discussing the changes blew up as several devs tried not to pour gasoline on the fire and failed. (You can watch a re-run of the live stream or read a transcript if you’re that interested.)

Cutting through much of the general rage about the changes, it seems like CCP is trying to solve super capital proliferation via minerals.  However, supers use the same minerals as T1 subcaps, so T1 stuff is going to feel the same resource squeeze.  Updates that are all pain for no gain never fly well with the base.

The changes are supposed to come mid-October, so look for people to be mining heavily until that happens in an effort to try and insulated themselves from the already spiking mineral prices.

  • EVE Online Ship Models

CCP has a deal going with Mixed Dimensions to make models of EVE Online ships that players can buy, who have just added more hulls to those available.

I have always been a bit dubious about the ship models thing since the battleship models from more than a decade ago, not to mention the floating Nyx model that was a bust.  But maybe this time enough players… who always say they want these sorts of things… will actually pony up and buy them.  For me, however, the prices are a bit rich.  And I have that Rifter model from the 10th anniversary special in any case.

  • Microsoft buys ZeniMax Media

Microsoft agreed to pay $7.5 billion to acquire ZeniMax Media.  That name might sound familiar as they own id Software (Doom franchise), Arkane Studios (Prey, Dishonored), MachineGames (Wolfenstein franchise), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Bethesda Softworks (Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises), and ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online).

While there will be no immediate change to any of the studios or their titles, it does raise the question as to what in the future will be exclusive to XBox and what will be available on other consoles or even on the PC.

  • Sony PlayStation 5 Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

As foretold by every similar experience in the past, the pre-order process was swamped by people looking to get the new PlayStation 5 console, slated to ship in November, and by people looking to grab one to scalp on eBay to take advantage of desperate consumers as the holiday shopping season begins.  If you Google what happened, the word “fiasco” seems to be a common thread in much of the reporting.  Some of the confusion was caused by retailers putting pre-orders up for sale a day early.  Sony apologized for what happened and promised to do better in the future.

  • Microsoft XBox Series X and S Pre-Orders Open Up, Hilarity Ensues

Later in the week Microsoft opened up pre-orders for the coming XBox Series X and S consoles, slated to ship in November, leading to another rush to get in first to claim a unit, either to own or to scalp later.  While things were less chaotic (the news stories rank the event somewhere between “mess” and “debacle,” which is better than a “fiasco” I think) there were still issues and all units were quickly sold out.

The added dimension here is that the XBox One X, a previous generation console, saw a spike in orders at the same time, so it is quite possible that at least a few people are going to be very disappointed to find out that they were duped by Microsoft’s naming scheme into ordering the wrong unit.

  • Foreclosing on your Farmville

Zynga announced that they will be shutting down Farmville at the end of the year.

Farmville, the big break out game for Mark Pincus and Zynga and the poster child for Facebook “social gaming,” which at its 2011 peak had more than 80 million players, was also the standard bearer for annoying garbage games that made you pester your Facebook friends or straight up pay cash to advance and help define the whole genre as spammy pieces of shit.

Of course, that is what you get when your founder doesn’t even really like games all that much.

The surprise here isn’t so much that the game is shutting down but that it was still up and running.  Then again, literally the most profitable thing that Zynga has done during its entire existence was buy property in the SF Bay Area.  I am told that selling their building earned them more than all of their games combined over the last decade.  And, as they lucked into the social gaming on Facebook trend, they managed to luck into the peak, pre-pandemic real estate market in SF.  Good for their investors I guess.

I expect I will come up with a few choice words for the game, the company, and the genre to mark the final passing of the game in December.

  • EA Secretly Craves Lockbox Regulations

Electronic Arts – Fun is Made Here

I’m throwing this one in here at the last minutes just to keep me from writing another two thousand word screed on the self-destructive behavior that greed drives this industry towards.

According to a story over at Massively OP, EA decided that advertising their FIFA 20 lockboxes in a children’s toy catalog (Smyths’ Magazine) was a good idea.  My bullet point for this section is obviously sarcasm, but only just.  The only other reason I could imaging EA thinking it was a good idea to effectively throw some red meat in front of legislators keen to declare lockboxes gambling targeted at children is that they believed that the current pandemic and political unrest would provide sufficient cover for their plan… their plan to target lockboxes at children.

This is so dumb, like a dumb sandwich with a side order of dumb and a 16oz cup of dumb to wash it all down level of dumb, that I had to stop and check other sources to make sure this wasn’t a hoax because somewhere in the back of my head something was saying that even EA could not be this dumb.

And yet, here we are.

I mean sure, I guess that the ESA declaration on lockboxes last year, who among the signatories you will find EA, didn’t specifically say that targeting children was bad. But I guess I didn’t think that needed to be said.  As I wrote a year ago, this is how you get your industry regulated.

Friday Bullet Points about WoW Classic Again

I’ve done this topic before, but WoW Classic is the gift that keeps on giving in so many ways and there are a few items I felt deserved a mention but maybe not a whole post.

Classic is as classic does

So on with the list.

  • Holly in Azeroth

For me the big news of the week here was the announcement that Holly “Windstalker” Longdale has moved to Blizzard as a “Principle Game Producer” to work on WoW Classic.  Per her LinkedIn profile:

Recently joined Blizzard to focus on World of Warcraft Classic!

We got the news in early March that she was leaving Daybreak/Darkpaw in order to pursue a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”  Well, it is hard to argue with her choice now, or Blizzard’s.

The optimist in me… and I am by nature very optimistic, at least until the facts land on me… see this as a possible huge win for both.

On the one side we have Holly, who has experience running classic/nostalgia servers, successfully leveraging them to grown EverQuest‘s player base over the last five years now able to work with a company that has the budget and staff and technical capability to make shit happen.  No more layoffs looming every year, making do with a team stretched too thin, and whatever shenanigans Daybreak gets up to running the show.

On the other side we have Blizzard, which has finally learned that nostalgia sells… WoW Classic arguably having saved their bacon as Battle for Azeroth faded quickly… but which is clearly struggling with what to do with this new found success.  They need somebody who has made the mistakes and learned from them.

What will come of this match up?  Who knows.  It might be magical and unlock a wide range of possibilities, or it might be “Because SOE” meets “New Blizzard.”  But at least it is a sign that Blizzard is serious in this area and it may be the height of Holly’s career so far.  I wouldn’t have said “No” to Blizzard had I been in her position.

  • Phase Four Fully Functional

The fourth phase of the WoW Classic unlocks finished opening up this week.  Arathi Basin was unlocked early, but now there is the Zul’Gurub raid available as well as the Green Dragonflight Dragons for your raid group entertainment.

Also now available is the Stranglethorn Vale fishing tournament.

And the precursor actions to the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event have started up in Silithus.

I will say that, while Zul’Gurub as a raid is way beyond anything the instance group will end up doing, one of the highlights of the Cataclysm expansion was getting 5 person heroic instance version of the raid.

And there was already a world first event as part of the raid in WoW Classic as the final boss, Hakkar the Soulflayer, was slain without killing the five high priest bosses.  Each priest left alive give Hakkar a special ability, ratcheting up the difficulty of the fight.  Are we all better 15 years down the road or does modern equipment and connections enhance our abilities?

  • Population Pressures

The surge in online gaming that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on the WoW Classic servers again, with full realms and queues showing up.  Because of this Blizz has put a couple things in place currently. First, they have restricted new character creation on three US servers:

  • Arugal
  • Faerlina
  • Whitemane

You can only create new characters there if you already have a character on those servers.

In addition, some free character transfers are available from three servers that have been seeing queues recently:

  • Incendius (Alliance Only)
  • Faerlina
  • Whitemane

The free character moves are likely available only so long as the queues last, so if you want one do it sooner rather than later.

  • Burning Crusade Poll

This one is a bit old at this point, but I meant to bring it up previously… and may bring it up again… but Blizzard sent our a survey to some players asking what option they might prefer if The Burning Crusade were to become a practical reality as a classic server option.  The choices were:

  1. Continue playing my current Classic character on my existing server as it progresses to the Burning Crusade expansion, with the option to transfer to a Classic server that will never progress past level 60.
  2. Start a brand new character from level 58 on a new Burning Crusade server.
  3. Start a brand new character from Level 1 on a new Burning Crusade server.
  4. Continue playing my current Classic character on my existing server that will never progress past level 60, with the option to transfer to a Burning Crusade server.

Polls like this might be familiar to some who saw them as part of EverQuest and EverQuest II retro server development over the past few years.  I’m not saying that Holly was already at work for this… a poll is a pretty easy go to idea… but it could be.

As for which I would choose, I would rank them 1, 4, 2, 3, though I am not really fond of either of the last two, with three being a bit of a non-starter for me.  For a server focused on The Burning Crusade, slogging through those 60 levels again would seem more of a barrier than anything.  I’m enjoying it now, but I am not sure I want to start over again right away.  TBC was deep enough as an expansion already.