Tag Archives: Overwatch

SuperData and the Curious Case of the Missing WoW Money

SuperData Research released its 2017 report looking at how much money was spent on video games, sliced up into different segments.  You can download the report from them, it is free, unlike some of their other reports.

Yes, I know, SuperData’s numbers are flawed, though probably not in the way you think.  As a market analysis firm, they have relationships with the companies on which they report.  They are not some group of rando outsiders om Spokane making wild guesses by looking at Steam charts and trying to get data out of the App Store.  They get financial information directly from most of the companies they track.

The companies cooperate because there is a quid pro quo in play.  SuperData only covers a limited number of companies generally, but those companies tend to be publicly traded… or have aspiration to go public some day… or are in bed through licensing with another company that is public… and they want analysts to say nice things about them because that may boost their valuation and, thus, their stock price.

The flaw in the data often comes from what the companies choose to give analysts and how they package it.  I speak from experience on this.  I recall one year the marketing director at a company coming to me to ask me about what new features we were working on for our main product.  He was working on our annual puff piece for Gartner to tell them how great we were.  So I listed out the key items from the road map and he gave me a sour look and said that we told Gartner we did all of that last year or the year before, he wanted something new!

So yeah, the analyst is only as good as the data they get, and companies will lie… though when it comes to financials, they can’t make stuff up if they’re a public company.  They can, however, withhold data or refuse to break things out in a way that the analyst would want.

All of which brings us back to SuperData and their 2017 report.  They have several nice charts which, unlike their monthly reports, have dollar amounts attached.

SuperData 2017 Mobile Market Chart

There is a lot of money in mobile games.

Then there is the free to play PC games chart.

SuperData 2017 F2P PC Games Market Chart

League of Legends dominates that with over $2 billion in revenue in 2017, something I am sure Tencent wants its institutional investors to know.  But the low end of that chart is a lot lower than the low end of the mobile chart.

Then there is the Premium PC chart, the traditional “buy the box” model, though the top end of the chart has DLC and other additional revenue streams.

SuperData 2017 Premium PC Games Market Chart

Hey, look, Guild Wars 2!  Shipping a new box in 2017 no doubt helped them to get there.  Also, you can probably go back and look at the first three quarters of earnings reports for NCsoft in 2017, add up the GW2 revenues on those, subtract that from the number on the chart, and have a good guess at what the Q4 number will be. (Should be about 46,560 on the GW2 section of their usual chart, which is measured in millions of South Korean Won, if I calculated that correctly. That would be a big boost from Q3.)  If that is on the money, then there is only one possible source.  And if it is different… well, then we’ll have some evidence of something else.

I am dubious about Minecraft. That seems like a lot for just the PC market, though that may be because I focus on the Java Edition, which is its own beast.  The other, unified cross platform edition has all sorts of DLC, even on Windows 10.  And, again, who knows how Microsoft packaged up the data.  They might have said, “This is the Minecraft number,” declining to break it out.

And, finally, there is the consoles chart.

SuperData 2017 Console Games Market Chart

Consoles seem to be about shooting people and playing soccer.

There are no billion dollar earners on either of those last two charts.  GTA V on console is worth a quarter of League of Legends when it comes to annual revenue in 2017.  Then again, half a billion dollars is still nothing to sneeze at, and it is a hell of a lot of money for a game that shipped on consoles back in 2013.  But, then again, League of Legends showed up in 2009, so being new doesn’t have much to do with revenue I guess.

Anyway, interesting charts to look at and compare.  Each of the numbers are probably true in the right context, but the chances of us knowing that context is pretty slim.

But in looking at all of that, there was a glaring omission in my book.  World of Warcraft is nowhere to be seen.  After all, it has appeared on every monthly SuperData chart in 2017.  Why would it not appear in the final report?

My first thought was that it just didn’t fit nicely into any of the categories.  And I suppose that might be the case, but I doubt it.

My gut says that Blizzard wants it this way.  As noted above, analysts are at the mercy of those providing the data, and I think the only way that SuperData would have skipped WoW is because Blizzard held back that data or told them they couldn’t use it in a publicly available report.  I back this up with how Blizzard has tried to obscure information about WoW in their financial reports.

At first that was because of the subscription drop panic.  But later, when it became more thorough, I began to suspect another reason.

I think that this is all because Blizzard is trying to remove the idea that the company is dependent on WoW for the bulk of their revenues.

There was a time when that was the case, when it was WoW paying the bills and a few people buying Diablo II or Warcraft III battle chests bringing in what amounted to some spare change.  But Blizzard has moved on from then.  As noted in the past, BlizzCon is now about more than just WoW.

When WoW went through its post-Warlords of Draenor subscriber dump, I think Blizz realized that they needed to shed the image that Blizzard = WoW and nothing else.  They don’t want people to think that if WoW dies, Blizzard dies.

As part of that Blizzard began to pay a lot more attention publicly to the other titles in its catalog, which has expanded quite a bit since 2008 or so, when WoW was pretty much it.  So in the charts above you see Hearthstone in free to play and Overwatch in premium PC games.

But you don’t see WoW, not because it didn’t make enough money to place, but because Blizz doesn’t want that to distract from its other titles.

I also think this is the reason that WoW got split into East and West earlier in the year, so that other Blizzard titles would be seen to have passed WoW.  That wasn’t some rando analyst choice.  Analysts don’t do that, they like their data to be consistent over time.  That gives it a greater sense of validity.

And I know WoW would make the charts.  We can derive that from past data.  Throughout 2017, World of Warcraft was on every SuperData monthly chart, and for 10 out of 12 months it was ahead of World of Tanks, which did make the chart.  WoW was also ranked ahead of World of Tanks at the first six months of 2017 summary from SuperData.

So I think we can safely say that WoW made more than World of Tanks, which itself brought in $471 million according to the charts above.  And WoW making even a dollar more than that amount would put it well ahead of Overwatch ($382 million) and Hearthstone ($217 million), the next two highest earners in the Blizzard stable.

We don’t know how much World of Warcraft actually made in 2017, but it was likely in excess of half a billion dollars, and could be a decent chunk more than that.  I could probably find out if I wanted to spend two grand on SuperData’s MMO and MOBA report, but I am not so inclined. Still, even my guess is not bad for a game from 2004.

And it seems likely that WoW will pop up a bit in SuperData’s monthly charts for January and February with the Battle for Azeroth pre-orders having hit on Tuesday.  The payment system was bogged down from the effect of people trying to throw money at Blizzard.

So World of Warcraft isn’t dead.  It isn’t even resting really.  It seems to me to be more a matter of Blizzard having the problem in not being able to create something to surpass WoW.   So rather than submitting their other titles to that measure, they’re trying to hide it.

Anyway, that is my working theory.

Meanwhile, a bonus chart from the report, and one I am sure Blizzard really likes, the esports viewership.

SuperData 2017 esports Viewership Chart

The measure on that chart is “average monthly unique viewers” for 2017.

(Also, as a side note, they chopped the market up into Twitch 54%, YouTube 22%, and everybody else making up 24%)

Blizzard likes that chart because Heroes of the Storm gets a mention, and it is the only place it is likely to get one.  StarCraft II is also there.  But Heroes of the Storm gets barely a tenth of LoL’s viewership, and less than a quarter of DOTA 2’s.  More interesting is that it also only gets a quarter of Overwatch’s viewership and less than 20% of Heros of the Storm’s viewers.

StarCraft II, son of the original esports champion StarCraft, seems a bit sad down at the bottom of the list.  But Blizzard does have four games on the list (and WoW isn’t one of them) which added together, had more average viewers than League of Legends.  Not bad.

Also, Hearthstone is Blizzard’s most popular esports game.  Imagine that!  We’ll see if the whole Overwatch league changes that in 2018, but for now that is how it stands.

April Fools at Blizzard 2017 – Not Much to Talk About

Here we are again, another April Fools has rolled around and… Blizzard doesn’t seem in the mood.

There are a couple of items up for StarCraft II that have an April 1 date on them, so I assume they are humor.  There is the the Instability / Co-op Mutation announcement.

D4rK V0ic3? What does this picture even mean?

Then there is the Overlord Announcer customized announce package.  It speaks Zerg.

Overlord, with sound samples

It’s funny because you can’t understand anything in the sample sounds I guess.

And that was about it.

Over on the World of Warcraft site they are still focused on the Tomb of Sargeras 7.2 update and its ongoing hotfixes, all of which has turned into a bad joke in and of itself.

On the Diablo III site, season 10 opened (finally available on consoles!) and there something about the coming necromancer update announced back at BlizzCon, but nothing humorous.

The Hearthstone site is on about the upcoming Journey to Un’goro card pack.

Heroes of the Storm news is all about the 2.0 plan to fix the game and make it popular.  I am sure you can make a joke about that, but that likely wasn’t Blizzard’s intent.

And the most recent update about Overwatch involves a statue of Windowmaker for $150.  That they have to say, “Limit – 2 per customer” should be funny… or sad.  I can’t tell.

So not much of an April Fools from the team down in Irvine.  Digging around, it seems like there may have been some things done in-game for players, but the usual medium of outrageous new features and fake patch notes on the various sites seems to have fallen by the wayside.  I’ll have to check Blizzard’s April Fools archive next week to see if anything else was added for today.  But for now, that is all I have seen.  I’ll amend the page if something new comes up.

Addendum, thanks to the comments:

My own archive of past years:

World of Tanks Passes WoW West According to SuperData Research

SuperData Research put up their top ten lists for February 2017 this week.

SuperData Research Top 10 – February 2017 (original)

I noted last month that Blizzard decided to break out their World of Warcraft numbers for SuperData into East and West, which one can assume meant China and the rest of the world.  There was no statement as to why that change occurred, but I speculated that it might have been done to give Overwatch a boost on the list.  Splitting WoW in two pushed Overwatch up into third place.  Or maybe they just wanted to push somebody else off the list.

A month later things have changed. While the East/West designations are absent, I think we can assume that the higher WoW is “West” as it was the higher of the two last month.  World of Tanks swapped places with Overwatch in February while the nineteen year old Korean MMO classic Lineage jumped ahead of WoW East.

Otherwise the list is unchanged from February, with only Blizzard titles losing ground.  I wonder how Blizzard felt about that?

Oh, wait, I bet I know!

It seems as though they called up SuperData and told them to get rid of that East/West split, so that first chart disappeared from their site to be replaced by a new one.

SuperData Research Top 10 – February 2017 (revised)

The recombined World of Warcraft is back ahead of World of Tanks, Overwatch is still down in sixth place, DOTA 2 is up a spot, and For Honor gets a spot on the list.  I suspect we shall hear no more of an East/West split in WoW numbers.

Meanwhile, the report also has more bad news for Blizzard:

Hearthstone hits a new low on mobile. Hearthstone marked its lowest point since releasing on both Android and iOS smartphones. Revenue is down significantly year-over-year and month-over-month. Recent gameplay decisions have been unpopular with the Hearthstone community, and the result has been a sharp decrease in conversion on mobile. Desktop revenue is also down, but to a lesser extent, perhaps due to the more “hardcore” demographic on PC.

Not a good month for Blizzard.

Other items of note… at least items that interest me… Pokemon Go is still holding on to 4th place on the mobile chart, a surprising performance for a game several people have told me is “dead,” and Candy Crush Saga dropped off the chart completely, having lost its hold on the 10th rung of the ladder.

Trying to Find Data in the Activision Blizzard 2016 Financials

The final Activision Blizzard financial results for 2016 were announced yesterday.

ActiBlizz450

You can find all that was said and posted over at the company investor relations site.

Gone are the days of straightforward information when they used to tell you the World of Warcraft subscriber numbers and listed out revenue from those subscriptions as a separate line item.  You knew how the game was doing in straight up, hard numbers.

Now though, now the finance team has done all they can to declare everything is wonderful without really telling you where the money is coming from.  Now it is mostly bullshit like Monthly Active Users, as with this slide:

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 7

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 7

I mean, when the division that brings in the least revenue, King, has almost an order of magnitude higher MAUs, you’ve pretty much proven that MAUs are divorced from financial reality.  That is playing, not paying.

And then there are the oddly specific brags as we see on the next slide.

 Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 8


Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 8

I like this particular quote about WoW:

World of Warcraft time spent grew Q/Q, surpassing Legion’s launch quarter and all non launch quarters in the last 4 years

Time spent playing went up in Q4 compared to Q3.  That makes sense, really, since WoW Legion launched at the back half of Q3, so play time was probably going to ramp up after that.  But then things sort of fall apart as the quote goes on.  It surpassed all “non launch” quarters in the last four years.

So it isn’t doing as well as Warlords of Draenor or Mists of Pandaria launches I guess.  Seems like an odd thing to bring up.  And pining it down to just four years means… that things were better before that?  There was a quote previously about concurrency hitting a post Cataclysm high previously along with first day sales numbers.  So they are being cagey about anything that might allude to actual subscribers.

Still, it isn’t like Blizzard isn’t making money.  According to slide 10 of the presentation, Blizz is no slouch in net revenues and is the champ of operating income.

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation - Slide 10

Activision Blizzard Q4 2016 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 10

Activision topped Q4, but they released a Call of Duty title, so their previous quarters were not so hot.  Blizzard was a little more consistent over the last three quarters, if you dig into the financial model spreadsheet from the investor relations site.

But it is the highlights part under Blizzard that caught my eye.  Specifically, it says:

In 2016, >60% of segment revenue from non-World of Warcraft franchises…

That seemed like something from which I could get a hard number.  I decided to take a strict reading of that sentence and declare that it just mean WoW and not Hearthstone or any part of Heroes of the Storm.  Elsewhere in the presentation it was stated that Blizzard revenue was driven by WoW and Overwatch, so I don’t think assuming WoW-only for that statement is way off base.

Also, I chose to take 60% as a hard number, since if it was much more than that, they would have said so, since declaring that Blizzard isn’t totally dependent on WoW appeared to be part of the exercise.  It it had been 65% or 70%, they probably would have said that instead.

Given that, we can see right there on the slide that Blizzard’s revenue was $2,428 million, which indicates that WoW revenue for 2016 might be as high as $970 million.  Not bad for a twelve year old game.   Not as much as League of Legends in 2016 no doubt, but a bit more than Pokemon Go made in its first six months, if the number is correct.  Even if it is off by… say… 100 million… that is still a lot of income.  (That margin of error is more than GuildWars 2 made in 2016, as an example.)  The billion plus earning years might be behind the game, but it is still a money printing machine unlike any competing MMORPG.

As noted, Overwatch also got special mention in the presentation, so it must be doing well.  And even Hearthstone got a mention, having boosted its MAUs year over year, for whatever that is worth.

That leaves two of the Blizzard properties unaccounted for.  Diablo III didn’t have anything new to sell, so there was no real reason to expect that to show up for a special mention.  And then there is Heroes of the Storm, which has already been called out for problems that keep it from being a contender in its segment.  No mention gives that credence.

Overall though, Blizzard continues to make bank and WoW can support its 300 member development team (according to a GameSpot interview) and still turn a profit.  But with that many people working on the game, there isn’t any excuse for another long content drought.  We shall see if they can manage to avoid that before the next expansions.

Projecting on BlizzCon 2016

I must admit that this year’s BlizzCon doesn’t have much going for it in my book.

blizzcon2016

The only game of theirs that I have played in the last six months is World of Warcraft, and that got an expansion just about two months back, so there didn’t seem to be much in it for me.  I wasn’t going to actually GO to BlizzCon or anything, which would be a totally different experience, if only because I just got back from EVE Vegas… and, also, tickets to BlizzCon sell out in seven seconds.

So I was tempted to simply ignore the whole thing and ready about it in the funny papers next week.

Then Blizzard went and announced that “Weird Al” Yankovic was going to be the closing musical guest and I decided I kind of wanted to see that.  I mean, he isn’t Permaband, but he does have more than five songs.  With my daughter keen to see the costume contest and my wife always amused by the dance contest, I subscribed to the pay per view version of the event.

So there we are.

And if I am paying for the event, I am certainly going to pay attention to it and get at least two blog posts out of it, so here we go with the first one.  As with previous years, my mostly uninformed preview of the event will include what I want to see and what I actually expect to see.

World of Warcraft

As I noted above, WoW just released an expansion, so the options are limited.  It likely won’t be a WoW year on the main stage.

expect to see:

  • How great the Legion expansion is doing
  • Some hint about the next content drop
  • WoW in other media (film, TV, graphic novels, etc.)

want to see:

  • Details about the plan for 7.2, 7.3, and, one would hope, 7.4
  • When we will get flying in the Broken Isles
  • Something about retro/nostalgia/legacy servers – Yes, I know, the have already explicitly said they will NOT talk about this, but a man can dream right?
  • Nothing whatsoever about Mark Kern, who is still trying to inject himself into the legacy server thing so he can disrupt BlizzCon with it
  • Tom Chilton saying something he shouldn’t about WoW just one more time

Diablo Franchise

Unlike WoW, the world of Diablo is prime for something new.  Diablo III is going to turn five next May and even the expansion will be three in March.  Presumably, with more than 30 million copies sole, Blizzard isn’t going to let there be another decade gap between releases.  Plus, the 20th anniversary of the original Diablo is coming up.  They have to do something.

expect to see:

  • Positive but vague words about how popular the game remains
  • The Diablo 20th anniversary plan
  • MEUs MAUs and China
  • Something new coming for Diablo III seasons

want to see:

  • Diablo IV announced… Reaper of Souls setup the next game
  • A new expansion for Diablo III announced… if not a new game, at least this
  • Something about that remastered version of Diablo II they were talking about a year ago
  • The original Diablo either remastered or on iOS and Android… I would throw money at the screen for a good remaster of the original

StarCraft

The StarCraft franchise is in an awkward place as Blizz has sort of finished up what they initially planned to do for StarCraft II.  Last year the big news was DLC missions to come after Legacy of the Void shipped.  We got a three part module in this year in the form of Nova Covert Ops.  The first two parts have been released and the third is promised for December 1.

expect:

  • General “Woo, StarCraft!” stuff
  • Reassurance about the third part of Nova Covert Ops shipping
  • A DLC pack for 2017
  • Tournament play

want:

  • Remastered original StarCraft because, honestly, I would much rather play the old version if it wasn’t locked into 640×480 resolution (because this)

Other Titles

I don’t play the other Blizzard titles so I will lump them under a single heading to hide the paucity of entries about individual games while condensing the cynicism into a single, bitter pill.

expect:

  • Everything is Awesome playing on continuous loop, at least metaphorically
  • New hero and/or map for Overwatch
  • Positive Overwatch play time stats
  • A new card pack for Hearthstone that will make all previous packs obsolete
  • Some over the top stats for how many games of Hearthstone have been played
  • Some new play mode for Heroes of the Storm to try and make it at least visible in the market after League of Legends and DOTA2
  • Tournament plans or some such that make it sound like a lot of people play Heroes of the Storm
  • A mobile game from Candy Crush Saga division using Blizzard IP; Manic Murloc Melodrama or some such

want:

  • Overwatch on MacOS so my daughter will stop complaining about Blizzard betraying her
  • Any mention of the original Warcraft RTS games being remastered
  • Report on how that Cho’gall plan from last year turned out for Heroes of the Storm
  • A “Weird Al” song about any Blizzard product

And that is about it.  I hope it will be a big year at BlizzCon for Diablo, give the 20th anniversary and all, but I have been disappointed on the Diablo front so many times in the past that wouldn’t bet on it.

What else should I expect to see… and what do you want to see at BlizzCon?

Overwatch Goes Live

Blizzard’s new game, Overwatch, launches today, or yesterday depending on where you live.  May 24, 2016 is listed everywhere on the promotional material, though the worldwide launch schedule was a bit more complicated than that.

Ovwerwatch launching in a time zone near you

Ovwerwatch launching in a time zone near you

I think it is live everywhere it is supposed to be on launch day as of the time this post goes up.  There is a press release from Blizz about it and everything.

I had to be educated on this worldwide go-live because, I must admit, I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the game.  Not that my not paying attention is in any way indicative of what other people have been up to.  The open beta was such a success that it got an infographic.

So many players in the open beta

So many players in the open beta

The reason I haven’t been paying much attention is… well… I suppose three out of four Google responses can help me out with that:

Back to this game...

Back to this game…

I wonder if people search on “Overwatch is bad” are looking for reasons to dislike the title or searching out people who don’t like the game?  I suppose that at least Overwatch isn’t dead yet.  Give it a few weeks.

Anyway, the game being bad isn’t one of the reasons.  I suspect the game is actually good, given what I have seen people writing about it.

No, it is more of the other three, where it feels something like Team Fortress 2, cast as a MOBA, for which somebody expects me to pay $40/$60/$130, depending on which edition, which adds up to totally not worth it in my book.  But, as noted previously, I am long past my FPS days.  If I don’t care enough to play the free ones, I am not going to pay to play one.

And then there is the fact that it is one of the few Blizzard titles not to appear on Mac OS.  That is a factor in our house because my daughter has a nice iMac.  She has been into TF2 off and on, which is available on Mac OS, so had her eye on Overwatch… right up until Blizzard said support for Mac OS was off the table.  Then she was pissed and will hear no more of this game.  She feels let down by Blizz.

Then there is the MOBA aspect.  Blizz has been making a big deal about playing heroes rather than classes for Overwatch.  So you choose a hero with a special set of skills and abilities, which sounds very MOBA-like.  I think I said something about that back when the game was announced at BlizzCon 2014.

But then there is also the MOBA monetization coming as well.  They haven’t started selling new heroes… yet… but skins are already available for purchase along with my least favorite aspect of free to play, called Loot Boxes this time around, where in you can pay money… and Blizz doesn’t go for that microtransaction currency stuff, they straight up value things in real world currency and bill your credit card directly… for random items.  I didn’t like that system when I was a kid and tried collecting baseball cards and nothing has changed my mind about it ever since.

Ah well, that might just be me.

So I won’t be playing Overwatch.  But it is a major launch from a developer who also happens to run an MMORPG, so seemed worthy of note, and doubly so since bits of Overwatch were salvaged from the wreckage of Titan, the MMO project from Blizzard that was cancelled a while back.  Also, it seems to be dominating the gaming news cycle right about now.

So will you be playing Overwatch today?

[A multiple choice poll appears above this line which gets blocked by some browsers]