Tag Archives: Shadowlands

Shadowlands Beta and the Coming Release

My time in Azeroth remains focused on WoW Classic.  My interest in Battle for Azeroth is pretty low since I unlocked flying (I am squandering that 100% xp boost, I know) and I have been trying not to pay too much attention to what is going on with the upcoming Shadowlands expansion in my usual attempt to keep some of it a surprise.

But I cannot help but see the headlines in my feed and the Blue Tracker over at MMO Champion, which I use to pick up specific news and updates, has been very much focused on Shadowlands.

And the big news this past week is that Shadowlands has now officially entered beta and people can try/test all of the leveling content, classes, and some instances.  Blizz has posted a preview round up to cover some of what is coming.

This feels a bit late in the year, relative to past releases, for an expansion to hit beta.  I know that things take as long as they take, and that Blizzard has pegged this for the three month period of “Fall” as the release window… so it won’t be another August launch… but I seem to recall there being traditionally something like a 3-4 month gap between beta and launch (somebody did a study of this, but I cannot find it at the moment), which would put Shadowlands in the October to November time frame.  The past launch to launch timeline have been:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days
  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 670 days
  • Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 728 days

If Shadowlands launches on October 27th, just to pick an early-ish Fall date, that would make the gap between launches 805 days, if I did my math correctly, making it the longest time between expansions.

Technically Blizzard has until December 21st, the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year and the point at which somebody decided winter officially starts in the northern hemisphere, to ship Shadowlands and still meet their Fall promise, which would be 860 days.  And the fine print for the expansion per-purchase says that you will get it by December 31st, so it could well into winter and an 870 day gap.

And I guess that is okay.  We’ll all be indoors, and probably all the more so when COVID-19 returns hard and the seasonal flu joins in to tag team us and shelter in place makes staying home the only option.  Lots of time to play video games and a great need to escape the news will make Azeroth feel inviting.  No plagues there… currently.

Somewhere along the way Blizz also has to introduce the level squish, turing the current level 1-120 game into a level 1-50 game, on to which Shadowlands will add another ten levels.

What the new level ranges will be

I am sure that will introduce some unexpected complications.  I also look forward to the more obsessive figuring out which of the eight paths between 10 and 50 is the most efficient way to level an alt.

Blizz also announced that there will now be four versions of the Shadowlands expansion, catching up with some of the competitors I noted previously.  There will be three digital editions.  These are no surprise, having been on sale since freaking BlizzCon 2019.

Digital versions of Shadowlands

The Base Edition gets you the expansion and that’s it.  Simple.

The Heroic Edition adds in a level 120 character boost, a mount, and a transmog set.

And the Epic Edition adds a pet, a weapon effect, a special hearthstone effect, and 30 days of game time on top of the Heroic Edition.

But Blizzard also has a physical Collector’s Edition for those of you who demand the big physical box.  This gets you all of the Epic Edition stuff plus an art book, mouse pad, pin set, and the sound track.

Shadowlands Collectors Edition

That will set you back $119.99 here in the US.

You can, of course, purchase any of these now for delivery by December 31st, 2020.  Blizzard likes money, and will happily take yours if you want to give it to them early.  And if you have purchased a digital version already there is a path and a plan to allow you to buy the physical version with all the stuff.

I imagine purchasing one of these will get you into beta, though I haven’t checked on that.  I certainly haven’t gotten any of the usual “click here for Shadowlands beta access” phishing emails so far.  But the beta is still young yet.

I am not certain which edition I will end up purchasing.  I traditionally end up paying the mount tax and buying the big digital version, but collecting mounts isn’t that big of a deal for me these days.  It turns out that when you get beyond a couple hundred choices, adding in one more isn’t a huge motivator.  And Blizz just gave me a new mount again for a six month subscription, the Steamscale Incinerator.  That remains a thing.

We shall see.

My enthusiasm for retail WoW remains low.  I log in to do Darkmoon Faire monthly on my main, if only to try to nudge his trade skills along.  I am sure I will be back for the pre-expansion events.  If nothing else, I will be interested to see how the level squish looks.  But that might not come for a while.

Tough Act to Follow

We are in the waning days of the Battle for Azeroth expansion in World of Warcraft.  This expansion seems destined to rank down the list in the annals of the game.  It is a bit hard for me to even judge it as an expansion, as I did about as little as you could do and still be able to claim to have played.

Battle for Azeroth

But even with my low commitment to the expansion… I made it to level cap with two characters and unlocked flying, but did little else besides the main overland quest lines… I felt the pain of the expansion.  The whole idea that mobs ramped up in difficulty so that equipping better gear made the game harder… a problem that Blizzard acknowledged but said they didn’t care about… was just the main issue I had to deal with.  But it seemed like everything from the story to the raids was making somebody angry over the course of the expansion.

However, some of my lack of enthusiasm is no doubt related to the fact that the previous expansion, Legion, was one I did enjoy.  I played that through pretty thoroughly… for me at least, no raiding, but I ran the instances via LFG… and came away feeling pretty satisfied.  I liked the story, the zones, the mechanics of the classes I played, and I honestly felt a bit robbed when my legendary weapon abilities went away.

So I wonder how much of my disappointment… or at least my lack of enthusiasm… lays in the fact that I enjoyed Legion more.

I have, in the past, tried to articulate the problems with expansions.  They must, by necessity, reset the game in some way, undo what has gone before, in order to give you new things to accomplish.  They also stand as waypoints where  a company can assess features, add new ones, and adjust things that players were complaining about.  For WoW, the latter always involves an update to classes because there has literally never been a time in WoW when somebody wasn’t loudly and repeatedly complaining about their favorite class being bad on some other class being too good.

That means there is almost always a shake up to the status quo, something that will make some slice of the player base pack up and walk away.

And yet some expansions are recalled fondly.  Maybe not by everybody, but there is often something of a consensus about what was a good expansion and what was not.  The good ones mentioned are often:

  • Wrath of the Lich King
  • Mists of Pandaria
  • Legion

While the bad list tends to be:

  • Cataclysm
  • Warlords of Draenor
  • Battle for Azeroth

But there is clearly a pattern to that, and a regular “every other expansion sucks” seems a bit too convenient.  So I wonder how much the quality or popularity of a specific expansion influences that of the expansion after it and how much the expansion before it does the same.

As I noted above, my enjoyment of Legion might very well have shaded my reception of BFA.  Maybe.

More certainly, my time spent with Wrath of the Lich King, where I played from the last few months of The Burning Crusade and straight through the whole time it was live, made me less receptive to Cataclysm.

I have softened a bit on Cataclysm over time.  Destroying the old world still seems like a mistake… unless you think somebody was playing the long game and that Blizz meant to do WoW Classic the whole time.  And giving people flying out of the box was problematic.  But there was still some quality content there, including possible the prettiest zone in Azeroth, Vashj’ir.  And when we went back and did the instances, especially the 5 person heroic versions of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman, those were a good time.

And it is quite arguable that my enjoyment of Mists of Pandaria… I skipped the first year of it, but then played it through until Warlords of Draenor hit…  was colored by my dislike at the time of Cataclysm and the fact that I stayed away from WoW for at least 18 months before getting into it.

Which, of course, brings me into another cycle with WoD, and the story continues.

Are the ups and downs of my relationship with World of Warcraft because of the expansions and their merit (or lack thereof) or due to my own expectations being set or mis-set by over exposure or hype?  Should we be thus optimistic about the coming Shadowlands expansion, it having followed one of the down expansions?

Every expansion is its own time in the WoW continuum, and yet none of them exists in a vacuum either.  Each one builds on the past and sets expectations for the future.

The Restoration of Blizzard Margins and the Resurgence of WoW

What a difference a year can make.  Back in May 2019 I was writing about the sorry state of margins for the Blizzard portion of the Activision-Blizzard-King combo.

The numbers for Q1 2019 were somewhat grim for Blizzard.  While they brought in $344 million in revenue, the operating income… the profit… was only $55 million, giving them a 16% margin, which is horrible for a software/service company.  They were lagging behind King, which made more money and had a higher margin, and Activision, which made less money but still ended up with a higher operating income and thus a higher margin.

What was going on at Blizzard?  We had the meager offerings of the 2018 BlizzCon still fresh, with Diablo: Immortal being the centerpiece announcement.  StarCraft and Heroes of the Storm were on the outs.  Overwatch was slipping.  And the jewel in the Blizzard crown, World of Warcraft, was having a tough time holding on to people due to the myriad annoyance of the Battle for Azeroth expansion.  It was a bad time for the company.

Things began to turn around for Blizzard when WoW Classic hit late in 2019.  But it took the events of Q1 2020 to really boost Blizzard’s fortunes.

I feel like I should quote an exchange early in the movie Schindler’s List, where he talks about this missing ingredient that had kept him from business success in the past.  For him it was war, for Blizzard it was COVID-19.  Winter was keeping some people at home already, but worries about the virus and stay at home orders in many parts of the world helped fuel Blizzard’s quarter.

It was visible on the WoW servers, where things felt more crowded, and on the WoW Classic servers, where login queues and free server transfers appeared again.  As they laid it out on slide 8 of the presentation:

  • After doubling in the second half of 2019, World of Warcraft’s active player community increased further in Q1, as the team continued to deliver more content between expansions than ever before
  • Reach and engagement were particularly strong as regions introduced shelter-at-home measures through the quarter, with momentum increasing further in April
  • Increased engagement in modern WoW drove accelerating pre-sales for the upcoming Shadowlandsexpansion, slated for the second half of this year

While they had some modest praise for Hearthstone and Overwatch,

  • Hearthstone engagement improved sequentially, driven by the new Battlegrounds mode launched in November, and strong execution in live operations
  • Overwatch engagement increased meaningfully in March as its latest seasonal event coincided with stay-at-home effects

The words “sequentially” and “meaningfully” are pretty soft.  And then there was a mention of Diablo: Immortal, which may ship some day.

  • Diablo Immortal , developed for mobile in partnership with NetEase, remains on track to begin regional testing in the middle of the year

Given that, WoW was clearly the shining star this quarter, which led to the following revenue numbers.

Activision Blizzard Q1 2020 Financial Results Presentation – Slide 10

Blizzard is actually in third place for overall revenue out of the three company units, but that revenue was up by $108 million over last year and the increase was all profit, so that on the actual income line Blizzard was ahead of its two stable mates with a huge jump in operating margin.

Of particular note to me was the measure of Monthly Active Users, MAUs, between Q1 2019 and Q1 2020.  They were both the same, ringing in at 32 million active users.

For me, that seals the deal on my assertion that MAUs are a bullshit metric… or would have sealed the deal if I wasn’t already of that mind.  Any metric that stays flat as when revenue is up nearly 25% and margins have nearly tripled clearly isn’t measuring anything worthwhile in the case of a company like Blizzard.  The company ought to be embarrassed by the need to explain how detached their favored metric is.

And the future seems fairly bright for Blizzard in Q2.  As they noted, momentum was increasing in April, with people still at home and Blizz keeping some incentives, like the 100% xp boost, like to tempt people to work on just one more alt.

And beyond that… well, the Shadowlands expansion is coming, and any WoW expansion delivers a boost to revenue no matter how bad it is viewed after the fact.  They did say on the call that the target for Shadowlands is currently Q4 2020, so no August/September release this time around.  (Quote here) But unless they totally drop the ball with the expansion, Blizz looks like they are pretty well positioned for 2020 and into 2021.

The information, financial reports, presentation, and recording of the investors call can all be found over on the Activision Blizzard investor relations page if you wish to scope it out yourself.

Comparing Four MMO Expansions

I originally sat down to write about pre-orders being available for the next EverQuest II expansion, Blood of Luclin.  However, aside from the addition of the Friends & Family option, it isn’t all that different from the last few times I’ve written about EQII pre-orders.  And even the new F&F bit is similar enough to the EverQuest version that I was feeling little dull.  Also, I am sick right now and going through that chart in detail was making my headache worse.  You can check out the details here, but I won’t be going through them with a fine tooth comb.  I’ll probably regret that in a year, but I’ll live.

You can buy it today

Instead I started listing out different aspects of some expansions.

We have a few expansions that have been at least announced.  Minas Morgul just went live for LOTRO, EverQuest and EverQuest II both have expansions in the offing, and at BlizzCon we heard about Shadowlands, the next WoW expansion.  In laying out some details for comparison I don’t have any real key points to highlight, but sometimes just the comparison is enough to make you think about what is going on.

How far in advance did they announce an expansion?

  • WoW – Maybe as much as a year in advance
  • LOTRO – About two months
  • EQ – About three month
  • EQII – About three month

WoW has a tradition of getting a lot of details announced at BlizzCon about nine months ahead of when an expansion will ship.  Way more details than we got for the other three just months before their planned launch.  However, EQ and EQII do yearly expansion, so a year in advance they’d still be patching the current expansion rather than the next.

LOTRO though… I guess SSG just doesn’t like to spill the beans too far ahead.

When were pre-orders available?

  • WoW – Maybe as much as a year in advance… like now for Shadowlands
  • LOTRO – About two months ahead of launch
  • EQ – About a month ahead launch
  • EQII – About a month ahead launch

With SSG and Daybreak, pre-orders seem to be offered pretty close to the official expansion announcement.  With Blizz there used to be a fair gap between the expansion being announced and pre-orders being available, but at this past BlizzCon we saw pre-orders go live coincident with the expansion announcement.

Expansion tiers and pricing

  • WoW – Base $40, Heroic $60, Epic $80
  • LOTRO – Standard $40, Collectors $80, Ultimate $130
  • EQ – Standard $35, Collectors $90, Premium $140, F&F $250
  • EQII – Standard $35, Collectors $90, Premium $140, F&F $250

The new “Friends &  Family” packages are outliers.  But even if we leave those out it does strike me as a bit odd that WoW is not the most expensive in any category save for the base expansion, and there it is tied with LOTRO.

Should the base expansion include a level booster?

  • WoW – No
  • LOTRO – No
  • EQ – No
  • EQII – Yes

I am a bit surprised that EQII is the outlier here with its level 110 boost.  LOTRO offers a level 120 booster with the two higher tier packages, as does WoWEQ though… as I noted previously, it is in a strange place.  It offers a booster with its more expansive packages, but it is still the now more than five years old level 85 boost.  This, for an expansion where the level cap is going from 110 to 115.  My “WTF Daybreak?” opinion of that remains.

Key items from upgraded packages

  • WoW – Mount, pet, cosmetics
  • LOTRO – Mount, pet, cosmetics, titles, various booster potions
  • EQ – Mount, pet, mercenary, cosmetics, house item, bag, various booster potions
  • EQII – Mount, pet, mercenary, cosmetics, cosmetic house item, teleporter to new expansion house item, various booster potions, and an trade skill insta-level boost to 110

I left out the level boost obviously, as it was covered above, and ignore the F&F packs, as they are strange new beasts.

EQII is really the standout in piling things on here, including even a level booster for trade skills, though EQII trade skills have the same level cap as adventure levels, and are earned more like adventure levels than the skill point upgrades in the other crafting systems.

WoW effectively gives you a boost into trade skills since they split trade skills up per expansion with BFA.  But you get that no matter what.

As I have said before, if I were a dedicated EQII player, I could see being very tempted by one of the more expensive packages… relative to EQ especially, which has the same price points… despite the high prices.

Anyway, I thought that comparison was mildly informative.  You can find all the order pages below.  I’d be curious as to how these four games compare to other MMORPG expansion, though I don’t keep a close enough eye on anything else to even know who still sells expansions like this anymore.

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.