Category Archives: WoW

Blizzard’s Q4 2013 Report

If you have not already heard the news, WoW has lost gained 200k subscribers in the last quarter, edging back up to 7.8 million subs. This is quite a reversal from last May, when they hemorrhaged 1.3 million in three months.

In a fit of investigative journalism, I went ahead and looked at the investor report. Here are some choice quotes:

In particular, free-to-play games have achieved scale that should now allow us to realize great returns from the investments that we’ve been making in this area. Over the next few years, we plan to introduce at least three potential groundbreaking franchises operating on our free-to-play transaction systems designed to appeal to players across numerous platforms and in numerous geographies. These games including Hearthstone, Heroes of Warcraft, Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm and Call of Duty online, all have enormous potential.

Personally, this is the first time I’ve heard about a Call of Duty online, but I confess that I don’t follow CoD news generally. Apparently, it is going to be released in China first, but… actually, I don’t know. Surely there will be mainstream releases of the regular CoD franchise every year (even if they go to a 3-year cycle), so perhaps this will be China-only.

When the call got to Mike Morhaime, there were a series of amusing transcription errors. Like this one:

We should use the strength in Q4 for a few factors. The excitement from BlizzCon, seasonality from the holidays and a refresh of the recruit of final program which offer special test inbound to players to bring revenue into World of Warcraft.

…and…

We think that this is a great feature that will make it easier for friends to play together in World of Warcraft. It’s also attractive for veteran players, who have already experienced the level and process multiple times and wants to quickly raise a new character to deal ending combats.

…and…

Entry into a special game mode called Arena can also be purchased with Indian gold or real currency.

So when you face your special inbound test, make sure to use real currency instead of Indian gold to deal ending combats.

The rest of the call was uneventful beyond one final item, of particular note to the skeptics of Blizzard’s “stabilization”:

Okay. And the other part of the question was on the East-West split. So, in Q4 we were slightly down in the East and slightly up in the West.

So in other words, a lot of the gain came from NA/EU rather than the people paying pocket change in China.

And that’s basically it. Morhaime mentioned that he’s expecting some weaker numbers in Q1 2014 given how they won’t have the BlizzCon boost anymore nor any new content, but is otherwise hopeful that the level 90 boost will drive some ex-player engagement. It doesn’t do anything in particular for me though, at least right now, but we’ll see.

Ghostcrawler’s Unexpected Exit

Greg Street is stepping down from Lead Systems Designer at Blizzard to “pursue an amazing opportunity.” It is hard to imagine that there is a better opportunity out there to pursue than being a Lead System Designer for a billion-dollar MMO, but I suppose we’ll see what exactly that could be soon enough. My money is on it not being a switch back to marine biology.

No doubt there will be a lot of people out there whose alternate post title would be “Christmas Comes Early” or somesuch. Certainly, the small corner of my gaming soul that remains a paladin is cheering vindictively. “Hybrid tax my ass!” But before the rest of the internet drowns itself in schadenfreude [edit: too late], I think it’s important to look back on what Ghostcrawler actually accomplished. Namely, if not actually throwing the doors open to the Ivory Towers of game development, at least coming to balcony and engaging with us rabble down below. As I mentioned early last year:

I am not sure if I mentioned it before, but I genuinely enjoy having Ghostcrawler around. He may be the face of the B Team, he may be a straight-up design troll in some respects, but hey… at least he has a face, yeah? In a world of Bobby Koticks and David Reids and faceless community managers, I am all for more Greg Streets and Curt Schillings, even if they get things wrong.

People seem to forget how WoW actually was back in 2008. “Back when it was good, you mean?” Yeah, back when designers thought a 25%-30% DPS difference between pure and hybrid classes was the epitome of balance. You can point to TBC as some golden age of pre-LFD design, but you can’t tell me some of that shit wasn’t dumb, arbitrary, and had nothing to do with why WoW was “better” back then.

And, worse, it was so often opaque and unexplained. The devs would come down from the mountain with patch notes written on clay tablets and that was that. Ghostcrawler literally changed all that. Even when he was getting it so wrong it hurts, the fact remains he has pretty much been the sole voice on the other end of the table regarding design and direction of pretty much any MMO then and since. Or maybe I’m mistaken? Does Guild Wars 2 or SWTOR or The Secret World or any of the rest have a lead designer come out and explain their thinking damn near every patch?

So as the confetti settles on the remnants of your Thanksgiving plate, I hope you’re sober enough to take stock of what we’re likely losing. Love him or hate him, Ghostcrawler was at least willing to get out there and tank the entire community (even as a Holy Priest, apparently) in an age of PR weasels like David Reid. If you think someone like Rob Pardo would have been better (to stay) in that hotseat, keep in mind that Pardo wanted LFD in WoW at launch. Hell, that interview from 2009 pretty much confirms that the exact same steps would have been taken no matter who was Lead Systems Designs. Could we have gotten someone better? Maybe. Or we might have ended up with Jay “and double it!” Wilson.

So as you’re soaking up the last of the gravy with a dinner roll, I recommend pouring yourself a cup of gin and raising it in the simple thanks of the common man: it could have been worse. I’ll miss your face Ghostcrawler… even if I could never tell you and Tom Chilton apart.

It's like Where's Waldo for bald guys.

Seriously, who is who?

Maybe Not So Dynamic After All?

Remember how excited I was over dynamic armor (as Grumpy Elf calls it)? Well, right now things are looking a bit more dicey.

  • Tanking gear will have Armor as a tanking stat after Dodge and Parry are gone.

How I am interpreting that quote is that there will still be tanking gear in WoD, as there wouldn’t be a point in mentioning +Armor as a replacement stat for Parry/Dodge on gear. This then further calls into question my earlier assumption that a paladin wearing DPS plate will get +Spirit when he/she switches to Holy. So… will there be no Intellect plate but still Spirit plate? It makes no sense, but then neither does DPS gear turning into healer gear but not tanking gear.

Maybe +Armor will still be a tanking stat, but relegated to non-armor slots like rings and trinkets. In that case, it sort of makes sense for the +Spirit dilemma to behave likewise. Some dynamic gearing is better than none, but I can’t help but feel that the end result is a bit too half-assed than it has any reason to be. On the other hand, even with full dynamic gearing you will likely run into a scenario where +Crit is better for DPS than +Haste or whatever, and thus end up with what amounts to two (or more) different suits anyway.

I suppose as long as the delta between the hypothetical +Crit vs +Haste pieces is reasonable enough for normal raiding, it shouldn’t really matter. And even if it’s ridiculous, having only one tier set for each class is pretty huge by itself. Hmm. Something to keep an eye on in the months ahead.

Ghetto Transfer + Twitter

Has it occurred to anyone else that the free level 90 character Blizzard is handing out in Warlords of Draenor can be used as a ghetto faction/server transfer? If not, well, consider it. My old crew transferred away from Auchindoun to a PvE server during the half-off sale, so the possibility of server mergers “Connected Realms” bringing us back together is nil. I mean, we could still do some cross-realm things, but it’s not quite the same.

But I was thinking the other day about what would stop me from just straight-up rolling a new level 90 paladin on their server come expansion release. Other than the monk, all my other alts are level 85 at a minimum, so boosting any of them would be a waste. Achievements, mounts, pets, most titles, and even heirlooms are account-wide now or will soon be. About the only thing I “lose” is the ability to transfer 50,000g and my old-world mats. And, I guess, my transmog gear. Since I ran Black Temple long enough to get the Bulwark of Azzinoth (and a hopeless dream), that would suck to lose.

For other people though, the level 90 thing could provide value in all sorts of surprising ways.

___________________________

Also! After the frustration of not being able to relate my awesomeness in Hearthstone the moment it occurs (e.g. all the goddamn time), I have dusted off my Twitter account:

Azuriel
@InAnAge

I’ll keep it over in the sidebar, but I make no promises as to its updating schedule or value of its contents. So… basically it’ll be like every Twitter account ever. But if you want to know how #AllSkill it felt dropping an Alexstraza against a Druid at full HP and then killing him next turn when I gave her Windfury, well, you just might be prepared.

Going Home Again

Tobold is by no means the first person to point out that Warlords of Draenor’s free level 90 character is a “doubling-down” on vertical progression. I mean, I don’t see why anyone would claim that even vanilla WoW was anything other than vertical progression given how you couldn’t grind your way to max level via the Westfall boars, South Park-style, but whatever. The thing that profoundly bothers me in these sort of debates though, is this sort of nonsense:

So we are being told that when the expansion comes out, World of Warcraft will be all about levels 90 to 100. You will play nearly exclusively on the new continent, maybe sometimes visit the capital cities for some features, but will have no reason whatsoever to enter over 90% of the zones of World of Warcraft. If by some server glitch the old zones ceased to exist, most players wouldn’t even notice. I find that rather sad, so much wasted space and potential.

I literally cannot understand this line of reasoning. I understand what is attempting to be said here, but it seems so far removed from reality as to be unintelligible.

First of all, the post-Cataclysm world still exists. Even if we are going to assume that there will be a lot of brand new WoW players coming into the expansion – which we have no reason to believe there will be, at least in comparison to returning players – the fact remains that the world and all of its quests will still be there for that new player’s alts, at a minimum. Assuming, of course, that this hypothetical new person even enjoys questing in the first place. And if they do, there is nothing stopping them from questing from level 1 to 100 while saving the instant 90 for some other purpose. Meanwhile, the returning veterans who quit in the middle of an expansion they presumably didn’t like are being asked to… what? Spend a few dozen hours slogging through 2+ year old content to get to the stuff they were actually excited enough to resubscribe to see?

Secondly, how can the old content ever be considered “wasted?” All of those zones and quests have been utilized, extensively, by millions of players for years. How much more utilized does it need to be? And how? And why? Even in horizontal progression MMOs, where do you find people? Where the new things are. The odds of you finding someone running around the mid-level zones in Guild Wars 2 is approximately zero, unless there happens to be some kind of 2-week patch dragon dropping off a treasure chest every three hours. You’re not going to find an EVE veteran mining Veldspar even if Veldspar remains a critical component of crafting spaceships.

Content obsoletes itself. That is not a problem, that’s linear time working as intended. Novelty only ever decreases, at least in terms of crafted content. Hell, how long can you experience interest in even procedurally-generated content like in Minecraft? At a certain point, even the weirdest terrain formation is reduced to its constituent parts at a glance – it sure as hell isn’t as impressive as the first time you laid eyes on your future mountain fortress location.

Time marches on. Just because you don’t hang out at the playground or swing from monkey bars anymore does not mean they are now wasted content, even if no one else ever uses them again. They existed in a time and a place and served their purpose well. Is that not enough? Were you not entertained?

It always seems the greatest irony in MMOs are those players who wish for living, breathing virtual worlds that never change.

Warlords of Draenor BlizzCon Recap

Things can end up changing radically between BlizzCon and this new expansion’s release date (remember Path of the Titans?), but here are a bunch of random things that caught my eye:

  • Few to no daily quests at max level (source). While MoP ended up giving us hundreds of daily quests and triple-gating gear, it bears reminding that daily quests have been a Big Deal since Burning Crusade. Perhaps not on exactly the same scale, but still. I am not exactly sure what non-instanced endgame activities Blizzard plans on replacing dailies with, although I haven’t heard much grumbling about the Timeless Isle so maybe that will suffice.
  • Garrison as player housing (source). Personally, this sort of came across as more of a gimmick to me, but I became more intrigued when they mentioned that there will be multiple locations in which to place your Garrison. I enjoyed the farm quite a bit in MoP, so this will probably be fine. I like that you can invite people into your party so they can see your configuration/interact with your NPCs, but if you can’t show off a trophy collection of some sort then it’s kinda pointless IMO.
  • Itemization revamp (source). This is huge to me and will have wide-reaching ramifications across the whole of the game. Hit, Expertise, Dodge, Parry, and Reforging all gone. More limited Enchanting and Gemming. Dynamically changing gear stats (!!). Just think about that for a second. One suit of gear will cover all of your paladin/shaman/druid/etc specs. Enchanting/Gemming will likely mess with things a bit, which is sad, but still that is a game-changing amount of gear reduction. The only question mark here is whether Spirit is going to be considered a primary stat for spec purposes. I imagine it’d have to be, because otherwise you would still need plate with Spirit on it.
  • Free level 90 (source). I know a lot of MMO vets don’t like this, but the grumbling is pretty silly at this point. Recruit-A-Friend gives a 300% bonus to XP gain and gives the referral toon free levels to hand out to alts. I used a Scroll of Resurrection to get a free level 80 almost two years ago. By the end of each expansion, the leveling curve is reduced by 30%. Heirlooms exist. I have heard people suggest Blizzard could have introduced a sidekicking system or dynamic leveling ala Guild Wars 2, but I never quite caught the explanation for why the hell it’s better for a veteran to run through Stranglethorn Vale for the 10th time with his buddy instead of both of them having fun in current content. That new player can see as much old content as he/she wants on an alt. So… how is this not a win-win? Or would you have preferred Blizzard speeding up leveling even further in a way that cannot be avoided? Because that was the other real alternative here.
  • Heroic raiding = Mythic raiding with 20 people only (source). This move actually makes a lot of sense on paper, and undoubtedly makes things easier for Blizzard’s raid design team. The big downside, of course, is how it screws over every heroic 10m raiding guild in existence. While you could theoretically talk to other heroic 10m raiding guilds and buddy-up that way, I feel like heroic raiding likely takes more than just a little group chemistry to make happen. Then again, I suppose it’s fair to ask how many guilds this would actually impact that weren’t already downsizing from 25m mode for Ranking/Realm First purposes. Regardless, I think you should start selling your stock in 25m raids generally, if you have not yet done so.

There are also some other random quality of life-esque improvements like how heirlooms will be Account-wide (a clever solution to cross-realm mail), max-level normal dungeons will be making a return, and BGs will be getting a new scoreboard that highlights actual contribution to the fight rather than damage/healing whoring. Obviously a lot of this will be subject to change and refinement, but I am tentatively intrigued based on what we have seen thus far.

Well, let me specify that I am intrigued by the features and game changes, not this throwback to the most boring racial lore in the game. Oooo, orcs, doing tribal orcish things. We are supposedly going to be seeing “a lot” of paladin lore along with presumably some Naaru shenanigans, so I’m actually feeling pretty good about being Alliance for this upcoming expansion. So we’ll see how it goes.

The WoW 5.4 Roundtable Summary

(Edit: MMO-Champ basically just posted the same goddamn thing. For the record, I wrote the below first, but since I schedule posts to go live at 7am the next day… FML. I want those 28 minutes back.)

So there was a 5.4 Developer Roundtable released on Monday that I am going to sum up for you because, really, nobody should have to sit through those same 28 awkward minutes that I already threw in a hole. I mean, technically, it’s even longer than 28 minutes because I actually paused and rewound the video to take some notes inbetween the cringes. Whenever Ion Hazzikostas talks, I get flashbacks of that one guy in raids – you know the one – where when he speaks, you just want to punch him in the throat and/or yourself in the ears. “Just… fucking say it and stop filling up space with your rhetorical flourishes, Christ!” And he’s a raid leader. Those poor bastards.

Pay it forward, people, pay it forward.

0:00 – 12:25: Time in a hole.

12:26: Lead Encounter designs states that Wrath of the Lich King “arguably” had the best raiding environment at any point in the game. I concur.

15:27: Flex raiding has exceeded Blizzard’s expectations. Out of the Flex raids, over 50% changed in raid size within the duration of the raid itself, e.g. people actually took advantage of the ability to gain/drop people on the fly. More interestingly, the devs stated that in the last week, more people did Flex raiding in NA/EU than did Scenarios. So either Scenarios aren’t as popular as I thought, or Flex raiding is bringing in a lot of new raiding blood.

16:28: “Will there be more zones like the Timeless Isle in the next expansion?” Yes. Timeless Isle will serve as a general template for endgame open-world zones from now on, although there might be a little more structure with goals that evolve over the course of weeks. “We are moving away from the dailies that we done in the past.” Also, more discoverable stuff as people level up.

17:40: “Can we expect any real solutions to (bag/bank) storage problems?” Inventory management is gameplay. But… possibly a toy closet. Also, heirlooms will be like pets/mounts somehow.

19:50: “Do you think you can do better to prevent stacking ranged damage in raiding?” Yes… but not really. The problem is fundamental design: all the fun raid mechanics like movement and target switching are naturally easier done at range. We are looking at ways to make melee more valuable and more fun to play.

21:16: “When will gnomes appear in cinematics?” Funny story: gnomes were not in the original WoW cinematic because they were not even in the game until the cinematic already had a storyboard and was in full production mode. Beyond that, there simply hasn’t been a particularly good time to show them off; all the subsequent cinematics have been to develop bosses of the expansion.

22:20: “5.4.1?” Yes. Major feature of the patch is a rework of the Recruit-A-Friend system. Supposedly more of it will be done in-game instead of game/email/web interface switching. Also, the reward will be a token you can use to choose from a menu of old/brand new mounts/pets.

23:37 – ????: Drink heavily.

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

More People Equals More Content

While I want to talk more about Hearthstone, I also did not want this particular tidbit about WoW proper to be consigned to Draft Hell:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

Now, this was just unattributed MMO-Champ paraphrasing, coming from some Gamescom interview. I made an effort to try and see if this was an exact quote by watching a few of the Gamescom interviews myself, but didn’t see it anywhere. The statement was, however, “confirmed” in a roundabout way by Nethaera’s response to the thread asking the obvious question of “If more people = faster content now, why not back then?” Neth’s response was basically that circumstances changing doesn’t retroactively make older statements a lie.

That is all well and good, but I seem to distinctly remember Ghostcrawler or somebody saying that more people = more cooks in the kitchen, some problems can’t solved throwing more money at it for everything else there’s Mastercard, and so on. So, after some digging, I dusted off this interview with Ghostcrawler from October 2010, on the eve of Cataclysm’s release:

Slashdot: A lot of players, when they hear you talk about how you didn’t have time to make a feature good, their question is, “Well, why can’t you just go out and hire more people?”

Greg Street: Yeah. The mythical man-month.

Slashdot: Can you explain why you don’t find that to be a viable solution?

Greg Street: The other example that gets used a lot is: if it takes a woman nine months to have a baby, then if you have two women, it’d only take four and a half! Our development process is hugely based on iteration and communication. It’s more important — for, say, class design and item design — it’s more important for me to have a small team that’s totally in sync than to have a large team and have no idea what anyone else is working on. We would end up with Hunter talents working one way, the Priest would work a different way, and it wouldn’t feel polished. It wouldn’t feel good to players. Often, when we say, “We didn’t have time,” players say, “You shipped it before it was ready.” That’s not the way we look at it.

The way we look at it is: we are extremely critical of our own designs. We have very long lists of things we want to fix in the game. Some of these things have been around forever, and some of the things are new that we just added recently. If we waited until we addressed every single one of those things, we would never ship anything. It would be years and years before games came out, and that’s just not realistic. That’s not what players want; they’re not going to wait six years for a new expansion. So, instead, we do what we can and we keep other things on the back burner. We’ve got Paths — this great idea. A dance studio — we’re going to do it some day. Just not yet. We’re saving it for the right time.

It is not quite the smoking gun that I remembered in my head, although perhaps I had a different interview in mind. Or maybe it never existed. Regardless, I still think it is a legitimate question to ask “what exactly changed here?” Are the Blizzard devs less concerned about additional people and faster content leading to less polish? Did Titan getting scrapped free up some additional talent? Or is it simply the case that losing 4.4 million subscribers between October 2010 and today puts things like polish vs actual content into prospective? Given how the status quo a year ago was 8 months without a content patch, I am assuming it’s the latter.

The interesting thing will be to see how “monthly content updates” are integrated with the game overall. Guild Wars 2 has their events every 2 weeks, for example, but I believe GW2 has a much lower emphasis on gear, story, and… well, things one might traditionally associate with RPGs in general. I feel like the dozens of daily quest hubs thing isn’t going to work a second time around for WoW, but neither can Blizzard really afford to hand out gear upgrades mid-tier. Or maybe they will, and simply de-emphasize the sort of full tier/BiS gear game they have crafted all these years.

Either way, WoW is definitely veering off into some uncharted territory here – at least, uncharted for as large an MMO as it still is. I am much more interested in how this particular change with shake out, as opposed to the much more mundane F2P possibility.

Guild Wars 2 is Fastest Selling Western MMO

During my futile hunt for Hearthstone Beta keys (c’mon Press™, don’t fail me now), I stumbled upon this GameBreaker.tv article about Guild Wars 2 sales:

With over 3 million units sold in the first nine months of availability, Guild Wars 2 is the fastest selling MMO ever in the western market.

That’s no small feat right there. Riding a wave of acclaim and accolades, Guild Wars 2 has set a high bar for quality, and it has earned them a spot in MMORPG history according to an official ArenaNet press release. 3 million units sold in the game’s first nine months of availability puts it at the top of the record books in Europe and North America according to DFC Intelligence, a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment.

Technically, it may have been 3 million by January 2013. Either way, this news was mildly intriguing, considering how distant from GW2’s actual release it came.

Still, it got me curious about some other numbers and figures. For example, here is an article from VG247 parsing the latest financials that indicate GW2 box sales are down. Which… shouldn’t exactly be surprising given that that is exactly what happens with any box game, right? Then there is the admittedly anecdotal Digital Dozen feature that NoizyGamer puts out every Tuesday, measuring the Xfire hours logged. The latest pretty much show a 50% decline from December, but it’s still roughly half that of WoW today, hour-wise. So, it is probably safe to say that the game’s population is doing alright and ArenaNet deserves the accolades for its legitimate record-breaking, even if the timing is a bit PR-ish.

I was trying to find numbers on how WoW did by comparison back in the day, but it turns out Blizzard doesn’t like giving out those numbers. The best I could find was this old article from 2009, which stated Blizzard sold 8.9 million retail boxes to date in the US alone. As point of reference, MMOData.net (thank god they’re back) shows that halfway through 2009 the Western numbers were steady at ~5.25 million subscribers. There is no way to know the breakdown between US vs Europe, or even whether the numbers are even intelligible given how it counts both box and expansion sales, but there it is.

Just for giggles though: the 2010 census states there were 205,794,364 Americans aged 18-64. A Pew article says 62% of American adults aged 18+ owned a desktop circa mid-2009. If we do a bit of rounding (a couple ten thousand) and assume that every desktop computer could run WoW (no possible way that’s remotely accurate), we have a pool of 127.6 million potential MMOers of which WoW reached… 6.98% of. Back in 2009.

Take away the people whose computers couldn’t handle WoW and then further reduce by those who have no interest in RPGs (let alone online ones) and then the people with PCs but no broadband and… well, you can start to see why market saturation is/was a legitimate concern.

Facepalm of the Day

I mean… is it really so crazy to imagine that after 2000+ hours playing the same class/spec that a person might just possibly want to try something different? And, you know, not have to spend the exact same (or similar) amount of hours getting that different experience to the same content you wanted to spice up in the first place? I wanted to experience a different endgame when I rolled my alts, not a different leveling/gearing experience.

Does he really think Blizzard wouldn’t bank $1 million overnight by offering paid class changes?

It just boggles my mind. One of your stated goals is to make each class and spec feel unique, and then you become baffled that people want to play more than one. I don’t get it. Is this a joke?