Category Archives: WoW

Dilemmas, Part 2

As mentioned in the last few posts, on top of everything else I have to decide on what class I’m actually going to play. While there is usually some kind of shake-up with expansions, I feel like Legion is fairly unprecedented in its complete overhaul of everything, top to bottom. How does one even decide what class to play anymore?

Just like you might expect, my own method is slow, methodical, over-examination.

I started with my namesake paladin, Azuriel. Clicked some talents, moved some hotbars around, and found myself rather appalled at the ability pruning. Retribution wasn’t especially complicated before, but this feels even more Fischer Price than ever. Two builders, one spender, one debuff to combo with spender, and… one cooldown? Looking at the other melee specs, it seems many were hacked to the roots as well, but at least they typically have self-buffs or DoTs or something. I was no fan of Inquisition, sure, but damn. At least give us Hammer of Wrath back.

Shadow priest was interesting. At first, I was not especially interested in the build-and-burn rotation, especially given how weak Mind Flay feels as a filler. The residual haste buff after popping Insanity feels cool, but again, that mostly feels like it’s used on faster Mind Flay ticks. Once I started fighting the invasion mobs though, things started falling into place more – can’t really use Shadow Word: Death on training dummies. Plus, strategically using Dispersion to prolong Voidform and thus get more stacks/wait for other cooldowns is an interesting twist.

I then tried all three flavors of warlock. I honestly have no idea what Blizzard is thinking with Affliction. This might be another training dummy situation, but only passively getting Soul Shards and needing to wait to toss an Unstable Affliction just feels bad. Plus, what the hell is up with that Artifact? Two of Affliction’s “elite” powers trigger on death… which is fantastic for raid bosses, I imagine. Conversely, Demonology felt butter-smooth. Granted, it feels weird when basically half of your casts only serve to buff your demons, but everything about all the buttons feel really satisfying. I only played Destruction for a moment, but was not especially impressed.

Next was the druid. I’m thinking that a druid character is probably the best to use one of my two level 90/100 boosts on, should I decide to create a character on another server, primarily out of practicality concerns, e.g. cover all the class role bases. Feral seems as goofy as ever with the complexity. Balance though… wow. I skipped the entire Sun/Moon pendulum game design period, so I was a little intimidated going in. The current system though, wasn’t bad; I could get used to that.

Death Knights were high on my list of possible new mains, but now I’m not sure. Unholy is supposedly one of the strongest specs at the moment, but I did not like it much at all as I played through the invasions. Part of that might have been the whole melee deal, considering how many times I died to random cleave damage. Turning Scourge Strike into a ranged attack helped somewhat, but I still don’t quite like the Festering Wound mechanic in general. Perhaps it’s not much different than combo points or Holy Power in the abstract. I did not give Frost a chance, so I might end liking that instead.

I played my rogue for about a minute. In that time period, I was very impressed with Outlaw, less so with Assassination. I have no real idea what to make of Subtlety. I plan on coming back to this class to investigate further.

Enhancement shaman was probably the most pleasant surprise of my entire time trying out classes. I enjoyed it before when leveling a few expansions ago, minus the need to drop Flametongue/etc totems all over the place. Now? It looks – and more crucially, sounds – badass. All the buttons feel substantial to press, and the cadence just flows. Definitely will be giving this one a closer look as well. I didn’t end up trying Elemental simply because I did not have a weapon to use it with.

Mage was hit or miss. Arcane was meh. Technically a lot of specs have a conserve/burn phase built into their rotation, but it just feels bad when you hit 4 Arcane stacks without proccing Arcane Missiles. Fire, though, is a different story. I know that Hot Streak has been a thing for a while now, but there is something deeply satisfying about Fire Blast being off the GCD and castable while casting other things. Perhaps it’s because it harkens to Frost’s good ole Shatter combo. Incidentally, I did not get a chance to try out Frost.

And that wrapped up my testing for the past few days. I have a level 80 hunter, 96 warrior, and 21 monk, but declined to even get them to the training dummies. I might try the hunter later on, although I’m not usually a fan of them outside of BGs. The monk and warrior might not get a second look though, given how flooded the market is for melee this expansion. Again, I doubt I end up going raiding in any real capacity for Legion, but I would hate to change my mind later and be rebuffed.

Dilemmas, Part 1

Time will tell whether or not that one remaining New Years prediction will come true, but…

WoW_Reactivate

…yeah.

What pushed me over the edge were all the reports about the Legion pre-expansion event XP. I haven’t actually experienced a good expansion event since the lead up to Wrath, so it’s actually surprising that Blizzard hasn’t tried the ole “easy XP” route before. Then again, perhaps they really needed the scaling level tech in place before they were able to. Regardless, since I only ever got one character up to 100 in Warlords, this provided a nice opportunity to boost some of the alts.

Then came the dilemmas.

My primary dilemma is this: I’m still stuck on the low-pop wasteland of Auchindoun-US. The one remaining friend I have who has been playing WoW all this time has server hopped a few times until landing on Sargeras-US in a Mythic-level raiding guild. So… what do I do?

  • A) Choose a new main, pay $25 blood price to transfer, use level 90 & 100 boosts for alts.
  • B) Choose new main, but use level 90 & 100 boosts to create one and an alt.
  • C) Do nothing.

A) is annoying and I don’t want to do it; $25 is absurd, and has always been absurd. Of course, I have 335k gold locked on Auchindoun, so I’d have to start from scratch otherwise. Or take up my friend’s offer of some seed money on Sargeras – he apparently accumulated 1.7 million gold via Garrison farming over the course of the expansion. While I am relatively confident in my ability to pay him back via AH shenanigans, I disliking owing people anything.

B) makes for an interesting situation. Getting an instant 90 and then farming Invasions will quickly get me fully geared and ready for Legion, probably with time to spare to level professions. Or create a level 58 Death Knight, and get that guy boosted via Invasions. The instant 90 will also unlock the ability to get a Demon Hunter, which of course starts at level 98. So between the level boosts and Invasions, it’s entirely possible to get four new max-level characters on an entirely different server with minimum fuss. Minus the gold situation.

C) is actually what I am leaning towards at the moment. Cross-realm tech means I can technically group/dungeon/raid with my friend no matter what server we are on. Mythic raiding is still disabled from what I recall, but the chances I buckle down for the hardcore raiding I swore off of three expansions ago are between zero and Nope. Of course, this means I can’t be in their guild, meaning I miss the chatter and social aspects that (usually) make MMOs worth playing in the first place.

The one wrinkle that bears examining is that Sargareas-US is one of the largest servers in WoW, and it is PvP too. Auchindoun is also PvP, but even with cross-realm activated, the place is generally sparse. In both a A) and B) scenario, I would likely have to contend with queue times near launch and potential ganking 24/7. Something I am not exactly looking forward to.

Hmm. I shall have to ponder some more.

Artifact Concerns

As the release of Legion inches closer, my implicit worries have begun to mount.

Technically, the concerns I have currently are the same ones I brought up a year ago. Namely: artifacts and alts. Having one weapon that you channel all of your power into is conceptually neat. But WoW has long ceased to be about one character and spec; the structure of the game since around Wrath has seemed to hinge on the assumption of alts, or at least dual specs. Just think about all the Account-Bound items and other technology changes that have occurred in the past five years.

So how is Legion going to interact with everyone’s alts?

Based on the Wowhead research I have been doing… it’s hit or miss. My first concern was being stuck with a single Artifact for a single spec out of the gate. What if I’m a healer and want to level as DPS? You are indeed stuck with a single Artifact until level 102, at which point you can unlock the others. However, you are not stuck stuck – there is a sort of gear workaround for alt specs:

What if I chose the wrong Artifact Weapon, vendored my old weapons and want to level in a different spec before level 102?

Your class Order Hall Quartermaster sells item level 740 weapons/off-hands/shields for 100g each. These can serve as replacements if you need them before you unlock all of your class Artifact Weapons at level 102.

So technically you should be able to have a backup set of gear to use if you want to tank/heal/DPS with an off-spec. Obviously it won’t be as ideal as with your Artifact, but it’s something.

Okay… what about gaining Artifact Power (AP)? During questing, dungeons, etc, you end up receiving consumable items that fill an AP meter for your currently equipped Artifact when used. So, it seems like you should be able to quest as DPS and funnel all of these consumables into your healing Artifact later on. That’s pretty good. Indeed, later on you unlock the Artifact Knowledge ability that will increase the AP gained from future consumables. I thought it was a nice touch that these gains aren’t retroactive to your currently obtained consumables, so there is no reason to hoard them for later.

But then we get into the sort of nitty gritty details of World of Altcraft. The amount of AP that you need to get from level 13 to level 14 is more than the total amount you need from 1-13. This makes a nice, conceptual breakpoint at which you can decide whether to hedge your bets or double-down on one spec or not.

That said, there are two problems with this.

First, you don’t always have any control over your circumstances in the game. Your guild might need a healer now, after you have already hit AP14, setting you a painful distance behind in your ability to fulfill the need. Second, there are numerous specs who can actually unlock their 2nd Elite Traits as soon as AP16. Now, “as soon as AP16” really means 33,450 total AP gained, more than 2.5 times as much as was needed to hit even AP14, but still. I haven’t seen all the math amongst all the specs in this regard, but I don’t believe it to be a trivial increase.

Finally, and most critically: what happens when Blizzard nerfs a spec?

If you were an Assassination rogue and got hit by the nerf-bat, it was always technically possible to switch to Subtlety rogue and keep going. Maybe your Best-in-Slot items change based on whether Mastery or Haste is king. But now? At AP18, you are two times further away from even AP16 farmed from scratch. Unless the Artifacts are front-loaded as all hell, you are basically staring down an entirely new endgame, minus all the easy AP gained via leveling. I suppose Artifact Knowledge is supposed to bridge the gap there, but I’m not entirely convinced Blizzard won’t be requiring us to grind dailies for, erm, days or weeks.

[Fake Edit]: A new interview just came out addressing this:

Artifact Weapons
The team will avoid nerfing a spec from being a little too good to the worst so that you don’t feel that all of your Artifact progression was a waste

Time will tell regarding on the Blizzard dev’s team ability to actually do this.

[/Fake Edit]

And don’t get me started on, you know, an actual alternate character. Artifact Knowledge is not Account-Wide, which means you are back to grinding from zero on every other character on your account.

For someone planning on coming back for Legion, I’m a little nonplussed as to what I’m actually going to do. My namesake paladin is right out – Retribution is garbage again from everything I have heard, and I have no interest in Protection tanking. So… what? I haven’t experienced the post-7.0 classes, and now must make a decision on a new main (probably on a new server at that) with a new main spec that I have to invest in at the expense of every other possible alternative.

Analysis Paralysis is a real thing, which often leads to doing nothing at all. Which is still an option.

Class Fantasy

Now that my move has more or less been completed, my attention has shifted to Legion.

…sorta.

Remember when Ghostcrawler mentioned that Blizzard didn’t like to change things too much between expansions since change can be overwhelming? I laughed then. I’m not laughing now. Seriously, I actually played in the current expansion (about a year ago), and my eyes glaze over just at the thought of looking at Wowhead again.

Some of that will likely go away if I just, you know, jump back into WoW. But I don’t enjoy blind jumps. I need to have some kind of idea first. I enjoy research. Legion research though? Jesus. It’s not even as though you can ignore the Artifact stuff either, as that will be mission-critical in a few months.

After spending considerable time looking over things, the classes and specs that piqued my interest the most were Rogue, Death Knight, and… basically that’s it. Maybe Enhancement Shaman and Affliction Warlock also. My namesake Paladin? Not so much.

I do know that Blizzard spent a lot of time focusing on the “fantasy” of the various specs, and it shows in the talent choices and such. For example, I do get the impression that Destruction Warlocks are all about chaos, fire, and… ripping holes in dimensions. Okay, that one might be a bit weak, but still a massive improvement over the prior fantasy of “Fire Mage.” Shadow Priests seem pretty cool with the Cthulhu business. Rogues have more flavor than which DPS cooldown you want to use now. I especially like how Assassination is poisons and bleeds whereas Sublety is more mystical shadow damage-esque.

Indeed, the flavor thing is really bringing me down when I think about my former main, which spent most of her time as Retribution. What’s the fantasy of Retribution? There isn’t much, you know, retribution going on. Eye for an Eye is neat, I guess. And, whatever, there’s Retribution, but you know what I mean.

You can’t even really say “holy damage” because Exorcism is gone, along with Hammer of Wrath, and basically Execution Sentence (now a talent) and Consecration (mutually exclusive). I thought it was bad last year, but now it’s even worse; I expected nothing, and was still disappointed. The spec seems entirely reliant on Ashbringer for its whole fantasy.

For as flavorful as paladins can be conceptually, the amount of squandered possibility is sad.

Reminder: Big numbers are big

Minecraft has sold over 100 million copies. In 2016, the average rate of new sales was 53,000 per day. That’s… pretty big. Here is part of the infographic Mojang posted:

MinecraftSales

Holy mobile revolution, Batman!

The above infographic really surprised me though, for several reasons. As I pointed out in January of last year, the Minecraft stats we had circa June 2014 were the following:

  • PC/Mac: 15 Million
  • 360: 12 Million
  • PS3: 3 Million
  • iOS/Android (Pocket Edition): 16.5 Million

But look at the infographic again. Actual PC sales of Minecraft is just a small fraction of total sales, which was the trend we saw already happening in 2014. If you average the PC sales together, you only get about 23% of total. Which, if you math it out, means PC/MAC sales have been ~9,577,735 in the last two years (106,859,714 * 0.23 – 15,000,000). Or roughly 13,120 sales per day on PC.

The reason I bring this up is due to a recent post by SynCaine. His thesis is:

The bigger point here though, as it relates to MMOs, is that this is a very important date point related to the “Everyone who wanted to play WoW already has it” talking point and how it relates to the failures of the game from WotLK and beyond. Minecraft has a much larger user base than WoW, yet it’s still attracting a horde of new players daily, so why do some people think WoW is a special snowflake and had/has tapped out the market?

In other words, “how can market saturation exist if Minecraft is still doing so well?”

Wilhelm deconstructs the argument pretty thoroughly already, but I wanted to spend a moment, again, to remind people about big numbers. Specifically, the extremely likely chance that WoW is selling more copies per day than Minecraft is on PC. Yes, even now, in the nadir of Warlords.

The two questions you need to ask yourself are 1) what is WoW’s current population, and 2) what is its churn rate (i.e. percent of players that cycle out per month). Historically, the churn rate of WoW was 5%. Is it higher now? Probably. So, to throw out two numbers, let’s assume that WoW is holding steady at 5.5 million subs at a 10% churn rate. That means WoW needs to sell 18,333 new subscriptions a day, just to keep pace.

WoW is losing subscribers these days, of course. Since the numbers are no longer being reported, we may never know how many. But let’s do some sanity checks. The last reported sub number was 5.5 million in September 2015. As already noted, maintaining that number would require 18,333 new subs a day. But WoW probably isn’t maintaining anything – it’s losing customers. Rather than be arbitrary, let’s assume it’s “only” getting something like, oh, 13,120/day.

18,333 – 13,120 = 5,213 * 30 * 9 = 1,407,510

Do you believe WoW is currently at ~4.1 million subs or less? If not, hey, it’s still selling more boxes daily than Minecraft on PC.

In the comments to his post, SynCaine pointed out that since WoW is in decline, we can’t actually say that 100% of the churn are new players coming in. Er… okay. That’s not how churn (or reality) works, but let’s roll with that. What is the population at then? The same 4 million-some? Zero new players and 1.4 million vets burning out in the last 9 months? That’s an average of 156,390 per month, which equals a churn rate between 2.8-3.8%. Meaning this dead period of Warlords retains players better than vanilla or TBC ever did.

Granted, the reality is probably somewhere inbetween there. Still, big numbers are big.

Vanilla Challenge: Levels 1-5

And so it begins.

To start with, let me just confirm that the process of pirating Blizzard’s IP by joining a private vanilla server is remarkably easy. I posted the instructions elsewhere, but the steps I followed were:

  1. Find website.
  2. Click the torrent link they helpfully provide.
  3. Wait for 5GB torrent to download.
  4. Create an account on a linked website in the meantime.
  5. Copy & Paste 1 line of text in the Realm.wtf file.
  6. Double-click the WoW icon.

That’s it. There isn’t even an “installation” of vanilla WoW; the torrent has the folders already unpacked for you. So when people were stating that private servers are easier than getting into retail WoW, they were correct.

All that set up, I was in.

VanillaWoW_01

Someone apparently took my name already.

I went with a human paladin because that seems to be the experience that most people can relate to. Plus, if I recall correctly from my TBC experience, the Dwarven starting area is even worse in terms of running around aimlessly. Maybe some other time. Probably not.

The general paladin experience was pretty much as bad as I remembered. You start with two buttons: Seal of Righteousness and Holy Light. Combat consists of casting Seal and auto-attacking. For around 12-28 seconds. Per mob. I’m not joking:

For the full vanilla experience, you should watch the entire video. It’s exactly like playing!

Aside from the Time-To-Kill metrics and general pants-on-head asinine class design, I was also struck by smaller design issues that were blasts from the past. For example, the first quest you get is to kill Kobold Vermin behind the church. The steady stream of new players/alts ensured a general sort of Kobold holocaust, but it wasn’t until about the third dead Kobold that I realized I was killing the wrong ones. There were, in fact, three different layers of Kobolds: Vermin, Workers, and Laborers. Not to be racist, but they kinda all looked the same.

The other issue was boomerang quests, which is perhaps one of the more annoying quest designs in gaming to me. Specifically, a quest giver asking you to go to an area to kill mobs, then asking you to go back to the same area again and killing mobs slightly further in, and so on. The “Christmas tree” effect (getting to a new quest area and seeing dozens of “?”s) is kind of the result of bypassing the boomerang, but it is a far preferable state of affairs, IMO.

VanillaWoW_02

Also super important.

Then again, there weren’t any Christmas trees in vanilla or a portion of TBC, as quest givers did not appear on the minimap unless you were ready to turn something in. Indeed, that was my first exposure to absurd design Luddittes – post after post in the TBC forums crying about how much the game is diminished by having quests show up in the minimap. But I digress.

Upon hitting level 3, I decided to travel over to the dreaded Defias Vineyard. This was WoW’s “The Butcher” experience, introducing millions of players to a hostile, uncaring universe of pain and suffering in the form of rapidly respawning, high aggro-radius having mobs. The Vineyard was as advertised: hostile and uncaring. Well… mostly.

(Video starting from 6:06 from the prior one.)

I was invited to a group by a warlock who was also hunting for Defias bandannas and we aggroed in tandem for quite some time. Having been a solo player for so long, I almost felt uncomfortable being “confined” to a group, as if we were sitting next to each other on a bus with plenty of empty seats. Anyway, he DoT’d the enemies up, and I uselessly auto-attacked and tried to keep aggro. There were always other people running around the area, being chased by their gray-tagged mobs and occasionally stealing our own. It made me think about MMOs like GW2 where anyone can help anyone at any time, and still get credit for kills and the like even if you just dealt one blow. There is more cooperation there, but less socialization.

Not that I and the warlock talked much anyway.

Turning in the bandanna quest unlocked two more quests that required going to the exact same area and, by consequence, killing the same mobs. Classic boomerang. One of the quest mobs was named, but I don’t believe he was marked as an Elite or anything. Still, three mobs at once is a bit tough to handle when it takes you 20 seconds of auto-attacking to bring down a single dude, so I started inviting everyone who showed up near the mob respawn. There were three of us, and two more sauntered in, not accepting my invite. They ended up stealing the tag right from under us, because of course they did. Three to four minutes later, we collected four heads from one body and I dinged level 5.

Total time played: 1 hour, 15 minutes.

VanillaWoW_03

—————

For the sake of science and amusement, I went ahead and rolled another human paladin, this time via the F2P Starter account in retail WoW. The differences, as you might imagine, are quite stark:

Time-to-Kill is sometimes 0.0 seconds, with mobs dying in the press of Crusader Strike and simultaneous melee auto-attack. Crusader Strike’s cooldown is 4.5 seconds, so we can just say 0-4.5 seconds TTK. And do note that I did not have any heirlooms or anything of the sort – the Starter account is not associated with my actual (lapsed) account at all.

The Defias are gone from the Vineyard, which is now aflame and overrun by orcs. It still teaches new players about aggro mobs, but there is essentially zero danger when mobs die in 2-3 hits. There was a quest to kill a specific named orc ala X, but he too went down in a manner that makes you question the robustness of the Horde’s espionage program.

Experiencing this new paradigm for the first time in years, sans the heirlooms which I had hitherto believed caused it, I am willing to make some concessions.

Nils has described the vanilla way as giving players the time and opportunity to keep their mind busy without actually being busy. I think I can appreciate this sentiment now, but not quite for the same reason as he. When it takes 20+ seconds to kill a mob, you are pretty much forced to “settle in” to an area. It will, after all, be where you will be questing for the next 10+ minutes. There is ample time to smell the roses, as you conspicuously not press buttons.

Conversely, when you are all but one-shotting mobs in retail, you are on the fast track. Move to blue area, kill 10 mobs, run back. Your focus is on the UI rather than the screen because that’s all you have time for. Pushing buttons is still always better than not pushing buttons, in my opinion, but you can’t exactly just stretch out the TTK numbers and insert button presses in all the empty beats. Which, now that I think about it, might be why I didn’t exactly enjoy the FF14 or Wildstar gameplay experience.

In any case, I hit level 5 with 15 minutes /played.

The funny/sad thing is that the speed is both too fast and not fast enough. If leveling is easy because the designers want more people to be in the current expansion endgame, well… put people in the current expansion endgame. The first couple of zones in every expansion are more or less tutorial zones for returning players already, so it should accommodate re-rollers just fine. Conversely, if the leveling still exists as some kind of nod to new WoW players or nostalgia junkies, it’s much too fast to satisfy anyone.

This split baby needs thrown out with the bathwater.

—————

The challenge continues. I have little to no interest actually hitting 60 in vanilla, especially given the number of hours it supposedly takes, but I will play for a while longer. My next goal is to unlock the talent system, which traditionally started at 10, I believe. Can’t wait to start unlocking +2% damage for the next dozen levels thereafter.

Wrath Gained More than Vanilla

One of the perennial WoW criticisms from certain sectors was that Wrath started strangling the goose that laid the golden eggs. “WoW grew in vanilla and TBC, stalled out in Wrath, then declined thereafter. Clearly New Blizzard with its LFD, welfare badges, etc, was at fault.” We already know the New Blizzard dichotomy is fiction, at least in terms of Wrath itself, but a recent debate with SynCaine resulted in an unexpected discovery:

Wrath gained more subs on average than during vanilla, and was on par with TBC.

Technically, this is all supposition. But just follow me for a bit. First, here is one of my older WoW graphs that I augmented from MMOData (RIP):

WoW-Subs

From that, we can clearly see the plateau into Wrath. The missing puzzle piece though, is something I brought up before in a different context: churn.  Churn is the natural loss of players for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps they no longer have time. Perhaps they lost their job. Perhaps they died. It doesn’t particularly matter why they left, they just do. Consistently. To the tune of roughly 5% per month for MMOs. Here are two quotes:

“Even a good game churns 5 percent of its users out every month,” says Gaffney. “That means every 20 months you’ve churned out your whole user base.” If you have one friend who still plays an MMO, that means you might have 10 friends who used to play that MMO.

And this one:

In a new analyst note, Mike Hickey from Janco Partners has been examining Blizzard’s World Of Warcraft success in light of the Activision/Blizzard merger, suggesting average monthly WoW revenue in “the low teens” per user, and a churn rate as low as 4-5% per month.

That second quote is in reference to WoW circa 2007, for the record.

So now let’s go back and look at that graph with an understanding that 5% of the population leaves every month. For ease, let’s just look at WoW West, which includes the US and European subs. It remains steady at around 5.125 million from 2009-2010. Assuming a 5% churn rate, that means 256,250 new subs had to be gained every month (on average) just to keep steady.

Now, let’s look at… well, any other year. 2005-2006, when the WoW phenomenon took off? WoW went from 500k to 2.5 million subs in the West, meaning that it had to maintain the 500k it already had and gain a total of 2 million more. 500k * 0.05 + 2m / 12 = 191,667 subs per month. In other words, vanilla gained new subs at a 25% slower rate that year than Wrath.

The next year (2006-2007) was 2.5m * 0.05 + 1m / 12 = 208,334. Again, almost 20% less.

It is not until the 2007-2008 release of TBC that we see Wrath being overtaken: 3.5m * 0.05 + 1m / 12 =  258,334. The difference there is… 2,084, or 0.8%. Basically a rounding error.  The last year of TBC is a bit sketchy depending on how you want to interpret that final tick on the graph. If it’s 4.9 million, then TBC gained the same 2,084 number more. If it’s any less, Wrath wins.

If you want to follow the global population line instead, the figures come out as follows:

  • 2005-2006 = +537,500
  • 2006-2007 = +477,084
  • 2007-2008 = +562,500
  • 2008-2009 = +625,000
  • 2009-2010 = +575,000 (<—Wrath)

If you want to look at an MMO-Champion graph instead, here you go:

WoW_Subs_11022015

Pump the brakes, kid.

The graph is less helpful numbers-wise, but it shows the sub consistency throughout Wrath.

Now it’s entirely possible there is a better way to mathematically model this information. Hell, I may even have made a calculation error somewhere. If so, feel free to correct me. But it’s a simple fact that if WoW had a 5% churn rate through Wrath, then a “plateau” really means 575k-600k new subs a month  worldwide were gained to replace them. It’s not a small amount. And it gets even bigger if we start thinking about 6% churn or more. You know, because the expansion was so bad.

So whatever you want to say about Wrath, go ahead. Fact remains it got more new players per month than vanilla.

Vanilla Challenge

With all the talk about private vanilla servers and the ease in which they are logged onto, I had an idea for some gonzo journalism. “I’ll join one and document my experiences!” Then I remembered something: a whole lot of the vanilla (and TBC) experience was utter garbage. Take paladins, for example. Just… the entire class.

SynCaine doesn’t see this as a possible problem:

I know you didn’t play WoW in vanilla, but do you honestly think some minor class issues (you are talking to someone who did the plaguelands rep grind using a raid spec tank) would have that big an impact on what is overall far superior content and design?

Uh… yes? The paladin experience was unremitting garbage on into TBC when I started, and by all accounts vanilla was worse. But, hey, that is clearly not going to impact the amazing 2004 design. Despite, you know, having to interact with everything through the prism of said garbage class design and moment-to-moment gameplay.

Amusingly, what we know from Nostalrius is that almost 25% of all characters on their two servers were Warriors. The Warrior/Rogue/Mage trifecta was nearly half. Three guesses as to which classes were on top back in the day.

Classes.JPG

Hmm.

But why speculate on these vanilla issues when we can pontificate? Put your money time where your mouth is, and roll a paladin on a private server now! Or a druid. Or a shaman. And don’t heal in dungeons or at the endgame. Nobody cares what sort of nonsense you put up with in 2004, what matters is the nonsense you are willing to put up with (and potentially pay $15/month for) today.

I’m thinking about doing so myself, despite my New Year’s resolution, and despite the fact that we all know what is going to happen. It will be awful because it is objectively awful if you are not zen meditating inbetween mob pulls. Vanilla was probably popular back in the day because it was the least painful entry into a nascent, virtual world filled with co-dependency mechanics to ensure you made internet friends. Which was great if you needed some, but I’m full up these days, thanks.

You know what, though? Fuck it. Let’s wreck this train.

VanillaWoW.JPG

Don’t say I never did anything for you.

 

Pirate Communities

Another aspect of the Nostalrius news that caught my interest was the non-stop mentioning of the tight-knit community. “I made so many friends in the span of a month than i did in retail over 2 years” I have no doubt that this was a true experience for this random internet denizen, but perhaps not for the reasons he/she thinks.

If you played on Nostalrius, you automatically had a whole lot in common with everyone you happened to encounter. One, you’re all filthy pirates. Two, you’re capable and willing to download cracked versions of MMOs and play them. Three, you are extremely invested in the vanilla WoW experience. And fourth, you are a member of a self-perceived persecuted group: one that Blizzard doesn’t cater to any longer.

There was a brief, dumb period of my life where I was a smoker. I’m an unabashed introvert, but there was literally nowhere I could go and not have a pleasant smoke-break conversation with whomever was outside the back door of whatever establishment I was visiting. “Do you have a light?” “How about that weather, eh?” “Hear about that new anti-smoking bill?” There was an instant connection due to shared circumstances with someone I would likely have nothing else in common with. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Two random people playing WoW have one thing in common: they play WoW. That’s not much more to go on than encountering a random stranger walking around your city of residence. Private servers though? You are practically co-conspirators just for logging in. There is an instant sense of camaraderie which facilitates connections.

A lot of the “community” discussion focuses on all the missteps that Blizzard took in destroying said communities. Cross-server BGs. LFD. Phasing. And so on. Well… okay, fine. But my question to you would be this: do you think an MMO with nearly 100 times more players than Nostalrius would have had the same community feeling in 2016 as it was back in pre-Facebook 2005, minus the subterfuge?

I suppose my point here is that while the “Nostalrius effect” is real, it is not as particularly a damning indictment of current WoW as it is being trotted out. WoW has significant problems for sure, but just wait a while. The more people unsubscribe, the more of a community will develop amongst the remainder. Because population is the antithesis to community.

Blizzard’s Q3 2015 Report

Rather than risking burying the lede, it feels more like there’s a risk of being buried by them.

First, WoW “only” dropped by 100k subscriptions in Q3:

Pump the brakes, kid.

Pump the brakes, kid.

I did not specifically offer a prediction for this quarter last time, and I’m glad I didn’t. Is it weird to say, though, that I’m both surprised and not surprised at only a 100k loss? It is one thing to expect the WoW house of cards to continue collapsing after seeing 1.5 million subs evaporate in the three months prior. But it is also entirely true that there are people still playing the first EverQuest and Ultima Online like it’s 1999. Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that there would still be people out there playing Star Wars Galaxies or City of Heroes if they could? In that sense, we kinda know already that there will be some kind of baseline level of WoW subscriptions that will always remain. The question is just where that floor is.

Of course, we may never end up knowing where the floor is because Blizzard has decided to stop reporting WoW sub numbers. I pretty much agree with the rest of the internet that this is a rather embarrassing PR maneuver meant to obfuscate the declining success of the game. It’s a shameful, shameful display, Blizzard… how could you sink to the level of EVE Online and FF14’s “lifetime total subscriber” tactics?!

That said, I do find this brave new world of faux news amusing. For example, from the last link:

Instead of subscriber numbers, Activision Blizzard intends to use unspecified engagement metrics.

As the company has pushed toward a “year-round engagement model” with its franchises, it has similarly de-emphasized traditional performance metrics like sales figures. It has never reported sales figures for Destiny, instead relying on “registered users” numbers, sometimes even pairing that with the number of registered users for the free-to-play Hearthstone and reporting a combined number. In its quarterly earnings, Activision Blizzard pointed to “key engagement metrics” for Hearthstone being up 77 percent, but neglected to detail what those metrics were.

I wonder how the job interview went for the person who writes these press releases. “Why should we hire you?” “I’m 77% better than the other applicants.” “In what way?” “Key ways.” I did end up listening to the entire Investor Call for more Hearthstone tidbits, but the only non-zero piece of news was it achieved its highest quarterly revenue in Q3. So… X+1 > X, at a minimum. I suppose we could extrapolate that Hearthstone is still growing, but without a baseline, we’re back in the weeds.

The lede of ledes though, is Activision Blizzard buying King (aka Candy Crush) for $5.9 billion. Pretty much everyone, everywhere has questioned the sanity of this move, and I’m a bit inclined to agree. King is on the decline, even Activision Blizzard agrees there are no synergies between the franchises, and this move has drained the company’s cash reserves of $4.5 billion down to… next to nothing. We can even envision a scenario is which the WoW movie flops – and that’s a real chance – and suddenly things could start looking unexpectedly grim.

At the same time… you kinda have to look at this from a business perspective. Throughout the Investor Call, Kotick and crew repeatedly stressed how they more or less bought ~340 million mobile customers. The sum total of Activision Blizzard’s exposure to to the mobile space up to this point has been Hearthstone and some Call of Duty apps. Could they build some amazing mobile games with $5.9 billion? Maybe. King is on the decline from its heights, but at least they demonstrated that they were successful at some point. If they can release/steal another hit, or start leveraging the mobile eyeballs to cross-pollinate franchises, this could suddenly seem like amazing foresight.

The other thing to look at? King is based in Ireland, which is famous for its double…. sandwiches. Or was that the Dutch? On top of that, of Blizzard’s $4.5 billion in cash they had prior to this deal, $3.6 billion of it was held overseas. As in, evading US taxes. Spending it this way gets the maximum value purchasing power which they may not have been able to realize any other way. And, of course, it moves Activision Blizzard from having little mobile presence to being a dominate player in the field. Even if King turns into Zynga.

So maybe this deal is a bit better than people think.

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