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Warfronts Sinkhole

Very clever, Blizzard. Very clever.

I had a post all queued up to go on a rant about how terrible professions have been designed this expansion. I still feel that way, actually, so let me just say it: professions in Battle for Azeroth are a lazy copy & paste job from Legion, including all of the mistakes. Well, most of them: at least alts aren’t as punished by needing mythic dungeons or whatever for Rank 2.

One of the principle sources of my ire however, were all the useless crafts and crafting materials.

Remember Unbroken Tooth in Legion? Well, the functional equivalent of that is Calcified Bone in BfA, which is selling for an average of 6 copper on my server. It’s supposed to be a higher-tier material, but all it does is displace the actually-useful Blood-Stained Bone material in Skinning – which will be relevant all expansion due to people crafting and scrapping leather wrists for Expulsom. So why have Calcified Bone at all? Why not split Blood-Stained Bone off and make Calcified Bone the crafting material needed for mail gear or whatever?

There’s not a good reason other than the lazy interns tasked with designing professions. But they’re going to get away with it because of Warfronts.

Basically, Warfronts are going to be item sinks for the entire expansion. The Horde have the turn-ins this week, and they include things like Great Sea Catfish and Straddling Viridium. Before this week, Great Sea Catfish was absolute garbage. Not only did you catch it in fresh water (huh?), you could only cook it into non-buff food. It’s greatest claim to fame was setting the floor price for Aromatic Fish Oil. Now you need 60 of them to get 500 Azerite Power and some reputation.

Meanwhile, while the 3% movement speed gems were nice in the first three days of the new expansion, I had bought several for below vendor price in the past few weeks. Now? There was about ~6 hours in which they were selling for 400g apiece. It says a lot about the game that people were willing to pay nearly 6000g to get 500 AP, but whatever, I just supply the things.

Guild Wars 2 has a similar “solution” for its own terrible loot system, in that the Mystic Forge lets you throw 4 (stacks of) items into a hole, and sometimes get a goodie out the other side. It kinda makes up for the fact that you accumulate an astronomical amount of debris in your inventory, and Warfronts provide a similar sink.

It’s all a bandaid, of course. The fundamental issue is that Blizzard regrets the existence of professions, and doesn’t know what to do with them. Should they be the source of the best gear in the game? “No, that should be raids.” Should they give better gear than WQs? “Also no, we need people out in the world.” Should they give gear that invalidates dungeon gear? “No, unless it requires dungeon drop materials, in which case we’ll allow it.” Should crafted gear be a catch-up mechanism? “Sure, that sounds fine.” You do realize that as soon as you put on crafted gear, then WQs will start immediately offering upgrades, right? “Working as intended.”

But, whatever. Warfronts are a thing now, and I just made 60,000g in a single day because of them. Mostly from Coarse Leather Barding and Prospecting Platinum Ore for gems. Next week should be much the same, up until people stop caring about maxing out AP. Which, given how the anti-alts philosophy Blizzard had in Legion has dropped, might not be for a while.

Disposable Professions

As of Battle for Azeroth, WoW professions have become almost entirely disposable.

I noticed this last night as I was puttering around on some of my alts. Three of them wear leather armor, so I was hopping onto each one trying to remember which had Leatherworking. As it turns out, none of them did. So, without much thought, I dropped Skinning on the rogue and then… paused. “Leather is cheap, but those Blood-Stained Bones are relatively expensive.” Then I decided that my druid would likely be more efficient at AoE farming for leather anyway, so I logged onto her and then dropped Enchanting without a pause and gave her Skinning.

If you have not been keeping track at home, Blizzard had been moving towards the Single Expansion Relevance model for a while now. Professions used to start at 1, and you would need to dedicate tens of thousands of gold/hours farming to level them up to 300+ just to get near where current-content gear was. If you kept up, you were sitting pretty, because everyone else just coming back from a break or brand new players had a huge grind ahead of them.

It was not a particularly elegant model, but it still felt… reasonable. Plus, the constant need for old-world mats for newly profession-ed characters meant that lowbies had a good shot at become rich by just gathering herbs/ore as they leveled. There was a whole micro-economy that existed there, including the savvy Auctioneers who were able to throw together a “profession kit” that would allow someone to max out to current content within 30 minutes. The dedication needed to remain in your own professions would inspire people to level alts just to have additional options, who then needed to be leveled and geared and fed a diet of AH materials, and so on, and so forth.

Then things started to change.

The first steps were allowing players to harvest current-expansion nodes even as a starter herbalist/miner. Blizzard made sure that the product extracted was basically junk, or 1/10th of the normal result, but you could at least tap the node. And that was reasonable, especially for the gathering professions, as it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to force high-level characters to be scouring old Azeroth for Tin nodes.

Then came the gimmie recipes for crafters, which allowed them to use current-expansion resources to rank up 400+ levels. One would think that such a feature killed off the old-school profession kits, but all it really did was set a price ceiling at which it was cheaper to just buy new herbs/ore. This was especially true at the beginning of an expansion, when the latest herbs/ore were selling for hundreds of gold apiece.

Somewhere in there, Blizzard also introduced profession books, which would allow you to “relearn” all the recipes you had lost when abandoning a profession.

With BfA, the circle is now complete. Professions are entirely stratified into expansion-specific tiers. Profession bonuses, which were the bane of hardcore raiders, were watered-down and diluted into irrelevance. Once a part of your character’s identity and story, professions are, at most, a (temporary) economic decision. Hell, in the heady days of a new expansion release, it can sometimes be worth the 1000g fee to relearn a profession if you can make ten times that amount in a night of being a temporary whatever. Blizzard helpfully removed most of the dungeon requirements for 3-star ranks, so the barriers has never been lower.

And all of that is probably for the best.

I sat here a while, exploring my feelings on the matter, before coming to that conclusion. I am a huge critic of any game design in which someone can lose on the character select screen, and WoW’s profession bonuses combined with the grind back up to max rank was just another form of that. That is on top of the ~5%/month churn rate which could see your entire MMO population turn over every 20 months. A new expansion is usually released how often, again? It’s just not a good design IMO to require people to pump out thousands of useless pieces of junk to increase a number to a sufficient degree to get to starting line.

Nevertheless, yeah, there is a part of me that had fond memories of the old system. My namesake paladin has been a Jewelcrafting/Alchemist since 2008 and none of that matters. I spent hundreds of hours leveling up a fleet of alts to cover every profitable base each expansion, and now the same thing could be done by one toon and a willingness to drop 1000g.

I am sort of waiting for the day when Blizzard just goes full GW2 and lets you buy extra profession slots for real money and otherwise just be done with the restrictions altogether.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Has anyone else felt like Battle for Azeroth is a bit… familiar? Like Legion 2.0?

The situation didn’t really strike me until last night. I do not have a character at max level – I have been just gathering and crafting pretty much nonstop – but I have progressed enough to unlock the Garrison. Or War Table. Or whatever the hell it’s called now. It’s pretty much exactly the same interface as the one in Legion, up to an including the same art assets. The same chance for bonus loot. The same method of collecting resources. World Quests are the same. Emissaries are the same… I think. Rare mobs and treasure chests peppering the map are the same.

On the one hand, this is great. These systems work. Remember Daily Quests? We had those since TBC and everyone was sick of them. World Quests on the other hand, feel materially different despite providing the same function. Artifact Power got a bit goofy near the end of Legion, but overall design structure of having steady progression over the life of an expansion without incentivizing mindless grinding worked (crazy mythic raiders excluded). So we have Azerite replacing AP without even needing to replace the term “AP.” Double efficiency!

On the other hand… I dunno.

There is a lot to be said about the penchant of Blizzard devs to throw out the baby, bathwater, and kitchen sink simultaneously, between releases. How many times have warlocks been overhauled, even mid-expansion? At the same time, I feel like the devs have perhaps hewn a bit too close to what came before with BfA. Where are the “Aha!” moments? Where are the game-changers? Where are the elements that justify an 8.0 instead of a 7.4? Is a bunch of new maps enough?

The launch of BfA was so smooth because there was no demarcation between it and Legion.

I suppose we should be happy, yeah? Less absurd content droughts, more design systems that clearly work instead of wild experiments. Any yet, my brow is furrowed. What is Blizzard doing with all that time they saved? No new talents, no new classes, no new races (Allied Races are reskins, IMO), no new systems. Maybe the island battles with the “advanced AI” will change things? Am I missing something else?

I remember when Farms were introduced in MoP, and it blew my mind. Or the rare elite mobs that dropped cool (and functional!) toys to use. Then Garrisons in WoD. Of course, the Garrison wasn’t necessarily good design insofar as they kept people locked in a personal instance all the time, but from a player perspective they were really compelling (and rewarding). To this day, I still have several characters doing chores around the Garrison, crafting bags and such.

Then there were the Artifacts in Legion. To this day, it blows my mind how much content Blizzard packed in there. Like, do you guys understand how much class-specific content was added in one expansion? There was some recycling when it came to unlocking some of the spec-specific weapons – I groaned every time I got sent back to Karazhan on alts – but everything was basically brand new per class. It’s a real shame alts were actively punished so much during Legion, but I may end up going back at some point to finish the class campaigns just for the lore. My jaw hit the floor when my Death Knight started taking orders from the Lich King, for example.

Now, in Battle for Azeroth we can be excited for… uh… hmm.

I’m not looking to be buried under 2+ full skill bars, or DPS rotations that require an addon to perform. I don’t necessarily even want something that will compel me to spend 10 minutes maintaining it every day, three expansions later. But I do very much enjoy a new puzzle to wrap my mind around and optimize. And I’m not seeing anything remotely like that in Battle for Azeroth thus far. Just a lot of reused, recycled systems with new numbers to the right of the plus sign.

That is what character progression MMOs are about, of course. Usually, there’s more spice though.

It’s the Little (Big) Things

The launch of Battle for Azeroth has been remarkably smooth, for the most part.

The state of the WoW Auction House is not included in “the most part.”

I mentioned before that the introduction of War Mode changed the entire trajectory of my WoW history. My patience for dealing with non-consensual PvP had ran out years ago, and a WoW in which alts were actively discouraged is not one I play for very long. By introducing that PvP toggle switch into the game, my alts were suddenly free from the tyranny of corpse camping, and I had a renewed interest in seeing how every class played out.

Well, it’s now going on the third post-launch day in which the AH in WoW is borderline nonfunctional, and my interest in doing anything is about to run out.

There will never be a better time to make gold than right now, at an expansion launch. The gems that give +5% XP were selling for 5000g apiece on Monday, and were selling below vendor price by Wednesday. Seriously, I was buying as many as I could so I could walk 50 feet away and sell them to an Innkeeper. The problem is that the AH is sluggish, unresponsive, and practically crashing in the midst of doing any kind of transaction.

Now, yes, a part of that is surely the fact that there are 27 pages of 1-herb auctions clogging up the tubes. But in the 10 years of my playing WoW, I have never experienced anything this bad in terms of the AH. Those pages of 1-item auctions could have been cleared out by one person with a functioning TSM/Auctionator addon, but either one is struggling to do anything productive. I have resorted to using the default interface, and even that is barely functional.

Up to this point, it really appears that Blizzard doesn’t care. And why would they, right? It’s much more important that there aren’t any bugged quests that will impede progression, or that the dungeons work, or that there aren’t any crazy exploits out there. The AH is probably towards the bottom of their list of concerns.

…which is dumb. The existence of the WoW Token should absolutely make fixing the AH one of their top priorities, considering there is no other reason why people need gold in the first place.

People are resorting to spamming Trade chat with their prices and instructions on how to mail materials via C.O.D. Even worse, the prices people are offering are actually better than the items in the AH currently – someone offering to buy any BfA herb for 65g apiece, when there were a bunch for 50g in the AH – but the AH is so fucked and slow that you’d be faster gathering them in the game world than trying to spin your wheels in the interface.

In any case, the AH being broke is sapping my will to play the expansion. I am interested in the questing experience and how this story will play out in the future, but I have zero particular drive to hit the endgame scene and run a bunch of dungeons. The fact that I am missing out on the most lucrative time in an expansion is acting as a giant wet blanket over my drive to play at all. I had a precious few days to perform AH alchemy before leaving on vacation next week, and I fully expect the irons to have cooled down by the time I get back.

I would guess that I have maybe gained ~100k since BfA came out. Had the AH actually functioned in any particularly good way, that could have been 500k. And that’s a deficit in potential that will mar my playtime forever.

Ugh.

Emergent Details

I am beginning to ponder whether “emergent gameplay” is dependent on what might otherwise be considered “extraneous details.”

In RimWorld, the details are the devil. Each and every creature that exists drops its own kind of meat when killed, along with its own type of leather. Forty-eight different kinds of leather, specifically. On the one hand, this can get annoying when your warehouse fills up with a dozens of different stacks of the same sort of resource (e.g. leather) that can’t be blended together to craft a piece of clothing. On the other hand, the specificity of leather allows for the now-infamous “Human Hat” situation.

RimWorld_BionicEye

That would explain her poor shooting skills…

Another situation is wounds/scarring. When a colonist takes damage, they can be injured across their entire body in ultra-specific locations like… middle-finger of their left hand. Or their eyeball. I have one colonist with a shiv-scar in their brain. I did not find out about that old wound until two-dozen hours in, and finally made the connection as to why this particular person was slower than others at Researching (brain injuries basically reduce productivity by 50%).

This specificity occasionally leads to emergent gameplay. Another colonist (Redfields) was addicted to Smokeweed, developed a small tolerance, which led to a large tolerance, which led to Asthma in both lungs and a small carcinoma in the right lung. I was tempted to just kill Redfields and hope to recruit a different person – keeping someone alive and happy through withdrawal symptoms is a real pain in the ass – but I decided to give it the ole’ college try.

So after the next pirate raid, I captured one of the downed raiders, stabilized them, and then harvested their lungs. Which I then transplanted into Redfields.

Everything was fine up until Redfields developed a small carcinoma again in one lung. “Goddamnit, Redfields, those were brand new lungs! Well, to you, anyway.” Luckily, I realized that I could excise the tumor directly, which my doctor did successfully. Once Redfields made it past his withdrawal period, I went ahead and rewarded him by removing the eye that had a permanent LMG wound and replacing it with a bionic eye. Now, he’s one of the best sharpshooters in my colony.

RimWorld_Quest

I feel the invisible hand of fate moving once again

He’s still missing a nose though. Not quite sure how he lost it, and I don’t there is cosmetic surgery in the vanilla game. Oh well.

The point is that emergent gameplay is kind of predicated on there being many, many different points of potential interaction. If damage was only registered to more generalized sites, or abstracted away entirely into HP, there is no Redfields story.

Then again, this can be done on the AI side instead, I suppose. There are not a whole lot of player-moving parts in GTA5, for example, but I think we have all seen some outlandish things occur in that game that come about because of random variance in civilian (or cop) behavior. Or in the Far Cry series. A “normal” shootout suddenly turns into a 5-car pileup, a wildfire erupts, and now there’s an angry bear or mountain lion or eagle joining the fray.

It makes me wonder about how emergent things might work in an MMO setting though. Project: Gorgon apparently has a whole lot of nonsense embedded in it – players turning into Cows and leveling Cow skills – but for the most part, I think most of us prefer less fiddly bits, rather than more. For one, it’s much harder to balance, and for another, it complicates social dynamics. If you aren’t optimal, you’re sub-optimal, which means you are holding the group back with your selfishness.

This pushes emergent features more into the AI side, which sounds like the direction Blizzard is heading. At the same time, would you even want an MMO where the mobs are intelligent and a real challenge? Like, all the time? In an open-world single-player game, absolutely. But elsewhere? I’m wondering if emergent social interactions is more than enough emergence for MMOs.

Verdict

It was a bad stick of RAM.

No, seriously.

In retrospect, a kinda “duh” moment. I mean, I had never before knew that bad RAM could make your PC just hard shutdown and (presumably) burn a graphics card. At the same time, I did get Furmark and a CPU tester to run for 15+ minutes using my 560ti card without a crash for a while there, with all temps being normal. Plus, I replaced the PSU and the PC booted up (before crashing later). All that was really left was a RAM issue.

I declined the $30 labor costs to install new RAM, but went ahead and spent $60ish to get the Microcenter guys to remove my liquid cooler on the CPU and install a mid-line fan. I’m a parsimonious miser for most things, but even I have my limits – possibly squirting liquid coolant all over my machine or having to disassemble my own rig to prevent that, is one of the lines.

As mentioned though, the 970 card is definitely still dead. I just submitted an RMA request and we’ll see what they say. It’s within the 2-year warranty period, but I’m a “worst-case scenario” kind of guy when it comes to corporations. I’m guessing this will be a 2-3 week process, at best.

In the meantime… well, WoW works perfectly fine with the 560ti. And isn’t crashing anymore. Which has allowed me to convert all but 100k or so of my in-game gold into $180 Blizzard credit.

So yeah. There’s that.

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.

Overwatch’s Mark-Hitting

There is an interesting post up over at MMOBro asking whether or not Overwatch is missing the mark. The conclusion Tyler comes to is this:

For what it is, Overwatch is a solid game. The core gameplay is strong, the art is fantastic, and the action is plentiful. But it is an incredibly narrow game. It’s a fantastic experience for those who crave intense, high octane competitive play, but very unwelcoming for everyone else.

Having spent the last week playing Overwatch 2-5 hours a day, I am inclined to agree.

Most of the criticisms brought up by Tyler are legit. While single-player campaigns in games like COD and Battlefield are generally superfluous, they are value propositions and used extensively to sell boxes via commercials. Blizzard appears to be treating Overwatch more like a MOBA in the sense that they are crafting a lore-rich story and intricate characters that have nothing at all to do with the game itself. Or maybe the straight Team Fortress 2 comparison is more apt.

Regardless, it does feel a bit jarring to have all these production values without a production.

Overwatch_Tunnel

Probably my favorite place in all the maps.

Also, it is very much true that Overwatch is not a particularly welcoming game. The average Time-To-Kill varies, but it very often can be “Instantly.” Junkrat and Reaper can often kill 3+ people practically out of nowhere with their Ultimates, which is kind of a big deal in 6v6 matches.

Indeed, the team size is small enough that a skilled veteran can often single-handedly lock down a match by themselves or a complete noob on your side can result in a demoralizing, grinding loss in an otherwise even match. I’m not sure what kind of matchmaking Blizzard had active during the Beta (assuming they had anything at all), but it didn’t seem to be working that well. The fact that the teams stay the same from match to match (there is no team shuffling) just encourages people to bail to try and find a different server with the possibility of a better team, which just increases the queues for everyone.

Having said that… this is technically still beta. One of the criticisms from Tyler was:

That in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, but there’s nothing else to the game. Blizzard has repeatedly shot down the idea of offering any other game modes.

This is not entirely true.

In fact, if there is contrary info out there, I’d like to know where, because Kaplan has said this:

Yes. The version you are playing now is what will go live at launch (there will be some bug fixes etc…). We also have Competitive Play, which was a feature that was live in Closed Beta. We removed it from Open Beta because we received a ton of great feedback on how to improve the system. We had a tough choice. It would have been awesome to have the feature in for Open Beta and Launch. But we felt like we could really improve on some things so we opted to have the feature come out shortly after launch. We’re hoping that our efforts in the Closed Beta to try to get things done quickly and at high quality aren’t lost on our community — but we also never want to sacrifice the quality of the game by putting something live that isn’t up to our standards.

We’re also working on a TON of post-launch features and content. It’s going to be a pretty amazing summer…

Indeed, Overwatch has borrowed Hearthstone’s Brawl mechanic in which there is a weekly mode with “crazy” new rules. This past week it was random hero selection upon death, and the ability to switch heroes disabled. Not only was this a brilliant, relatively stress-free way to experience characters you might feel bad for picking in a normal match, if Hearthstone is any indication, it is also a test-bed for future mechanics.

Just think about how much live data Blizzard could pull from any given match, in terms of whether stacking three Roadhogs was effective given X or Y factors. Seems dumb now, but maybe that very thing will inform a future, more robust AI for bots down the road. Or when the Brawl from before was normal Overwatch but 75% shorter cooldowns.

Far-fetched? You be the judge:

Hearthstone_Shadowcaster.jpg

Playtesters and didn’t even know it.

So, in the final before-launch analysis, I conclude that… Overwatch is fun. I wish I was playing it right now. Assuming that Blizzard fixes the matchmaking and horrible DC experiences, it will absolutely become a part of my “I don’t know what to play right now” rotation. You can easily get four matches done in 30 minutes, which starts to make you wonder if Blizzard’s master plan (assuming there is one) is to fill in the holes in WoW’s design with other games. Waiting for dungeon queue? Play some Overwatch. Which is absolutely easier to jump in and out of than Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm.

However, much in the way that raiding isn’t for everyone, neither is Overwatch. If you are John Q Casual, there isn’t much for you to do (at the moment). The scope of the Battlefield series is such that you could always tag along a squad as a medic or supply guy and generally not be nuisance while rendering material assistance to your team. In Overwatch? You’re a straight liability, even if you are a healer. Especially if you are a healer. Because the better players might assume you’re competent and not pull a healer themselves.

So as I mentioned before, I agree with Tyler. If you’re looking for quick bursts of kinda frustrating, often amusing FPS action, Overwatch is pretty damn good. Just make sure that is what you’re looking for before you throw down $40/$60.

Nerf Forward

Blizzard did it. They really did it. Warsong Commander nerfed hardcore.

#NeverForget

#NeverForgetToChargeForward

Specifically, the card was nerfed to simply say “Your charge minions have +1 Attack.”

There are a couple of things you have to say right off the bat. The first is “Thank Christ, Patron is dead.” I talked about the ridiculousness of Patron Warrior back in August, and it never really stopped being ridiculous. How long has it been a Tier 1, metagaming warping deck? Four months? Six?

Which is actually the second thing: err… why now? Oh wait, we’re heading into Blizzcon and the World Championship. This isn’t even the first time a high-profile card was nerfed specifically in weeks heading into said tournament. If I weren’t more cynical… ah, fuck it, I am exactly that cynical. As much as various commenters get their knickers in a wad over legitimately exciting randomness, nobody really wants to see 50+ damage delivered from an empty board.

Unless it’s double-combo Druid. Then it’s okay.

Then there’s the third thing, which is: “huh… this was the nerf they went with?” In the scheme of things, it is probably the best long-term one. As this Extra Credits mentions, you can’t just focus on making exciting cards today, you also have to give thought to what said exciting cards do to future design. The example in the video is Tuskarr Totemic, which is a Shaman 2-mana creature that summons ANY random totem. It’s a nice creature (assuming Shaman ever becomes playable again), but it’s mere existence means Blizzard can’t really create 8-mana totems or otherwise ones that would completely break the game by being summoned by a 2-mana card.

In a very similar way, an unnerfed Warsong Commander forces Blizzard to put every future 3-attack (or less) Warrior/Neutral creature under a microscope lest they repeat Grim Patron mistakes. Which is amusing in a way, considering I’m pretty sure Blizzard expressly considered the Grim Patron + Warsong Commander combo potential when they “fixed” Warsong Commander to also affect summoned (rather than simply played) minions.

The final thing I have to say is that I continue to be baffled by Blizzard’s balance philosophy here. How long does a clearly broken card or card interaction need to exist before it is addressed? The only real criteria seems to be “if it would embarrass us at Blizzcon.” Which is bonkers considering Hearthstone is perhaps the most perfect CCG to experience balance changes. There is no direct trading of cards in Hearthstone, no secondary market, so nerfing a card doesn’t actually destroy any value; every nerf is accompanied by getting full dust value of disenchanting the nerfed card, so you can spend that elsewhere. Compare that to Magic: the Gathering where a card getting banned in the Standard format can wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of value across the world.

In fact, do look at Magic. Back in January, Wizards of the Coast outright banned three cards and basically upended the Modern metagame thereby. Magic has a long history with errata as well, which is basically Wizards changing the text on printed, physical cards into something else. If you were just some high schoolers playing Magic on the weekends, you would just be left with some ridiculously powerful cards and no inkling that your combo wouldn’t actually work down at the comic shop or anywhere with an official judge. As far as I can tell, Wizards has really toned down the errata since the Urza’s expansions (which were the best), but the point is that they did it. And Blizzard doesn’t, when it would be incredibly easy to do so.

I know, I get it. If Blizzard changed things every time the metagame took an unhealthy turn, that in itself might make the metagame even worse. People might lose confidence in “investing” in Hearthstone, or may just throw their hands up and wait for nerfs to the best decks. Sometimes though, man, it makes it you think: if it’s unhealthy enough today to nerf, how long have we been unhealthy for what amounts to appearance’s sake?

Next Expansion Surprise

In a rather surprising twist, Blizzard announced it’s expansion announcement will be announced during Gamescon on August 6th. That’s a full three months ahead of Blizzcon, which has been the traditional venue for such news. Speculation abounds for the reasoning behind the early reveal, but I feel Wilhelm is on point with this observation:

[…] the date seems set to come in just after we get the Activision-Blizzard quarterly results for the second quarter of 2015 and, most importantly, the WoW subscription numbers that will come with it.  That hits on August 4th according to the investor relations site.

For the first quarter of 2015 the subscription numbers were down to 7.1 million.  Now there is a rush to get the next expansion announced early in August, a slow news month, well before BlizzCon, and just after the quarterly report?

WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

As mentioned in the MMO-Champ comments, what is also amusing is the hypothetical future in which the next expansion is released by the end of the year. Amusing because the “flying patch” still hasn’t came out yet, and thus we might have (inadvertently?) been put into the “unlock flying in Draenor when the expansion launches” scenario.

But how likely is a December 2015 release really? Blizzard has promised quicker launches for ages now, and I don’t think anyone thinks they are capable of doing so. Even if the August reveal is a fully playable beta… would Blizzard only run an expansion beta for 3-4 months? Maybe. I believe Warlords was 5 months from alpha to beta to release. If we see an expansion announcement in August followed by a beta test after Blizzcon in November, that would set them up for a mid-summer expansion release around the time of the WoW movie. That makes more sense to me… and puts the 6.2 raid tier at 10-12 months long. Just like the good ole’ days.

As for predictions over subscriber numbers? I honestly have no idea. I obviously suspect a large subscriber loss in the last quarter, but I have no idea how the numbers will be finessed by the WoW Token. I have eight such tokens sitting in my inventory right now, for example. Am I counted as a subscriber? Will they continue counting me for eight months despite my not redeeming said tokens? Tough to say.

Just to throw out a number though: 6.5 million.