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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.

Minecraft Beats CoD

As reported by Kotaku:

[…] Since Major Nelson has publicized the numbers, the most popular game on Xbox Live—this is according to unique users playing the game while logging into the service, not just those playing multiplayer—has always been a first person shooter. Gears of War. Halo. And, for more than two years running, something from the Call of Duty series.

That came to an end this past week, when Minecraft‘s Xbox 360 edition emerged as the most played game on the Xbox 360. Back in May, the title—a console adaptation of the PC game, sold over Xbox Live Marketplace, now—finally broke Call of Duty‘s stranglehold on the top two of Xbox Live’s most active chart, something not even FIFA, the world’s most popular sports video game, could do.

In the week of Oct 15, Minecraft took No. 1.

And, of course, one of the very first comments is “One overrated game tops another.”

I have not booted up Minecraft since the beta ended – not out of hipster snobbery, but due to having gotten my 100+ hour fill already – so I cannot really speak to the game as it exists currently. But let me just say: good goddamn job. Although there have undoubtedly been indie game successes before this one, I think the gaming historians of the future will look back and catalog indie games as being BM (Before Minecraft) and AM (After Minecraft).

Going from 1-2 programmers to knocking Call of fucking Duty out of the number one slot on Xbox Live is a success story for the ages.

Kinda makes me wonder whether this topical (MMO) sandbox debate has some traction. Is Minecraft just an Angry Birds, e.g. hugely popular in a self-contained way with few derivatives? Or is it more of an iPad phenomenon, e.g indicative of consumers being introduced to something they did not realize they wanted (like tablet computers)?

Start your betting here.