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More BlizzCon Impressions

I neither went nor watched the BlizzCon festivities, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express read MMO-Champ. So here are all the tidbits from the coverage that I was interested in:

Patch 7.1.5 is coming

The first thing that I found amusing about the Patch 7.1.5 news is that it was described as a “small” patch. If you want to see a small patch, check out 6.1, eh?

In any case, the Panderia Time-Walking dungeons might be good for some people, but the bigger news is that the Brawler’s Guild is returning. I kinda missed the feature entirely when it was released, and only recently got interested after they took it back away. It’s goofy side content from what I understand, but hey, I have two quests for it already, so let’s bring it back.

The other intriguing change in 7.1.5 is that Artifact Knowledge will be “purchasable” at least up to level 10, if not higher. This is huge news for alts, whom have otherwise been hosed this entire expansion. Time will tell what form this “purchase” takes – Order Resources, Blood of Sargeras, gold? – but whatever it is should be relatively easy to overcome with a main running WQs.

Finally, Blizzard mentioned that 7.1.5 will be going on the PTR immediately after BlizzCon, then Live soon after. How soon is Soon(tm)? I want to say “not soon enough,” but honestly Nighthold is not even active yet, and that’s in the current patch. Will all these changes be rolling out before LFR even gets the last Nighthold boss unlocked? It certainly sounds that way. Which is kinda weird.

Patch 7.2 is coming

Biggest news is, of course, that Flying is getting unlocked in 7.2. I have already jumped through the Legion Pathfinder, Part 1 hoops, so I should be in good shape for whatever nonsense is required in Part 2. Word from Blizzard is that it won’t require any group content, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still be tedious.

The Tomb of Sargeras raid will open up, with Kil’Jaeden being the confirmed last boss. Which is interesting for all sorts of reasons, which I will touch on later.

What is definitely interesting to me is the introduction of “PvP Brawls.” The concept was first introduced in Hearthstone and then Overwatch later, and now we see it migrating to WoW. In short, Blizzard is finally letting its hair down and introducing more free-form experiments in game modes. 15×15 Arenas? Tarren Mill vs Southshore? Bring them on.

This is a fairly big deal because it allows Blizzard to essentially playtest these game concepts without their typical perfectionist straight-jacket. Things not work out? Oh well, it’ll rotated out next week. Blizzard has used this test bed to good effect in Hearthstone, as it resulted in Discover – by far the best card effect introduced since the game’s release. Perhaps we’ll eventually see that Arathi Basin bridge deathmatch mode that we have all wanted for years.

Patch 7.2.5 is coming

We haven’t heard much about 7.2.5 other than it will exist. Which is nice to know. Especially since it appears that we have another bombshell waiting in the wings:

Patch 7.3 is coming?

MMO-Champion just sort of teased the news, but Legion will legitimately have a patch 7.3 and we will legitimately be heading to Argus, according to a Polygon interview with Ion Hazzikostas. And then he had this to say:

“It felt like the right time,” Hazzikostas said. “I don’t know if Argus would hold up as an expansion in and of itself. We could make up a whole lot of ecologies and things there, but at the end of the day, it would feel like a very one-note, alien expansion.”

Instead, he explained, the developer decided to make Argus the climax to the current expansion. Players will head to the demon world to try to push back this massive force once and for all. He compared it to the ending of one of his favorite games of all time.

“It’s kind of like the end of Mass Effect 2,” said Hazzikostas. “We’ve been fighting on our end. Now we’re going on our suicide mission, because this is the only way to save ourselves.”

That… is pretty fucking cool. I haven’t been this excited about the WoW plot since Wrath.

For those that might not be up on the lore, Argus is the original homeworld of the Draenei, and the Velen, Kil’Jaeden, and Archimonde triad. It is, in fact, considered the “beating heart” of the Burning Legion and its de facto capital. Going there is Big News, and has been speculated for a while to be the location of WoW’s “final” expansion, insofar as it is the most likely place one would encounter Sargeras himself.

The interesting thing is the fact that we are facing Kil’Jaeden in the Tomb of Sargeras in patch 7.2. Argus is supposed to be ruled by Kil’Jaeden personally, which leads to two interesting scenarios. First, perhaps we are invading Argus specifically because it temporarily loses its leader in the 7.2. raid. No sense attacking Kil’Jaeden at the seat of his power, right?

But there is another possibility. Remember how demons, elementals, etc, don’t actually die unless they are killed in the plane they are from? What if part of the reason we head to Argus is to kill Kil’Jaeden again, this time permanently?

Technically, I think Archimonde was sent back to the Twisting Nether after Mount Hyjal, and the jury might still be out regarding what happened to him at the end of Draenor (was he in the Twisting Nether during the final phase?). But still, I find it odd that we’re heading to Argus after Kil’Jaedon’s (presumed) defeat in the Tomb if we aren’t finishing the job. There aren’t any Old Gods on Argus and I find it unlikely that we’ll be facing Sargeras himself – at most, I expect us to sacrifice all our artifacts to keep Sargeras from showing up. So… if not Kil’Jaedon/Archimonde, and not Sargeras, who are we fighting? A bunch of no-name demons?

I was skeptical along with the rest of the universe when it came to Blizzard promising that Legion would actually get supported content through the entire life of the expansion. And honestly, it still might be the case that there is a long content drought after 7.3 and before the next expansion. But, I gotta give credit where it is due: Blizzard is busting some ass. The bar is embarrassingly low for a billion dollar franchise, granted.

But I could get used to this. And certainly am, four WoW Tokens later.

Non-Asian WoW Accounts

File this under “Potentially Interesting Information.” MMO-Champion has a graph up showing the percentage of players (e.g. accounts, not characters) who have defeated various bosses in this raiding tier. This is how the data is described in the post:

The data used today is a sample made up of 2.1 million accounts, with at least one character active after April 1. The sample is slightly biased, as players who are not in a guild are much less likely to appear in our sample.

Someone in the comments made a dumb post that 2.1 million accounts isn’t representative of anything out of 7 million. Chaud popped into the comments to clarify:

You ignored the rest of the sentence and ignored the fact that ~half of the 7 million “subscribers” are in Asia, which we don’t track. We track a total of ~3.3 million US and EU accounts, which is likely the vast majority of them.

And further clarified how these figures are determined:

We only can see what you can see on armory. Achievements, ratings, season games played/won/lost. The other 1/3rd in our DB haven’t logged in since April 1.

It’s not news that about half of WoW’s total subscription numbers are NA/EU accounts, with the rest coming from South East Asia. This sort of information has been known for quite some time, even if we stopped getting regional figures around 2010:

WoW-Subs

I still miss MMOData…

 

What is significantly more interesting is that out of 3.3 million US/EU accounts, only 2.1 million have logged in once since April.

The reason this is merely interesting and not particularly ground-breaking news is due to all the unknowns. Around 1.2 million NA/EU accounts have not been logging in since April… but did they unsubscribe months beforehand, and therefore are already accounted for in the earlier subscriber drop? How many still have active subscriptions going, even if the person isn’t playing? What’s the margin on Chaud’s claim of “the vast majority” of accounts being counted? 95%? 80%? The difference between those two percentages is nearly another million subscriptions.

In any case… kinda interesting, yeah? WoW has always seemed like this unstoppable juggernaut, and still technically is in comparison to its peers. But the reality is that there are only 2.1 million players you could conceivably play with, and even less if you are playing on your own continent. Based on that graph above, the high point for WoW West was ~5 million. Now less than half are still online.

I’m still not convinced that FF14 will overtake WoW just yet overall, but that wall is looking more assailable every day. And who knows, there may already be more NA/EU players.

WoW Back to 10 Million Subs

Christmas came a little early at Irvine, as reported by MMO-Champ:

This afternoon Blizzard released the subscribers count as of November 13, 2014. This is up 2.6 million from the Q3 2014 call that listed WoW at 7.4 million subscribers.

Warlords of Draenor has sold over 3.3 million copies so far, up from 1.5 million pre-ordered in August.

There is an interactive graph on MMO-Champ, but for posterity’s sake here it is again:

That Bell Curve is looking more like an Arby's logo.

That Bell Curve might end up an Arby’s logo.

There is already a lot of prognostication and pontification out there as to what this means for WoW, what Blizzard is doing correct with Warlords (that presumably it did incorrect with Pandaria/Cataclysm), and so on. The only thing I know for sure is that everyone commenting is just firing blindly into the dark – not even Blizzard expected this level of engagement, as the server issues attest.

That being said, I just want to point out a few things that might get lost in the weeks and months ahead.

1) This is the largest expansion jump in the game.

Just look at that graph: 2.6 million people coming back is unprecedented. The next closest was the 900k bump coming into Pandaria. Prior to that, the norm was 500k. Of course, the total population had been the lowest it had ever been since vanilla WoW, but still, this clot of players would be enough to make any other MMO the #2 in the industry.

2) The Warlords endgame doesn’t even exist yet.

The first Warlords raid doesn’t unlock until December 2nd, two weeks from now. I’m pointing this out because all the people talking about a return to “old-school WoW” can only really be talking about story-wise or quest-wise. Or I suppose dungeon-wise, but I strongly doubt that.

3) WoW went 13 months with zero new content.

Siege of Orgrimmar was released September 10th, 2013. The pre-expansion patch 6.0.2 was released October 14th, 2014. You can view historical information in this Reddit thread, but the bottom line is that the next closest content drought was ~9 months at the end of Cataclysm. Technically there was a year inbetween Icecrown and Cataclysm’s release, but an extra raid was released in the middle of that. For similar reasons, I don’t count the gap between Black Temple and Sunwell back in TBC given the release of ZA (etc).

Guys, do you understand how impossibly stupid this is? Any other MMO that up and went dark for an entire year would be declared abandonware. Instead, WoW went from 7.6 million subs in Sept 2013 to 6.8 million at the lowest, then back to 7.4 million in anticipation of patch 6.0.2. And, as you know, it’s sitting at 10 million right now.

There is no clearer evidence demonstrating that WoW is more platform than game than this. Blizzard got a whole year of subscription payments and gave back nothing until now. It boggles the mind.

4) The 10 million figure doesn’t include China.

From the official press release:

The expansion launched today (November 20 local time) in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. […]

*More than 10 million subscribers as of November 13, 2014.

Given how “subscriptions” work over there, I suppose it’s possible for some “preorder” shenanigans or whatever to have influenced the final count (e.g. they’re already being counted). No doubt that Blizzard will be ready to fire off another press release about 11 million subs if the China/SK bump ends up being significant. I’m just saying it could be significant.


 

As for why Warlords is bringing everyone back, your guess is as good as mine.

You can’t really ascribe it entirely to the MMO Tourist/Locust phenomenon, simply because there’s too many people. There were 10 million subs at the start of Pandaria, so perhaps this can be expected to be the normal plateau, with ~2.5 million people cycling in and out as new expansions are released. Maybe Warlords has simply came out at an auspicious time, just as the darling MMOs from the last year begin their slow descent into obscurity. Or was it the revamped character models? Or the instant level 90, rescuing lapsed veterans from the horror of Cataclsym leveling? Or perhaps even the server merges connected realms change revitalized the community?

The safe (and lame) answer is most likely “some combination of all the above.”

I myself plan on coming back for the token month or so, starting whenever Blizzard decides to discount the expansion. And why would I do this? Well… the core game never stopped being fun for me – I simply ran out of things I wanted to do. As mentioned before, I have little interest in dedicating more mindspace learning to dance in raids, so there is ever a natural expiration date to my return. But compared to the token efforts I make trying out these other F2P (or soon to be) MMOs? I do miss that sweet, sweet feeling of character progression in a game that feels big enough to matter. And for me, that has always been WoW. And likely only ever will be.

Of course, I am kinda nervous about the culture shock of going back to tab-targeting and lack of Shift-running and/or double-jumping.

Ouch. WoW down another 1.3 million

As reported by MMO-Champion, the subscriber total was 8.3 million at the end of the quarter, a loss of 1.3 million subs since Q4 (which had its own 400k loss). For those keeping track at home, Blizzard had 9.1 million subs back on August 3rd, 2012, during an eight-month lull of zero content at the end of Cataclysm, i.e. pre-Mists of Pandaria. That is a net loss of 800k this expansion – with a 1.5 million sub rollercoaster in the middle – and the lowest subscriber count WoW has had since 2007.

By the way, RIP to MMOData.net, which has not made an update in nearly nine months now. How can we pontificate without graphs? Sigh.

I went and signed up to listen to the investor report as there was not a transcript available, wondering where MMO-Champ got the rest of those bullet points. Plus, you know, Press™:

Nothing could go wrong with this.

Nothing could go wrong with this.

To save yourself 38 minutes, just trust me when I confirm MMO-Champ got all the relevant information.

What did interest me though was hearing how ultra-conservative Activision Blizzard is. I mean, that sort of thing isn’t a particular trade secret, but when Bobby Kotick explained that the company wasn’t interested in the mobile sphere because the Top 10 titles change every year, I cocked an eyebrow. Call of Duty and WoW still have a lot of viable milking years ahead of them, but this is the same company that gushed about their $1 billion Skylanders franchise that didn’t even exist two years ago. If CoD: Ghost ends up pulling a Warfighter along with the further expected losses (their words) in WoW subs, you can almost imagine a scenario in which they conserve themselves right off a cliff by the end of this year.

But, alas, the money machines continue unabated.

Finally, I sort of chuckled at this part of the WoW presentation:

  • There has been less engagement by casual players.

Well… yeah. What did they imagine would happen when you release one of the most alt-unfriendly expansion in the history of the game? And then proceed to put everything behind a triple-gate of dailies and rep, all but remove leveling dungeons (only to put them back), and then essentially stop all production of 5m dungeons for the rest of the expansion? Oh, and don’t get me started on the continued embarrassment of no-pop servers languishing.

At this point, all I’m really interested in is Hearthstone (as hopefully a cheaper Magic: Online) and maybe Bungie’s new game; Titan has been too much of a cocktease for too long to even get a rise out of me anymore. Otherwise Activision-Blizzard might join the ranks of EA as a big-budget publisher who only produces one title that I am remotely interested in, with all the “risky” indie ventures soaking up the money I leave on the table.

And as Doone points out, that’s probably the best thing for everyone involved.

The Number of Subs Goes Up and Down, Up and Down

As MMO-Champion reports, WoW had “more than 9.6 million” subscribers as of December 31st, 2012. This is down at least 400k from what Blizzard reported at the end of Q3 2012. I’m not particularly interested in spin or theories of causes, because as we all know, these sort of losses are rarely attributable to any one thing.

I do find it useful though, to keep the following in mind: the subscriber count was 9.1 million back in August of 2012, pre-pandas. If this is what decline and a descent into irrelevance looks like, then we’re in for a pretty soft landing.