You would be forgiven for not following the changes to the Humble Choice subscription, as it has gone through a number of iterations over the years. The latest move was to basically do away with all the previous nonsense of four tiers and go back to “pay $12 for X games.” I mean, it was clever of them to crank up the FOMO in canceling your Classic subscription, knowing it would cost you 60% more a month if you came crawling back. But unfortunately for them, that coincided with both a dearth of worthwhile bundle offerings and blistering competition from Game Pass and Epic Store (to an extent).
Seriously, looking at my Humble account, the last bundle I actually purchased was in April 2020. I maintained my Classic subscription this whole time by “Pausing” it each month, in the hopes I would find something worthwhile next time. I forgot to pause it like six times overall, but requested and received refunds each time. Not everyone bothers though, and that is why companies pull this shit.
Ironically, due to the changes, I was actually feeling good about finally canceling the subscription altogether instead of constantly pausing. The sweeteners that Humble are adding to keep people subscribed… don’t quite it hit the mark. Unless the mark was my face, in which case it slapped.
Previously, if you were an Active subscriber in the Classic/Premium tier, you had a 20% discount in the Humble Store. Pause a month and you lost that discount, but it went back to 20% if you actually bought a particular month’s bundle. Now there is a loyalty system in which consecutive months of subscribership are necessary to reach the 20%. Crucially, if you pause/skip a month, the discount resets to the lowest level (10%). Buy 11 months in a row but not feeling the 12th? Back to 10% for you.
Granted, some of this concern is moot. The only game I have ever directly bought off the Humble Store was Rimworld, precisely because the devs never let it go on sale, thus getting a discount via storefront was worthwhile. However, over the intervening years other storefronts (GMG, Fanatical) have better/comparable discounts without the hoops.
Humble is also introducing a standalone app that will let you play a small assortment of Humble-owned games as long as you are subscribed. Many of these are already on the Game Pass or given away for free on Epic. This is in addition to the “Trove” of DRM-free games that you could download and keep playing forever afterwards. Neither of which seem particularly compelling considering you could probably just subscribe for a month, get your fill, and be done. A Game Pass this is not.
That said… I might actually comp this month:
Black Book is a deck-building whatever, so I’m in; Per Aspera is another Mars building sim; Everhood is an Undertale-esque rhythm game; Calico is cats; Before We Leave and Paradise Lost are probably good for an evening.
Then we have Borderlands 3, which I have mixed feelings about. Loved BL2, bounce on Pre-Sequel after 18 hours, and otherwise feel that the particular sub-genre the franchise belongs to has been supplanted. Seriously, I’m not sure how you can play a looter-shooter with bullet-sponge bosses anymore without, you know, a dodge-roll or something. Does BL3 have dodges? If not, I’m going to struggle a bit. And that’s besides the logistical point that the game has two Season Passes worth of DLC on top. Some people have mentioned that there isn’t a “complete the bundle” option for BL3 on Steam, so it might end up being more expensive buying it via Humble and then buying the DLC.
Then again, what use would DLC be if I never make it through the base game?
Anyway. I have until the end of the month to waffle on whether Humble deserves my $12. This is certainly an improvement on the last two years of offerings, but time will tell how they follow up. Or if they can follow up, given how much goodwill they burned up to this point between the multiple tier nonsense, the poor game bundles, and pulling the rug from out under legacy subscribers.
Bethesda recently removed the Nuclear Winter battle royale mode from Fallout 76, and replaced it with Fallout Worlds. This new feature is intended to satisfy the promise of modding within Fallout 76.
Essentially, it allows you to spin up your own Private World (a feature that already exists) but then tweak a large number of “developer” settings. For example, you can remove building restrictions, remove crafting restrictions (i.e. infinite materials), give yourself infinite ammo, crank up/down NPC damage and a number of other settings. Access to this feature does require a “Fallout 1st” subscription, same as normal Private Worlds, although there is a free “community” version that is intended to… something. Advertise the feature? Give bored people something else to do?
There is a catch though: while you can clone your character over to Worlds, they cannot come back.
A large number of people in the Fallout 76 community consider Worlds a waste of developer time. Originally, I did too. What’s the point? Why spend developer time on a feature that has no progression? All of the time you spend in Worlds doing whatever is isolated to Worlds alone, even if the only thing you tweak is goofy things like exaggerated ragdoll effects or more frequent rad storms. I suppose it might also be nice for those people who want to test out certain Legendary builds without needing to track down/grind out specific weapons.
The counter-argument that got me though was this: who says you have to come back?
Almost three years ago, I made the argument that Fallout 76 was a survival game. And, well, I sure as hell ain’t playing ARK on default settings. There isn’t anything approaching the ridiculousness of dino babysitting for literal real-world hours in Fallout 76, but there is an argument to be made that some elements of the experience diminish fun rather than facilitate. Things like grinding out multiple Daily Ops just for the free ammo to feed your minigun so you can use it in Public Events. Infinite ammo would cut out a significant possible gameplay loop, but again, some loops are better than others.
There is also the fact that a solo world is what many people have been asking for all along. Private Worlds already exist as a feature under the subscription, and has the bonus of allowing you to preserve your unified character progress in Adventure Mode. But what is that really? You also level up in custom Worlds, possibly at a faster rate. The two things you miss are the sort of Season rewards – most of which can be boiled down to resource gifts – and… other people. You can invite others to your own Custom Worlds, and they can even rejoin that specific Custom World without you having to be online, but there is otherwise no random people drifting in.
And that’s the real downside, not the forked progression. Other people have certainly been distracting during story progression, but Show & Tell is a strong motivator for emergent gameplay. I can’t tell you how many times I have strolled into a random person’s CAMP just looking to browse their vendor wares and then end up shamed how great their camp looks compared to my Oscar the Grouch roleplay (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). I have built elaborate nonsense in ARK and Valheim and similar games before with full knowledge that none would witness its greatness. It’s easier in those games though, because other people never existed to me. Here, it’s different.
Having said all that, I have no particular desire to fork over subscription money to access Fallout Worlds. I now understand the appeal though, even if it’s not directly appealing to me. I happen to enjoy rummaging through literal post-apocalypse garbage and slowly accumulating all the things.
If you don’t, well, Bethesda has you covered now.
We desperately need a consolidated list of the games available via subscription services.
As mentioned on Monday, the Epic Store has a $10 coupon available on games that cost more than $14.99. Having already bought Outward, I browsed the entire Epic catalog (219 games) for games that would qualify that I was also interested in. Next game up was Vampyr. I had been enjoying Rohan’s posts on the game and thought I should get in on the action. But I had a vague sense of unease. Where had I seen that before…?
Yep, Vampyr is included in the Xbox PC Game Pass. Which means I was about to purchase the game for $7 when I could technically play it for “free.” Oh, and it’s also on Origin Premier… which would give you access to Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, that new game that just game out. It was thus with a bit of trepidation that I ended up confirming that Outward was not in any game subscription list. But how could I be so sure for other games?
I thought I already purged my Steam wishlist, for example, but Astroneer is still on there (Game Pass). So was Pyre (Origin Premier). They Are Billions (Origin Premier). I even paused my Humble
Monthly Choice bundle for December, because one of the headlining games – Shadow of the Tomb Raider – was technically a part of Game Pass already. Granted, it is console-only and not PC, but it’s really all about the principle at this point.
This is my future now. Checking IsThereAnyDeal used to put me at ease, but these days if I don’t already own the game from an Epic Store/Twitch Prime/Humble Bundle, then I could still play for next to nothing via subscription. It used to be that vague senses of “ownership” would drive me to care about purchasing over “renting,” but those sentiments have long since withered away.
As you may have heard from other bloggers, the Xbox Ultimate Game Pass is an extremely good deal. Even if you do not partake in all the Xbox Gold shenanigans – purchasing cheaper game months and then upgrading them to Ultimate via this $1 deal – it is kind of a no-brainer. I looked at the list of available games that I might be interested in and… well, see for yourself:
- The Outer Worlds
- Darksiders 3
- RAGE 2
- Halo: Master Chief Collection
- Gears 5, 4, etc
- Into the Breach
- Metro: Exodus
- Middle-Earth: Shadow of War
Will I be able to complete all of those games before my three months are up? Probably not. I can barely complete a goddamn dungeon in whatever game I happen to be playing at the moment. However. Just the fact that I’m playing The Outer Worlds for $1 is enough to justify everything else.
As an aside, I was initially thrown off by the advertised “$44.99/quarter” price once this $1 thing runs out. Then a calculator showed me that that’s $15/month. The PC-only “beta” version of the Game Pass is advertised at $5/month, “marked down” from $10/month. Everyone knows I am downright cruel when it comes to pinching pennies, but goddamn. People were talking about how Stadia was going to change gaming forever, but the Netflix future for gaming is already here.
PRIVATE WORLDS, SCRAPBOXES & MORE COME TO FALLOUT 76 WITH FALLOUT 1ST
Ever since Fallout 76 launched, we have consistently worked to improve and evolve the experience based on your feedback. That’s why we’re excited to launch Fallout 1st, a premium membership that offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends. In addition to this huge feature, Fallout 1st also includes a host of exclusive items and membership bonuses, all of which you can find detailed below. And the best part? Fallout 1st is available right now.
Yep, Fallout 76 now has a $13/month (or $100/year) subscription option.
Reddit is understandably losing its shit.
The subscription itself unlocks Private Worlds, e.g. your own personal game world that up to seven other friends can join, infinite Scrap storage, a tent to act as a mobile second base, a monthly stipend of Atoms (premium currency), and some lookalike NCR armor from New Vegas. And emotes or something.
While it came as a shock to most everyone, Bethesda did “prime the pump” last week though, when they flat-out said they’ll be selling utility in the Cash Shop going forward:
Our approach to [Atom Shop] items at launch was to keep them purely cosmetic. But after looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop.
While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collectron Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop. We’re also still working on all the previously announced items and new cosmetic categories.
Of course, players can also buy Atoms, and we’re careful with everything we add to not upset the game’s balance. Our main objective is to avoid a situation where players can spend money to gain a competitive advantage or make the game worse for other players. Even more so, we want systems that allow players who do choose to buy Atoms to make the game better for others, not just themselves. With these principles in mind, we make careful decisions about the items we offer to keep it fair for everyone.
That was the same News post that stated the much-anticipated Wastelanders update – which will see the introduction of actual NPCs – was delayed into Q1 of next year to, and I quote with heavy emphasis, “make sure the work we’re doing hits our quality bar, and yours.” Er, yeah. Sure.
The tragedy is that I can see where Bethesda was coming from.
Private servers and the eventual modding piece that goes with it has indeed been one of the most requested features since before the game even launched. Now it’s here. Considering that Fallout 76 basically runs off of Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was never going to be a “use your own hardware to host” scenario. Which means a subscription. So they made one. And if you already have a subscription offering, why not throw in a few additional features to try and entice the people who don’t care about private servers? Hence all the ancillary stuff like the Tent, infinite Scrap box, etc.
Where the dick meets the car door though is the timing.
Imagine if Wastelanders was coming out next week. A huge, sprawling NPC horde that changed damn near every inch of the game world with new quests, factions, and activities. Imagine that it was… at least passably decent. In the midst of all this positive press, imagine Bethesda rolling out this subscription, letting you have your private Fallout experience with no one killing the NPCs or starting quests before you get there. Some of the outrage would still be there – Bethesda has claimed Stash space is limited for server stability reasons, but the Scrap Box can also exist in public servers – but Wastelanders itself could be pointed to as being “free DLC” as promised.
Alas, it was delayed and the suits decided to roll out Fallout 1st anyway.
To be clear, I have no interest in defending Bethesda per se. This subscription was rolled out despite the Wastelanders delay because whatever dipshit suit in charge didn’t want to lose the holiday cash. Hell, the subscription was rolled out despite the “private” servers themselves being already-looted empty servers, with no control over who on your friend list can join. Oh, and the Scrap box is eating scrap too, I guess?
To an extent, none of this matters. Not because “it’s Fallout 76,” but because whales in gaming are not an endangered species and each dollar they spend on shit like this is a vote you never get to make with a boycott. People were calling bullshit on these lines from Bethesda:
We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collection Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop.
…but are you really sure that it’s bullshit? Does it really surprise you that utility items were added and that people buy them by the thousands? Shit, a while back I was logging into Guild Wars 2 every day for a month hoping that Character Slots would go on sale in the Utility tab of the cash shop. I barely even play GW2! That was just for Character Slots too, and not any of their actual Utility items like daily resource nodes, special zones with crafting stations, and so on. Fallout 76 is no GW2 or Elder Scrolls Online though, so the hubris is especially galling despite the methods being identical.
My prediction? The subscription details will eventually change, private servers will actually be private, and mods will change how the whole system works on a fundamental level. People who still don’t like survival games will continue to not play Fallout 76 anyway, and yet they will still buy Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 on release because self-control across a population that is 72% overweight/obese is clearly not a strong suit. And really, why wouldn’t you play games that give 40-400+ hours of fun just because another team in the studio keeps slamming their dick in a car door?
Then again, maybe I have just been reheated one times too many.
When the videogame historians look back on this particular monetization strata, it will undoubtedly be the Season Pass era. Or perhaps the Microtransaction era more generally, to include loot boxes, but with legislators and science slowly turning against loot boxes, I feel like more and more games will be making a hard turn into the Season Pass model.
To be clear, I am not referring to the Season Passes of yore, in which you essentially pre-ordered DLC. The new hotness is basically a month-to-month subscription. This most recently slapped me in the face in Clash Royale:
Someone on Reddit wrote up all the incentives that your $5 will purchase, and the list is somewhat enticing. None of them are technically P2W, which is itself a moot point because you could drop $99 on shit from basically day 1 in Clash Royale anyway. Indeed, if you look at the package in comparison to what your hard-earned cash could buy normally, you’re effectively getting 10x-11x the normal value. Five dollars will get you 500 gems, which can convert to 10,000g or two emotes or two Lightning Chests… or basically give you 40,000+ gold, 800 more cards (including 60+ Epics) and a bunch of other stuff.
Of course, Supercell doesn’t want it to be an either/or scenario. You can do both. Having an exceptionally generous Season Pass can lure F2P players into making their first purchase, after which it is easy to make another. One of the “perks” of the one in Clash Royale is an auto-announcement in Clan chat that you purchased the pass, and thereafter your name shows up in gold coloring in chat and battling. Turns out that adding gold leaf to a scarlet letter makes it rather desirable.
The dilemma I face is the same as always: I am caught in eye of the monetization storm.
As the screenshot shows, I am one Miner card away from having a fully-maxed deck. I am sorely tempted to purchase the Season Pass entirely to get that last Miner card. It would normally not be too difficult to trade for it within my current clan, but there are at least three other members currently asking for Miners themselves, and none seem keen to trust me in giving up one of their so I can max the card and satisfy an effectively infinite number of trades thereafter.
After that though… what then? I have dozens of technically maxed cards that I cannot actually max out because I lack the gold to upgrade them all. Not that I would need to max them out in the first place, considering I don’t use them in decks. The deck I have is the one I enjoy the most. The last two slots are technically flex slots, but I have tried a bunch of alternatives and found them lacking.
Would the new Fisherman legendary card be a good fit? Completely irrelevant. New legendaries may as well not exist, because I would need literal dozens of them to get them anywhere near usable levels where I’m sitting on the ladder (~5800 last season) and in 2v2. Granted, the Fisherman has some utility outside of his base HP and damage – the ability to hook and pull troops around like Roadhog from Overwatch – but I’m still not bringing that to match that matters.
In any event, the Season Pass model gives me pause. In the context of cash purchases within Clash Royale, it’s a great deal. Would I pay a $5/month subscription to Clash Royale though? Nope. It’s not a subscription though, as there are no reoccurring payments. “Cancel any time!” And yet there will be tens of thousands who do re-up every month, for the rewards or the conveniences lost.
Technically this should be positive Consumer Surplus territory… so why do I feel so dirty?
Possibly because I felt the hook twitch. Supercell isn’t reeling in the line yet, but it’s there. Subscription versus Season Pass is a distinction without a difference, and yet those who would riot about the former in their game are praising the latter. It is a trick of psychology, a stark reminder we can be tricked, and evidence that we face amoral corporations that have a fiduciary obligation to their shareholders to trick us out of as much money as possible.
For however bad loot boxes may seem, never forget that loot boxes are apparently not enough.
My WoW subscription expires in two days, and I think I’ll let it.
This isn’t particularly Big News or anything, but experiencing the internal process has been interesting to me. I have been cashing out my gold for the past several weeks, to the point where I keep around 200k liquid gold, one WoW Token in the bags, and applying Blizzard Balance to the rest. Even now I could just right-click the WoW Token and be good for another month.
But what am I even doing?
Well, making gold. I still make Hexweave Bags because they still sell for 1400g despite current-expansion 30-slot bags go for 800g. I still do the MoP farm on one character, because those mats sell daily for around ~1500g. I herb whenever I run around on the Demon Hunter doing dailies (towards unlocking Pathfinder, Part 1), and that pulls in a couple extra grand. All told, I log in every day to the tune of 5k-10k a day. Peanuts to any serious goblin, but since I’m not seriously doing anything, getting paid $30-$45/month to play WoW seems pretty good. Especially when there is a spike in demand when the Warfront Contributions come around.
But… that’s it. There’s a bit more involved than the Garrison days, but I’m essentially logging in to collect my gold, muck around a bit to see if there are new markets to explore, and then logging off. That was good enough to justify things last month. Not so sure it still holds up this month.
Yeah, it’s probably for the best to let things lapse. I’ll check back in patch 8.1. Maybe. Fallout 76 beta should be in the next three weeks, so who knows.
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:
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.
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):
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.