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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.

To Discourage Their Purchase

Amidst all the flying talk, one of the minor details of 6.2 that you might have missed was that the Apexis Crystal gear was being changed from requiring, well, Apexis crystals to straight gold. The pricing information as it currently stands on the PTR seems… well, just look at it:

Hmm.

Hmm.

As a point of reference, the highest tier of Apexis gear is the same ilevel as what drops in the LFR version of the new 6.2 raid. As another point of reference, the average price of a WoW Token in the US is around ~22,000g. Hmm.

Some people are more than eager to connect the dots:

I don’t think you quite understand the concept of P2W. In 6.2 a player can get a high level armor set without fighting 1 mob, player, gathering node, pet battle, or entering 1 raid/dungeon. Buying gold from the Blizzard shop and then buying apexis armor with that gold is the definition of P2W.

Blizzard has never sold gear with such a high ilvl as they release “new” content, but 6.2 changes that. Also for years Blizzard fought gold sellars and buyers (limited bans were common), but they now sell gold themselves.

It’s a good talking point, aside from the fact that players will have to do something between level 90 and 100 before they can equip the gear. And, technically, this was possible the moment the WoW Token went live insofar as buying BoE items from the AH.

But then I read Blizzard’s response and all my sympathy simply evaporated:

Ah, yes. “To discourage their purchase.” So you introduced a new gold-for-gear system into WoW, which just so happens to be a few months after introducing purchasable gold… but don’t want people to use it. And you price it around the same rate as the WoW Token you sell for $20. HMM.

Hey, weren’t you guys pulling shit off the Black Market AH because you didn’t want to portray even the slightest hint that you were directly selling gear for cash? Whatever happened with that?

To be clear, this doesn’t upset me because I believe it to be actual P2W shenanigans. What exactly do you win after spending $120 and being on the same level as anyone in LFR? What upsets me is this slow-motion, amateur-hour PR disaster in the making.¹ That and the fact Blizzard has used the outrageous excuse of “to discourage their purchase” to justify $25 server transfers for years. Not because it’s a high-margin revenue stream with inelastic demand, heavens no! It’s for their customer’s own good. Blizzard is practically doing us a favor for charging so much!

For the longest time I have sought to moderate the absurd histrionics I’ve encountered regarding WoW. Things like the removal of atunements, introduction of LFD/LFR, hybrid taxes, Old Blizzard vs New Blizzard, and so on. Not to defend Blizzard for the sake of Blizzard, but to defend rational design decisions in their own contexts.

This shit, though? Holy Jesus. The individual components of the change are not necessarily bad on their own, but the roll-out and communication is absolutely tone-deaf and Blizzard deserves all the shit they (hopefully) get over it. “To discourage their purchase.” I just… I can’t even.

¹ I technically wrote this before the whole flying fiasco started to unravel.

No-Fly Zone

[Update: No flying ever, apparently. Remember when WoW had sane lead designers?]

Has the lack of flying in Warlords made the world feel larger?

Like a surprising number of people, I occasionally forget that there isn’t flying in Draenor. I have only really noticed the lack here recently due to two factors: leveling my druid (now level 89) and trying to do Archaeology on my main. And it was really the latter situation that reminded me of why I always say that to make a world feel larger, you simply put more things in it. This is opposed to the current design, where you simply make everyone move slower.

Does anyone actually feel like Draenor is bigger than, say, Pandaria? Or Northrend? I only recently activated my second WoW Token for this expansion, but I have long since ran out of reasons to care about the world. Questing is still in tightly-packed hubs, so the ground-mount limitation only means the time between quest pick-up and quest turn-in is longer, not any of my actual gameplay. Hitting up resource nodes is a massive pain, but Garrisons really cover that anyway. If for some reason I feel compelled to do the Apexis daily, they might as well have teleported me there, because I immediately Alt-Tab out of the game while on Flight Paths.

If anything, I would argue that the lack of flying has actually resulted in less gameplay, not more. As I mentioned before, I was trying to do some Archaeology on my main the other day and barely managed to get through two digsites before logging out in disgust. Archaeology is already a time-sink of incredible magnitude, but I’m not about to waste even more time traversing asinine landscapes specifically designed to thwart shortcuts/exploration. I can attack 30-foot tall Old Gods, but that intentionally annoying 5-foot slope is impassible.

Don’t even get me started on how being limited to ground mounts has driven me to exclusively use the Water Strider mount. When all other mounts are functionally identical except for two which allow you to bypass all water hazards, it becomes dumb to use anything else. I spent five years farming the Raven Lord mount, actually acquired it two weeks ago, and only ever use it inside my Garrison.

I can empathize with Blizzard’s desires here. They want a guided experience, and to know that a player will experience this particular vista at this time at this place. But it’s bullshit. You still get that by limiting flying to the level cap. If you want us with boots on the ground, how about giving us a reason to have boots on the ground? Like, I dunno, daily quests?

I feel like this entire expansion has been a long string of comical blunders achieving the exact opposite of stated goals. Remove flying to make the world feel bigger? The world isn’t bigger, there’s just more empty space inbetween points of interest. Nevermind how Blizzard “made the world bigger” but somehow ended up putting fewer things to do in it.

As I mentioned before, I just turned in my second WoW Token. Unless I really get sucked into PvP though, I can’t imagine myself turning in a third one. My prior plan was to stick around into 6.2 long enough to cash in on the whole Felblight deal and set myself up nicely gold-wise for the next expansion. Given how rapidly I am depleting my WoW Bucket List however, I’m not sure I’m going to make it.

As the WoW Token Turns

You probably heard about the WoW Token already, and might even be aware it was finally implemented yesterday. What you might not know is that it does strange things to people.

Strange, terrible things.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

Damn, so close to 2 years.

What I knew going into this is that I wanted to jump on the opportunity the WoW Token represents, which is: a gold sink for the AH goblin that has (had) everything. Shit man, back in the day I was experimenting with selling stuff like Vial of the Sands, which was a crafted mount that required an extraordinary sunk gold cost right at the start. If it was not profitable, I would move on with the next bit of expensive AH R&D. It wasn’t millions of gold (Glyph spamming the AH was boring), but I was making gold just to make gold, you know? I couldn’t really bring myself to actually spend it on anything as I knew most things would be irrelevant by the next patch anyway; I wasn’t raiding, so who cares?

Queue my slight anxiety at the following error message:

Been down this road before.

Been down this road before.

Was I hacked? Had my sizable stockpile been removed? I mean, I can clearly see my fully-dressed namesake there in the background, so I wasn’t stripped bare. Plus, the Authenticator was still humming along, not to mention my frequent bouts in Hearthstone, which I assume might have been in jeopardy had my characters in WoW been banned. Then again, maybe not. Whatever the case, I wasn’t able to purchase WoW Tokens from the character select screen.

And the story might have begun and ended there. Purchasing game time so I could log in and purchase more game time kinda defeats the purpose of WoW Tokens, yeah? If you’ll notice in the first screenshot though, I was still able to redeem my free 10-day trial of Warlords and take full stock of the situation.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Where I logged off two years ago.

Observations:

  1. Damn, the default interface is still really terrible.
  2. I’m glad I set up the Curse Client all those years ago to manage my addons.
  3. Oh hey, the Curse Client updates addons but doesn’t save any of the settings.
  4. Recreating an interface I actually want to use is going to be an all-night project.
  5. I’d rather be playing Dead Island: Riptide.
  6. Oh, right, WoW Tokens.

I ended up purchasing four WoW Tokens at around 31,000g apiece. Before I logged off, I poked around the AH some to see the general prices of things. Even though I’ve only been back for a hot minute, my mind already sees the dollar signs creeping in:

It has begun.

I can’t turn that part of my brain off.

It’s just a matter of time until someone writes a tiny add-on that projects these prices in-game.

But will it actually matter in the scheme of things? It’s hard to tell. I ended up buying nine (9!) WoW Tokens before calling it a night. The limit is supposedly ten tokens per month, and I might end up shuffling gold around to do just that. You know, to say that I did.

But then it hit me: I now have nine months of WoW subscription. Assuming I play the game at all, that means pretty much any gold I generate between now and the next expansion will be pure bonus. So while I can still see those dollar signs in a general sense, what they represent (i.e. additional game time) is not nearly as valuable as before I had nine tokens.

By the way, between the time I originally bought four tokens and the last five, the price had dropped to 26,000g.

Now the fun (?) begins.

Now the fun (?) begins.

It shall be an interesting dynamic, yeah? On the one hand, I find it hard to believe that enough people have spent $20 on tokens to sell in the ~2 hours between the first batch I purchased and the second. On the other hand, Blizzard has so warped the playerbase over the years that $60 boosts and $25 character transfers have long ceased raising eyebrows. I personally know a few people who have transferred characters a half-dozen times (or more) following a migrating guild or chasing progression. In that sense, what’s another $20 here and there for gold?

The alternative theory is a bit more grim. Perhaps instead of there being too many extra sellers, maybe there aren’t enough buyers? If there is indeed an account-level limit of 10 tokens, there can’t be a mass-dumping of gold into the economy as even AH barons cap themselves out. We also know that the vast majority of MMO players are poor. So the actual market for these tokens will just be a narrow wedge of players who can make gold easily and don’t care about raiding, else they would be chasing the BoE epics that give them 5% better stats. And as I mentioned before, even these players will likely tap themselves out before too long – once you go past 3-4 months of paid time, what’s a fifth month really worth?

It will be an interesting year for WoW, that’s for sure. And if for some reason it isn’t… well, I’ll just let the account lapse and then revive it once it gets interesting again. For free. Forever.