Thursday, November 19, 2015

Heads, I play SWTOR, and tails... Hmm... Maybe best two of three...

I've found myself strangely reluctant to make that leap and take a character into the new SWTOR expac.

Whenever I get on the servers, I putter around with checking out the companion stories I never completed, goof off in the fleet, and buzz around Taris and Hoth.

I can't really explain it, since there's no good reason why I couldn't take my Inquisitor into Knights of the Fallen Empire; she'd completed all of the questlines up through Shadow of Revan, and I wasn't doing much of anything with her.*

The auto-leveling that goes on now in the low level zones means that while I can go there, I can't just zoom on by like before. And yes, I do approve of the auto-leveling for low level zones, but I will have to pay more attention when clowning around in Tatooine, for example.

It could be my concern that keeps me from reading novels these days: I won't know when to quit. I have that problem when reading a good book; I'll be reading in the evening, and I'll finally start to get tired, look around and.... It's 4:30 AM.


I could see myself doing that with Knights (and Dragon Age, if I'm being honest). After all, I did it with regular class stories in SWTOR, the WoW leveling experiece, and in other games (such as Age of Conan or Star Trek Online). Hell, I've done it with Civ IV, and that doesn't exactly have an externally defined story at all.

My problem is that I'm no longer a spring chicken, and being up most of the night, consumed in a book or game, will take a much harder toll on me now.


While I dither about SWTOR, I've continued to play Wildstar.

I've finally grown to a kind of mental truce about the post-apocalyptic cartoon sexy style that is the toon character design. Part of that is because the questlines and the overarching story don't make a mention of the semi-skimpy nature of the toon and clothing designs, and part of it is because I've actually grown fond of the absolutely goofy design. Right now, my Stalker's headgear makes him look like The Tick's weird younger brother, and so I have this running commentary in my head when he's jumping around:  "SPOOOOOON!!!!!"

As far as the World Story goes, hmm..... I'm up past the third World Story part, and I will freely admit that I wasn't expecting Wildstar's world story to move in the direction it did. It now seems more conventional than at first glance**, but right now it wouldn't shock me if the story took another sharp turn towards the unknown. I do like what I see so far, and I'm still hooked, but I'm still on the fence as far as the story goes.***


And to nobody's surprise, I've not progressed much at all in NaNoWriMo, and the youngest Mini-Red has already far outstripped my word output.

One of these years I'm going to get into a situation where I can take a couple of days off in early/mid November and spend it just writing.

Okay, who am I kidding? That's not gonna happen.

*I don't even do anything with housing with her, because a) I haven't bothered getting a place on Dromund Kaas and b) I tend to be a lousy decorator. I know beauty when I see it, but actually creating a beautiful environment? Well, I don't have that touch.

**If you play WoW, think of some of the things associated with Twilight's Hammer and a lot of the Old Gods type of stuff and you've got the idea.

***See? I could talk about something like this without spoilers!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Lack of Something

I've caught up a bit on the news out of BlizzCon, and it seems that Blizz has made a couple of announcements:

  • Legion, the new WoW expac, will drop in "Summer 2016". The placeholder is "on or before September 21, 2016".*
  • Activision Blizzard will no longer release subscriber numbers as part of financial quarterly statements.**
The former isn't exactly a surprise to me. For all their talk about speeding up releases, Blizzard remains incapable of pushing the release cycle beyond the (roughly) 2 year mark. And this was even when Blizz decided to not wait until BlizzCon and release the name of the new expac at Gamescom. Blizz also stopped major content patches for Warlords significantly earlier than in prior expacs, with the unspoken promise of a quicker release cycle for the next expac.

As for the latter, I'm not surprised. At all.

WoW's subscriber numbers were stable from June 2015 (5.6 million) to September 2015 (5.5 million), but Blizzard's announcement of Legion came in August. Speculation ran rampant on various message boards that Blizz was going to release significantly earlier than they had in previous expacs --maybe even as soon as BlizzCon itself-- and I'm sure that kept people subscribed through the latest quarterly ending.

But with Legion's release sometime in Summer (people will hope for June, but will likely see an August or September release), you can expect subs to plummet.

The subscriber number problem has become an albatross for Activision Blizzard, so they are now attempting to jettison it entirely.*** The thing is, Activision Blizzard loved to trumpet their WoW subscriber numbers when it was a positive, so its absence will be interpreted by analysts as a potentially major problem facing the studio. The corporate finance people can talk all they want about better metrics for the health of the game, but they set the standard for years by talking about subscriber numbers, and you can't simply sweep that under the rug.

That said, a reduction in subscriber numbers is going to have an impact on development of the game. WoW has long been a cash cow for Blizzard, and a reduction in that cash flow means that they've got tighter financial constraints on future projects. 


What does this mean long term? 

Blizzard is likely to depend more on Overwatch, Hearthstone, and HotS to provide income where WoW is no longer able to. I believe it a very shrewd business decision that Activision Blizzard is opening it's own television/movie studio, and its first project is the wildly popular Skylanders property. Not WoW, not StarCraft, not Diablo, but Skylanders.

That's where the money is these days, and Activision Blizzard is chasing that money.****

Oh, and one more thing: without subscriber numbers, Blizzard is now free to experiment with F2P models in WoW. Sure, they've always said they'll never go F2P, but with the cash shop and the WoW Token they've currently sidled up right to that F2P line. If Bobby Kotick says "go F2P since I can't justify the staff for WoW", WoW will go F2P.

*There's a very interesting discussion on this over at Blizzard Watch as the Breakfast Topic.

**Word of this came out a few days before BlizzCon itself. Here's the article on this.

***I'm deliberately saying Activision Blizzard versus Blizzard, because this is more a corporate business decision, not one made in the development house itself.

****Money is in mobile games too, and the purchase of King Digital is expected to bolster that area.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Meanwhile, back in Azeroth...

It's BlizzCon, which means that this got viewed and released into the wild:

The oldest Mini-Red was confused. "World of Warcraft?" she asked. "They really improved the CGI on their expac trailers."

"No," I replied. "It's for the movie."

"There's a movie?"

"Yeah. Been in development for a decade or so."

"Looks pretty good," the youngest mini-Red added.

"True, but the dialogue is a bit clunky."

(I decided not to point out the obvious Moses references to Thrall in the trailer. I presume a helluva lot more of those will be in the movie.)


Seeing a full trailer, I'm wondering whether this is one of those movies where the best parts are all in the trailers. (I'm thinking the same thing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well, so it's not just Warcraft.)

Why? Well, trailers have now been honed to an art form, making even bad movies look good.

Like, oh, this one:

But in terms of Warcraft, I'm really thinking of this:

In a pre-LOTR special effects environment, it's really a pretty good trailer. And the characters didn't sound that bad in their acting, either. But if you actually watch the Dungeons and Dragons movie, you realize pretty quickly how lousy it is: clunky dialogue, confusing plot, metagaming*, and bad acting.

Looking at the trailer for Warcraft, I honestly rolled my eyes at the Thrall parts. I know the story, but the Green Jesus criticism that is often lobbed in Thrall's direction is going to haunt this movie. And he's not even a main character.

For the sake of the MMO genre, I hope it doesn't suck, but I've a bad feeling that some of the worst parts of the Warcraft storyline are going to bite this movie in the ass.


Oh, and continuing the tradition of the Warcraft movie being upstaged by Star Wars, the Star Wars: The Force Awakens international trailer was released:

Yes, it has Japanese subtitles, but it shouldn't detract from the trailer experience.

All of the extra scenes not in the US trailer make the movie's secrecy all the more interesting.

Will it succeed? I think that's more on J.J. Abrams than anyone else.


While digging up the D&D Movie's trailer, I started punching in some old trailers from movies that I liked when I was a kid. These movies were much older than me, and I used to watch them on television when there were a lot of independent television stations and they would show old 50's and 60's era movies during the day.

Like, say, this one:

Yes, that's really Ernest Borgnine. And yes, they really butchered Viking society in this flick.

Or this one:
Yeah, that's Pat Boone.

*There's even a scene where one character accuses the other of being just low level. I mean, who actually wrote this script, anyway? Was it a riff on a D&D campaign?

EtA: Clarified when I was talking about the D&D movie trailer versus the movie itself.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Candy Crush Got Even Tougher.... that they'll have Diablo in level 666.

Yes, Activision Blizzard bought King Digital, the creator of Candy Crush, for a whopping $5.9 Billion --Ah sayid billyun, Boy!*-- dollars.

I'm pretty sure that King Digital is going to be part of their own little mobile empire, and that they'll likely keep their Blizzard owned mobile initiatives separate. Outside of that, however, I'm not sure what synergies they'd have going forward. It would almost seem that they want King Digital to teach the old dog --Activision Blizzard-- some new tricks. But corporate mergers tend to be tricky things; if the merge is performed at the cost of destroying the old corporate culture, the result isn't exactly a good one all around.

"It wasn't a good fit" is corporate speak for "We messed up and tried to hammer a round peg into a square hole."

Not that this will impact MMO space directly, but it does signal even more of a shift of Activision Blizzard's priorities away from PCs and consoles and into mobile space. Rather than hire a bunch of new employees and continue building from the ground up, they just bought a mature company (if you can call a company that's been around 12 years "mature") to do their mobile for them.

Just watch out for that Forsaken level in Candy Crush; those Apothecaries are murder.

*You have to say it in Foghorn Leghorn's voice to get it to work.