Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

The Elephant in the Room

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I figure this morning I would cut with any sidebar discussions and get straight into the topic that was on everyones lips yesterday…  the Blizzard Q2 Earnings call.  If you remember during the Q1 2015 earnings call they announced a drop to 7.1 million subscribers after a peak of 10 million during the Warlords of Draenor launch bump.  I think we all knew that the numbers would be down, at least incidentally based on our own experiences from the game.  I have to say that I thought WoW token would be more of a game changer, and when they announced that World of Warcraft was down to 5.6 million subscribers I figured that the Token numbers would bolster this amount.  However based on further information it appears that this number does include token subscribers as well.  In truth this number likely does not fully account for the actual loss.  Personally I would consider myself no longer playing World of Warcraft, but my account does not actually die until mid September.  There are several folks in similar holding patterns in our guild waiting on their time to tick down as well.

MMOChampGraph As always MMO Champion has a spiffy graph charting the subscription numbers since the release of the game.  To put things into proper perspective, the subscription numbers are exactly what the subscription numbers were in December of 2005 roughly a year after the initial launch of the game.  This has lead some folks to point out that when you iron out the outliers like the Warlords of Draenor bump you end up with a standard curve that you might expect for a game of this longevity.  There was a lot to be gleaned from the earnings call, but one of the major points I got out of it.. is that while they have already announced that the World of Warcraft expansion would be revealed Thursday at Gamescom, they left it off of the list of products planned for the rest of the year.  That tells me that at the very best the expansion will be a Q1 2016 release.  That means that there will be at a minimum of a six month lag between content patches, and at worst…  honestly who knows what the worse case scenario could be.  Hopefully this will not be anywhere near as long as the content drought after 5.4, but I am seriously hoping that they reconsider Hellfire being the final patch of the expansion.

Blizzard Does Not Need WoW

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I feel like the takeaway from the earnings call is not that World of Warcraft has fallen by 1.5 million subscribers in a quarter.  Anyone who was not expecting this was living in a rose colored world.  Quite honestly I half expected it to be a bigger drop just based on my own experiences.  The real take away for me however is that in spite of losing this many players Activision Blizzard had one of its strongest quarters yet.  During the earnings call there were repeated mentions of “diversification of product offerings”, which tells me that Blizzard no longer considers themselves the “World of Warcraft” company.  They see the writing on the way, that their juggernaut is winding down, and they have replaced its revenue by more agile games that are significantly easier to support.  The hard truth is that Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm are making them lots and lots of money.  When Overwatch launches you can damn well bet that it is also going to make them equally large piles of money, further diluting the need for World of Warcraft.

There was a time when Warcraft was the prize bull, but that is simply no longer the case.  If you think of it from a pure numbers perspective it makes sense.  Hearthstone for example is a digital card game, and the bulk of the assets that are created for it are two dimensional images.  Granted they are awesome looking but they do not require the amount of time it takes to create three dimensional textured models and even more so huge three dimensional worlds for players to explore.  The type of content that goes into games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm is just simply cheaper to produce than the amount of time that goes into building an entire world filled with hundreds of quest givers that have to be debugged and cross checked to make sure they are not breaking something else.  To make matters worse… this expensive content is something we are extremely good at either avoiding or burning through as quickly as possible.  The hunger for new content is never changing, there is never a point where we the players will ever be satiated.  Adding a new playfield to Heroes of the Storm changes that game and its meta for months, and requires only a faction of the work that a single zone would take in a traditional MMO.

The Movie Tie In

warcraft-movie-logo The timing of all of this seems to coincide with the release of the Warcraft movie, but I question what exactly that means for the franchise.  All of the details behind the movie so far seem to point at this being a “Warcraft” movie and not necessarily a “World of Warcraft” movie, meaning that it takes place in a time before the MMO is set.  So does this mean that we will be doing more “timey wimey” stuff with the expansion, and we are somehow trapped in the timeline that we created by following Garrosh to Draenor?  Are we going to play a role in trying to stop a new invasion of Azeroth by Guldan and the Burning Legion?  The bigger question is… if all of this is going to happen are players going to stomach yet another storyline retcon?  These are all questions that I really don’t have an answer for.  I feel like if Blizzard has a shot in hell at rekindling the love of this game, they have to take us someplace new and unexplored, but do it in a way that feels epic like never before.  I still mark Wrath of the Lich King as the best expansion to date, and it built upon the success of Vanilla and the Burning Crusade polishing both to a mirror sheen.

This is simply something that going back in time cannot provide for me.  We’ve done the reboot of the world thing before with Cataclysm, and I found the whole process frustrating and annoying that places I once loved… simply no longer existed.  I feel the only real option is for us to take the fight to the Legion, and have an expansion where we are the ones laying siege for once.  What I want to see is an expansion where the Alliance and Horde finally put aside their difference, and with it the artificial barriers between players fall down.  I want to see an expansion that places us squarely in the path of epic battles as we lay siege to the worlds that the Legion has conquered before, slowly working our way back to their base of operation and banishing their evil from the universe.  That is the adventure that will bring players back, and anything less than that I think will ultimately feel hollow.  We have run out of villains that we care about… and the whole “Dances with Orcs” feel of both Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor has been infuriating for anyone who really doesn’t care a damn about Orcs.  Blizzard needs to prove to us that it can still create an opposition that is worth of the lineage of Arthas and Illidan, and I feel the only way they can do that is by having us take on the Burning Legion on their own territory.

Carried through Garrosh

Strange Days

ffxiv 2014-11-11 13-08-27-393 Of all of the things that I had planned to do yesterday, the events that unfolded were completely unforeseen.  As it was Veterans day yesterday, I was off and took care of a few things around the house.  Namely considering the extreme dip in temperature I wanted to get the heating and air guys out to do our winter check up.  We have an air conditioning unit from 1980 the year our house was built, and it continues to limp along valiantly.  At one point we had discussed getting a new unit, but the good folks from our heating and air company informed us that we were simply better off to just keep limping along with the one we had.  Apparently they do not make units quite like the one we have any longer.  So as a result we have paid for a yearly maintenance contract that mostly involves a winter and spring checkup.  When things break, and they have in the past we get deep discounted parts and labor while under contract.  The cool thing is that there have been a lot of little things that they simply did not charge us for, so I feel like overall it is a good plan.

Wow-64 2014-11-11 09-42-42-476While waiting on the heating and air guy to show up, I spent a good deal of time running dungeons and raids in Final Fantasy XIV.  Since Rae was off as well we managed to get her a Sunken Temple of Qarn run and would have gotten Snowcloak but she had still not done the Ramuh fight, so at last check was still catching up to the main storyline.  Since I had been kicking around the notion of playing some World of Warcraft with the launch of Warlords of Draenor, I decided I should probably poke around in game and at the very least do the precursor quest out in the blasted lands.  The quest chain itself was rather enjoyable, as you assist Murad in staving back the tide of Iron Horde that have come through the portal.  I think Murad is going to be the character we get the closest to during the course of this expansion.  Essentially I feel he is going to be this expansions Chen Stormstout as it were, and I am okay with this notion especially after seeing the motivation behind why he acts he way he does.

Carried through Garrosh

Wow-64 2014-11-11 21-06-08-214 While fiddling around in game I bumped into so many people that were shocked to see me online.  I joked that they were just seeing a shadow, and that I wasn’t really playing World of Warcraft.  Mostly I don’t want people to think I am “back” because the last two times I have showed up in game… it didn’t last for terribly long.  I was just there long enough for folks to get accustomed to relying on me for things again, and I really don’t want to disappoint them once more.  Damai has done an awesome job of holding things together in the guild.  In the time since the launch of Warlords of Draenor he has fallen into the role of General, keeping the raid group moving forward and organizing weekly flex raids to help pull up folks that didn’t quite have the gear to do larger things.  He popped into the game while I was roaming about and said “you should really come get your Garrosh weapon tonight.”  I of course protested, saying I was unprepared and undergeared…  but he waved away all of this notions and said that I just needed to show up.

Wow-64 2014-11-11 20-11-02-666 I figured what the hell did I have to lose.  I knew the Siege of Orgrimmar raid at least somewhat form doing the LFR incarnation, and I had no firm plans for that evening.  Last night was to be their final time running Garrosh, and one of the final times available to get the heirloom weapons from it.  So after not having played WoW for at least six months I found myself getting pulled into the final raid of this current expansion.  To make matters even more interesting, apparently we were doing Heroic Siege of Orgrimmar.  In Damai’s words “Heroic is the new Normal” and as we got underway it certainly seemed as such…  that is until I actually attempted to dps anything.  Essentially it was through a combination of skill and gear that they were able to make everything look this easy, and clearly I had neither.  In fact I brought Belghast, one of the last characters I had managed to push up to 90 organically and had not really geared much.  He was sitting at 496 ilevel before walking into the instance, and through the course of the evening that improved to 540.  I quite literally soaked up almost a full set of gear, and now he is in a far better place for the purpose of leveling in the expansion.

Rift Repaired

Wow-64 2014-11-12 06-06-52-735 I’ve talked some about the Rift that existed when I returned to the game last time.  I fought hard to try and mend it, but ultimately failed.  What I did do apparently however was start to break down the walls between the factions within.  It seems that once the two warring captains had moved on to other things…  one of them to a mythic raid, and another to move on to his own guild…  things seem to have repaired themselves.  It seems as though there has been somewhat of a “Pax Stalwartia” as folks have flourished once the drama went  away.  I would like to think it was the forcing of sides to talk that helped this along, but really I think I was more of a hinderance than a help.  I actively tried to keep the pieces of the puzzle together, when I should have surgically cut the damage limb from the guild.  I have a problem with never quite wanting to give up on someone, that I keep seeing the best intentioned version of them buried deep under the bullshit.

Maybe if I had never shown back up, we would have reached a state of peace faster, or maybe the guild would have quite literally cleaved in two…  I will never actually know.  That is the fate that the guild seemed to be heading towards when I returned… two factions, one of which would win the guild, and the other would be exiled.  Instead now we have the bulk of the guild cooperating together, and only a few ended up leaving.  In any case I was extremely proud last night to see everything going so amazingly smoothly.  It was a supremely odd sensation to be carried to victory on the backs of the guild that I founded ten years ago.  I can’t take responsibility for last night, other than that long ago I set the wheels in motion and caused these people to meet each other.  More or less I have been gone since the beginning of Cataclysm, and in that time they have really done amazing things as a team.

Pax Stalwartia

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Maybe last night was what I needed to see.  For some time Rylacus had told me that things had improved in the guild, but I didn’t want to believe it.  I have talked many times about never being able to go back.  If I could teleport to  those days in Late Night Raiders, or Duranub Raiding Company…  or even No Such Raid…  I would have.  Last night felt like a mix of all of these rolled together.  Folks were jovial and happy, and not a single person got grumpy when we wiped.  They enjoyed the presence of one another, and enjoyed what they were doing.  There was so much excited talk about what was to come in the expansion, and tentative plans to raid come December 2nd when the raid opens.  It did my soul good to see this happening.  I feel like they deserve me going into this with an open mind, because maybe home does still exist after you leave it.

ffxiv 2014-11-05 22-00-23-313 All of this said, my heart still belongs to Eorzea, and the amazing community that I have found on Cactuar.  I have so many goals that I want to accomplish there, and we have this amazing mass of folks gathered.  I am never going to play just one game, it isn’t in my nature.  So while I am “playing” Rift, and by that I mean logging in every single day to run my minions on missions… I am not really “playing” the game.  Nor am I really playing most of the games I log into periodically.  For the time being I think I am going to be playing Final Fantasy XIV and allowing myself to also play some World of Warcraft at the same time.  I find it comforting that both House Stalwart and Greysky Armada exist… and both are completely different guilds.  I’ve left my mark permanently on both, and I think both are really amazing places to play.  What I find the most comforting however is that in both cases I am not responsible for their destiny.  That in both cases the guilds are taking care of themselves.

Old Friends

Last night was this strange trip down memory lane as I experienced folks in a way that I have not since the beginning of Cataclysm.  So many of my friendships from World or Warcraft were forged in battle, and in a way it took battle once again for me to really remember why we were friends in the first place.  I am thankful to have a group of friends that are still out there, keeping on without me.  That seem to be willing to accept me for whatever I happen to be at the moment, and welcome me back time and time again with open arms.  I am extremely lucky to have lots of pools of these kinds of friends scattered from game to game, that are happy to see me show up, and don’t hold a grudge against me when I ultimately leave.  It is comforting to know that the universe is just fine in the absence of your presence.

I realize that might sound like a strange thing, that I am happy to not be needed.  You have to realize however that all I ever wanted was for House Stalwart to give them a framework upon which to do awesome things.  So much of my time in Vanilla, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King was spent being a catalyst, and enabling things that didn’t happen when I wasn’t around.  The guild was absolutely a cult of personality, and when the personality went away…  people didn’t interact at all.  So to see this guild that functions entirely without me being around, makes me happier than anyone would really know.  I am thankful to have all these awesome people step up and take over the mantle of leadership.  I have never been happier to be obsolete in my life, and it is my hope that I can continue to be so for a very long time.