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Posts Tagged ‘Blizzard’

So… Blizzard’s World of Warcraft is back in Draenor.  I liked the first visit, with the weirdly shattered, floating-in-space landscape, but hey, if they could Cataclysm the geewhillikers out of Azeroth (a pox on them for flooding Thousand Spires!), they can go fix Draenor with some superglue and spackle.

I have something of a love/disgruntled relationship with World of Warcraft.  There are elements of it that I don’t care for, but it’s a lovely world and I love flying around in it.  I did finally get a character to the level cap in Pandaria, and do a little shuffling around in the endgame dungeons and Timeless Isle.  Since I hit level 90, I can fly around Pandaria, too, and that meant I spent a few days’ worth of game time just flying around, taking screenshots.  I still have fun with the game, warts and all.  That last binge used up my last game credit from the now-defunct WoW Visa, though, which is unfortunate.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I can’t kill two birds with one stone, though.  Y’see, I’ve been supremely busy of late trying to find a job after circumstance effectively “retired” me from the game industry.  I’ve worked as a Technical Artist in games for almost a decade, but with a crummy economy and young, enthusiastic grads always ready to be fed to the beast, I was over the hill anyway, and fell out of the industry due to a company downsizing.

So it goes.

Anyway, wouldn’t it be grand to have a fairy godpatron step up and offer me a full time job, being a tourist and photographer in the revised Draenor?  Take screenshots, write guides, opine about… everything.  I know, I know, that’s the dream of millions of devoted Blizzard devotees, and I’m just as likely to point out problems as I am to praise the finer points.  Who would pay for that?

I’m sure I’ll play around in Draenor once the expansion goes on sale and I can free up some time and justify the cost.  (The cost isn’t just the $15, it’s the time spent since I have to get what I want to done before the timer runs out.)  I’ll take some screenshots, mess around in a few dungeons, have some fun.

In the meantime, it’s good to see people having fun in the game.  It’s not a perfect game, but it’s hanging in there, and though I don’t have a hand in its creation, it is nice to see a game appreciated by its patrons.  Sometimes the simple joy of playing is lost in the periodic waves of griping, and the early days of a WoW expansion tend to hit higher points of optimism in the expansion life cycle waveform.

So… have fun, everyone!  I’ll be along later.

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I “tweeted” last week that I was going to take advantage of an offer from Blizzard (seven whole days of free game time, woot!) to go and take a look at Karazhan.  The venerable Big Bear Butt offered to show me around the joint.  So, I finally saw Karazhan.  And took almost 250 screenshots of the place.

…it’s way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.  Oh, and in BBB’s son’s continuing quest to Control All the Things, he managed to grab control of one of Moroes‘ beefy melee henchmen.  That would have made a nice difference if we were running the place at level.  Also, Tinhead is creepy, but the Opera Event is pretty cool, and the Chess Event is awesome.  Yes, it’s not real chess, but it’s good fun anyway (and, like in real chess, knights are nicely useful).

Some highlights (in no particular order, because I’m short on time):

…and then, just because Blizzard finally got with the program and decided to allow anyone, even trial accounts, to play any race, I fired up a Pandaran Rogue.  The Pandaran starting area is really nice… even if I can’t fly around in it.  It’s the new shiny, and I like it, but I still like Gilneas and Mulgore about as much.  The Pandarans themselves are very well done.  I like the “Red Panda” look the females can access, even if the real world red pandas aren’t actually pandas.

So I guess I’m a Tauren/Worgen/Panda kinda guy.  Though I still say Blizzard missed a trick in not letting Pandarans be Druids.  Still, their starter area is open to pretty much anyone, so have at it!  There are plenty of photo opportunities and some fun character animations.

Google+ collection of Karazhan shots

Google+ collection of Pandaria shots

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OK, I caved and jumped back into World of Warcraft thanks to that absurd Scroll of Resurrection thing.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Sorta.  If the conspiracies are to be believed.  (I still say they should sell level capped characters.)

Me?  I just used it to make an insta-80 Shaman, a Dwarf I’m calling Rumblethump, so I could use Far Sight to take more esoteric screenshots.  We’ll see what I come up with.

…that’s probably not what Blizzard intended, but hey, I finally used one of my 30-day time codes from the VISA rewards card, so that’s less of a chance of me losing out on that value in the eventual shift to a glorious subscription-free WoW.  Anyone for buying my retail 60-day card?

In the meantime, I might get my “main” past level 78 and poke into Icecrown, then finally tame myself a Venomhide Raptor mount.  Yeah, tourist priorities.  Then I’ll take a lot of pictures.

So there.

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First the links:

MMO Melting Pot’s roundup (which includes a lot of other excellent articles, the following are just what caught my eye)

Elder Game on perfecting game design (instead of expanding it)

Panda reactions in the TAGN household (and an interesting generational divide)

Wolfshead called it?

The Grumpy Elf is… happy?

…and then there’s my reaction:

Pandaren don’t bother me any more than the other silly anthropomorphic races in the game.  I think there are more furries than human-like humanoids.  So, sure, why not more?  Beyond that, the game has never been all that serious.  Haris Pilton and Wowpo can coexist.

Monks?  Sure, why not.  I won’t play one.  I played without auto-attack in Allods Online, and I just didn’t like it.  I do like that Monks are full hybrids, though, able to fill any trinity role.  I’m not surprised they went that way.

Pokemon-ish minipet battles?  Seems like a silly thing to dev spend time on, but maybe it will work out for them.  I did love Pokemon back in the day when I had tons of free time, so it’s not like I’m opposed to it.  I’m just not in that “time rich” bracket any more, so it won’t do much for me.

Talent tree amputation is a little strange, but hey, if it results in a system where players can respec talents on the fly for free, that’s a step closer to what I’d like anyway (full respec on the fly, all the way down to class choice), so I’ll call that a cup half full.

No, all the big controversial stuff doesn’t matter much to me.  The part that bugs me far more than I expected is a little throwaway line:

“No flying until max level”

Yeah… I’m hoping that’s only in Pandaren territory.  If it’s worldwide, well… color me displeased.  Really displeased.  Flight is a marvelous tool for exploration, and I don’t want to have to buy the latest expansion to access flight.  I know, I know, some have argued that flight trivializes ground-based content, and there’s some truth to that.  Thing is, flight is freedom, flight is exploration.  Losing those don’t sit well with me.

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Ratcheted Subscription

Considering the little ways that Blizzard is content to ratchet up the pricing of their flagship World of Warcraft, perhaps it’s time again to float my Five Dollar Vanilla article, or a new variant: the Ratcheted Subscription model.  (Note, expansions will still need to be bought separately from the main game, and all other optional services for a charge will continue to operate as at present.  I might add a new Battle Chest SKU, though, where the original game and the now-three expansions are sold in one box for $50.)

Baseline  Perpetual Free Trials.  Take the existing ten day trial and extend it to an indefinite time.  Keep the restrictions on level, chat and money if you must, but know that other games do it better, and that free players are more of an asset than a liability.

$5/month  Choose one: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$10/month  Choose two: PvE, PvP or raiding.

$15/month  PvE, PvP and raiding.

$20/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding

$25/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change

$30/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing

$35/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month)

$40/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums

$45/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel)

$50/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate)

$70/month  PvE, PvP and raiding, free minipet per quarter, remote Auction House access, cross-server raiding, free quarterly server move or character race/gender/class change, guild housing, player filter (automatically mutes and hides players who pay less than $20/month), epic purple poster name on forums, exclusive emote (“Heroic Hero” pose; all other players within 15 yards immediately bow toward player and grovel), gold-plated WoW-specific keyboard, mouse and authenticator (will be reclaimed by Blizzard enforcers in the case of a change to a lower subscription rate), RealID immunity

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I’ve suggested it in a few comments recently on other blogs, and I’ve argued it for a while in one form or another, but I wanted to put a fine point on it for posterity.  Let’s not call this a prediction, since I don’t think Blizzard will do this (it’s potentially a lot of work and has a few wrinkles to iron out), but I’d recommend it.

The Cataclysm expansion is a perfect time for Blizzard to jump into the wider MMO market by diversifying their business model.  The recent trend of formerly subscription-only MMOs converting to item shop microtransaction business models isn’t a surprise, nor is it a move of desperation.  It’s realization that the MMO market is diversifying and maturing, and that the old ways of doing business aren’t going to work forever.

World of Warcraft is a bastion of subscription gaming, a behemoth that operates by its own rules, seemingly independant of the overall market.  Be that as it may, ignoring customers served by the so-called “free to play” or F2P games is effectively conceding strategic ground in the larger market.  It’s often suggested that converting WoW to one of these F2P critters may well not be more profitable for Blizzard, so it’s not likely.  I’m not convinced of that, but even conceding that as a given, as someone recently noted (Bhagpuss, I think, but please forgive me for remembering incorrectly if not), companies don’t always make moves for immediate profit.  Sometimes it’s about claiming market share or positioning themselves for future projects. *

* This is one counterpoint to my recommendation, actually.  Blizzard might be angling for the wider market with their next big MMO project.  Since that’s likely not imminent, though, I’m setting that aside, because the market is changing now, and Blizzard is oddly reticent to keep pace.

With that in mind, the release of Cataclysm provides a perfect excuse both in lore and in business to make a significant change to the WoW business plan.  What better time to break up the world than when a dragon is doing it for you?

Specifically, I would recommend that they take the Old World of Warcraft (the content from level 1 to 60, sometimes called “vanilla” WoW) and break it off into its own product, literally breaking the game into pieces.  They should then sell this like Guild Wars, as a single purchase that can then be played in perpetuity.  They should then keep the “live” Cataclysm-era world going for subscribers.  Players can upgrade from the Old World to the Live World, but not migrate backwards (maybe with some restrictions to keep gold sellers down, like no money migration).

This could neatly corner the F2P market by outflanking the other big movers in the field, including EQ2X, LOTRO, DDO and even GW and GW2, while still providing the subscriber experience that current users are accustomed to.

There are problems, to be sure.  There’s the possible need for two dev teams and consequent potential for divergent evolution.  There’s the need for new servers and the potential to confuse customers (who apparently don’t know how to spend their own money, the filthy proletariats).  There’s the likelihood of subbers just playing around in the Single Purchase Old World and losing some part of the WoW money pump.  There’s the banshee chorus of haters and fanboys who would proclaim the doom of Blizzard for deigning to let those people play the game.  There’s the work necessary to make things actually work.  There’s the question of what to let current players do.  (I’d suggest that anyone wanting to go to the Old World can do so, but it would be a complete reboot; everyone starts from scratch.  Current subbers who want to sidegrade can start new characters on the Old World servers like anyone else, without needing to purchase the game again.  They would have to pay a sub to play in the CAT era on CAT servers, but could play in the Old World without a hiccup, just starting over on the new servers.)  There is risk involved, as even WoW may not be able to function in its own shadow.  (But that’s a concern for their new MMO, too.)

Still, the timing is right for such a move, a grab at owning the best of both worlds.  In retrospect, perhaps, this will be obviously wrong, depending on whatever they do with their next MMO, but for now, looking at the market and the state of WoW, I’d say it’s an obvious move, and a smart one.  (This is, of course, totally ignoring the larger question of whether or not more WoW domination of the market is good for the players.  I think that could be argued either way, though, so maybe I’ll save that for an exercise later.)  There’s even room for more mutations, like true “classic” servers and private, gated communities for discerning customers, but one step at a time…

Of course details would need to be ironed out, and suits would need to be convinced.  Kotick would need to be bribed or something.  I’m convinced it’s not an intractible problem, though, and this may be the best time for such an earth-shattering, industry-shaking… cataclysmic business move.

…though I must admit, if it didn’t prove to sell well, just like if Blizzard’s new MMO doesn’t do well, leaving WoW as the clear aberration that I think it is, well… I’d laugh.

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…in Dalaran, do Blizzard devs notice?

Shintar’s The Day That Tree Form Died

Larisa’s Yet Another Angry Post From A Disappointed Ex-Tree

Ardol’s It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye: Tree of Life and a nice set of screenshots as a Photo Tribute

I’ll just sound another voice, saddened for the loss.  I do play in cat/bear form most often (if I’m playing WoW at all, anyway), but this always struck me as an odd choice by Blizzard.  The new forms are a bit strange, too, though they do feel more like the traditional Ancients that the Night Elves revere so much, albeit with a slightly… bovine facial structure.  Think “buffaloak“, perhaps.

Of course, you’re not supposed to listen to the players, so no sweat, Blizzard.  (My snark aside, that’s a good article from Scrusi… and it looks like Blizzard is throwing sad Druids an olive branch anyway, see Ghostcrawler’s post in this thread.)

One more voice:  Lara’s Fare Thee Well

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