The little tent-pole that could, and the little blogger that couldn’t

February 10, 2015

Because some people are getting a little too excited over next-to-nothing, lets actually look at everything said recently from everyone’s favorite video-game producer.

“Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was the #1 release of the year and the franchise’s cumulative revenue is now over $11 billion. Destiny was the #3 new release of the year and attracted over 16 million registered users. Skylanders, with over 240 million toys sold life to date was, again, the #1 kids console game. World of Warcraft reached over 10 million subscribers and remains the #1 subscription-based MMORPG in the world. Diablo III is the #1 PC role-playing game of the year; and Hearthstone, which is named Game of the Year, has already attracted more than 25 million registered players.”

Quick, which one of the above numbers isn’t directly linked to generating money?

“Destiny and Blizzard’s Hearthstone. Combined, they attracted over 40 million registered players worldwide and generated more than $850 million in non-GAAP revenue”

Why are we grouping the 3rd biggest release of the year with a title that struggles to stay in the top 200 of app downloads? Why o why… (Don’t worry, we’ll get back to that 850m number later, but spoiler alert: nope)

“Blizzard generated record avenues and near-record operating income. The year was driven by Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, both of which generated significant revenues and income that will not have comparable releases this year. In addition, we expect WoW subs to decline as we have seen historically in the year following the release of a large-scale expansion.”

So wait, a title sometimes in the top 40 in app revenue wasn’t a driver of record revenue? What, we couldn’t lump it in here somehow? Why do we exclude Hearthstone when we start talking about significant revenues? (Props to Blizzard for realizing WoW subs will drop (have already?). Maybe release content that holds up to avoid that? I heard Old Blizzard was able to do that, maybe ask them how they did it during vanilla/TBC times?)

“Turning to our quarterly outlook. In 2015, we expect a lighter first half of the year as compared to last year as we don’t have a comparable launch to the high-margin Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, and we only expect modest contributions from Call of Duty Online and Heroes of the Storm, as I mentioned earlier.”

Wait a minute, but what about your new tent-pole Hearthstone? It’s still ‘growing’! And it wasn’t as big a factor in Q1 2014, so Q1 2015 should be awesome right? Right…? Hello?

Actual numbers talk below:

“(CoD)Advanced Warfare the #1 console game globally, which has delivered well over $1 billion in sell-through, and far and away the #1 title worldwide on next-gen platforms.”

“Destiny now has over 16 million registered users with a massive audience of active players still averaging over 3 hours of game play per day, a figure that has stayed remarkably stable since launch. Destiny also performed the rarely seen console gaming feat of growing active players from November to December, driven by the release of the new expansion pack, the Dark Below. And it was the #1 played game in North America on a PS4 in December.“

“On to our third tent-pole franchise, Skylanders. As of today, life-to-date retail sales for Skylanders has exceeded $3 billion. And in 2014, Skylanders outsold all action figure lines and was the #1 kid console game globally for the fourth year in a row, and as a franchise, outperformed its nearest competitor by 30%.“

One of these tent-poles is not like the other

Strange isn’t it, that they give us numbers like player activity for Destiny, or actual sales numbers for Skylanders, or game sales rankings for CoD. Wonder why they didn’t just group them all together, or only provide how many free accounts were created. What, was the number of ‘likes’ on Facebook for each title not a number worth mentioning? Are dollar figures really that important on an earnings call?

“Hearthstone was released first on Windows and Mac and later on iPad and Android tablets, bringing Blizzard into the mobile space for the first time.”

And not just bringing Blizzard into the mobile space, but damn near cracking the top 200 downloads chart at that. Take that “Random shitting slot machine app” at number 201, Blizzard is here to ‘dominate’ the mobile space with its very own graphic dice simulator!

“All this activity helped drive Hearthstone’s highest monthly active players ever in December as well as our highest revenue quarter-to-date for Hearthstone”

Ah final, here come the real numbers…

“Registered players for the game have now reached over 25 million, capping off a spectacular start for Hearthstone. It’s gratifying for us to see how the global Blizzard community has responded to our first foray into a new genre as well as the free-to-play market and gaming on tablets. We’ll keep working hard to build on last year’s momentum with more content in 2015 as well as the upcoming Android phone and iPhone versions of the game.”

And…. that’s it?

Just “keep working hard”?

The big take away number is that a free process that takes maybe a couple of minutes was completed 25m times to date. That’s the only concrete number in this entire report about Hearthstone; the number of free accounts created. What, was Turbine unavailable to provide number of cards draw or something equally meaningless?

Why can’t I get Destiny-like activity numbers, or Skylander-like sales numbers? Why isn’t Blizzard telling us that Hearthstone is the #1 mobile app? The #10 mobile app? What, is stating you are maybe sometimes a top 50 revenue app not a good look for a Warcraft IP, Blizzard-backed, WoW-boosted new app? Do investors not want to hear that?

The only somewhat concrete and significant line about Hearthstone is here:

“We created 2 new tent-pole franchises with Destiny and Hearthstone that are profitable right out of the gate. Destiny and Hearthstone also have great comp and pipelines that we expect to contribute to our results every year in a significant way.”

Destiny coattails aside, Hearthstone is profitable, so it has that going for it. Who would have imagined using existing WoW art to lower the development costs of your dice simulator and cashing in on your very popular IP would result in quick, not-going-to-give-a-number profits. Really shocking. It’s almost like any low-cost turd (the game runs like a dog on the ipad, which is impressive considering there is almost nothing going on graphically OR in terms of data being sent compared to most other multiplayer apps) put out by Blizzard that had WoW behind it and cost a few bucks to make would have been a quick small success, huh?

I wonder if the tent-pole line was a little dig from Activision to Blizzard. Like one side launched Destiny, while the other launched Hearthstone, which is sorta like coming up to a new Ferrari owner and telling him how awesome your new Kia is. I can just imagine someone from Activision patted the intern doing the copy/paste work for Hearthstone on the head and handing him a celebratory lollipop. “Great work nerfing gravedigger kid, can’t wait to see what huge update you deliver next month!”

Good try, good effort?

PS: How about Brian J. Pitz just bringing the heat during the Q&A?

“Brian J. Pitz – Jefferies LLC, Research Division

Our question on Hearthstone monetization. The game is already a big hit. We continue to be impressed with the size of Twitch audiences, suggesting basically off-the-charts engagement.”

Think Brian realizes its one fame-whore on Twitch who streams 24/7 that makes up 80% of those Hearthstone views? (Which I just checked, are now 1/3rd of LoL, and yes, the one-fame whore is streaming.) Better keep that guy on the payroll Blizzard or that “off-the-charts” engagement might go down, and we just can’t have that now can we?

PPS: Dear Az, you might want to rethink that indicative reasoning math there bud. I mean sure, maybe every single dollar collected by Destiny was on the first day, and it was just zeroes after that right, but somehow I just kinda doubt it.

I believe we call that kind of next-level analysis”when Hearthstone players do math”, and it’s about as entertaining as rolling graphical dice to determine a world champion. To the unstable portal everyone!

The not-so-short “what I’m playing” update

February 9, 2015

First, thanks to most who commented in last weeks little checkup on the MMO genre, good times. I’d say lets hope when we revisit in 2016 we finally have a F2P champion to make things a little more interesting, but lets not kid ourselves, I’ll most likely just be able to copy/paste that post over and it will remain 100% accurate.

Games roundup time!

Clash of Clans: First I can’t believe I’ve been actively (every day, and often an hour+) playing this game for over a year now. The really crazy part is I’ve spent a total of $5, and I honestly feel like I should spend more, but I have zero need. Also the fact that the game just prints money (likely now above WoW-levels) means they really don’t need my wallet-vote.

Our clan is at 50 members right now, although with a group that size its fairly common for someone to go inactive. However due to our core moving up in town hall levels, at this point we really need players who are TH7+ with lvl2+ dragons, otherwise you will have a really tough time doing much of anything in a war. That said the above requirements are fairly easy (a month or two?) to achieve, and considering how awesome the game is overall, the ‘grind’ (get it) is worth it.

Boom Beach: It’s CoC with guns! Only different enough to be very interesting on its own. In a lot of ways CoC/BB are like UO/EQ1. Sure, one is better, true to what it should be, and came first, but the other still has some things going for it. Much like the lesser MMO EQ1, BB is more PvE focused, easier, and more casual than CoC. Which isn’t to say it’s ‘bleeding customers accessible’ ala WoW during the intern years, don’t worry. There is a good deal of depth, especially when it comes to force composition and executing attacks. Base design, other than lacking CoC’s base layout tool, is something that can keep you busy for a while as you tweak placement and watch replays to see the results.

The clan in BB is currently at 25/25 members. The next increase would be to 50, but I’m hesitant to pull the trigger since its a permanent increase and I don’t know that I have another 25 people looking to join. This might change in time, but unless there are a good number of requests in the comment section here or via chat in CoC, we will remain at 25 for now.

We run Operations almost daily (24hr timer on those), which are really fun “clan vs NPC super base” events. We can clear the level 4 Op, but the level 5 has yet to be conquered. This will shortly change as our members gain power and access to more and better troops, and we collectively learn how best not to run out troops into insta-death traps.

Age of Decadence: I downloaded the demo of this game, and it’s interesting. The game bills itself as an RPG, but the more I play the more I feel its a rogue-like graphic-novel style title, with heavy RPG elements. Allow me to explain. You die a lot in AoD. A lot. You could very well die after the first decision you make, or the second, less than five minutes into the game. After you die you ‘reroll’ a new character and try again. Then you die some more.

The dying often thing is very rogue-like, as is the fact that you have so little control over death. You pick a text option, the game tells you the action you selected failed (lie to someone, try to attack someone, move to a certain location, etc), and you see the ‘you are dead’ screen (which often has very comical ‘why you died’ text). Even combat is pretty simple, with you just trading blows with someone, and it just doesn’t feel like you have a lot of control over the outcome.

The game is in early access so I’m not buying it just yet, but I will say that despite the somewhat random ‘gotcha’ aspect, the demo was highly enjoyable, and the game is something different and entertaining. You can get a feel for a the game overall in just a few hours, so I’d recommend grabbing it. Just power through the initial 10-30 minutes of ‘wtf am I doing’ learning curve in terms of UI and game basics.

FFXIV: I think I mentioned the wife and I are back playing this gem of an MMO. I need to write a longer post about it, but haven’t done so yet. It’s all the great stuff of vanilla WoW, presented in a better-looking package, with (IMO of course) a better IP behind it. Not hard to understand why it’s so successful, and still growing.

LoL: Oh LoL, how I love to hate you. The seasonal ranking reset happened, and as luck would have it during my placement matches I got the derpy derps on my teams, resulting in a silver 3 initial placement (I was Plat IV last season). S3 is I believe the ELO where the average player does in fact have two hands to play with but still hasn’t fully grasped how to use them (lower silver is the dominion of the one-handed cripples, while bronze league play is mostly just animals running across the keyboard hitting keys, or so I’ve heard). Think of a newborn discovering their hands for the first time; that’s basically the skill level in S3. Mental development for the average player also aligns with said newborn.

Now the ‘fun’ part of this is that during laning, I absolutely crush whoever I face unless they also happen to be a lost soul like myself playing with the mutants. The problem is that even with one lane dominated, the fate of the game still mostly sits on the shoulders of the team as a whole. You can’t really hyper-carry in LoL by design, which while generally a good MOBA design decision, somewhat hurts in this particular situation. Long story short, the climb back to Plat isn’t as swift as it should be, especially when the promo series to just get back into gold is a best-of-five. Lots of derp chances in a longer series.

Avernum: I finished the first game, and can happily report the ending is as awesome as the rest of the game. Total playtime came in at just over 50 hours, though I did almost all of the side quests. If you skim on those, I believe you could wrap things up in under 40 hours. Either way a great way to spend some time with a great RPG.

Age of Wonders 3: Currently playing some multiplayer with a friend, and having a great time. This is another game that needs a full post, which is coming ‘soon’, but I’ll just write here that I’m pleasantly surprised by the depth, and so far its basically everything one could ask from a TBS title of this sort.

Whelp, that post got long, you’re welcome. Also if it could stop snowing that would be neat, because as fun as snow-throwing a landing strip-worth of driveway is, doing it every other day is getting a bit old. Give me a different daily quest life, the ‘grind’ of this one is too much!

Before I give you money Massively…

February 6, 2015

First, Syp needs to check his damn spam filter and get my account out of it over at Biobreak!

As for the site, three simple request:

1: The majority of the main content should never require me to click once I’m at the main page of the site.

2: The main content should take up 50% or more of the screen at all times.

3: Nothing should ever auto-play, ever.

Someone from the new Massively confirm the above three will happen and you get my money.

Edit: Think if I drop 250, I can do an editorial mocking the Massively comments section? I might be worth paying for…

CoC: Fire Guardians Pre-War

February 5, 2015

(Stats and writeup by Delpez)

This is the first time we’re having a repeat war, but the previous time did not go that well (they were a lot stronger than us and we lost 102-119). I’ll show some of the numbers collected last time to illustrate how the two clans progressed since 18 December 2014. Let’s first have a look at the Town Hall level distribution (keep in mind that previously it was a 45 player war):

Read the rest of this entry »

State of the MMO genre, 2015 edition

February 4, 2015

First things first, it’s now 2015, and just like in 2014, 2013, and really since the beginning of time, we still haven’t seen an as-successful F2P MMO as we have sub MMOs (WoW/FFXIV/EVE). Until we do, this isn’t a debate. It’s a simple yes/no situation: Is your MMO really good? It’s using the sub model. Is your MMO not that good? It’s F2P, sub, ‘B2P’, or… who cares your MMO isn’t really good. Maybe by 2016 we will have a single example of a really good, as-successful-as-sub F2P MMO. I wouldn’t hold your breath on it though.

Now, moving past that still-dead horse, let’s take a broader view of the MMO genre as we head deeper into 2015. In my view the MMO genre has gone through four major phases. Note that these phases don’t have a definitive “it started on this day” date, but rather are more of a general ‘around this time’ deal.

Phase one (1997-2002ish) was UO/EQ1/AC; the birth of the genre, when we weren’t sure if this whole ‘virtual worlds’ thing could even work, and being online with thousands of others in one world was something new and awesome. Amazingly all three of the original MMOs (sorry M59, but you weren’t big enough to really count here) were solid and brought something really unique and special to the table. UO had an amazing virtual world and sandbox gameplay, EQ1 was the original themepark (I thought I had written a post about what the genre would be if EQ1 had never been made, but can’t find it now, so maybe I never wrote it…), and AC had weird, interesting systems and character growth, along with the awesome patron ‘guild’ system.

Phase two is WoW and EVE (2003-2007ish). WoW blew up what everyone thought a successful MMO could be, and refined the clunky themepark that was EQ1 into a game a lot of people could actually get into, while (in vanilla/TBC anyway) still retaining the core qualities of an MMO to keep people playing/paying. EVE started very small and very rough, but would go on to show that despite aiming to be super-niche, super-niche done better than anyone else can eventually, and naturally, grow into a mini-monster in the genre. It also showed that, if you do it right, there is no timetable on when your MMO should fade or go into maintenance mode. A good MMO really should be able to go on ‘forever’. This is also the time when a great many MMOs failed for countless reasons; the main one being ‘Making an MMO is really, really f’n hard’.

Phase three is the WoW-clone era, or the dark ages (2007-2011?). Post-WoW blowing up, everyone and their dog started cranking out WoW-clones, each thinking they could either be a ‘WoW killer’ or just casually pick up a few million players because ‘hey, WoW did it so it must not be that hard!’. LotRO, AoC, WAR, Aion, Rift, etc. In addition to getting a bunch of ‘bad’ games, the real crime here is that developers who might have been able to give us something interesting instead wasted time trying to be WoW. The genre (EVE-related stuff aside) didn’t advance forward much, and in terms of new offering things mostly sucked.

Phase four is the ‘F2P, ALL THE WAY’ era (2011-2014, hopefully). After failing to clone WoW, ‘bad’ devs all jumped aboard the good-ship F2P. MMOs that were struggling/dying as sub MMOs (because they were bad games made by bad devs) converted and saw ‘amazing’ revenue immediately after the conversion. We got a lot of press releases stating it, so it must be truth forever and ever! We also saw a bunch of F2P-based MMOs released, because the sub model was outdated and ‘everyone’ was going with the ‘new standard’ of F2P. Then the too-predictable reality kicked in, the one-time boost that was a F2P conversion not only faded, but in many cases faded below even what sub was bringing in, and F2P after F2P MMO was shut down or skeleton crewed. SOE being sent to the slaughter house is, one can only hope, the crowning jewel and definitive statement on just how much of a failure the standard F2P model is for MMOs.

Which brings us to today and the original question; where is the MMO genre? It’s not at the high it was in 2005/6, where everyone was making an MMO because it was perceived as a gold mine. At the same time, we are out of the dark age of cloning WoW blindly. We are also hopefully beyond the state of believing that F2P works, but I suspect there are still more Smeds out there who will put junk out and wonder why it’s not working financially after getting a billion accounts or whatever foolish metric they get mislead by.

In some ways we are in a spot similar to 1999/2000ish times, with three big successful MMOs (WoW, FFXIV, EVE), and a new crop of MMOs on the horizon that has our interest (Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Life is Feudal, Pathfinder, to just name a few). But that interest isn’t tainted in believing any of those titles will be ‘WoW Killers’ or dominate the market, nor are the people behind those titles setting such expectations. For perhaps the first time in far too long, devs have a plan to make a game work with 50k subs, which sounds so stupidly simple yet really is a giant leap forward for the genre.

Will some if any of those games work out? Hopefully. They at least have a much better (more than zero) chance than ‘WoW killers’ and F2P MMOs, so that’s a plus. But as always, making an MMO is hard, and even if you get 80% of it right, that 20% wrong can sink you.

Personally I feel better about the genre today than I have in a long, long time, perhaps even as far back as the early 2000s, in large part because I think more than enough devs have finally figured out that the MMO genre is a niche market, and not the mass-market illusion that WoW’s success tricked people into believing. I also don’t think ‘AAA’ levels of spending are needed to make a great MMO. I’m more than fine with playing something that I expect to grow over time, so long as that initial baseline is solid, and again I think at least some devs are finally catching on to this as well. Not only is gameplay king, but sub-AAA production values don’t mean crude sprites and homemade sound effects anymore, it just means I won’t have to hear someone ‘famous’ during a cutscene, or have a CGI intro movie that’s 20 minutes long that I skip every time after the first.

So while the future of the genre isn’t all rainbows, it’s also not as hopeless as it looked in years past. Baby steps are good, and hopefully at least a few of the upcoming games deliver, while the success’ we have today continue to get better (or in WoW’s case, don’t go full ‘accessibility’ on us again and shed almost half the population).


February 2, 2015

What a freaking day! First the Pats win and become the greatest ever, and now every single defender of SOE and Smed look like complete and utter fools for arguing with me about the company, now dumped by Sony. Love it. Absolutely love it. FREE TO PLAY, ALL THE WAY!!! Wheee!

I’d say I can’t wait until the investment firm breaks them apart to sell off the valuable IPs, but hahaha SOE’s single valuable IP was a game released in 99, and even that is so tainted right now I wouldn’t pay five bucks to take it off their hands.

Great work Smed. You are handed a gold mine that is printing money, and in short order turn it into not only the laughing stock of gaming, but an awesome collection of trash-heap titles basically no one cares a lick about. That is next-level incompetence. What a day man, what a day. Not even getting another foot of snow is taking the smile off my face today.

PS: The only negative with this story is I will need to retire “SOE being SOE”, although I’m sure “Daybreak breaking Daybreak” will go into rotation shortly (assuming the whole thing isn’t shuttered in a few months). Luckily “Smed being Smed” will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving so long as people are dumb enough to employ him, so +1 for that.

Dear Massively, die and get better

February 2, 2015

Massively is closing. I know, this is likely the first time a blog post is being written about it, but that’s just what I do, break news and set trends. You’re welcome.

I bashed Massively often. Usually it was their comments section, but at times it was also the content/site itself. To say the site wasn’t perfect is a bit of an understatement. But to call it terrible is also incorrect IMO. Simply put, Massively was the only ‘major’ gaming news site I visited, so clearly they were doing something right. The biggest insult you can give anyone is not caring enough about them to have an opinion, and I often had an opinion about Massively.

Keen mentioned them stealing content back in the day. I experienced that as well, and while it somewhat bothered me, I wasn’t as bothered as Keen. Stealing content is what the internet is about really, and at least Massively eventually stopped (mostly). Still, a very valid reason to dislike them.

I also agree that they were far too tied into corporate PR puppet strings. Finding a real opinion from Massively was difficult, because it felt like 95% of the content was indeed “Hey Massively, say this about our game now!” style posts. Another very valid reason to dislike them.

If you play EVE you likely dislike Massively for a long list of reasons, pretty much all valid.

I could go on, but the point is that Massively was far, far from perfect.

Yet far from perfect was still better than a lot of other sites (for example, the utterly unreadable format that uses), and that’s why Massively was a site I visited at least once per day. I rarely clicked on an article (other than to see the comments section for a good laugh), but I did enjoy scrolling through everything and being able to keep up with the basic happenings of the genre. That, above all, was Massively’s greatest strength.

I don’t know how many of Massively’s problems came from being owned by AOL, but I suspect that was a major factor. One only has to look at Bleacher Report (to use a sport ‘blog’ site as an example) prior to being purchased by CNN and after to see just how quickly your site can fall once suits get involved (not that BR was great before, but it wasn’t the absolute joke it is today).

I also think the general concept for such a site is solid from a reader/content perspective, and should the good of Massively be brought over to an independently owned site, I would give it a look at least. I also think from a business perspective that can work. Whatever group tries to make it happen, I strongly suggest looking at a site like Barstool Sports (hide the kids before you do, site is often NSFW, and if you posses a thin skin, prepare to be offended). That site has gone from being a tiny local player in sports media/blogging to one of the most influential voices in the city of champions and beyond, to say nothing about the amount of revenue they generate via ads, the shop, and sponsorship, all without truly ‘selling out’ (a running joke is that they do sell out, but sell-outs don’t continue to post stuff that would cost you sponsorships left and right).

So yes, ultimately I’m a bit sad that Massively is closing, unless that closing leads to a better, non-puppet version of Massively. The good writers should make that happen, and do so quickly. Best of luck to everyone in their future endeavors.


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