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Archive for the ‘World of Warcraft’ Category

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After nearly 7 years, the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is shutting down.  The 21st Set, “Timewalkers:  Reign of Fire”  is the final set of cards for the game.  I can’t say I’m tremendously surprised, I don’t think the WoW TCG has been particularly healthy for sometime.  Though it has continued to score a small piece of real estate at mainstream retail stores like Target and Walmart it has clearly been on a slow decline in sales.

It could be argued that WoW TCG never really stood a chance against the much larger and more entrenched 800lb gorilla that is Magic the Gathering.  Still, WoW:TCG was actually a very good game design that leveraged a popular IP with some genuinely interesting and unique mechanics to see some degree of success:

– A unique resource system based around quest cards that rewarded you for using quest cards for resources but allowed you to use any card as a resource.  This meant no more mana screw and opened up some interesting player choices.  The quest rewards also helped the end-game I think.

– The class system for abilities strongly tied the game to the WoW theme while also setting some themes for deck-building.  I know some also viewed this as a weakness since you could open several packs and not get any abilities for the class you were interested in playing.

– The Raid decks.  I think these will always be viewed as a breakthrough in TCG design and were even featured on Penny Arcade several times.  The Raid Decks took some of the most evocative content from WoW and brought it into the cardboard realm as a fantastic and rewarding opposed co-op experience.

– The loot cards.  It’s hard to know just how much these lengthened the life of the game but I imagine quite a bit.  The number of people who bought booster boxes of the TCG simply for the handful of loot cards to use in the online game is absurd, showing just how crazy some people are about WoW and what they are willing to spend; after all, these are the same people paying 20 bucks for some mount in the computer game.  At one point loot cards for Swift Spectral Tigers from the 3rd TCG set were selling for around a thousand dollars, if I remember right, which artificially raised the price of that set.

At the end of the day, though, I think the game was just too similar to Magic and WoW was too divisive of an IP for the game to ever hope to see the kind of broad success it needed to stick around longer.  The end of a trading card game is always sad since people who spent money on the game system are now stuck with likely hundreds or thousands of dollars of cards for a game that is not longer supported or being developed.  I don’t know what the exact amount is but I spent probably at least a couple hundred dollars on the game; more than I have spent on Magic.  I did really appreciate and enjoy the Raid decks and would consider those my favorite method of playing the game, but overall I would have to say I probably did not get my money’s worth out of what I purchased.  Every game purchase I make is begun as a mental calculation of the hobby value I will get out of playing that game vs. the financial cost of the game itself, but TCGs can be tricky because you usually acquire them in small purchases and can more easily rack up a lot of expenses over time without realizing it.  Magic is referred to as “cardboard crack” for good reason.

Still, I don’t regret the time I did spend with the game and I hope that my collection will see some use in the future.  I don’t intend to try to sell it, mainly because my cards are all from older sets and I’m sure I would only get pennies on  the dollar.  The Raid decks alone are reason enough to keep it around.

In the meantime I have signed up for the Hearthstone Beta, the digital and spiritual successor.  I haven’t gotten in yet but have had a good experience with the digital TCG Duel of Champions I have high hopes that Hearthstone will provide a good gaming experience for minimal cost.

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Ok, kind of a harsh headline but the news for Bioware and SW:TOR fans is not good.  In fact, EA’s stock has lost value on reports of major subscriber loss.

The hard numbers show that SW:TOR peaked at around 1.7 million subscribers and is now in the range of 1.3 million, for a loss of around 400,000.  Bioware initially downplayed the reports, claiming that sparse server populations and other indications of subscriber decline were a result of lower concurrent user numbers.  Of course, even if Bioware was correct, low concurrent numbers mean people are subscribing but not logging in and people aren’t going to pay for a game they aren’t playing.  Now that the cat is out of the bag Bioware is already talking about server mergers and other desperate measures to ensure the game experience for the remaining subscribers isn’t too heavily impacted by the shrinking population.  And of course Bioware is looking to crank out content like crazy in order to hold on to as large an active subscriber base as possible.

There’s even ongoing discussion about how many subscribers the game will need to stay viable (apparently somewhere around 600,000-800,000), which is not a conversation you want to be having within 6 months of your game’s launch.  But SW:TOR’s development budget of somewhere around $175 Million makes it the most expensive video game ever produced and really piles on the pressure to bring home the bacon.  Initial estimates for possible subscription numbers ranged as high as 4 million and of course there was the usual optimistic chatter about World of Warcraft finally being knocked off it’s perch.  All this is laughable now, as yet another game has crumbled beneath the monolith that is Blizzard.

So, what went wrong?  After all, SW:TOR had two very large factors in it’s favor.  First, (more…)

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I should probably say something about the much awaited Patch 4.3 dropping for World of Warcraft, though since I’m not currently subscribing or playing I don’t have a huge level of interest at the moment.  Still, if I was playing, is there anything in there to care about?  I’m simply not going to take the time to read the patch notes, and the largest feature of the patch is the new endgame Deathwing Raid which, while I’m sure its awesome, is not something I would ever have seen anyways as a casual player.  So is there anything else in there that I might actually care about? WoW Insider has a nice breakdown of 6 reasons non-raiding players should care about 4.3:

1.  UI Improvements.  UI improvements are always nice, so no complaints there.  I’ve always thought the stock UI in WoW has evolved pretty nicely already though, so it wasn’t a major interest of mine anyways.

2.  A New PVP Season:  Which means a new set of PVP gear to grind for but not much else unless you are into the hardcore arena PVP scene.  After rated battlegrounds turned out to be a bust for me PVP lost some of its luster.  While the easy access to fun PVP is still probably one of my favorite parts of WoW, it’s ability to hold my interest has never been fantastic because at the end of the day it’s still just another progression grind; albeit one that can be pretty fun at times.

3.  Darkmoon Island.  The Darkmoon Fair is pretty fun for a new player and held some limited long-term goals, but the new Island sounds like it has a lot more content and mini-games.  I applaud the concept and I think it can only improve the game.  If I was playing I would definitely check it out, but not a major draw for me.

4.  Transmogrification.  This feature should vastly improve the diversity of looks available to players and is certainly a step in the right direction and an answer to years of criticism.  My basic problem here is that the player models for WoW already look so dated and just plain bad that any joy from this seems pretty limited to me.  However, Blizzard has announced they are going to be re-doing the character models and bringing them more up to date sooner or later so I hold out hope for that.

5.  New 5-Man Dungeons.  I did a decent number of 5-Man dungeons and enjoyed them, so I guess more progression here is good.  But I never did enough of them to even get sick of the ones we had at the time…

6.  The Raid Finder.  As the article points out, if you are using the Raid Finder you might no longer be considered a “non-raiding player”.  Simply put this is by far the most interesting feature in the patch for me.  I imagine a LOT of the non-raiding players in WoW are similar to me; people with lives and families and jobs who like the idea of raiding and think it looks fun but simply can’t commit to a regular, time-consuming raid group.  The possibility of getting to try out nerfed raid content with a random group has a strong set of appeal.  I’m not sure how long it would hold my interest either but this is by far the most intriguing feature in the patch for me.

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The new World of Warcraft Talent Calculator for the talent overhaul coming in Mists of Pandaria has been made public.  This is of course still an unbalanced work in progress but it gives a much better idea of what Blizzard has in mind.  Check it out here.

Previously talents were organized into a sort of tree, with various branching paths building off of common prerequisites.  Now its more like a steakhouse restaurant menu, where you have 6 courses and you get to choose from 3 items for each course for a total of 3^6 = 729 possible combinations.  Of course many talents are focused on either PVP or PVE and so there will definitely be fewer truly viable combinations than, perhaps only a few dozen for each focus.  Still, when you add up 11 classes, 3 specs, and perhaps a dozen different legitimate talent builds, you have around 400 possibilities which is decently impressive.

Technically its less freedom than players used to have since you could invest talent points in all three specializations if you wanted; in practice, however, the old talent system tended to narrow down to only a few really competitive builds.  Hopefully Blizzard has improved this with the new system.

Choosing your spec and leveling your spells in general is now a lot more straightforward.  As  Priest, I have a set amount of spells I learn automatically as I hit certain levels, and each of those spells continues to scale appropriately as my level increases.  When I hit level 10, I can choose between the 3 specializations which adds an additional subset of spells for me to learn at various levels that are unique to that spec.  At level 15 and every 15 levels thereafter I can learn a talent, with the talent choices at each tier generally having a common theme.  For example all of the 2nd tier Priest talents learnable at Level 30 involve mobility buffs.  The talents are a mix of all-new and recycled spells from the old talent tree, while the rest of the spells from the old talent tree are now spec-specific spells.

There is no doubt that the new system is much easier to understand, much easier to use, and much more convenient for a new player leveling their character.  The question is will it still provide enough player differentiation and gameplay depth to satisfy the more veteran players.  If nothing else, many of the talents are brand new spells or abilities that have never existed in the game before so I’m interested to see how they look and play.

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Or, at least their credit cards.  Blizzard has been taking a number of steps to deal with its recent rather sizable loss in subscribers, which they have chosen to attribute to insufficient new content.  I suspect at least some of the subscription loss is simply due to total burnout on WoW, but the lack of content is a lot easier to fix.  So Blizzard is pushing out some new patches and features and is has also announced their next expansion, the much anticipated Mists of Pandaria.

More interestingly, Blizzard is also launching a somewhat unusual promotion: commit to paying for a WoW subscription for one full year and get a few goodies.  They are calling it the World of Warcraft “Annual Pass”.  What goodies you ask?  How about a FREE copy of Diablo III via digital download on the day it is released.  Plus get early beta access to Mists of Pandaria at some indeterminate point in the future.  Finally, a flashy multi-purpose mount for those who are into that kind of thing.

Money-wise, if you were going to buy Diablo III and maintain a WoW subscription during the next year it’s an obvious hit.  Otherwise you have to do a little math; a 12-month subscription for WoW, if you do it in 6-month intervals to get the maximum discount, is a cost of $155.88.  Diablo III at launch will have a value of $59.99.  The beta access and mount may or may not be worth anything to you.

What’s most interesting is that newer MMOs are increasingly moving away from subscription-based revenue and toward free-to-play with micro-transaction revenue , in part because WoW already dominates that market and in part because with more options in online games users are increasingly flaky and like the option to play games when they choose without the pressure of a subscription.  By locking down subscribers for a year Blizzard is hoping to provide some revenue stability, even at the cost of revenue from Diablo III sales.  It’s a reminder of what a monster WoW is financially in comparison to the standalone Blizzard games like Starcraft 2 and Diablo III.

I’m not personally very tempted; it’s not that I wouldn’t mind access to WoW as I really do enjoy the game.  However, locking in for a year just isn’t realistic for me, and I’ve yet to be convinced that Diablo III is a game I want to own.  Though to be fair I’ve got a lot I need to learn about it still.

The expansion itself is something I’ll be watching closely.  Already the new zones and graphics look amazing, the asian theme looks very well done.  I’m happy to see a new class and am not surprised that its going to be very versatile.  The new race starting neutral and then joining one faction or the other is also something I predicted and am fine with.  The talent tree changes sound very interesting, and the new pet combat system also has potential.  I’ll almost certainly buy the expansion and play through the new content, though I sincerely hope it is more challenging than Cataclysm; it would be nice to see leveling actually take some real effort.  I think this article explained it pretty well:

WoW isn’t as challenging as it used to be. Few people mourn the days when only huge guilds with more than 40 raiders could attempt end game content, but Cataclysm made leveling absurdly easy—then yanked the difficulty meter too far in the opposite direction in the early dungeons.

Part of the reason dungeons felt so difficult, to be blunt, is that players had gotten lazy—by the end of Wrath of the Lich King, jumping into a random group and running a dungeon took ~20 minutes with no need for crowd control, tactics, or much in the way of forethought. Cataclysm combined 10 and 25-man raids, which helped make content accessible to everyone—but doing so cheapened the psychological reward of finishing the raids. If WoW began life as a banquet where only a handful of people got to eat the main course, it currently feels like an all-you-can-eat buffet of McDonalds food. Anyone can have as much as they want, but it doesn’t taste as good.

I agree, and I think the best thing Blizzard could do to get me back into the game  is to make the game more challenging from a solo perspective.  I work a full time job, I am raising 2 young kids, and I have a lot of life commitments that keep me from being able to experience the high end raid content so for me having a game to play that provides a challenge while fitting flexibly within my time schedule is what I’m really looking for.  Age of Empires Online has fit surprisingly well into that niche and doesn’t even cost a monthly subscription.

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Blizzard’s new Guardian Cub pet, which will sell for $10 at their online pet store, will be the first real-money item capable of being traded for gold in-game.  Much of the WoW community seems to consider this a massive, landmark event for WoW but for an EVE Online veteran this is old hat.

EVE’s brilliant (if controversial) PLEX system has peacefully existed for years now and has become an intrinsic part of the game economy.  In fact, PLEX are the highest traded EVE market item by far in terms of ISK volume, with a current daily trade volume of 1.525 Trillion ISK, , over TEN times the trade volume of of Tritanium at 144.7  Billion ISK .  Over 3600 PLEX are traded every day, each worth $17.50 US dollars for a real life trade volume of around $63,000*.

What I find interesting is that many of the posts from the WoW community seem to think that Blizzard is somehow legitimizing or, at least, officially acknowledging real money trading by allowing players to sell an in-game cosmetic item purchased with real-life money for in-game currency.  Yet EVE instituted the entire PLEX system directly to combat real money trading, and all the evidence suggests that allowing players a legal outlet to leverage real-life money into in-game currency is better for the game in the long run. (more…)

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According to Xfire, the “leading social service for gamers”, more people are playing League of Legends right now than World of Warcraft.

Many are hailing this as not only the dethroning of WoW but also the future of the entire online gaming industry; free-to-play games that make their revenue through micro-transactions for in-game items or minor fees associated with certain services.

That’s not to say free-to-play games don’t have their downsides, or that they will completely take over the market.  Most free-to-play games seem to start you off pretty easily with lots of quick progress but after a while they bog down.  Then the player has to decide whether to put in some real money to speed things back up or settle in for a long slow slog to unlock the later game content.  There’s something to be said for just forking over your $15 (or whatever it costs) to pay a game subscription and know you have access to all the content within that game; though micro-transactions are even creeping into many MMOs now.

Of course, the other question is how much of this is due to the (perhaps temporary) success of League of Legends, and how much is due to people simply burning out on World of Warcraft.  League of Legends, like Starcraft and other RTS type games, relies almost completely on PVP interaction for replayabilty.  This is a pretty solid approach, really, as players will always be coming out with new and interesting strategies.  The PVP element is also, of course, why EVE has been so successful.

WoW, on the other hand, has primarily utilized the PVE model where content is consumed and then new content is released to keep players playing.  Lately, though, it seems Blizzard simply can’t, or won’t, provide many players with enough content to keep them interested.  Reading this Gamespy article on the 4.2 Firelands patch for WoW is actually quite depressing; not only was the new top boss killed within 4 hours (on normal mode anyways) but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot else there.  Waiting months for a patch that players burn through in only a few days just doesn’t seem like a sustainable model for WoW.  Of course there are always things to grind for but I think WoW really is starting its final, slow, long decline in terms of interesting new content.

In fact, the feature that attracted me the most to Cataclysm (aside from the restructured zones and leveling of course) was rated battlegrounds; it was a more fulfilling PVP experience I was looking for, and I have now found it instead in League of Legends.  Rated battlegrounds turned out to be a bust for me, being much less accessible than I had hoped; basically they required a full raid.  League of Legends I find to be much more approachable, yet also a much more in-depth and fulfilling experience; and that with only two maps vs. the many battlegrounds for WoW.

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