Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blizzard Boosts the smaller Arena Brackets

One small item from the patch notes states that once again Blizzard has increased the amount of weekly points earned in the 2v2 and 3v3 arena brackets. Its unclear at this moment if this means that weekly points have been reduced for the 5v5 bracket though it wouldn't be a big surprise if this was a case. Ever since Blizzcon several developers have highlighted their concerns with the reward system for the arena system. Most of these concerns seem to involve practices commonly seen only in the 5v5 bracket.

One issue has been discussed here before involves the practice of simply reforming an arena team once its rating has dropped too low. In this manner many raiders were getting top tier weapons from the arena system without seriously competing. It got so bad that the developers decided against resetting all ratings back to 1500 at the end of season 1 which was the original plan. The developers are so set against the top tier weapons being available to point farmers that they are introducing a rating requirement for next season's weapons.

The other issue which hasn't been discussed here before is the practice of players selling temporary spots on their high end 5v5 teams. The amount of points a high end team brings in each week runs in the range of about 1,000 points. These teams quickly earn more points then they can spend and thus are open to selling spots on their team on a weekly basis and risking a small loss in their rating. The actual risk of their rating dropping is very small since 4 experienced PvP players can usually carry an average game with one payed tourist along for the ride. The 2v2 and 3v3 brackets have less room for error and reports of selling spots in those brackets are almost non existent.

This practice of selling spots is slowly changing how Blizzard thinks arena points should be distributed. Originally the thought was that smaller brackets should earn less points since its harder to organize a full group each week for arenas. However, since arenas have quickly gained in popularity its become very easy to find active team members for the smaller brackets. Yet some players are finding it even easier to simply buy a spot on a high end 5v5 arena team for a week or two rather then spend 7 weeks playing on an average 3v3 or 2v2 team. As a result Blizzard has slowly been increasing the amount of points awarded for the ratings in the 2v2 and 3v3 bracket.

This strategy is similar to how Blizzard introduced daily quests in an attempt to reduce gold buying. Most of the daily quests don't require a player to be good at DPS thus even healers and tanks can complete them for gold. Increasing the points for the smaller brackets is similar to this since it make it easier for non PvP specced classes to earn arena points without thinking they have to buy them. Who knows if it will work in the log run though since some people would still rather just pay gold then practice their PvP skills.

P.S. Had a chance to examine the new formula and Blizzard basically made it so that 5v5 bracket teams recieve less points if they were under 1500. The rest of the brackets seemed to have come away with a higher point gain based on their ratings. Check out the new formula yourself at

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lessons Learned from Leveling on a PvP server

Having finally accepted the fact that Blizzard wasn't updating the paladin retribution tree anytime soon I started leveling a Drenai shaman so I could experience dps once again. Compared to my holy paladin my shaman found it easy to grind experience and quests by himself. The combination of earth shock and grounding totems made it easy to deal with casting mobs and I still could easily heal myself after battles. Before I knew it my shaman had gotten high enough to go through the Dark Portal and play in zones which actually had other people in them. While this makes it easy to find groups for dungeons and elite quests it also opens you up to the world of ganking on pvp servers.

In general I play on pvp servers since it adds a touch of excitement to the end game. Once your level 70 a lot of fun can be had from taking the spirit towers in the bone wastes or capturing the town of Halaa. Add in the occasional attempt on your life by a ganker and you got some major adrenaline by selecting a pvp server. However, when you are actually leveling a new character it can be a major pain in the ass. A small portion of players on each faction get their jollies by sneak attacking characters who are 20 levels below them. This has nothing to do with skill or proving their worth through combat but more in line with the weird fact that some people are just jerks.

Taking my shaman from basically 0-62 within the last two months has taught me a couple of general guidelines about what to expect from characters of the opposing faction. Unlike what you may suspect both factions are about equally likely to attack your character in an unfair manner. When my shaman got to 60 I decided to test out my equal level horde warrior and rogue in Hellfire Peninsula and see if there were any major distinctions between the horde and alliance gankers. I really didn't find any evidence that one faction was nicer or more fair in pvp then the other. I did however discover some guidelines for the next time I level up an alt on a pvp server.

1) Members of the opposing faction are more friendly when they are soloing.
*Its amazing how quick the /wave emote will be thrown around when your enemies know its a 1 on 1 fight.

2) To automatically summon a member of the opposing faction simply be below 50% health and engage two mobs by accident.
*Guaranteed to work every time.

3) All level 70 rogues and hunters you meet in the old world will attack you.
*The amount of level 70 hunters and rogues messing around in the old world is simply astounding and they could probably fill up 15 Alterac Valley queues. However, since they only know how to farm and gank level 40s it would make for some pretty boring games.

4) Warlocks and Rogues tend to always attack you no matter the level difference.
*Warlocks mostly do this because being feared while in an area with lots of mobs guarantees you get aggro and die. Rogues are just demented and will follow you around stealthed until .... well you read guideline number 2.

5) Paladins, Rogues, and Druids were the only classes that tried to run after a fight went bad for them.
*(Sprint + Stealth) = (Bubble + Hearth) = LAME.

6) Mages and Hunters like high places. Don't grind next to walls or buildings with accessible roofs.
*Just like in the horror movies, death comes from above.

7) Warriors who are leveling are probably the least aggressive class in the game.
*I only ever got attacked by warriors who were lvl 70 with mortal strike epic weapons or in a group.

8) Blood elf paladins are a lot more likely to attack a member of the opposing faction then alliance paladins.
*I am not sure but I think this might be related to their racial abilities which seem pvp oriented. Or it simply could be that there are more people leveling blood elf paladins then alliance ones at the moment.

9) Stranglethorn Vale ought to be napalmed to flush out the million asshats that make that place home.
*Its kind of obvious but don't go here on the weekends, or during the day, or during a holiday. Honestly you're only going to be able to quest here between 4 and 7am in the morning.

10) A group of more then two members of the opposing faction will always attack you.
*Three is the magic number where you become free honor and they have no risk.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Is WoW causing punctuated equilibrium in MMO release dates?

Punctuated Equilibrium is a theory that evolution is a relatively steady process punctuated by sudden spikes of change in a species. I'm using this theory as a example since I think its a good parallel to how World of Warcraft has effected the MMO market. Since the release of World of Warcraft in 2004 there has been a dearth of new MMO releases and a couple of really spectacular failures. While not everything can be blamed on the release dates of these failures enough evidence exists that publishers are now wary of releasing new products before World of Warcraft next expansion.

Pretend that World of Warcraft is a relatively slow and steady force of nature. They release content in 3 month patch cycles and seem to be adopting an expansion cycle of 18 months. Their subscription numbers tend to slowly grow or remain stable during the patch cycles while greatly jumping during an expansion release. New MMO's released during the patch cycles of World of Warcraft never seem to gain as many subscribers as their publishers predicted. In fact the only weak point in World of Warcraft seems to be the first patch cycle directly after a major release of content.

Taking advantage of the Slow and Steady
In May 2007 Blizzard patched in the Black Temple about three months after the released of the Burning Crusade. To prevent criticism against favoring raiders they also included a small amount of quest hubs where players could grind faction or gold. This was the perfect time for Lord of the Rings to release since the amount of new content they had was much greater then that in the WoW patch. Lord of the Rings actually convinced gamers to cancel WoW subscriptions and join up with them. This was one of the only times the subscriptions numbers actually dropped for World of Warcraft.

A similar success story was in February 2005 when Guild Wars released about 4 months after the initial World of Warcraft launch. It was a very polished fantasy MMO with free online play which allowed many players to buy the game and still maintain their World of Warcraft subscription. Even if Guild Wars was subscription based it probably would have achieved some moderate success. But by having a different pricing structure then World of Warcraft it sold even more boxes.

Being steam rolled by the Slow and Steady
Everquest 2 has probably suffered the most from World of Warcraft. Since they released at the same time many gamers had to make a choice between one or the other. Blizzard patched in new content like Maraudon, Dire Maul, and Battlegrounds on an almost military three month cycle. During the same time Everquest 2 was mostly redesigning itself to be more accessible and squashing bugs. In 2007 the same thing happened with Vanguard trying to compete directly with the Burning Crusade expansion and losing big time.

The other big losers to World of Warcraft's steady pace were the casual MMO's designed to be simple and more fast paced then the standard fantasy MMO. Games like Auto Assault and City of Heroes have constantly bleed subscriptions with one of the most common complaints being not enough depth in the game play or content to justify a subscription. Reviews of Tabula Rasa seem to be going the same way with most gamers giving the same complaints. The interesting thing is why NCSoft didn't follow a similar pricing structure with these games that they used with Guild Wars.

WoW players tend to be the most likely to switch games 3-4 months after a big content release.
New MMOs will probably start timing releases after World of Warcraft expansions.
More alternative pricing structures such as box only costs and lifetime subscriptions are coming.

Age of Conan does not want to release before the next WoW expansion.
Tabula Rasa will sell a lot of boxes but not pick up many subscriptions.
Hellgate London will do better then Tabula Rasa with its alternative pricing structure.
Warhammer might be ballsy enough to release against Wrath of the Lich King but would probably be better off waiting.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

What do WoW's numbers mean?

I recently got dragged into another debate on how much money Blizzard makes each month from World of Warcraft. I'm getting very tired of this argument mostly because I hear so many different numbers. Most players know that the pricing structure differs from region to region and that its not a straight (total subscribers x 15$ a month) formula. Still the specifics of the game's monthly subscription revenue remains mysterious and allows many a bored player to constantly argue with his fellow nerds.

Its funny but if you take some time to research the pricing structures of the different regions then you can actually get a well educated guess on how much monthly revenue World of Warcraft earns. In past interviews the developers have given rough estimates for the population breakdowns of each region. If you use some logic you can assume those numbers for Europe and North America have increased because of the expansion release and mostly stayed the same for China because of its hourly rate.

So based on past developer comments and some educated guessing I get this breakdown.

North America: 2.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million
China: 4.5 million

After breaking down the populations I tried to define the different pricing structures of each region and convert them all into one currency. North America is the easiest with a simple 15$ a month fee and no additional taxes effecting the price. Europe is a little harder to calculate since it has a 17.5% tax on online game subscriptions. The monthly cost of a European subscription is 12.99 Euros which is about 17.70$. If you subtract the tax though it comes out to around 15$, the same rate at which Americans are charged.

China is a even harder nut to crack since they pay by the hour and you have to guess the average amount of hours they played each week. The company that handles the fees for Blizzard in China charges about .04 cents an hour. According to Nick Yee's demographics the average player spends about 22 hours a week in game. This number could differ for a region that uses an hourly rate but I think its a good average estimate for our purposes.

So based on my online investigations I get these three pricing structures.

North America: 15$ a month per subscriber
Europe: 12.99 EU = 17.70$ - 17.5% = 15$ a month per subscriber
China: .04 per hour x 22 hours a week x 4 weeks a month = 3.53$ a month per subscriber

Combine the population with the pricing structures and you get the total.

North America: 2.5 million x 15$ = 37.5 million
Europe: 2.0 million x 15$ = 30.0 million
China: 4.5 million x 3.53$ = 15.89 million

Grand Total for Monthly Subscriptions ~ 83.39 million

Interesting side notes.

1) Game Cards on eBay seem popular for European servers.

Can you avoid the online tax by buying game cards from eBay?

2) China pays the least but Blizzard lets the local company The9 handle servers and customer support.

Is the percentage The9 charge so low that Blizzard actually makes more profit from China?

3) If you assume that box sales payed for intial servers/support/development and that monthly subscriptions are almost pure profit then World of Warcraft is more profitable then some of the lower end Fortune 500 companies.

To turn a profit over 80 million most Fortune 500 companies have to make over 5 billion in gross revenue. What does it mean that a video game which cost around 300 million and probably payed for itself with box sales can earn the same amount of profit?