Blizzard is Skipping Gamescom 2019

It is time once again to add to the list of “WTF is Blizzard thinking?” list that we’ve been collecting this year. This time it’s the news that Blizzard is skipping Gamescom 2019. Now, there might be a lot of people, especially those in North America who aren’t familiar with Gamescom and why Blizzard’s absence is so noteworthy. Gamescom has 370,000 visitors with 1037 exhibitors making it by far the largest gaming event in the world. In comparison, E3, which is often thought to be the biggest and most important had just 69,000 attendees in 2018.

Gamescom has, in the past, been a very important location for Blizzard themselves. It is where they’ve debuted some of Overwatch’s most beloved animated shorts and World of Warcraft expansions. They’ve also often giving players the first chance to play new content for games before they’re released.

But, with nothing big and new to show off this year it clearly isn’t worth the cost for Blizzard to attend. We can only imagine how much it costs for Blizzard to go to Gamescom. In the public area, they take up nearly if not actually half an entire hall. In the business area, the Activision-Blizzard area is half of one floor of a hall. They send a huge team of developers from California and let me tell you, the cost of hotels in Cologne during Gamescom is insane. So, on the surface, it may seem totally insane for Blizzard not to be attending…it actually makes a lot of sense.

Plus, Gamescom is in August and with such a big dry spell like Blizzard is having this year it makes sense for them to save what they do have for Blizzcon in early November. Blizzcon, in case you were curious, had more than 40,000 attendees in 2018.

So while this might be the right thing for Blizzard to do those of us who are Gamescom regulars are most certainly going to feel their absence.

 

Source: PCGamer

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Blizzard Customer Service Concerns as 100 Staff Members Voluntarily Leave

One hundred staff members of the Cork, Ireland branch of Blizzard customer service have voluntarily accepted money to leave their jobs. An anonymous Blizzard employee contacted Eurogamer to tell them about this deal. According to the source it has been offered to Cork staff at least five times, and the amount of money they were offering has gone up each time. One source who did take up the offer said that it amounted to a year’s pay.

In a statement to Eurogamer Blizzard said, “The employees who are choosing to leave the company later this month are taking advantage of a voluntary and longstanding program we offer in various locations around the world. This program, which has proven popular in the past, gives eligible staff the option to make the most of incentives while proactively pursuing other career opportunities. No one is required or encouraged to participate in this program, but for those who do, we work hard to make it generous.”

Overwatch Arcade Changes We'd Like to See - Overwatch Volleyball

This is in fact already having an impact on the quality of customer service provided to European players. Blizzard English language customer service has tweeted several times over the last few weeks that callback and live chat services would be closed from 4 or 5 PM on certain days.

Some staff who have remained at the Cork office have expressed concern over the future of the office and unsure about the future. But, Blizzard reassured Eurogamer that they have no plans to close the Cork office.

This is all of course just the most recent thing to happen to Blizzard that has been somewhat questionable since Blizzcon when Diablo Immortal was announced. Heroes of the Storm esports were also very suddenly cancelled. Leaks from the main Blizzard office suggest that there has been a cultural shift at Blizzard and money is more of a focus than it ever has been before.

 

Source: Eurogamer

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MMO Money: Wargaming Acquires Edge Case and October’s Top Earners

After announcing that Fractured Space was ending development the news that Wargaming acquires Edge Case, the makers of Fractured Space is a bit of a surprise. What isn’t a surprise though is that Activision is tightening its grip on Blizzard and making them focus more on money. This represents a massive change in the culture at Blizzard. One that some former developers aren’t too keen on and may, in fact, be responsible for Diablo Immortal. This week we also found out what the top grossing games in October were, though the top games really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the industry. Finally, we get a new report from the UK Gambling Commission that doesn’t show any connection between lootboxes and gambling, despite what some who reported on the matter interpreted from the report. You can find all of that and much more in this week’s dive into the business behind games, MMO Money.

 

Activision Tightening Its Grip on Blizzard

Activision and Blizzard have been together since 2007 but, according to a recent article from Kotaku, Activision has started having a greater influence over Blizzard. Much of it started with Activision Blizzard’s Senior VP of Investor Relations took on the role of CFO at Blizzard earlier this year. Shortly after she was appointed she told employees that Blizzard was looking to save money this year. This is very different from the message previously given. Anonymous employees who spoke to Kotaku said that the way they were being scrutinized you would have thought Blizzard was going under and had no money.

Activision hasn’t been having an amazing year. Share prices have taken a hit and Destiny 2 is underperforming which may be putting a little bit of pressure on the company as a whole. Blizzard has also had a drop in monthly active users for four quarterly reports in a row. That simply comes down to not releasing any new games in a while.

This almost certainly had an influence on Blizzard’s decision to go into mobile games as well. The Kotaku article also says that they have more in the works, including a Warcraft Augmented Reality game like Pokemon Go.

It looks like Blizzard as we once knew it is changing. If that’s a good thing or not depends on how much you have invested in the company.

 

Source: Kotaku

 

Wargaming Acquires Edge Case

Fractured Space

Last month Edge Case announced they were ending development on Fractured Space. Now we’re finding out that the studio has been acquired by Wargaming. The 32 members of the Edge Case team will be relocating to Wargaming UK’s office bringing the total number working there up to 55. There they will be working on an unannounced F2P MMO. Wargaming UK isn’t looking to acquire any more studios, but they are hiring for a number of positions.

It’s too early to have any idea what exactly the next Wargaming F2P MMO is going to be. But that isn’t going to stop us from hoping that it is going to be World of Spaceships. That’s what happens when you mix Fractured Space with World of Tanks…right? Whatever the game is we’re looking forward to the day it gets announced.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

October’s Top Grossing Titles

Superdata released their monthly look at the top grossing titles. For the first time ever console gamers spent over $1 billion on full game downloads in a single month. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 topped the console charters with Red Dead Redemption 2 and Fortnite in third. Pokemon Go holds the number 2 position as far as mobile games go. Second only to Honour of Kings, a Chinese game which has been at the top for quite a long time now. Overwatch, which didn’t make the top 10 list is seeing microtransactions are down 20% from last October. However, thanks to Halloween they were up from September.

 

Source: SuperData

 

Lootbox News

The UK Gambling Commission put out a report that said they are concerned with the increasingly blurred lines between games and gambling. The report also found that 3 in 10 children have opened lootboxes while playing video games. However, this doesn’t mean that lootboxes are a gateway to gambling or that they are themselves gambling, which some media companies reported. For the first time ever questions around awareness and usage of lootboxes were included in an annual survey of 3,000 kids in the UK ages 11 to 16. Speaking to Games Industry a spokeswoman said, “We’ve not in anyway, in the survey, referred to it as exposure to gambling. The reason we’ve asked that question is that it’s a very popular subject matter and we want to try and make sure that we have as much information and data around it as possible.”

The survey did find that 15% of children 11-16 are aware of skin betting websites. However, only 3% have ever participated and this has no connection to lootboxes at all. Awareness of lootboxes was at 54%. Those are kids who said they knew it was possible to pay money for them in games. 31% said they have acquired them and opened them either through their parent or guardian or through their own means.

It’s very disappointing to see that the UK continues to hold a stance that goes against what many countries in Europe have decided. But then again, we have come to expect that sort of thing.

 

Source: Games Industry

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MMO Money: Star Citizen Reaches $200 Million Milestone

This week we have a few last third quarter reports to take a look at. This time for NetEase, who is currently in the public’s eye for their work on Diablo Immortal and Tencent who have been having a terrible year as far as their gaming division goes. Star Citizen also reached an all new fundraising milestone, which was received about as well as you might expect. Finally, just a week after DayZ went into beta they reached a milestone of their own.

 

Star Citizen Reaches $200 Million Milestone

This was the week that Star Citizen reached $200 million fundraised for their game. As you might expect though it wasn’t all celebrations. In a letter to the fans, Chris Roberts said that there are supporters from 171 different countries stretching from one end of the globe to the other. He also talks about how far the company has come in the last 6 years, in particular growing from just a handful of staff to more than 500 employees in 3 countries. The letter also goes into some detail about the future, talking about a new alpha build that is coming up and plans for a Squadron 42 roadmap.

However, on Reddit, and indeed across the internet this proved to be the perfect time for those who have issues with Star Citizen to speak out. For all the money that Star Citizen has continued to bring in, there have been a lot of issues and concerns that the studio isn’t going to deliver on the promised game. As time goes on the voice of discontent grows louder causing even more of a rift between those who still have high hopes for the game and those who have given up all hope.

 

Source: Roberts Space Industries, Reddit

 

Tencent Gaming Revenue Continues to Decline

Tencent mobile financials - MMOGames.com - Your source for MMOs & MMORPGs

If you don’t already know, there is much more to Tencent than just making games. In fact, in China, they are a massive multi-armed internet company that has music services, social media companies, e-commerce, and even movies. Warcraft, Wonder Woman, and Venom are just a few titles they’ve done that you might have heard of. Unfortunately, while the company as a whole is doing amazingly, revenue is up 24% year on year, the gaming division is still taking a massive hit. Online gaming revenue is down 4% in Q3, much of that decline is from the PC sector. Mobile gaming, however, has seen a bit of a boost which did offset some of the damages. This seems to suggest that gamers are moving away from PC gaming into mobile.

During the quarterly report to investors, Tencent didn’t mention the freeze on game licenses in China. Instead, they focused on the fact that they released 10 games last quarter and they have 15 approved for monetization in the works. This should give them a bit of a boost as they do still have a bit to work with. The company may actually be able to weather this storm after all. But, so long as the news from the Chinese government continues to be grim Tencent’s gaming division will keep feeling the pain.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

DayZ Sells 4 Million Units

DayZ3

Just a week after transitioning into beta testing Bohemia Interactive have announced that DayZ has sold 4 million units. The game has been playable in Early Access since December 2013. By January 2015 it had reached the 3 million user mark. Meaning that it took nearly 4 years to get another million on top of that. In that time, of course, the industry has gone through quite a lot of changes. Most notably is the rise of the Battle Royale genre which has spawned some of the most popular games in the world. Meanwhile, the zombie survival genre, which DayZ helped usher in is barely a faint memory at this point. A number of games inspired by DayZ were released which then spawned other survival games like Ark: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles. These days DayZ has acknowledged that they are a niche game for a niche audience and they aren’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. They’ve also announced that they fully intend to stick to their 2018 launch date, which means they have just over a month left to go. When the game does finally launch it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see a small boost in purchases. But at this point, it seems likely that anyone who was going to buy the game has already done so and launching is merely a formality. Development will continue on the game well past launch as the studio continues to tweak the game to meet their goals.

 

Source: Games Industry

 

NetEase Quarterly Sees Growth

Diablo Immortal

Things are looking good for NetEase in the third quarter report with net revenue up, mobile gaming up, and success in their endeavors to bring Western games to China. Net Revenue is up for the company 35.1% year on year, bringing it up to 16.9 billion yuan, $2.5 billion USD. Of that online gaming accounted for $1.5 billion which is up 27.6% year on year. In Q3 the company released a number of quite successful mobile games. They also launched World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth in China which saw the number of subscribers and the revenue go up. They aren’t likely to feel any backlash from Diablo Immortals until Q4. Though the expected backlash financially isn’t expected to be nearly as bad as the outcry about the game would suggest. Minecraft in China got another 50 million players between the Q2 and Q3 reports. During the report, they talked about the global audience and how it has benefited them.

“Additionally, we have taken a more global view of our online games business. As a result, our international expansion, took another leap forward this quarter, contributing more than 10 percent of total online game net revenues for the first time in our company’s history. We are also very excited about our collaboration with Blizzard to bring one of their biggest games to mobile players, increasing our visibility and expanding our foothold in the global online games market.”

 

Source: Quarterly Report

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Activision-Blizzard Stock Takes a Hit after Diablo Immortal Reveal

The negative reaction to the Diablo Immortal reveal has hit the company in the place where it arguably matters the most: the stock market. After the game’s maligned unveiling at BlizzCon, Activision-Blizzard’s shares started to trend downwards by the end of the trading day yesterday.

diablo immortal reveal

By the end of Monday at the NASDAQ stock exchange, ActiBlizz’s shares dropped 7.2%, bringing the company on track for its lowest close since January. The game continues to receive backlash from Diablo fans, yet its reveal has gotten praise from financial analysts, with one quoted as calling the game’s announcement “Blizzard’s first shot on goal into the big global mobile game market.”

Blizzard reps at the floor of BlizzCon appeared ready to press against common player accusations. One such accusation is that Diablo Immortal is a reskinned Crusaders of Light, which was refuted by one rep. “Blizzard, in partnership with NetEase, has built ‘Diablo Immortal’ from the ground up for iOS/Android,” says the rep.

Another response from Blizzard is related to early mutterings that a proper Diablo 4 reveal was on deck to be unveiled at BlizzCon but was removed from the show at the last second — a report that was flatly denied by the company.

“We can say that we didn’t pull any announcements from BlizzCon this year or have plans for other announcements,” reads the official response. “We do continue to have different teams working on multiple unannounced Diablo projects, and we look forward to announcing when the time is right.”

Our Thoughts

We suspect this stock price hit is a correction more than a regular trend, but it’s impossible to ignore that Diablo Immortal has incensed a whole lot of fans. While there are a couple of us that are certainly intrigued by the game, we also have to agree that a mobile title being introduced at Blizzard’s biggest fan convention was, at the absolute least, pretty tone deaf.

Sources: Bloomberg via PCGamesN, Variety, Venture Beat

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More Details on Diablo Immortal Revealed

This weekend Blizzard announced Diablo Immortal, a mobile Diablo game. If you somehow missed this announcement the biggest news is the fan reaction. Booing the game at the announcement was only the beginning of the trouble. Lost in the drama around the announcement, however, were any real details about the game. Our friend Cinderboy over at MMOCulture managed to dig up a few interviews with Chinese media that have shed some light on the upcoming game.

First, most of the technical parts of the game were done by NetEase, this includes the use of their in-house Messiah game engine. Messiah has been used on games like Knives Out which is currently one of the top mobile games in the world. Messiah supports technologies such as Physically-based Rendering (PBR), Normal mapping, GPU Particle, Real-time lighting and more, drastically lowering the number of game details lost while playing. Meaning the game looks good. Because it is on mobile though, the game’s color palette won’t be as dark as Diablo fans are used to.

At the moment the development team are focusing on improving the quality of the game so they aren’t yet ready to look into other potential features like guilds, PvP, transmorg, and an auction house.

NetEase hasn’t decided yet if Android and iOS players will be on the same server or separate ones.

They’ve also said that the business model is not set in stone yet.

So while the announcement trailer said that the game would be coming soon it doesn’t look like it actually is going to be very soon at all. Following all the backlash that the game got during Blizzcon, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if more development time was given to the game.

Now that tempers have settled some many fans are pointing out that this seems like a game that is made more for casuals and Eastern audiences. There is a common perception that mobile games are casual, but thanks to advances in technology that isn’t the case at all. Is it possible that Blizzard had the East in mind when they teamed up with NetEase? Absolutely. The audience there is massive and mobile is king. To quote a friend, the whole Diablo Immortal situation feels like a case of mismanaged expectations.

But at least now we know a little more about the game.

 

Source: MMOCulture

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Diablo Immortal: Mobile’s Demonic Destroyer

BlizzCon 2018 has hit the ground running this year, with its opening ceremony absolutely devastating onlookers with a slew of announcements across the board. Heading the convention was a slew of massive announcements for every single one of the major brands including Diablo. Heading the mainline stage Wyatt Cheng, the lead designer for the Diablo Series, unveiled the newest and most demonic edition of the franchise yet. Following the devastating conclusion of Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction and the corruption of the World Stone, Blizzard has now set the stage for Diablo Immortal. Entering the mobile marketplace for its first gaming release, Diablo Immortal is intended to be a mobile exclusive Action-RPG, covering the twenty-year gap between Lord of Destruction and Diablo 3.

The game will feature six hero classes at launch including: the Necromancer, Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Crusader, and the newly established Demon Hunter order. Intended to possess the same MMO functionality found across the franchise, Diablo Immortal will also feature massive co-op gameplay throughout its dungeons, allowing up to six players to join up at any time. The game is being co-developed by Chinese internet titan NetEase, a company that is certainly no stranger to Blizzard’s products. In the past they’ve covered both the open beta distribution for Diablo 3, as well as development for Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm and handling the distribution for numerous other games including World of Warcraft’s relaunch in 2009 and several world sites for Hearthstone.

Picking up 5 years after Lord of Destruction, Immortal is intended to answer those questions left unanswered after the destruction of the World Stone. Following the scattering of the World Stone’s corrupted remnants, players will have 8 playable zones available at launch, with promises of additional content post-launch.

At the What’s Next panel for Diablo, the senior development team behind Immortal previewed several of the new zones; the twisted remains of the Bilefen, a newer jungle-grown marshland that has seen darkness take route with the shards of the World Stone. Players will also return to the Frozen Tundra, the homeland of the Barbarians with promises that the land has become even harsher with Bael’s corruption. Zoltun Kulle’s Library returns for Immortal from Diablo 3. This particular lair birthed deep in the heart of the desert like a “magical hoarder” as the panel described. They then demoed the persistent player world to be found in Immortal, displaying the shared-outdoor zones players will find; using famous Warcraft enemy Hogger as an analogy, they described how players may happen upon each other as they play, battling monsters together for greater loot and rewards than one could find playing solo otherwise.

Jumping off from that, Immortal will also feature the same style of instanced randomly-generated dungeon the Diablo series is known for, with distinctly greater challenges than one could find in the open world. Opening up with the Kikuras Rapids found deep in the heart of the Bilefen, the Rapids are home to some of the most vicious fetish-monsters of the zone. As players avoid having, “swords donated to them, pointy end first,” they’ll also be sailing down river in a similar manner to famous Hollywood film, Apocalypse Now, bound to a dingy raft that slowly begins to float players along to either great rewards, or potential doom over the edge of a waterfall. Changing tone entirely the panel then revealed the Tomb of Fahir, a silent desert ruin drawing more on the aesthetics the series is known for. This was quickly followed by the Forgotten Tower, an ancient sanctuary now overrun with cultists of every caliber undergoing dark rituals for their demonic lords. The panel then revealed Westmarch, Immortal’s capital city in its golden age of existence but didn’t demo any concept art or in-game work.

Continuing onward, Blizzard then demoed the launch classes which all appear to contain not only the main design concepts inherit to each class from its parent game, but hosts of new moves and abilities to make each feel remarkably distinct. Panelists then went on to talk about how future classes are being planned for post-launch, intending for Immortal to be live-updated in a similar manner to how Diablo 3 was up until the last few seasons, teasing both the Witch Doctor and Assassin classes while maintaining that the community will have the greatest say in which Classes meet release.

Control for Immortal is rather standard for how most mobile devices handle, featuring a virtual control stick in the bottom left corner of the play-screen. The user interface now also includes the various button abilities found traditionally on the controller. Movement and aiming finally come into harmony in Immortal, generating a second control stick after ability activation to determine target. Immortal will also feature an Intuitive Aiming mechanic, allowing the computer to generate relevant targets for ability usage. This will essentially allow users to point and click where necessary, while still maintaining control of their abilities. Immortal is intended to be more social-heavy than previous Battle.net games, integrated from day one with the social platform so players may engage across games.

In the Q+A period Blizzard would later confirm, much to the crowd’s displeasure, that Immortal would exclusively be developed for Android and iOS systems with no future plan for PC or console development. I, for one, am actually looking forward to an exclusively mobile game; after picking up Reaper of Souls for my Playstation 4 several years ago, I still haven’t gotten past Tristram simply for not having the time. I fully intend on picking up Diablo 3 for my Nintendo Switch for the promise of portability, as that’s where I can make the best use of my dungeon delving time effectively.

Players also inquired into Hardcore mode’s potential return to Immortal and was sadly disappointed. Citing issues with mobile connectivity, Blizzard currently does not seem to have plans on pursuing a traditional version of Hardcore but instead wants to carry those principles into other areas. Cheng briefly talked about a potential system reminiscent of Warcraft’s Mythic Dungeons.

Ultimately we’ll see more of Diablo Immortal hitting the BlizzCon stage later this weekend, but for now I am thoroughly impressed. All-in-all Immortal looks at first glance to be a refreshing take on the franchise on technology finally best-suited for it. While some players may be incredibly bitter about a mobile-exclusive release, with one questioner asking, “Is this some off-season April Fool’s Joke?” I for one look forward to Immortal. While I do think it could potentially succeed better on the Switch and PC, one cannot deny that Blizzard is reaching for a more viable and successful long term market. However with a slew of ARPGs already saturating the mobile marketplace, and the mass negative reaction from attendees at BlizzCon its clear that Blizzard will need to bank on more than just nostalgia to make Immortal perform well in the long-run.

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