I’ve been waiting quite a while for the NDA to wear off on this. I am proud to announce, in a BlizzPlanet Exclusive, the next World of Warcraft novel, World of Warcraft: Yrel: Heart of Draenor! Just as World of Warcraft: Vol’jin: Shadows of the Horde had a writer new to the Warcraft franchise behind it, so will Heart of Dreanor: the famous Tara Gilesbie!
In the press details I was given by Micky Neilson, Lead Story Developer for Blizzard Entertainment, he explained this novel will bridge the gap between Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor by giving readers a look into one of the expansion’s lead characters, Yrel. The story will chronicle Yrel’s journey from a simple priestess at Karabor, to her witnessing the formation of the Iron Horde, ultimately leading to her first encounter with the player character (done similarly in Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War).
“We are incredibly excited to be working with Ms. Gilesbie,” Micky said in regards to the upcoming novel. He also mentioned we may be seeing a forbidden romance in Yrel’s adventures which will heavily affect her role in Warlords of Draenor.
He also clarified that, following another of Shadow of the Horde‘s traditions, Heart of Draenor will be a darker and more mature fare than most Warcraft novels. Due to this, I’ve had to censor the excerpt provided later on in the article slightly for the BlizzPlanet readership.
“We’ve seen how massively popular the pairing of Jaina and Kalecgos was in Tides of War, and Thrall and Aggra presented in-game is still considered one of our best works here at Blizzard. So it was natural to have another unique and well written romance. I wont’ say who catches Yrel’s eye, but I’ll give you a hint: his dad’s the leader of the Iron Horde.”
Just imagine the conflict that’s going to come from that! It looks like Yrel won’t just be Warcraft’s Joan of Arc, but perhaps their Romeo and Julliet as well?
As for our newest Warcraft author, Tara Gilesbie is a world renowned writer who, like many in today’s age, got her start on the internet. She is best known for her novella My Immortal, a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead-style take on the popular Harry Potter series of books; which chronicles Harry’s adventures through the eyes of a mentally challenged vampire student attending Hogwarts. Originally published for free, the full work can be read here if you want to get a taste of Gilesbie’s unique writing style before Heart of Draenor is out.
While I could not reach Tara herself, I was given this quote from her: “I m sooooo eksited to work on dis story! Fangz (geddit becuz Im Goffik) Blizzurd for givin me the change to work with u guys1″
I was also given a very short excerpt from Yrel: Heart of Draenor, detailing a scene between Yrel and her forbidden lover. As this is a spoiler, I’ll leave it under the read-more.
Another Hearthstone patch hit a few days ago, guided by development lasers focused entirely on Jaina and her delay tactics. The changes are simple, a delay on the delay – Cone of Cold, Frost Nova, and Blizzard all had their costs increased by 1. A bit more room to maneuver against the inevitable Pyroblast.
And Open Beta is delayed until January 2014. Everyone who opted in the closed before December 16th should be playing and complaining about decks with six legendaries stuffed inside. The closed beta opt ins close January 7th, open beta should follow soon after. The major delays have come from the nitty gritty stuff – server infrastructure and hardware. Settling up the servers, databases and hardware takes time and planning. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. Be patient and Hearthstone will be out sooner than you expect.
More top ranked players, too. There’s been some fluctuation and rank swapping with the new round. A few of them have streams, too, so watching and learning from the best is a possible path to success. They lack the sheer numbers of Trump, Kripp, Hafu, and the other big name players so they’re more able to answer questions and interact with the audiences. No disrespect intended to the celebrities but the reward of fame is also its price. Consider spreading the Twitch.tv love around. I’m considering starting a channel for myself and give you fellow card slingers another way to waste time.
I also got my first 9 win arena streak the day before the 12 win cap was released. As much as I dislike Garrosh, the warrior and I seem to speak the same language. Rushes, injuries, weapons, sacrifices. Thrall and I don’t, despite my desperate attempts to make it work. Maybe I’m more Warsong than Frostwolf. Regardless, I know I hate Anduin.
The Activision Blizzard Third Quarter Financial conference call took place on November 6th, 2013 at 1:30pm PDT.
Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, said: “Our third-quarter results exceeded our expectations, and we are able to raise our outlook for 2013 net revenues and earnings per share.
Robust continued engagement with our core franchises drove digi tal revenue, which constituted a majority of all revenue. This quarter demonstrates that games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft engage and entertain our fans year round.”
Kotick added, “We recently released new titles in two of the most popular franchises in entertainment, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Skylanders SWAP Force. We are thrilled by the quality of those games and we are excited to show what we can do with them on next-generation consoles in the coming weeks. We are also in the process of a beta launch for our first major free-to-play game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
However, we continue to believe that the fourth quarter this year presents a unique and challenging landscape due to increased competition and uncertainties surrounding the console transition.
We are confident in our ability to navigate these challenges successfully, particularly in light of the recent completion of our transaction with Vivendi and the focus and flexibility provided by our return to independence.”
As of September 30, 2013, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft remains the #1 subscription-based MMORPG, with approximately 7.6 million subscribers.
In North America, Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft® II: Heart of the Swarm® was the #1 PC game for the first nine months of 2013.
Morhaime: Q3 was an eventful quarter for Blizzard. We launched our first console game in many years with Diablo III. We also announced an expansion pack for Diablo III — Reaper of Souls.
Additionally, beta testing for Hearthstone kicked off and we released significant content update for World of Warcraft.
All of this activity has netted out to a strong quarter where we ended higher in net revenue and operating income versus Q2 mostly due to the Diablo III console launch on September.
Revenues and income were down year over year — as expected — due to the successful launch of Mists of Pandaria and the ongoing sales of Diablo III during the same quarter last year.
Going into more specific details with World of Warcraft, we’re very pleased with the response to Siege of Orgrimmar — the massive content update we released in September. This update included a huge new raid dungeon with major story elements, as well as a new area to explore and features that improved the game’s accessibility.
Flexible rates now allow groups of variable size to participate in the end-game raiding dungeons. Meanwhile, the Proving Grounds feature trains players to improve their play in specific roles, preparing them to participate in end-game content. Player response to the content has been good, and we saw increased engagement that has contributed to maintaining relatively stable subscribership quarter-over-quarter. We’ll continue to invest heavily in World of Warcraft to deliver frequent, high-quality content to our players.
Moving on to Diablo III, we are pleased with the response to the games launched on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Lifetime sell-through of the game across all platforms has reached over 14 million copies, and reviews have been very positive about how the game plays on console. Much of the praise has been centered on changes we made to the loot system and our decision to keep the auction house off of the console platform. Players and critics alike have noted that these changes have resulted in a more fun and satisfying game experience. That reaction factored in our decision to remove the auction house from the PC version of Diablo III effective next March, which players have also responded very positively to.
We’re building upon those design philosophies for loot and incorporating them into Reaper of Souls, the Diablo III expansion pack — which is coming for PC and PS4 in 2014.
In addition to the new loot system, Reaper of Souls will include an additional player class, the Crusader, and more gameplay modes for the endgame to keep players engaged. The reaction to Reaper of Souls at Gamescom was very positive, and we are looking forward to revealing more about the game at BlizzCon.
It was also a busy quarter for Hearthstone, our free-to-play digital card game for PC and iPad based on the Warcraft universe. In Hearthstone, players build decks of cards that feature familiar spells and creatures from World of Warcraft, and battle against each other using the cards. Players can collect cards simply by playing or by purchasing digital packs. They can also purchase entries into a special competitive mode of play called The Arena in exchange for either in-game currency or a small fee.
We’ve seen a great response from the community with the closed beta test, which kicked off in August. Hearthstone quickly became one of the most popular streaming games on Twitch, and we have been expanding the beta test to encompass more regions and a wider group of players. We’re continuing to work on polishing the game as we drive towards open beta testing.
Rounding out our big announcements since the last call is the name change of Blizzard All-Stars to Heroes of the Storm, which is our take on free-to-play hero brawlers. We’ve done an extensive internal test on Heroes over the past several months, and as the game has evolved, we felt it was appropriate to change the name to something more fitting of the gameplay experience.
We’re looking forward to sharing more details about Heroes at BlizzCon, which is taking place this weekend at the Anaheim Convention Center. This is another sold-out show, with more than 20,000 attendees coming to Anaheim from more than 40 different countries.
Our global community will also follow along through DIRECTV, online pay-per-view on blizzcon.com and partner broadcast in other regions. We will be showcasing our biggest pipeline of games ever and showing our appreciation for our community through contests, meet-and-greets and of course, major eSports spectacles.
The World of Warcraft Arena invitational and the global grand finals of the StarCraft II World Championship Series will be taking place, along with an invitational tournament for Hearthstone, featuring popular community personalities.
All of us at Blizzard can’t wait to get back to BlizzCon and connect with our players. We hope you’ll join us there or follow along online with a virtual ticket available online at blizzcon.com.
We are looking forward to celebrating a shared passion of gaming with our players, hearing their feedback on our newest game content and taking that energy and knowledge back to work as we drive towards an exciting 2014 for Blizzard.
Hearthstone provides a useful graph of information when constructing an Arena deck: the mana curve. It’s an invaluable chart that can help smooth out the transition from early to mid to late game, fix problems as you construct a deck (too many high costs cards, or no beefy minions at all). Certain deck strategies can subvert the curve or ignore it entirely, but most decks and their players watch it carefully. I’d like the mana curve added when making custom decks in Play mode because of how useful it is. I consider its absence an oversight and it hopefully appears later.
I’d like to see another graph added to Hearthstone’s deck construction: a minion versus spell chart. While not as vital as the mana curve, displaying a bit of info about the number of minions in your deck as well as the number of spells would be helpful. A mana curve taken at face value can be deceptive because it doesn’t distinguish between card types. Lots of cost spells may keep your curve smooth but a lack of early minions may leave you vulnerable. It’s not too troublesome to count the totals or track them externally but implementing such a feature seems like a natural addition to an already robust and informative UI.
As long as I’m talking about things I’d like added to a free game, how about showing cards by type? Neutrals and class cards, basics and experts, commons, rares, epics, and legendaries. The growing list of charts could be situated across from the deck list, or a button could be added next to the deck list to flip it over and display the information. Swap, swap.
These are minor suggestions from an immensely satisfied customer, however. The game is kinetic and fun, the cards well illustrated and expansive. I’d still really like banter from the heroes to each other. There are potentially more boards in the works, which is great, but I hate waiting for them. Personally I’d love to see an Undercity board with rats scurrying across the play area, maybe dodging cards. And anything from Northrend.
What about you? Any locales you’re waiting for? Any information you’d like Hearthstone to display?
Update: I am a fool. The mana curve is available in constructed: hover over a hero’s image and you can see your current curve.
Well, he probably does. Who doesn’t? But he’s careful and doesn’t leave the construction of Hearthstone to chance and whimsy. In a previous column I discussed the issues with the coin that most players are stirred up about. It’s a hot button issue – the coin has proponents and detractors. Hearthstone’s forums are brimming with threads discussing, at length, the impact of that little card.
But none carry as much weight as the words of Mr. Brode. In a post on the Hearthstone forums Brode details the history behind its inception, the logic for its purpose, and the hard numbers of the coin’s actual significance in games. With Hearthstone’s systems closely monitored by developers the figures aren’t amorphous, specific samples from a handful of games but rather a complete and exhaustive data set. And they provide some incredible insight into the coin’s impact.
Across all leagues, 52.2% of wins are for the player who goes first. In master league, where the giants fight, that imbalance shrinks to 50.4%. The advantage of going first isn’t insurmountable and the coin seems to be fulfilling its role as a field leveler. The passionate responses it stirs may be more related to its potential for momentum shifting: dropping a heavy minion a turn before it’s expected or delivering a powerful combo attack (as has been done to me with frustrating regularity).
Arena statistics aren’t provided, but further in the thread a player asks and Mr. Brode answers. The results are similar to standard mode, a slight advantage to going first but it isn’t significant. The coin is here to stay. I’m happy the developers provided numbers about the coin’s use and impact during a game rather than simply stating a position and expecting the players to live with it. The statistics and comments may not convince everyone but it convinces me. It’s not a game breaker, just a light touch on the scale.
Hearthstone games are quick. With steady mana, limited defenses, and a heavy slant on offensive power Hearthstone’s contests of cards are about early advantages and constant presses. Laying minions often and early is a great way to stress your opponent – even big guys can only attack once. There are ways to clear the board, like flamestrike and lightning storm, but they’re more common for some heroes than others. This isn’t necessarily an issue; the heroes are designed around the classes of WoW (perhaps vice versa) and their spells are drawn from well known class abilities.
The issue, at least a common point of controversy, is the Coin. On its face the card doesn’t appear to give a significant advantage. The player going second is given a zero cost spell that grants one mana for one turn. It doesn’t sound like huge boon. At best, the second player can put down a minion or cast a spell a turn before the mana actually accrues or play a combination of cards for great effect. The bonus mana isn’t really a problem. Smart players, or players fortunate enough to have a good hand of cards, can take advantage of it and turn the tide or press a advantage further toward victory. The problem is that the Coin currently counts as a spell.
That makes sense. It is a spell. It has a spell effect and it certainly isn’t a minion. But the zero cost spell for the second player provides a secondary, and arguably more powerful, bonus. Cards that take advantage of spells cast that turn are boosted because of an arbitrary turn order, not because clever deck construction. The Coin’s advantage is supposed to be a one time mana bonus. The mechanical advantages for player turn order are already present: player one is one mana ahead, player two is one card ahead. The Coin is a nice bit of gravy; going first is quite an advantage and the bonus mana can switch the momentum. Any other advantage it provides is superfluous. It’s effect as the 31st card is too potent.
The Coin shouldn’t be a spell, it should just be the Coin. A card all of its own.
Travis: It began with a teaser from Zeriyah’s twitter: a mysterious video of a cake, frosted with a Warcraft Hearthstone, and the word “Beta” scrawled on the side. The excitement was almost palpable. Hype Train coming.
And then suddenly, the Americas closed beta started. The forums appeared and expanded, invites began, and new players outside of Blizzard offices began to duel each other. As it is a closed beta, invites are being sent only to those who opt in. Opting in is easy and done from a potential player’s Battle.net account.
By far the highlight from the Beta announcement, aside from the announcement itself, is the lack of an NDA. Players can, and are encouraged to, do livestreams of their games and record videos, post screenshots and write long, winding articles about the mechanics.
Check those inboxes – invites are coming. Lok’tar ogar!
Medievaldragon: The Blizzplanet staff is slowly getting into Hearthstone closed beta. I am going to share with you the installation process. As soon as I downloaded the beta installer client, something that totally got me off-guard is that upon launching the client, the Battle.net launcher automatically kicked in to take over the download process. The beta file is around 500MB by the way.
Hi readers and welcome to my first editorial type article. With the release of Patch 5.4′s trailer (see it here if you haven’t already), the debate on whether or not Blizzard is biased towards the Horde in content development has risen again. Its a subject that really came to a head with the release of Cataclysm, enough so that Blizzard actually had Dave Kosak make a blog post, “Dev Watercooler: Faction Favoritism“. It was very negatively received, and in fact was seen by many as further proof there was faction bias favoring the Horde enough to be detrimental to the Alliance among Blizzard’s developers. So, does this faction favoritism really exist? Is Blizzard ignoring half their playerbase because they can’t muster the effort to to create content for a faction they don’t like? Or is this all overblown outcry from WoW’s notoriously unpleaseable fanbase?
Anxious to play Hearthstone yourself? Are the Twitch specials and Fireside duels not satisfying your curiosity and anticipation? If you’re able to attend Gamescom this year, you’re in luck.
Blizzard and the Hearthstone developers will be hosting the first public playable versions of the game in Germany this year. Blizzard will host several sessions of Hearthstone during the trade fair. Hearthstone’s lead artist Ben Thompson will also be showing off his artistic talents with live drawing and sketching. There are also quizzes, Q&As, developer signings, and a Warcraft dance contest.
Activision Blizzard celebrated today their 2013 Second Quarter financial results conference call where Bob Kotick addressed their independence from Vivendi after purchasing their shares.
Bobby Kotick, Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard, said, “We are pleased with our second-quarter results, which confirm the preliminary results we released last week when we announced our transaction with Vivendi. The agreement we reached with Vivendi will make us an independent company and should deliver meaningful earnings per share accretion to our shareholders. Our solid performance across our franchises and strong digital sales, including continued significant growth this quarter in our Call of Duty® downloadable content business over the previous year, validate our belief that we will enter this new period of independence in a position to leverage the flexibility and focus that it provides.”
On July 25, 2013, Activision Blizzard announced that it reached an agreement under which the company will acquire approximately 429 million company shares and certain tax attributes from Vivendi, in exchange for approximately $5.83 billion in cash, or $13.60 per share acquired before taking into account any future benefit from these tax attributes. In a related transaction, ASAC II LP, an investment vehicle led by CEO Bobby Kotick and Activision Blizzard Co-Chairman Brian Kelly, will purchase approximately 172 million company shares from Vivendi for approximately $2.34 billion in cash, or $13.60 per share. Following the completion of the transactions, which are expected to close by the end of September 2013, Vivendi will no longer be the majority shareholder, but will retain a stake of approximately 83 million shares, or approximately 12%.
World of Warcraft subscribers: 7.7 Million
Next-Gen MMO Titan is likely to be a non-subscription based MMO
Titan staff was moved to World of Warcraft, Diablo III and Blizzard All-Stars
The second quarter was a relatively quiet quarter when compared against last quarter, which included the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm launch; and Q2 2012 when we launched Diablo III. We’ve been making great progress on Diablo III console and Hearthstone along with other ongoing projects, which I’ll discuss shortly.
Starting off with World of Warcraft, we ended the quarter with about 7.7 million subscribers worldwide, with the declines split about evenly between East and West. The most recent content update in late May has had a positive impact on stabilizing the churn rate in both regions.
Our next major content update, “Siege of Orgrimmar” is currently in the public testing phase. This update includes a massive new raid dungeon and a new questing area, as well as some new features. Proving grounds is a way for players to learn the skills they need for in-game contents and flexible raids allows groups of varying sizes to enjoy in-game rating. This will make it easier for players to experience compelling in-game contents with their friends. In addition to sustaining engagement for existing players, we believe these features can help make the transition back to the game more compelling for returning players as well. We look forward to releasing this update in the coming weeks.
Before I get into the other game updates, I want to say a few words about our unannounced project codenamed Titan. We’re in the process of selecting a new direction for the project and re-envisioning what we want the game to be. And while we can’t talk about the details yet, it is unlikely to be a subscription-based MMORPG. I also want to reiterate that there has not been an official announced or projected release date. What I can say is that the commitment to quality has always been at the core of Blizzard values. And we’ve gone through this type of iterative development process several times in the past on the way to creating genre-defining games. As we continue our assessment, we have shifted some of the resources from the team to our other franchises, including World of Warcraft and Blizzard All-Stars, which we believe will add immense value to those projects.
On the Diablo III side, we announced a September 3rd date for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions to the game. Our showing at E3 was a great opportunity to reinsure ourselves to the console gaming audience. The development team has done a lot of work to tailor Diablo III for a living room experience and these subtle changes have been very well-received by the press. We’ll be sharing more Diablo-related news at GamesCom later this month.
Moving on to StarCraft II. We just launched Heart of the Swarm in China a couple of weeks ago and in these early stages have seen a jump in concurrency in the region. In addition, our year-long StarCraft II World Championship Series is currently in its second season with the season finals taking place later this month at GamesCom in Germany.
We’ve also been putting a lot of focus on Blizzard All-Stars, our upcoming free-to-play online game. Action RTS games have become increasingly popular over the years. As we have in the past with games like World of Warcraft and the original Diablo, we’re looking to put our own spin on this genre and challenge some of the existing design paradigms. We’ve reached a significant internal milestone with Blizzard All-Stars going into wider internal testing and we’ll have more to say about the game later this year.
Rounding out our announced game projects is Hearthstone, our new free-to-play digital collectible card game. Hearthstone will launch initially on Windows and Mac PC followed by iPad soon after. We’ve made great progress polishing the game through internal testing and will be reaching the external test phase very soon. Our promotions in the last quarter, which included several live streamed game-play demos have generated great budge for the game since we revealed it at PAX East in March. Not only will this be our first game on iPad, it will also be the first time in a very long time that we have announced a game and launched it within the same year. This reflects the philosophy behind a small team of Blizzard veterans developing Hearthstone to create Blizzard-quality games on a smaller scale.
Looking ahead, we have BlizzCon coming up on November 8 and 9 at the Anaheim Convention Center. The show will be a good one with the latest Blizzard news, hands-on with games and development and of course, the global finals for our StarCraft II World Championship Series. We hope to see you there or following along via the online stream or on DirecTV.
As we enter the back half of 2013, what we’re showing at Blizzard is a broadening of our gaming portfolio. Just 3 years ago, we had one active game. Moving into the rest of 2013 and beyond, we will have several active and vibrant games across 3 major franchises on multiple platforms and with different business models. We’ll continue to work hard on creating epic game experiences for our players and look forward to delivering those experiences in a variety of ways.
Brian J. Pitz: With respect to the wild sub declines, I think last quarter was more Asia based, now it seems to be ramping up more on the West. Can you just give us a little more color there on the split?
Morhaime: Concerning subscription decline, in aggregate in Q2, we did see a smaller decline than we saw in Q1, and I think it’s very important to note the impact that our content updates have had since the most recent update, mid-May. We have seen a very positive impact on the churn rate, and that’s across both regions.
Brian J. Pitz: Got it. And just one more follow-up on WoW. There’s kind of been rumors in and out of the press on a potential movie set with the WoW theme. Any updates there?
Morhaime: I don’t have any updates other than to say that we are continuing to work with Legendary Pictures. Duncan Jones has been selected as the director, who has been actively working on a movie, and we continue to be very excited about it.
Colin A. Sebastian : In the scenario that WoW were to continue declining, I’m wondering whether your priority, ultimately, would be to protect profitability of the franchise or to continue spending on potential growth initiatives?
Morhaime: Our priority is to continue delivering great contents to our players. We feel the WoW continues to be the top most compelling, possibly multiplayer online role-playing game available, and we think it still has a very long life ahead of itself. We think that over time, we have seen players come and go and return to World of Warcraft, and we recognize that there’s a lot that we can do to make the experience of coming back to World of Warcraft and the transition back into the game and meeting up with your friends much easier than it currently. And so I think that’s a big opportunity for us.
Brian J. Pitz (Jefferies LLC, Research Division) Colin A. Sebastian (Robert W. Baird & Co. Incorporated, Research Division)