D3 release date announced, and the annual pass question?

Dammit Blizzard, two posts in one day. This is a quick one, however.

Blizzard have announced a release date for Diablo 3, it will be going live on May 15th. And you won’t be able to sign up for the annual pass after May 1st, so if you want one then go for it before then.

Actually, leaving it until April/ May to sign up for an annual pass might be the best of both worlds if you unsubbed due to being bored of Cataclysm but are keen to play Pandaria. That would still give you D3 and the MoP beta access, and the majority of the year from May ’12 – May ’13 is likely to include Pandaria rather than Cataclysm content.

It’s not for me, I have D3 on preorder anyway and don’t much care for expansion betas. But it may well be a better looking deal than signing up last December would have been if Cataclysm has run its course for you.  I also suspect strongly that the MoP beta will not start until the annual pass signup has expired (ie. not until May), but we’ll see.

[WoW] Annual pass thoughts, class design, end of expansion blues?

One of the interesting snippets that came out of Activision’s last earnings call was the information that about 10% of WoW subscribers took up the annual pass offer. Green Armadillo shares his thoughts on this, and I agree that this is higher than I would have expected to see. That’s a lot of people who have committed for the long term, even knowing that there was no new content due, D3 wasn’t likely to be out before the Summer and the next expansion beta probably at around the same time.

I think it speaks for a large number of players for whom WoW has become part of their lives, so they either don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege of only logging on occasionally, or else it’s too much hassle to unsub and then worry about resubbing again later (in the same way that people don’t tend to shift their bank accounts around much, even if they could get a better deal elsewhere.) It’s not fair to say that the annual pass decision is made completely without reference to what new content Blizzard will be providing, because D3 and the MoP beta were thrown into the deal. But I bet a lot of the people who picked it up thought “I’ll probably be subbing for the year anyway, might as well.”

Which mostly boils down to a lot of people being happy to pay Blizzard £92 pa for access to WoW, plus Diablo 3 (when it comes out) and beta access to the next WoW expansion (oh and a mount, I forgot about that). There’s not much more to read into that, except maybe that older established players who are glommed onto their game of choice are much less fussy about new content and bug fixes than players hopping into a new and shiny game. Next year, Blizzard won’t be able to offer as tempting a deal to annual pass holders so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

What I do wonder is whether subscription game players in general would prefer the option of an annual sub. (At that point, you’re getting quite close to the old Guild Wars model where they aim to release one paid expansion a year and that’s all people have to pay, the only difference is in the amounts charged and how much extra content you get for your money.)

Watercooler on Class Design

Ghostcrawler posted one of his neat thought blogs, this time on class design and roles  in WoW. And it sounds to me as though they know all the issues inside out and the base problems with  some classes being way more hybrid than others (compare the druids’s 4 roles with the mage’s 1 role) would just be too much hassle to change at this point in the game.

I think that’s fair. No point annoying the players who like their classes just the way they are – well not more than totally shaking up the talent trees every expansion would have done anyway. But it sounds a bit weary to me, the tone of designers who’ve mostly given up. Maybe they got burned on the old DK talent tree model, where each tree was intended to be able to perform both melee and tanking roles. It’s a shame because I thought that was good fun, but I can see why sinking back into one tree per role for hybrids and … uh … one tree per different play style for non-hybrids is an easier and more comfortable fit.

I felt tired just reading it. Tired of the game design which involves always having to chase after ‘OK, so which is the best class/ spec for this role I’d like to do’ or ‘ohnoes, my class/spec  got nerfed and no one will want me for role X any more’  or ‘class X can fill 17 different roles, what do I get to make up for not being able to do that?’ (There’s a theme around balance and how your class ends up as the lens through which you see the game here.) Ultimately, you either pick a class/ spec because you love the theme and feel and playstyle, or you pick your preferred role (possibly because of theme/ playstyle) and try to pick the class that best embodies it – and these two approaches don’t always match.

As a player, I just want to be able to pick my class because I dig it and be able to perform whichever role I want to a level that’s acceptable to the rest of the player base. Is it really that much to ask? (yes :P ) Oh, and I don’t want to play a melee class in PvP but I really like melee classes in PvE. Come back to me when you’ve thought it over again.

Is it that end of expansion time already?

Usually the end of an expansion is marked by an upswing of hype for the next expansion. I think in WoW, this changed during Wrath, because there was a long slow period between the last major raid being patched in and the new expansion. So now in Cataclysm, it’s not surprising that people are already talking about this being the end of the expansion. (Incidentally, it also makes me suspect that the  slow period at the end of Wrath is  setting the pattern now for future WoW expansion cycles).

I noticed that WoW Insider has a column on “what to do when you’re bored at the end of an expansion” to mark this. They suggest speed running heroics (just in case you’re not bored of running heroics yet, I guess), soloing stuff from the last expansion, or joining their new social guild. There is plenty of other stuff to do in WoW, including collecting achievements, PvP, levelling alts etc etc.

Or you could unsubscribe and play something else, the MoP ‘open’ beta isn’t likely to start until Summer at the earliest. Just a thought.

Thought of the Day: Blizz Annual Pass

The weirdest thing about this annual pass to me is that there’s no BUY THIS NOW button that lets you shell out for your 12 months in advance in a single payment. ie. hit this button, pay this money, get your free horsie/ D3/ beta access/ 12 month WoW sub. I wasn’t planning on buying it myself but when I checked out the website, I was expecting to see a button like that.

Even if it cost exactly the same as two six-month subscriptions, that would be a simpler way for players to pick up the pass than signing some sort of contract by which they agree to pay for a year’s worth of subscriptions. (And might also lend itself to Christmas presents if anyone has family who throw that kind of money around on gifts.)

Blizzcon: Thoughts on the annual WoW pass and challenge dungeons

mmo-champion has a roundup of the various panels and announcements from the first day of Blizzcon. Highlights include

  • some new units for SC2 (can’t really comment on that since I don’t play it)
  • a new trailer for Diablo 3 (in which the protagonist looks very Final Fantasy – I think it’s the hair)
  • announcement of the next WoW expansion which will indeed be the ‘oriental’ themed Mists of Pandaria
  • New expansion will include pokemon style pet fighting, and a high score table for speed of completion of the new ‘challenge’ dungeons (which are actually regular 5 man instances)
  • a new incentive to pay for a year of WoW.

(Apparently the female mage in the Diablo 3 trailer is Decard Cain’s niece. Poor girl.)

After the flailing around of Cataclysm, it sounds as though the WoW team have come up with genuine direction for the next expansion and decided who they want to try to appease. I think there’s plenty of evidence that many players enjoy collecting pets and loads more enjoy dungeon speed runs so there’s good logic behind designing extra mechanics around both of those playstyles.

The new annual pass

The way I /think/ this works is that you sign up for the pass and continue paying your sub as usual. You get some bennies for being signed up, including a shiny flying mount, entry to the beta of the next expansion, and a free copy of Diablo 3. If your sub terminates at any point before the year is up, you lose access to all of those things. But if it doesn’t (ie. you pay for 12 months worth of subscriptions) then they become yours to keep.

Or maybe if your sub terminates before the end of the year, they bill your card anyway. I’m honestly not sure.

In many ways this is sheer genius. Anyone who was vaguely planning to play WoW for the majority of the year anyway is now getting some extra stuff to play during the slow periods (ie. Diablo 3 and the expansion beta, whenever that may be). And that extra stuff is of course Blizzard based and may discourage people from straying to other games – after all, they’ve already committed to paying for the whole year anyway so might as well get their money’s worth.

If you were considering dipping back into WoW occasionally, but definitely planned to buy Diablo 3, this might be worth a look too. Just for comparison, D3 is likely to cost the rough equivalent of 4 months subs if you buy it from battle.net.

If you’re meh on WoW, think there is likely to be a stretch of time longer than 4 months next year with no new content, or had sourced a cheaper version of D3, then it’s a wash.

The other reason this is genius is that unless there are plans to release the new expansion unusually early, it’s practically guaranteed that there will be a long stretch of time with no new content after 4.3 drops. This annual pass locks players in now to paying for that long break.

I think it’s likely that the expansion won’t turn up before Q4; they wouldn’t release against D3 even if they could, there will need to be a decent length of beta testing, and I don’t think they’d want to release in the Summer as it’s traditionally the MMO low season.

You pays your money and you takes your choice. I already have D3 on pre-order and I’m not currently seeing anything that would draw me back to WoW. I imagine I’ll check out the new expansion when it goes live because I enjoy their levelling content, but that could be a long way away.

Challenge Dungeons

I’m not that fond of speed runs, but I think having a high score table for dungeon speed runs is likely to be a popular move. Especially with repositioning Pandaria heroics to be more similar to Wrath ones, which were emminently speedrunnable.

A red flag for me though with my tanking hat on is how much timed speed runs can favour tanking and healing specs which produce more damage whilst they tank/ heal. The difference between the amount of damage that a tanking death knight puts out and a tanking warrior puts out in Cataclysm, for example, can be quite significant. In 5 mans where speed is of the essence, that will be more noticeable. Also expect the bloodlust classes (shamans and mages) to be in high demand for speedruns, especially mages.

I’d expect the new monk class to be well designed for this type of environment, and imagine both tanking and healing specs will involve a fair amount of damage on the side.

This could leave traditionally low dps specs like protection warriors and resto druids feeling sidelined. (Yes you can gear and spec your prot warrior for dps but that’s never really felt satisfying to me, YMMV.)

I predict this is going to have a huge impact on balance if it takes off.  But who knows, maybe the new redesigned talent system will even things out.