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.

What’s your one great wish for Blizzcon?

If I could see one dream announcement come out of Blizzcon this weekend, it would be that they have some ideas for an alternative to the raiding endgame. (Maybe influenced by public raids, dynamic Rift-like events or LOTRO skirmishes.)

And the second one would be an open Diablo 3 beta test.

How about you? Any interest in Blizzcon, any thoughts about what you’d like to see announced?

Are any gaming conventions fun?

I’ve read a few blogs from people who went to PAX East over the weekend. And what they had in common is that no one really found the convention itself to be all that fun, it was more about being able to meet up with fellow bloggers/ guildies/ etc there.

Now last year I went to a couple of conventions. One was the Eurogamer Expo, which is a gaming convention, has a show floor full of demos that you can try, and that’s about it. I wasn’t impressed. I wonder if it was partly my own fault – what did I really expect from a gaming convention anyway? There were games, right?

The other convention that I went to last year was Eastercon, which is a sci fi convention. We had a blast! There were panels on all the time, there were films to watch, demos to take part in, panels with well known authors who you could go talk to, a chocolate tasting (yes really). even a room full of board games to play. Some of the panels were even about games, and we also got to meet friends from around the country.

I know which convention I would go to again and it would be the scifi one. But why the big difference? I wonder if it’s because sci fi conventions tend to be fan run, with lots of volunteers stepping up to offer to run sessions on just about anything under the sun, lots of families and family oriented activities, and people with years of fandom under their belt who are keen to welcome newbies into the convention scene.

Maybe it really is about the people, and not about the big shiny demos that you need to queue for hours to play or the devs who probably don’t have time to talk to you anyway.

In any case, me and Arb are going to Comic Con 2011, one of the biggest conventions of them all. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. Will it be more like the scifi conventions with fans, fan run activities, panels and crazy things to do, or will it be more like the gaming conventions with silent anonymous queues to see the good stuff.

Has anyone actually had fun at a gaming convention? I wonder a bit about Blizzcon too, because really the main fun there seems to be meeting guildies which you don’t actually have to do at a Blizzcon.

No extra slots, no wardrobe, and plenty of whines: what we learned from Blizzcon Q+A

The question and answer sessions at Blizzcon are one of the great puzzlements of the event. Do people really want to go halfway around the world and get the chance to talk to the developers in real life just so they can repeat endless whines about paladins?

Why yes, yes they do.

WoW Insider liveblog of the Class Q&A panel

WoW Insider liveblog of the General Q&A panel

To me, the class Q&A in particular is a waste of an opportunity. If there’s really nothing new to say, then let the designers talk about class balancing and how they approach the challenge of making a class fun. Maybe we can all learn something (because this is something that Blizzard do very well.)

Larisa commented on Tobold’s blog that when she compared Blizzcon to fan-run SF conventions, the content seemed very weak. I cannot get that thought out of my mind when trying to think what the class Q&A could have been replaced with.

Where are the panels on gender or disability representation in WoW, or roleplaying different races? Where are the theorycrafting nuts talking about how they approach the task of modelling new mechanics? Where are the panels about blogging, about organising raid guilds, about crafting and items? Where are the panels about the economy? Where are the panels on raids and instances? Where are the panels that talk about MMOs in general?

They’re not there. And the reason they aren’t there is the same reason why SF conventions will always be more fun than gaming conventions. It’s because the organisers think we’re thick.

General Q&A hits some points home

I wish they’d monitor the questions better in this session, because half of them are class related and belonged in the other Q&A. Generally still a waste of time but it’s nice to know finally that they didn’t think it was worth adding extra character slots for Cataclysm. Or a wardrobe function.

  • Blizzard aren’t sure how well LFG will work when instances are harder. (They haven’t thought about this? No plans for cross-server friends lists for example?)
  • Jeers for the woman who asked if future female characters could not be dressed in underwear. All they had to say was that they agreed it was an issue and (in fact) that they’d been moving away from that in Wrath anyway. But nope.
  • More jokes for the person who asked for female druid forms. Take a moment, if you will, to imagine the outcry if the standard druid forms had been female …
  • No plans for achievements points to ever be useful (hurrah!).
  • Guild mounts in Cataclysm will be account bound. That means that you could send them cross faction.
  • No immediate plans for a wardrobe (somewhere to store gear that isn’t your general bag space.)
  • No immediate plans for more character slots – wait and see, it’s been discussed. Well, maybe they should have gone a bit further than discussions.

Gaming News: Blizzcon, Why LOTRO F2P delay in EU, Medal of Honor and Fallout: New Vegas disappoint, Prof Layton vs Phoenix Wright, DDOS Minecraft attack, EQ2 Server Merge

demon hunter

 

So, Blizzcon was this weekend and as I noted yesterday, there weren’t any huge announcements from Blizzard.

Still, here’s a picture of the last Diablo 3 class, the Demon Hunter. And a link to the (cheesy) trailer.

Badass female? check.

Spiky plate armour? check.

High heels? DOH!!!

And of course, in D3, all classes are available as both genders so there will be a male demon hunter too, we just haven’t seen him yet. We can only hope that he gets to totter around in high heels too. (btw this trailer, despite the heels, is way more female friendly than 90% of the stuff you get from other game companies.)

Main announcements were:

  • Demon hunter for D3
  • PvP arenas will be available in D3. Apparently during the Diablo Q&A they clarified that they don’t plan for Diablo to be an e-sport, so they aren’t aiming to balance all builds.
  • Cataclysm to be available digitally so you can download it from Blizzard and have it ready to run on release day.
  • Defense of the Ancients style map to be available (free) for SC2, along with other new maps/ minigames. The SC2 DotA is going to use characters from Warcraft and Diablo as well as Starcraft, and sounds like a Big Deal.

Relating to DotA, Blizzard chiefs have commented in interviews that they are talking to Valve about rights to use ‘Defense of the Ancients’ and it sounds as though there is some confusion about who owns what. Doubtless the mod designer does own the name, but it’s true that a lot of people would associate it with Blizzard’s wargames.

Why was the launch of F2P delayed for LOTRO in Europe?

The general manager of Codemasters posted an explanation for the delay in the EU LOTRO forums. As has been widely suspected, it was due to legal/ contractual issues rather than technical ones.

We can confirm the launch is imminent and we should be able to announce the dates later this week/early next week.

I still resent Turbine for going ahead and launching in the US even though they knew these contractual issues had not been resolved. Will certainly bear that in mind in future.

Medal of Honor and Fallout: New Vegas both disappoint

Two big games were released recently but neither has really achieved greatness. Reviewers have not been thrilled and sales back that up.

Professor Layton to meet Phoenix Wright!

Apparently there is going to be a crossover DS game featuring Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright in a game that is described as a combination of puzzles and crime mystery.

That is just too much awesome for one tiny game cartridge to contain! If it doesn’t get released over here there will be … troub^D^D^D^D^D frantic ordering from overseas and heavy use of any friends who happen to speak Japanese.

Of course, I’d have to actually finish DQ9 first which doesn’t look to be happening any time soon. I was quite impressed that Reggie Fils-Aime claims to have spent 150 hours playing it too.

DDOS attack on Minecraft

How stupid exactly do you have to be to think that the best way to encourage an indie game designer to add more content to his game is to take down his server?

I’m not sure if the source of the DDOS attack has actually been proved but 4chan was mentioned in the link above, where a post was made claiming that the attack came from impatient fans.

I have no words. Tobold had a similar reaction.

EQ2 Servers Merge

SOE announced some server merges this week. These are (of course) subscription servers, which are still kept separate from the EQ2X F2P plebs.

This isn’t really a surprise because it’s been known for ages that the populations on some of those servers has been getting quite low. Whatever server merges may or may not mean for the game, it’s usually a good move for players on those low pop servers when a merger is done.

Player vs Developer comments about what it’s like being on one of the low pop servers that isn’t being merged. In this case, SOE have been reluctant to merge a RP server with a non-RP server, and he’s feeling as though his character has been abandoned.

What announcements would you like to see from Blizzcon?

So how is patch 4.0.1 treating everyone? I had to do a complete reinstall so haven’t had a lot of time to check out the actual patch itself.

I did wander into Thrall’s throneroom in time to catch a conversation between Thrall, Garrosh, Vol’jin and Eitrigg in which Thrall informs them that he’s going to Nagrand to investigate elemental issues and leaving Garrosh in charge.  I was too dozy to take screenshots, but a poster on mmo-champion captured more of the event.

In any case, Blizzcon is next  weekend (Oct 22-23), which is the traditional venue for Blizzard to make any large announcements about upcoming expansions and products. I think it’s expected that they’ll unveil the launch cinematic for Cataclysm and at least one more class for Diablo III (paladin perhaps).

But is there any other announcement that you would like to see?

I’m hoping for a lot more information about the online/ battle.net side of Diablo III. I’d like to see some kind of an auction house, and to see whether they are going to deliberately converge it more with MMO type playing styles. After all, hanging around in battle.net chat until you find a group for Scene X isn’t all that different logistically from hanging out in Dalaran while you wait for LFG to zone you into an instance …

The Virtual Convention Goer

This year marks the first time I ever went to a sci-fi convention myself. I had a fantastic time, met lots of cool and strange people, got to see the first episode of the new Doctor Who projected up onto a screen in a room with 7-800 others,  and geeked my heart out all weekend.

Even last week, you could have read Arbitrary’s experiences of San Diego Comic Con here. Again, actually being there is a huge part of the experience. Yes, there are panels and they’re great but you can’t get recorded yelling DE-REZ to be in the Tron movie unless … you’re actually there.

Now, last week virtual tickets for Blizzcon also went on sale. For the knock-down price of £24.95, you can watch pretty much the whole thing over streaming video. They’ll record panels, PvP tournaments, opening/ closing ceremony, the whole works. And you can also spend more money on exclusive Blizzcon items and get whatever free pet is that Blizzard are giving away this year.

It certainly isn’t the same experience as actually being there in person. Especially not if one of your goals was to meet up with other players from your guild or server. Or to go to any of the parties or other informal events which fans will organise (I don’t even have to check to know that this will happen, it’s what fans do.)

Not to mention the fact that timezone issues mean that most of the panels will be in the middle of the night if you’re in Europe. And even though the video stream offers some DVR functionality, the content of the panels  (complete with liveblogs) will  be all over the internet before you get to see it anyway.

For all that, if you want to share part of the Blizzcon experience without having to actually go there, it’s not a bad option. If you collect pets or merchandise, then the price here isn’t all that much more than a sparklepony. In fact, the more mercenary minded could  pay the cost of the virtual attendance by buying and selling on the exclusive Blizzcon merchandise, and you won’t even have to stand around in queues to get it.

But this does all make me wonder about the notion of virtual convention going and what sorts of activities could make the virtual participants feel more part of the action. Certainly livestream viewers could submit questions to panels or take part in any quizzes or competitions alongside the real con goes. More online activities associated with the con might also pad out the subscription cost. It could also be really fun to sub to the livefeed along with other guildies and chat to them about it on twitter or IM (or in game) as it’s happening.

But ultimately, it will never be the same as being there. And you won’t ever understand exactly how it’s different from being there unless you go there.

I won’t personally be buying the virtual attendance because I’m going to be very busy in October and won’t have the time to watch all those panels.  But I don’t think it’s a bad deal at all.

And for anyone else who is curious about the virtual attendance but not planning to use it, Mana Obscura commented in their last podcast (which you totally should listen to) that they are planning podcasts every night to sum up the day’s events.

Is anyone excited about being a virtual con goer? Do you have anything planned to make the experience more special?