Wednesday, August 06, 2014

BETA :: Long Distance

A great deal has changed since we began 2014.

Still Waiting ^^

Fortunately an end is in sight, because we do at least now know when we'll be told the release date (insert meta joke of choice here.) What is also apparent is that Blizzard's subs will be at their smallest point for the release since Vanilla, as the reported audience for the game is now recorded at 6.8 million players (as per the Q2 earnings call yesterday.) Just to put that into perspective, that's still vastly more players than most major titles have ever had in their entire lifespans, and is historically acceptable in context (a drop in Eastern subscribers happens before every Expansion.) However we're not here to discuss the number of people playing the game: today is all about expectations.

The last eight months have been an exercise in Blizzard managing expectations, and some efforts have been more successful than others.

Doing it right.

When this map popped up at the top of EVERYONE's datamining posts after the latest beta build was deployed, it wasn't a surprise to a lot of us, because the signs had been there for some time. If you wanted one event for PvP players that typified what that portion of the game was about ten years ago, then this 'scenario' was it, and there's no surprise that the map resembles the Escape from Durnholde instance one, because that's effectively what it is. The Caverns of Time already have a pathway to this spot, just a bit further back along the timeway than they need to go. As this Expansion is all about the Alternate Universe vibe, what better place to send PvP-ers than to this moment (presumably in large groups for authenticity) and allow them to relive a classic beat them up from the past. It's already embedded in precedent, and it gives a new spin on an old favourite. Frankly, it is win/win all the way.

This is a great example of Blizzard understanding their audience, appealing to a wide player base and maybe encouraging some players to attempt a portion of the game they may be staunchly against. It's also being managed very well by the PvP people too, just the right amount of drama and theatre currently to make things very interesting indeed.

Then there are the flashpoints: flying, character models, faction capitals... plus even the Azeroth Choppers 'distraction' that, depending on who you speak to, have been anything from efficiently produced and presented to being an utter shambles. There are those of course who would argue the PvP thing's just a cynical attempt to cash in on a piece of the past that was never intended to be used as a marketing feature to begin with, and then you have the biggest problem with any company managing expectations when you have six point eight million of them spread across the globe. We will never grow tired here of reminding you that you can't please all of the people all of the time, that even as Blizzard went from Vanilla to The Burning Crusade on an enormous wave of hype and expectation, people were still publicly dissing the company, having high-profile Guild bustups and generally being part of a phenomena that, like it or not, hasn't actually changed that much in a decade.

What has happened however between 2004 and now is that social media is a FAR more sophisticated beast than it ever was, and whereas before getting your voice heard on a public stage could be quite the exercise in logistics, it is VERY easy now to make a point and have millions of people hear it with relative ease.

Blizzard do still occasionally miss the target with their social media management, but it has to be said in the main they are very much aware of what the platform can do for controlling and filtering expectations, and without the use of it (especially in the fallow months of no new content at all) those Q2 figures could have been a lot worse than they clearly are. There are those who will argue there are a great many lessons that ought to be learnt from what has occurred since Bashiok's pronouncement in January, but frankly now is not the time because the focus now HAS to be on getting Warlords into people's PC's and Macs, which is still very much a work in progress, if the current state of Beta is anything to go by.

However, before anyone starts decrying that these latest subscriber figures are an indicator of the inability of Blizzard to sell a product, I'd point out that pre-sales figures are now reported at OVER 1.5 MILLION units. My maths may not be very good, but even I can do the sums and tell you that regardless of how you think Blizzard work as a business, they know how to get the cash out of players, and that's with no new content on offer in the existing game.

Whatever you may think of the state of the game, it still generates an awful lot of interest in its development cycle.


dobablo said...

I'd would imagine that they were hoping for more than just 0.5m pre-orders in the last three months, especially with all the information coming out. I guess it must be a legacy of the the continual drift of the apparent release date.
I would love see what happens to the pre-orders when the launch date is publicised.

Ness WoW said...

Very smart to release the subs numbers with a week to go before the announcement of the release date. As much as people like to poke fun at Blizzard and annoy me by announcing every 5 seconds that WoW is dying (sky is falling), Blizzard are extremely savvy with this kind of thing. You're right in saying they sometimes mismanage the social media side of things, but generally, their release cycle, quality of product and ability to keep us all on their edge of our seats is still (IMHO) completely unmatched by anyone else in the industry.

dobablo said...

@Ness WoW
The subscription numbers comes from the Activision quarterly earnings call. They are legally required post quarterly earnings information. They don't have to include sub numbers but it is something they've been doing for a while so it would look strange if they suddenly stopped.