Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bite Me Archimonde

So with Archimonde opening up on LFR this week, I decided to jump right in (after reading the Icy Veins guide and watching a few videos, of course).

So I won't be doing that again.

We had what I would characterize as a very strong group.  Both tanks knew the fight and had done it on heroic.  The DPS was really good.  Heals were strong.  It still took until 5 stacks of determination.  And after all that, I didn't get a single Tome, leaving me at 32/33 for the week.

The interesting thing that keeps occuring to me, is that I'm working really hard on this raid instance in order to get the legendary ring, and after that's done, there's really not much incentive for me to raid anymore, making the legendary ring more or less useless.

So why am I bothering.  I don't have a good answer to that yet.

And I know, I know.  This is me:

In the meantime, as soon as flying drops next week, I'll finish leveling the rest of my level 90's to 100.  In the meantime, I've been working on my 6 lower level alliance toons and have pretty much all of them moved on to Northrend at this point.

Not sure if I'll get all of those to 100 before Legion comes out, but if I do, I'll be starting another set of Horde toons somewhere.  So that's the plan for now.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Look Back on Warlords Expectations

So I always feel bad that I don't do a more detailed analysis on my blog about new expansion announcements when they come out.  I guess my general feeling is that there are a lot of sites out there that are able to provide a lot more detail on it that I really care to.  I also tend to be of the perspective that, yes, this all looks shiny and pretty and everything that you're talking about sounds really good.  But I'm going to hold judgment until I see what makes it to live and how it plays live.

As part of contemplating a post, I went back and looked at what I wrote almost two years ago on the eve of Blizzcon 2013 about my expectations for the expected new expansion announcement.

Here was my list then:

Most of what I'd like to see in the next expansion are really pretty minor game mechanic type items, so here they are:

  • The ability to send BoA items cross server.
  • Solutions to the bank and bag space issue.  More bank tabs, bigger bags, more void storage, and a system for storing tabards, similar to the key chain of old.
  • A new primary profession.  It's been too long since we've had a new one.
  • It would also be nice to give players the ability to do quick catch ups on professions similar to the way they handled cooking in this expansion.
  • The ability to run old content at scaled down gear levels to give the feel of doing it at level.
The interesting thing with this list is that with the exception of a new primary profession and tabard storage, Blizzard delivered on pretty much all of these items at some point during Warlords.  And yet it was still a disappointment.  How about that.  In general though, I think my general thoughts on Legion was, yeah, looks cool, I'll give it a try.  Please don't fuck it up.

Of course my other thoughts was - 36 different artifact weapons?  Does that mean I need a new set of 12 new max level toons to level up somewhere so I can be sure to try one of each.  

So in other updates, I haven't had a whole lot of steady play time in the last few weeks.  I've been working on the legendary questline on my warlock.  He's finished the shipyard piece of it and is sitting at something like 24/33 tomes (although because of some personal travel last week, I only did 2 of the 4 LFR wings available last week).

I've also hit exalted with both Vol'jin Headhunters and the Order of the Awakened and finally picked up enough claw thingys to grab one of the mounts from the Sabergrinders.  Screw those guys.

So I've got a couple of styling new pigs to show for my trouble.  I think this one is my favorite:

So for Winter Veil this year, my plan is to dress Joar up in his standard Santa outfit and parade around Orgrimmar in a sleigh pulled entirely by pigs.

So that's it for now.  If flying gets released any time soon, I'll be switching off from leveling the lower level alliance characters and getting those last few 90's on to 100.



Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Analysis of Activision-Blizzard's Q2 Earnings Release

Activision-Blizzard released their Q2 earnings after market close this afternoon, followed shortly by their quarterly call with analysts and investors.  Overall for the company, it was an extremely good quarter, with both revenue and earnings beating expectations and prior year.

A couple of interesting overall points to note.  Blizzard typically provides a bullet point list of highlights for the quarter and a similar bullet point list of outlook items.  Warcraft was #6 on the highlights and #7 on the outlook.  I'm not intending to imply that's the end of the world as we know it.  It may just be an interesting indicator of where Warcraft stands in their overall corporate priorities at this particular moment in time.

It's also very possible that that says nothing about priorities and they just tend to lead with the Activision stuff because that's the order that they're used to seeing things and that's how they manage things.  I went backed and looked at their press release for Q4 2008, the quarter of the Wrath of the Lich King release.  World of Warcraft was presumably riding high then with 11.5 million subscribers.  It was still #6 on the bullet point list

They have about $4.4 billion of cash on hand and increased their dividend by 15%.  Right now, their dividend is sitting at slightly more than 50% of their free cash flow year to date.  And even with a 15% increase, the yield on the stock is still less than 1%.

They also specifically mention in the release that patch 6.2, released in late June, helped to stabilize subscriber numbers for the quarter.  It does raise the question if subscriber numbers had dropped significantly below the 5.6 million that they disclosed in May or early June.

Last overall point is that there was a significant emphasis, both for Activision and Blizzard, on overall customer engagement.  There was a new metric quietly rolled out this quarter in the release called "Monthly Active Users" or MAU's.  Comparisons to prior year was given for that new metric for Activision and Blizzard each as a whole.  It seems that they're doing a lot more to track their overall customers across a variety of platforms.

So here is the specific financial detail for Q2:

Let me talk for just a minute about the difference between GAAP and Non-GAAP revenue (and for those of you that aren't sure, GAAP stands for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  It's basically the set of rules that people have to follow in keeping their books and preparing their financials.

For a subscription type product like Warcraft, on a GAAP basis, you'll spread your revenue over the life of the subscription and recognize it when actually used.  For people that are just paying monthly, it doesn't make a difference, but for people paying 6 months or a year at a time, or for token sales, those transactions get deferred and don't get recognized until actually used.

So as you can see from the chart above, GAAP revenues were up 13% over prior year for Warcraft, which is good, but non-GAAP revenues, which really just reflects current orders and purchases, were down by 22%.  What you are likely seeing there is the impact of token sales in prior periods being recorded as the monthly subscriptions represented by those tokens are used.

They don't break out details on their balance sheet by segment or by platform, so there is no way to tell what the deferred revenue balances for Warcraft were as of the end of this quarter compared to the same quarter in the prior year.

So here is another interesting chart:

One thing that I want to point out is that this chart is in the opposite order from the first one.  So when it says "segment net revenues" on here, that's on a non-GAAP basis.  The interesting thing here is that while non-GAAP revenue for Warcraft was down, non-GAAP revenue for Blizzard overall was up 13%, which really points to a lot of strength in their upfront "orders" in their other product lines.   However, the income from operations for Blizzard was actually down 19% despite that increase in revenue.

So after the official press release, the next item up was the actual earnings call.  For those of you that may not be familiar with these, typically the company will go through a series of slides and prepared remarks (the slides are available on their website if you'd like to see them).  They'll then spend 15-30 minutes taking live questions from key analysts and institutional investors.

Most of what they said in the prepared remarks related to Warcraft were just a rehash of what was in the press release, focusing on Hellfire Citadel being one of the largest non-expansion content patches ever.  They mentioned the upcoming mini patch to bring flying to Draenor and also mentioned changes in that patch to PvP matchmaking.  Finally, they also addressed Thursday's upcoming announcements at Gamescom.  It was pretty brief, but basically what they said was that they've heard the players feedback from Warlords, and we're going to be very excited by what we hear on Thursday.  A lot more time was spent on the other Blizzard platforms.

In the Q&A, the vast majority of the questions related to other platforms.  Their Merrill Lynch analyst, however, asked them about the outlook for Warcraft given the subscriber loss and asked if they could provide some breakout of the subscriber decline by geography (which isn't something they disclose, so they politely declined).  Addressing the subscriber loss, Mike Morhaime had some really interesting to things to say about how they plan to address it.  He said, "Great content is what draws players in, keeps them engaged and brings them back."  He mentioned that there were more developers working on World of Warcraft than ever before and also mentioned plans around faster content releases.  Finally, he also said specifically that they view the movie as a "key inflection point."  He sounded very confident that their plans around new content would lead to a subscriber rebound.

Of course, they also thought Twitter integration and some new Harrison Jones quests qualified as a "content patch" so it's possible that interpretations vary of what qualifies as content.  (Sorry, so much text without any typical Joar snark...I just couldn't resist).

So overall, all of this still fits with the view that I've laid out previously of them treating Warcraft as a cash cow.  They're investing in it because they want to maintain that cash flow, and a steady subscriber base is key to that, but it's not a growth engine for them anymore.  There is definitely a lot more interest and attention going to the other platforms at the moment.  It will definitely be interesting to see if the "inflection point" created by the movie might change that.



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Grinding in Tanaan and Leveling the Alliance Army

So I've been working on rep grind and the legendary questline on Joar and when that's all done, I've been focused on leveling the alliance army.  Making good progress there too, with one toon now on to Northrend and everyone else other than the monk making good progress in Outland.

Oh, and I've gotten far enough along in Tanaan that I got my Corrupted Dreadhawk.  It's pretty!

Right now Joar is sitting at 13/33 Tomes, with two bosses still to do this week.  I seem to be averaging around 1.5 tomes per wing, so if that works out, it should take me four more weeks after finishing the current week to be done with Tomes.  I also managed to FINALLY get my Submarine to Epic, which now allows me to resume my work on the Shipyard portion of the legendary chain.

Interestingly enough, my last update on leveling on the alliance side was one year ago today.  How weird is that.  Totally random that I thought about posting this today since I've been doing a lot of leveling of the alliance group lately.

In any case, here's the update on the rather sad progress that I've made in the last year:

Priest -  level 56 -> 66
Mage - 52 -> 71
Rogue - 52 -> 64
Druid -  56 -> 62
Paladin -  54 -> 91
Warrior -  54 -> 64
Monk -  25 -> 44

So that's where we are.  I'm likely going to continue leveling this bunch until flying is released and I can restart the last 5 characters sitting at 90 or 91 waiting for the push to 100.



Monday, July 20, 2015

Happy 6 Year Blog Anniversary To Me! (And Ding! Level 100 #11)

I managed to completely miss my 6 year blog anniversary, which was now over a month ago.  Shows you how much importance I assign to stuff like this.

I've managed to get quite a bit done in the last couple of weeks, though.  I finished up the Draenor Pathfinder achievement on my warlock.  So the Order of the Awakened is now officially dead to me.  Go get your own damn fel apexis crystal thingys.

I'm still doing the Apexis dailies just to try to accumulate enough for some mounts.  I also took a stroll through the new LFR wing, and got exactly 2 Tomes for both wings combined.  So much for the good drop rates that I was experiencing the first two weeks.

Also, with the announcement that this was the last raid of this expansion, I've decided there really isn't any point in finishing the legendary quest chain on more than one toon.  By the time I finish it on the one, I'll like be sick of HFC, and since it doesn't sound like it's going to unlock any special world bosses, or really be of any use at all other than as a "looky at what I've got" type thing, there doesn't feel like a lot of point.  But that will give me more time to continue to progress the alliance side of things.  Maybe have all 22 at max level by the end of this expansion.  Crazy talk

I also finished getting my rogue to level 100, and am now working diligently on getting his engineering maxed.  Engineering and Leatherworking are the last two professions that I need in order to have absolutely everything maxed.  I should be able to finish up leatherworking in the next day or so, but Engineering may take a bit more time.

In between all of that, I've also been working on leveling some more of the toons that are below 90 on the alliance side, working a bunch of folks through Outland.  The first of the Sub-90's are now officially heading for Northrend as well, so that was good news.

So it's been busy, but not particularly stressful.



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Things I'd Like to See in 6.2.1 (or 6.2.2)

So I've almost finished getting my main to revered with all the relevant Tanaan Jungle factions to unlock flying.  I've got about 3 days left, but I'm not in any rush, so it may be a week or so until I finish.  I expect we won't see the patch that officially unlocks it until the end of the month anyway, so I don't think there is any particular hurry.

Finishing up my second week of LFR, both my warlock and hunter are at 4/33 Tomes, so we've been getting some consistency.  I've decided to wait to start working on it on my death knight to benefit from any drop buffs they might introduce later on.

I also took my druid into LFR to do a bit of healing, and that went really well, even on a Monday.  So far, Iron Reaver seems to be the biggest challenge in the opening wing, and that's really just a matter of not standing in bad, running out of the raid when you're supposed to, and not getting out of range of your healers.  People will learn.

So I was thinking a bit about things that I would like to see in later mini-patches, particularly from the perspective of an altoholic, and here are a few things I came up with (some of these are incredibly obvious).

  • Make all the Baleful tokens BoA - I'm fine with them not being that way at the moment, but later on in the cycle, it'll be incredibly helpful in gearing up alts to get ready for next expansion launch.
  • Allow the collection of Fel-Corrupted Apexis Shards even when not on the quest and in excess of the 10 that you need.  So you can save up for tomorrow.(**)  I hate you Order of the Awakened.  You're on my list next to the Sons of Hodir, Therazane and Emperor Shaohao.
  • Make the Shipyard equipment items available to all characters on an account after you get the drop on one.  Tanaan Jungle just isn't at all friendly to an undergeared clothie, so it's just not going to happen for a bunch of my characters.
That's my list.  It's not a long one.

I haven't been doing much on my rogue, although that may change.  I've said I was going to hold off on leveling him the rest of the way until flying gets unlocked, but I may not end up waiting that long.  I'd love to get a level 3 engineering building to make it easier to finish that profession.



**  From The Grump Elf Blog, one of the most beautiful idea I've ever seen for this!  Quoted below.

"For Fel-Corrupted Apexis Shards do this:

Turn auto loot off if you have it enabled. Now every time you kill something, rare included, you have to manually loot, but you will also never loot a fel corrupted apexis fragment off the body of the mob again. Leave it on the body. As soon as the body despawns the fragment gets mailed to you from our friendly neighborhood postmaster. When you are done for the day go to the mailbox, pull 10 out, turn in the quest. Everything left over is a head start for tomorrow. "

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The First Week of 6.2

So I'm looking back on the first week of 6.2, and I must say that overall I'm enjoying the new content quite a bit.  Blizzard seems to have found a good way to leverage some of the things they learned from Timeless Isle while really effectively encouraging people to group up to get things done.

In my first week, I managed to get my Saberstalkers rep to Revered, working with a couple of different groups over a few hours.  I also managed to get my Vol'jin rep to Honored and I'm making some progress with the Order of the Awakened folks.  They're clearly going to be the last to Revered.

So far I'm enjoying things in Tanaan Jungle.  You seem to have several different options for things to do on any given day and it provides a nice catch up mechanism for alts, although at the moment, I'm preoccupied enough with getting it done on my main, that I have tried running any alts through yet.  I'm not sure the content there would be as soloable with an undergeared alt, so there would be a lot more incentive to find a group in that case.  Or you'd be looking at a sad dead mage.

On Shipyards, so far so good.  I managed to upgrade mine to level 2 and am starting to work through the various legendary naval missions (or at least will be once the servers come back up).

I managed to blow through all the rares that I needed in Tanaan to get the various equipment blueprints in a fairly short period of time.  I still need to do the Whale Shark, but there seem to be plenty of groups for that these days (although I need to get that done before those dry up).

So all told, the current impressions are positive.  It is giving me plenty to do, and not something I'm quickly getting bored with.  I'm anxious to try the first LFR wing of Hellfire Citadel once it is out today and see how that feels.

I've also done a little bit more leveling on my rogue.  I'm anxious to get him to max level, because he's my last profession holder, and having level 3 profession buildings will make it a bit more efficient to knock that last one out.  So he's sitting at level 95 and working his way through Talador.