Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Too Much Speed for Immersion

So I've discovered that the downside of leveling my alliance lowbies one at a time is that it really brings home just how incredibly fast leveling is these days.  Most place, I'm only getting in one or two quest chains in any given zone before I'm ready to move on to the next.  In Uldum for example, I managed to unlock Ramkahen and went to talk to the first guy, killed some scarabs and some raiders and I was done and off to Twilight Highlands.

In Twilight Highlands, after babysitting Anduid around Stormwind for a while, I didn't even get far enough in the actual zone to unlock the portal back to Stormwind before it was time for Pandaria.

And I'm doing absolutely nothing unusual to boost my leveling speed.  Just wearing my heirlooms and queuing for dungeons regularly.

It makes me glad that I did all of those zones at level when they were current, because it sometimes feels a bit sad that I'm missing out on the story.  On the other hand, given that this would be my 17th time reading this particular story, it's probably not all that critical for me personally.

It does make me want to go back and finish up Loremaster on my main.  I got really really close before Cataclysm dropped.  I was down to less than 50 quests to go to get it completely knocked out and I just never quite got it over the finish line, so all of that work effectively evaporated once Cataclysm launched.  I think I'll probably finish up the druid before I take that on though.

In the meantime, I'm still just enjoying playing the game.  There's not much in the way of news, so rather than get upset over every little twist and speculation, I'm just focusing on playing.  As much as I love my various Warcraft podcasters, it also means I'm not listening to much these days.  I'll pick things back up once the beta goes live.  Hopefully that's before March.

My druid is sitting at level 87 now and on his way to Kun-Lai.  It's at least possible I'll have him all the way to 100 before the end of this week.  Then it will be time to decide if I want to move on to the mage, or take on the Loremaster challenge on Joar.



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

On To The Lowbies! And Ding, Level 100 #15 and #16

So I managed to get my last two alliance level 90's pushed through to 100 over the last couple of weeks - my shaman and my paladin.  Both came in right at that 9 - 9 1/2 hour mark on played time which seems to be pretty consistent.  Note that I'm not doing anything extraordinary to cheese these - just using garrison potions and full heirlooms.  Their are clearly opportunities to level much faster than this using stacked bonus objectives and the huge xp boost potions.  But I still enjoy the questing process, so this is basically just straight questing with some bonuses added in.

So with all of my previous max level toons now sitting at 100, I'm moving on to working through some lowbies.  Rather than the previous approach that I've taken of leveling them each a bit at a time to maximize rested xp, I've decided I'm just going to bang them out one at a time, so that rather than having a bunch of toons stuck at some mid to high level but not max when the next expansion launches, I'll instead have several more hopefully sitting at 100.  We'll see if I can get all of them there in that amount of time.

Next up is my alliance druid, who is currently at level 76 and working his way through Northrend.  After that, I will probably do my alliance mage, just to leverage a shiny new heirloom ring I got from a shipyard mission.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Garrison Gold-Making and Ding, Level 100 #13 AND #14

So it's been a couple of weeks since my last blog post, and most of what I've been doing during that time has been leveling my various toons and working on odds and ends.  All 11 of my Horde max level toons now have fully productive level 3 Garrisons which are netting me a metric ton of cash every day.

I've managed to get 2 more of my Alliance toons to max level as well, so I'm now starting the process of getting my alliance garrison and gold-making operations up and running as well.

For both of the alliance toons that I recently finished, I focused on questing as quickly as possible rather than flying around gathering treasures, and I found that did actually make the leveling process go a bit faster.  Both finished around the 9 1/2 hour mark, or about an hour and a half faster than the flying around looking for stuff approach.

My enhancement shaman is up next.  He's already worked his way through Shadowmoon and is heading for Gorgrond now.  Will probably do the Fight Club version rather than Lumber Mill, just for something different (Blacksmith, Farm and Lumber Mill...Go!)

I'm really interesting in seeing in what the payback period is for an investment in max level garrison, because these things aren't cheap to get started.  I had enough of a gold base on the Horde side that it wasn't really noticeable, but alliance side, I can definitely see the total cash levels drop when I invested the money to start them up.

So here is what it is costing to get a Garrison up and running for some basic gold-making (note that the way that I'm questing, I'm generally not finishing with any Outpost Building Assembly Notes and usually have at least one Comprehensive Outpost Construction Guide, which allows me to get my Level 2 Dwarven Bunker / War Mill for free.)

Level 3 Garrison - 5,000g
Level 2 Salvage Yard - 750g +300g
Level 2 Inn - 1,000g +300g
Level 2 Dwarven Bunker / War Mill - free with Outpost Guide +300g
Level 3 Salvage Yard - 1,000g +500g
Level 3 Inn - 1,000g +500g

So that's an investment of a total of 10,650g to get your garrison up and running.  Once you've got your staff of followers outfitting with a good complement of treasure hunters, you can generally be generating at least 500g per day, which means you're looking at just under 3 weeks for a full payback.

What I'm generally doing is making sure that I have at least two followers with the scavenger trait to keep the garrison resources rolling in and then recruiting the rest as treasure hunters.  I check the other traits when recruiting to make sure that I still have a good overall balance for other mission types.

Then, once or twice a day, I'm collecting my missions, opening my salvage crates, DE'ing any Warlords gear, which goes to my enchanter and then either vendoring or sending other gear to an AH alt to sell.  I'm generally only worrying about trying to sell other gear if it looks like it has a market value of at least 500g.  It's just not worth my time to try to manage 100's of relatively low value greens.

I'm also putting in War Mill work orders to help with gearing up my toons for the Highmaul and Blackrock Foundry mission gear.  Mostly to make sure that these alts will be relatively well geared to start the next expansion.

Now one thing to clarify is that this approach lets you gear up your followers to get raid gear as well as just gold making, very few of which require specific item levels for your followers, so if you want to do the bare minimum, all you absolutely need is the Inn at level 3, which will cost you 7,800g, so a faster payback on that one.

You could also include a trading post to make some money off of garrison resources, and I may actually start adding that to a few of my Horde toons now that I've got several at cap for garrison resources.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Legendary Ring Complete and Level 100 #12

So this week, I managed to finish up both my legendary ring on Joar as well as get my 12th character to level 100.  I will admit, I must have taken a bit of time away from some of the major news sites, because (and I'm not going to spoil it for those of you still working on it) but the quest chain that leads up to receiving the ring was actually a surprise for me.

So now I have my styling new legendary ring, but I'm pretty tired of HFC at the moment, so not sure when it's going to actually get used.

In leveling news, pretty much as soon as that was done, I fired up my last Horde class sitting at 90 and drove for 100 to see what impact flying would have on his leveling speed.  The sad answer to that question is essentially none.

He came out exactly in the range as the previous sets of characters that I'd leveled with both full heirlooms and garrison xp potions.


So here is my theory on this one.  The one difference that I did notice is that taking the exact same approach, I ran out of rested xp much faster than I had on the previous characters.  On the others, I'd run out about half way between 99 and 100.  On this particular run, I ran out towards the end of 97.  In theory it's because I'm getting to and killing things much faster using it up more quickly.  That's my theory anyway.

I've got 4 alliance toons up next, so we'll see if we get any different results out of those.



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.