Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Coming Storm

In my previous post, I brought the marketing and merchandising juggernaut that is Activision-Blizzard.

We know that among the new marketing/sales agendas that the recently merged company has implemented includes quarterly tracking of profits. I don't mean the obvious "are things still selling strong?". I mean the new "What can we do to further increase our profits even though we have no reason on God's green Earth to ever want for another red cent?"

The answer, of course, is to increase the quantity of product releases. Which, of course, does not necessarily mean an increase in quality. There is a line of balance between quantity and quality and it is very easy to cross that line one way or the other. Activision-Blizzard has obviously chosen to go with quantity. Over the next twelve months (or so) we will see the release of three Starcraft II games, Diablo III, World of Warcraft's third expansion, and Blizzard's second MMO.

Then what?

Normally, Blizzard would slowly work on the next high-quality item which might take one or two years more to release. But with the more profit-oriented Activision-Blizzard at the helm of all the Blizzard products, we are seeing the trend of more quantity released more quickly to fulfill quarterly profit goals. That means we will see a deluge of merchandising online and offline, and also either a storm of sequels to the top sellers or a whirlwind of new products and franchises.

Some of these upcoming releases will not be the hits that Blizzard is known for.

Does Blizzard have the back bone and resources to pull out of their deal with Activision if it seems their reputation is being diminished? Would they even want to? There is a lot of money being made since the two merged.

Wait and see, wait and see.

Plushy Pets

It seems the plushies are in after all, and they do indeed come with in game codes for pets. In my previous entry that went over all the ways to obtain vanity items and the costs to get them, I knew there would eventually be a Blizzard-sponsored vanity store of some sort, but I did not know how close they were to revealing it.

The Blizzard store has two pets with two plushy/pets on the way. It is interesting how quickly they came up with a way to make players spend more money for their vanity pets.

Also, take note that the store is called the Blizzard Store, not the World of Warcraft store. That means they intend to sell similar items for Starcraft and Diablo as well. That may seem like a "duh!" detail, but it is important if you want to see where things are headed.

Activision-Blizzard is a juggernaut of marketing and merchandising. The first major clue was the announcement of Starcraft II being released in three volumes rather than one huge, epic game.

I fear some of the features that we will have to pay for to fully enjoy their upcoming MMO.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Of Stats and Gear

Early screenshots of World of Warcraft included pics of a window with lots of stats. It was obviously a hold-over from pen-and-paper games, namely Dungeons and Dragons, where the game was centered around dozens of stats to follow through the course of character development. For many years, these lists of stats was essential to the core gameplay of all pen-and-paper and even computer fantasy role-playing games.

The developers for World of Warcraft decided that the stats would be too cumbersome for the type of player that they wanted to attract. The solution to character growth was found in the gear. Where older games added very limited bonuses to gear, WoW relied heavily on it.

In older games, a single weapon with a single bonus stat (ex, +1 to damage) might last a character for several levels, even through the course of the majority of the game.

But in WoW, a starting weapon would be inadequate within five quick levels, even sooner for less-experience players. You begin receiving upgrades from quests immediately out of the gate. In fact, the very first upgrades can arrive for a level one character from just the first few kills of level one beasts. This sets the stage for the remainder of the character's life. Without the quick upgrades, characters would find themselves outmatched very soon.

By now, most players are familiar with characters who have gear with thousands of points in stats and hundreds of bonus points on top of that.

This is also why there is so much gear in the game, and why Blizzard must spend so much time on gear creation and testing. So much time is spent on gear now that Blizzard has been forced to limit the unique physical features. Characters of different classes have to wear the same gear, but in different colors.

In the end, it appears that by removing the standard stat window with stat-laden gear has caused many headaches for the developers.

What if they were to remove most of those stats and put in that old stat window? Would that give the developers more time to design more unique gear? Or would it just move the headache to a new place rather than removing it all together? Would the artists even be able to design more gear or are they pretty much stuck with their current level of output?

There is so much gear in the game and so much to be added still. I would love to see more interesting designs rather than the oft-hastily slapped together items that we normally get. If moving those stats to a separate window would allow the team to create fewer identical pieces with all of those class-specific stats, and also allow them to focus on more unique designs, would it be worth the effort?