It's Just a Rumor

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Blizzard has finally announced their mass layoff plans for 2012. It was done through both an official News Release and as a message on the Battle.net forums.

According to their release, Blizzard's savings from the layoffs were identified in their Feb 9, 2012 (Q4 2011) financial outlook, but the exact details of the workforce reduction were not considered material or important for the shareholders call. :)

Blizzard did not identify when the business review was conducted, only that it would benefit their 2012 financials and that they are currently involved in the global reduction of their workforce which will eventually result in a total of approximately 600 employees being laid off.

90% of the 600 are those in support function, finance, maintenance, recruiting, training, and other non-development related positions. The other 10% are gaming development related and we already know the names of some of those employees.

If you weren't already aware, I do still continuously update older posts and I was monitoring those Mass Layoff "rumors" up until late January.

Many of the employees from my original suspicion list were eventually confirmed and in the end, there were probably about 40-50 layoffs in late 2011 to early 2012. Most of them were Customer Support staff from both in and outside of their call centers.

I guess we finally have an answer as to why Blizzard was so ambiguous, but not exactly denying, those mass lay off rumors a few months ago.

Zarhym: The vast majority named in that article are at work today. FB profiles can't be used to confirm anything, especially a mass trend!

Bashiok: Hey guys, out of respect for their privacy, we don’t discuss individual employees, but the speculation circulating about ‘massive layoffs at Blizzard’ is just a rumor.
Layoffs of this magnitude have happened with Activision Blizzard many times in the past, and they typically happen around January/February (announced before the shareholders call.)

So, it shouldn't be much of a shock if you see this happen again next February (probably a smaller size though, and more on the Activision side.) The staff they're cutting are just redundant positions (mostly customer support), so these changes won't effect the development times of their games and it just means more savings for the company and happier investors.

Public Chat But Not Trade Chat

Posted by Daeity On Saturday, February 25, 2012

A couple weeks ago, users were celebrating an awesome win for getting Blizzard to finally implement public chat in the game. (Though many believe Bashiok's claim that it was just a mistake.) Whatever the case may be, it's considered a win.

"Blizzard listened to us! We get public chat! Now I can trade items with other players and I don't have to worry about using the RMAH!"

Is this really the case though? What if it's just simple Public Chat, but not intended for Trade Chat? What if trading between players will actually be discouraged or difficult?

If I were Blizzard and I wanted to encourage as much use of the RMAH as possible, I would restrict loot linking, eliminate ways to communicate effectively for trade-specific purposes, or make trading as challenging as possible (for example, poor trading security.) Using a "Trade Chat" system outside of the game (ie, in the lobby room), without the ability to link items, is a great way to do it. Or, one could also make it so that players can't create public games with customized titles (like how trading could be done in D2).

You only need one of these options. If you have secure trading methods, then eliminate trade related communication methods. If you have proper Trade Chat, make secure trading more difficult. You don't need to do all of them otherwise their intentions become too elaborate or obvious. When players question why, Blizzard can confidently tell them that they DO have methods in place to allow trading.

The average player will always travel the soft path. If there are two services available, but one has accessibility or functional issues, they'll go with the easier one. If character-to-character trading is available (and secure), but public chat is limited so that it doesn't support loot linking or gear sharing, it's not a very good service. If public chat has loot linking, but item trading is insecure, it's not a very good service. In both cases it's "bad service" planned in advanced to encourage customers to use a better service.

So, which is the better service.. player-to-player trading or the Auction House?

We really don't know anything about the future Trade Chat features, though. It could go either way. Bashiok had promised details in the near future, so it remains to be seen what Blizzard has in mind. If the chat or trading features are still limited by retail, then we have our answer. If not, then Blizzard will act accordingly to their customer's needs.

Nothing is set in stone at this point. In it's current disappointing state, it requires more forum outrage and complaining, and hopefully Blizzard will eventually implement chat the way players want. If they, however, are looking for every little way to squeeze as much use out of the RMAH as possible, then don't expect loot linking or any other kind of trading mechanisms (like customized public games) in the initial retail version. Besides, if Blizzard won't implement these changes, someone else will always find a way, like that alternative "trade chat" website.

Just as an added note, too, Bashiok happened to make a comment about the Chat system recently as well. Basically, it's not to expect any changes before release. So, this is something I might re-examine 6 months after release (as well how or if players can even engage in some form of public trading without an external website service). But atleast you can understand some of the motivations behind keeping the chat system the way it is. And judging by the SC2 Chat System, I'm not really expecting Blizzard to make any significant changes.

I hope that D3XCHANGE.COM webpage was still being worked on though. :)

* UPDATE (03/01/2012):

Just an interesting note. Recent data mining of Diablo 3 revealed that Blizzard did, in fact, create a UI within D3 for users who wanted to create a custom named public game. So this feature was once in the game, but has been removed. Guess we'll see if Blizzard puts it back in for retail.

Dawnguard

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Zenimax Trademark registration.. surprised no one has written about it yet (was filed Feb 17th.)

It's called "DAWNGUARD", and it appears to be Skyrim DLC, or less likely an expansion pack. Either way, it's a "downloadable game" and it doesn't sound like it's from the Fallout universe.

+skills

Posted by Daeity On

"So, if (or should I say when) runes as an item are removed, expect a very wide variety of +skill item modifiers."
Just an interesting note about this subject. This was not announced in the recent Jay Wilson Rune Changes post, and most players are not even aware of it yet.

However, recent data mining of Patch 13 has revealed that +skills are indeed a new Affix for items.
Ancient Spear Increased by 3-5 (Barbarian only)
Bash Increased by 4-5% (Barbarian only)
Seven-Sided Strike Increased by 3-5 (Monk only)
Sweeping Wind Increased by 4-5% (Monk only)
These are not "skill points" in the classical sense, like in Diablo 2.. but rather smaller (and stacking) modifiers to increase the skill's effect, whatever it might be. For example, increasing damage, duration of the skill, number of targets, total number of projectiles, length or range of the skill, healing effects, etc. So, the number will either be a percentage (damage) or a number (time).

It's sort of their way to still have "itemized runes" that can be sold in the Real Money Auction House. Now, these are just items that come with a mandatory Affix, but consider ultra rare drops (like one-use-only item enchants or unrevealed gems, that can also be sold on the RMAH) that can apply +skill effects to any weapon or armor of your choice.

Even though the Mystic has been removed from the game, expect it to make a re-appearance later in the future. For example, they have enough professions for the retail, so they're cutting out content now to save it up for the next expansion pack rather than dreaming up a new profession. (Blizzard has done this before.) And, with the Mystic might also come low end +skill enchants for any item of your choosing, rather than "Diablo Vanilla" only having the fixed +skills on gear.

For any new Affix they create, it will further increase the vast pool of total items, and therefore increase the total number of successful RMAH sales. Creating more items (even though they're really just the same) will be one of Blizzard's priorities given the new direction of the RMAH. It won't be just limited to weapons or gear; consider aesthetics for yourself or only for your followers, cool glowing or color-changing dyes, companions/pets, many new recipes, and even new gems. If the RMAH is great success, expect new items to start coming through patch updates (even in minor ones) or maybe even a rush of some things I just mentioned that they were saving up for D3 X1.

(Note: None of this has been officially announced yet, and many users on the Battle.net forums don't believe that this is going to happen.)

No WOW RMAH for a while..

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In a recent "Pach Attack" video, Michael Pachter said that we'll ultimately see the Real Money Auction House expanded to World of Warcraft. Especially if the D3 RMAH is financially successful for Blizzard, which I'm confident it will be.

Mind you, I don't think it will be as financially successful as it could have been with the Listing Fees, but they'll still be making decent coin from the new system. Plus, you can count on Blizzard always finding new methods to encourage RMAH use and to introduce wide varieties of (highly preferable) items that players can sell on the RMAH. For example, new affixes, non-gear based items that improve your in-game experience and cool or rare aesthetic changes (like glowing wings or eyes).

You can also count on new Paid Services, and especially ones that enhance your RMAH experience. For example, a Mobile AH or a "RMAH Preferred User" plan where users pay a monthly fee to get access to better RMAH features, such as selling >10 Active Items (or maybe additional in-game fees for going over the limit).

Some users are very excited about the idea of getting a RMAH in the World of Warcraft. Others however, are completely against it, since the idea of a RMAH in any Blizzard title is considered hypocritical considering their past stance on Real Money Trading.

Diablo 3 will help them with their "acceptance issues" though.

So, I emailed Robert Bridenbecker (VP of Online Technologies) about the possibility of getting a RMAH in World of Warcraft. It was very general question, and in retrospect, I should have been more specific. (I try to keep emails short because it increases the chance of a response.)

Dec 9, 2011

Hi Rob,

What are the chances of getting a Diablo-style Real Money Auction House in World of Warcraft eventually?

I haven't played WoW for a couple years now, but the RMAH is just the kind of feature that would get me back into the game. :)
Dec 9, 2011

Retrofitting something like the RMT AH into an established game like WoW is considerably more challenging than building a game with the AH in mind.

So while it's probably unlikely, we are always evaluating areas that could further engage players. I will pass your thoughts along to the team.

Rob
I had forgotten about the age of World of Warcraft. They have the people to do it, but integrating a RMAH into WOW would be a very challenging process and it would be like bringing a new F2P Marketplace model into Asheron's Call. A lot of work and completely possible.. but is it worth the expense and time? Would they make enough money back to make the project worthwhile?

After some more thought on the subject, I was thinking that a RMAH might not even be a good idea for WOW after all.

So, I guess my question was a little premature. What I should have asked was if there was a way to integrate the RMAH but in a different form?

If you think about it, even if players really liked the idea, a RMAH really isn't well suited for WOW.

Due to the fees associated with selling items (especially with their inability to use Listing Fees), the RMAH is designed for high level items. But, all of the high level items in WOW are BOP and Blizzard already has the entire game designed around Dungeons, Raids, and Fixed Loot Tables. Putting high level items on the AH would destroy Dungeons & Raids, wasting all of their content (and work), and make users bore more quickly. They need to constantly consume content, and Blizzard has been working to slow down that process to keep players engaged. So however the RMAH is designed, it can't be around items. (Something to consider for their Next Gen MMO.)

So, I had a better idea.

What if the WOW Armory also acted as a character sales market? This would allow sales of items, gold, and characters simultaneously.

Players could put their individual characters up for sale (or as an auction) for a fixed fee. Maybe even a "Make an Offer" feature for players who would like an account from someone who isn't selling their account. :)

Blizzard could collect a fixed fee of $25-$40 per sale. And, characters might typically sell for $60-500 depending on their level, gold or items.

Battle.net already has Paid Character Transfers, so this is just an enhanced version of the service. It's easy to integrate, eliminates a lot of WOW development time (web development work instead of in-game), and it's a RMT solution that works well to solve for the BOP item problem. It also allows for gold trading, and Blizzard can control the amount of gold that is being transferred through usual restrictions (like what they have already: maximum gold, level, guild removal, etc.)

Here's the follow-up email I sent to Rob, along with his response which I just received today:
Feb 15, 2012

It's me again. :)

I promise not to do this too often (if ever again), because I know you're a very busy person and I want to keep your inbox as clear as possible. So, I'll keep this as short as possible.

I realized that a RMT AH for WOW might not be a good idea after all due to the nature of weapons and gear being BOP. All of the high level items can't be sold on a RMT AH, like what can be done in D3.

Given the in-game technical challenges, I have a better solution.

What about using the Armory as a Character Sales Market? This way, you're killing two birds with one stone.

- Armory Character Page can have a Buy/Sell/Bid option. Even a "Make Offer" if the account isn't for sale.
- No RMT specifically for items or gold is needed in-game or out. These come with the player and are included in the price.
- Character is locked for 24 hours during the sale process. Total on-hand gold is visible to potential buyers (which is technically already visible through achievements).
- Systems are already in place for Character Transfers. Easier to integrate by the web development team.
- This new service can charge $25 like a typical Paid Character Transfer, while lowering normal Paid Transfers (owner to owner for $10-15.)

The benefit of doing it this way is that it's much easier on the team, can be deployed much more quickly (if the D3 RMAH is deemed a success), it will kill the blackmarket power leveling services (as well as item/gold sales), it's a much better and secure process, and by lowering service costs and introducing this new service it can bring in more players (e.g. transferring players to family members or friends.)

A new system like this can have several positive side effects for Blizzard, not only in further engaging players, but also putting a major bottleneck on blackmarket sales and with that, a cascade of other side-effects like reducing botting, power leveling and spamming. Meaning, less customer support and GM expenses.
Feb 21, 2012

We're always looking at new ways to engage the player base and concepts like this are some of the exciting reasons why introducing the auction house and the Armory keep us loving our jobs. Thanks for continuing to think of fun and new exciting things, as well as ways that, as a player, you'd like to see us extend our worlds.

Rob
I really hope they seriously consider this approach.

It's impossible to create a RMAH for items, but selling gold and/or selling characters is a very viable possibility.

Restrictive enough to discourage certain players or groups, but open enough so that most players could engage in it if they want. It opens up the possibility of getting family and friends to jump right into the game with you, if they wanted to skip the long grinding process (characters can be given to friends as gifts for example.)

It would also destroy the WOW blackmarket, giving players a safe way to exchange gold, items, or "power level" characters. It will eliminate sites that sell gold, and stop spamming. Botters, of course, will increase in number so that high level accounts can be sold.. but that's the beauty of this new system; Blizzard can allow certain characters or accounts to be eligible, and not others. For example, they need to be a certain level first, they're restricted on the amount of gold they can carry, or they need to first wait a certain amount of time before they're eligible (even if a botter power leveled a new character, they still need to wait 90 days to sell it.) Power leveling groups won't take this risk, because they would have to sit on a idle account, and there's a very good chance it will be banned once the account is investigated (Blizzard has more time to investigate and more illegitimate behavior patterns to look for.)

Even if Blizzard were to create some kind of item-based RMAH, it would still be years away. They need to see the financial results of the Diablo 3 auction house, and long term advantages/disadvantages to decide whether it's worth the investment or not. It's something that would come with a new expansion pack, and they definitely wouldn't have it planned right now for Mists of Pandaria. Meaning, that the next expansion pack is more likely.. and you're looking at a 2-3 year wait at the very least.

Changing all items to BOE, though, would be very bad for the entire game dynamic, and because of the technical challenges, it's highly unlikely that they'll create a RMAH for high-end gear. Besides the Armory Character Market, however, Blizzard could alternatively sell Conquest or Valor points (or some other method where cash can be exchanged for high end items) to players. But, then Blizzard would be selling directly to the players and printing the money themselves.. something that they wouldn't do. It would have to be a "player-driven economy" so that they're not blamed for exploiting the users.

Activision Blacklisting

Posted by Daeity On Monday, February 20, 2012

Another blacklisting story that you're probably already aware of.

Basically, Gameblog.fr was a "preferred fansite" by Activision Blizzard. They published a story that A/B didn't like, A/B asked them to remove it "as a favor", they asked again "as a favor", then they said to remove it or consider "all of the consequences this could lead to." Then, A/B threatened again that it would seriously deteriorate their professional relationship, Gameblog wasn't fully aware of the consequences, and that they had already contacted their Ad Agency to remove advertising from the site.

They were cut off from Activision Blizzard titles, uninvited from media events, exclusive information, etc. The exact same thing that they did to Incgamers.

Today, though, Activision Blizzard claims that it was just "a misunderstanding." Their PR firm has stated that "Activision doesn't blacklist journalists. We believe this was a misunderstanding and are working towards a resolution."

Okay, so if Activision Blizzard does not blacklist journalists.. then they must have a MASSIVELY HUGE MISUNDERSTANDING with Incgamers and they should correct it.

EU Beta Invites have gone out and they're STILL blacklisted even though they're one of the largest Blizzard fansites (far bigger than even Diablofans.)

I think they really need to practice what they preach, and I hope that Incgamers contacts all of the news organizations involved with this story and let them know the "misunderstanding" that they've also have been experiencing for the past few years. There's even proof of the blacklisting on the official Blizzard forums too, if that helps.

.. and another one.

Posted by Daeity On Sunday, February 19, 2012

If you've been reading older comments, I've been anticipating another little "something something" this coming week (Mon Feb 20 - Fri Feb 24). I figure that if I commit to a prediction closer to the date in question, there's a less likely chance of plans being altered due to one particular individual who "runes" surprises. :)

As you've known for a while now, Bashiok and Zarhym announced an upcoming trip to Paris, to "trade strategies" with the EU CM team. They're in Paris right now, and traveled a couple days ago.

Exchanging strategies is something that could easily have been done over email or video conference, though, and considering how frugal Blizzard is with things like travel expenses, I think there's another reason they're in Paris other than "just to exchange ideas". It's more likely that they're in the EU with a specific purpose, and they're probably working with the teams to prepare them for something big.

Bashiok is denying, in regular Bashiok fashion, that they are not there for anything to do with beta testing in the EU.

I didn't think about that. People are going to think we came out to plug in EU beta servers. Funny.
However, that just makes me even more suspicious and I think it's actually a cover for something else going on.

Seeing as how they traveled before the weekend, rather than at the start or middle of next week, there's a very high probability of an announcement early in the week (Monday most likely.) It won't be a release date announcement, mind you.. even though they have an internal release date scheduled, it's still too early to announce it so close to this past Shareholder's meeting.

Because they are visiting Paris, I suspect that it will be an EU specific announcement or something EU related happening. And because EU has been promised beta keys in the near future, this is probably the best time to do it with all of the other excitement taking place in NA.

Back on February 6, Nakatoir hinted that there will be "more information in the following weeks about the global giveaways as well as for regional betas for you." There's a very high probability that this will happen within the next few days, and ideally early in the week since Bashiok and Zarhym need to hop on another plane at the end of the week to travel again.

Don't expect beta keys to be immediately available though. It will probably be much like the US giveaway; there will be various contests, sweepstakes, instructions, region specific stuff, twitter stuff, a lot of rules (regional restrictions), and starting & ending dates.

(Just a note, they're not technically "physical beta keys" that are being given away. It will be just like the US contests where you submit your email address, the fansite forwards their account lists to Blizzard, and Blizzard upgrades your Battle.net Account with "the beta key.")

There are also hints in that same Nakatoir posting that NA was used primarily for heavy server performance testing, which tells me that they're not going to worry about the same so much in EU. Meaning, that you should not expect as many beta keys to be given away in the EU that were given away in NA. And, they will probably be divided up (Network Team's choice) into multiple regions for varied testing (and latency) metrics.

* UPDATE (02/20/12):

Confirmed! Diablo3x.com via their Facebook account, just confirmed that they received 150 beta keys from Blizzard France and that they will be providing an update soon.

And, svenskadiablo.se also confirmed that they have received 225 beta keys that they can give away on February 20 (today) and more on March 5.
Dear www.svenskadiablo.se,

We're happy to tell you that from the 20th of February, we have 150 Diablo III beta slots for you to sacrifice to your community through contests and / or sweepstakes. Additionally, from the 5th of March, you can offer a second wave consisting of 75 slots.
Something tells me that they weren't supposed to announce these until today though and it was supposed to be after Blizzard had already made their own official announcement (just like they did in the US.) Have any other EU fansites announced (leaked?) that they have received beta keys?

* UPDATE:

Diablo3.gamona.de have just posted their official announcement, and rules for their contests. So, they're giving away their (150) beta keys now.

Now, it's just sitting tight for the Official EU Battle.net forum post. I think some of these giveaways were a little premature. :)

* UPDATE:

And.. diablo3.ingame.de just announced the start of their own contest (150 keys) too! (Thanks anonymous.)

Here's a list of their authorized/official fansites, so they should be receiving keys in various quantities. I'll update the list when (if) they make their announcements.

English / D3Expert.com: http://www.d3expert.com/
English / Diablo3X.com: http://diablo3x.com/ (150 keys)
English / Gosugamers: http://www.gosugamers.net/diablo
Danish / Diablo3x.dk: http://www.diablo3x.dk (TBA keys)
Finnish / Goblin Explosives Network: http://www.goblinexplosives.net
Hungarian / Diablo III Hungary: http://diablo3.hu
Serbian / Diablo.rs: http://www.diablo.rs/
Swedish / Svenskadiablo.se: http://www.svenskadiablo.se (225 keys)
Turkish / Blizzturk: http://blizzturk.com/diablo
German / Diablo-3.net: http://www.diablo-3.net
German / InDiablo.de: http://www.indiablo.de aka ingame.de (150 keys)
German / DIII.de: http://diablo3.gamona.de (150 keys)
German / Diablo 3 Source: http://diablo3.4fansites.de/
French / GamersOrigin: http://diablo3.gamersorigin.com/ (100 keys)
French / JeuxOnline: http://diablo3.jeuxonline.info/
French / Judgehype: http://diablo3.judgehype.com/ (225 keys)
French / Millenium: http://www.millenium.org/diablo-3/accueil/news/ (TBA keys)
French / Mondes persistants: http://diablo.mondespersistants.com/ (TBA keys)
Spanish / Diablo 3 ESP: http://www.diablo3-esp.com/ (150 keys)
Russian / BlizzGame.ru: http://diablo.blizzgame.ru/
Russian / Warcry.ru: http://www.warcry.ru
Italian / BattleCraft.it: http://www.battlecraft.it (100 keys)
Polish / Battlenet Network: http://diablo3.net.pl (150 keys incl. 25 reserved)
Polish / Diablo III Poland: http://diablo3.com.pl/ (150 keys)

Unofficial, but too big to ignore:

http://tweakers.net (400 keys)
http://mygaming.co.za (450 keys)

Also, most of the sites who have "150 keys" might actually have received 225 or more. These are just the ones they're giving away for the first wave, but there's still a second.. plus the ones they reserve for staff members and friends.

I'm surprised no one from Reddit has picked up on any of this yet.. it's been a few hours now. So, if you're look for some free karma, you may want to link to this useful information in /r/diablo.

* UPDATE:

Apparently, Bashiok updated his US post this morning (02/20/12 @ 8:38AM PST) with additional (non-NA) beta giveaways:

D3Downunder: http://d3downunder.com (100 keys)
AusGamers: http://ausgamers.com (125 keys)


* UPDATE (02/21/12):

And there it is.. official Blizzard announcement regarding the EU fansite beta giveaways. :)

You can continue using that link instead of the ones I created above now.

Funny how so many fansites launched the official Blizzard contest, before Blizzard even made the announcement. And, as you can see, they aren't giving away as many keys as they did in NA.

They're still updating, and trying to collect information from the various fansites. It's still going to take a lot of time, manpower, and organization to manage all of these contests and sweepstakes from so many fansites in the EU. This is the job of Community Managers. Still think it's a coincidence that 2 CMs from HQ experienced with these contests paid them a visit? :)

I don't think they have much time to exchange strategies and pal around during the craziness this week (plus, with all of the forum outrage over the lack of keys.) I think Bashiok and Zarhym are there to help out.

And there it is..

Posted by Daeity On Saturday, February 18, 2012

Just went live less than 10 minutes ago. Diablo 3 Skill and Rune Changes by Jay Wilson (comments are disabled on their blog post by the way.)

Here are the important parts:

First, they’re now called skill runes, and they’re called skill runes because they’re no longer a physical item, but built directly into the skill system.
With the new skill rune system, you’ll be unlocking new skills as you level up just like you always have… but in addition you’ll also be unlocking skill runes.
Before I wrap up, I did want to cover that one of the added benefits of the new system is that you’ll be unlocking something every level all the way up to the level cap (60).
Just as we set different skills to unlock at specific levels, skill rune choices unlock at different levels as well.
Here's a good part about how they were trying to force the skills into items that could be sold on the RMAH. When you're trying to be creative, you shouldn't be "forcing" anything..
We fully expect that some of you will be disappointed that runes won’t be part of the itemization system. Internally, it took us a long time to let go of that notion too and stop trying to force them into being items, and instead embrace the intent of the system. Integrating runes with the skill system directly gave us a bunch of great benefits, and even without runes we’re launching with more item types than Diablo II had.
My past predictions were just based on public information and potential challenges to itemizing runes. However, there was apparently an internal leak that also appears to be confirmed due to some of the other, very specific, information just announced.

That Blizzard Leak

Disargeria, from the SomethingAwful forums, had a lot to say on the subject of runes yesterday, claiming that it was inside information from within Blizzard.

I do know for a fact that there are a lot of Blizzard employees with registered accounts on SA. I see them visit my blog all the time.

This leaked information by Disargeria and "Lammy!" ended up on Reddit and other sites, so Disargeria eventually went back and deleted all of his posts, and asked others to delete their quotes.. so, some members simply decided to repost them even more.

Here's what they had to say yesterday:
Runes are no longer items, but are now inherently tied into the skill system. You pick your skill, then your accompanying rune to go with it. Rank 1 runes start unlocking as of level 6 (!!!)
Skills are now going to be further divided into categories (defensive, technique, etc.) Initially, unless you specifically tell the game what you want, it's going to lock you into a recommended 'type' of skill for each slot. Presumably this is to keep noobies from making unviable builds, but allows you to do whatever you want once you're comfy with doing so.
My misinterpretation, apparently there are no more "ranks", they've all been normalized to around what rank 4 or 5 used to be. We unlock individual runes as we level. We'll get something new every level.
This leaves open the potential to boost the rune effects through gear. Previously the rune power was tied to the item, but if it's tied to the character, they can bring in stats on items that boost the rune effects.
They've set an internal release date.
I think the release date has an internal release date, too.
I'm surprised he didn't mention the Bola Shot change. DH feel weak at the beginning and one of the first things they did in the recent cycle was change Bola to round up 3 targets and pull them together before exploding. It does the 100% weapon damage to all three targets, making it a lot less frustrating to use. This also sets targets up to be more susceptible to other AoE like grenades and Chakram and gives the DH some needed control.
It's just the way he references +rune effects. I made that up, it wasn't leaked to me. He also isn't sure if you can opt out of it. Everything he posted is included in this thread, and there is more information to go that hasn't been leaked that for some reason he doesn't know about.
They're not moving back to skill trees, no. They're... making a change for them in normal difficulty. And it's well-intentioned but will upset a lot of people until they realize everyone graduates from normal mode.
Runes are now tied to the skills themselves, and you'll "learn" these runes as you level up. Like, at level 20 you learn the alabaster rune for Crippling Wave. I don't know how easy it is to change, but I'm guessing you can change the runes at the alter.
I think it's like, left click has to be a spammable offensive attack or rage builder or something, 2 has to be offensive, 4 is utility, something like that. And after you beat normal that goes away. Maybe even before normal, they might've changed it to something you can opt out of.
Would you guys mind unquoting me please?

Uh, and by lies I was referring to the bola shot
Reddit linked to this thread.

I'm not trolling, the problem is it's true and I don't want to be connected to it.
Most importantly, this is a very good confirmation now that this information did indeed come from a Blizzard employee and that it's well known internally that there is a Diablo 3 Release Date set.

And, they had a release date a mere week after the Q4 2011 call. Given other evidence, it appears that they even had this release date planned before the Shareholders Meeting (Bashiok had said it was discussed during that week, and it was delayed to Q2.)

In Other News..

Apparently, the RMAH Currency Cap is lower for accounts without Authenticators attached. Meaning that Blizzard will be "strongly motivating" many users to buy the authenticator. Make sure you familiarize yourself with this older post which confirms that Authenticators really do generate revenue for Blizzard.

And it appears that another prediction also came true. Blizzard has added a ton of new item affixes. :)
New item affixes have been added!

Chance on hit to:
Fear
Stun
Freeze
Immobilize
Chill
Blind
Slow
Knockback
And they have also made some changes to affixes to further increase the variety of randomly generated items:
The following affixes now have a chance to appear twice when crafting items:

Min damage
Max damage
All Elemental damage types
Expect more, like double or triple affixes to increase item variety (e.g. multiple Chance On Hit modifiers.) There will be a gentle balance though.. once they collect actual RMAH metrics, they can tweak the total quantity of item variants and either increase them or scale them back.

Now, I just need to test Public Chat when I get a chance so see if it's truly trade friendly (ie, it allows item linking.)

Weighing The Pros and Cons

Posted by Daeity On

As promised, my thoughts on the recent RMAH changes.

There were 3 main changes in yesterday's announcement; the listing fee was removed, transaction and minimum listing price were increased, and users are now limited to 10 active auctions.

Even though these are just changes within the beta, it doesn't mean they're limited to the beta. Everything they're testing in the beta is intended for the retail, and Kaivax did say, after all, that the changes were being done to "remove risk" for the user (and there are no risks using Beta Bucks.) He's talking about real money risk.

Currencies

"Beta Bucks" are the standard testing currency in the beta, but I will be using American Dollars. Since the testing is being done by the US-based Blizzard finance and development teams, you can assume that when the announcement is finally made, their choice of USD$ fees will be similar, if not the same, as the Beta Bucks. You can also assume a standard conversion rate into your own region.. for example, a $1.25 transaction fee in the US will be £0.80 fee in the UK.

Listing Fee Removal

As discussed previously, the Listing Fee was a major revenue generator for Blizzard. More so than successful sales and their transaction fees.

The only reason for it's removal would have had to have been something very risky or negative for the company. Because of the monetary risk involved with the Listing Fee, and the high probabilities of lost sales (which Blizzard would have confirmed over the past few months of RMAH testing), the RMAH became a form of illegal gambling. Rather than risking the chance of legal prosecution, they have simply removed the Listing Fee and are taking the financial loss.

It was a great idea in theory, and all of those non-refundable listing fees would have generated them a ton of profit. However, players are now at no risk of losing money and Blizzard can only profit from successful sales.

In order to make up for this loss of revenue, they increased their fees/charges and they brainstormed new approaches to guarantee Successful Sales; one being the 10 active item limit.

Transaction Fee & Minimum Listing Fee

Blizzard needs to bump up these numbers due to the major loss of revenue associated with removing the Listing Fee. This shows you just how critically important the Listing Fee was, and the very hard decision to remove it.

Also.. as you've noticed on the forums, these changes don't encourage players to use the RMAH more, in fact, it discourages them from using the RMAH. So, the changes were made not for the players, but rather the company.

The Minimum Listing price has been increased from $1.00 to $1.50. And, the Transaction Fee has been increased from $0.65 to $1.25. This is in lieu of $0.15 non-refundable Listing Fees.

Their choice of Transaction Fees might also be indicative of what they were expecting from the old Listing Fees. 4 x $0.15 (Listing Fee) = $1.25. They were expecting Listing Fees to generate at least four times the number of successful auctions (a total $0.60 vs $0.65 profit). In theory, it was probably even double that number or more. So, for every successful auction, there might have been at least 8 failed auctions (where Blizzard was hoping to make most of their revenue from.)

As for the Minimum Listing change, it was just a side effect of the Transaction Fee change. If players tried to sell an item for $1.00, they would be charged $1.25 for a successful sale, meaning that they would lose $0.25. :)

10 Active Auctions Only

This is indeed the most interesting of all of the changes.

They're also making the same change to the Gold Auction House. Blizzard explains that the reason for this change is:

Because gold can be sold on the currency-based auction house, we need to ensure there are limitations on the gold auction house as well; otherwise, a player might be tempted to sell everything for gold and then sell that gold on the currency-based auction house, which isn’t supportive of the kind of thriving item-driven market we’re trying to foster.
This explanation makes very little sense however. If there's a 10-item limit, how can they "sell everything for gold" so quickly? The only way to do this is if they significantly reduce their sales price. And even if they could sell all of their items (for a cheap price), they're still not going to have enough gold to sell on the RMAH. Players need to build up gold over time and set aside a large chunk to sell. Players will be able to sell items much faster than gold, and they won't be selling gold in tiny amounts at a time.

It's sort of strange that they had to explain their reasonings for the change in the first place, and even then, it was a poor explanation. So, there must be another reason that they don't want players to know about.

Consider the effect it's going to have:

  • The total number of items on the Auction House will be greatly reduced.
  • Having less items on both Auction Houses guarantees more success and less conflict.
  • By reducing the amount of active listings available, it means that each player will be far more careful about what they post. If a player is about to post an item for sale, they'll see if several are up already. If there's too much competition, they'll just post an item that has no competition.
  • When players are limited to the number of items they can sell, there's no overlap of the same items, therefore no competition, and therefore increased chance of success for each sale.
  • When items are NOT successfully sold, they will sit and idle. That time represents lost revenue for Blizzard. And, because there will be very little competition, Blizzard might not even have to make changes to auction duration (e.g. making them really short, like maximum 12 hour auctions, to rush players.) Of course, they might do some experimentations with this or in other areas.
  • For example, a D3 power seller might sell up to 100+ items per day. Under the old system, Blizzard would have profited greatly from all of the lost sales, cancellations, and undercuts. Under the new system, they don't benefit at all.. in fact, they lose even more money because hundreds of items will be sitting idle and no transactions will be taking place.
  • Therefore, it's in their best interest to ensure that every item sells. Before, they didn't care because they really only cared about the lost sales.
So, Blizzard now has a method to increase successful sales rates for their customers which in turn gives them more profit. It benefits them, but also gives them the excuse to claim how it benefits the players ("You have a better chance of selling your item now, and there's no risk!"). It's a win-win situation.

But, now they need to find a way to increase the overall QUANTITY of successful sales. This means more items. And, the fastest way to get more items are new attributes and affixes.

Because Blizzard wants players transacting as quickly as possible, and players will not be competing with each other, they need more potential items that can be sold on the auction house.

If you add a single new affix to items (and when I say items, I mean weapons, armor, potions, etc), it exponentially increases the total number of items. Blizzard doesn't even need to create new items or design new graphics, they just need to create a new affix, and it will generate 100,000 more potential items.

Variation of items is extremely important to Blizzard, especially if they're removing the Rune system, which was going to be another item that could be sold on the RMAH. With the removal of the "sellable skill item" and the Listing Fees, there will be a lot more emphasis of varying up items.. more modifiers, effects, affixes, attributes, whatever.

Most players will think it's very cool, but they won't know the reasons why. When the rune system is removed, the addition of a new item affix makes the most sense. Something that effects skills differently (changes the damage, charges, unique appearance, costs or duration of skills) would widely vary up potential item combinations and class builds, exponentially increasing the total number of items that could be sold on the Auction House. So, if (or should I say when) runes as an item are removed, expect a very wide variety of +skill item modifiers.

.. I am still just a rat in a cage

While all of this is happening (e.g. the different types of items, the 10 active item limitation, etc.), Blizzard will be hard at work analyzing all of these metrics and monitoring your behavior. They have a whole team of psychologists dedicated to this.

If they were to make a slight adjustment, say to the AH Active Item quantity, and change it from 10 to 11 active items, they'll immediately see the real time cascading effect that this has. Making that slight change will have a chain reaction causing different metrics in customer satisfaction, total successful sales, user play time, game cancellations, auction house utilization time, number of posts, and ultimately Blizzard profit. The number of metrics and connections that they will be monitoring will be terrifying, and even I can't comprehend the types of variables and statistics that will be available to them.

They need to do this to find the perfect balance that generates the best possible revenue for the company.

Even stacking of items (stacks that are sold on the AH) will be strategically designed and monitored. They might find better sales rates by lowering or increasing the total stack size, for example.

So, fully expect a lot of experiments to happen under the guise of a reward. They'll throw cheese at you, like "This weekend you get 20 active items because we love you so much!". This allows them to experiment, watch player reactions, and see if they can generate more revenue.

The New Rune/Skill System

Posted by Daeity On Friday, February 17, 2012

The new rune & skill system is supposed to be announced this weekend.

There's some very strong evidence now that the runes won't be sellable items anymore too. I had touched on this subject before, back in January ("Selling Skills") and then again in early February. I had thought I made a large post all about "monetizing skills" through the rune system, but it must be sitting as a draft somewhere and I just never published it.

So, I figured I would briefly get this out in the open before the big day on Saturday or Sunday. :)

Other than the RMAH and gambling related issues, and a possible B.Net Balance/PayPal integration delay, I believe that there's been an internal "fight" going on regarding the rune system. I think that the D3 development team was told to monetize as many things in the game as possible, especially the rune system because of how valuable skill upgrades were. Because of this restriction, it choked their creativity and they couldn't design the rune system the way they wanted. There was a breaking point of course.. if they couldn't pull it off, then they would have to go back to their basic rune concepts (e.g. a simple skill level up system.)

With the stash size changes, and the recent 10 active item limitation to both Auction Houses, there's a very good probability now that the runes are no longer items, but rather skills that level up as you approach 60.

Previously, there was a dead zone after level 30 which didn't really encourage players to advance. In this new "rune" system, the skill upgrades unlock all the way to level 60 now, so that players will have milestones and rewards to look forwards to. (The old system was not very rewarding and pushed RMAH rune sales instead as the "leveling" mechanism.)

It's something to look forwards to this weekend and it's another big change that I will be very pleased with.

I also have another post planned that discusses why they have a 10 item active limit now. It also relates really well to the old "rare drop" rune system. If you've read earlier comments, though, I might have spoiled it for you already. :)

Gambling Detected. RMAH Changed!

Posted by Daeity On

In retrospect, I suppose it should have said Daeity "Runes" Everything instead. :)

You know, it's funny.. I was just in the midst of preparing a post about the non-refundable listing fees and how Blizzard would probably play with different free listings per week (I knew that 3 wasn't going to cut it, but I figured they might experiment with 5 or 10 for various reasons). There's no point in discussing those reasons now, since I've had to scrap everything.

Blizzard just announced a MASSIVE change to the RMAH system. They've finally wised up and have removed the Listing Fee!

As you know, for several months, I've been saying that the existence of the Listing Fee turns the RMAH into a gambling metagame, but the removal of the Listing Fee would make item selling risk free and thus remove the main gambling aspect from the RMAH. Blizzard echoed the same: "This has the main advantage of allowing players to try to sell their items risk-free."

Here's the full posting in all it's glory:

In the near future, we'll be implementing several changes to the posting limits and fees related to the beta version of the Diablo III auction house. Here’s a quick summary of what’s in store:

* Listing fee is being removed.
* Transaction fee is being increased to 1.25 Beta Bucks.
* Minimum listing price is being raised to 1.50 Beta Bucks.
* You will be limited to 10 active auctions per auction house.

With the removal of the listing fee, players will no longer need to worry about whether they’re going to run out of free listings for the week. In addition, introducing a limit on the number of active auctions means players won’t feel as though they should be trying to sell everything they find, potentially flooding the auction house with unwanted items. Under this new system, players will only pay an auction house fee if and when an item actually sells. This has the main advantage of allowing players to try to sell their items risk-free. In addition, because the transaction fee is already baked into the price when an item is listed (as part of the minimum listing price), it’s no longer possible to be in a situation where you don’t have enough Battle.net Balance to list an item, forcing you to have to charge up your Balance just to attempt a sale. We think this will be a much cleaner process for selling items and will ultimately lead to a better experience when using the currency-based auction house.

This new active-auction limit will also apply to the gold-based auction house. Because gold can be sold on the currency-based auction house, we need to ensure there are limitations on the gold auction house as well; otherwise, a player might be tempted to sell everything for gold and then sell that gold on the currency-based auction house, which isn’t supportive of the kind of thriving item-driven market we’re trying to foster. In addition, for the first time in the beta test, we're planning to have both the gold- and currency-based auction houses active at the same time when these changes go live. Of course, one of our main goals in making these changes to the beta is to test how they’ll work out, and we look forward to hearing your feedback once you have a chance to try them.
The average user won't recognize the importance of this strategic move. The Listing Fee for Blizzard was really important and a huge financial decision. The decision to remove it was equally critical. The decision to remove it would be something that they have been discussing and legally researching for weeks or months.

Blizzard would have made more money (a killing) from the lost sales then they ever could from successful sales. Billions of transactions.. and they would have profited every time an item was undercut or unsold. The number of successful sales will always be vastly smaller than the amount of unsold items.

You really have to wonder why they removed this, considering it's vast importance. The only explanation Kaivax had to give was that it "removed the risk" for the players. But, financially, this was a bad move for Blizzard, meaning that there had to have been other reasons that could offset "the bad." This wasn't a light decision in any way, and the only possible reason Blizzard had for making these changes was because of the gambling nature and potential legal exposure.

In my discussions with various organizations voicing my concerns about gambling within Diablo, some of them mentioned that they would be following up with Blizzard with questions.

We have all suspected that the long delays might have had something to do with the Battle.net Balance integration or the RMAH. Perhaps, the development and finance teams have been in long discussions with their internal legal departments? And now, a major change in policy is needed to avoid future legal entanglements.

I think we might finally have some answers to their long delays. And, this also opens up the opportunity to finally get the RMAH re-instated in South Korea.

This has been a huge success; it's a change I have been advocating for a long time now. I'm really excited and pleased about this announcement. :)

Blizzard Blacklisting

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, February 16, 2012

After the big Fansite Beta Key Giveaway post by Bashiok went live, it was quickly announced on other gaming fan sites.

There was even a post on Diablo.incgamers.com, but it suddenly vanished shortly after going live:

Remember that question Bashiok had in twitter a while ago? The one where he asked you where you went for your Diablo 3 news? Well, it seems to have had some significance to the Fansite Giveaways they’re now holding on other sites.
It's gone now, but they had a special emphasis on "other sites". :)

In the past, fan sites were provided beta keys by Blizzard, but incgamers.com was mysteriously absent from the list. The Ghetto actually talked about why this was the case a couple weeks back, and I was waiting for an opportunity to make a post about it myself. I think this is a good opportunity.

The reason they didn't get any beta keys at the time, being as huge as they are, is because incgamers.com isn't exactly favored by Blizzard these days. Sixen (Blizzard appointed MVP) explains it best when he publicly and unprofessionally ridiculed incgamers.com for being permanently blacklisted by Blizzard.

At the time of his obviously joyful comment, he was the Site Administrator of incgamers.com's main competitor. I'm positive there was no loss of sleep over Blizzard's decision.

Remember when Bashiok had that Twitter contest where users were asked to submit their favorite sites? Apparently, the incgamers.com team were actually expecting something negative to happen.
Pretty sure Bashiok and the PR team have the word "incgamers" auto-delete. Lol.

What does he have against incgamers? He deleted my tweet from replies btw.

He deleted everybody's that says incgamers. Either PR has access to his account, or he deleted it himself. Probably the former, though. It wouldn't surprise me if there is a PR hootsuite account that has all BLizzard guys' accounts tapped in.
Rushster, the Site Admin explained the issue as being related to their old SC site:
This is not correct. They didn't want to include us because of something that happened on our old StarCraft site with a news post by a new staff member whose first language was not English and he used the word 'Exploit' instead of 'Bug'. They wanted it changed so we did. Blizzard also started to ask we change the way we write about StarCraft 2 and stop being so critical (even though they were not critical unless it was justified and had merit).

This site has never done anything wrong and we thought it best not to change the way we write about Blizzard games because that would not be beneficial to the readership, and fans of Diablo are very important to us as we are all massive fans too :)
It's definitely concerning that Blizzard tells gaming fansites and blogs what to write. The same sort of problem has happened many times with gaming reviews in the past.

I have been told by an anonymous user that the team from incgamers.com aren't even invited to any of the press events or Blizzcons anymore, and if they go, they're either hidden or they were possibly blacklisted as "normal visitors" (since no one ever sees them at the events.)

They also went on to explain how Blizzard is very strict about questions and you need to stick to their own script. If you ask questions that deviate from their rules, they're told "question time is over." In one particular case, the individual who asked the wrong question was not invited back to followup Blizzcons. It sounds like Blizzard PR is very controlling over every aspect of events, fansites, and information.. and it was quite scary to hear.

How To Get On Blizzard's Good Side (and Get Beta Keys)

Thanks to Bashiok's post, we now know which blogs are "preferred" or "Authorized Fansites" for Blizzard (BlizzPlanet, D3DB, D3Sanc, DiabloFans, Force Strategy Gaming) and which ones aren't.

You can see a tremendous difference in their blog posts too. DiabloFans, for example, just re-posts the official news announcements directly from Blizzard.. no original thought, no questions, only following orders. Diablo.incgamers.com, on the other hand, might be critical or snarky and post interesting topics that DFans and the other sites would never dare write about.

It's interesting to see that D3Sanc managed to obtain 400 beta keys. If you're familiar with the site, you'll know that they're very small and have very little traffic. It's a well designed site, don't get me wrong, but the forum has been sitting on like 1 thread and 4 total replies for several months now (19 total members). They don't have a lot of traffic, but they are a "Blizzard preferred" site.

A couple weeks ago, I knew they were going to get beta keys, but I didn't think they would get so many due to their smaller size. If you wanted to make a "preferred site" yourself, get beta keys, and be invited to press events, D3Sanc is the perfect model that you need to emulate.

You only need to stick to a short list of rules: only post Blizzard's official announcements, keep everything positive and supporting Blizzard, control forum posts, and moderate every facet of the website so that Blizzard is only painted in a positive light.

Remember when D3Sanc heavily modified and edited an old Bashiok Battle.net Forum post to make it positive? This is the sort of stuff you should be doing if you want a successful website, even if you don't agree with it yourself.

If you really want to get on Blizzard's good side, take it beyond typical propaganda sites like Diablofans, and turn it into a crazy fanatical "Dear Leader" style website. You need to GLORIFY Blizzard is every decision they make, retroactively edit all of your old posts if they can cause any negative harm, stick to the company line, only post official announcements, put all of the employees high up on pedestals, and brag about how great the team is. Defend them every chance you get, and talk about how Bashiok is just misunderstood but he's truly an amazing person. He donated one of his kidneys to a dying kitten, that sort of stuff.. it will get you a lot of blue brownie points.

This is how you get a successful website and get special treatment. Doing it this way might even get you access to exclusive press events and information. If you ever wanted to do this, you could even run two simultaneous websites. Your main "Worship Blizzard" blog, but then you can anonymously run a smaller blog or unofficial site that's more critical (using exclusive information obtained from your official site.)

Luckily, I have already had beta access for several months now and the topics I discuss don't require any special treatment or exclusive information from Blizzard. :)

The thought of a propaganda website really interests me though.. I would go totally overboard with it, and I think most fanboys would believe it's legit.

* UPDATE:

Incgamers.com should be handed beta keys given the size of their fanbase and it would be pretty foolish for Blizzard to leave them excluded in such a massive and public giveaway. Bashiok has stated that they have only passed out keys for NA, and EU is still to come. Even though half the other sites are NA/EU fansites, just like Incgamers, you could still consider Incgamers a "UK fansite".

So, there's still a chance they'll get keys. And we'll see for ourselves how flexible Blizzard's blacklist is.

I think incgamers.com wasn't expecting any keys, though, given the post that suddenly disappeared from the front page and their past experiences. :)

More Wasteland Updates

Posted by Daeity On Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Awesome! It looks like there has been more traction on the Wasteland front.

Here's what Brian Fargo had to say during a recent IGN Interview:

He doesn't know if it'd be straight up called Wasteland 2, but he repeatedly emphasized that, despite having thought about it for only 48 hours, it wouldn't be a crazy genre change up. Wasteland, whatever its called, will be "100% faithful to its roots." This means a Wasteland game that "would be focusing on top-down, probably isometric, party based, skill based -- where if you'd just finished playing Wasteland and moved onto this you'd feel comfortable."
When I first announced it, I just called it "Wasteland 2" for effect, but I'm actually hoping he keeps it as the original name. It will need a new story though, not a revamp of the original.

Perhaps even as a prequel to the original Wasteland during the initial formation of the Desert Rangers or the technologically advanced, but xenophobic Guardian Citadel. Or maybe the inception of the killer robot army. :)

Here's what else they had to say about this project:
The big thing Fargo emphasizes, that the fans are often missing, is that "this process means we don't have to do it like the publisher wants." Fans on the boards are worried that the project will start out looking like a hardcore, old-school Wasteland title, but eventually turn into something more "mainstream." Fargo says that they don't have to worry about "will [the audience] get this or get that," they can just be "more like the old days...totally creative."

Fargo has only been working on the project for a mere 48 hours, and he and the rest of inXile are currently working on a production schedule to see if its feasible. But he does think that it'd take at least a million dollars, and hopes that the Kickstarter will go live in the next month.
His twitter account has grown from 128 to 187 followers so far. I'm a huge Wasteland fan, and it would be very cool if my suggestion played a small part in getting Wasteland finally developed. I'm not sure if he was originally considering it before I recommended it, though, so I'll have to ask. :)

* UPDATE:

I got a response:
I was only lightly considering it but no specific project until a few fans like yourself started sending me messages.
I guess you could say I "kickstarted" the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. :)

Wasteland 2 Movement

Posted by Daeity On Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I contacted Brian Fargo, and I've made him aware of the Kickstarter service. It's a virtually unknown website that's definitely going to grow in popularity now that a professional game has been announced on it, from a well-known developer.

Brian Fargo has just tweeted that he is seriously considering using this new crowd-sourcing model to bring back Wasteland.

He also tweeted the following:

Pondering bringing Wasteland back through this crowdfunding. It's a world I have longed to work with again.
Wasteland is one of my all time favorite RPGs, and this is something I will definitely be supporting financially if he moves forwards on this.

I would recommend adding yourself as a Brian Fargo Twitter follower, and please continue encouraging Brian with this latest development.

The faster he can get something off the ground with the momentum that Kickstarter is currently experiencing, the better position he'll be in. Other game developers, like Obsidian, will also no doubt be moving to Kickstarter. Eventually, it will be saturated with video game proposals. So, whoever can get in there first will be far better off (e.g. in funding and interest.) When everyone starts doing it, Kickstarter (for gaming development) loses it's novelty, and also potential funding.

This will get a lot more traction (and fan site coverage) once DuckandCover and NMA pick up on it. If you're not familiar with Wasteland, you can learn more about the game and it's history at the (now abandoned) Wasteland Ranger HQ-Grid. I have been communicating with as many different media and industry contacts as possible, and I'm getting them to motivate Brian to release Wasteland 2 through Kickstarter. Let's see how far I can take this!

Playing The Long Con

Posted by Daeity On Monday, February 13, 2012

“Do you know the difference between a hustler and a good con-man? A hustler has to get out of town as quickly as he can. But, a good con-man? He doesn't have to leave until he wants to.”
- James Woods

In the past, I've talked about how the RMAH was designed so that only high level (or should I say, the most valuable) items will be sold on it. Even Blizzard is aware of this, and they want the most valuable items only sold on the RMAH. Even if they're not directly sold by a player, it will end up on the RMAH indirectly by another player who re-sells it.

In the end, all of the best stuff will be on there.

The other day, one of our readers asked a question about the "forced" usage of the RMAH so I wanted to expand on this. My comment ended up being too long, so I just decided to answer the question as a full post:

Don't you think that making the RMAH mandatory would alienate a big chunk of their playerbase?"

If they make inferno so hard that you can't beat it without the best gear possible from inferno(which will only be available on the RMAH), I see a few problems coming up:

-How are people supposed to get inferno gear if they can't beat inferno without said inferno gear? (D3 endgame multiplayer only? o_O)
-If they are forced to buy stuff from the RMAH to progress in inferno, I can see a lot of player simply not bothering with it, just quitting. I don't think Blizzard want that.
-There will be a lot of rage against the RMAH as soon as people are forced to use it. I'm pretty sure a lot of Blizzard's fans are against the idea of "pay to win".

The way I see it: buying stuff on the RMAH will be a way to speed up your character progression. Yes, inferno will be super hard, but there's no way Blizzard is going to force you to buy stuff to progress. That would be a horrible way to promote their new and controversial business model. (D3 isn't F2P, the idea that you'd NEED to spend more money than the initial purchase price in order to beat it feels wrong).
I don't think a "mandatory" RMAH will alienate the playerbase, because they won't even know they're being alienated in the first place. :)

Perception Management

The financial motivations of a company are not a subject that most gamers care to discuss, let alone even want to be aware of. They just want to play the video game, but the game ends up playing them too.

I think what will happen is that most players will actually turn around and THANK Blizzard for creating such a difficult experience. :)

They'll never make the connection between the Inferno difficulty level (and other difficulty level "steps" to get to Hell) and the RMAH.

(Unfortunately, I have to start tagging the blog URL to any pic I throw together. Flux from Incgamers likes to borrow images from this blog for his own posts without crediting the source.)

Players won't get angry at Blizzard for the "mandatory" RMAH because Blizzard is an expert at perception management. And this is what it all comes down to: perception. It won't be a problem for Blizzard if they're not perceived as the problem. So, where is the real problem and who can Blizzard redirect anger and frustration?

Blizzard has kept emphasizing that the Real Money Auction House is a completely player-driven economy, it's managed by the players, and that they have no control over it. They have also said that the RMAH is "COMPLETELY OPTIONAL." Blizzard is not forcing you to use it at all. If players just happen to put items up on the RMAH, Blizzard can't be held responsible for it.. because they promised they would be "hands off."

This Is Unfair!

In situations where players complain on the public forums about Inferno or Hell being too difficult, and how they're "forced" to use the RMAH (because it's the only place with the best gear), I suspect that the following will happen:

  • Blizzard CM's will rush to address the concern.. by correcting the gamer for being wrong. They'll be told that the RMAH is "completely optional" and that they're not being forced in anyway to use it.
  • The Blizzard CMs will tell them that they can just buy whatever they want from the Gold Auction House. If they can't find what they're looking for, it's just a "coincidence" and they probably checked the Gold AH at the wrong time. Throughout all of this, they'll feign ignorance to the fact that the best items can only be found on the RMAH.
  • Blizzard CMs will say that they don't have to buy anything at all, and they just need to farm Nightmare or Hell to get the items they want.. just like their other games. "It will be just like WoW where you need to farm bosses to get the gear you want."
  • The blue army will also rush to the aid of the Blizzard CMs and correct the complainer on the forums as well. (Some will actually be Blizzard employees under the guise of regular players.) Posts will be edited or deleted, all to manage perception.
  • Blizzard forums will be full of customers and fanboys praising Blizzard for making the Inferno level so difficult, and how they did an excellent job finally making a challenging difficulty level for the players. Gamers who use the RMAH, and then complain about it, will be chastised for being lazy and taking the easy path. Or, they will be called "spoiled rich kids" or impatient for trying to rush the game when they should have been farming "like everyone else." Another common one will be, "Why are you complaining? It's a subscription fee game! It's just a little bit of money, and Blizzard needs it to keep the lights on."
You'll see some contradictory behavior. On one hand, Blizzard will encourage use of the RMAH, but on the other hand, they'll publicly look down upon "Pay To Win" players. :)

The Average User

Above, I just talked about users who complain, but that's a small minority.

On average, most players who use the RMAH will either feel guilty about it, or more likely, they'll think they're cheating the system and gaining an advantage over other players. In either case, these players won't say anything or complain on the forums.. just the way Blizzard likes it.

The problem is that these players won't know they're being "forced" to buy from the RMAH. They'll think that it's their own decision.

It's human nature to be easily influenced and believe that we came to a decision on our own, especially when a game developer's professional marketing and team of psychologists are constantly pounding an idea into our heads. Sometimes it is our own conscious decision, but that's only when we're fully aware of all of the facts and it's a well informed decision.

In some cases, the decision to buy from the RMAH will be because they're impatient and they want to skip ahead to get to the end-game with their friends. (The same thing that happens countless times in WOW and D2.) Or, this might just be their belief when they realize how difficult it is to get properly geared.

These players also don't want to tell anyone they bought from the RMAH so that they won't be labelled as a pariah (even though everyone else does it, and they also never admit to it.)

Forced, but not forced..

"It will be just like WoW where you need to farm bosses to get the gear you want."

But, there's a really big problem with this. You have two options to gear up for Inferno: you can farm Hell, or use the "optional" RMAH.

Is Hell really an option though? Players keep forgetting that Diablo 3 does not have any loot tables. You can't farm specific bosses or mobs for items you need, no matter what you kill, your loot is completely random.

You could farm Hell for years without ever getting the proper gear, and in the absence of free trading, it's a nearly impossible task. And, consider this for casual players!

Even the crafting system for gear will still function the same as regular item farming because you can't craft an item without the Rare Blacksmith Plan drop first. These plans will be sold on the RMAH, just like other rare items or weapons. Besides the random chance in getting the recipe, consider also that crafting the gear is completely random as well. Each time you craft a weapon, it will have random properties and modifiers, and each crafting attempt requires a large influx of Inferno level salvage and Rare Crafting Materials. And even the salvaged materials are completely random! You're back to the same problem of receiving items that you don't need. And, you're still dependent on farming Inferno for all of these materials and recipes, but you can't farm Inferno until you get the proper gear.

Given the number of items, item modifiers, and affixes, there will be billions (if not trillions) of combinations of items in the game. Because of this massive pool of items (Blizzard has stated it's an "item-centric game"), Blizzard is going to be praised for providing so many options for us. As we farm Hell, it's going to appear awesome.. "look at all of these items that are dropping! Wow!".. until the player realizes that they're not actually getting the gear they really need. These useless items (for that player) will actually end up the Auction Houses, and ultimately the RMAH in one form or another, so that another player, who actually needs it, can buy it.

Because of the amount of loot and random generators in the game, the chances of getting the right combination of items are next to impossible.. without using the RMAH. As a Demon Hunter on your own, you might just keep getting hundreds of "of the Owl" crossbows and wands.

The sheer amount of loot will blind you to the truth. You'll have a thousand spoons, but all you need is a knife.

You will be told, though, that you just need to farm Hell for the right items but you have the "optional" RMAH. You're not being forced to do anything you want.

When you consider this, it isn't just a "Pay 2 Win" problem any more. For most players, the RMAH will be needed for actual player advancement, and you can't go any further in the game without the right gear. You need to farm for the right gear, but the only epic boss in Diablo 3 with a loot table is the Real Money Auction House.. it's easy to beat, you just throw a lot of cash at it.

The 4 Player "Limit"

Posted by Daeity On Friday, February 10, 2012

If you weren't already aware, there's been a bug in the Diablo beta that has been around for a long time now that makes it possible for a 5th player to join a party.

Incgamers recently made a post about it that shows the actual bug in action. There's a direct link to the video here and you can see it happen immediately at the 2:03:22 mark.

I wanted to point out something interesting about this "bug" that most players might not have noticed or understood about video game logic.

Did you notice that there's a 5th invisible portrait window already in the game? If this were a bug, why are there logical in-game systems in place to support the addition of a 5th player to the party? Not only that, but you can interact with this portrait window and see player information.

If this were truly a bug, and the game was not designed for 4+ player parties, none of this would be possible.

A fifth person could join the game, but there shouldn't be a fifth portrait window prepared for this user and there shouldn't be other logical systems in place to support more than 4 players. What this means is that the interface was designed for supporting a minimum of 5 players. And, I say "minimum" because there's still plenty of space (and small scaling of player portraits) on the left-hand side to support more than 5 "invisible portrait boxes". :)

This isn't a "5th player bug".. it's a bug in their player number restriction system, and players are able to bypass it to get more players (which are actually supported by the game.) Much like the public channels (which have been probably in the game for over a year now), it's really just an on/off switch that Blizzard controls. The game is designed to support more than 4 players, but Blizzard has it switched off for some reason.

It could be because of console limitations or their design plans for co-op, perhaps they were originally planning on 5 for the current game or as part of the future Diablo 3 X1 expansion (group increases in size with the introduction of new classes), or maybe the developers had problems scaling the monsters so it was easier just to make it 4 players. I think that a lot of players believe the latter.. that it was for scaling purposes.

So, something occurred to me. What if the game didn't just support a 5th player portrait window, but also other in-game systems already.. like scaling?

Guess what? It does.

When a fifth player joins the party, you will actually receive an alert ("A new ally has joined, but the minions of Hell grow stronger") and the monsters properly scale/grow in power with the addition of a fifth player. (There are also other windows/UIs beyond the party menu that demonstrate the in-game logic for supporting 5+ total players.)

So, adding a 5th player is not a bug. The only bug is that players can bypass the security lockout that prevents the 5th player from joining.

But, it's interesting to know that the game was designed to support a minimum of 5 players, the current game fully supports it, and monsters will scale when the 5th player joins.

This begs the question; why is there a 4 player limit? It's not due to scaling issues, it's definitely not an infrastructure or processing problem, the game was DESIGNED to support more than 4 players, it's not for testing purposes, and it's not revenue driven (ie, Blizzard wouldn't create a paid service that "upgrades" the player limit.) Blizzard specifically picked 4 for some reason, even though the game (and gameplay) supports 5 and more. They apparently don't plan on unlocking this (since it's "a bug") for a future Expansion Pack.. so why did they select 4?

Although highly unlikely (according to Blizzard), if something in the future is planned, perhaps the 5+ party isn't for "normal parties" but rather a support mechanism for special dungeons (raids) or large scale PVP combat teams.

And here's something else to think about: If this bug can be reproduced in the retail (which players will probably find a way), what kind of exploitation potential will there be for 5-8 player Inferno parties where the monsters can be killed more quickly by MF-geared players. (Apparently, loot drops don't scale with the mobs.. however loot scaling has been both confirmed and denied by Blizzard.)

* UPDATE:

Apparently, back in August 2011, Jay Wilson confirmed that the game was designed for 6 players maximum, but they didn't like the chaos of having 5-6 players on the screen at once, so they were "playing around with 4" which they believe would be the eventual maximum party size.

So, as suspected, the game was designed for at least 5 players (6 being the programming logic cap), it has the math to support it, and it appears that rather than going back and reworking a lot of the code (which would take a lot of time), they simply locked the max party size to 4, even though the game supports more.

Considering this, it is entirely possible that users might find a way to get at least 6 players in a party (in the beta, but hopefully they won't close all of the gaps by retail.)

Q4 2011 Results

Posted by Daeity On Thursday, February 9, 2012

Highlights from the call and Fourth Quarter 2011 financial results include:

  • No release date announcement. Big shocker.
  • Diablo 3 has been delayed to Q2: "The company's first quarter 2012 outlook does not incorporate a new release from Blizzard Entertainment."

    Well, I guess we finally have our answer. "Early 2012" actually means "Mid 2012".
  • WOW has 10.2 Million Subscribers as of 12/31/11. (During their last conference call, they announced 10.3 million.)
  • Calendar year 2012 outlook anticipates two releases from Blizzard Entertainment. Looks like SC2 HOTS has been delayed to 2013.
  • There are approximately 50M monthly active users across Battle.net, CoD multiplayer, CoD Elite, and Skylanders WebWorld.
By the way, with all of the new people joining this call (potentially thousands of anxious fans, especially because direct links were advertised on Reddit and various Diablo forums), this is why it's so important for Blizzard to state ahead of time that the release date announcement WILL NOT be revealed at their upcoming conference call. When they don't do that, they're just trolling their customers.

Blizzard "Community Managers" (which is a form of PR) and Support staff frequently state that there are upcoming surprises, surprises planned, and surprise announcements. Because of this, people will grow even more suspicious when they say "Oh yeah.. this upcoming event is no big deal. You should really just go to your favorite site for the highlights of the call." It's like anticipating a surprise birthday party while your friends and family try to act nonchalant.

The reason they should notify their customers ahead of time is because, one of these days, an angry fan is going to raise a question during the open Q&A period for all of Activision Blizzard's employees and investors to hear: "Hey, Mike.. why is Bashiok such a troll?" Except, it will probably be worse.

"Early 2012"

Just to be clear, "Early 2012" means Q1. Blizzard even confirmed that this was their "internal definition." Bashiok never recanted his statement, he re-confirmed it.

There's a big difference between making a typo/mistake and the mistake of accidentally revealing something.

If someone were to accidentally leak Titan MMO game details, and they were to tweet "That was a mistake," it doesn't make it any less true that the game details were real.
Bashiok: Sorry I wasn't intending to imply anything by writing first quarter, just an honest mistake. Our official target is still "early 2012". Not sure if it makes too much difference one way or the other, but I don't want people to nitpick a mistake. :)
As Bashiok said, it doesn't make any difference one way or the other.. whether he writes it as Q1 or "Early 2012", it means the same thing.
Just a mistake on my part. Q1 is definitely more literal, so I suppose I should correct it.
Here, Bashiok confirms that Q1 is definitely more literal or accurate than saying "Early 2012".

If it was a typo or a mistake, then it would have meant that "Early 2012" means Q1-Q2 or "included Q2."

And moments ago, Bashiok just RE-re-confirmed that "Early 2012" always meant Q1, but now they just changed it this week to Q2 instead.
We've only ever said "early 2012". And we just decided we'd need until Q2 this week. Seems like the conference call was as good a place as any to announce that.
It's been delayed again; from Q1 to Q2.

When Will It Be Announced?

So, apparently, Blizzard was indeed intending on announcing the release date this week just as predicted. It was probably no coincidence that all of those Battle.net changes (5+ hour outages) were taking place and you didn't see the results. They truly were preparing for the release date announcement this week.

It's also no coincidence that the Battle.net Balance and PayPal features were implemented on Monday, which I had said would logically be accompanying the Release Date announcement.

To recap, for a couple months I have been predicting a 80% chance of a release date announcement right before the Q4 call. This was based on Blizzard's "promise" that their game would be coming out in Q1. However, I had also said that if an announcement was not made on the Monday, that the chances diminish substantially, and it means that the game will be delayed to Q2 (if still not announced before the call.) This week was really their only last option.

Maybe the new delay was related to the various Battle.net Balance problems they were having?

I'm currently waiting for the call recording to go live so that I can listen to it again. Mike Morhaime possibly mentioned that the release date schedule for the Diablo 3 release would be announced in the coming weeks.

The thing is, they can't make the announcement within the next 2-3 weeks. I mean they COULD, but if they did, it would imply that they actually KNOW the release date right now. Meaning that Q2 was planned before this week and they could have still made the announcement this week.

Plus, for such a major finance related item, it doesn't make any sense to announce it immediately after a major investor call rather than before. This means that the release date announcement has to be made late February or in March. Given a minimum of 2 months lead time for all of their past titles, this means that the game will be coming out in May at the earliest.

But, as I said, if they do announce within the next 2-3 weeks, then it means they actually know the real release date TODAY. And that would be very bad, considering that they could have announced it this week and it would have benefited them more greatly, especially from an investor perspective, while also avoiding many negative incidents (such as the forum outrage and angry frustration over the past 3 blog articles.) And, if THAT happens, it means that the decision "this week" was more personally motivated rather than business. :)

Battle.net "Maintenance" Completed

Posted by Daeity On Monday, February 6, 2012

For a better part of the day, users have been unable to access their Battle.net User accounts. The reason for this was because of standard maintenance over the past 5 hours.

And it wasn't just maintenance. They have finally integrated the new Battle.net Balance system and brought it online today. EU will be next tonight.

Unfortunately, the new changes are still broken. The US Account Page links to the European Battle.Net Balance FAQ instead of the US one and the Battle.net Balance instruction page still has the incorrect URL.

So far, there has been no official announcement about this new major feature addition.

The first time the "new" Battle.net Balance feature was announced was December 9, 2011. When Blizzard revealed the new feature they said that it would be "Coming Soon" and rolling out within the weeks ahead (end of December). It has finally been implemented, but 10 weeks later.

* UPDATE: It's been about 1 hour now, and still no official announcement. I guess they're waiting for it to be rolled out in all regions first.

* UPDATE: 4:30PM now.. most of the managers will be heading home now so there's little hope of an announcement today. That just leaves the next few days.

* UPDATE: Finally! An announcement over two hours after the changes went live.

Titan A.I.

Posted by Daeity On

Took Long Enough

A short while ago, Supererogatory finally published a piece about my older post on Swingin' Ape Studios and the other games they were working on (including exclusive information that I had obtained from Steve Ranck, who was the President and Technical Director at SAS.) I'm surprised he hadn't discovered it back in December. :)

As you know, I've been drawing a lot of parallels about Blizzard's old abandoned games and how they might be revisiting these ideas for their Next Gen MMO.

With that in mind, there was also a tweet about Blizzard's other cancelled project Raiko (which I had also mentioned as one of their cancelled games previously.) Apparently, though, I wasn't aware that Blizzard had outsourced the game to Flextech Productions.

According to Ron Seifried from Flextech, it was a role-played game based on Japanese Samurai.

Video Production Coordinator & 3D Modeler
Blizzard Entertainment
April 1996 – April 1998 (2 years 1 month)

I co-owned Flextech Productions, a company that was financed by Blizzard Entertainment to develop a role-playing game based on Japanese Samurai. This small operation was one of only three pilot companies that Blizzard deemed worthy enough to co-develop an computer game, at a time when resources were limited and time was short. From the days leading up to E3 ’97, we created a prototype that literally wowed our prospective investors, including volumetric lighting and multi-view angles that were years ahead of its time. I also managed finances and coordinated work schedules for development of PC role playing game and managed the video production facility.
Interestingly, Blizzard had brought Stan Sakai onboard to work on the new Next Gen MMO (lore & story.) And wouldn't you know it.. he has a wealth of experience with Japanese Samurai lore. :)

People in the World of Titan

I was going to wait until mid-March to post this, but since we're on the subject of Titan, I figured I might as well do it now.

For a while, I've had a belief that the Next Gen MMO would have a much deeper focus on it's people. I'm not just talking about character customization, but rather the NPCs within the game itself. I've been imagining more of a modern world filled with people, human villains and human heroes rather than the typically mass array of fantastical creatures and fictional aliens.

So, I've been following Brian Schwab (Senior AI/Gameplay Engineer II at Blizzard). He's given a few lectures of AI, but they have always been very careful never to say what game he has been working on at Blizzard. It's in fact the Next Gen MMO and he's their Senior AI programmer. That's why I've been so interested in his lectures; because he talks about his working experiences and he's careful not to reveal ongoing projects.

At this upcoming 2012 GDC (March 5-9), Brian is giving a presentation on Psychology in Game AI.
Less A More I: Using Psychology in Game AI
Tuesday 1:45- 2:45 Room 2006, West Hall, 2nd Fl

When dealing with game AI characters, psychology can’t help but come into play. Players process what they see and experience through a filter of expectations. We expect human-like game characters to exhibit human-like traits. A by-product of the quest to improve AI decisions, however, is that characters can begin to “feel” robotic and sterile. This session will begin by showing various psychological biases that we as game players bring to the experience. We will then show how characters can be imbued with simple affects to exploit these expectations in order to seem more “alive” and believable.
In earlier (2011) presentations, he talks about simple AI behavior and how you need to find a gentle balance so that it's not too challenging for players.

But now, he's focusing on human and human-like characters along with life-life behaviors. While this is no confirmation, it's interesting how he will be discussing this particular aspect of AI given that it's something that Blizzard has not done in any of their games yet (it's only life-like behavior via animation, but never AI) and it's not something that he spends his free time on. If it was an area of AI that he was currently working on exhaustively within Blizzard, though, then he would have a wealth of practical information and real world challenges to share.

Learning about a developer or artist's background and experience is a great way to get an idea about gameplay. For example, the Next Gen MMO team is comprised of many employees with scifi backgrounds such as Ghost and the Halo MMO. The artists themselves have done a lot with with scifi, post apocalyptic, and ancient city designs and concept art. And, a couple key writers have worked on scifi stories, secret societies, or historical civilizations (17th century Japan being one of them.)

This all makes me think that life-life NPC behaviors are planned for Titan. Nothing fancy, mind you.. something that has been proven successful (Blizzard won't experiment) like Skyrim, where the world's inhabitants have daily routines, jobs, reactions, emotions, and better communication options.

And, I'm thinking there will be a lot more people and humanoids (aliens) in the game, rather than just mobs of monsters, with a lot more interpersonal communication going on.