What's New in Alpha + Blizzard Financials
Over the past couple of weeks, a pair of interesting things have happened to pique the interest of World of Warcraft fans. Between the latest Legion alpha build and the release of the Activision-Blizzard 2015 investor report, fans and players were given a lot to think about.
New in Alpha: Six Classes & Maw of Souls
In mid-January, the Legion alpha returned with a ton of new content for players to explore, mostly in the form of several significant additions to class specializations. Every class is now represented in the alpha, with six new class specs added and their attendant Artifact quests. As a result, there are only six more yet to be added, hopefully in the next build or two.
The most recent classes to make it into alpha are Beast Master Hunter, Arcane Mage, Holy & Protection Paladins, Holy Priests and Demonology Warlocks. These six leave Feral Druids, Frost Mages, Brewmaster Monks, Assassination Rogues and Destruction Warlocks to be included, hopefully sooner than later.
The interesting thing to come with the arrival of January's build of the alpha is the increasingly active part that Blizzard developers are taking when engaging the community via forums and Twitter. The team is actively monitoring the alpha forums across all regions and are making iterative changes to the game in response. This is most keenly noted with the addition of six new classes and the Maw of Souls dungeon.
Chadd "Celestalon" Nervig has been particularly active as he works to soothe the concerns of the most recently added classes. For example, speaking to Marksmanship Hunters:
Hey Marksmanship Hunters. You've given tons of constructive feedback, which we appreciate, and are using to continue iterating on things. Please keep it coming, and know that we are listening. The next build will include several significant changes based on testing, and your valuable feedback. This includes highlights such as Multi-Shot becoming a Focus-generator for Marksmanship, and applying Hunter's Mark to either all or none of its targets (instead of randomly rolling against each target individually), Marked Shot hitting all marked targets, a much longer Vulnerable duration, and a few talent revisions.
The point here is that, while often accused of not listening to its community, Blizzard is listening and responding to player concerns -- if not to detail changes based on feedback, then at least to explain the reasons behind seemingly controversial decisions made with regard to any part of Legion.
In addition to the six new class specializations, the alpha came with the brand new Maw of Souls dungeon that was spotlighted last week during a special live stream event. The dungeon takes place in the underworld aboard a ship called Naglfar during a storm on the Sea of the Damned. The ship lurches and sways as lightning crackles, thunder booms and waves wash over the decks (don't forget your Dramamine!). The dungeon features three bosses, including Ymiron once faced in Northrend during Wrath of the Lich King, and ultimately ending up with an especially awesome looking fight with Helya, ruler of the underworld. By every report by those taking part in the dungeon run on Twitch, Maw of Souls is some of Blizzard's best work ever.
All in all, the alpha is progressing, though at a pace that might seem worrisome to many. With six class specializations, raids, dungeons, zones and PvP yet to be added, September doesn't seem far enough away. Add in the necessary balance adjustments, overhauls to skills and traits, bug fixes and much more, the timeline grows increasingly short.
Which Brings Us to Blizzard's 2015 Investor Report
At the Activision-Blizzard investor meeting last year, it was announced that subscription numbers would be replaced with a more general "player engagement" metric in the future. Adhering to that promise, the company released its end of the year financial report for 2015. The report indicates that "revenues from all World of Warcraft products, including subscriptions, boxed products, expansion packs, licensing royalties, and value-added services" came in at $164M as compared to $266M in Q4 2014. With at least two quarters left to go until Legion's launch, it's possible that investors will see a continued decline in generated revenue.
The one part of the report specific to Blizzard and to World of Warcraft: Legion is the notation in the slide presentation that reads, "EXPECTED to launch in the summer window, following June release of the Warcraft film by Legendary Pictures". The key word is expected. Wording in financial documentation is always considered carefully and reports are written with purpose. Rather than taking a more definitive "will release in summer 2016" as it was stated when Legion was announced last year, Blizzard is hedging its bets a bit with the 'expected' verbiage.
Still, this is Blizzard we're talking about. While champions of "we'll release it when it's finished", the company still has a massive team at work on Legion and if anyone can make it happen, it's these folks.
We'll be keeping a close eye on the Legion alpha over the next weeks, if not months and making regular reports about its progress towards beta and release.
Are you involved in the Legion alpha? What are your thoughts? Let us know!