Reporting on Activision-Blizzard’s endless piles of money is about as much fun as reporting on how fifty-bajillion-zillion people are playing fork knife. No, I said that wrong; it’s about as much fun as taking a fork and a knife to my own eyeballs. But hey, it’s tradition, so here goes: Bobby Kotick and the gang have announced new records, measured in said piles of money; the company acknowledges it was a quarter “without large content releases” that nevertheless produced enough piles of money to surpass its own guidance, leading it to raise its outlook for more piles of money for the year.
“For the quarter ended March 31, 2018, Activision Blizzard’s net revenues presented in accordance with GAAP were a Q1 record $1.97 billion, as compared with $1.73 billion for the first quarter of 2017. GAAP net revenues from digital channels were an all-time quarterly record $1.46 billion. GAAP operating margin was 30%. GAAP earnings per share were an all-time quarterly record $0.65, as compared with $0.56 for the first quarter of 2017. […] Activision Blizzard’s operating margin was 39% and earnings per diluted share were an all-time quarterly record $0.78, as compared with $0.72 for the first quarter of 2017. […] Operating cash flow was a Q1 record $529 million, up 29% year-over-year.”
When you work in video games, you often get asked what new titles you are looking forward to. While experience has been teaching me to temper my enthusiasm, I do have one that I’m excited to play. I first got to experience Dual Universe in-person at PAX West last September, and since then I’ve been eagerly anticipating its release! Why? That title pretty summed it up well: It’s a persistent, seamless, sandbox universe. More than that even, it is a hotbed of creativity thanks to its voxel foundation. So I’ve had a taste of what can happen in a world that customizable, and I hunger for more!
That meeting with Jean-Christophe Baillie, the president and founder of NovaQuark, was seven months ago. How has development been coming along since then? How does the game look today? I got to sit down with Baillie for an update on progress and a new tour through the universe a few weeks ago. In my first demo, I saw promise. This time, I saw more of that promise realized.
Despite concerns about the pervasiveness of toxicity in gaming, most gamers are not toxic. Outside of extremely social MMOs, I suspect most people probably just play their games peacefully in their own little bubble and don’t really interact much with other players at all, either negatively or positively. Ever run a PUG five-man in World of Warcraft? Yeah, most people are just playing along, not making a big effort to socialize, just teaming up when they have to, answering when spoken to but not going beyond. I’m not judging anybody for this, mind you; if you’ve been playing online games for over two decades as some gamers have, you can kinda see why the shine of being everybody’s friend 24-7 has worn off.
And then, I hear stories like this one. Game dev @MotleyGrue recently tweeted, “There’s a kid across the road who clearly plays Overwatch with his window open. You can hear him calling strats down the block. Thing is, he’s totally supportive and wholesome. ‘YOU’RE DOING GREAT REIN!’ ‘YO TRACER THAT WAS SIIIICK.’ You go loud kid.”
And I wish I were that kid! I love this kid. I hope my kids grow up to be this kid. It’s such a little thing, being kind and supportive. It costs nothing and makes all the difference in the world.
Do you make an effort to be positive and friendly in MMORPGs?
Bluehole and PUBG Corp are apparently continuing their government-backed crackdown on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds cheaters.
Last week, PUBG Corp told Steam players that it takes cheating seriously and has upgraded its security measures. “In the meantime, we’ve also been continuously gathering information on hack developers (and sellers) and have been working extensively with multiple partners and judicial authorities to bring these people to justice,” the studio writes. “Earlier this month, on April 25th, 15 suspects were arrested for developing and selling hacking/cheating programs that affect PUBG. It was confirmed that malicious code, including Trojan horse software, was included in some of these programs and was used to steal user information.”
The studio indicates the suspects, all in China and being dealt with by Chinese authorities, have been fined the rough equivalent of $5.1M USD for their infractions. Prison time is historically a potential factor in cases like these in China as well, but the report doesn’t mention it.
Brendan’s discussion with CCP Falcon at EVE Fanfest last week included an interesting chat about out-of-game harassment and whether gaming companies had an obligation to do something about it. Falcon said it wasn’t healthy for a studio to “overstep” its “jurisdiction”: “I think our jurisdiction likes firmly within EVE Online, and I think that of people do break the few rules that we have then we should come down hard on them, especially in cases of harassment or real life threats.”
But over the years, we’ve covered multiple MMO studios who’ve made it their business to utilize content like Tweets and YouTube videos – Blizzard and SOE/Daybreak come immediately to mind – to make disciplinary calls inside their games. And that leads me to today’s Overthinking, proposed by MOP reader Sally: “What is your opinion on in-game vs. public out of game toxicity?” she asks.
If you love trying to speculate about the next title coming from Blizzard based on vague job postings, you’ll be happy to know that another one is there, asking for a director with a passion for PvP experiences. Of course, Blizzard’s last three titles have all been PvP-focused experiences, but combined with the focus on unit abilities and the promises that this will be a first-person title, the game sounds a lot like…
Well, actually, that sounds a lot like Overwatch. Which is already a thing that exists, so perhaps that’s not it.
Speculation can, of course, go in almost any direction; it could be Blizzard’s version of a battle royale title, a new version of the aforementioned Overwatch, or almost anything else. We simply don’t know at this point. But have fun speculating down in the comments and/or grousing about the promise of another first-person PvP-focused game getting released. It’s a very original genre.
Back in 2017, at the height of mainstream outrage over lockbox shenanigans, Belgium became one of the very first countries to take the problem seriously (instead of just passing the buck). The Belgian committee assigned to investigate concluded in November that “the mixing of money and addiction is gambling” and pledged to ban them.
Now, the country has effectively done just that. Its Gaming Commission spent several months investigating multiple games, ultimately finding that Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive are operating in violation of its laws specifically because of their lockbox mechanics.
E-sports programs and scholarships at universities stopped being newsworthy years ago once they were a dime a dozen, but a new one from Ohio’s Ashland University has caught the mainstream media’s eye because it’s reportedly the very first to include Fortnite.
“Ashland’s esports team, which will begin competition next fall, will arrange four-player teams that practice regularly and compete together,” says the university. “AU is at the forefront in adding Fortnite to its offerings, which already include League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League. Eventually, [head coach Josh] Buchanan’s hope is that collegiate leagues will be set up for official Fortnite competitions.”
Open tryouts will begin for the 2018-2019 school year. The best players can snag “up to $4,000 based on player skill level and academic requirements” in scholarships.
The relatively new(ish) Horizons Lunar Colony map in Overwatch is getting a revamp — but don’t tell anyone else because it’s supposed to be hush-hush. Or it should have been, except that a version of the rework slipped onto the public test realm to the surprise of players along side the new Rialto map.
Blizzard affirmed the lunar colony revamp as real: “Well that wasn’t supposed to happen but there you go. We have some changes that we are still working on and testing for the map so what you are seeing here may not be final. Also as an FYI, it won’t be released with the next patch and no ETA for when it will be released, as it is still a rework in progress.”
These patches aren’t all the Overwatch dev team is up to these days. When it caught wind of one player who had lost her father and had retreated into the game in her grief, the team sent her a giant 15-pound goodie box full of Overwatch as consolation.
Massively OP reader Steve wants us to revisit the Daily Grind on making death more meaningful without making it more annoying. His letter was long, so let me paraphrase a bit:
“It feels to me like underlying point was, ‘MMOs are too easy, so how do we make them harder?’ The question of video game difficulty is something that is seldom ever tackled head-on, as it tends to draw out a somewhat vocal minority. There are so many worthy topics about how people define difficulty, twitch skills vs. depth, easy vs. hard, difficulty vs. accessibility, easy vs. engaging, shallowness vs. depth, and so on. These are things I’d love to really see discussed more online, and very few sites will actually touch it. But I think that MOP’s community is overall mature enough to actually have some discussions about this without it devolving into a fist fight.”
I’m sure you’ll prove him right! Right, guys? Guys? So let’s talk about MMO difficulty in this week’s Massively Overthinking. What do we really mean when we talk about “difficulty” in MMORPGs? Are games easier than they used to be, and if so, is there something studios should do to change that?
How big a deal with the lootbox controversy that finally hit the mainstream last year? Pretty big, SuperData argues. In a new blog post, the analytics firm argues that “the loot box controversy hampered Star Wars Battlefront II out of the gate” as shown by the game’s monthly active users compared to its predecessor’s, and that the resulting dumpster fire has caused publishers to rethink lootboxes and self-regulate or at least modulate their greed – an effect we’ve already seen in the MMO industry too.
“At the upcoming E3, we’re likely to see presenters announce ‘no loot boxes’ or that paid content is ‘cosmetic only’ in order to get on the good side of creators and hardcore gamers,” SuperData predicts. “Loot boxes won’t disappear anytime soon given their success in games like Overwatch (over $600M of loot boxes sold through February 2018). In the short term, though, ‘No loot boxes’ will be the game industry’s own ‘gluten free water’ — and we’re likely to even see this slogan used to market titles where loot boxes would not make sense such as adventure games.”
It’s time to move along the story of Overwatch in the game itself, which apparently means playing events that took place many years ago. “Forward” is a relative concept. “Blackwatch,” however, is a rather firm concept referring to the strike team formed by Reyes, Genji, McCree, and Moira raiding a Talon facility in the new Retribution mission. You can play with the set grouping of characters or take part in the “All Heroes” mode, which is pretty clearly non-canonical but does allow you to send D. Va against terrorists when she should be, like, four.
You can also take part in the classic Kings Row Uprising event once more and pick up all the associated lockbox skins from that event, as well as several new skins, emotes, and intros. Check out the trailer just below for a slice of the flavor, or just patch up and hop into the game so that you can accomplish your goals before the event goes away on April 30th.
Are studios starting to wake up and take action against particularly odious instances of gaming toxicity in their products? Blizzard, at least, is working to police its precious Overwatch League, which certainly does not need more controversy or bad publicity in its first season.
The studio levied a three-game suspension, a $2,000 fine, and revoked the streaming privileges of Philadelphia Fusion’s Josh “Eqo” Corona after Corona made a racist face on one of his streams. Blizzard is reported to have tight control over the League’s players with its code of conduct, in which it wrote that no player or team could bring the League or studio into “disrepute” with their actions. (This is not the first fine the League has issued.)
Speaking of disrepute, the League’s Boston Uprising went ahead and suspended Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez due to allegations that he, an adult, was pursuing a sexual relationship with a minor.