Blizzard Entertainment has announced three new features for three of its games. Starcraft II, World of Warcraft, and Diablo III will all benefit from these new features that will soon be implemented within their game structure.
World of Warcraft will soon see Crabby, the Clippy of the WoW gaming world. A literal crab for help, Crabby will foresee all of your gaming needs, becoming companion and friend. Soon, you will bow to his wisdom in all things WoW, never deviating from the path that he creates, since he, you know, obviously knows so much. Even his rearranging of your action bar will be a delight. We’re sure at some point that an add-on will be created where-in you can pummel Crabby to bits as well. Or the developers who created him. We’re not sure which one, though.
Blizzard has opened the doors for pre-ordering WoW: Cataclysm. However, unlike for previous versions of WoW, you can purchase the game as a digital download, available to play when servers go live.
Traditionally, to play most AAA titles, players had to stand in long lines to get their game. Often these sales started at midnight, and caused fanatical fans to camp out the day before. With the existence of digital downloads, this has begun to change. When Blizzard launched StarCraft II, fans could purchase both the digital and physical version of the game. However, those who purchased the digital version could not access the servers until 10 am the that morning, while those who purchased the physical disk could start playing at midnight as soon as they installed.
No more. Blizzard has announced that, regardless of what format you have purchased the game, you can start playing it as soon as the servers go live. Which will lead to the inevitable question of why anyone would stand in lines anymore. And whereas this would cause a great number of people relief at not having to stand in long lines, it also is one step closer to an isolated community that never actually physically spends time with each other.
And I think that’s a shame.
Valve has begun an attempt to trademark the name Dota for use in the upcoming Dota 2 game they will be releasing in 2011. Blizzard has responded with confusion about the issue, while the overall reaction of gamers, both in the Dota community and in games influenced by Dota (such as League of Legends), has been anger.
From a business standpoint, the need to apply for a trademark for a new game makes sense. Controlling who owns the game’s name allows the developer to control who can make changes to the game over time, and who can use the name on versions of the game. But for a game based on a mod based on another company’s game? There be muddy waters ahead, for sure.
Blizzard’s initial response has been one of confusion with a touch of sadness. “To us, that means that you’re really taking it away from the Blizzard and Warcraft III community and that just doesn’t seem the right thing to do,” said Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s executive vice president of game design, in an interview with Eurogamer.net.
One can imagine that this confusion and sadness will most likely gel into something a bit more offensive if things continue as is, as Blizzard announced at Blizzcon this past weekend a free Starcraft II mod, Blizzard DOTA.
The community that supports DOTA, on the other hand, have been a bit more assertive about their opinions. For example, Riot Games, developer of the Dota-esque League of Legends, has filed a competing trademark application to block Valve’s attempt. “We have filed for the ‘Defense of the Ancients’ trademark to protect the work that dozens of authors have done to create the game and on behalf of the millions of DotA players all over the world,” Riot’s Steve Mescon said in an interview with PC Gamer.
So what is to be done about this? Could the original creator of the DotA franchise, “Eul”, be found and trademark it? What about the developers who took on the mod afterwards and advanced it, Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve Mescon? Or Abdul “Icefrog” Ismail, who has been working on the mod for the past three years? Perhaps it belongs to Blizzard, who owns the rights to the game the mod is based on? Of course none of these options would take into account the countless numbers of community input that the mod has experienced.
Maybe the various entities currently so confused could take a tip from some of the open-source organizations, who create coalitions or alliances to manage assets, such as trademarks and copyrights, for community-based IP.
Whatever the outcome of this issue, there’s sure to be more confusion, sadness, and anger before it’s all done.
Back in July, Blizzard introduced a new method of logging into Battle.net, called RealID. Aspects of RealID caused a storm of protest as it required your legal name to be able to post on the forums, causing many players to fear backlash from a variety of segments of society. Blizzard backed down and everything was okay with the world.
Now Blizzard has added additional customization to RealID, allowing players to “opt in or out of the Real ID “Friends of Friends” and “Add Facebook Friends” features or to turn off Real ID altogether.” From the comments, this seems to be a step in the right direction, though many still ask for an invisibility feature so that they can game without being seen.
Personal question: why are they on an MMOG to play by themselves?
Blizzard’s latest RTS, StarCraft II, experienced its midnight launch last night amid fanfare and trumpets. Or, at least, I suppose that somewhere it did. Where I was located it was more like a quiet milling around, and an attempt not to make too much noise talking.
That was the scene at the local GameStop I visited last night for the successor to Blizzard’s long awaited space-based real-time strategy game. StarCraft II would be available at both midnight launches of select GameStop (as well as Walmart and Best Buy) locations, and for digital download. The catch was that, though the digital downloads could be started before the launch date, the activation couldn’t happen until 10 am today. Core fans would decide they just couldn’t wait, and purchase the game at midnight (some doing a pre-order for a coveted Collector’s Edition).
But just how many core fans are there for StarCraft II?
In my area, not many. Admittedly, I live in a little town called Burien, just south of Seattle, but most of the GameStops in the King County area (the most densely populated in Western Washington) were closed because they were in malls. So, if you wanted to get it from a GameStop, there were five locations all told, and Burien was one of them. And really, are you going to celebrate a StarCraft II launch at Walmart?
I arrived at a little after 11 pm, and there were only four other people before me. By the time the midnight launch had occurred, only about 20 people had showed (though it was enough in such a small store to create a line out the door). Speaking to the staff, they had expected more around 40.
Should we be surprised? Staff members mentioned that they figured that a lot of people were going to take advantage of the digital download opportunity. In fact, one of them would have had it not been for his employee discount.
A 1Up poll performed the day before the launch also showed some interesting numbers, with only 30% showing that they would get the game on the first day, and of that, 5% stating that they would do a collector’s edition pre-order. In the same poll, 44% said that they would buy the boxed edition, and 16% getting the digital download. Parse the numbers together, and you come up with a small percentage that actually intended on attending the midnight launch parties to begin with (statistically, probably about 20%).
A big question is whether this is the beginning of the end of midnight launches. This information is of course based on only a small sample size, but the fact is that as Blizzard becomes more popular in a wider audience, that audience is not as hardcore in total as it used to be. And a smaller percentage of the number of fans that would have come out for an event like this will do so. Would it be financially viable for a company to even try to put on a midnight launch?
As fewer and fewer people show up for a launch of this type, the value of selling the game becomes less than the cost of keeping the physical store open. And that, my friend, is the deciding factor.