Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2014 - 11:39 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Starcraft II, WCS, blizzard, blizzcon, esports
The StarCraft II World Championship Series is Blizzard's official method of conglomerating numerous tournaments, including their own, into a canonized ranking system. Players get points for winning various Intel Extreme Masters, Red Bull Battle Grounds, DreamHack events, GSL seasons, and so forth. Beyond the prize money of each event, points are awarded to sort a global standings list. These points, beyond bragging rights, lead to an invitation to the year's final tournament at BlizzCon.
The system has drawn some criticism, however. One specific complaint is that players are allowed to partake in any region of their choosing. This seems to lead to tactical placement of players relative to other ones, rather than actual geography. Moreover, this allows players to join in servers that they are not anywhere near to, introducing lag in the online components. If I remember correctly, the rules stated that, unless both players chose to play on a server that was outside the region (ex: a South Korean server for two competitors in WCS America), the server would default to the region (America in the previous example). For 2015, Blizzard is requiring that all players must be legal residents of the region they choose to play in. The reasons for this decision do not seem to be publicly explained, but it should discourage the shuffling of players for logistical advantages.
The other, major change is that all participants of WCS 2015 need to qualify. Previously, if I (again) remember correctly, while points were reset, some placements in leagues carried over. This time, if a player is in any given league, they fought to get there from the very bottom. If anything, I expect this became necessary when the decision was made to change residency requirements.
WCS 2014 isn't over yet, though. It will close with BlizzCon on November 8th.
Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2014 - 12:31 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: blizzard, battle.net
There has been a new Battle.net launcher in the works for quite some time now, about thirteen months. Blizzard is finally rolling it out to users of StarCraft II. Loading up the game a couple of days ago, I was transitioned to the new system. I must say: it looks and feels pretty slick.
First, the main pages have a glass-like blur atop a background image for its window chrome. It has a borderless window style with a simple, one-pixel frame. When focused, it lights up a little central region at the top, rather than an entire strip of it. Personally, I find that this looks a little bit better than even Steam's most recent update -- but that is just being picky. Blizzard definitely thought about how it would look, and it shows.
The games are currently limited to World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, and Hearthstone. This leaves the shop quite limited, except for a few in-game mounts, pets, and services attached to WoW. Beyond the store, the layout is definitely intuitive and clean, despite only playing StarCraft II. And who knows, it might encourage me to branch out a little bit (but probably not).
The app is also designed to function as a messenger client. When playing StarCraft II, I found it quite weird to have a chat and instant messenger client built into each of their games, which needed to be running for it to be useful. Obviously, it is much easier to have Battle.net run in the background 24/7 than, say, Diablo III or StarCraft II, so this should make their messenger application more useful. This is a fairly obvious statement. The part that feels weird is how it doesn't seem to integrate with any of the game's chatrooms. I would have expected that I could interact with the chat groups of Blizzard's various games, but that is not that case. It seems like I still need to launch into StarCraft II, or whatever, to go about doing that. This, as stated, feels weird... almost like they have not got around to it yet.
Blizzard's new Battle.net launcher is available for download basically the next time you launch StarCraft II.
Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2014 - 06:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: wow, MMO, blizzard
World of Warcraft, the popular MMO from Blizzard Entertainment, once had 12 million subscribers registered and paying. Last month, it was down to 6.8 million. Sure, that is a lot of people to be giving you about $13 to $15 USD per month, each and every month. It is a decline, though. According to an interview with Tom Chilton, lead designer of WoW, it is, also, not expected to rebound.
We really don't know if it will grow again, (...) It is possible, but I wouldn't say it is something that we expect. Our goal is to make the most compelling content we can.
He also notes that expansion packs are barriers for entry and reentry. A quick, single-character increase to level 90 is expected to bring players straight into "the new content". Note that, prior to the upcoming expansion, this was the maximum possible level (Warlords of Draenor increases this to 100). Blizzard will also sell you, for $60, level-90 jumps for your other characters.
Or, you can just play the game.
If the trend continues to slip, at what point do you think that Blizzard will pull the plug? 1 million, active subscribers? 3.14159 million subscribers? Or, will they let World of Warcraft keep going as long as it is technically feasible? This is the company that still sells the original StarCraft, from 1998, at retail (unless something happened just recently).
Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2014 - 01:08 AM | Scott Michaud
After 17 years at Blizzard, the developers of the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft franchises, Chief Creative Officer Rob Pardo resigned on July 3rd. He was credited as the lead designer of StarCraft: Brood War, Warcraft III and its Frozen Throne expansion, and World of Warcraft and its Burning Crusade expansion. He has not announced any future plans, except to be a better Twitter user.
Of course, several projects that he influenced are still on their way, even after he leaves the company. Beyond the games, he notes that eSports and the upcoming Warcraft movie are initiatives that he looks back on with pride, in terms of his contributions.
Subject: General Tech | May 26, 2014 - 01:27 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: steam, raptr, origin, blizzard
Raptr is a service for PC gamers to adjust graphics settings, earn loyalty rewards, and "powers" AMD's Gaming Evolved app, which adds driver updating and Twitch streaming to the previous list of features. It has a sizable user base, tens of millions internationally, which allows them to rank PC games by popularity. While it is not a perfect sample space, it tracks both Steam and non-Steam games. The leaders might make you say, "LoL, WoW!"
I am fully comfortable with myself after that pun.
As you can probably guess, League of Legends is the most popular PC title, with 14.5% market share (with respect to time). WoW and Diablo III are almost a tie for second-and-third at 8.56% and 8.53%, respectively. DOTA II is next at 5.81% and The Elder Scrolls Online is fifth, with 3.78% of all game time.
Surprisingly, the tail is pretty long after that. In fact, the entire Top 20 takes up just 63% of play time, with the 21st place and lower, by definition, having less than a 0.73% share. This is a slow decline, leaving room for theoretically fifty games with Skyrim-level popularity. Several games just below the list are probably very close to one another.
I should also note that, since this is based on time, it probably skews toward long and intensive titles. This probably explains Diablo III, MMOs, and Minecraft as those games are played for hours if they are played at all. This really puts Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and, to a lesser extent, Battlefield 4 into perspective, with their series of short rounds.
Off the list since March is Titanfall, Rust, and Path of Exile. The first two are fairly surprising. Titanfall just launched and, it would seem, has not kept its players gaming habitually. Rust, on the other hand, is surprising because it is popular and, to my understanding, typically involves long play sessions.
At the very least, it puts context around Steam vs. Battle.net vs. Wargaming.net vs. Origin.
Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2012 - 06:32 PM | Scott Michaud
Blizzard has declared that their Battle.net service has recently been attacked. Some information has been compromised and as such Blizzard will force users to change their security questions and answers in the next few days. Mobile authenticator users will also need to update the software on their second factor authenticator.
I think we all know the story by now: cloud services will be attacked, a lot, and some will succeed.
Blizzard has declared that their Battle.net service has been intruded upon. The invasion compromised the email addresses associated with your account as well as the answer to your security question. The second-factor authenticators were also attacked and will receive an update shortly. Attackers have also received passwords protected by the Secure Remote Password (SRP) protocol.
Blizzard clouds bring flurries.
Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment
Once again, this sort of thing happens all of the time. The key is to security in an age where information is transmitted and stored freely is to always keep in mind what you entrust each service with. If you give a service your email address you need to consider what an attacker could accomplish with this information. When combined with the email addresses of your friends an attacker could send you an email pretending to be one of those friends. They could also associate you with users on many other services to either make a more convincing spoof of you, or know who they are attacking somewhere else.
You must be responsible with your information and you must realize you are trusting the service to do the same.
In this case, Blizzard protected passwords using the SRP protocol. This protocol if properly implemented includes hashing and salting all passwords to make reversing a password incredibly difficult. It is possible to create a database of known scrambled messes in hopes that some user will have a password. The more obscure your password means it will be less likely to be available to be compared to.
If Blizzard implemented the protocol correctly then they did their part. Ultimately it is up to the user to have their trust match the likelihood and damage of one or more attacks. This is true whenever you handle your information – never become complacent or you will have to forgive yourself at some point.
While attackers getting innovative means they are losing economic viability – it also means users will need to consider all possible ways they can be compromised.
Subject: General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2012 - 02:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: diablo iii, consoles, blizzard
Matt Ployhar of Intel has posted on their Software Blogs about how much money in royalties would be given to Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo if Diablo 3 were published on a console platform. Activision-Blizzard along with a couple of other publishers recently pocket the difference -- but unlike the consoles it is not an actual cost so the publishers can, and many do, lower their prices to the $50 point at launch. It really shows how expensive the seemingly cheaper console platforms really are.
So who would make a device for $805 to sell it for $499 after billions in research, development, and marketing?
Sony does and they get that money back from you in good time -- subtly.
The perception of consoles being a cheaper gaming platform than the PC is just a perception. Over the lifespan of the platform you can pay less for a better experience with a somewhat larger upfront cost on the PC. You are paying a premium with the consoles to experience exclusive titles that are only exclusive because you allowed the platform to charge you to pay the publisher to make it exclusive. Imagine how that cost grows if you own multiple consoles?
But I find good value in paying extra so that others cannot play too.
Matt Ployhar of the Intel Software Blogs does a very rough calculation of how much Blizzard would have paid Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo had their game been on a console platform. With 6.3 million units of Diablo 3 sold in the last two weeks and a typical royalty rate of $7-10 per game sale for console platforms the platform owner would take $44-63 million away from Blizzard.
This means that you would have been paying the platform owner $44-63 million to have Diablo 3 be placed on a platform which will be unsupported probably long before you finish with your game.
Blizzard has been selling Diablo 2 since the Nintendo 64 era. Consoles are paid to be disposable, the PC is not.
Subject: General Tech | May 23, 2012 - 11:50 AM | Jeremy Hellstrom
Tagged: gaming, diablo iii, blizzard
TechSpot wanted to see what effect your graphics card has on your experience while slaughtering mobs of baddies in Diablo III. First they removed any chance of a CPU bottleneck by building a test bed using an i7-3960X and then they gathered over two dozen GPUs to test with, ranging from a Radeon HD 6450 to a GTX 680 and almost everything in between. At lower resolutions all but the slowest seven cards and Intel's HD4000 were able to give 60fps or more but at 2560x1600 only half of the cards they tested could make 60fps or better. It is interesting to see that the GTX680 and HD7970 offer the same performance at the upper end of the resolutions they tested but you should expect that to change as drivers mature.
"While we disagree with making single player components online-only, there isn't much mere mortals like us can do about it. What we can do, however, is beat the hell out of Diablo III with today's finest hardware. Blizzard has somewhat of a reputation for making highly scalable titles that run on virtually any gaming rigs, so that's largely what we expect from the developer's latest offering..."
Here is some more Tech News from around the web:
- Hands On: XCOM – Enemy Unknown Part 2 @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition PC Review @ eTeknix
- Sniper Elite V2 @ Tweaktown
- Warlock: Master of the Arcane Review @ Techgage
- Dragon’s Dogma review @ The Inquirer
- From Dust Now Playable From Browsers @ Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN
- Starhawk (PS3) Game Review @ HardwareHeaven.
- Mortal Kombat (PS Vita) Review @ HardwareHeaven
- Dragon's Dogma Review (XBOX 360) @ HardwareHeaven
- Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Future Soldier (XBOX 360) Game Review @ HardwareHeaven
Subject: General Tech | April 6, 2012 - 01:16 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: starcraft 2, blizzard
Blizzard announces the Starcraft II World Championship Series. Tournaments will be held by qualifier region, country, continent, and world-wide. Winning a stage qualifies you for the next stage leading to a single global winner.
There are an astonishing number of tournaments for Starcraft II compared to almost any other strategy game. The game was made famous by its promotion of both the macrogame of economy and production as well as the microgame of control and positioning. Also, each of the three races balances each other by being entirely different, rather than in spite of it.
Due to the many different play styles as well as the imbalance of information between players and spectators, Starcraft has become a very entertaining spectator sport.
At the end of the tournament they should pummel the winners with water guns.
Yes, water guns. Blizzard would never Nerf a Terran.
At the end of the tournament, an officially Blizzard-recognized champion of Starcraft will be crowned. Currently a few handfuls of players are crowned the winner of some tournament only to be overthrown at some other tournament sponsored by some other company. While the unofficial tournaments such as MLG and GSL will obviously still continue to flourish, Blizzard seems to want to control an official result that they recognize.
It is still unclear whether the event will be recurring and at what frequency. Though, chances are, not even Blizzard knows at this point.
Participating countries are listed in their blog posting. Surprisingly, Japan is not present alongside China and South Korea. Official dates have yet to be announced except that the tournament itself is expected to run this year.
Subject: General Tech | February 29, 2012 - 06:53 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: gaming, business, blizzard
Blizzard recently announced that they analyzed their current business needs and have decided to perform a global reduction of their workforce to streamline operations. The bad news upfront is that this reduction in workforce entails the company letting go approximately 600 employees worldwide. They have stated that the majority of departments being cut are not related to the game development divisions
More specifically, they stated that 90% of the employee reductions will be from departments not related to game development. Also, they noted that the World of Warcraft (WoW) development team "will not be impacted." Blizzard believes that the cuts were a necessary part of decisions relating to a company with changing needs in an ever evolving industry. CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime, stated that they are proud of the contributions those effected by the announcement have made for Blizzard and they "wish them well as they move forward."
Job cuts are never an easy decision, especially for the employees. I wish them all the best of luck in continuing their careers and other future endeavors.
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