Blizzard Is Installing World of Warcraft Servers in Australia

Subject: General Tech | October 26, 2014 - 03:33 AM |
Tagged: wow, blizzard

With the new expansion for World of Warcraft, Blizzard is expanding their infrastructure to better serve their customers in Oceania. The company will not require users who are currently on North American realms to switch, but will be reimbursing server swaps, for as many characters as desired, during the two weeks leading up to Warlords of Draenor's November 13th launch date. This will not affect the time of release, which will be 7:00 PM AEDT / midnight PST (PDT ends on November 2nd).

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The expression, better late than never, definitely applies in this situation. The game has "Oceanic" realms for quite some time now, but they were still physically located in the west coast of America. Sure, the ideal latency of a packet from Australia to California is around 30ms (Update: It's actually around 60ms, 120ms round-trip ideal assuming 66% speed to light in a fiber cable. When Googling the distance between Australia and California, it thought I meant Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, 4000mi, not Sydney, Australia, 7500mi. Pixy Misa in the comments, who pointed out my error, said that they experience about 170ms of latency in practice), assuming the speed of light in fiber optics is about 2/3rds of light in a vacuum, but the actual latency is significantly higher in the practical world. Getting the servers about 4000 7500 miles closer should be welcome.

The transfer does not yet have a date, but refunds will be offered for character migrations between 6:01PM AEDT on October 29th, 2014, until 6:59PM AEDT on November 13, 2014. Just make sure to do realm swaps as a separate transaction from anything else you might buy. Apparently Blizzard acknowledges that their storefront will not be able to pick out the Character Transfer and Guild Master Realm Transfer among other services. While they should have spent a little more time making this promotion robust, I cannot really blame them. This is a one-shot. It is probably not worth the man-hours.

Source: Blizzard

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Requirements Listed

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | September 24, 2014 - 03:55 PM |
Tagged: wow, blizzard

When software has been supported and maintained for almost ten years, like World of Warcraft, it is not clear whether the worst compatible machine at launch should remain supported or whether the requirements should increase over time. For instance, when Windows XP launched, the OS was tuned for 128MB of RAM. Later updates made it be highly uncomfortable with anything less than a whole gigabyte. For games though, we mostly pretend that they represent the time that they were released.

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That mental model does not apply to World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. While technically this is an expansion pack, its requirements jumped again (significantly if compared to the original release). Even the first expansion pack, Burning Crusade, was able to run on a GeForce 2. Those cards were bundled with the original Unreal Tournament, which was a relatively new game at the time that the GeForce 2 was released.

Now? Well the minimum is:

  • Windows XP or later.
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Phenom X3 8750
  • NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT, AMD Radeon HD 4850), or Intel HD Graphics 3000.
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 35GB HDD

And the recommended is:

  • Windows 7 or 8 (x86-64)
  • Intel Core i5 2400 or AMD FX-4100
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 or AMD Radeon HD 5870
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 35GB HDD

World of Warcraft, and other MMORPGs, might get a pass on this issue. With its subscription model, there is not really an expectation that a user can go back and see the game in the same state as it launched. It is not a work, but a service -- and that does not devalue its artistic merits. It just is not really the same game now that it was then.

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor will launch on November 13th.

Source: Blizzard

Blizzard Cancels Their MMO, Titan

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2014 - 06:12 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, titan, MMO, mmorpg

Titan has been officially canceled by Blizzard after a year and a half delay. Since around May of 2013, the developer attempted to "reset" the project by shrinking its staff down to a core group of thirty, down from a hundred. This team wanted Titan to embody their wildest ambitions, but they realized that it was not going to be fun. "Fun" is not the goal of every game, nor should it be.

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If "fun" was the intention though, and it isn't, then you have a problem.

As for the employees, there does not seem to be any discussion of lay-offs. 16 months ago, when the team was downsized from 100 to 30, Blizzard claimed that its staff would be reassigned to other projects. The smaller, core team is not mentioned today at all, positively or negatively. Whether that is a good sign, and why it never came up in the inteview, is still unknown. Hopefully they will be transferred to an existing game or service, or work on a different, new product.

Source: Polygon

StarCraft II WCS is Changing for 2015

Subject: General Tech | September 12, 2014 - 02:39 AM |
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.

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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.

Blizzard's New Battle.net Launcher Feels Slick...

Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2014 - 03:31 AM |
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.

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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).

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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.

Source: Blizzard

Speaking of Sales Figures: World of Warcraft Is Slipping

Subject: General Tech | August 20, 2014 - 09:07 PM |
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).

Source: Ars Technica

Rob Pardo, Former Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard, Resigns

Subject: General Tech | July 6, 2014 - 04:08 AM |
Tagged: blizzard

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.

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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.

Source: Blizzard

The Top 20 PC Games of April, According to Raptr

Subject: General Tech | May 26, 2014 - 04:27 AM |
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.

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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.

Source: Raptr

The never-ending Battle.net -- intrusion detected.

Subject: General Tech | August 9, 2012 - 09:32 PM |
Tagged: blizzard

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.

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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.

Source: Blizzard

How consoles would have gouged Diablo 3 over $44 million

Subject: General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2012 - 05:04 PM |
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?

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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.

Source: Intel Blog