1. New Hearthstone expansion in April, over 75m players worldwide, 2v2 mode. To be fair, I don’t disbelieve the 75 million players number, but I also feel like Blizzard would have said something about it if the numbers were that far beyond the 20 million mark we heard about back in September. The Q4 earnings call will be taking place sometime in the next couple weeks, so we’ll get confirmation then for sure.
As for a new expansion, I’ll roll to disbelieve on that one, based on the release timing of the game so far:
- Hearthstone: 3/11/2014
- Curse of Naxxramas: 7/22/2014
- Goblins vs. Gnomes: 12/8/2014
It was just over four months from the game’s release before Naxxramas was released, but it was then another five months for GvG to come out. There hasn’t really been a lot of talk about the next expansion post-GvG, but it doesn’t feel logical for them to have a full 100+ card expansion added with GvG only being in play for 4-5 months. Also, there’s the absence of an event for the announcement to take place at; there are no cons happening in April that Blizzard has frequented in the past.
Could Blizzard announce something at PAX East this year? That’s possible, but it still seems unlikely that it would be more than a new adventure mode. The more Team 5 adds cards to the game, the more punishing the game becomes for new players, and the part where part of Hearthstone’s appeal is the low barrier to entry, very frequent expansions are a bad idea.
As for 2v2 mode, that sounds like one of those ideas that would get batted around internally, but it introduces a ton of issues on its own. It changes the scale of the game dramatically, which really makes me doubt if it’s something that’s being discussed at more than a conceptual level. This isn’t quite a red flag (because the exact phrase used re: 2v2 is “experimenting”) but it feels a bit dubious at best.
VERDICT: Plausible but unlikely.
2. Overwatch release in 2015, business model in flux.: Blizzard only announced the game would be in beta in 2015. Given Blizzard’s propensity for long testing periods, it’s unimaginable that Blizzard would be able to convert the game from what we saw at BlizzCon into a fully playable platform in a year.
As for the business model shenanigans, that feels like a red flag for me. Overwatch has to be free to play with microtransactions. Otherwise, people are going to stick with Team Fortress 2 for their cartoony FPS needs.
3. Executives have low expectations for Heroes, senior staff to be laid off. I call bullshit. If the company didn’t have faith in the game based off how the alpha’s been doing, they’d have terminated the product rather than allowing it to proceed into beta. And liquidating the senior staff from Team 1 means killing off the guys producing Legacy of the Void.
Expecting Heroes to obliterate the rest of the MOBA market when LoL is already so entrenched? Yeah, that’s far-fetched and I agree that Heroes might not make a huge disruption to the market. But “low expectations” feels like an exceptionally punishing way to refer to a game that’s just going into closed beta and clearly will get a lot of iteration before release.
4. Legacy of the Void is ready to go, just waiting on a release date. Bullshit. It’s waiting on a beta test. The recent balance tests might be a clever way to mitigate the length of the beta, but it’s not a replacement for a full-on beta.
5. WoW quadrupled art outsourcing, next expansion is feature-complete. Okay, I’ll admit that I’d never considered the concept of art outsourcing before, because I’d never heard of it. Something about it doesn’t sound kosher, but it’s not a fake thing: Blizzard has a couple openings right now for Art Outsource personnel, but that’s for Overwatch. So for Blizzard to be willing to spend a bunch of money on outsourcing the art for Expansion 6 doesn’t sound unbelievable, especially if you buy into the theory that they authentically want to get their expansions out in a faster cycle.
The feature-complete line is what seems to be tripping a lot of people up. In software development parlance, “feature-complete” means that all of the intended features for the game are implemented, and the product is ready for testing and bug-fixes before it can be released. To put that in more familiar terms, “feature-complete” means that the game is at the end of alpha and is ready to move into beta testing.
So let’s review: Warlords was announced in 2013, and was released four months ago. It’s pretty commonly understood that there’s at least some production work done on the next expansion during the testing period of the current expansion, meaning that Expansion 6 has likely been in production for at least 7-8 months. If you want to tell me that the game is at the end of an alpha stage and will be ready for beta in the near future, you’re asking me to believe that Blizzard is going to put an expansion out for beta testing before they even announce it. I call bullshit.
I’m willing to buy that Blizzard will announce a new expansion for WoW at BlizzCon this year. Hell, I expect it. And I’d be pleasantly surprised if they told us that the beta test for it was imminent after BlizzCon, rather than just doing presentations and then making us wait six months before we have anything playable. But I’m not willing to buy that they’re already almost done with alpha. That’s weak tea.
VERDICT: ART OUTSOURCING IS PLAUSIBLE, FEATURE-COMPLETE IS BULLSHIT.
6. Diablo 3 team moved to a new Starcraft project, similar to Warframe, Left4Dead, DayZ, Smite, and other MOBAs. Oh wow, where to start…
Okay, could you argue that there are commonalities between D3 and Warframe? Yeah, potentially. A third-person action shooter with RPG elements and procedurally-generated levels set in the Starcraft universe sounds pretty neat, but it’s when you rattle off the list of other games that it gets confusing.
Left4Dead: FPS with an emphasis on AI-controlled zombies. There’s some weight to this, since Michael Booth, the guy who created L4D, has been working for Blizzard for some time now, directing an unannounced project.
DayZ: Survival horror MMO, again with a ton of zombies. Gameplay involves finding the resources needed to survive in an open world environment.
Smite: It’s a MOBA, with the quirk that it’s in a closer 3rd-person perspective rather than the top-down isometric version we’re used to in MOBAs.
So, if I’m reading this right, this will be a co-op game like Warframe, with a behind-the-hero view like in Smite, with AI-controlled enemies like in L4D… then where does the DayZ element come from if the world is supposed to be procedurally-generated and not persistent? Where do the MOBA elements come in if the primary comparison is supposed to be Warframe, which is predominately a co-op game?
All of this feels like some rampant speculation about a potential game that would keep Booth’s attention and justify his presence at Blizzard. The crux of the leak, though, is the statement that Team 3 is now working on this project, which Blizzard flatly denied, according to Kim.
Booth making a game that draws on L4D or at least plays upon his expertise as an AI innovator makes plenty of sense, and if you’re going to pick a franchise in Blizzard’s wheelhouse that would benefit from something that had more innovative AI, Starcraft certainly jumps out as a candidate. But the part where Blizzard shot down Team 3’s involvement makes me doubt the whole affair, and throws up a big red flag for the whole leak. So many other sources are saying that the D3 team was waaaay to excited about what they were doing for it to be feasible that they were sundowning D3.
VERDICT: STARFRAME PLAUSIBLE, TEAM 3 SHIFT PATENTLY FALSE.
Let me be clear: I don’t think Kim is making this stuff up. He’s reproducing lines that someone else is feeding him, though for what purpose I have no idea. I don’t know who benefits from saying that Team 3 is gutted, Team 1 is getting beheaded because of Heroes, while Teams 2 and 5 are ramrodding out product faster than Blizzard has ever demonstrated before. Conjuring up some pipe-dream game based on a bunch of currently hot properties like Warframe and Smite only works because of the link to Booth, whose name is never mentioned in the leak.
This smells really fishy to me, which makes me disbelieve pretty much the whole kit of it. So I caution anyone from putting a lot of stock in it.
What’s wonderful is that the next quarterly earnings call will be coming up soon. If Hearthstone’s numbers really are over 75m, then maybe Kim’s leak has more credibility. But if the numbers aren’t, I’ll be perfectly willing to call the whole thing a hoax.