Checkpoint #20: Deal with the Devil

Blizzard leaks, major launches for major titles, and another Twitch streamer defects

Welcome back to Checkpoint!

This week we look at some Blizzard leaks ahead of the company’s annual conference this weekend, the release of The Outer Worlds and Modern Warfare, and another high-profile shift from Twitch to Mixer.

Let’s get into it.

Deal with the Devil

The last week has seen some interesting BlizzCon leaks, with Blizzard working to offer up a slate of major announcements to buoy its recent poor fortunes.

ESPN obtained a training guide for the event that contained some tidbits about the arrival of Overwatch 2. If the report is correct, it’ll feature a four-player story experience set in Rio de Janeiro, with hero talents and in-game items. The PVP game will feature a new mode, Push, starting with a map set in Toronto. And it looks likely that we’ll see a long-awaited hero, Echo, arrive with the game.

I'll be watching with interest in the hopes that talents don’t make their way over to the PVP side. For me, the most interesting part about Overwatch comes from combining heroes with fixed toolkits and allowing the final outcome to hang on a mixture of reactive strategization, mechanical skill, game sense, and teamwork. I don’t see heroes whose abilities change depending on time investment and leveling as an appealing addition to that.

To wash away the bad taste left by Diablo: ImmortalBlizzard seems sure to announce Diablo IV. Leaks from a Diablo art book set to ship the day after BlizzCon make references to the fourth installment.

Of course, BlizzCon’s timing means it will fall under the shadow of recent scandals. The onus is on Blizzard to use the opening ceremony to deal with the Blitzchung controversy in an appropriate and satisfying way so that attention can fall on its announcements. With BlizzCon protests planned and other game companies doing a much better job of supporting basic human rights, even by doing very little, the pressure is on.

Release the Hounds

The Outer Worlds, a role-playing game in a setting reminiscent of the Fallout universe, has landed and reviewers and players alike are loving it. If you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, it’s already included in your subscription.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare also launched this week, and its reviews are what we’ve come to expect of Call of Duty games: a flawed but serviceable shooter that continues the tradition of the series.

Hot on the heels of the Realm of Magic pack, we’ve got unofficial confirmation of a university-themed Sims 4 expansion called Discover University. University expansions are a mainstay of the series, with The Sims 2: University and The Sims 3: University Life both favorites among the playerbase.

Flailing Fallout 76 has announced a $12.99/month subscription that enables private worlds, unlimited junk storage, a survival tent with a placeable fast travel point, and 1650 atoms to use in the shop in each month. Aside from likely being too little, too late, and at a time when single-game subscriptions seem somewhat quaint, the launch has been a mess of issues.

Finally, with developer Starbreeze facing financial woes, it has reopened development of fan-favorite Payday 2, one year after it set the game to end-of-life. The company has acknowledged that it is breaking its earlier promise that any future additions would be free, but is being refreshingly honest about its financial situation and need for support from players who love the title.

Delay N’ Pray

Some high-profile release delays this week. Ubisoft seems to have delayed most of its AAA slate, with Watch Dogs: Legion and Rainbow Six Quarantine blowing into the 2020-2021 fiscal year. Ubisoft shares have taken a tumble on the news.

Meanwhile, The Last of Us Part 2 has been delayed to May 2020.

Muscle Twitch

Two months after Ninja left Twitch for the greener pastures of Microsoft’s Mixer, another Twitch mega-streamer has made the leap. Shroud, who came up as a Counter-Strike player and more recently has played battle royale games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Apex Legends, announced his transition on Thursday.

While it’s too soon to know how this will change the streaming ecosystem, an analysis by Streamlabs and Newzoo earlier this month dissected the impact of Ninja’s move. Mixer’s viewership is actually down, and unless you really love the battle royale genre, it seems to me like it has been a good thing for Twitch. Fortnite, which once dominated the Twitch homepage, has been declining in viewership for more than a year but is down 24% in the last quarter alone.

Since the start of the year, unique channels on Twitch have declined by 32%, possibly due to saturation and increased difficulty in breaking through. But with larger streamers falling away due to business considerations, the average concurrent viewership across all channels on Twitch is up 3.5%. That’s an average across large and small streamers alike, so it’s feasible that upstarts are seeing larger gains, and I’ve certainly been watching more streamers in the midrange. The lesson here is that if you’re passionate enough about your side project to push through the hard times, you’ll be well-positioned to take advantage when circumstances change — and they always do.

That’s it for this edition.

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- Flob

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