WoW! Thoughts! — On Cutting Content for Faster Expansions
After weeks of anxiety that Hellfire Citadel is the last raid in Warlords of Draenor (which was preceded by months of uncertainty that the expansion would only have two raids), we now have explicit confirmation that whatever is coming next will be announced next week at Gamescom. Even if Blizzard decides to add a patch 6.3, this start of the next expansion hype machine signifies that Warlords of Draenor is effectively over. While this is ostensibly a good thing (as it means Blizzard is getting expansions out quicker), as of this moment, this is exactly the wrong way to do this.
The problem with Icecrown Citadel, Dragon Soul, and Siege of Orgrimmar was not that they were flawed raids that failed to hold player interest. The problem was that they were given an impossible task: sustain player interest for the 10-14 months required for Blizzard to prepare a new expansion. Each time Blizzard completes an expansion and allows a content drought, players get bored and rightly leave the game. Players do not like playing a stagnant game, and Blizzard does not like losing players. The obvious solution is for Blizzard to put out more content more often, which has been one of their talking points for the last few years. Blizzard talks about increasing their cadence, but never has there been proof that they can get out an expansion more rapidly than once every two years.
Warlords of Draenor is eight months old. Cataclysm was technically the shortest expansion so far, lasting for only 658 days until Mists of Pandaria replaced it. Blizzard has just under 400 days to produce an expansion and still have Warlords become the shortest expansion yet, and given that Mists and Warlords were announced 340 and 370 days before their respective releases, Blizzard has actually positioned themselves well for development time going forward. However, these numbers ignore what is crucial about Blizzard’s development cycle that has irked players for so long. It is not about how long an expansion lasts that drives players crazy; it’s how long the game goes without new content.
People complained that Mists of Pandaria lasted too long. Blizzard released patches during Mists at a blazing speed, and in hindsight, many players felt that Blizzard could have let content sit for a week or two longer to reduce the interminable 429 days we had to wait for Warlords after Patch 5.4. Blizzard seems determined to make sure we will not wait so long again by shortening the expansion so that whatever comes next will come faster. However, they are cutting the wrong part of the expansion. Players would not have been happier with Mists of Pandaria if Blizzard shortened its life cycle by cutting patch 5.2 and patch 5.3. Those patches had nothing to do with Warlords’ extended development time.
We do not know how far along in development on the next expansion Blizzard is. The average expansion has lasted 715 days, and Warlords will turn that age on 10/28/2016, so Blizzard has plenty of time to work with. Allegedly, they have split the WoW team and the next expansion has been under development since the time while Warlords was still in production. The quickest turnaround Blizzard has had after announcing an expansion was Mists of Pandaria which was released 340 days after its unveiling at Blizzcon 2011. If Blizzard can hope to replicate this, their best performance, announcing the expansion on 8/6 would yield a release date of 7/11/2016 – roughly a month after the release of the movie. Without any sort of patch 6.3, Warlords will have stagnated for 384 days. That is longer than any final patch other than 5.4, unless you count 3.3.0 (Fall of the Lich King) as the final patch for Wrath, which lasted 364 days. Ruby Sanctum (Patch 3.3.5) shortens that delay to a mere 168 days.
Players have been clamoring for the end of expansion delays to be shortened, and Blizzard has yet to indicate they can do this. It is highly unlikely that Blizzard will give us a release date along with the expansion announcement. It would be impressive if Blizzard even announced beta with the expansion announcement, but the entire practice of announcing an expansion outside of Blizzcon is unprecedented. The schedule for this expansion, starting with Wednesday’s announcement that there would be an announcement, will be unlike any WoW expansion Blizzard has developed before.
My best guess is that the next expansion will be released in May, giving us the shortest development time yet, but still resulting in a ten month end-of-expansion gap. Now that Blizzard has proven they are willing to change their process for how development is handled, all we can do is wait to see just how it has improved. Because while the hype for the next expansion has now formally begun, for those disappointed with Blizzard’s execution in Warlords of Draenor, that clock has been ticking for a while.
A bad salad bar has hot fixin’s. A good game has HOT FIXES. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/19830546/patch-62-hotfixes-july-27-july-29-7-29-2015
Blizzard provided some clarification on how WoW Tokens work. Why can we only buy 36 tokens over the next two years? Because WoW will shut down in 2018!!! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/19823808/wow-token-additional-details-7-23-2015