WoW! Thoughts! — on the Costs of Rapid Development

Thoughts on how the push to keep churning out new content has caused Blizzard to lose focus in other areas.

Fail Whale

With Mists of Pandaria not even four months old, it can be a bit surprising to realize that Patch 5.2 is already on the PTR.  With a new raid and a new quest hub forthcoming, Blizzard has clearly been hard at work on finally fulfilling their promise of releasing content at a faster rate. This far into Cataclysm patch 4.1 was barely hitting the PTR.  While this seems like a boon, it raises the question of what is being sacrificed for this enhanced work schedule.

Whenever an expansion launches, Blizzard has trained the player base to anticipate exciting launch events.  In the past we’ve been given portal openings, zombie invasions, and elemental attacks.  When Mists launched, all we received was a sample scenario showing the destruction of Theramore.  Disregarding how this failed to align with what was presented in Tides of War (which also raised expectations), this was severely underwhelming as a launch event.

The lead in for Cataclysm had several weeks of buildup, from Thrall relocating to Nagrand, to elementals assaulting the capital cities, to near riots outside Orgrimmar, and dealings with the Twlight Cult.  While Blizzard later claimed that the main purpose of the Theramore scenario was to serve as an introduction to scenarios (in which regard it was successful, at least in showing how minimalistic scenarios would be), it’s easy to see why people were disappointed with the launch.  Mists of Pandaria has been wildly successful and well-executed since launch, but the fact that Blizzard started off their fourth expansion in such a lackluster manner was uncharacteristically poor.

Another event that occurred after the launch of Mists that garnered a minimal reaction from Blizzard was the 8th anniversary of World of Warcraft.  Each year Blizzard has at least sent out a letter with a gift to players that signed in during the anniversary.  In the last few years, Blizzard stopped sending out companion pets as a celebratory gift and instead issued a tabard that granted an experience/reputation bonus.  Apparently, this gift is going to be the standard going forward, as the only difference between the 7th and 8th anniversaries was that the tabard’s experience boost went from 7% to 8%.

Admittedly, after eight years, it can be hard to get excited for the annual ritual until hitting the decade mark, but the most surprising aspect of the eighth anniversary was that Blizzard changed nothing about the gift, right down to the letter that was sent to players.  Although a new expansion and new continent had launched in the interim, Blizzard’s letter still referenced “the return of a very large dragon.”  While minor in the grand scheme of the game, this was still another oddly disheartening oversight by Blizzard.

Despite this, it feels odd to be criticizing Blizzard at this point.  Patch 5.2 looks like it’s going to be awesome, with an Ulduar style raid mixed in with the Mogu and Zandalari lore in a Sholozar Basin-type zone.  It sounds like a bit of a mash up, but these concepts all fit well together, and the results are astounding.

Oondasta is a new world boss that’s a Devilsaur with a giant stone helmet of Troll design.  There will be Troll dinomancers, and we’ll even get new dinosaur mounts. Not only will there be triceratops for us to ride, but hunters will be able to tame these Dire Horns.  As someone who LOVED dinosaurs as a kid, this zone looks utterly enthralling.  I still remember my giddiness when I first saw a Devilsaur in Un’goro Crater, and the excitement that I’d get to face off with one myself.  When Devilsaurs became tamable, I rushed at the first opportunity to add one to my collection.  Un’goro Crater and Sholozar Basin are two of my favorite zones, and the Isle of Giants looks to complete the trio.

However, as much as I’ll enjoy all this content, I’ll know in the back of my head that there’s been a price, no matter how slight.  We probably could have waited another month for patch 5.1 if it meant that Blizzard had time to work on a proper launch for Mists.  And as excited as I am for what’s coming in patch 5.2, I can wait as long as I need if it means that Blizzard can keep their affairs in order.  It’s going to be interesting to see if Blizzard can maintain this hurried pace throughout 2013, and interesting to see just how many patches Mists will get beyond the previously standard three.  While Cataclysm‘s patches were spaced out by a few months, the real problem arose when patch 4.3 was released at the end of November 2011, initiating a ten month long window that lacked new content.  While I’m fairly confident that Blizzard’s adjusted their schedule to prevent for that type of drought again, the missteps with the launch and anniversary events give me pause.

In the meantime, though, BRING ON THE DINOSAURS!!!

WoW! Blurbs!

The Patch 5.2 Preview Trailer is up.  The story in this one is hard to follow, though.

Want a job in Game Design?  Ghostcrawler tells you how!!!  At least he didn’t tweet all this.

Orgrimmar and Stormwind are finally going to get updated.  This probably just means some new menace is going to come sweeping through next expansion.

The Swift Windsteed is now available in the Blizzard store!  Buy one and fly around Pandaria on a… on a…  Does anyone know just what the hell that thing is supposed to be???

Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz
Nick Zielenkievicz

Senior Producer

Host of WoW! Talk! and The Tauren & The Goblin. Sometimes known as the Video Games Public Defender. Wants to play more Destiny and Marvel Heroes but WoW is all-consuming. Decent F2P Hearthstone player. Sad that he lost the Wii that had Wrecking Crew on it. Would be happy if the only game ever made was M.U.L.E. Gragtharr on Skywall-US. Garresque on Ravencrest-US.

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