WoW! Thoughts! — On the Cost of a Raid Tier

Thoughts on the potential loss of a raid tier in Warlords of Draenor and what that could mean for Blizzard's development schedule.

Comments from Blizzard (specifically the ever honest Tom Chilton) have indicated that Warlords of Draenor may only have two raid tiers. I did not believe him at first, but as Warlords’ release date approaches, with features having been cut from Mists of Pandaria, I am starting to fear the veracity of his words.

After Warlords was announced, players asked for the moon: a patch 5.5 to tide us over during development, racially-themed faction buildings, and more. However, Blizzard repeatedly denied our requests claiming that development for each item would cost a raid tier, and thus a meme was born. As a joke it was amusing, but Chilton’s comments indicate that something did indeed happen to cost us a raid tier, and we are still denied any of our expressed desires.

Depending on how you count, each expansion has had at least three raid tiers, with Wrath of the Lich King arguably having five. Cataclysm was supposed to have four, but the loss of the Abyssal Maw raid in patch 4.1 resulted in the balanced structure of beginning, mid-expansion, and final raid tiers that Mists of Pandaria repeated while adding in non-raid patches to supplement single player content. The end result was both an amazing story and a well-executed expansion.

At Blizzcon there was talk of additional content that could be used for further patches.   The island of Farahlon has been left for us to explore, and there is an entire ogre continent of which we can only see the coast. It was later revealed that Tan’aan Jungle will be reserved as patch content. At this point, it is unclear just what parts of Draenor we will see in our journeys. Until Chilton’s comments in Germany, there was never any reason to suspect that this expansion would contain less raiding content than its predecessors.

As with all announcements that have come late in the development cycle, the question arises whether everything is going according to plan, or if these decisions are a reaction to problems that have arisen. My concern is that the loss of the raid tier is very much a reaction to the slow development for Warlords.   We know that Blizzard expected to have the expansion out by now. By pushing the expansion back a few months, they are also pushing back the release date of any future content – each patch will now be released later. If Blizzard truly is working on the follow up to Warlords already, that means that the release date for that expansion would also have to be pushed back.

But problems would arise if that expansion is intended to have a hard release date. There is, after all, a Warcraft movie coming up that Blizzard may want to tie into events in the game. As Warlords’ launch slips while its sunset date does not, the lifetime of the expansion is compacted.  Blizzard may well be forcing themselves to adhere to their oft-expressed wishes of faster content cycles by setting themselves a locked expiration date for all their new content. Whether the next expansion ties into the Warcraft movie, or if it is intended to fill a hole in their quarterly balance sheets (when was Titan supposed to come out?), attempting to get back on schedule would limit just how much content Warlords of Draenor can be given.

Hopefully this is tied to the movie and going forward we will not see mismanaged development time literally costing us a raid tier. If Blizzard is aggressively planning out their release schedules this far in advance, then this may be a sign that Warlords is the first of many smaller and more frequent expansions. Anyone who has followed Blizzard for any length of time knows that their development policy is that “it’s ready when its ready,” but the decision to sacrifice a raid tier would be the true cost of that philosophy. The MMO landscape has changed significantly over the last ten years, yet $15 is still the default monthly fee any MMO can ask for, if they can ask for one at all. With Warcraft’s subscriber base nowhere near the 2010 high of 12 million users, asking players to shell out $50 every twelve to eighteen months for what seems like less and less content may just be Blizzard’s way of dealing with inflation.

Hopefully Blizzard can address their issues and Warlords will be the full featured expansion they were describing at Blizzcon last year. Releasing an expansion with only two raid tiers would be ominous, and just another questionable design decision in a development process that has been plagued with questionable decisions. If Blizzard is to be believed, now that all development teams are up to speed, there should be no further delays and we should not need to concern ourselves with further content loss. Blizzard is eternally optimistic on their ability to rapidly execute content, so we shall see.

And we may see sooner rather than later. If Warlords only has two raid tiers and little more than a year’s worth of content, Blizzard may need to announce the Warlords follow up at Blizzcon this year.  There are open blocks on the schedule for a new Warcraft expansion panel, although most speculation says it will be some other game that is revealed.  If anything, WoW‘s sixth expansion may be teased during Saturday’s World ofWarcraft – What’s Next panel.  At the very least, the bulk of that presentation should involve exactly what the content plans are for Warlords of Draenor. Once we can see exactly what we are and are not getting from Warlords, then Blizzard will have taught us the true cost of a raid tier.

WoW! Blurbs!

Patch 6.0.2. – The Iron Tide is finally here.  Blizzard’s random name generator seems to be getting stuck on Tide lately…

Blizzard posted an overview of the followers available for your garrisons.  This is going to be a pain, because if they are following me, I’m going to feel obligated to follow them, but their tweets are so boring!

Mists of Pandaria is now available in the basic WoW set for $20.00.  So now we know the cost of the Legendary Cloak was $40.

World of Warcraft is back up to 7.4 million subscribers.  No wonder Blizzard wants to release expansions more often.

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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