After last week’s (possible) spoiler-fest, I thought I’d keep it easier this week.
To wrap up what I was talking about last week, without spoilers, I wanted to take a second to talk about why these things (new expansions and rapid release of new content) are so exciting to me, and also somewhat believable.
Without getting into the actual content of the “leak,” why would I spend so much time talking about it and, for lack of a better term, buying in to it?
World of Warcraft is not my favorite game. In truth, it is a thing I enjoy playing, that I have made friends through, and it can occupy a decent chunk of my free time. But, something I got into at age 19 is going to have a hard time fighting back against, say, Final Fantasy X. Or Ocarina of Time. Maybe even Kingdom Hearts! WoW, to me, is my favorite passive, and sometimes active activity.
I tend to be double-engaged when playing WoW. I’ve put enough time into the game, well past the 10,000 hours of time needed to master a thing, by the modern theories of mastery. Playing the game alone seldom requires my full mental investment. WoW time is vegetable time for me – I can watch Netflix, YouTube videos, or even read forums with the time I spend in game. (Having 3 monitors helps this a lot, haha).
There is one time when I am fully tuned in, and really active engaged, though. (Okay, 2, because of raiding!) That time, is new expansion time.
The first couple of times through the levelling content, through new dungeons, through new raids, I love having all game sound on full, no other content or distractions – just me and the game. I marathoned my way through Legion leveling, and it was an enjoyable experience. Disconnected, sure, in that the zone stories maybe didn’t sync up as well as I would have liked, but I enjoyed going through and doing everything.
I think Blizzard knows its playerbase is at this point as well. Releasing patches so frequently, each with some new story content, really sells this point. Every 11 weeks throughout Legion, we’ve been treated to new stuff, and it seems likely this trend will continue into 7.3.
Why do I think they’d do this with an expansion, though? Well…why not?
Regardless of the veracity of the aforementioned leaks, there is one new, constant trend that Blizzard has latched onto throughout Legion – constant, fresh content. There is also one past promise that Blizzard has yet to make good on – constant, steady new releases of expansions. They used to state outloud that they wanted a new expansion every year! Of course, over the years, they never once did that, unless you count the fact that BC launched in 2007 and Wrath in 2008 (although there were about 22 months between them). They’ve been all over the place in terms of content releases during an expansion, whether it was spaced out Vanilla and BC patches, the mostly tighter schedules during Wrath and Cataclysm, the well-spaced until the end Mists releases, or the sparse WoD content, there has been one thing that we know about Blizzard – they always overpromise and underdeliver in terms of content timing.
Until now. Legion has been so consistently great in this regard that I honestly believe a 1/28/18 release for an expansion is viable and could be met. It would be a great endcap to what has arguably been a fantastic expansion for WoW – for them to finally master the art of letting go, allowing people to roll right into a new expansion without a long gap.
This is not to say there aren’t gaps in said plan, assuming it holds true. If Antorus isn’t made available until 7.3.5, then we’d have a last tier cut short. However, I think Blizzard could surprise us here as well. They’ve been in the habit throughout Legion of releasing raid content into the game but not opening it until they are ready. This has mainly held true for everything past our intro tier – Nighthold was in the game at 7.0, but was heavily tuned for 7.1, and again for the class changes made in 7.1.5. Tomb of Sargeras was in 7.2, but wasn’t opened until 7.2.5 and yet another round of class tweaks and balance changes. We’d expect that this will hold true for Antorus, but yet, they could always just…put it up earlier.
Why Would They Do That?
Think about it this way – if Blizzard wants us to get into Antorus faster, they can do exactly that. If they plan on announcing a new expansion at Gamescom, which some signs point towards, then it would make sense to push harder on the timetable. In Legion, once we got into the 7.x -> 7.x.5 cadence for patches, raids have always been unlocked around the 7.x.5 part, giving us roughly 6 months minus a few weeks of gameplay in the new raid. Nighthold opened in early 2017, and we were running through its halls until June, when Tomb opened. This would mean that Antorus would have to open around mid-November to give us the same cadence. The more I think about it, here are the factors I see in play:
1. Hardcore guilds need time to race and relax – the Mythic race takes about a month for many of the contenders to push to the end, which gives them 4.5 months or so of relax time between raid tiers. They can farm gear, push for Titanforged pieces, and do other things.
2. Relaxed guilds need to be able to finish a tier and push their next difficulty – my guild, for example, usually starts a tier in Normal, learns mechanics and sees all the fights while gear farming, and then slowly pushes into Heroic. This cycle, for us so far, takes around 4 months. 1 month of steady progression, 1 month of farming, 2 months pushing into Heroic and then farming those bosses too.
3. Casual players need time to clear LFR, and perhaps Normal too – LFR time-gating takes about 2 months to fully open a raid. This allows casual players to see the basic encounters, and then to push into Normal with better gear in PUGs and friend groups. They may not clear Normal, but the 5-6 month raid cycle allows this.
With those points in mind, here’s what I see possibly happening: a 4 month raid cycle.
Why? Well, Legion, in addition to a fast pace of regular content, has also been something of an experiment in repeatable content. Mythic Plus has been experimented with, endgame dungeons were completely retuned, rebalanced, and aligned with one-another for the first time ever, and raid release timing has been consistently adjusted since launch to settle into what we’ve had since Nighthold. I think all of this has served Blizzard well – the amount of content you have available is massive, almost daunting, but it’s well segregated and divided to push you through a path. You have an order hall campaign, Legionfall, Suramar Insurrection, Weekly Events, gearing up via dungeons, Timewalking dungeons, and then raids across many tiers and difficulties. If you look at it, here’s what I see – an experiment. Blizzard seems to be pushing for an experimental state, to see just how many options a player can handle at endgame without being locked out of playing via indecisiveness or a lack of clarity.
With what I’ve personally witnessed and observed, here’s what I see being the state of the game going forward:
1. 77 day patch cycle will probably remain. It seems to be a sweet spot for releasing new stuff, especially since not everything is open on day one. I think 3 months is a good pace for many reasons, in that it allows people to see most of what they want to see, leaving some things for later on, and from a business angle, encourages more subscription time, at least 4-5 months a year for a casual player who might cancel when they’re not playing or checking new stuff out.
2. Raid tiers will be 4-5 months instead of 5-6. Pure speculation on my part, but it seems like the easiest way to keep raiders engaged is more bursts of content, and 4-5 months also limits the farming phase of raiding a smidge, which should make logging in to raid a bit more exciting for folks. Plus, it allows LFR room to breathe as well.
3. Dungeons seem likely to be retuned every tier – Mythic Plus is such a success that excluding it from the future of the game is extremely unlikely. In order for it to remain a cutting edge progression path, I expect that dungeon retuning with successive tiers will need to happen.
4. On that note, better believe Mythic Plus is going to stay around. Blizzard is building a brand around it as the competitive PvE eSport alongside arena for PvP.
5. PvP Prestige will maybe remain – but I don’t know. PvP is in a weird spot, for sure. I’ve enjoyed PvP in Legion more than any other expansion (maybe I’m the weird one there!) but I know that there is some unhappiness around it. Prestige as a concept and PvP advancement will almost certainly stay, though. What shape it takes – anybody’s guess!
6. Maybe almost-annual expansions! I think 14-18 months is a great duration for an expansion, and it keeps the game fresh, profitable, and interesting for more time during a given year. If the crazy idea of a January launch for 8.0 winds up being true, well…expect that kind of timing to continue.
All told, I’m really very excited for the future of the game, in a way I haven’t been in a while! I’m very much looking forward to seeing what is put out next week at Gamescom, and I think in many ways we’ll all be surprised.