It was a few weeks ago where I blew up my blog stats (thanks, kindly commenters at MMO-Champion) by linking and breaking down the “leak” of Veil of Shadows.
But today, I don’t want to talk about the contents of that leak, but rather, the timing of announcements of expansions.
It’s a common refrain, which many of my friends have said, that announcing a new expansion for WoW at Gamescom this week would be “too soon.” The common feedback is that “it’s not Blizzcon yet,” or, “not all the patches have come out!”
I wanted to break that claim down today, because the Blizzard preview event was today, and well, I think now that the likelihood of at least a tease is higher than most people will predict.
Firstly, the facts: Blizzard has one announcement panel, for all franchises, set for 8/23/2017. The panel will last 1 hour and 15 minutes, during which we will be getting new reveals.
Last week, when this was announced, people used it to indicate that they didn’t believe that an expansion could be announced, after all, the time would be used for Overwatch stuff, Heroes of the Storm announcements, and then 7.3 cinematic reveals and a launch date. Well, here we are today – Heroes of the Storm has announced Kel’Thuzad as playable soon, Overwatch introduced a new map and the accompanying cinematic, and a new Starcraft II co-op commander was introduced. This leaves the possibility of a Hearthstone announcement (highly unlikely, since the newest expansion literally just launched), a Diablo announcement (I want to LOL this one out of sheer sadness for how little content Diablo III has had, but it’s possible!), and WoW stuff.
Assuming there are no other major announcements, well, that leaves 1 hour and 15 minutes for 7.3 cinematic reveals, release date details, and…what else? That is a lot of time to fill…Watcher has come out and said Gamescom is all about 7.3, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the only thing. So…
This is why I think the expansion news is coming. You know since Ion Hazzikostas took over the WoW game director role that he loves doing the big announcements. Look at the state of things – in 2015, at Blizzcon, they joked about making Karazhan a dungeon in 7.1. People went “what a funny joke,” but then it happened a year later, and we were already playing it. During the 2016 WoW What’s Next panel at Blizzcon, Ion dropped 7.1.5 and 7.2 announcements, and then also 7.3, which we are about to be playing. The purpose of these panels is to hype the release of new content, and keep people who might not be subbed coming back into the fold and staying around – something the team has done so well during Legion. Ion loves doing these kinds of things – get us in with the news about what’s on the immediate horizon, but then end with a tease of something we didn’t expect. That is the first, big reason I expect to see some expansion news come Wednesday.
But let’s breakdown the other piece I mentioned earlier – timing. You can read that whole prior paragraph and think, “well, gee, that sounds interesting, but don’t you think it’s too soon?”
No, Ragnaros, it isn’t too soon – not at all.
Let’s look at the gap between the announcement of the next expansion and the release of the prior content:
Vanilla WoW Release – The Burning Crusade Announcement: 338 days
TBC Release – Wrath of the Lich King Announcement: 199 days
WotLk Release – Cataclysm Announcement: 281 days
Cata Release – Mists of Pandaria Announcement: 318 days
MoP Release – Warlords of Draenor Announcement: 409 days
WoD Release – Legion Announcement: 266 days
So now that leaves us with the two most likely reveal events for whatever 8.0 ends up being – it’s either Gamescom or Blizzcon. Here’s what those timelines look like, from Legion launch until either:
Gamescom Reveal Panel: 358 days
Blizzcon Opening Ceremony: 430 days
When you compare that, either way, it fits the mold of what we expect from Blizzard. If it is announced this week at Gamescom, it would be the second-longest amount of time we’ve waited for an announcement of an impending expansion ever – and if we wait until Blizzcon, it would become the new record-holder of the longest wait between release and new content announcement ever for the game!
Now, if I told you this back in, say, 2014 – you’d go, “Bobby, that is all well and good, but you know they don’t do expansion reveals anywhere but Blizzcon! There’s no way it will happen in Europe!”
Sure, every other expansion except Legion was announced at a Blizzcon event, that is true. You might even point to the dire state of the game in August 2015 as the main reason they needed to announce at Gamescom, and that is a fair point. The game was blowing itself to pieces at this point, a rudderless ship running aground and pouring subscribers out over the shore. Blizzard did, indeed, need to give us a glimmer of hope – a reason to continue to subscribe and play through the remaining, content-less drudgery of Warlords of Draenor.
However, I think there is a more pragmatic reason that Blizzard should announce (or at least tease) the new expansion at Gamescom – the subscriber base.
Selfishly, I want the announcement at Blizzcon – I go to Blizzcon, I’ve been there for almost every expansion reveal, and it’s awesome to be in the crowd when the new stuff shows up and you and your friends are freaking the fuck out. It’s great! But…a steadily maintained number of players play the game in Europe, including a great many of the world-first guilds. Asking those people to always come to the US, to Blizzcon, to experience that hype is a bit unfair. I’ve been able to attend a number of Blizzcons, ending up being there for those big announcements because it’s an eight-hour drive for me. I can get to Anaheim easily, for a low cost and without travel documents or any other such bullshit. European players, well – they can’t. Not that easily, at least. What I think we will see going forward for Blizzard is that they’ll do the reveal at whatever event makes the most sense in terms of timing for the announcement, and I think that for this expansion, it’s Gamescom.
If we do end up waiting until Blizzcon, here’s what that means to me – I’ll be there, and I’ll be STOKED to witness the reveal live, in-person. Then, the beta won’t start until later – the launch might be pushed back further based on discoveries during this process, and we end up losing all of our momentum from the excellent pace of Legion content delivery.
Beyond that, though – the Legion announcement model makes all the sense in the world for a game with the information economy that WoW has. Here’s why – if you reveal a couple big, bullet-point details at Gamescom, that gets people talking. There will be large, slideshow breakdowns on WoWHead and MMO-Champion, and everyone will dissect everything said and shown during the presentation. Then, Blizzcon rolls around, and we get an approximate launch window, more feature details, and playable demos to build on that news, which the fan community around the game will amplify further. Both of these announcements also build hype outside of the main fan communities around the game, drawing in curious eyes to see what Blizzard is up to now, further enhancing the game’s profile.
Then, both player bases are happy – the European base got to be there for the initial news and information dump, and the North American fans get to be there for the remaining feature reveals and the first playable demos. Blizzard also benefits, by keeping a steady PR cycle through the fall months, when game studios have to compete with tons of announcements and new releases all being hyped through Gamescom > PAX West > Tokyo Game Show > Blizzcon > Holiday Season releases. It’s hard to get outside eyes on your games during this time of year because so many conventions, reveals, and releases are happening, not to mention the further development of games announced during E3 in June.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably at least partially immune to this cycle affecting your information intake on WoW or other Blizzard games. To people outside of this community, there’s a very real possibility that something will be announced or released during this time of the year that might take them away from Blizzard, away from WoW, and to a subscription-based game, there is a very real possibility that you may never return once you’re swept away by some other game. Blizzard giving people news of more content, more new stuff, constantly coming, keeps people that might not otherwise stay subscribed on the train. That is good for the game’s health, and that content stream allows those of us who subscribe even during the bad times (like say, August 2015-July 2016) to have fewer draughts of things to do – keeping our subscriptions worthwhile.
So while the popular perception among the community right now is to write-off even the possibility of an announcement, I’ll say not so fast – until that reveal panel is done, nothing is certain with how Blizzard has done things the last two years.
And that, in and of itself, is a good thing.