It’s tinfoil hat time, folks.
The Blizzcon schedule launched yesterday, and there is a clear indication that our assumption of a new expansion for World of Warcraft is totally, absolutely happening. Why?
-WoW has nearly 4 hours of new panel content, split over 4 different panels, 3 of which are not Q&A panels.
-WoW’s What’s Next panel is the first panel on the main stage after the opening ceremony, a spot which normally indicates the key, biggest announcement in Blizzard’s eyes.
-Jaina’s key art for WoW is the centerpiece of the full cast of key art in all of the full convention promotions.
Given that, and our own assumptions about timing, the content cycle of Legion, and such – it only makes sense. It fits the old model of expansion announcements, prior to the final raid release (which, if our current patch schedule holds true, Antorus will open on 11/21, so yeah).
However, let me take a new approach to this speculation.
Do you expect Blizzard to come out and tell us a release date, to the day?
Raise your hands if so.
No one, right?
I thought so.
What if I told you that I expect that Blizzard will not just announce the new expansion and will spend 4 hours over the weekend talking about it, but in that conversation, will also let loose a release date? Not a range, like we got for Legion at Blizzcon 2015 – no, an actual, retail, box shipping date.
Before I dive into this, let me say this – this is my speculation for a best case scenario, the foundation of which I am going to outline momentarily. I am not 100% sold that it will happen, but the more I think about it, the more logical it is to me. Tell me in the comments if you agree/disagree, I’m really fascinated to see what people think.
So, let’s get into it.
Firstly, I’ll eat some crow – I was wrong about Gamescom, and the cheeky post I put up with the graphic “Wrong is the New Right” was presumptuous. However, here’s my take – Blizzard is sitting, for the first time, on an expansion that is likely very near completion. Why would I say that? Well, look at the hints we have already – new models in 7.3 that have strong tie-ins to Azeroth and the Void, the Kul’Tiras armor for clothies, complete with what appears to be a map, and the numerous story bits we’re already seeing now that seem to lead away from Legion’s story.
Let’s add another bit to this – Blizzard has kept a very aggressive content schedule with Legion, where we see mostly finished content hitting PTR shortly after the content that preceeded it hits live. This is all being done by about half the team, if Blizzard has kept their typical split for WoW – half working on the current, live game, the other half slaving away over the next expansion. We also know that they’ve told us frequently in the past that they wanted to increase the pace of expansions.
I think we can agree that their initial goal when they stated this, 1 year per expansion, is too fast a pace for the relative volume of content we receive in an expansion (save for WoD, of course). But, let’s say, 21 months – seems about right to me.
Legion has set a breakneck pace for content, but it feels about right. Generally, I think a majority of players are ready for a new patch when one drops, and it keeps people subscribed and playing to have the new thing on the horizon.
Ask most veteran WoW players right now if they think an expansion announcement will be hyper in-depth. though, and they’ll tell you no. I had this very dialogue last night, where a friend pushed vigorously back on the idea that they would announce a new expansion in a retail-ready state. People still legitimately argue it’s too soon – and there is a case to be made for that. Sure, the last raid isn’t out – but the majority of expansions have been announced prior to the release of the last raid, and to Blizzard’s eye, the raid is in game today – we just can’t go there. You might argue that announcing a launch date will only keep people disengaged from the raid, but look at Legion currently – the player engagement metrics Blizzard does still publish indicate that the constant hype cycle with new content on the horizon only encourages more hours of gameplay, as preparation for the next big thing.
At this point, I think Blizzard has a golden opportunity. We’ve seen them defeat our low expectation with regards to content releases throughout Legion, maintaining a schedule of release that no one expected. Even still though, this is similar to Mists of Pandaria, where we had new patches every 3 months or so, and then 5.4 launched and…nothing for over a year. We, as a playerbase, have been excited for content patches, but remain highly cynical that Blizzard will ever approach such a pace with an expansion follow-up.
I think, that in weaponizing this cynicism, Blizzard is preparing to blow our fucking minds at Blizzcon. Most of us are going to Anaheim, or firing up the livestream, prepared to hear about content we’ll be playing in perhaps Winter 2018, or maybe very early 2019, who knows? But it would be a transcendent moment, to see Ion, stroll onto the main stage at Blizzcon, maximum troll smirk engaged, and tell us that the team has a feature-complete expansion to show us, and after the announcement trailer rolls, for a release date to pop up on screen…
May 1st, 2018.
Now, I hear the fury of fingers hammering down on keys. Either from excitement, or a desire to tell me I’m wrong – and I won’t claim that I 100% buy that this will happen either.
However, look at it this way. If we keep an 11 week patch cadence, here’s what I expect:
11/14 – 7.3.2, Antorus opens a week after, we get the Silithus stuff, probably on a delay after the launch of the patch, perhaps even after the last wing of Antorus opens on LFR.
1/30/2018 – patch 7.4 (or whatever, some patch) – our pre-expansion events begin, with story quests, bridging content, maybe a new dungeon or interim raid a la Ruby Sanctum, setting up the events of 8.0.
4/17/2018 – Patch 8.0, launched two weeks pre-expansion. We have our big pre-expansion event, some sort of limited time thing, and the groundwork is laid for the sacrifice or destruction of our Artifact Weapons, leading to…
5/1/2018 – Veil of South Seas Shadows Void Windrunner and also Turalyon
The entirety of Legion has been Blizzard using our lowered expectations of them post-WoD to overdeliver on an aggressive timetable. I don’t see them stopping that just because an expansion is a bigger, scarier thing. Quite the contrary, I think for Blizzard to cement Legion as one of the best content cycles in the game’s history, they must keep Antorus to a manageable tier length and give us the new hotness relatively soon.
This will also be the longest we’ve waited from expansion launch to next expansion announcement, so I expect that there will be a commensurate increase in the amount of content there will be to discuss.
Further, to really tighten up my tinfoil hat, I think Blizzard could have announced at Gamescom, and would have had a lot to say then. Between datamined info and the hints in interviews and Q&A’s, it’s fairly obvious the team has been preparing for this expansion for a while, and they are ready to blow our minds to pieces. But, the hype cycle of Legion needed to complete first, and with the last raid now on the horizon, an entryway on live servers just waiting to open, Blizzcon was the time – and the game will be ready.
And I do mean retail-ready. Sure, maybe they’ll need to do voiceovers, polishing, and balancing – but I think what we’ll get at Blizzcon would be, overall, something they could put into a box and ship Tuesday right after Blizzcon. Of course, we still have Legion content to do, which you know will be a point of discussion as well. What I can’t quite figure out is the bridging content. I speculated above that we’d get a patch 7.4 of some sort – I don’t know that it would have that number, or maybe just be a 7.3.5 after 7.3.2, but I do expect we’ll see something out to bridge us into 8.0. The content we’ve seen thus far on PTR hasn’t had all of the story hooks we’d need to transition out of Legion – there’s still a big series of question marks – about the Windrunner sister reunion, the whole means by which the Silithus scar happens, what happens to our Artifacts, and a bevy of possible story hooks depending on what lore is actually going to be the focus of 8.0, which, for all of our speculation, is still hard to say. It could be the Void, and I think it absolutely will be, but there is an open question with regards to Jaina, Kul’tiras, and the Naga – and if the datamined armor legitimately holds the theme of the expansion (named Kul’tiras, after all) then it makes me wonder just what the balance of themes will be. I’ve put my eggs into the basket of Void pretty heavily, but what if Jaina and Kul’tiras are the centerpiece, and the Void and Old Gods the garnish on the plate of 8.0?
Overall, though – I am very excited for Blizzcon and the future of WoW. Legion has been an unpredictable expansion that has taken us for a few twists and turns, and even its dull spots (Broken Shore 7.2, Tomb of Sargeras heroic and up, etc) have still been pretty alright, overall. It’s been an expansion filled with Blizzard subverting our expectations, which I think they are about to do on the grandest scale yet.
Or, I could be wrong and setting myself up for disappointment.
Either way, with a What’s Next, Systems, Art, and Q&A Panel, WoW is quite clearly going to get a lot of love in the coming month, and that is a cause for celebration.