So, I was originally planning on writing a much longer thinkpiece about the nature of my relationship with WoW, which would effectively describe why a fair number of folks, despite issues with some expansion systems, aren’t quitting – and it was going to be mostly positive.
But I want to chase my tail on that one a little bit longer.
So, instead, I want to talk today about something I think is important, if not absolutely vital, for the future of the expansion. Battle for Azeroth has a lot to answer for to many segments of the audience, and Blizzcon is an opportunity for the team to deliver those answers – hopefully.
And here’s the thing – I’m actually optimistic that we’re going to be hearing some good things. What things? I don’t know. No, really – no idea! I have a few hunches, and we’ll get into those, but first, let’s talk about the current state of play.
Communication between developers and audience is still…not great
I appreciate that the team has been making more efforts to engage – whether they go well or not. From that post from Lore to the most recent Q&A livestream, the team is at least making more efforts to engage.
However, I think I found myself in a real conundrum that doesn’t make much sense. The newest Q&A was a good move to make, in that it shows a willingness to step forward and engage the community in a live format, which can create some contradictory statements but overall shows a desire for the team to be more present in the conversation, which is unambiguously good. On the other hand, I found myself coming away wondering, “why even have this stream in the first place?” I was pretty sure going in that we’d see a launch date for Patch 8.1, but that didn’t happen. Maybe the announcement of a big change to Azerite armor? No – it was just answering questions. And…that’s actually something I want to commend the team for. During Legion, we only really got livestreams when something was going to happen, and it conditioned us to expect big news. But in the current state of the game, it was necessary to show that ability to step forward without good news to share and simply talk with the community. It does, however, subvert the expectations that many of us had, leading the Q&A to be something of a disappointment.
A Q&A this close to Blizzcon didn’t make a lot of sense unless it was directly about 8.1, and even that wasn’t really what happened. A catch-22 in the worst sense of the idea – Blizzard needed to communicate that they want to engage with the community, but wasn’t ready to announce more 8.1 stuff or other systems changes, and so the community comes away disappointed.
Which is where I find myself – I liked that Ion and Lore did come forward to speak on the state of affairs, but ultimately disappointed that the things coming in 8.1 aren’t yet confirmed and the horizon before us is still 8.0.
Blizzcon is going to be all new stuff, so the pressure is high
Announced via Twitter, the confirmation we wanted – maybe. Blizzcon has a WoW – What’s Next panel on day 1, and this panel will not contain any news about patch 8.1.
This is, to me, a good thing. Patch 8.1, while it has some promising content and some troubling elements, is ultimately lacking in answering the concerns of the playerbase in a direct way. Why? Well, the x.1 patch of just about every expansion has typically been designed and even built in large parts before the x.0 release of the expansion proper!
So that means that while 8.1 can attempt to correct some things (Azerite trait design) in a way that can be satisfying, it ultimately will not be able to directly course-correct many of the concerns of the playerbase. There is, however, alpha and beta feedback that can be acted upon, and I am of the opinion that Blizzard ultimately acted mainly on Island Expedition feedback, modifying them to better suit the gameplay we have indicated we want. I can see actioned feedback within the changes to gameplay flow on Islands, and I think that is good.
But a patch 8.1.5, or an 8.2, or maybe even an 8.3? Those patches were likely still in design during the launch window, with an overarching plot structure that was likely laid out during the initial design phase of the expansion two or so years ago. Our large feedback events during the launch window – the Reddit AMA with Ion, the Twitter posts and forum threads, all of these events happened during that design window, and I think were intentional calls for players to provide the information needed to help guide these pieces of new content and design.
That means that not only do we get new content announcements, but the potential exists that bigger system changes that more directly take our feedback into consideration can be delivered. Blizzcon will be the team’s first opportunity to discuss these changes, and the best possible stage from which to discuss them.
But it’s also the worst, in that it is a large, live event where the opportunity exists for these same fans to boo these changes in front of a global audience. If Blizzard can deliver the goods, they’ll be cheered, and luckily for them, the What’s Next panel happens before the Q&A session on Day 2. Their goal, as I see it, is to deliver a knockout day 1 presentation that delivers good news, with strong changes to broken core systems, large amounts of new content, and story teasers to build hype. If they succeed, much like Blizzcon 2015 with Legion systems, we’ll reach the Q&A with a lot of positive energy that players are, frankly, bottled up with due to the current state of the game. If they fail, well, the video feed will be must-watch for a different reason – and I say this as someone who is actively sympathetic to the team and who does not want to see them fail.
The pressure is on, and it’s compounded by another factor…
WoW: Classic is a spanner in the works for Blizzard at this crucial moment
I mean, okay, let me qualify that segue thusly – Blizzard will, in all likelihood, build WoW: Classic in a way that makes money, and so if everyone gets pissed off with BfA and quits for Classic when it launches, they still make money. So it isn’t necessarily the worst possibility, at least for now.
But I don’t honestly believe that the WoW team would think anything so cavalier about the game. I think that they sincerely want to deliver a fun, engaging experience with BfA and the systems they put into place were things they thought would deliver on that desire. I think they have a desire to improve the current game and that will be the focus of Blizzcon. However, I can’t help but see the looming shadow of WoW Classic, especially given that many of the more vocal detractors of the current expansion have spoken at-length about their desire for Classic.
And this Blizzcon is a story of split time for WoW, as the game is supposed to be sharing time between BfA and Classic news, making this polarization within the audience completely transparent. If Blizzard can deliver on both fronts, they’ll come away from Blizzcon with a fantastic foundation to build on. If only one of the two deliver, it’ll be incredibly awkward and will dampen the energy of the playerbase. Honestly, the state of things right now is actually somewhat a positive for Blizzard. People are pissed off and irritated, yes, but those states are energetic emotional modes to be in. What Blizzard cannot afford is apathy – if players come away from Blizzcon feeling worn down from their desire to want to play and enjoy their time, then this will start to be an actual, tangible decline.
Now, if I had to guess which of the two announcements could be fucked up? I don’t know, actually. On the one hand, BfA could see them continue to double-down on Mythic Plus Azerite acquisiton, reforging, and the like, creating that wearing down. On the other hand, WoW Classic is a minefield of potential screwups due to the capricious mood of that core audience. If they use the same design but new graphics? Someone will be pissed. If they add acheivements? Pissed. If they announce it will never move past Classic? Pissed. If they announce it will move past Classic? Pissed. If they announce the graphics will be the same as the 2004 iteration of the game? Pissed. Basically, this playerbase is a powderkeg, and if you ignite them in any way, they will do a lot of collateral damage.
And so, if I was a betting man, given that Blizzard feels the need to launch a demo of WoW Classic? That sets off my spider sense in a bad way, and I would wager Classic is the most likely catastrophe scenario here. Yes, for all of the jokes about a $50 demo of a 14 year old game that most of us already bought, the reality is that a demo only serves two purposes – either to show how close to the original it is, or to show off changes. The problem is that either of these possibilities will irritate some people in some way, and it is a tightrope that will be difficult to walk.
What are my bets for the content we’ll see?
So, here comes speculation-city! I think that, in terms of BfA, here’s what we’ll get:
-8.1.5 – a systems patch which will open one of the 8.1 raids (probably Crucible of Storms, if I had to guess), and will fold in Azerite system changes, refinements to Warfronts, perhaps a new Warfront, WoD Timewalking, some profession changes, and perhaps a new small piece of single-player story content.
-8.2 – Naga raid, new zone (probably Nazjatar), a Mage Tower parallel, new story quests and War Campaign content, the slow unification of the two faction stories into a singular narrative of a literal Battle for Azeroth, new Warfront and Island content, and BfA flying.
-8.3 – here’s my big gamble – I’m going to stake a claim now that for Blizzard to really generate the positive hype they need for the game, we’re going to need at least a bit more than the Argus tease a la Blizzcon 2016. My bet is this – we’re going to see Ny’alotha, Old God story content and a conclusion to the factional conflict (at least for now), along with further catch-up mechanics for alts, story teases for 9.0, and a reveal of N’Zoth. Also, if I had to really go crazy with a gamble? A warfront…with the Alliance and Horde teaming up against an Old God force…with players.
But maybe I’m crazy. Both on that last idea, and also on my optimism.
I do think that, even if some of these ideas are weird, we’re going to be pleasantly surprised at Blizzcon.