A Legitimate Surprise – 8.3 Data Already Being Pushed?

(The fun patch is both extremely applicable to what I expect the 8.3 lore to be, but also a real thing you can buy from Retrograde Supply Co!)

Wowhead had a curious post today, one that I simultaneously expected and did not expect – that patch 8.3 has already been pushed, fully encrypted, to WoW’s CDN server (the main distribution point for patches).

Now, fully encrypted so far, for Blizzard, means no one is getting in to find much of anything, but it is a bit curious.

I partially expected a slow pace from Blizzard akin to the rest of Battle for Azeroth, one that would see Blizzcon loaded with 8.3 details and expansion details in an attempt to pull back in the dwindling retail audience alongside WoW Classic phased roll-out plans to give a value-add for those players while they wait for new content. However, something occurred to me in thinking this over as I wrote the last sentence (yes, this is a stream of consciousness post with only light filtering) – Blizzard actually has not discussed an x.3 patch at a Blizzcon in around 8 years. Dragon Soul was sort of touched upon at Blizzcon 2011, but it was largely an event around Mists of Pandaria. 3.3 was discussed at Blizzcon 2009, with a non-textured Icecrown Citadel being shown in a few screenshots. Since then, however, the relevant x.3 patch has either been out (or non-existent, hello WoD) and so Blizzcon as an event has focused solely on the future ever since.

Thinking about that is interesting. Blizzcon day 2 is one month away, and while logically, you could expect that Blizzard would hold patch 8.3 news for Blizzcon, it also follows that a patch announcement and preliminary PTR could be up sooner than later. In BfA, Blizzard has generally (not accounting for Blizzcon 2018 reveals) announced a preliminary set of patch features and then released a PTR build a week later. 8.1 was announced on 9/18/18 and then hit PTR on the 21st that same month. 8.1.5 was hard to find a solid post-Blizzcon data drop date on, but hit PTR within a month of 8.1. 8.2 had a detailed preview on 4/11/2019 with a PTR drop on 4/16/19. 8.2.5 was also hard to find a solid announcement date on as well. However, as Wowhead points out in the piece linked above, 8.2 was put up on the CDN on 4/4/2019, a full week before the announcement and two weeks before PTR.

Now, if you’re my guild leader and trying to keep your head firmly wedged in your ass about the reality of the situation, you might spin the CDN data as a hype play, and while I think it is an absolute reach, there is a small amount of logic trapped in that. Blizzard knows that data hitting the CDN becomes news, especially when it is not expected. Arguably, as much as we all expected an 8.3, there was some doubt that we could be sailing into a Warlords of Draenor play, with Blizzard cutting their losses and moving to 9.0 sooner, not later. If you were trying to build hype to an 8.3 announcement, putting up a fully-encrypted patch is one way to do it.

Given that leeway, however, I would argue it doesn’t make a lot of practical sense. Leaving a file on the CDN for a month without an announcement or PTR deployment doesn’t make much sense, and Blizzard’s history with CDN loads has corresponded pretty closely with content being available to an external audience in a shorter window. The one exception was the BfA alpha test, which went up prior to the holidays in 2017 and was not opened until February 2018. Does the exception prove the rule here? I’d argue no – a 45 day or so gap can be excused with the holidays and the slow return to the office afterwards for the critical employees that would then be needed to evaluate the test data coming in. With that exception noted, patch content CDN listing has always resulted in a rapid deployment of a patch preview and PTR, usually over a two-week window.

Is that what is going to happen here? To be honest, I’m not so sure. In addition to the above, I do think that building hype for a Battle for Azeroth patch is somewhat poor form, given the lukewarm reception to the latest patch content. Showing that you have a patch version ready but not pushing to test and release ASAP will anger some who want more gameplay content in the live game. Knowing that Blizzard is aware these CDN changes make headlines on the fan sites, I highly doubt Blizzard is trying to poke the bear in the eye on this one. To me, it is far more likely that this is intended to clear the stage for a 9.0 announcement at Blizzcon.

Why? Let’s break it down.

BfA Isn’t Getting Cut Loose Early: BfA’s critical and commercial reception are arguably both pretty bad for a WoW expansion (still not completely awful, but definitely around the lowest any piece of content Blizzard has put out has been received). Making Blizzcon 2019 the THIRD Blizzcon with content from BfA discussed in any detail is a bad choice, in my opinion. Even if 8.3 is absolutely incredible in every way, it is still tied to BfA. Those who like the expansion are even getting excited for a possible 9.0, and those that don’t are turning their eyes to the future. Blizzard would be best served to try to memory-hole BfA at Blizzcon, pushing it off the stage altogether to talk about what comes after. Because…

Blizzard Employees Are Already Dropping Hints That Blizzcon Is Going To Be Very Awesome For WoW: Now, I don’t mean to use this to imply that 8.3 wouldn’t be awesome, but I think for Blizzard and for the fandom of WoW in general, there is a sort of burnout about BfA in general. However, the statement I saw, as made by the former PvP lead designer Brian Holinka, implies a greater excitement over WoW.

Yeah. That, to me, showcases a lot of excitement for new things. NEW new things, not new old things. I’m splitting hairs on this one, but I do honestly think that a tweet like that isn’t about just a simple patch.

Blizzard Can Make A Bigger Show of Faith In The New Expansion: By not splitting attention, Blizzard can focus solely on the new expansion. This year’s Blizzcon has something else going for it too, at least we expect – by moving registration out of the building and not having Heroes of the Storm eSports, Blizzard has the potential to setup one new stage and repurpose the Heroes stage in addition to all the stages they already had last year (counting eSports stages, 8 in total), meaning that 9 stages can be up. For WoW, one would expect both the current game and Classic to need time, Classic probably getting one panel to discuss rollout plans for the content phases, but the rest for live. Traditionally, this has meant a handful of panels all over the con, a Deep Dive with all the main details available, a Systems panel with in-depth gameplay info, a Q&A, and usually a smaller art panel on a different stage. With two additional stages available, I could see additional panels for WoW taking place, and the less needing to be said about 8.3, the better. If Blizzard could offer a lore panel, a gameplay panel, an art panel, a Q&A, a Classic panel, and then 1-3 extra panels, it would be amazing. That would also get people really excited about the new expansion, to have a lot of details and as much info as possible given to us.

Now, the big question still on our minds, what is in 9.0? Well, I will be posting more about that soon, mainly because I think the prevailing assumptions (specifically, Shadowlands and the theme contained within) might be subverted. Maybe.

Nevertheless, it is usually an exciting time of the two-year window to be a WoW fan, and while 8.2.5 has dampened expectations, I have some small amount of hope that Blizzard will do something that will hopefully win us over, in no small part due to the fact that odd-numbered expansions are the best!

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