World of Warcraft Dragonflight Is Launching This Year (Question Mark)

Today the pre-orders for the next WoW expansion went up, with a bold declaration – that the expansion will be launched and running by December 31st, 2022.

This year.

So, that leads me to a couple of quick points and questions about where things go from here, because as it stands now, there’s some points of curiosity.

Season 4…When?

Season 4, the final Shadowlands content drop, is still waiting in the wings, with Fated raids and the Mythic Plus season comprised almost solely of mega-dungeons with two WoD ones to round things out. With 9.2.5 launched, they could drop the season at any time, as there’s no data we know of waiting for deployment. In any case, this means that season 4 is likely to end up being the shortest Shadowlands season, with 3 closely behind. Given that season 4 has the least amount of new content in general, this is probably a good thing, all told!

What State Will The Game Launch In?

We’re getting this news today with no beta and only the scantest hint of an alpha build out in the wild, which raises a big question – what is going to happen to the actual content? Shadowlands was in alpha and beta for nearly 9 months, and it launched…well, not as great as we had hoped for. If this date holds true (more on that in a second), Dragonflight is going to get 5-6 months at most of testing. Normally, I wouldn’t harp on this point so much, but Blizzard’s testing process in Shadowlands required long bouts of fans going at them over things like the Maw, the state of Covenants, and more in order to even get basic concessions that marginally improved the launch experience. If the game is in bad shape in beta, I have very little confidence that the window this gives Blizzard will be sufficient to do…well, much of anything, short of small balance tweaks to try and dampen the blow.

Blizzard Has Done This Release Date Announcement Before And Totally Missed It With a Warcraft Game

Remember Warcraft III Reforged? I suspect most have tried to forget.

The big hook for it was a release by 12/31/2019, which then….slid into 2020, and became easy to forget as the game bombed, became a huge controversy, and then a global pandemic kicked into high gear and it was mostly cast aside. So a release date by 12/31/2022 doesn’t mean jack shit yet, because Blizzard can miss it if they feel they should. Personally, I’d rather the game take time to be as good as possible, with ample testing and visible public feedback and responses, rather than trying to meet an arbitrary deadline because of tradition/investor targets/etc. With that in mind (not to mention that Shadowlands itself was pushed back a month anyways), I find it difficult to have unyielding faith in this date disclosure.

There’s Less To Be Hyped About Than Any Other Preorder Window

The Dragonflight announcement and press tour was a very threadbare, minimal news day with a stunning lack of details. There was some good information and some concerning information, but the overall trend was just not much to latch onto, good or bad. If you’re a WoW lifer, there was some good news about how the team is trying to more actively listen to player feedback and interesting perks like no more Pathfinder because of Dragonriding and the like, and if you are on the outs with the game, they handwaved at Renown returning which made me pretty actively irritated. Since then, we’ve gotten small tidbits and two class talent trees, and that is about it. We haven’t had deepdives on par with those of Blizzcon announcements past, and there hasn’t been a single main indication of the gameplay flow or how the new content is going to work.

Thus, in my estimation, this jump to preorders feels a bit like a moonshot for the team at Blizzard – almost, in a way, a banking that the players already bought in to the game will stay there but without any solid plays yet that would reel someone like me back in. And it has worked – my guild leader already bought his preorder for the full mega version and I suspect many guildies will follow with theirs soon enough. It feels interesting to me, though, because there is something to be said about such a lowkey hype season leading into preorders that suggests perhaps Blizzard is abandoning most of the audience except the faithful devotees. In the past, such a strategy would have netted Blizzard a solid payday, but now…I’m not so certain. Of course, that comes from my perspective, and I think there’s definitely an audience of less-faithful players who will come out for the start of the expansion and then move on and already does this. Of course, if you get 1 million players who are actively engaged today locked-in with a preorder, that is a good omen for the game team and worth a shot, and WoW is still in a position of relative success in spite of, well, everything that has happened over the last handful of years.

The In-Game Goody Pile For High-Value Editions Is Bigger (But That Physical Edition…)

Shadowlands offered a mount, pet, and a quest you had to do in order to receive a transmog outfit. This current pre-order at the Epic level has…two pets, a mount, a transmog wings item with 5 appearances, a transmog helm, a visual effect for your Hearthstone, and a mount. There is far, far more on offer here than even Shadowlands had, which itself was more than prior expansion pre-orders offered. That is a good thing, and I’m pretty happy for it. Of course, a big part of that is that they can continue the multi-tier preorder offers with 4 different ways to buy, adding more digital goodies on top before finally jumping to the Physical CE to add a fancy box, Dragonflight pins, a mouse pad, and an art book. The value of digital tchotchkes is a personal thing – I enjoy fun stuff I can show in game, but it’s not for everyone, and while I like the physical collector’s editions a lot, Dragonflight is asking $10 more than Shadowlands, which was $20 more than BfA, which was $20 more than Legion, and you get…the added digital goodies over the last time and one extra pin compared to Shadowlands.

Will The Preorder Succeed?

I ask this purely hypothetically, because of course it will. If you log into World of Warcraft right now, you’re going to see an absurd number of players already with wing transmogs, dragonflight-y hearthstones, and the cool dreamweaver mount. It’s not even really a question. Now, I think what I find interesting is this – will this succeed to Blizzard’s expectations? That, I think, is less certain. Undeniably, WoW has a locked-in and dedicated chunk of fans that will absolutely go for it right off the bat, and even with whatever mine or anyone else’s opinion of Blizzard, the game, the community, and the rest is right now, there are going to be at the very least, tens of thousands of preorders today.

But is Blizzard looking at this through the lens of the reality they find themselves in or a past state? Even in BfA, it was a no-brainer to expect Shadowlands pre-orders to succeed wildly – it was the community perceived time for a good expansion because of the odd version number, the A team back in town, all the little folklore we’d built over decades of the game and found untrue as Shadowlands dropped, and so of course the pre-orders for Shadowlands were strong. Dragonflight comes at a time of unprecedented change for WoW, Blizzard, and the MMO genre at large – more competitive, with Blizzard and WoW’s image more tarnished than ever before, but I also still firmly believe that WoW isn’t dead or dying. It may be winding to a point where it is less and less mainstream with every passing year, but it would take another 8 or so catastrophic failures for WoW or Blizzard to actually fail (estimated and rounded, of course). I think it is fair to say that the launch of Dragonflight is not going to be as successful as Shadowlands, and I would stick to my bet that we’ll see around a 25% dip in day 1/week 1 sales of the expansion. If that holds true long-term depends on how good the actual content is and the early response to player feedback – if we get BfA Blizzard, that’s a fail, and if we get contrite Blizzard making some 9.1.5 level changes immediately, then I could see the game even rebounding a bit past the average heights of Shadowlands.

Either way, the coming weeks will be fascinating to watch as we should see actual alpha testing start soon and once influencers and fansites are let in, I’d suspect a flood of datamining and content discussion to come!

5 thoughts on “World of Warcraft Dragonflight Is Launching This Year (Question Mark)

  1. Okay, I’ll start. (Kind of was expecting there to be some comments already.)

    Given that Shadowlands was a big disaster from practically the get-go –and it was following on the heels of another disastrous release in Battle for Azeroth– Blizz had plenty of time to accelerate development of Dragonflight.

    Additionally, and unlike Legion, Shadowlands and BfA were suffering from being not Legion.

    By that, I mean that on the face of it, the return of the Burning Legion ought to have been a last expansion for WoW, not one of many. It would have made a fine ending to the MMO, but that wasn’t the case. What do you do when you want to keep doing expansions after the curtains have closed and the proverbial fat lady has sung? You get a “Return to our roots” BfA –which was anything but– and “Azeroth goes across the River Styx” and defeats Death.

    What do you do when you’ve defeated Death (and had your crowning franchise crumble before your eyes)?

    Reboot, apparently. (Or pretend that the last two expacs never happened.)

    I do have to wonder whether an expac that focuses on a story that isn’t about the world ending will fly with the WoW population or not. Mists had the Horde/Alliance conflict essentially causing the Sha eruption at the beginning, and this is going to be (supposedly) a joint exploration operation. I’d like to think that Blizz wouldn’t try to torpedo that –Cataclysm and Mists style– by having one faction or the other be asshats to each other, and that Dragonflight would be something more akin to the detente found in Burning Crusade and the first half of Wrath (right up to Wrathgate). But believing that Blizz will do it and Blizz actually doing it are two entirely different things.

    And to be fair, I don’t know if the player base would be ready for a return to those days of yesteryear, given that Blizz has emphasized that factional conflict so damn much over the past two expacs. After all, it’s easy to go down the route of factional conflict –usually caused by the Horde– because it’s also the lazy thing to do. Typically “lazy” = “fewer resources needed” as well, which tends to please bean counters.

    All of this is just hot air at this point, because we don’t know what’s going to happen going forward. I would have bet on Spring/Summer 2023 for Dragonflight with Blizz counting on Wrath Classic to buoy them through the Fall and Winter, but I have to wonder –as my questing buddy put it– Wrath is going to be a huge bust. The Classic team blitzed through the BC content so fast that there was significant burnout among the player base, and the impression I’m getting is that the “merges” of dead servers are far too little too late.

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  2. If it was anyone but Blizzard, I’d say that after eighteen years they’d be very happy to settle into a long, slow decline, serving the installed base and farming the nostalgia market. For a company with their profile, though, I guess that’s not even an option, let alone an attractive one.

    If they’re still following their modus operandi of copying the successes of other companies and improving on them a few years in arrears, they really should be working on WoW 2 by now. It’s not a guaranteed strategy but it worked for several of their competitors, not least FFXIV, which now seems to have eclipsed WoW itself. Maybe if Overwatch 2 is a success, that’ll be the next move.

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    1. I wonder if Blizz is reluctant to roll out WoW2 because they saw how EQ2 split the player base. GW1 and GW2 are fundamentally different games, so ArenaNet could get away with it, and the Final Fantasy fans are pretty much used to having the series grown over the years, so they kind of know that FFXIV will eventually be succeeded by another game some years later. That being said, Square Enix might break that mold of game design given the long term success of FFXIV.

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