“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We are about to start our descent to the next Expansion of the World of Warcraft. Please make sure that your Hearthstone
boards are in their full upright position. We’d also ask you to ensure your Tauren is securely fastened and all Gnomes and Goblins are stowed underneath the seat in front of
you or in the overhead bins. Please also turn off off all Mineral Spawners until we are safely parked in Azeroth. Thank you for flying with Alternative Airways.”
And so, it has begun. As soon as Archimonde was dispatched by Method (EU) in Hellfire Citadel, the floodgates opened. Forums, social media sites and street corners began to reverberate with the realisation that yes, that’s all there is. Of course you can keep updating your Legendary ring all the way through the Summer if you so choose, and there’s always one piece of gear that never drops for you, but in essence? We’re done. The last patch of the Expansion’s in place, and with it comes the slew of ‘official’ leak rumours. Everybody and their Grandma has a theory about What Happens Next, and I’ll be adding my tuppence worth on what has to happen down the line in all manner of different places, including this Column. It’s not like this doesn’t happen at the end of every Expansion either: I’ve been archiving my own site in the last week or so and have reached the point where Mists of Pandaria stopped and the Beta for Warlords started. A lot has changed since now and then, most notable of all being the amount of communication that used to happen between designers and players on Twitter. In fact, there was an almost daily slew of responses and discussion on what players could expect, and what they’d like to see transpire. This is in stark contrast to the now very infrequent and sometimes quite depressing communication that takes place via @WarcraftDevs and the player base. Yes, of course Blizzard still communicate, but it is a shadow of what it was.
The fact that designers still use social media is all too apparent: mostly these days you’ll find them simply promoting Blizzard products and re-tweeting notable company events. After that, the silence is indeed telling, and many believe deliberately enforced, because there’s been not one hint of what might be in the pipeline. If truth be told, it is almost too quiet right now. Sure, we got a PTR up at the end of the week, in which the Flying changes are being tested, plus the latest experiment by the PvP people to try and improve queue times for players by effectively transforming them into the faction that is most lacking to make queue times shorten and hence playtime more bearable. After that?
Of course, as we discussed last time out, there is probably a very good reason for this… but we still don’t know 100% that the Movie has anything to do with our trip to pastures new. Like everything else, this is speculation. That’s why more and more people are looking at Germany as a possible answer to everyone’s problems, that maybe Gamescom will at least give us a clue of a name, maybe a possible location…? At no point in this game’s history have so many people been in the dark, all at once, and for many it’s a situation that’s making them both nervous and uncomfortable. There’s also been a lot of recrimination of late, far more than I remember at the end of any other Expansion. Either Draenor’s been too short or too long, there’s been not enough good content… and everyone has their own complaints, and no two seem to be exactly the same.
Deep down though it is the Garrison that has been singled out for the most abuse, and when I think about my own enthusiasm for the idea, I don’t regret what I either said or did. I’m still a strong advocate of the concept, I just believe that, like so many other ideas Blizzard has played with other the years, potential consequences weren’t thought through with this particular player base in mind. In the end, for many the RTS strategy elements condemned this concept from the word go, because what started off as a great idea devolved into a repetitive mini-game that owed more to Facebook than it ever did to recreating exciting MMO game-play in microcosm. My own hopes, with a slew of others, for more than simply rudimentary forms of customisation simply failed to materialise. The ultimate indignity this Patch around is that to complete the Legendary ring you began forging back at Launch? A Shipyard is mandatory, when Blizzard were at pains even before the Expansion began to assure players no part of this structure would ever be considered as such.
And here is the biggest issue with the present, pointing us to the possibilities of the future. With so little Lore on the ground to indicate what might be approaching, with only the slimmest of storylines to use as fuel to fire the creative juices, where do we go next? Many would like to leave Draenor a long way behind them, which is ironic when there’s a theory doing the rounds right now that Warlords itself was supposed to be the Movie tie-in. Allegedly, if the original development time-line had held up for the film, we’d have seen it last December, which means all this was put in place to link one to the other. But hang on, if that were the case, why have we stopped now? Surely this would mean that we’d need at least another six months of content and another patch, possibly two, if that explanation was going to hold true. Except that would fly completely in the face of the assertions that pretty much everyone has made, including Blizzard themselves, that Expansions are inherently too long and that there needs to be a faster development schedule as a matter of priority. If we’re working on this theory as having credence, then getting an new title announcement two weeks or so from now would not only do everybody a massive favour, it would fit as being part of the plan.
The bigger problem for many is that these announcements don’t tend to happen anywhere else other than Blizzcon.
In the last few months what has been abundantly apparent by Blizzard’s PR actions, is that finally the company grasps that when it comes to selling their products, the US is only a section of their audience and has been for quite some time. There remains a massive audience in Asia for all of its titles, Starcraft especially, and the only reminder of this for US audiences is often given when the World Championships are held at Anaheim. Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm have opened the global market further and the choice to have the Heroes Launch Party in of all places London came as a surprise to many commentators. However, it makes great business sense to spread your love worldwide. Blizzard’s currently running a Twitter hashtag content where the Grand Prize is a trip to Gamescom. Yes, they did the same for Blizzcon too, so you could argue there’s nothing to be seen here, and that we should move along now.
Except I can’t and I won’t. I want to believe that Blizzard really have embraced the timetable for change that they’ve promised. I’d like to think that after years of promising improvements, especially when it comes to issues like in-game diversity, that the company really are listening to criticism and learning their lessons. Gamescom is the perfect place to show the World that Warcraft is shifting with the times, that it can again stand proud as the flagship property of a Company that is beginning to fly in vastly differing directions. If we don’t get an announcement in Germany? I genuinely have to believe that Blizzard aren’t serious with what they’ve promised. If that is the case, I suspect many people will be re-assessing whether this MMO is worth sticking with in the future. Because there comes a point in everybody’s lives where you have to decide what really matters in terms of entertainment. Blizzard offered players quicker Expansions and more content, and it has yet to consistently deliver on both, and that will be something they will not be likely allowed to forget if the Company’s Q2 Financial Report due at the beginning of August show a further loss in subscription numbers.
Ironically, that Earnings Call is traditionally scheduled to take place on the first Thursday in the month, which this time around places it slap bang in the middle of Gamescom. One of my two Podcast co-hosts made the point to me today that if you wanted to assuage investors you were pushing all your titles forward in a positive fashion, this would be absolutely the right time to do so. All Blizzard’s titles could have a significant presence at the event next month: MMO Games will also be there, so you can sure that if anything happens, you’ll hear about it here first.
I’d better go get my luggage off the baggage carousel and make my way to the Expansion. Don’t worry, I’ll see you there 😀Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Expansion, Gamescom, Gamescom 2015, MMO, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday