Last Friday, Warlords of Draenor became a Two Patch Expansion.
News of this fairly radical departure for the company spread like wildfire across social media, and was met with a combination of resignation and incredulity. After all, many of the more cynical players of this title will happily inform you that Blizzard never listens to criticism, and all those complaints about spending a year in the Siege of Orgrimmar clearly fell on deaf ears. Except, it would appear that the memo on shortening patch times and speeding up the pace of content appears to have not only been read, but is being acted upon with a measure of urgency.
In shock news, the company really does listen to its player base.
There’s been some notable hires in the last few months too: Steve Danuser, ex-Landmark designer, and Stephan Frost, who was working on Wildstar not long ago, have both posted Tweets of themselves happily established as newly-minted Warcraft employees. This injection of fresh blood, as we have discussed before, makes sense for a company who is not only reacting to criticism, but is keen to take their flagship MMO in a new direction. And this Saturday, in San Diego, California, there is the small matter of a movie based on this title being revealed to a rabid fan-filled audience at the annual Comic Con. Early pictures from the Legendary stand are encouraging, and the prospect of both Alliance and Horde signing sessions to fuel the faction rivalry…? I know what I’m going to be doing with a portion of my Saturday.
However, what you’re here for is a weekly Warcraft column, and what everyone else wants to know right now is what we can expect in the next six months and beyond from the title we love. Fortunately for you I bought my tinfoil hat to the column today, so let’s stick this crystal ball where the keyboard was and stare forward, searching for a possible timeline. Because all roads for Blizzard the MMO designers are currently leading to a small place called Gamescom in Germany at the start of August, and this commentator thinks that’s where the journey to the NEXT Expansion may well begin in earnest. Because as of yesterday the much-publicised and watched Race for World First had reached Archimonde for those Hardcore Guilds who compete, and once this last boss falls? Everyone’s looking past the Citadel and to what happens next.
That means knowing where we go after 6.2.
Many gaming chair observers, myself included, are expecting Europe to be the site of a major Warcraft announcement: it has happened before, in 2012, where the Cinematic for Mists of Pandaria made it’s debut. This time around, I’d at least expect to hear the Expansion’s name, and details of what will subsequently be previewed at Blizzcon because with the timer already counting down to the Movie’s release, there’s not a moment to waste. Then, when we hit Anaheim in November, there’ll be a Beta ready to play… which means, if we go the way of previous Blizzard excursions, certain lucky people could have a PTR with the pre-Expansion Transition Patch on their screens once Gamescom is over. I’d not hold your breath on that, mind, but there’s a mindset amongst certain hardcore players that if the company really is going to keep to this accelerated timescale, there needs to be new content playable very soon indeed.
There’s at least a notion of credence in a theory that new material could be already ready to go, because if Cory Stockton’s recent interview with French streamer Mamytwink is any indicator, after the mini-patch that gives Flying back to end-game content? There’s nothing else planned, so we’ll want to be leaving Draenor as soon as that gets boring which could be anything from a week to a month. Let’s get serious: say I’m right (gasp!) and we know the Expansion title by the start of August. I’d expect to see flying at some point BEFORE this happens (maybe early that month as this gives most people just over four weeks to grind the reps out if they haven’t already) which will then see everyone static in the same basic content all the way through to November if they’re not lucky enough to be doing their thang on the PTR.
After the siege mentality of Pandaria, I’m not sure the Company can actually afford to leave the player base with the same content for longer than six months at a stretch… so that’s why we’d have the PTR up and running with those changes (or possibly a technical Alpha, there’s also precedent for that, after all). Then that could be applied to Live Servers in November with a pre-Expansion Event similar in scale and scope to the ones that Blizzard used to present in the glory days of Azeroth’s past. And that’s a distinct possibility, with what we already know of Tanaan and what’s going on in the Citadel. There’s a lot of the Legion in this part of the Multiverse, and if they’re here and know that there’s been an Azerothian crossover? I’d say there’s a good chance lots of fel-tainted eyes are already focusing in on Azeroth Prime.
As a result I’d expect many Lore purists to be more than a little annoyed as the next year pans out.
With a persistent world where ten years of history lies pretty much deliberately untouched, the legacy of your storyline is often hard to ignore. That makes changing history a bit of a touchy subject, and Blizzard have been doing their best in recent months to be seen to not restrict themselves with the Lore that exists prior to Draenor. That’s why the Multiverse was created, after all, to open players minds to the possibility of Azeroth existing in differing forms, which is a distinct possibility in Cinemas next year. Many people feel a strict tie-in with the two entities is an impossibility as a result, because there is no realistic way to connect the two in current Lore terms, but I’d argue that’s just not the case. Blizzard aren’t stupid, and someone will have suggested this possibility in a meeting, of that I am certain. And if there is a viable way to combine both movie and game to generate an income? I really can’t see Blizzard passing that possibility up.
The Company is currently running a hashtag contest on social media, which extends throughout July and culminates at Gamescom on August 5th for us media types. The silence on what could be ‘coming next’ for the Expansion has been almost deafening in the last few months: normally there’s a hint of what could be expected, but even the end Cinematic that is presented after Archimonde’s defeat in the Citadel is almost deliberately ambiguous. It is almost as if Blizzard are waiting for something climactic to take place before they go all out with an announcement… and part of me really hopes that this Saturday is the start of that. Because if I was marketing this product, I’d want it in people’s faces for at least a year beforehand.
Even the announcement of the Warcraft Movie has the possibility to generate game interest, to entice people into the experience and to play the title prior to the Expansion that will, at least in my mind, coincide with the release. One could argue that this is what Blizzard has been planning for all along, that this weekend marks the start of a concerted and pre-planned effort to succeed where so many other gaming/movie crossovers have failed. That means there’s a catch up zone already live and running for old players which is possibly Blizzard’s most ambitious to date, and pre-6.2 content in Draenor that can’t yet be nullified by a fresh player just walking in with flying and cheesing the lot. And I suspect this reason alone will be why Blizzard hold back on giving flying to those who crave it so much, so that any potential new players it picks up with the Movie announcement get to see how future Expansions will pan out.
For the first time for many years, Blizzard isn’t looking simply to appease an existing playerbase.
The potential to bring new blood into the title is enormous, especially if the Movie is a success. There’s already rumors on the pages of this here website that ‘Warcraft’ has the potential to develop into more than simply a one movie deal, and if that is the case, you can absolutely bet that there’ll be a surge of interest in those that play the game from scratch. I suspect Blizzard’s already considered this possibility because finally, after a decade and the memory of another woeful launch experience still uncomfortably fresh, it’s learning the lesson that preparation actually matters. After the surprise of making this MMO a hit back in 2004, I sense finally that the Company is grasping how the whole transmedia shebang is supposed to operate and may have actually started to plan accordingly.
That could mean you’ll see a Warcraft mobile title pop up on your Tablet in the not too distant future. It could mean a drink company crossover of the same ilk that’s raised some eyebrows when one appeared for Destiny players in North America. In fact, I’d not exclude anything as a possibility until Saturday and we see just how much detail Legendary are preparing to reveal. I got laughed at by some at even the possibility of this happening three months ago. Now, I’m quietly confident that Blizzard could easily have world domination on their minds.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pre-prepare some popcorn.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Expansion, MMORPG, Patch 6.2, Warcraft Movie, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday