Blizzard Failed to Learn from Past Mistakes: Warlords of Draenor Launch Date Issues
A while ago, last November in fact, I wrote an article looking forward to BlizzCon 2013 and what would be announced there. The article can be found here: Will The 5th WoW Expansion Be Announced At BlizzCon 2013? While I was correct on the fairly obvious point that Blizzard would announce the expansion at BlizzCon, I was wrong on one pretty big point. In the article I stated that Blizzard would learn from past mistakes and not keep players stuck in limbo for as long as they did with Cataclysm and its final content patch.
The final raid content was launched for Cataclysm at the end of November 2011 and Mists of Pandaria did not launch until the end of September 2012. That meant that players where stuck with no new content for 11 months. During that time Blizzard lost a huge number of subscribers (roughly 25%) and went from roughly 12 million players at the start of Cataclysm to about 9 million at the start of Mists of Pandaria.
Surely, Blizzard would not make that kind of mistake again, would they? I thought it was pretty obvious that they would. However, it looks like rather than learn from it, they are repeating it, and potentially even worse than last time around.
The final Mists of Pandaria raid patch was the Siege of Orgrimmar patch 5.4 which went live on September 10th 2013. The Warlords of Draenor expansion has been announced as going live by December 20th 2014 or sooner. If released on that date it will mean that World of Warcraft will have been stale for 15 months! That’s right, no new major content for over a year.
I would like to believe that due to the wording of the release date being on or before, that it will be released before that date, and we can probably figure out if they will release it before by the release date of the beta.
Normally the WoW betas run for almost 6 months, and since the Diablo III expansion is launching this week, I can not see them putting the Warlords of Draenor beta live for at least a month after it, which would place it as going live at the end of April or early May. If we assume a May 1 beta date and 6 month run time than means it will end in October. That could mean a November release date. Even if released in November that would mean 13 months of stale content.
Last time around Blizzard lost roughly 25% of their subscribers. Currently the estimates I have seen are around 7.5 millions subscribers, real numbers could be higher or lower. Based on 7.5 million though, if the same drop off happens, World of Warcraft will be down to roughly 5.5 million players. I can't see a lower player base and subscriber base providing the funds to speed up content creation, can you?
What Could Blizzard do to Correct this Failure
I know the whole start of this article can come across as a rant at Blizzard for failing to get their expansions out faster. However, I want to make it clear that is not my main complaint here. While I really like new expansions and the content they bring with them, they are not the only form of content out there. I just would like Blizzard to be accountable to what they say.
They started out at the beginning of WoW saying that they wanted to push out expansions every year. That didn’t happen, and they quickly changed to a two year cycle, but stated that ideally they would like to put out a new expansion every 18 months. I have no issue with either time line, as long as it is followed.
What I do have an issue with though is an MMO that does not put out regular content updates, especially one as large and well funded as WoW is. There are many smaller MMO’s out there that do not generate even a 10th of the revenue that Blizzard generates through World of Warcraft, that puts out monthly content on a continual basis. Sure, it’s not always huge content, but it is new content.
What Blizzard could be doing instead of leaving the game stagnant for 12-15 months is providing content patches at least every 2-3 months. If content was still coming out for Mists of Pandaria then players would still be logging in to play and stay involved in the game. As it is, I see fewer and fewer players online all the time, and I can not think of a reason that trend will change before the expansion is released. If people leave the game for any length of time, they may not come back. I just don’t understand how or why Blizzard thinks they can risk that.
I’ve thrown the idea around in the past that Blizzard needs to break up their development teams into patch teams and expansion teams. I would have thought that would be a fairly standard practice, and a pretty obvious one, but it sure doesn’t look like Blizzard does that. If Blizzard left a group to work on patch content all the time and a team that constantly works on expansions then there would never be a lull in content. It seems like Blizzard works almost exclusively on one thing at a time for WoW, otherwise we would still be getting patch content while the next expansion is being developed.
Maybe someone can explain why my idea above doesn’t work, but coming from an IT back ground and working on some fairly huge projects, I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Sure, there are some overlap positions that can not work on both things at the same time, but that just means more planning up front. For example the lore team could pre-plan all the patch content for an expansion ahead of time and script everything while working on the expansion initially and that way it is in place for another team to take over and follow direction, rather than have to be involved with again.
So what I am saying essentially is that it is not necessarily bad that it takes that long to do an expansion, but it is bad to leave paying subscribers paying for nothing. And before you claim that we are not paying for nothing, let me point out that as an MMO we are paying monthly fees for server maintenance, bandwidth, GM’s, and for content. We have already paid for the game when we bought it, if there is no regular content released then the game should not be an MMO with a monthly fee, but instead a more traditional RPG that you purchase and play at your convenience offline at no charge.
I am also sure that once the expansion arrives, it will be awesome. There will be a lot of great new content and lore to explore. However, we will pay for that. In fact the price will have gone up from the last expansion. I have no issue with the content Blizzard does put out, just the volume and pace. We pay for the expansion content by paying for the expansion. So what are we paying for since patch 5.4 until the expansion is release?
That’s the end of the Messiah’s rant for the day. All I have to say is thankfully I have Titanfall, Hearthstone, and as of tomorrow Diablo III Reaper of Souls to play. How about you? Make your comments known below on your thoughts on Blizzards failure to keep fans involved in the game.