Gosh, remember when it seemed like we… like, actually knew what 2020 was going to look like, or at least in the broad strokes? I certainly do; I wrote an entire column predicting Final Fantasy XIV’s next year, and then we wound up tumbling into a nonstop viral hellscape exacerbated by people assuming that after a month the virus must have been scared into submission because that’s how epidemiology works, and now I’m in the one region of my country where people just stayed in and we’re all kind of more apprehensive even though we actually went down…
The sub-patches and deployment
The first thing that’s important to note right here is that large patches don’t simply have one drop and then it’s all done, as we all know. There are always two staggered patches with further content, and often another patch with minor quality-of-life improvements along the way. And the fact of the matter is that the delay is going to affect that, too.
It’s not altogether clear how much of the delay in certain bits of patch content is a function of finishing things up between major releases and how much is just about spacing things out so that people don’t simply devour everything like locusts. Regardless, this also has the potential to affect those deployments; instead of things being spaced out so the first patch is amonth out and the second is about two months or a bit longer, there’s potentially less time to play around with the release window.
All things considered, I wouldn’t be surprised if some things get shifted around a bit just so that players aren’t waiting for some content for as long; for example, if Ishgardian Restoration is ready to go faster than a month after the main patch, it would make sense if it got released a bit earlier than normal. And it also raises the question of how much a month and a half of a delay affects other important elements of the game’s overall deployment schedule… but that also is affected by how the interim elements roll out.
When is the expansion?
I don’t imagine that a month and a half delay throws off the overall plans of development that much, in no small part because budgets and plans for these things are determined well in advance. The plan is still to have an expansion in 2021 by all indications because that was probably decided on back in 2019 when Square-Enix was figuring out its likely financial results for the next year and the year after that.
The question, of course, becomes when, just like it’s an open question how much the expansion’s development got disrupted by the work-from-home period that is… probably less of an issue now? We haven’t actually been told much about it, and we definitely haven’t been told anything about the expansion process because technically the next expansion hasn’t even been announced yet and might not be announced until December now.
Whoops, got depressing again. Sorry.
While we know for a fact that expansion work starts well before the announcement, there are different requirements for what work is more important and when for the team working on the game’s next expansion. It’s entirely possible that work-from-home only had minor impacts on the planning work and it hasn’t really bumped the expansion from its presumable launch in about a year… although given that, again, it hasn’t yet been announced, that release date is entirely presumed based on patterns rather than anything else. About a year from now would give Shadowbringers about a two-year run, which… you know, is keeping with the same pattern for every prior expansion.
For the moment, my personal assumption is still that the next expansion will be out in late June or early July, same as prior years. It’s definitely plausible that there will be a larger and longer ripple effect, but at this point it seems unlikely, and we’ll learn about it then. More to the point, it’s kind of the only way we can really make assumptions moving forward; if we just say the expansion could release whenever, we could easily start speculating about it launching in August for no good reason beyond rampant guesswork.
Shorter patches or one shorter patch?
So that’s the broad strokes of where we are. One patch has been delayed by about a month and a half, we still have two more patches after this, and the expansion launch has not moved. This means that something has to be nudged around to still fit all of that in.
Here’s the thing. Assuming that all of this remains true for the future, there is an obvious way to make up the time between patches while keeping the patch length largely the same, and it just means shortening patch 5.5. This sounds a bit worse than it is, but the whole two-part split for the final patch has never really worked all that well; it still means that there’s a good six-month stretch of little substantial new content. Shortening that to four and a half months is not the worst idea in the world.
But perhaps that’s also considered a no-go simply because, well… these things are planned out ahead and the lighter content is meant to space things out for planned reveals. That’s also fine. Let’s go ahead and assume this to be the case, which means the team still has two options for dealing with the delay. The first is just that patch 5.3 is short, running for about two months and with a very compressed schedule for its additional drops. Our next patch is in late September or early October, and that would work… assuming that it wouldn’t involve the team killing itself with a greatly accelerated development pace for 5.4, which is far from assured.
The other possibility seems more realistic, and it’s more of a rippled delay. All of the next few patches are a bit more crunched together, with 5.4 now planned for early November and 5.5 aimed at early February. The result is that everything runs a little bit closer, but I suspect the possibility for wiggle room has always been there if necessary. It’s the smart way to develop, and it’s clear from what had been discussed about 5.3 that this is how far ahead patch schedules are determined.
And, yes, the fourth possibility is that the expansion is delayed significantly. But I personally think “several shorter patches” is the most likely option; it doesn’t require one much shorter patch but allows things to get back on-track in a reasonable timeframe.
Which one is true? Well… I guess we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we? Until then, you can leave feedback in the comments down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week… well, there are rumors we’ll hear more about the patch release this week, so if that’s true that may be our next topic. If not, let’s talk about Trusts, hard modes, and dungeon assets.