WoW Factor: Shadowlands’ delay is a genuinely good thing – for everyone

    
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WoW Factor: Shadowlands’ delay is a genuinely good thing – for everyone

Well, this was a big old shocker for a Thursday night that’s going to screw with a bunch of data! Also, it’s a majorly unexpected change that is almost unprecedented in World of Warcraft’s history, at least to my memory. Shadowlands is going to be releasing in November or December, and while it’s not a huge delay, it’s a tectonic shift in the history of a franchise that has previously been far more willing to release an obvious beta than delay a release.

Yes, I know we have that myth of Blizzard polish, but it’s time to start admitting something about several of these expansions. It’s all right if you’re not ready to yet. We can move on.

That headline isn’t a joke, though; I am legitimately glad that the release date is being delayed, even if I am less than enthusiastic about the fact that the pre-patch is not next week but the week after. So today I want to talk about the why, the new potential dates, and what this means moving forward.

First of all, yes, on one level, this news is kind of bad. Not because we have to wait longer for the expansion but because it indicates that the developers decided during testing that the current state of the game is in some way downright so dire that they couldn’t even justifying pushing it out and fixing it later.

One of the points that I’ve made in this column repeatedly is that WoW is really in an awkward place right now. The game isn’t failing by any means, but it is flailing, and it really cannot afford another Battle for Azeroth-style debacle. It absolutely needs to convince players to jump in on this expansion. So the delay means that for reasons either real or imagined, the studio was of the mind that Shadowlands was on track to cause that sort of rift.

Corpse party.

The lack of an amended release date, at least to me, indicates that this is pretty decidedly going to be an act of urgent reworking. Which means, in turn, that I think all of that talk about pulling the ripcord is going to happen and we’re going to see Covenant abilities be more flexible in some way, and the core delay in delay duration is a matter of trying desperately to figure out how long it’s going to take. (Or more accurately, an acknowledgement it might take longer that previously expected; I imagine these discussions probably started back during the Everything Is Fine blog post that used the whole ripcord metaphor.)

Am I certain of that? Well, no… but it’s the only sort of large-scale thing that would make much sense at this point. The problem can’t be server stress, it can’t be lack of content, and it can’t just be to spend a little more time balancing because that last one wouldn’t delay a release. It feels pretty clear to me that something is being worked on in the hopes of, well… salvaging what the developers expected to be a mess.

It is a bit odd that John Hight was the announcer on this one, given the usual studio communication pipeline, but I don’t want to read too much into that.

So why am I happy about this? Is it just based on my speculation about what they’re doing? No, I’m happy about this because I want Shadowlands to be better than just not terrible. Releasing the expansion to be better than its immediate predecessor is placing the bar about as low as it can go without the aid of a trowel. While I am dubious about the studio managing to really boost it a lot with an extra month or two of time, it can only be a net benefit if that time is used intelligently.

You might note that I seem pretty confident that the expansion will still release this year as Blizzard says it will, and that faith might be unwarranted, but this is already pushing things back pretty far. There’s no legal obligation for the expansion to be out this year, of course, but with the backlash around Warcraft 3: Reforged delaying past its target launch date my expectation is that the team is between a rock and a hard place. Delaying is a necessary evil, but pushing it to 2021 is probably a bridge too far.

Whether or not it should be is… kind of irrelevant now. Like, there’s only so much you can do to fix things, you know?

So... how's things?

The point, though, is that this represents a bigger change than Blizzard has shown in the past. We’ve had expansions that were released in varying degrees of “unfinished” before, and in all of those cases the clear priority was to just get it out the door first. The assumption, real or accidental, seems to have been that WoW expansions will sell anyhow even if they’re not all that great, and you can always patch things in to fix problems, right?

It’s a philosophy that hasn’t worked for two of the last three expansions, though, and I’m both pleased and surprised that Blizzard took that to heart. Shadowlands is getting some extra time to adjust things theoretically before it goes live, rather than to slap patches on a metaphorical leaky ship.

Does this speak to some larger structural changes within the studio? I don’t know about that. My natural inclination is to say that of course it doesn’t; after all, this is just a delay to an expansion release, not a wholesale reworking of major systems. But at the same time, we haven’t seen this happen before, and especially not after the aforementioned “everything is fine” post basically defending the state of affairs. Clearly, something has happened between the two events.

My current guess at this point is late November. That’s a pretty significant delay, but it gives space for pre-expansion events and also enough time to sort out whatever the developers feel needs to be sorted ahead of the actual launch. It could just be a couple weeks, theoretically, but I suspect the team would have just announced that date right off. Maybe we’ll find out on the pre-patch date; I don’t know yet.

Do I think this is going to help the expansion in the long run? The changes being made are what’s going to determine that, honestly. The odd thing is that the announcement of the delay didn’t specify what required the pull back beyond general polish and iterating on the endgame, which indicates to me that we’re getting the aforementioned ripcord-pull; a lot of the other options wouldn’t require this kind of delay. Of course, it’s also possible that Blizzard is particularly Blizzard about it and basically sees its job as fixing the most underperforming covenant abilities and that’ll make it good, right?

But more importantly, I don’t think it can really hurt the expansion. It is, at least, a shot in the right direction. And while it’s surprising for reasons it really shouldn’t be, I’m hopeful that it marks the team taking overwhelming feedback into account and making some smart changes to the expansion. I don’t think there’s a future when Shadowlands is one of the best expansions, but I think there’s definitely a chance it could go from “it’s fine I guess” to “hey, this is pretty good.”

Or, you know, they don’t actually fix the underlying problems and we all feel rather disappointed. That’s still possible, too. I’m preferring to look on the bright side this time.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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Karma_Mule

Another reason to really want this expansion to be more polished: With the level squish, dedicated starting island, and the ability to play a focused story all the way thru as you level up means Wow is going to be the most ‘newbie friendly’ it’s been in a long time.

Perhaps they’re planning a serious push to grow their player base and that makes it very important that the experience be as enjoyable and slick as possible.

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Bruno Brito

Wow is going to be the most ‘newbie friendly’ it’s been in a long time.

I gotta ask, how did you get to that conclusion?

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Karma_Mule

Mostly because it brings focus to the story, and every level will feel meaningful.

I started a new character a few months ago after a long hiatus and there were so many options as to where to go that it was tough to know the implications of each decision, and it was very easy to have a disjointed story experience because it wasn’t always clear what zone corresponded to what expansion unless you read up on them first.

With their new approach you’ll default to a single starting experience and then pick a single expansion to play through until you get to shadowlands. That way you will have a consistent storyline and theme as you level up.

Also, having so many levels to catch up on can feel daunting to a new player, and many levels have no new abilities or other cool things to make them feel important. I haven’t tried the new leveling experience yet, but I really like idea that, with fewer levels, every level will feel significant.

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Bruno Brito

With their new approach you’ll default to a single starting experience and then pick a single expansion to play through until you get to shadowlands. That way you will have a consistent storyline and theme as you level up.

Not huge on this, i find that MMOs should have freedom of exploration, but i get your point now.

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Bruno Brito

Eh. I’m only interested in the pre-patch, so i don’t really see as anything beyond a small delay to fix stuff. This won’t fix Blizzard’s design issues, so i don’t consider a “good thing”. They’ll keep building systems just to get rid of them later.

jimthomasUS
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jimthomasUS

Well gosh I haven’t been with as good a guild or as excited to start a new expansion since BC. The difference with that delay is it didn’t happen weeks before launch. I know many people in service industries who took a vacation for launch who are pretty much screwed by the short notice.

It is interesting that this announcement didn’t come from Ion Hazzikostas and to be blunt I would not be disappointed if someone else were guiding the next 6-8 weeks of obvious crunch. There is too much you have to do if you want to raid these days and it looked like that wasn’t going to change…and in fact get worse by locking you out of rp or aesthetic choices for your character in the next expansion.

It was Ion himself that spoke on SL being the expansion about player choice. That to me is a currency based system that allows me to play as I want and get the gear that I want to raid with my friends one or two nights a week. It should not mean do Torghast x times, do Maw x times, do 10x M+ weekly, pick the right Covenant for your spec, do your dailies…

C’mon Blizzard. The landscape has changed. Be happy your player base can log in every other day for an hour and let them play the content they want with the people they want.

p.s. and nevermind pvp…

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Utakata

I keep thinking that “pulling the ripcord” is what happens when one of the upper managers lets a huge one rip during a whiteboard meeting when they are asked how they feel about a critical feature that’s going to released into the next expansion. /eww

…yes, the mind and pigtails are lol’lying in the gutter over this like a 12 year old, but I can’t help but wonder if this is just what went down a metaphorical sense. >.<

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PanagiotisLial1

From marketing standpoint it can be also to their benefit to just release on December a couple weeks before christmas, so I wont rule out that some of the delay is for that too.

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styopa

I think they have to minimize the time between pre-patch and release; there are so many “welp, ok that’s not balanced and/or doesn’t work but that’s fine for now until release” issues they can’t sustain on that.

OPUno
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OPUno

Covenants are not the most concerning thing honestly. The Maw, the actual endgame zone where you are going to spend a lot of time grinding currency for sockets is very much on near alpha stages, there’s still a lot of game breaking bugs on quests, dungeons, classes…..is just not ready and it was not going to be ready in a month.

On Covenants, raid logs are showing up to 50% difference between classes and yeah, players aren’t going to put up with that no matter much the “anti-1%” guys think they will.

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Jiminy Smegit

I agree with those being the main two points but I feel the Maw is fixable given enough time, just needs content. Covenants worry me more, I do not see how they will ever balance those to even a reasonable degree when every change they make ripples across every spec. They will likely be tinkering with that for months to come, juggling hand grenades all the while, nerd rage ahoy!

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Khrome

I’m pretty sure the delay is to not have to compete with other releases in that timeframe. There’s literally nothing they can do in just 1 or 2 extra months to fix the multitude of issues.

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Schlag Sweetleaf

.

what we do in shadowlands.gif
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rosieposie

A good thing for anyone? I think not! You’re forgetting poor starving ActiBlizz execs! How will they manage to put food on the table now?