WoW Factor: The long wait for patch 9.1 in World of Warcraft

    
49
Get back.

We don’t yet have a date for patch 9.1, but considering that patch 9.0.5 just released recently and the patch isn’t even up on the test server, I’d say it’s probably still a while off. Most of the people whose predictions I trust suspect it will be some time between late May and early July. And if you’re not familiar with the usual World of Warcraft patch cadence, that’s actually a really long time between the expansion launch and the game’s first major patch.

Divorced from context, it’s really easy to look at this longer-than-usual delay as being indicative of something almost sinister because… well, it’s a really long delay. You’d expect the first patch to be coming along sooner. And I think it’s interesting to discuss and analyze because it implies a lot for the game and its development over the next few months, but I also think that some of it is a natural consequence of development realities outside of anyone’s direct control.

What realities am I talking about? Well, for one thing, we are still in the middle of a dang pandemic. It’s easy for that to feel like a kind of tired refrain at this point, but this has had a knock-on effect for even some of the most steady and reliable development teams out there, and one thing that I don’t think you can call the overall WoW development pipeline is reliable. Trying to guess at when the next expansion or patch will be released has become a cottage industry (and I myself have made posts about collecting that data), so that is also going to have an impact.

But I think there’s another issue, and it’s one that we all got a hint of when Shadowlands delayed its launch for a month: Despite whatever line is being put forth by the developers, Shadowlands does not seem to have confidently moved from conception to release overall, and I get the feeling that patch 9.0.5 was not really a planned patch.

I'm the villain, too?

We don’t generally tend to get these sorts of halfway patches before the first major patch in a given expansion, for one thing. For another, usually these patches are more about content that’s not intended for the top end rather than being entirely focused on systems, much less systems that are almost entirely focused there. In fact, a look at patch 9.0.5 reveals a whole lot of work being done on things that one would have expected closer to launch.

Obviously, I don’t have a seat at Blizzard’s actual design table. But I find all of this interesting, especially in light of the highly unusual release delay. The whole thing ultimately makes me think that the Shadowlands release was done with the expectation of a first patch devoted to fixing areas that the developers knew were going to be kind of broken when it first came out.

That’s not the same as “launching broken,” mind you; it’s more that it just seemed inevitable that there would be some broken areas on launch, and for whatever reason the work on fixing that couldn’t be rolled into development on the first major content patch. This one has the feel of a patch job to cover up broken seams.

Again, I don’t feel this was entirely a case wherein issues could have been solved without this outcome. By the time the problems were clear, we were already dealing with pandemic delays and player consternation, the expansion was already taken a while, and the development team was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Delaying the expansion to 2021 wasn’t an option; releasing it broken wasn’t an option. Releasing it working but in need of more balance passes was kind of the only one left, and adjusting release schedules accordingly would make sense.

However, all of that still leaves us with a really long wait until the next patch containing actual content. And that, in turn, raises the specter of whether or not the current amount of content is actually enough for what players want.

One of the things that I’ve noticed around Shadowlands is that while it didn’t have the initial negative reaction of, say, Battle for Azeroth, it’s definitely not proving a continual darling. A lot of people seem quick to say that they bounced off of it, either publicly or privately. Analysts have said the same thing. The expansion seems to have produced the usual bump in players, but they didn’t stick around for the long run afterwards.

Knife fight, baby.

That is a problem that’s only going to be exacerbated by the delay. Indeed, I wonder if 9.0.5 actually helped contribute to that. If you’re already struggling to gear up your character and then find out your valor points aren’t even going to work for upgrading the drop you finally managed to get from an M+ run, are you really going to be eager to start doing that again?

It’s also exacerbated by the fact that, well… if you’re already not having a great time with how Shadowlands is shaping up, the patch doesn’t really promise much to change it. It’s nice to have flying promised, but if you’re not currently happy with the game’s content offerings, you’re not going to be happier when 9.1 rolls around either.

This creates a lull that makes it really easy to bounce off the game, which is also usually when the developers try to offer something to entice longer subscriptions to stick around. Whether or not this is in the cards this time remains to be seen, of course; nothing has been announced. But I do think it speaks to a certain issue that the game is increasingly running into where the current content model is just not working for an awful lot of players.

Therein lies the biggest problem with this delay: People are going to be excited about flying, but I’m not seeing the sort of “come back to the game because even if you’re bored now, there’s something cool coming next” buzz from what we’ve been told of the patch so far.

Putting the patch onto the test server would definitely help this a bit. More details on the upcoming elements like the revisions to the Maw would help, too. Right now, though, we just don’t have any of that, and judging by the silence I imagine the main reason is that everyone is still working hard to get the patch ready for the test server to help with that messaging.

Of course, another option there would be to just communicate more, but Blizzard basically outsourced all of its hype generation to fansites a long time ago, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Especially when the company keeps laying people off and thus has fewer members of the community team to even work on building hype in the first place.

I’m not terribly heartened by the current delay, but I do think it’s important to note that it’s likely not altogether the fault of bad planning on Blizzard’s part. That having been said, though, there’s definitely some bad planning at work here, and there’s a pretty consistent issue shot through the expansion at this point. Shadowlands might not be a misfire like BFA was, but it doesn’t seem to be lighting people on fire either… and giving more time for the fire to burn down is worrisome.

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.
Advertisement

No posts to display

49
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
OPUno
Reader
OPUno

Honestly, given that is the off-season, is perfectly fine to unsub and play something else if you don’t have a clear in-game goal.

Like, a conversation going on is that neither Blizzard or any other game company is capable to always have content to consume. So is fine to do something else, there’s a lot of very cool games around.

Reader
Khrome

I’m… I dunno. What’s the point of playing at all right now? The turnover of both players and content is so quick that it can give you physical whiplash, while ironically people are complaining that it’s not quick enough.

Once 9.1 drops, most of the current content will become irrelevant, and players will be herded to the next mcguffin to chase after. The current raid, and its items, will become pointless. M+ progress will essentially be reset due to the ilvl bump. Some new grind will be introduced which makes the current one worthless.

I don’t feel like investing any time since the game doesn’t care even in the slightest if i do, because it will invalidate everything i did before this.

I was optimistic at the start of this expansion but after a while i realized that i’ve been had, again, and it makes me incredibly sad.

MadSeason’s recent video also casts doubts over the longevity of classic, if that wasn’t already there because of the continuous negligence of Blizzard to properly curate that version of the game. He also made a good point: It seems like Blizzard *never* really asks themselves, “is this fun?” It really feels like ‘design by Excel sheet’.

Well, to get back to the point, the expansion turned out to have less fresh ideas than a lemon wrapped around a large brick. No patch will change or add enough things to change that, and given that the next expansion is in the hands of the ‘B team’ i have no real desire to ever return anymore.

The only thing i really enjoyed in this expansion was the increased emphasis on ingame cutscenes which featured your character, but apparently they’re going back to putting the focus on Sylvanas. Again. For the umpteenth time. So even that aspect has already been lost…

Reader
Ben Stone

Any later than April / May would be a huge mistake. Raid is on farm. Alts aren’t friendly enough for the current anima grind. Subs will drop next month without something on the immediate horizon.

Reader
Motherball

From the perspective of someone who normally does not even start an expansion until the next one is released, Shadowlands is very incomplete, imo. Give it a year or two, with all the bells and whistles unlocked, catch-up-gear, and nerfed time-gates like anima, and it will be much better. WoD, Legion, and BfA were all great expansions if you weren’t on the treadmill the entire time. I expect SL will be largely the same.

Reader
Hareikan

WoW only focuses on content for raiders, but makes keeping up with raiding really damn boring. Grinding WQs or legendary item XP or whatever for the entire expansion, then do it all again for the next one. And the next one.

It makes me feel like WoW is in this never-ending cycle where its only fun to play if you play really casually, but WoW doesn’t give casuals any content. WoW pushes you to raid, but makes raiding really boring.

I played long enough to raid twice, open my first Vault and get offered the same cloak I was wearing, then quit.

Jokerchyld
Reader
Jokerchyld

its simply NOT FUN. Period. I could barely make my way through the storyline this time. At this point, I hate to say it, but I actually enjoyed BFA more. I had more options and things to do when I logged in. The zones were fun to explore (especially the underwater town in Zandalar) and the things I had to I found fun.

In Shadowlands the “go through the singular story” didnt work because the story for me wasn’t strong enough. Halfway through bastion I wanted to leave and go somewhere else. But I couldn’t. After max level I could what? Do world quests? Simple and repetitive. The Maw? Boring. Torghast? generic work. None of that is fun.

As a reference, as a simple causal, in Legion I was running +3 mythics, Normal raids (never raided, hated raiding until this), unlocked flying(never played long enough before), did the mage tower (never did the challenging stuff, but enjoyed this), maxed out a profession (never did that before), and all of the drug elf city zone.

I’ve cancelled my sub for now. From BFA to Shadowlands, it has been a downward trend that I don’t see reversing anytime soon.

Reader
Bannex

You’re 100% right on. I defended shadowlands and I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. This is truly the least amount of fun I’ve had playing wow. SL was easily the fastest I’ve unsubbed.

I jab at ironwu a lot, he was right about this one. Shadowlands sucks. Blizzard sucks. THIS TOWN NEEDS AN ENEMA!

Reader
Ben Stone

Legion was the pinnacle of WoW endgame for me. Solo content, group content and raid content were all meaningful, fun and worthwhile. And all three were fun. The elitist push for solo /group stuff to be worthless (ie: remove titanforging for lucky procs so mythic raiding is uncontested for gear).

People whinged about legendary weapon grinds but that was fixed after the first major patch. I had a full stable of alts all well geared and able to do any content.

In BFA and SL I can’t be bothered with alts. The game is way less alt friendly despite promising the opposite. I do the raid, I do a few high level mythic+ then log off. Doing anything else feels unrewarding for my time.

Saluka
Reader
Saluka

Not knocking WoW or anything but if any other company did the same thing and produced the same quality of content they wouldn’t have many players anymore.

Reader
Nathan Aldana

I6t feels like Blizzard is largely coasting off a playerbase that has been in the wow ecosystem so long they simply do not know, and dont care to find out, how vastly underdeveloped wow is compared to most games on the market

Reader
Nathan Aldana

Honestly, as a roleplaying first sorta player the latest patches and blizzcon i feel have blown a gaping hole in enthusiasm from a crowd that usually plays no matter how bad the content is. I’ve seen weeks now of posts form longtime rpers, especially ones with decent communities, just either moving on to other MMos or expressing deep concerns and a loss of motivation in playing. I know customization doesnt matter much to everyone, but when its so very obvious nobody but the raiders and mythic players are getting /anything/ for the foreseable future, and even their stuff isnt that great, it feels like the straw that broke the camel;s back has finally come for the RP community. The Anima grind and the horrifically slow dripfeed of content has made that even worse.

Reader
Igelhaar666

To second your post there is also next to no content for the solo / casual player, still no old content fix. The focus on mythic raiders is a huge problem and felt never this bad tbh. Also the expansion is not alt friendly tof has only 4 dungeons and the wqs are just plain boring. Farming pvp gear for a new alt is one of the worst grinds ever.

Reader
Ben Stone

Yes. I was so excited for some of the covenant set tints. And short of grinding world quests all day I don’t see me getting the ones I want in the next 6 months. It’s gross. This should have been stuff we got in the first patch with reasonable play.

Reader
Blacklight_Eve

After the last couple of expansions I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a real deep seated issue with Blizzard’s design philosophy and I am not sure how they’ll fix it without a change in Leadership.

The continued insistence in designing overly complicated systems that no-one wants and pushing grindy/work/gating to limit and/or slow down rewards is just out of step with what I want and what a lot of my circle of gaming friends want.

I was super hyped for Shadowlands, lots of friends coming back, we all spent the 2-3 weeks prior to the expansion leveling alts, finishing story from BFA, sorting allied races etc… and came into launch as hyped as I’ve seen us all since Wrath. Within 2 months only 3 out of 25+ of us are still playing. My feedback and the feedback of my friends is that it just felt too hard to progress, with too many artificial barriers and too many time sinks.

The expansion felt immediately, faster than any other, that you had to jump on the grind train and log on to “do work” every day. The renown system and all the gating around it really makes it feel like work to me. What really struck me very quickly was how soon those of us that can’t play 8 hours a day any more felt like we were falling behind, I lost motivation within 2 weeks of hitting max level because I just couldn’t keep up and it was too demotivating.

My other main complaint is that it always feels like a new game every expansion, it rarely feels like a smooth evolution or transition, class balancing too often = fundamental redesigns, there’s always another raft of new systems to learn and work out how to master. It’s just so much effort for so little reward. I honestly feel like they’ve lost track of the fact that the primary objective should be making a game that is fun and engaging – not that demonstrates how clever they are at designing infuriating systems.

Just design an interesting world and systems that endure from expansion to expansion, stop making us relearn half the game every two years and stick to the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Also #blizzardplease get off your high horse on the RNG vs deterministic systems thing and listen to your audience.

As I said at the beginning I don’t see how this changes without a leadership change, they’ve received deluges of feedback throughout the last couple of expansions and throughout testing for this one. At this point I feel like they don’t want to change no matter how much we tell them we are looking for something different and I don’t think the current leadership want to change – otherwise we’d have seen something different by now.

The definition of insanity is designing the same game every two years and wondering why you get the same disgruntled feedback and can’t retain your players.

Reader
Bruno Brito

After the last couple of expansions I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a real deep seated issue with Blizzard’s design philosophy and I am not sure how they’ll fix it without a change in Leadership.

Are you telling me that having a former hardcore raider being the LEAD DESIGNER FOR EVERYTHING made the game feel like a “10 to 25-enviromental hazard instanced simulator” where the world only fills the function of entry access for said simulation?

I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that Ion made the game more grindy and more raid-focused. It was completely UNEXPECTED!

Reader
Blacklight_Eve

I was trying to play nice and shelve the sarcasm and hyperbole but in short I agree with you.

Alyn
Reader
Alyn

lol!comment image

Reader
jealouspirate

“The expansion felt immediately, faster than any other, that you had to jump on the grind train and log on to “do work” every day.”

To each their own, but I just have a hard time reconciling this. So many expansions have had more daily “busywork” requirements, such as Mists and even Legion. In order to progress your character there are only two requirements:

1) Two Torghast runs per week until you get your desired legendary (approx 60 minutes total per week).
2) Two Renown quests per week. The first one takes about 10 minutes, the second happens naturally over the course of the week.

Outside of that, everything you need is found by just running the content. Do dungeons, raid, or PvP for gear like it always has been. There are other systems (The Maw, Sanctum upgrades, Callings, etc), but none of them really matter for progression. They’re entirely optional. I barely touch The Maw and it hasn’t affected me in any way.

Reader
Blacklight_Eve

@jealouspirate I hear you, and remember watching a bunch of videos from people like Preach and Bellular saying basically the same thing. I logically and intellectually understand the point, it’s tough to explain but it just didn’t feel that way to me.

I think the RNG and rather opaque design of the catch-up system for Renown was a contributing factor.

There were other little annoyances in game design too, like the linking of PvP ilvl to renown and the fact it caused player power between PvP and PvE players to get out of sync for a month was another factor.

I just increasingly feel like there’s always some friction getting in the way of a smooth and enjoyable playing experience with WoW.

At the end of the day I might just have grown out of the game, these are just my feelings and observations, and I fully recognise how subjective they are.

jimthomasUS
Reader
jimthomasUS

I realized that after 15 years WoW was not being made for me anymore. It was a good run.

Reader
jealouspirate

I totally get what you’re saying. It’s hard because there are so many different types of people that play WoW and it’s impossible to satisfy all of them. A lot of people, like yourself, don’t like that the game changes so much between expansions. That’s totally fair. A lot of other people dislike when it doesn’t change much, it’s “just more of the same” and “gets stale”. How do you strike that balance between stagnation and upheaval?

Similarly with time-gating. I love time gates because they act as a great equalizer. I don’t feel pressured to play 8 hours a day because I know that people who do won’t get ahead. Time gates allow me to play at a more casual pace without getting FOMO, feeling pressured to play all day, then burn out. But I know lots of people hate time gates, and that’s fair too.

I do completely agree that there’s too much of a focus on systems-driven design in WoW these days. I think you could remove most of the new systems in Shadowlands (especially soulbinds/conduits). All that effort being spent on systems would be better spent on coming up with more creative/interesting things to actually DO.

Reader
Rick Mills

I have the same experience – I just logged on on Tuesdays, did the renown quest, then over the next couple of days, did the anima quests – which took about 10 minutes 3 or 4 times.
On Saturdays I played with the Venthyr party event once in awhile for fun.
For Torghast I just did the rescue quests solo at the level one.
I’m having fun and doing as much or as little as I want.

Reader
Patric Spooner

The game has multiple options of progress now, and as the article states the first major patch will release 8-9 months after the expansion. I don’t understand the feeling that you were getting left behind or needing to play 8 hours per day. You can play a few hours a week and still doing every bit of new content you want to do before 9.1.

Reader
Bereman99

You can play a few hours a week and still doing every bit of new content you want to do before 9.1.

Well, of course you can do every bit of new content you want before the first major patch when the first patch is 8-9 months out…

Which players didn’t expect, based on the timing of the 7.1 and 8.1 patches during the last two expansions. Sure, now you’ll notice you have the time and not feel rushed (cause you do have the time) but that wasn’t the case at and shortly after launch…

Reader
Hareikan

Didn’t they straight up say they “Can’t take feedback into account” or something like that?
I 100% believe you’re right about the leadership thing. Playing WoW the past few years have felt a lot like… Blizzard is trying underhanded methods to force you to stick around, gated content and grinds mainly, instead of just making the game fun to play again.

Lighthope
Reader
Lighthope

Shadowlands is playing to too small of an audience. Valour only for M+ players. Not even raiders!

Never understood the business model where you don’t cater to the majority of your playerbase.