WoW Factor: We’re waiting how long for Shadowlands’ patch 9.1, now?

    
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It just keeps happening.

So it looks like World of Warcraft’s next patch is going up for testing on the week of April 12th. What the heck is happening? At best, this just explains that the reason for such a threadbare presentation during the whole BlizzConline event was because there was very little to actually reveal at that point, given that we’re not going to be seeing this patch actually arrive for a couple months yet.

I know that I’ve talked about this in the not too distant past, but now that we actually have confirmation of when the patch is arriving on the test server, it’s no longer theoretical. And what we know so far is, well… bad. It’s not good news if you were hoping to see the patch at some point before June, and I don’t even think July is out of the question. (August would be a bit late, at least. That’s a small mercy.) So let’s talk a bit about this horrendously slow first patch and what it might mean in a larger sense.

First and foremost, it’s important to note that everything I said the last time is still true now. This is the longest delay between expansion launch and a first patch thus far in the game’s history, and it’s only going to grow as we wait for the patch itself. Most patches spend about two months in testing before they go live, so if the patch starts testing on April 12th, logically it’s not releasing before June 12th, which would make June 15th the earliest reasonable date to bet on the patch. A little bit longer places us easily into July.

The biggest argument I’ve seen against this seems to mostly be wishful thinking based on the idea that this is a really long patch delay, and the occasional burst of optimism that maybe 9.0.5 at least involved enough system work that there’s less stuff to test. The former is, well… wishful thinking. The latter, on the other hand, supposes that between a new dungeon, a new raid, a new zone, new quests, and all that, what’s really extending the test length is balancing.

You know, the balancing that Blizzard has never been very good at and has already had to keep tuning since 9.0.5 launched, making it clear that whatever that interim patch actually did for the health of the game, “alleviate balance issues” was not on that list.

This has not gone according to plan

What’s most important here, though, is the practical upshot. At this point, it’s all but a known thing that Shadowlands will take seven months to get its first content patch out the door. And if that doesn’t strike you as odd, consider that this is the year when we would expect to hear about a new expansion in November… about five months after that first patch. We wouldn’t be looking ahead to the final patch but the middle while we expect to hear about where we’re going next.

Unless, of course, we’re looking at Shadowlands as a shorter expansion than normal. Which is also a problem!

One of the recurring things people have liked to put forth as a defense for Blizzard’s overall cadence for WoW expansions is the idea that it really takes about four years for a decent expansion to come together. So what got a lot of people through Battle for Azeroth was the idea that Shadowlands was going to be somehow better. And it’s definitely better than BFA was, but I feel like a lot of the praise has been… qualified. It was from me, at that.

The idea that Shadowlands might not make it to three major content patches is one I’ve seen floated before, but given the extended delay on this first patch, it feels far more likely to me now than before. Consider that for all we’re told work is proceeding ahead of time, the actual evidence seems to be that Blizzard works on things fairly sequentially. There’s definitely work being done on the next expansion right now, but it doesn’t seem likely that all that work is proceeding in parallel to development on the current one but rather in between work done on the expansion right now.

What does that mean? Well, Blizzard is going to have to give up on something. Either Shadowlands is a very short expansion, or the next expansion does not get announced this year and launched next year, or there isn’t the usual long gap between the last patch of the expansion and the start of the next one. One of those three things is absolutely certain, and I tend to doubt the last one is what’s going away.

Why? Well, how much crap has Blizzard taken from expansion gaps over the years? If this was something that the development team had the ability to mitigate by this point, it would be mitigated. Clearly, that’s not the case.

We should really have prepared.

So either we’re going to have a longer wait until the next expansion or a shorter cycle this expansion. I certainly have my suspicions about which of those is going to look more appealing to the people in charge of the game based on recent cadence. Which means that barring something really surprising, we’re probably looking at a short expansion again… which helps the next expansion very little.

After all, the last time we had a short expansion was Warlords of Draenor, and the only reason that managed to not be seen as even more of a nadir was that Legion turned out to be really good. Which means that the narrative would have to shift to mean that WoW only can turn out a good expansion every six years, and…

Yeah.

As I said the last time I wrote about this, to a certain extent I feel sympathy for the development team here. It seems safe to say that Blizzard’s working environment hasn’t really compensated all that well for the changes in working environments brought on by a pandemic, and that’s been further compounded with a corporate structure that uses layoffs in the same way most people use napkins. Right now it is not a terribly fun time to work in WoW development, I imagine.

But we also have to talk about results, and it seems clear that as much as anything what’s happening here is not a wholly inevitable process but rather the net results of having a disjointed and not terribly robust development pipeline in place even before now. The results we’re actually looking at include either a truncated expansion or a much, much longer delay to the next one, and considering how many divided opinions there are on the expansion even at this point I don’t see either being great for its long-term health.

Really, the damage is done now. The best things that can be done without a wholesale reworking of the leadership structure right now are increased transparency and more news about what the plan actually is. Because if you’re a fan of this game (as I am) and you’re looking at that patch delay and not getting more than a little worried about its long-term health… well, at best, you’re still living in a world wherein this game is presupposed to do no wrong.

And that ain’t the world we live in.

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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Carboxyl52

It’s almost as if every developer on the WoW team is sharing a single USB flash drive to upload files like an early 2000’s high school power point project.

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Khrome

There’s, in my opinion, a very, very simple reason for why Blizzard is so deeply stuck in a rut.

Everything – EVERYTHING they do is completely, 100% data driven. There’s no real creativity going into the design and development of the game from the top. There’s no one steering the ship and too many people are on the committee trying to decide which direction to go in before anyone even touches the wheel.

The two main culprits are Blizzard as a company, and the lead game designer.

Blizzard views WoW as a product. Revenue is king, over everything, anything else. They don’t care how many people play the game. If they make $500m from 1 million players and can make $501m from 1000 players instead, they will go for that without even a hint of hesitation.

Ian is the second part of the puzzle. I think his intentions are good, but he just doesn’t have the mindset for creative design. Just like the company, he focuses on spreadsheets and data to make decisions, and doesn’t ask the most important question: “Is this fun?” He designs games for a hypothetical, average WoW customer that doesn’t exist in reality.

He doesn’t see ‘the point’ in what he would, as an OG EJ member, call ‘carebear bullshit’ like housing or visual character customization or even horizontal progression. He doesn’t really understand the game from any other angle than M+ and raiding – Those are, as should be painfully obvious, the *only* things in the games he actually cares about, and even then, purely from a mechanical design perspective. Even the story has to take a backseat to the spreadsheets (as should have been abundantly clear by now).

EDIT: On a sidenote, something that really soured my opinion of him was the interview a year or so ago where he says “horde vs alliance is the core of the game”, which is, to be honest, either blatantly delusional, or he was caught off guard with a question about an aspect of the game he couldn’t care less about. HvA is an aspect of WoW which was dated the moment Legion was released at the very latest. It felt forced (and even underused) in BfA and is completely and utterly irrelevant in the current expansion. If WoW ever wants to move forward they need to cut the forced faction crap as a good first step.

Alyn
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Alyn

You know, like many of you all commenting here, I, too, have played the vaunted World of Warcraft since the beginning. I have every expansion under my belt except for this current one. Many of you WoW pros know how I felt about the decline of the game from past posts going back at least three years. I additionally have defended the studio on many occasions. I completely understand that it was this particular mmo that changed the modern landscape of the mmo industry. Some might even complain that it stifled the innovation of mmo’s that would appear after 2004. I took a kind of middle ground here, but in general it was the fault of mmo studios NOT wanting to actually compete with this giant and rather be like WoW rather than be different.

Now, it is apparent that there were a few studios that did manage to create a games that arguably are different than what we see in WoW. I’d say there are a good four or five mmo’s out there that have been tested for several years now. These mmo’s are now showing how they have managed to sustain after 10 years. Yes, Covid sucked for ALL of us. I say take a good look at articles in this magazine from the five or so successful mmo’s and read them. You’ll find they have managed the stress of delay quite well. Case in point, Square Enix. They had to delay their 5.4 patch by several months, but it was released smoothly with very little problems. We’ll see 5.5 very soon and it will be the finale of yet another GREAT expansion done by that studio! Sometime in the Fall Square will release the final expansion for this particular story going back to “A Realm Reborn”. I dare say this final expansion will be yet another HUGE success for Square Enix and Naoki Yoshida. The population of Final Fantasy 14 is increasing. Yes, many are refugees from WoW. REFUGEES. I am a refugee. Why?

Just read Eliot’s column yet again. Scan most of the dialogue found after this article. Blizzard simply isn’t “cutting it” any longer. WoW is not anything like it was. Again arguably the last great WoW expansion, for me anyway, was “Wrath of the Lich King”. Will changing the leadership make it any better? My gut tells me no, not really. The damage has been done. They fiddled with almost every aspect of the game without truly minding what we, the gamers, have pleaded to them for YEARS! “You think you do, but you don’t”. Yes, that was the final nail in the coffin for me, folks. My empathy level here has been strained to its’ breaking point.

I am not yelling at the many, many fans out there that continue to play . I respect you all. However, please at least respect those of us that just could not grind like this for what inevitably becomes a waste of time. Give us a little credit for playing as many years as most of us had. It was sixteen years for me and I still to this day visit my old Discord WoW group, chat with them and watch their streams as they eagerly show the the “new” content and wish me back to the game-

I’ll be “noping” out of this one.

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Raidervc

…”you’re still living in a world wherein this game is presupposed to do no wrong.”

Thank you for saying this. I’ve had a decade and a half of memories with my brother thanks to WoW, but at the end of the day it’s a game. The development structure fifteen years out is still inefficient, and leadership seems like it’s letting things get worse instead of better.

Shadowlands lost me shortly after the covenant campaign conclusion. At this point, I’m not sure I would resub for 9.1 until weeks after where I could move through the story quickly.

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Munchmeat2

This is a sinking ship folks.

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Bannex

Hopefully we’re witnessing the beginning of a changing of the guard on the warcraft front.

This expansion is staggeringly worse than bfa and it seems like they know it. My prediction is that this is the last Ion expansion. Yes it’s wishful thinking.

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Bruno Brito

This expansion is staggeringly worse than bfa

I feel like we didn’t get there yet, but we will.

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onesBronson

You guys need to calm it down with these upset notions of waiting between expansions and content patches. The covid setback was happening in 2020, so Blizzard is steadily catching up. Aside from that, alot of things got pushed back by a few months. Blizzcon being one example, got canceled and was delayed by 3 months which ended up instead being broadcasted to everyone for free.

And to make matters worse, Blizzard had to lay off some of its staff a week or two back. Since we’re unsure what department was impacted the most, I can assume developing new content is bound to take even longer now. Just be patient and wait it out yall, Blizzard employees are working harder than ever before to bring us new content to play with.

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Nightsong

The pandemic excuse is bullshit at this point. I play FFXIV, ESO, and WoW from time to time and to keep things interesting since they all bring something different to the MMO table. And yet WoW is the only one suffering this much from content patch delays. FFXIV had to push back its entire content patch cycle by three months to account for the pandemic and the Game Director was out apologizing for the delay, why it was happening, and what was being done to mitigate any future delays. And even with the three month delay and the whole pandemic they managed to pull off a delayed Fan Festival and expansion at the end of this year. Same with ESO… while the developers haven’t been as vocal as Square Enix, they’ve still managed to wrap up the whole story arc from last years expansion, announce a new one for this year, and get a release date up that wasn’t too far off from normal.

And yet Blizzard is over here in its corner doing who knows what. They have vastly more resources and people than either Square Enix or ZeniMax Online yet they look like incompetent fools in being able to deal with pandemic delays. Why? What is so wrong at Blizzard that the delay has grown to be this long (seventh or so months since expansion launch).

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onesBronson

One can probably guess. I don’t know how game development works, especially from Blizzard’s design. If they are working on future content for the game, there better be a damn good reason for the lengthy delay. That’s what got everyone so upset. Meanwhile, other mmos have it easy. They’re communicating with their playerbase, giving periodic updates on content cycles, etc. Blizzard hasn’t always been this slow, or distant with the players when it came to announcing future content. We just don’t know why.

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Bruno Brito

Meanwhile, other mmos have it easy.

??? What?

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Nightsong

Blizzard has no excuse. Shadowlands launched in November 2020 and at the earliest, the first content patch will drop June 2021… seven months later. Why? What the fuck is Blizzard doing that is taking them that long? Working on the next expansion? Still doesn’t excuse the delay as they have multiple teams for a reason… some work on the patch content and others focus on the next expansion. Not communicating with the player base? Still doesn’t excuse the delay as that’s a choice of the company to not be more open and vocal about why the patch is taking so long.

And no… other MMO’s do not have it easy. People criticize Square Enix, ZeniMax Online, and ArenaNet all the damn time about content updates and if there is even the slightest hint of a delay or lack of feature. And even with the whole pandemic hitting them hard, they still managed to turn around and get their employees working from home so that any delay wouldn’t be a huge burden on their players. It’s why all of them are behind one to three months, not six plus months like Blizzard is.

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Bruno Brito

And to make matters worse, Blizzard had to lay off some of its staff a week or two back

They had?

They had absolutely fucking nothing but one of the most profitable years in their history and Kotick fired people. Blizzard is known right now as an extremely unstable workplace because of him.

Stop justifying this shit. Blizzard is understaffed because this absolute trash of a human being can’t stop hoarding more money than he can spend, and the company be damned.

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onesBronson

Alrighty smart alec, let’s see you keep a business running without making any cutbacks or delays on developing new content.

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Nightsong

Blizzard has more financial resources than any other MMO developer out there right now. They have no need to fire people or make cutbacks / delays on developing new content other than to cut costs on paying employees so that the higher ups (i.e., the CEO) can make more money.

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Munchmeat2

They’re one of the worst paying studios that makes huge profits. Keep shilling though, it is rather amusing.

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onesBronson

Hate all you want, they’re still chucking out content for the game regardless. Who cares if the CEO is making fat stacks, its not like other games are in it for the profit too. Oh wait…they are. All of them are. Its nothing new dude. Everyone just has high expectations from Blizzard because they made the best mmorpg in the world. Weather you like it or not, it comes down to you either keep paying your $15 sub each month, or move on to the next big game thats worth more your time. Staying here hating on it ain’t gonna bring back the old Blizzard.

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Munchmeat2

Their problems started way before Covid my friend. SL is a culmination of years of bad design decisions.

Bree Royce
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Bree Royce

You’re right about exactly one thing: Blizzard employees are working harder than ever to bring us new content to play with. But it’s because so many people have been laid off and Blizz employees are so notoriously underpaid and overworked that the rank-and-file are working like mad just to make Blizzard’s traditionally slow cadence.

Every games company got hit by COVID; Blizzard is wealthy enough to have weathered it just fine. Instead, Bobby K sucked out a cool $200M off the top in the middle of another round of layoffs. There’s literally no way we’re going to “calm it down” criticizing the impacts those types of decisions have on the employees and on the development cadence of MMOs. We’re not picking on the rank-and-file when we call out massive content droughts. The engineers and artists and producers aren’t responsible for them. The execs and managers are.

You appear to be a brand-new commenter here, so I encourage you to read up on the history of Blizzard in the last few years, as well as its working conditions and and corporate trainwrecks and content snafus, to understand the full breadth of this topic.

Alyn
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Alyn

The ever changing staff at Blizz studios have tinkered the classes into near oblivion.
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mimicx10
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mimicx10

I doubt this looks much better now … but this was visual was generated over two years ago lol . Sooo .. not pertinent to Shadowlands.

Alyn
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Alyn

I know. I would say wherever they buff there are those they nerf. The beat has gone on for years. Thank you so much for your intuitive response!

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angrakhan

I’m not waiting… I got to the point with WoW yet again where I realized I was grinding the same content over and over to get better gear to grind the same content more efficiently and asked myself “what am I doing?”. I didn’t have a good answer, so I went to make the peon cry and found out they laid that guy off too… so sad.

Anyway… done with WoW again for a few xpacs anyway.

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Jeremy Barnes

Ion’s team is also inept. They put so much time and effort into raiding they forget to make a fun game. Balance of classes should be in service of fun. If everyone is having a good time then people don’t care so much if class/spec A is doing 10% more dps than they are, but when you quadruple down on ESPORTS! ESPORTS! BLEEDING EDGE RAIDING ESPORTS! then balance has to be very finely tuned.

They’ve sacrificed everything on the altar of mythic raiding and may have finally found a way to kill WoW.

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Bruno Brito

Maybe that’s the writing on the wall that we’re not seeing: Maybe working on WoW is so goddamn dogshit that they’ve been trying to kill it for years only to be this humongous hydra that keeps coming back.

Mind blown.

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Jeremy Barnes

hah, you have to wonder