WoW Factor: What does the lack of BlizzCon mean for World of Warcraft?

    
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Get back.

So we’re not having a BlizzCon this year again. Not that one wasn’t originally planned or at least in the early stages of planning, apparently (you can’t cancel something you weren’t at least expecting to hold), but the short version is that the convention is definitely not happening this year and we’re getting at least one more BlizzConline year. This is not a great thing considering how weak the prior presentation was, but that wasn’t helped by a sudden spate of leaks, so I’m not going to harp on that all that much.

No, what I’m more curious about is what this means for the usual update and announcement cadence. Because, you know… this is traditionally the time when we’d expect to hear about the next expansion for World of Warcraft. I realize that seems kind of insane considering that we still haven’t had the first actual content patch for the current expansion, but it’s still pretty significant when there appears to be no actual plans on deck to announce where we’re going next with the game on top of that existing delay. Yet that is precisely where we are at the moment.

Now, first and foremost, I don’t want to be solely the harbinger of doom here. After all, it’s not like we haven’t been given major announcements outside of BlizzCon before (we have!), and certainly nothing is preventing Blizzard from announcing something in August or even in November so that we at least know the next expansion is coming and being worked on as expected. That’s all well and good.

However… at this point we don’t know about any of that. Indeed, at this point it’s really hard to even guess about what the update cadence is going to look like for a while because it’s quite clear that patch 9.1 just keeps getting further and further out. While I’d like to believe mid-June at this point, it feels like we’re not really into the “couple of weeks away” stage of testing just that, and that makes things get pushed further out…

The point being that we know everything has been pushed out. But that’s also a problem because, well, it’s making Shadowlands linger in the worst way. Whatever is going on behind the scenes at Blizzard does not appear to be helping with expansion development, either; while that IGN piece we’ve all been referencing doesn’t bring it up, I can’t help but feel like some of that studio tumult is showing up badly in this expansion’s overall cadence and culture.

Everyone does not hate Shadowlands. I don’t hate Shadowlands. It’s not Battle for Azeroth, after all. But that seems to be the problem, in some ways. The nicest things you can say about this expansion are things it isn’t, and there’s a definite sense of measured praise tempered with a lot of frustrations. The long tail of the release version isn’t helping matters any.

Sure, why not.

We’ve seen some hints about how slow things are going behind the scenes that I mentioned back when talking about that last Hazzikostas interview. Things seem to be… troubled, behind the scenes. Not just because of the pandemic, either. That’s definitely a contributing factor, but it’s easy to get the sense that something just is not playing out quite right and that the studio had really planned to be further along at this point than has wound up happening.

Given all of this… well, what’s happening now? What can we look forward to after WoW Classic launches its first expansion? We know that we’re going to finally get 9.1 at some point, but what happens once that drops and we’re all waiting for more news about what’s in the future?

Here’s the thing: If there isn’t a new expansion next year, we’re going to be moving into “seriously wrong” territory. Like, that’s the point when I expect corporate stuff to be coming to the forefront. We’ve had it made very clear that the overall strategy is to alternate main expansions with Classic ones, trying to create at least some sense of perpetually new stuff for the two versions of the game. But we’d be looking at a really short turnaround for the expansion to be announced and launched in 2022 both.

There’s also the nature of content. We know that this expansion will have a patch 9.2, but we don’t yet know if there will be a third patch, and the idea of a truncated overall expansion cycle keeps looking more and more likely. That’s not in and of itself a terrible thing, but it does contribute to a sense that things are not going great across the board in terms of development.

So what’s next? Well, my first instinct is to agree with what our own editor-in-chief Bree is certain will happen: that there’s going to be an announcement about the next expansion in some other format separate from BlizzCon. At the same time, neither of us can deny that it’s plausible for Blizzard to drop the ball here and offload everything until next year. And that… well, that brings forth a number of possible scenarios.

Not good ones, but numerous ones.

Backspace.

So let’s look at those possibilities a bit. The first is that we hear about the next expansion some time in September or October, which doesn’t perfectly overlap with any existing events taking place (remember, Legion got announced during GDC) but might simply be a necessity of the current world. Heck, maybe there’s even a special stream and presentation in November when a BlizzCon would normally be, but they’re saving the bulk of the information for February next year. In this scenario, a 2022 release is still plausible, although it’d definitely be in the back half.

I also think in this scenario that we can more or less write off any change of a 9.3. There’s just not enough time with Blizzard’s overall glacial schedule, made even worse by pandemic changes and the simple matter of turnaround time. That’s going to make this a short expansion in terms of content.

The second possibility is worse. Under this possibility, we hear nothing about the expansion at all this year, instead waiting until 2022 to have the thing announced at all. In this scenario, I still see a patch 9.3 as being fairly unlikely, but I also see an expansion release in 2022 as all but impossible, making it far more likely in 2023. That will mean that Shadowlands is sticking around for more than two years, which will… well, not be great! And that’s with a long content gap right at the beginning and at the end.

Which of these scenarios is more plausible? I don’t know. I’d like to believe in the former, though, because while they’re both messy at least the former is trying to clean up an existing mess rather than making a bigger one. At the same time, I can’t call the second scenario implausible, just… well, worse.

And this is kind of the big question mark hanging over the game and its release schedule at this point. I think it’s fair to say that everyone reading this column wants the game to release something that’s fun, polished, and likable. But between the real-world tumult and whatever is happening behind the scenes with Shadowlands, schedules seem to keep slipping and things keep not working out quite right.

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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Aquarion

I’m going to guess it’s somewhere midway. We’re not going to get the expansion at the usual cadence, but instead it’ll move out to about this time next year, and they’ll start doing annual releases in June alternating between Classic and Retail.

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BitterVetKorv

I always found it strange to announce the next expansion about a year prior to releasing it. Why cant they announce closer to launch, just before there is a high chance for leaks (alpha)? Yeah, they basically always did it like that until now but things can change?

If we get a special stream around Nov21 to announce the next expansion we would still only have 9.1 by then i guess. How sad is that? Better to announce spring next year after 9.2 is out and we know if there is a 9.3 patch coming or not.

10.0 could still release end of 22 then, but it would be much better if they took a step back and delayed for 1 whole year to get it really right (and do a full 9.3 patch at least). Then they have the time to get their production problems worked out and do a proper beefy expansion+reset (call it WoW2 internally ;) ).

I guess it wont happen because of money and we will get our end of 22 expansion, whatever sorry state it is in then…

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Neowolf2

I have to wonder what you all at M-OP are hearing from inside Blizzard on these and other issues. You must be getting some leakage of unofficial information.

OPUno
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OPUno

First off, let’s get something out of the way.

Holding a large, international convention like Blizzcon, when most of the US will barely be vaccinated on the second half of the year, when California is barely lifting all restrictions on June, and the rest of the world is still going to have a slow way there, and with the possibility of a surge in numbers, would be the height of irresponsability. So, regardless of anything, I wouldn’t expect any large conventions on the second half of the year when the first half of the year was still dominated by COVID.

So, regardless of anything else, Blizzcon shouldn’t be held this year.

Everything else is speculation and complaining about the drought. 9.1 is likely coming late June or early July, that’s it. About next expansion, 2023 is not this terrible outcome, not even for Blizzard, if they are looking at OW2 and Diablo 4 next year.

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Kherova

That’s a big if!

Lighthope
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Lighthope

“Never let a crisis go to waste.”

This is a good time for Blizz to save some money and lengthen the time between expansions.

Spending $10 mil every three years on an expac is a lot better than spending $10 mil every two years.

It certainly seems like a large majority of the playerbase is willing to put up with it.

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Bruno Brito

They lost almost 30% of their playerbase in the last years. Altho we have this skewed view that WoW players are willing to put up with everything, reality is not that simple. There are a LOT of decent MMOs competing with WoW, and when WoW players finally get sick and tired and go test them, they normally leave and go play said MMOs.

OPUno
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OPUno

I see it as inevitable. Besides being 15 years old, with everything that imples, WoW has always been about casting a wide net to cater to everybody, with design compromises to try to keep both sides happy. With modern competition catering to specific niches, is obvious that a part of the groups will go somewhere else that caters to their desires and their desires only.

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styopa

Generally, it means the surplus of cash sloshing around in the marketing department is no longer so surplus that they can blow $$$$ on promotional crap catering to their base.

IMO it rarely starts anywhere else but a financial look of “what value did we get above what we spent the last couple of times?” and if X is not greater than zero by any spinning/twisting/wringing rationalizations of the numbers, then management says “sorry not this year”.

WoW has, 15 years on, *clearly* reached full market penetration. The only people not playing it now are those who never wanted to, tried it and for whatever reason quit, and those who have just grown old enough to play. That last group is all that’s left, and maybe a tiny rind of post-curious second group who can be tantalized back for a bit.

Does that tiny population warrant a what, $5 million trade show? Or a $1 million virtual one?

No, apparently.

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Bannex

I’d imagine it’s going to be similar to last blizzcon. I don’t see it being any different unless somebody has insider info that they’re decreasing the WoW team.

I’d be more concerned about new titles for 2022.

My bet is that there will be a new WoW expansion announced. They’ll show more of Overwatch 2 and the new Diablos but I’d be shocked if they announce much beyond that…

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Dug From The Earth

I think with so many key “players” gone now, Blizzard has lost of lot of its “Face value” for events like this. At least until some of the newer faces make more of a familiar name for themselves.

Also, with the obvious lower costs of doing it online, its not surprising that they are doing it again this year.

Toss in the bad press many of their games have been getting this year due to bad release schedules, design decisions, and just all out corporate gr$$d, having an event where uncontrolled players could make a scene (like in past blizzcons) probably wasnt a risk they wanted to take.