Right now, it feels like World of Warcraft is kind of a mess. This is not exactly a surprise. It’s also not exactly helped by the fact that patch 9.1.5 in testing seems to be a bit all over the map in terms of systems. It’s adding in everything that players have been asking for, and it’s also removing or changing a lot of things that Blizzard now feels are rather culturally insensitive, and on top of that it’s not a patch with any actual new content intended for it, which makes the amount of added investment seem kind of messy.
This is compounded by the fact that at this point there’s no clear indication of where the game is going in a larger sense. Patch 9.1 took forever to come out, and that means this year we’re going to be looking at a truly remarkable dearth of content for the game, especially when you consider that this isn’t an expansion launch year. So what exactly is going on? Why does the game feel so disjointed? And perhaps more importantly, what can we expect?
I’ve seen speculation that the reason why things seem so disjointed is ultimately a rather predictable problem of WoW not having a solid set of plans for what to do when a crisis hits. This strikes me as not entirely wrong (I’ve talked before about how it’s not altogether clear if there’s really a higher-level plan going on right now), but it’s also missing a rather important detail.
See, WoW is not dealing with one unexpected crisis. It’s dealing with three.
The first is that darn recurring global pandemic that just keeps not going away, in no small part because certain someones just keep acting like getting vaccinated is somehow a personal choice that doesn’t impact everyone and… well, you know this by now. Point being that it’s very clear that this has substantially disrupted operations for Blizzard and every other gaming studio, and we all know it. There’s no real debate to be had on that point.
Second? Well, that would be the slow-motion implosion of the company’s autonomy and culture at the hands of being a garbage fire run by trash people and a mixture of harassers or harassment cheerleaders. Obviously there’s a certain amount we’re not privy to simply by virtue of not being in the company, but I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that there’s more turmoil going on right now than what we’re seeing from this side of the screen.
And third is something that I think we’re all aware of but haven’t necessarily been factoring in: It seems pretty obvious to me that there was never a plan for what happened if Shadowlands wasn’t well-received. It’s like Blizzard itself had collectively decided the every-other-expansion rule was a law of nature and made no plans for what might happen if people weren’t happy with an expansion that turned out to just triple-down on the parts of Battle for Azeroth people didn’t like.
Any one of those problems (which are not sequentially ordered, obviously) would be a big deal. WoW is dealing with all three.
This is part of why I think the upcoming patch feels a bit like it’s all over the map. It’s adding more customization options and removing pain points from the current expansion! Wait, it’s also removing things that are now kind of uncomfortable given the company’s current image! Wait, no, it’s also a sign that we’re still working on things! It’s a gigantic grab-bag of things saying “please keep playing and liking us,” and it smacks of a certain lack of confidence in what the game currently is and what it has on offer.
This is not an indefensible thing to lack confidence in, mind you. It’s just that saying “we don’t have a plan and just want our players back” isn’t a good look at the best of times, and this is not the best of times.
So where is the plan? I suspect that it’s being put together right now, but therein lies part of the problem. One of these problems is one that really should have been addressed months ago, one is kind of something that has to be adjusted for on the fly, and one of them should never have been the problem. Trying to assemble a plan while you’re in the middle of all these problems is a bit like trying to do your makeup while driving. It can happen, but you’re not going to be doing your best work on either front.
At this point, I feel pretty confident that between delays, obvious setbacks, and the like, there’s basically no chance of a 9.3 patch happening. Indeed, I still think that the plan, however optimistic, is to get the next expansion ready to be pushed out the door at some point in 2022. Whether or not we ever get told that is another story; I think that’s currently the plan, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the reality is that it gets bumped to 2023, thus making Shadowlands the longest expansion in the game’s history. Unfortunately.
But I think just as there’s an effort to put a plan together midstream, there’s an effort to not share that plan right now while the developers are trying on all fronts to rehabilitate their image. And that’s a major problem because the people who care about the developer’s image aren’t going to care about something as ultimately inconsequential as removing a couple of bad emotes. I touched on this in my last column. Even if I agree with the sentiment, the timing renders it all pretty pointless.
So what we’ve got is a company trying to convince people who care that it really has changed its ways without actually, you know, changing its ways. And it seems as if any real plan is being held back until people are more favorable in their view of Blizzard, which isn’t going to happen without actual changes that are plainly being avoided.
Having said all of that, I do think that we’re definitely due to see some pretty significant motion in the not-too-distant future, probably before the next actual convention. I see this level of silence as being not as indicative of a lack of a plan as realizing the current plan is not working and trying to throw a lot of things out while a new plan is being worked out. The plan is currently in shambles, and that means the people in charge need a new one. Whether or not they’re able to come up with one in a timely fashion is another discussion.
Put it another way, I’m pretty sure at this point that everyone is aware that Shadowlands has been a mess and just isn’t going to be getting fixed. How much can actually be done to mitigate that is an open discussion, and that discussion is probably being held now and is a big part of why we don’t have more information. It’s frustrating to watch, but we can at least hope that the results will make the game somewhat better to play… while also hoping that the results involve some real consequences coming to people who deserve it.