WoW Factor: So when will we get the next World of Warcraft expansion announcement?

    
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Get back.

Under normal circumstances for World of Warcraft, this would be a very stupid topic for an article because it would have a very obvious answer and thus would make a column about two dozen words long at the most. When do we get our next expansion announcement? During BlizzCon because this is an expansion announcement year, so of course that’s when it’s going to happen. Discussion over, drop it. Have a nice afternoon, everyone. Did you bother to see that new James Bond film? Like, who cares, right?

But these are not normal circumstances.

They are not normal circumstances for reasons entirely unrelated to the ongoing scandal that Blizzard is dealing with; instead, it’s down to the incredibly long turnaround time for patches that we’ve gotten throughout Shadowlands coupled with a total communication blackout. Those circumstances are only exacerbated by the ongoing scandal. But I think that there are three plausible windows for when we’ll learn about the game’s next expansion, and I think each one has different implications for the title’s future and the current expansion… so let’s talk about them.

Ominous!November 2021 (the “very soon” option)

You all remember that survey Blizzard sent out that we all had a good laugh over when it happened, right? Because you also remember that the rival MMO expansion that survey was asking about specifically is launching in November, right? I know, I know, we were all busy giggling over it at the time, but this is an actual real thing with real repercussions, so we need to stop dissolving into a fit of giggles about it. That actually happened.

And, you know, it might provide some interesting insight into Blizzard’s overall strategy, which feels pretty relevant right about now!

Keep in mind that when I say “announcement,” I don’t mean that I expect Blizzard to actually share much about an expansion devoid of a full three-ring circus; I wouldn’t even be surprised if such an announcement were just a trailer and a promise to share more Soon™. But absent a major content patch to release right around the time of the expansion launch (and that is not 9.1.5), releasing the name and even the slightest details about the next expansion would be the best sort of counter-programming that Blizzard could muster against a competitor at the moment.

Such an announcement would almost certainly feel a bit rushed, and it would pretty well confirm that Shadowlands had been trimmed down to just two major content patches. Then again, that’s what most people are expecting at this point anyhow. It would also make a release in 2022 feel more likely, which would keep the overall cadence of expansions largely consistent and avoid having Shadowlands outlast its welcome any longer than it needs to.

Of course, the flip side to all of this is that assuming this is happening also means assuming that Blizzard has its act together and has really been planning this. So I don’t blame you if this sounds highly unlikely at this time. Remember, these are theories, not predictions.

Bored now.

February 2022 (the “next BlizzCon” option)

Sometimes when you have already shot yourself in the foot, the best way to stanch the bleeding is to stop trying to walk. Actually, I think that’s any time you’ve shot yourself in the foot. This analogy got away from me, but the point is that there’s a strong case to be made that maybe the best way for Blizzard to stop with the self-inflicted wounds is to not worry about counter-programming or really doing anything beyond just getting back to the making a good game part of their business model. That was the business model at one point, right?

And hey, we already know this event is taking place next year. So rather than try to gussy things up, maybe the best option and the one management will go with is to just take a mulligan on any kind of announcement this year. It’s not like announcing the expansion would fix the current expansion’s problems, after all, and there’s a general sense among players that making the game actually fun is more important than anything. So why not hunker down and prepare for a truly star-spangled reveal when the next BlizzCon actually rolls around?

Sure, the downside to this will mean that it’s also less likely that the expansion will actually be out in 2022, which is going to have some pretty notable ripple effects on the game as a whole (that every-other-year cadence has an impact on the bottom line, don’t you know) but some of that can be offloaded to the ongoing pandemic and, well, the giant scandal that kind of disrupted everything for a remarkably long time. And hey, is that such a bad thing? Will people really riot about an early 2023 release if the expansion is actually good? Probably not.

Of course, that also presupposes two things. The first is that the amount of work disruption going on is still aiming toward 2022 even if that target is wildly optimistic, and the second is that the next expansion will actually be good. It’s possible that stuff got thrown out and redesigned following recent events, after all…

Chill.

Fall 2022 (the “oh no everything is on fire, let me try to put it out, oh no now I am on fire” option)

It’s pretty clear that a combination of factors have disrupted operations at Blizzard substantially. While we don’t know it for a fact, I think it’s entirely plausible that the sheer degree of disruption is severe enough that any hopes of an expansion in 2022 have effectively been dashed at this point. Blizzard is no longer in “retain players” mode but “figure out some way, any way to address the problems that have put us in a tailspin,” and that means basically abandoning the game’s cadence to tear down and go back to basics, so to speak.

Announcing the next expansion a year from now means that it won’t be out until 2023 at the earliest and ensures that Shadowlands will be with us for quite some time, which is no doubt going to lead to more short-term retention problems. But you can see the logic if the developers are pretty certain that a wholesale rebuild of major process elements and design goals will fix the problem that WoW currently has. (Whether or not this is a correct assumption depends entirely on what the conclusions are from that initial premise.)

Basically, this is the absolute desperation possibility. Things didn’t just get delayed; they got obliterated on the back end, and now the team is struggling how to remake the game with only slightly more time and not enough to really reboot the whole thing. It would mean a massive disruption to long-term operation and it would be a risky gamble at best, leaving open the very real possibility that more subscription losses occur while hoping that a revitalized experience brings some of them back eventually.

I don’t think this is the option that would ever be chosen as part of a deliberate strategy. But I can see it being the option that’s chosen because in the midst of wide-scale disruption and upheaval, it’s the only option that has a shot at working instead of just pushing out a next expansion and kicking the problem further down the line.

So which of these is accurate? We’ll find out in a month or a few months or a year, won’t we?

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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Tamanous

Repeating the cycle of making all previous content irreverent. Blizzard doing Blizzard.

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hellodeliciousfriend

I kind of expect that the next expansion will do what I expected to happen with Shadowlands and reveal that oh no, the player has been trapped in a madness vision from an old god since the end of Legion. It’s the coward’s way out, but sometimes that’s the only way to salvage a narrative.

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Khrome

My bet will be that they will announce a new expansion within a few days to a week before the Endwalker launch, with a 30 second ‘trailer’ which will give almost no details about any of the expansion features beyond a checklist of marketing buzzwords and concept art.

Blizzard is not a company which learns from its mistakes, as has been proven over and over by now.

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kothoses

I think they will try to do exactly what they did going from BFA to Legion, and it appears to be the case, minimal content patches, live teams moved over to work on the next expansion etc.

The only different is they already used up all of their “Break here in case of emergency” buttons, Giving people demon hunters etc.

Only thing they can do is bring back Arthas really.

Now would be the time I would be looking at doing wow 2 if I was them, more than anything else they could do this would make them the top news story for the next year.

But they have neither the ambition nor the creative freedom to do that (I am not gonna say they dont have the talent, as that would imply all the people that left over the last few years were the talent, and well, do we really want to make that correlation?) I also honestly believe they do have talented people working there, just not in key Leadership positions, they have promoted a few too many people one step above where they should be and the current model of the game has outstayed its welcome too.

The whole end game needs a redo, rather than funneling people into ONE raid and leaving the rest of the player base to stagnate they need to take a leaf out of FFXIV, SWTOR, and numerous other games that find a way to keep old content relevant without it being mandatory compared to the new.

I would also add proper customisable housing, not garrison bullshit but housing, that is proven to be a huge boon to retention, (Read every other game that has put housing in) hell, theres some niche mmos that survive ENTIRELY on the revenue/retention from their housing systems.

Wow has a long way to get back to being the big dog it once was, like a boxer who has stayed for too many fights its game has been overtaken by the new shinies, it can recover, but not with its current esports obsessed gen Fortnight and streamer focused model. It needs to get back to what made it good, quality content that brought people together and kept them going.

The current model just burns people out either in stagnation or competition.

As much as An announcement next month would fit with the blizzard of old, I think they know they have lost this round to FFXIV, I expect an announcement either early next year with a launch late or an announcement late next year and a launch early 2023, either way they wont go head to head with an FFXIV expansion, and this more than anything, shows me the landscape has changed In the mean time they will limp along with small content patches for retail and WOTLK classic servers (which will launch about 6 months before the next expansion which will feature the return of Arthas as a major protagonist or antagonist)

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PSDuckie

My pessimistic guess? Never, as Shadowlands will be the last WoW expansion.

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Vincent Clark

I humbly disagree. My own pessimistic guess (for entirely different reasons), is that only a small percentage of players really care about the recent scandal going on with Activision. Sure, they are a vocal minority, but at the end of the day thousands, if not millions of people are still playing WoW and will continue to do so.

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Munchmeat2

I think WoW has lost a ton of players for good and not because of the scandal either. I just think people are getting tired of the M+/Raid treadmill that the developers basically forced on everyone.

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Khrome

There has been a significant surge of new players in GW2, ESO, BDO and most importantly FF14 over the past few months. New World is going much better than expected. Blizzard MAU’s have been dropping quarter after quarter for years now, with the only (slight) upticks being the classic and expansion launches, but there’s a clear downtrend which does not seem to be stopping with Shadowlands – It has only gotten faster (even the TBC launch seems to have flopped according to the 2021 Q2 numbers).

It’s not just the scandal about employee treatment: It’s a game which is becoming increasingly hostile to its players, with less and less relevant content being playable at any given time and story beats which are so egregiously bad that even people who don’t care about the story are complaining about it.

While Shadowlands is most definitely not the last expansion, unless Blizzard turns the ship around in a major way, the bleeding will continue as other games, frankly, care more about their players – and the game itself – than Blizzard shows any signs of ever doing.

Jokerchyld
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Jokerchyld

I can’t predict this, but Blizzard as we know it is over. They cannot recover from the shitshow they are in without a complete rebrand.

The people in power are accused of abusing power. The developers of the game made something no one wants to play. So who exactly are you trusting to make something we haven’t seen before?

Dani Reasor
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Dani Reasor

Only bet I’d feel safe making is that there will be some sweet mounts offered as exclusives for people who lock themselves in with a one year subscription commitment.

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Knecht_Rootrecht

Don’t forget option 4:

Our Activision overlord decided that WoW development costs as much as still generates in revenue. Therefore further development has to be scaled back and from this point there will be only mini-expansions which are part of every subscription.

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Khrome

In AB executive’s minds this reads like you’re suggesting they give content away ‘for free’. It’s more likely they’re going to charge $40 for every patch (even the x.x.5’s) going forward to milk the whales.

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Danny Smith

I think at this point Shadowlands is such a disaster all they can do is go “b-but launch sales were good!” and as fast as possible shit out a 9.2 to wrap up the latest chapter in Stevens Sylvanus Saga and then as quick as possible ramp up marketing for their next “b-baby i can change, its going to be like the good old days again!* i promise just give me another chance” and “bros…home…” transparent viral marketing online.

Question of course is can the current team, not exactly known for timely releases or well made content, even do that? they need something positive for shareholders who are their ruling masters at this point and patches for an unsalvageable expansion thats critically panned isn’t going to make them more money when they are milking cash shop whales constantly anyway and not selling more copies of shadowlands.

So will they try and get one out fast? yeah no doubt. Can they? eehhhh

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Ashfyn Ninegold

My prediction is that gamers who drop kicked Blizzard games out of their inventories because they are the bottom dwellers of employers are not going to be enticed back with new shinies.