Massively Overthinking: What do you think about MMO expansion prepatches?

    
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Prepatches for expansions have been a major event for World of Warcraft players to contend with for a very long time, but it’s far from the only MMO that sees them. For this week’s Massively Overthinking, I want to ask a very simple question: Do you even like them?

OK, maybe it’s not that simple. See, major prepatches do have a lot going for them. They ease players into huge changes and help them spread out organically. They allow developers to add new content in chunks for one final test in a live environment. When they involve revisions to things like classes, they let players try out the revamps before the real launch day. And they create a sense of urgency and FOMO as players rush to finish their chores before the gates open.

On the other hand, I’ve always felt that prepatches take away a lot of the hype and glitter of a big day-one release. You tell me: What do you think about MMO expansion prepatches? Which ones work and which ones don’t? Are they a net positive?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): I love them. It brings people back and lets them catch up so they’re more on par not only gear-wise but skill-wise. I know I often get rusty after a long break. It’s also a good time for guild recruitment and for me as a player to see whether I have enough connections going forward to get the content I care about done or I need to start making new e-friends. I really can’t think of any that don’t work, but to extend things, I think pre-event events, like the recent Splatoon 3 Splatfest, work in a similar fashion and work in almost all cases except when not-having an event is an event in itself, like in a lot of mobile titles, which don’t exactly have expansions but large updates.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Maybe this isn’t exactly the same thing, but I always enjoyed The Elder Scrolls Online’s prequel quest lines. They’re like a little teaser trailer for the upcoming content drop, yet are designed in a way so that if you miss them, it doesn’t affect your overall story experience when the actual content drops.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I don’t really like the way WoW does them, for the reasons I said: I can absolutely see them bleed the hype away from the real launch. However, I don’t think the concept is unworkable. Elder Scrolls Online’s prequel quest patches seem like a better way to go (the EverQuest franchise does this too, as I recall). That content is designed as a smart appetizer rather than as something that just feels like a technical test for the launch.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I can’t say I’ve ever really lived through an MMO pre-patch, so I’m working purely from an anecdotal perspective here. That said, I kind of feel like they’re a bit of wasted effort.

Granted, breaking up patch content is a great way to stop players from chowing down on everything immediately, but you also don’t really need pre-patches to do that as it is. Also, if an anticipated patch is on the way, I do my chores just fine on my own, no help necessary.

I would maybe put an asterisk on this opinion by saying adding little mini-events that lead into a patch a la the stuff that has unfolded in Fortnite would be cool, but that’s not really the same thing, is it?

Maybe I would feel differently if I were in a game with pre-patch things happening, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s bare little reason for them.

Colin Henry (@ChaosConstant): For me, I think it depends on the game and what’s in the prepatch/expansion. I hate feeling torn on day one of an expansion between exploring a shiny new zone and story or leveling a shiny new class. I think it’s great that WoW Classic gave players their Death Knights early so they don’t have to make that choice.

On the other hand, when ESO added Necromancers, for instance, there was no reason to add them in a prepatch. Because the game scales, you didn’t have to choose between playing your shiny new Necromancer in the shiny new Elsweyr zones, you could just… do both.

But if it’s an expansion that’s purely about new zone content with no new class or race anything like that associated with it? Yeah, that’s just busywork to keep you occupied until the real launch.

As for hype, I don’t really feel that it takes anything away on aggregate. Maybe it takes something away from the actual day one of the expansion proper, but that’s because it’s like having two smaller expansion releases back-to-back, with the hype spread out instead of all on day one. Personally, I would rather have a slow burn than something that plays all of its tricks at once.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): Most of my experience with prepatch events has been in WoW because that’s just the game I’ve played the longest where they tend to be an actual thing. And the thing is, if you’d asked me a couple years ago, I would have actually been pretty firmly in favor of prepatch events; I’ve always felt like they carry a lot of energy, get people excited again, and provide a sense of how the world is changing and things are getting amped up for the next major challenge. It’s always kind of bugged me just a little that Final Fantasy XIV never does them and just goes into the next expansion without any sort of event specifically tied to the lore of our next destination…

Except slowly, watching the prepatch events become less and less engaging, I’ve kind of changed my thinking. Often time prepatch events win up being celebrating the end of content in an environment that hasn’t seen an actual update or new content in months on end, and they lack much in terms of meat, just a whole lot of doing the same thing over and over. Moreover, they often create a narrative tie, but one that is lacking through any other means; instead of having a story that clearly lays out that we’re going to the Dragon Isles, we’re just told “we’re going here now” with a prepatch that then vanishes. So I still think they’re interesting and potentially fun, but I kind of feel like they’re a bit superfluous and could be excised with better planning behind the scenes with very little lost.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I see their use and value, but “like?” No, Sam, I do not like pre-patches with green eggs and ham. They feel a little too much like showboating to keep a game in the spotlight rather than an absolute necessity, and having half of your big changes and content dumping out ahead of time does make the actual launch day feel a bit less special.

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): I really like how EverQuest II and The Elder Scrolls Online do prepatches. In EQII, it is a world event tied into what is coming next, so folks are getting a taste of the story while collecting some treasures. ESO is very similar with a prologue quest that introduces the story of what’s to come.

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I think I’m on team Prepatches Are Lame. I can see a lot of the upside, but I much prefer the hype and excitement that comes with the big day. I feel the same about test servers too.

Obviously test servers are intended to serve a greater purpose. They’re suppose to be where new stuff gets.. tested. But in some games that’s where a lot of players go to experience the new features first too. Sometimes it totally kills the hype.

As a stopgap measure to keep a content cadence, I don’t much like it either. If that’s the intended case, then just let it be a small update on its own. If it has enough stuff to be leading into the next big thing, then let it stand on its own as the balance update or the dungeon update or whatever. Let it not be the prepatch. Instead, let it be the patch before the patch.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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