Aw yeah, who likes math? I like math. I really like math, and you all know it, and you have to consistently sit there and read as I math things out with World of Warcraft expansion release data. This stuff is useful to keep track of! And since we literally just got a release date for Dragonflight yesterday, that means it’s time to update all of those lovely data from a few months ago when we were still speculating about “sometime before the end of the year.”
The thing about these columns is that they also serve as record-keeping for me.
Obviously, there’s still the possibility for delays to happen, as they literally did happen ahead of Shadowlands; however, I still find this to be a useful vibe check even if these data later needs to be appended with an asterisk or two. While a delay is possible, it’s clear from this date that Blizzard thinks the expansion is ready for prime time, or it will be ready within the intervening time period.
So what does all of this do for our existing data? I’m glad you asked!
Announcement to release
This has long been my favorite bit of data to use for predictive purposes, because it has historically been some of the most reliable and predictable in terms of cadence. Of course, that also led to me pointing out that based on plans to release this year, it was going to have Dragonflight be an outlier no matter what. And sure enough…
The Burning Crusade: Announced 10/28/05, Released 1/16/07 (13 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Announced 8/3/07, Released 11/13/08 (14 months)
Cataclysm: Announced 8/21/09, Released 12/7/10 (13 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Announced 10/21/11, Released 9/25/12 (11 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Announced 11/8/13, Released 11/13/14 (12 months)
Legion: Announced 8/6/15, Released 8/30/16 (12 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Announced 11/3/17, Released 8/14/18 (10 months)
Shadowlands: Announced 11/1/19, Released 11/23/20 (12 months)
Dragonflight: Announced 4/19/22, Releasing 11/28/22 (7 months)
Now, here’s some interesting speculation that will forever remain speculation: If Dragonflight had been announced on a usual BlizzCon schedule, that would put us at 12 months between announcement and release. That’s well within the existing timeframe, and if it had been announced during the predicted online event that was probably originally going to happen in February, that’d be 9 months. Still the fastest on record, but by a smaller margin. As it stands, I can’t conclusively prove anything here, but this does point to the idea that the Dragonflight announcement was delayed from the original plans.
Based on early predictions, it seemed quite possible that Shadowlands was going to be the longest-lasting expansion on record. That is, thankfully not going to be the case. (The longest on record is still Battle for Azeroth, so it’s not like the title goes to a good expansion, but hey.)
Vanilla: Started 11/7/04, Ended 1/15/07 (26 months)
The Burning Crusade: Started 1/16/07, Ended 11/12/08 (22 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Started 11/13/08, Ended 12/6/10 (25 months)
Cataclysm: Started 12/7/10, Ended 9/24/12 (21 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Started 9/25/12, Ended 11/12/14 (25 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Started 11/15/14, Ended 8/29/16 (21 months)
Legion: Started 8/30/16, Ended 8/13/18 (24 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Started 8/14/18, Ended 11/22/20 (27 months)
Shadowlands: Started 11/23/20, Ending 11/28/22 (24 months)
That honestly looks pretty normal in terms of length; it’s enough to make one wonder what got cut to make Shadowlands a two-patch expansion, when that decision was made, and when resources were re-allocated. Again, I’m just guessing here, but I have a feeling that decision was made pretty early even before a lot of heavy critique had crystalized. So was Shadowlands always a stopgap? Hard to say without more knowledge…
I should note here that I’m using “beta” kind of interchangeably with “alpha” here; I generally hate conflating the terms, but given the way Blizzard runs these things, I think they are kind of interchangeable here. Both are highly public and highly publicized, definitely meant to be as much of a hype engine as they are an actual testing period. So let’s look at how long we have here…
Vanilla: Beta March 2004, Launched November 2004 (8 months)
The Burning Crusade: Beta October 2006, Launched January 2007 (3 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Beta July 2008, Launched November 2008 (4 months)
Cataclysm: Beta June 2010, Launched December 2010 (6 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Beta March 2012, Launched September 2012 (6 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Beta June 2014, Launched November 2014 (5 months)
Legion: Beta May 2016, Launched August 2016 (4 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Beta April/May 2018, Launched August 2018 (5-4 months)
Shadowlands: Beta April 2020, Launched November 2020 (8 months)
Dragonflight: Beta July 2022, Launching November 2022 (5 months)
For all my talk about speedrunning to Dragonflight, this is not actually an unusual beta period. It’s on the shorter side, but not the shortest by far, and it’s mostly made shorter by being preceded by Shadowlands having an unusually long beta period. Even before it got delayed.
Part of that makes me wonder again if Shadowlands was something of a stopgap, like it was an effort to find something that worked well enough for the period of time spent working on other things. That would track… but I’m also reluctant to dive too heavily into any theory wherein I am backfilling a narrative based on demonstrated present information.
And of course…
The Burning Crusade: Announced October 2005, Beta October 2006 (12 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Announced August 2007, Beta July 2008 (11 months)
Cataclysm: Announced August 2009, Beta June 2010 (10 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Announced October 2011, Beta March 2012 (6 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Announced November 2013, Beta June 2014 (8 months)
Legion: Announced August 2015, Beta May 2016 (10 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Announced November 2017, Beta April/May 2018 (6-7 months)
Shadowlands: Announced November 2019, Beta April 2020 (6 months)
Dragonflight: Announced April 2022, Beta July 2022 (2 months)
Again, this looks very different if we assume Dragonflight was planned for announcement much earlier, which is… not entirely implausible. It’s an outlier just the same.
Last patch/last raid to expansion
I mention every single time how much I hate this metric. I still hate it. There’s little solid pattern to be found here and the whole thing reads more like a wishlist than anything, especially since the gaps that we have between content and expansions is an ongoing problem that Blizzard has not been great about fixing. However, as this is a point people use for prognostication, it’s important to keep track of just the same.
The Burning Crusade: Last patch 8/22/06, Released 1/16/07 (5 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Last patch 3/25/08, Released 11/13/08 (8 months)
Cataclysm: Last patch 12/8/09, Released 12/7/10 (12 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Last patch 11/29/11, Released 9/25/12 (10 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Last patch 9/10/13, Released 11/13/14 (14 months)
Legion: Last patch 6/23/15, Released 8/30/16 (14 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Last patch 8/29/17, Released 8/14/18 (12 months)
Shadowlands: Last patch 1/14/20, Released 11/23/20 (10 months)
Dragonflight: Last patch 5/31/22, Releasing 11/28/22 (6 months)
You know, if Shadowlands hadn’t had so many gaps in the middle of the expansion in terms of releases, this would actually look like a major improvement! Sure, it’d still be two major patches in 24 months of operation and I am generously counting 9.2.5 as the last patch so it’s not a nine-month gap, but… hey.
The Burning Crusade: Last raid 6/20/06, Released 1/16/07 (7 months)
Wrath of the Lich King: Last raid 3/25/08, Released 11/13/08 (8 months)
Cataclysm: Last raid 12/8/09, Released 12/7/10 (12 months)
Mists of Pandaria: Last raid 11/29/11, Released 9/25/12 (10 months)
Warlords of Draenor: Last raid 9/10/13, Released 11/13/14 (14 months)
Legion: Last raid 6/23/15, Released 8/30/16 (14 months)
Battle for Azeroth: Last raid 11/28/17, Released 8/14/18 (9 months)
Shadowlands: Last raid 1/14/20, Released 11/23/20 (10 months)
Dragonflight: Last raid 2/22/22, Releasing 11/28/22 (10 months)
The nicest thing I can say about these data is that they’re closer to assembling an actual picture, since past the first two expansions it’s generally been around a year from the last raid to expansion launch. This is, however, not really a great place to be occupying just the same.
So what do all these data mean, beyond my remarks along the way? Well, that’s for another more analysis-filled time. Right now we’re just compiling and updating data sets, don’t you know.