When I saw that there was an event happening on Thursday for World of Warcraft’s next patch, I had to do a double-take. I was sure that the most recent patch had been on Tuesday, but… that was insane. That would mean that the developers chilled two whole days before saying “forget about that patch, it’s old news, start looking forward to the new patch.” That’s nuts. Clearly, I am the problem and I’m misremembering something, I’ve had other things on my mind. So I shook my head, looked at my actual calendar, and confirmed…
Nope! I was remembering things correctly. The new patch had about a day to sit before the developers started to hype up the next patch. Fury of the Incarnate landed Tuesday afternoon, and Guardians of the Dream began hyping Wednesday night for the full reveal on Thursday.
On the one hand, sure, the cadence of patches has been energetic. I’m not here to criticize that, and looking at the abstract between this degree of communication and too little communication, I’d agree that yes, this is better. But as always, trying to swing wildly in the other direction is not the same as fixing the problem, and this situation still isn’t great.
First and foremost, I think it’s important to point out that the problem here is not exactly with the release cadence of the content. Until relatively recently, the game had a multi-year reputation for significant content droughts, and this content cadence works hard to alleviate that. There are issues with how WoW sees its release cadence and its overall pipeline, but that’s another column altogether.
The issue here is entirely one of hype build and release because we’ve completely shifted from “a patch gets dropped onto the PTR with little fanfare, lingers there for what feels like forever, then gets released to big fanfare before echoing silence” to “every single patch, however minor, gets talked about as the best thing since sliced bread right up until it launches.”
Once it does launch, of course, the next thing is up on the PTR. For people who do not primarily want to play on the test server, this creates an odd feeling: You feel as if you’re behind the day the patch releases. That’s not a great feeling. But the worse problem is that perpetual hype is just not sustainable.
Hyping people up for the next round of content is good. But so is shutting up and letting the existing content breathe. A lot of MMOs are transparent enough about their development pipeline so players know that when a new expansion comes out, there are already plans for the next expansion. But developers don’t generally tell you that. (And if they do, they don’t say much – and they certainly don’t immediately plop it on a public test server and beg people to come try it.)
Not because there’s nothing concrete, necessarily, but because it makes the present feel bad. Intentionally or not, it’s just kind of unpleasant. If you’re always looking forward to the next thing, you never get a moment to breathe and enjoy the current thing.
I get where this is coming from. A persistent complaint for ages was that we, as players, just didn’t get much in the way of communication about what was happening next and why. The problem is that as I’ve said many times before, Blizzard does not understand “fixing a problem.” If there are two solutions that would both fix something, Blizzard does both. If there’s one solution, Blizzard goes into it double.
Too many dailies? Welcome to the expansion with none. Too many gear drops? Now you get none. Artifact power was fun? Have all artifact power, all the time! It’s that same amateur cook mentality where someone likes a dash of a seasoning you added so your next dish is seasoned with it too heavily and it tastes like garbage, and hopefully you learn your lesson or you just don’t get asked to cook any longer.
Which might have been your goal in the first place, actually.
Of course, this is also solving the problem that wasn’t actually the problem. “Lack of communication” is indeed not a great thing, but the problem there is not really a lack of breathless teaser trailers telling you how cool the next patch is going to be. It’s about talking with the community, hearing what actual feedback is coming from people other than the one player demographic your designers care to serve, and acting upon it. That part hasn’t changed. An endless hype cycle where I always know what’s in the next patch doesn’t change the fact that every positive element of Dragonflight is just sort of all right instead of compelling.
So now instead of feeling like the developers aren’t communicating enough about the game’s future, players get the impression the studio is just talking past the feedback and endlessly trying to hype up the new thing because that’ll get you excited. And it’s really weird because as long as the developers are keeping to a reliable cadence, you don’t need hype in terms of “look at the cool stuff we have coming.” Keeping on a fixed schedule is the hype. You don’t need to reassure me that you have something coming next! That’s the whole point of a reliable schedule: that I already believe and know something is coming next. Hype should be about why what’s coming next fixes actual problems!
It’s also made the ongoing “This Week in WoW” feature just pointless because that cannot wait to tell you about what’s happening in several weeks – which is, among other things, definitionally not this week. Words mean things.
As I’ve alluded to before, Blizzard’s big ongoing issue is not about its messaging but about the message it’s actually conveying. There are better and worse ways to announce the patches that are coming up next, and this approach is not a bad one aside from being too quick, but it feels like someone continually trying to fix the problems that aren’t actually being cited with Dragonflight.
It’s even more of a complicated problem than Shadowlands had. People don’t hate Dragonflight. People just don’t care, and outside of the dedicated going-to-play-this-game-no-matter-what crowd, no one is enthusiastic or even terribly hopeful about the next update addressing anything.
But fixing that problem involves some structural questions about whom the game is for, who is supposed to matter, and how the game is supposed to be designed. And I’m not saying anything new. The raiding community is tiny and not growing, especially the progression community, and it’s a huge amount of resources poured into this one bucket while the designers cannot seem to quit saying that anyone not drinking from this bucket doesn’t deserve anything but the barest scraps of content.
Ultimately, this is the problem with a big nonstop hype cycle for the next patch constantly evaporating whatever is currently happening. Not only does it do zilch to address the actual problems with players realizing that not fitting a very narrow playstyle means they don’t really “count” as far as the game’s concerned, but it further compounds the feeling that loyal and active players are nevertheless perpetually behind. And for a game that already leaves paying customers feeling blocked from content – down to the designers saying, “Well, we have to lock people who don’t like raiding out of content and story” – it’s really not helping matters to make every new addition to the game feel outdated as soon as it arrives.
And I’m going to be honest, it does not make me hopeful for the announcements that we’re going to get in November. Because if this is what the studio thinks is exciting, I have… concerns.