WoW Factor: Guessing at World of Warcraft’s The War Within’s release date using math


Oh yeah. It’s time. I actually have some thoughts to share about World of Warcraft’s current Remix leveling event, which are complicated and multilayered and blend both the positive and the negative, but honestly I just don’t feel like diving into all of that right now, especially not when it has been a really long time since we have done a math column. Like, I specifically didn’t do one ahead of the beta start (alpha, yes, let’s not quibble), but I’d been holding this in reserve because I knew I was going to want to do it eventually. I do it for every expansion! I love me some math!

This has been a “fun” year for those of us who love data and WoW, what with the Mystery Line, so I’m happy to restore some measure of dignity to the fine art of figuring out how numbers line up (or fail to line up) by diving deep into all the details of this particular stretch of information. Let’s get elbow-deep into some mathematics and figure out how long it’s going to be until the expansion releases using our good friend mathematical averages. What? That is fun for me.

God, I hate hanging out with you. You smell like vending machine chips and sadness. It's the worst. Standing here with you makes me actively sick to my stomach.

Announcement to release

First of all, I just have to say that the past couple of years have just been terrible in terms of using literally any predictive metric. This used to be my favorite metric, but the last expansion completely torched its reliability; going purely by this one was very, very wrong, and we got an outlier. But enough kvetching. What do the data look like?

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, Released 11/28/22 (7 months)
The War Within: Announced 11/3/23, Releasing ??

Based on past expansion, we’re still at a point of having 11-12 months between an announcement and a release – on average. That would put the release in October or November, but we also know this time that Blizzard is targeting something earlier; the last roadmap on the game projected sometime in late summer to early autumn. I’d say that serves as indicative that the team is planning on September, which would be 10 months or so. Not wildly outside of the average, but definitely on the fast side without being a huge outlier.

It appears to be... a rock.

Expansion lifespan

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, Ended 11/28/22 (24 months)
Dragonflight: Started 11/28/22, Ending ??

So if September is accurate, Dragonflight would be in a club with some really short expansions at just 22 months. The average is more like 24 months… which would, again, place the most likely release window in October or November. That makes this really tricky. It definitely seems as if there’s some tension here between what Blizzard has historically proven itself capable of releasing on-schedule and what the designers want to release.

If it's all the same to you, I'll have that drink now.

Beta timescale

Thus far, the data do not really support the roadmap, which could mean development going faster than normal, or it could mean some kids are going to be really sad come Christmas morning. (Well… September. It’s a turn of phrase.) Do we have any sort of data that support a September timeframe? Eh… kinda.

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, Launched November 2022 (5 months)
The War Within: Beta May 2024, Launching ??

The data here are really messy. Beta length is not a great predictor, since it boomerangs between shorter periods and longer ones. And the average is five months. But if we look at something other than the strict mean, four months isn’t exactly uncommon; arguably four of the game’s 10 beta periods lasted that long. That’s a minority, but not an egregious one, and it’s worth noting that Shadowlands was both dealing with the global plague that ruined the world forever and also just had a contentious beta. The general shape of things sort of supports September.

Sure, all right.

Last patch/raid to expansion

Here’s a place where Dragonflight itself just makes these data basically inaccessible. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve never really loved this metric; it doesn’t have any sort of pattern. But it’s even harder to use the metric when an expansion has a really long tail, and Dragonflight has basically had three potential places to consider a close-out for the last significant patch. I’ve ultimately settled on patch 10.2.5 because I had to pick something. The good news is that it ultimately doesn’t matter… the bad news is that it ultimately doesn’t matter.

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, Released 11/28/22 (6 months)
The War Within: Last patch 1/16/24, Releasing ??

If we look at the raw average, this indicates 10 months, which would put the expansion in… October or November again. If we choose to put the last patch earlier, it helps a little; if we put the last patch later, it gets worse. But as I said before, there’s a preponderance of data here, and if we push the date of the last patch for Dragonflight back, we should also push the last patch for Shadowlands back, so the math doesn’t change all that much.

And the raids? What about those?

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, Released 11/28/22 (9 months)
The War Within: Last raid 11/7/23, Releasing ??

I’ve long said that this isn’t a great metric, but the good news is that this one again does average to about 10-11, which would have the expansion out in September or October. And… that’s kind of a summary of all of this, isn’t it?

Now, the good news for the developer plans is that September 30th is not all that far away from October 1st. But all of this does point to the same basic problem: The timeline that we have had implied to us kind of assumes that development is going to move really fast no matter what. It’s not that a hard release date is locked in or anything; the developers can totally say, “Yeah, we meant to release this earlier, but this is how long it actually took.”

The problem is that if the question is “does Blizzard take the time to do it right even if it means going a little slower or go fast regardless of the consequences”… what do you think is going to win? What do you really think will happen?

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades 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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