Release Date Speculation, Old Content, and a “Meaningful Difference”
Last night, Blizzard posted the first of what will be several “Summer Challenges:”
Every week this summer, we’re challenging you to get together with a few friends to explore a part of Azeroth that you may not have seen in a while, or perform a feat that you may have never done. We’re calling them World of Warcraft Summer Challenges, and we’re going to be playing along with you as we hunt down rare achievements, get screenshots of amazing bosses, and try to find some rare gear for our transmogrification sets.
I have to be honest – this rubs me completely the wrong way.
Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I don’t blog because I want to criticize Blizzard. I realize that, particularly recently, I’ve had more negative to say than positive and I really don’t enjoy being a persistent voice of discontent. Please understand that when I criticize, I do so because I truly enjoy WoW and am invested in the idea that it will continue to get better.
That said …
It’s difficult to explain just how infuriating this is. On the one hand, revisiting old content that newer players haven’t seen is a fantastic idea. Not long ago, I wrote about my locked 70 priest who has been experiencing Outland as her endgame content for the last few months. For someone like me, who wasn’t raiding during the Burning Crusade expansion, this has been a fantastic way to catch up on the things I missed.
But on the other hand, old content isn’t new content. It just isn’t. Running through old raids like Ahn’Qiraj with only a handful of people, rather than the 40 for which it was originally designed, isn’t going to feel like new content to you just because you haven’t seen the raid before. At the end of Wrath (when, coincidentally, my raid group was also searching for old content to bide our time before the Cataclysm release), a group of 6 or 7 of us did all the level 60 raids, including both AQs, to get our Classic Raider achievements. Even then, the content was easily steamrolled and we were able to breeze through AQ 40 ignoring every mechanic, save for that of the Twin Emperors.
The problem with revisiting old content is that, while the scenery may be new, there is nothing else inherently interesting about the experience. You won’t be learning how to do the fights, or even what it felt like to be there at the time. I didn’t play during Vanilla, so I can’t tell you what it was like to do AQ 40 when it was current content. But common sense tells me that stomping through a 40 person raid with 2-3 friends isn’t going to have much similarity at all with that original experience.
I’ve been running Naxx and Ulduar pretty much weekly for a few ellusive pieces of gear. In general, 3 of us go on these transmog runs. Occasionally we take 4 if someone else is interested, and the majority of the fights could really be completed with only 1 or 2 players. Unlike AQ 40, I was raiding when each of these raids was current and I can definitely confirm that running through those instances now is nothing like forming a raid group of 10 or 25 people to do them when they first released. Obviously.
Many players have already been seeking out old content since it became apparent that 4.3 would be the last patch in the expansion cycle. As I pointed out above, this isn’t something exclusive to Cataclysm. But for Blizzard to recognize the effort, and to give players additional information about how and why they can revisit old raid instances is the part that strikes me as mildly patronizing.
We already have plenty of incentive to go back to places like AQ 40, depedent upon what our in-game priorities are. Whether we’re after achievements, seeing a new place, or items for transmog (though, honestly, who would ever wear the vast majority of what drops from AQ?), Blizzard has already implemented the systems that should make us want to go back and do these things. Highlighting them further in a series of “Summer Challenge” articles feels almost like an admission of failure to me.
Back in August of last year, WoW designer Tom Chilton talked to Game Informer about finding that sweet spot in releasing new content that both allows the design team enough time to get it right and prevents players from getting hopelessly bored:
For us, where the biggest improvement is going to be in this cycle is in the actual expansion release. Traditionally we’ve only been able to do an expansion about every two years. We’re really hoping to make a meaningful difference in that.
Here we are, in June of 2012, a month which some predicted as the month Pandaria would be released after the October 2011 Blizzcon announcement. What we have instead is a beta which has just allowed access to the new max level, which has yet to have one of the major features (pet battles) implemented without crashing the world, and which is not yet allowing 90 premades so real balance work for PvP and raiding content is not at all complete. We don’t yet have a release date, and as the summer goes on it seems less and less likely we’ll see Mists before October. In my haze of annoyance this morning, I put together a timeline pieced from the news archives at MMO Champion:
|Max level available on beta||Sept. 1, 2010||June 1, 2012|
|Release date announced||Oct. 4, 2010||July 2, 2012|
|Pre-release patch goes live||Oct. 12, 2010||July 10, 2012|
|Expansion released||Dec. 7, 2010||Sept. 11, 2012|
(Items in italics are speculative, and as September 11 might be a rather unfortunate release date anyway, I’d say there is plenty of leeway in these guesses.)
Given the history of the beta testing process in Cataclysm, I can’t imagine we will see Mists released anytime prior to the end of September. We know that there are items for the Halloween holiday, with Mists-appropriate iLevels, already implemented in the beta. We know that the Annual Pass experiment could be a gigantic disaster if Mists were not released prior to the first wave of subscribers finishing up their one year commitment. (Mine officially ends on October 27, and I signed up immediately after Blizzcon 2011.) As this relates to the Summer Challenges described at the top of the post, remember that we are to expect one “every week this summer,” which also doesn’t give me much hope of seeing the expansion before the fall.
So we know the absolute latest date that Blizzard “needs” to release this expansion (which, in and of itself, is a bizarre thing to think about – Blizzard never sets these sort of deadlines for itself nor is willing to announce release dates early despite fan pressure). We know that there is a steady stream of new content on the beta and that the PTR is likely to be available soon. We also know that there are plenty of things still on the table that need to be tested, refined, balanced, or implemented at all before Mists can be tagged “ready for release.”
Have the development team lived up to Tom Chilton’s goal of making a “meaningful difference” in shortening the length of time we wait before we get to see new content?
We spent 2 years and 3 weeks in Wrath. Assuming Mists releases in late September or early October, we’ll have spent 1 year and 10 months in Cataclysm. We will have, once again, spent the better part of a year in the final raid tier of the expansion – and Dragon Soul appears to have been even less engaging and have a shorter shelf life than ICC. Cataclysm is also lacking the Sunwell / Ruby Sanctum patches provided as additional incentive to “hang in there” at the ends of BC and Wrath, respectively.
“Meaningful difference?” Not really.
So when I see Blizzard articles urging us to go back and revisit old content as we “hang in there” at the end of this expansion, it becomes rather difficult to stomach. Believe me, if there is a way to reinvent content, WoW bloggers and forum-goers have thought of it and shared it with the community. From the Ironman challenge, to iterative twinking, to bucket lists, to grouping up with Twitter friends to raid - you name it, and we’ve tried it. We find new ways to reinvent this game and keep it fresh for us every day. We do it because we still love WoW, or because we are attached to the friends we’ve made in Azeroth; and we do it even when we know that the content is old, boring, and tedious. We do it because we “hang in there,” knowing that something new and amazing is just a few more months around the bend.
But don’t patronize us with temptations of achievements and transmog gear in places like AQ 40. All those incentives to do content are already in the game itself – we don’t need official blog posts pointing us to them. While I’d like to think it’s a great sentiment, it’s getting difficult to think of it as anything but a poor attempt to wave a shiny thing in our direction and go, “Hey! Look at this and not at the expansion pack we said would be released in Q2 2012! You may not have Pandaria and your guild may be falling apart, but you still have Ahn’Qiraj!”
And, really, Blizzard.
If you’re going to offer us old content rather than new, please lead with something better than Silithus in the future.