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Release Date Speculation, Old Content, and a “Meaningful Difference”

June 7, 2012
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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.

(source)

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.

My druid’s first trip to Ahn’Qiraj … in 2009.

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.

(source)

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:

Cataclysm Mists
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.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012 10:27 am

    Well shit…Tome and I have something fun cooking…it is half-baked now! Stay tuned!

    • June 7, 2012 1:14 pm

      Interested to see what you two have planned. :)

  2. June 7, 2012 10:54 am

    I have to agree with you… I have 2 toons that are exalted with the AQ faction [Nozdormu] and I didn’t raid vanilla [main swapping... ugh]. The guild I was in until last August thrived on Retro raiding to supplement our current tier stuff… so we’ve done pretty much all of it. Our current guild likes the retro too, but eh it’s summer… everyone has stuff to do. We still get together and work on Heroic DS and that is fun.

    Heck, in regards to AQ I soloed the smaller raid just two days ago [I'm soloing old raids to work on the 100k looted gold achievement] and I also soloed 5 bosses in AQ40. I’d need help with Twin Emps but… yeah talk about making things interesting again :P Like you said, we find our ways.

    Maybe there are people who don’t know about these raids… I suppose these posts would be good for them.

    I personally have always thought March, June, September – all optimistic. I’ve predicted November 13th as MoP release date. As my hubby pointed out, just because they updated the holiday models doesn’t mean we’ll have the xpac by then… it could be to test them out on beta when the holidays come around this year. But eh, perhaps I am too pessimistic.

    Now I’m not knocking the annual pass – hubby and I both did it and it makes sense and still does, at least for us – even if the expansion doesn’t come out before it ends. That said, it really should be.

    • June 7, 2012 1:16 pm

      Really, even a release date in November doesn’t seem out of the question to me, either. I agree that the holiday models don’t necessarily mean anything (they could be there because the developers aren’t quite sure when the final release will be and need to have options for whether it is before or after Halloween).

      While Annual Pass also made sense for me, I do think it would be a significant misstep to allow subscriptions to begin to expire without having Mists as an incentive to keep going. I’m sure it wouldn’t make or break the choice to continue to subscribe for everyone, but I also think there are some for whom it would.

  3. Shannara permalink
    June 7, 2012 11:27 am

    Slight correction. The June date is actually Blizzards date, not based on a guess. With Blizzard’s calendar leaked, the release date was 2nd Quarter of 2012, which means the end of June at the latest. It looks like, since the release of their own calendar, the date was pushed back.

    • June 7, 2012 1:14 pm

      Oh, thank you, that makes perfect sense!

  4. Aralosseien permalink
    June 7, 2012 12:25 pm

    Thanks for the mention! :)
    I totally agree – I’m already going back to do old things and I didn’t need a well-meaning incentive to do so. I don’t really want to believe that Mists release is so far away but you make an awful lot of sense. Ah, well, more time to get through my list…silver linings and all!

    • June 7, 2012 1:18 pm

      Sadly, I can’t imagine that Mists will be on any tighter of a release than Cataclysm was. I primarily played in the early beta of Cata and wasn’t doing much on it at all by the end, but I have a feeling that the Cata beta was probably a bit further along in development by the time the level cap was raised to 85 than Mists is now.

  5. June 7, 2012 1:44 pm

    Yep, I did the same math in my head a little while ago and was distraught. I was expecting Mists in late July/early August and this is beating that by at least a month.

    Ugh. I really don’t want to play alts for that long or chase Loremaster or some other silly thing I’m only doing to keep my interest in the game going. If not for raiding with friends, I’d’ve stopped logging in weeks ago.

    • June 7, 2012 4:04 pm

      Recently (since Diablo’s launch), my 10m raid group hasn’t really been running on a regular basis, and that’s certainly my fault as much as anyone else’s. I’ve found myself playing WoW more than I was a month ago, but I needed a least a little time away before I could find solo content I enjoyed again.

  6. June 7, 2012 1:52 pm

    I particularly like your notion about old content not being new, because it is absolutely true. I did raid in BC, but not in Vanilla and I wish now that I had. I’ve gone back several times the way the community managers now urge us to do as Summer Challenges, but I go back with the experience of having been through a museum of WoW in its younger days. The strength of your character is so disproportional to the grandiosity that old raids should inspire, that for me it has always just been a nostalgic trip, where I’m really just a tourist.

    I agree with the rest of the post too, it sounds like they ran short on good ideas to keep us hanging in there.

    • June 7, 2012 4:06 pm

      Few things demonstrate just how out of place current players are in old raids than the mere size and scope of raids like AQ 40, Naxx (as it was originally designed for 40 players), and Onyxia’s Lair. Walking into any of those places with 10 people felt off – alone or with a small group, it’s very weird.

      I love your point about how it feels so inappropriate to have our characters’ strength trivialize such an impressive space, and I think it does somehow lessen the experience.

  7. Nyxxe permalink
    June 8, 2012 5:01 am

    Just awful, awful awful. Sadly I’ll probably try to solo any challenges for well….a challenge. But the idea from blizz in and of itself? I feel like I just got slapped over the face with the worst challenges ever. At least they could have made it interesting, like go back and do this, BUT do it this way… etc This feels like there was no thought at all that went into it. You aren’t complaining, you’re right. Thanks for drawing my attention to this!

    • June 8, 2012 8:58 am

      And you’ve summed up my point in a nutshell (which I never, ever can do – want an editing job? :P).

      But yeah, that’s it exactly. It’s not that Blizzard wants to offer us stuff to do before Mists, it’s the lack of thought going into it. It’s the decision to just toss AQ 40 out there as an option. Contrast that with all the thought and creativity that went into the idea of the bloggers I mentioned in the post. :-/

    • Nyxxe permalink
      June 8, 2012 12:59 pm

      LOL I was a paid writer, what kind of salary are you offering here :P haha

      Yeah, I have no more words on this issue, it’s one of those things that make me double take just to make sure I actually read it right….

  8. June 8, 2012 10:37 am

    I have to agree that the “Go to AQ!” blog post wasn’t really their brightest moment. *cough* I’m somewhat in a dilemma when it comes to Mists’ release date however.

    One on hand I am tired of lackluster Dragon Soul and everything in this patch. I’m SO ready to move on. On the other hand I also don’t want them to rush the expansion and end up with the same rollercoaster scenario we had at the beginning of Cataclysm — scrambling to balance healing/absorb numbers, badly tuned fights, massive changes from one week to the next, snipped out quests etc. I don’t think I can handle another sloppy launch.

    • June 8, 2012 4:16 pm

      I totally agree – I don’t want to see anything released that isn’t ready to be. That’s bad for everyone, devs and players alike.

      But Blizzard has recognized, both in the interview I linked above and elsewhere, that well-timed content releases are the thing that will most make or break their continued success. They told us there wanted to release more, but smaller content patches during Cataclysm and going forward, but it just hasn’t happened. They’re talking a good game but there really has been very little difference between the releases of the Wrath patches and the Cataclysm ones. So, yes, don’t release Mists before it’s ready, but if a “meaningful difference” in the way the patch cycle works is actually a priority to the company, let’s see it in action! :)

    • June 8, 2012 4:49 pm

      I’d honestly like to see Chilton’s definition of “meaningful difference”. It seemed to me like they wanted to release expansions sooner than the standard two year timeline and do away with the Isle of Quel’Danas/Ruby Sanctums of the past. I’m not entirely sure how the smaller patches fit in here – I don’t think the Zandalari’s early release went very well for example.

      I think their objective of releasing new expansions sooner is clear since they haven’t given us a Ruby Sanctum. But this is where I’m scared they’re going to rush it before it’s ready. The “Go to AQ40!” blog post seemed somewhat desperate in that sense and its clear they’re under pressure to get MoP out with nothing else in Cata on the schedule.

      I guess what I’m saying here is that I would prefer a Sun Isle to keep us going over a rushed expansion. Maybe I’m being a little too cynical but I am truly worried about them rushing a half-baked expansion. Personally, I thought their patch cycle was fine and would have been content if we had something on the horizon to tide us over while MoP was being polished. I wonder if this is another case of them fixing what wasn’t broken.

    • June 10, 2012 8:45 am

      This is a great point. Blizzard both said they wanted smaller, more frequent patches, and also that every patch should include a raid boss or bosses (unlike the Zandalari patch of the cataclysm cycle). I don’t really understand how these two notions work together, except perhaps if the raid bosses they’re talking would either be additions to existing instances or in much smaller raids than we’re used to.

      I agree that a Sunwell-esque patch would have been a much better solution for the end of this expansion than merely hoping that Mists would be complete in an appropriate amount of time after Dragon Soul was released. I’m not sure whether they shied away from doing this because of the perceived failure of the Ruby Sanctum encounter. (I generally enjoyed Halion, but many people felt there was too much trash that hit too hard, that Halion himself was a challenge and heroic Hallion was brutal.)

      Whatever the reason, I think we’ll find that a lack of final patch in this expansion was a mistake and – in this case – definitely a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken.

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