Wild theory time

We are coming up on a year of Legion, so it might be a good time to stand back and take a look at it from a little more long-range perspective. And, since I am coming off a short break, indulge myself in some unfounded speculation.

So when I step back and look at Legion, the main question that comes to my mind is, where exactly are we in the expansion? At the start of Legion, then-assistant Game Director Hazzikostas stated that expansions starting with Legion would be 2-year expansions, and that the plan was for new raid tiers to be released every 4-5 months. If Blizz adheres to this plan (and so far it they have done so for the raid tiers), then we are about halfway through Legion and should expect the 7.3 raid tier not later than November and a 7.4 (final) tier around April 2018.

After that it all gets kind of iffy. In theory — sticking to the 2-year expansion model — we should get a fully-developed new expansion going live around September 1, 2018. This would mean a robust alpha/beta/whatever test would have been in place for several weeks by the same time the last raid tier is released, and a PTR should be available not later than June or July of next year.

I would like to believe this is what will happen, but I am extremely skeptical about it all. Blizz’s historical pattern (WoD was a slight but only slight anomaly) has been to announce significant project details of their next expansion at Blizzcon the year before implementation, initiate early invitation-only tests around January that continue for at least 4-6 months, then begin the PTR a couple of months prior to live.

This would mean Blizz should announce the next expansion at this year’s Blizzcon. Of course, they might do that, but we see absolutely zero indication of it — normally there are plausible rumors circulating about such topics shortly after tickets go out. Also, the timeline I described would mean Blizz would be working full bore on a new expansion at the same time as they are still cranking out major new raid tiers for the current one, and I have not seen evidence that they have the resources to carry out such a schedule. What we have witnessed for the last two expansions is that resources get moved to the new one at the expense of anything significantly new for the current one. I am not knocking this, it is just prudent business practice, but I think what it means is that we will not see anything public about the next expansion while Blizz continues to put out new Legion raid tiers.

What this could mean for players is that we will not hear anything official about the next expansion until after the last Legion tier is released. I don’t keep up with international gaming events, but Gamescom 2018 might be a venue that would fit that timeline. Which would mean announcement of the new expansion next summer. Since the typical public development part of a new expansion is about a year after initial announcement, that would mean in effect we would not see the next one until summer of 2019, making Legion in effect a 3-year not a 2-year expansion.

It all depends, I think, on the development resources Blizz has available from now until the end of Legion. But with the other franchises Blizzard is running, I just don’t see WoW getting the lion’s share of them — certainly not enough to go all out concurrently on new Legion tiers and the final stages of a new expansion.

This is all wild speculation, of course. I would love to be wrong, and to be able to welcome a new expansion in about a year. But I think Blizz has set Legion up to be  elastic in terms of longevity, so as to provide themselves with maximum flexibility on the next expansion. Look at the ways they have maintained current content, for example — ever-expanding artifact traits, use of the mythic+ mechanism, world quests, extending professions by adding on new quest lines that usually require older content such as dungeon completions, bringing back classic instances in challenging form, enticing play with things like class mounts, weekly bonus events, etc. They can keep iterating on these themes almost indefinitely.

Additionally, Blizz seems to have found a cheap technical way to add on mini-expansions, a way to give players the appearance of new worlds without the full overhead needed for actual new cohesive zones. The Argus model, with its portal system, seems to be a way to add on almost limitless new “zones” without the need for complex transportation systems or even artwork beyond the immediate ported area. Prohibiting flying in these new mini-areas further lessens the development cost.

As I said, this is all just speculation, I have no inside information about the timing of next expansion or even of the length of Legion. But it seems likely, given Blizz’s history along with their approach to content in Legion, that we will not see a new expansion until late summer/early fall of 2019. I think there is a slight possibility that we could get a next-expansion announcement very early next year — say in the first quarter — and Blizz might make use of the Argus model to fill in the rest of Legion while they work mainly on the new stuff. This might bump up 8.x by 6 months or so, making its live version appear in spring 2019 instead of late summer or fall.

But whatever, I think we are way less than halfway into Legion, and we have 18 months to two years left. Legion is not a bad expansion, and the possibility of two more years of it is not really horrible. Still, I hope I am proven wrong on this, and that by next year at this time we are eagerly anticipating the next expansion going live.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to Wild theory time

  1. Alunaria says:

    Hey there Fiannor 🙂

    Good and valid speculations. It’s of course hard to know already. But from a business point of view, it would seem a little “off” by Blizzard, if they do not announce anything at BlizzCon – at least I think so. I think a bunch of players already expect an announcement of some sort by now.

    Maybe a sneak peak perhaps? I’m not great at the speculation though, and I try to stay spoiler free at times too, so who knows 🙂

    • Fiannor says:

      LOL, I am not great at speculation either! But I do like to indulge myself once in a while. I hope you are right — I would happily eat my words if a year from now we are prepping for a new expansion. The thing I would not want to see is a mere hint at this year’s Blizzcon, then wait 18 months or more for the actual expansion — hopefully, Blizz also thinks such a course of action would be very detrimental to the WoW franchise.

      • Alunaria says:

        2 years from now – that does seem awfully long, not only story wise in game, but also considered how fast they have been trying to release things lately. Though, I rather wait for quality than the “half finished” things that gets published just to “meet an opponents deadline” if that makes sense 🙂

  2. Marathal says:

    I’ve been wondering if they are counting on people exchanging gold for other titles like Destiny. That WoW will become part of the stable. Something you can jump into every so often, play for a month or so, then go play Diablo, or Overwatch, etc

    • Fiannor says:

      Interesting. They have certainly acknowledged over the years that the WoW franchise is cyclical, and have even gone so far as to say it is just the nature of this genre and that there are only limited things they can do about it. The crossover mechanics — like the gold exchange — may be one of their answers.

      This might even partly explain the obsession with monthly active user hours, which has never made much sense to me for WoW’s subscription model. But if, for example, they see WoW MAU go down but see an equal uptick in MAU for the other Blizzard games, then they might rightly conclude that they have not actually lost customers. Seen in this light, MAU is simply a standardized cross-game metric.

  3. Good clean guess work, we like it!

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