Activision Blizzard earnings and what it means for WoW

Activision-Blizzard (ATVI) published its Q2 2017 earnings report a couple of weeks ago. I usually write about these reports, but decided not to write about this one when it came out. However, MMO-C — I guess because it is a slow news season for WoW — wrote up a little summary about it today, so I will make a couple of comments. The quotes below are from the transcript of the conference call among ATVI executives published on August 3rd.

Esports. I do not follow esports, so I am rather constantly amazed at the worldwide interest in them, and more specifically in ATVI’s gigantic investment in them. They really believe — possibly with total justification — that the company is poised to become the NFL of esports. The thing that caught my eye over this in the Q2 report is this comment from Bobby Kotick, CEO of ATVI (emphasis mine):

We also announced the first team sales for the Overwatch League, the first major global city-based professional esports league. We have the very best teams with the very best resources dedicated to celebrating and rewarding the world’s best professional Overwatch players.

Overwatch, with more than 30 million players has captured imaginations and driven strong global engagement. We organized our league around major cities, taking a proven model from competition in traditional sports. Our announced team owners and their locations, New England, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, Shanghai and Seoul and the many more we expect to announce, represent the very best in esports and traditional sports.

Actually, possibly my comparison to the NFL was a tad too limiting. ATVI believes they are poised to become as big as, or bigger, than the biggest traditional sports franchises worldwide, whatever the local big money sport may be.

I point this out not to make any judgement on the viability of esports now or in the future, but rather as seed material for a little thought exercise. Imagine for a moment that ATVI’s vision comes true. Imagine a system of colleges and universities fielding Overwatch teams not only as money-makers for the institution but as a pipeline of promising players to the professional franchises in the major cities. Imagine an annual player draft with teams competing for college stars, offering big money and professional perks. Imagine an established Overwatch pro season, with TV stations vying for broadcast rights. Imagine the endorsements and the advertising and the spinoff merchandise. Imagine a playoff season and the hype around a final championship game.

Far-fetched? Yeah, probably, at least for the immediate future. But now think about World of Warcraft, and maybe you can see how very tiny is when fit into the strategic thinking of ATVI. I am not saying its demise is imminent, but it clearly is becoming more and more a niche market for ATVI and indeed even for Blizzard. It was the game that launched Blizzard into years-long dominance of the MMO genre, and it still makes significant money for them and for ATVI, but it is puny when compared to the esports dreams of the company.

ATVI also clearly sees the continuing move away from desktop computing, towards tablets and notebooks/game platforms and mobile mini-games, and they are poised to take advantage of it for all their franchises. Hearthstone proved to them the viability of WoW mobile spinoffs. The acquisition of King a few years ago has not yet had a noticeable impact on ATVI, but the Q2 report is enthusiastic about the “advertising potential” King brings to all ATVI business lines.

Bottom line here: WoW is not dead, but we should be prepared for a lot of wrenching changes in the not-too distant future.

What can the Q2 report tell us about the nature of WoW going forward?

  • Blizzard’s Monthly Active User (MAU) and D(aily)AU metrics were at an all-time high. The fact that ATVI continues to crow about MAUs can mean only one thing for WoW players going forward into the next expansion: the business model henceforth will be feature endless grinds on the same pattern as AP for artifacts in Legion. The vehicle for such grinds may change from expansion to expansion, but make no mistake there will be such a mechanism.
  • The Blizzard app is popular among players, and it dovetails nicely with ATVI’s focus on mobile apps as a significant part of their future plans. I think what this means for WoW going forward is that we can expect not only a continuation but possibly an increase in WoW’s mini-games (like garrisons and order halls), because these lend themselves to use of a mobile app.
  • In order to be a part of the burgeoning esports venture, WoW will continue to feature short competitive spectator-friendly pieces of the game, such as Legion’s Mythic+ dungeons. What effect this will have on the ordinary player’s game experience is anyone’s guess. We have already seen Blizz make general policy and adjust mechanics based on World First raiding guilds, though, so there is precedent for tailoring parts of the game for elite rather than ordinary players.
  • WoW’s tentative steps into integrating social media into the game (Twitter and Facebook) have not been roaring successes, but ATVI’s investment in King and their continuing development of it suggests they will keep trying. I do not expect Blizz to be so crass as to inject advertising into WoW directly, but I do expect them to try and integrate some social media aspect that will in turn generate advertising revenues. They just have not found the right vehicle yet.
  • Blizzard has had wild success with Hearthstone and Overwatch, so we can expect them to devote significant R&D resources to coming up with more such hits. I fully expect that to mean WoW will suffer in allocation of development resources. What that means for the game, I think, is that we will see more and more recycled content — perhaps more “classic” dungeons revisited, more reuse of artwork and graphics like Broken Shore/Argus, more recolored mounts and armor, more “piling on” of existing boss mechanics rather than coming up with new ones, etc. It may also mean Blizz will seek to save money by outsourcing seasonal-type piecework, such as music for a new expansion. (As we saw with the recent departure of Russell Brower.)

It’s good news that ATVI is making more money. We all want them to be successful. However, the nature of their success as well as their strategic vision has some definite impact on World of Warcraft.

7.3 precursors

The final wing of Tomb of Sargeras for LFR opened yesterday. I could not face what I knew was going to be a poop show, so I did not venture in with any of my alts — didn’t even consider doing it on my main — but some of my guildies did, and they came away either laughing themselves silly or dazedly shaking their heads, depending on their personal reactions to LFR in general. The forums, predictably, are full of comments ranging from outrage over how hard it is to outrage over what idiots everyone is except the poster of course who is actually the best player in the history of WoW.

As I said, I have no first hand knowledge of the LFR Kil’jaeden fight, but it sounds about the same as the LFR Archimonde fight in WoD — wildly hard until most of the LFR population gains a group understanding of the mechanics, then somewhat better as crowd proficiency improves. I do know from experience that KJ is very challenging on both normal and heroic, and we all read about the problems Method had on mythic. So we can stipulate that KJ is crazy hard, even on LFR.

Blizz has wobbled around a lot on LFR ever since its inception. Game Director Hazzikostas admitted this in the most recent Q&A, when he stated there was no longer a desire — presumably on Blizz’s part — to make LFR “tourist mode”. You will recall that this had been the original intent of LFR — basically a low-pain way for people who chose not to raid with a regular team to experience some end game content and story lines without committing to the demands of regular raiding. It was in fact designed to be ridiculously easy. Now, it seems, that is no longer desirable.

The other historic thing about LFR is that Blizz at one time indicated it should have all the same mechanics as normal and heroic but way less demanding. That way, if players wanted to preview and/or practice for harder modes they could do so. But of course that was back when Blizz’s philosophy on raid levels was that the mechanics should not change, only the damage levels.

But now apparently “tourist mode” — formerly a good thing — is a bad thing, and changing mechanics — formerly a bad thing — is a good thing.

I don’t run LFR often enough any more to really have an opinion on the constantly changing Blizz design philosophy on it. However, it does strike me that there are limits to how “challenging” you can make a raid composed of 25 strangers, some of whom are conscientious and do their best and some whom simply do not give a shit. Some are pretty proficient at their roles and some have no clue what buttons to press, much less where to stand so as not to die. Some are there for accomplishments and gear and some are there just to screw with everyone else.

The group you get in LFR is the ultimate RNG. (With the added benefit that you can keep rolling a new one simply because people lose patience and drop group, so that you are in effect constantly rerolling the group composition until you finally get a winning combo.) So to be honest I am not sure how useful it is to, for example, keep the dark phase of Kil’jaeden where no one can see anything and you have to run around in pitch darkness trying to find the safe zone — hoping you do not fall off the edge in the process –and then venture out for a few seconds to find and kill adds. Some people in LFR will never be able to do this, just as some people will never soak the meteors, either because they don’t understand the mechanic or because they are ass hats. Time will tell if KJ is overtuned for LFR, but I think I will wait until it’s a bit less chaotic before I venture in.

Blizz has a habit of setting up major parts of the game with a clearly-stated design purpose, only to completely reverse that purpose in short order for no apparent reason other than some dev doesn’t like it. There is something to be said for flexibility and for the willingness to remake the game frequently, but there is also something to be said for keeping implied promises. I really don’t know if I would call the constant swings of LFR breaking a promise, but I wonder exactly who the target player group is for it. I think Blizz wonders, too, and I think every time they rethink the question they change LFR tuning.

There is a sizable group of players for whom LFR is their only participation in raiding. It is their endgame. I have the feeling these players go into it trying to do their best, trying to deal with mechanics, trying to improve their proficiency, in the same way as any other raider. Hazzikostas indicated Blizz is trying to tune LFR for this group of players. I guess we will see if the effort is futile or not, given the large number of morons and jerks who also run only LFR.

Here’s the problem with constant re-evaluation of LFR’s purpose: If people consider it “tourist mode”, then it attracts a large number of players who think it is a big joke, who think nothing of going afk for most of it, who disdain mechanics, who do whatever they can to pull every trash mob, who think it is funny to wipe the raid, who consider it fine to have no idea how to play their class. So when Blizz tries to change the “tourist mode” approach to make it more challenging, the perception of it being a cakewalk persists, thus those same undesirables keep running it. Which of course becomes increasingly frustrating to those who want it to be something more. Maybe over time Blizz can change the popular notion that LFR is a total joke, but it is not going to be an easy transition.

As a related event to opening the final wing of ToS for LFR, the giant imploding planet Argus is now visible in the sky to everyone instead of just to those who have killed KJ on normal or higher. As I have mentioned before, I am not really overjoyed at the prospect of Argus for our 7.3 venue. What I have seen of it, it seems pretty much to be a rehash of the depressing nothingness of Broken Shore. It might turn out to be terrific, but I am not encouraged by the ever-present specter of a planet in its death throes. Just does not seem likely such a planet will yield hours of pleasant exploration and idyllic excursions to scenic overlooks.

And the Doomsayers are back. Whatever the hell those are. I never understood what the point of them was when we saw them at the end of WoD, and I don’t understand them now. I always thought a doomsayer was that one kid in grade school who, when we had to go into the basement because of a tornado warning, would tell us all in somber tones that we were probably going to die. Kind of a less-cute Eeyore. I never thought of it as a professional calling, which is apparently what it is at certain times in WoW. I also don’t get the whole pamphlet thing and why dying repeatedly is desirable, or why there are periodic breathless announcements in trade chat about the location of this or that doomsayer, followed by a player stampede to that location.

In other words, regarding Doomsayers: Huh?

At any rate, opening the final LFR wing in this raid tier, along with other factors like announcing the end of the PvP season, weirdos wandering the streets of Dalaran,  and a big honking fire planet in the sky all point to 7.3 going live sometime around the end of this month. Legion moves on.

An hour of nothingness and delusion

Today’s post is about all the juicy tidbits Ion Hazzikostas dropped for us in yesterday’s Q&A — some of them make me righteously indignant, I am excited about others, and still others have given us startling insight into not only 7.3 but also the direction the game is going for the next expansion.

HAHAHAHAHA! Just kidding. It was a real yawner, so much so it looked like even Josh Allen aka Lore got bored enough to semi-surreptitiously start checking out his phone texts about halfway through the session. A coincidence of irl scheduling allowed me to watch it live, and what a mistake that was — truly an hour of my life completely wasted. Unless you really have nothing else to do, do not waste your own time listening to it — if you are interested, read the MMO-C summary notes.

Nevertheless, herewith a couple of comments:

Who selects the “questions” for these things?

Okay, I get that not everyone has the same game interests I do, and that there will be subjects that cause me to roll my eyes but that are totally absorbing to someone else. Story lines would be an example — some people are real nerds (meant in the nicest possible way) about the game’s lore and can’t get enough of it, while I on the other hand…

Lore nerd: OMG!!! Did you hear that in the next expansion we might finally find out why G’Thun’De’Fxxxgrlk treacherously sold out the Squeakyoldfart Creators of Every Aspect of the Universe, causing the rise of the orcs and the demise of the Curlytoed Elves? And that he will finally be reunited with his centuries-long love Mp’K’Qrj’kunda? And that we will get to fight the Fel Caterpillar of Fuzzy Doom in the Temple of Gassygreenvapors? Sorry about the spoilers, but I’m so excited!!

Me: Zzzzzzz

But I digress. Luckily for me there were no story line comments yesterday (if there were, I blocked them out). There were, however, long minutes during which Hazzikostas droned on (and on and on and on) about a burning question of great interest to at least .001% of the player base — what is an acceptable amount of time for a world first guild to complete a new mythic raid tier?

Really? You have a total of one hour to address questions from actual players, about a ton of topics that truly impact their game experience, and this is what you choose to spend a huge chunk of time on? I really would like to know who chooses these “questions” and where they actually come from, because this sounded a lot like it might actually have been submitted by player “Rehctaw” in a special forum limited to  maybe the Game Director.

Patch 7.3 and artifacts, artifacts, artifacts

We learned it will take 3 weeks to unlock all parts of the patch, and that the whole point of unlocking it all is to be able to — hold onto your hats here — grind out more shit for your artifact weapon!

There were a lot — a lot — of questions related to artifact weapons, at least three asking about their appearance and transmog. (Again, what moron chooses these questions? I could see one question on this subject but three?) Of course, being a BM hunter, artifact appearances mean almost nothing , since Blizz has decided in their infinite wisdom that even though Hati is the main part of our artifact weapon, there will be no appearance changes. They gave us the Essence Swapper, we should just shut up and be grateful. This is in line with their refusal to allow hunters to use any cosmetic weapon enchants. It’s all, well, too hard, and what the hell it’s only hunters and why should we waste any dev resources on them? Not that I’m bitter or anything….

Sorry, I digress again.

I have said it before and I say it again: artifact weapons are the garrisons of Legion. They have shaped the expansion in a way that in my opinion completely distorts the entire game, and Blizz just keeps shoving them down our throats in new ways with every patch. The fact that something close to a third of the Q&A time was spent on discussing them demonstrates that in fact artifacts are Legion and Legion is artifacts, in the same way garrisons were WoD and WoD was garrisons.

Alts

One bit of bright news revealed about Patch 7.3 is that there will be some decent catch-up mechanisms for alts. I still think Legion is alt-hostile, but there will be at least a couple of concessions to help players. For example, the time necessary to grind out gear for your champions will be greatly reduced, quite a few of the Argus unlocks will be account wide, and there will be more shortcuts to milestones for your artifact weapon.

Reforging

This was one of the weirdest excursions into the mind of Ion Hazzikostas I can remember. The question was basically, is there any chance we might see the return of reforging — possibly the best question in the whole Q&A, and it was also the most out-of touch answer I have ever heard from any Blizz dev. Here are the MMO-C notes  summarizing Ion’s response:

  • Reforging had lots of downsides, such as trying to perfectly get the hit or expertise cap and reforging all of your items every time you got a new item.
  • Every item that doesn’t have your best two stats you would reforge to have your best stat. This didn’t really make for interesting choices.
  • This also narrowed the distinction between items, making them feel more similar.
  • It also made it harder to evaluate upgrades, as you had to look at the item in its current state as well as how you could reforge it.
  • There were some good parts, such as giving players choices to make.

Not included in the summarized notes is this astonishing quote regarding the current state of gear in Legion without reforging:

“A new helm drops for you, just put it on.”

Yes, folks, he actually said that. Just like he actually said one of the evil things about reforging was that it “made it harder to evaluate upgrades.”

One wonders just exactly what game it is that Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas spends his time playing, because it most certainly is not World of Warcraft Legion. My mind is too boggled over this whole Twilight Zone answer to even rant about it, all I can do is shake my head in astonishment and disbelief.

And maybe drink a beer. It is, after all, the weekend. See you on the other side.

Hopes for tomorrow’s Q&A

Tomorrow (August 3rd) there will be another in what has become a rather sporadic series of “Q&A” sessions, in which the ever-cheerful Lore selects players’ mostly-softball questions to pose to a game developer — in this case it will be none other than the Game Director himself, Ion Hazzikostas.

There is always a forum prior to the Q&A where players can submit their questions. Submitters are cautioned to pose short questions only, usually limited to 40 words or so. In what to me is always a stunning display of — stupidity? arrogance? failure to read instructions? — invariably most of the posted questions are long treatises on everything the poster thinks is wrong with the game or their particular class or whatever. (One has to wonder if these are the same folks who refuse to listen to raid instructions because, y’know, THEY are special and allowed to stand in fire due to how awesome they are…) There are other venues to submit questions, too (Twitter, for sample) — although the full list remains a bit murky, possibly by design so as to allow some conveniently-leading topics.

At any rate, the Q&A questions are pre-selected, I suppose in order to allow Blizz to focus on whatever their intended message is for the session. Often these events occur just prior to release of major patches, and the “questions” take the form of, “I love the new [badass mount/questline/gear/etc]! Can you tell us what other awesomeness is in the new patch?” In answer, of course, Hazzikostas launches into a 20-minute advertisement for the patch.

Another category of “questions” are ones that really have no impact on how the game is played at all, which tend to be ridiculously boring to me but which I suppose are of some interest to a certain segment of the player base. For example, “Is there any chance we will see Bigevilorc finally get his comeuppance in the next raid tier?” This is usually my cue to go get a cup of coffee, because it is absolutely certain that Hazzikostas will kill at least 10 minutes of the hour-long session being coy about the answer, and Lore will interject his own hopes on this vital issue.

From time to time, however, Hazzikostas will choose to address concerns that have bubbled up in the community and he wants to prevent them becoming a huge thing. (Example: Flying in WoD.) Or he wants to introduce a new design philosophy, possibly feeling out the community for a future expansion mechanism or major game change. The mechanic is that Lore will read a short question on the subject, and Hazzikostas will launch into a very detailed answer, almost as if he had prepared to address it! To me, these are the most informative parts of any Q&A session, because they reveal insights into the bigger picture and often give us a glimpse of how the game might evolve in the foreseeable future.

These are some of the meatier topics I would love to see addressed tomorrow:

  • Gear — whether the current stat of complexity is by design (and thus we will continue to endure it in coming expansions) or is just an unintended consequence of the whole artifact/legendary/class balance intertwining. I would also love to hear him explain why, for example, old tier gear and even 860-level trinkets are still “required” for some specs. And are we stuck with the horrible Legion legendary design from now on, or will Blizz abandon it in the next expansion?
  • RNG — whether the intent is to increase its reach even more, or whether maybe it will be dialed back a bit in the next expansion. In particular, I would like to see him address the role of RNG in gear, and ideally would love to see him back off a bit from his absolutely asinine insistence that RNG for gear is fun™.  (Not hopeful here, but we are basically optimistic creatures…)
  • Plans for more catch-up mechanisms for alts. For example, making Blood of Sargeras BoA, compressing order hall quest lines even more, instituting profession catch-ups.
  • Hints about class design changes, both in 7.3.5 and in the next expansion.
  • While he is at it, hints about the timing for the next expansion — will we actually see Blizz adhering to their stated 2-year expansion goal and thus se th next one about this time next year?
  • Zone design — is the preferred design now small, closed areas rather than the exploration-friendly open spaces of the past?

As far as I know, there have been no announcements of the focus of tomorrow’s Q&A. That makes me think it will be either an advertisement for 7.3 or an explanation of some issues Hazzikostas deems important. It would be fun if it were a vehicle for dropping some bombshell about the next expansion, but I think that is highly unlikely. I will be happy if we get a few words on even a couple of the subjects I listed above.

PS. Any guesses as to how many times uber-polite Lore will apologize for mangling someone’s name? I am betting on 6.

Hell — I am not a fan

Spoiler alert. There are some very minor 7.3 spoilers in this post, don’t read any further if that bothers you.

I have not played a lot of WoW the past few days, but I did get a chance to dip my toe into the 7.3 PTR. As a disclaimer, it was just a taste, I did not even get out of the starting area — I completed a couple of quests and looked around a bit. So I really can’t comment on anything to do with content. What I can comment on is the environment: Argus appears to be yet another ugly, rocky, brimstone-spewing chunk of hell. In fact, to me it seemed remarkably similar to Broken Shore in its landscaping and artwork. It is not a genre I am fond of.

In general, I am impressed with Blizz’s zone designs and the incredibly painstaking detail they put into every aspect of a new zone — geologic formations, roads, vegetation, building structures, animals, even insects. As I have mentioned before, I was positively blown away by the majestic, sweeping vistas of Pandaria. I think that was the high water mark of zone design for Blizz.

I understand that it is a matter of personal taste, but I just do not like slogging through dark, dismal, or scorched-earth areas. To enjoy the experience, I much prefer jungles or woods or farmland or deserts or mountains or even urban areas. I still love Uldum, for example, with its oasis areas interspersed with vast desert landscapes. I love that you can see the blowing sand and even hear it. Similarly, I am drawn to Pandaria’s Kun-Lai Summit and to the beaches of Krasarang Wilds. These zones are balm to my brain, and I still visit them every couple of weeks just to experience the peacefulness they impart. I select my favorite flying mount, and I swoop and soar and just immerse myself in the beauty.

I guess what I am trying to say here is that the esthetic experience of the game is important to me. As it happens, I like the kinds of zones I just described, but I know not everyone is alike, so there are undoubtedly many players who prefer dank, depressing, dismal zones devoid of vegetation, where the only “wildlife” is a species of cockroach that crunches under your feet or creepy spiders and vicious hyena-like creatures. To each his or her own.

But personally I don’t like it, and to me nothing represents this barrenness more than Broken Shore. So I was disappointed to see that at least the starting area on Argus is just more of the same.

There is another aspect to this, and it is what I perceive to be a fascination with destruction on the part of the WoW developers. Time and again, we have seen beautiful zones made ugly with destruction in the game. Some of it certainly has to do with the story of how evil and nasty “they” (Deathwing, the Legion, etc.) are, of course. But Blizz seems to take special delight in destruction scenarios. I will never forgive them for what they did to the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, for example. They took what was a fantastic end of quest line — a triumphant and emotional homecoming to an ancestral land of surpassing beauty — and rather than allow this small victory to stand, they turned the homeland into an ugly, scarred area of desolation and hopelessness.

Expansions like Pandaria and Legion start out with beautiful imagery in their zones, but seem to disintegrate into ugliness, at least in part. Broken Shore is only a bare-knuckled place of struggle and death, not a place anyone would choose to spend time in voluntarily. And now, the very image of Argus — a huge fire-spewing planet on the verge of exploding, filling the Legion sky — is a constant reminder of even more destruction to come, destruction that will be carried out, apparently, in a grim landscape devoid of beauty or softness or the gentle warmth of sunshine. It will be just another chunk of hell.

I know Blizz is hardcore on the philosophy of being on a constant war footing in WoW. I get that it is conflict that is interesting, not peace and happiness. But honestly that is getting kind of old for me. I am weary of always operating out of beleaguered temporary camps or cities in hiding.  I need respite once in a while, a break to appreciate beauty and peace even in small corners of this virtual world. I don’t want every end game quest to occur on barren chunks of rock. I don’t want the places I find attractive to be destroyed — because it seems like our side in WoW will never win, and the destruction will linger forever. Blizz should at least give us some hope.

As I said, I only dipped my toe into the PTR. Maybe there will be places of surpassing beauty on Argus. I want there to be signs that beings actually live there, raise their children and build their homes there, even if those beings are enemies sworn to destroy us. I would like to see some signs of life once in a while, not constant death and decay. Unfortunately, I am not optimistic. The next time we get anything close to that in a new zone is likely to be the start of a new expansion.

See you all Monday.

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.

Crossing the line in Legion

Blizz’s announcement yesterday that they are effectively making full artifact trait progression not only pointless but impossible got me to thinking. In every expansion I reach a point where I put my main into a “maintenance” mode and move my game into end-of-expansion pursuits — going after achievements I want, playing around with my alts, finding isolated spots and just chilling, spending a lot of time gathering mats while listening to music. At such a point in an expansion, I still do some raiding and gear improvement on my main, but that no longer is the focus of my game.

Last night I realized I have hit that point in Legion. I reached Concordance on my main, and there is no cost benefit to further pursuit of artifact power. As I have no intention of playing any hunter spec except BM, I am not interested in developing any other hunter artifact weapons.

The only reason I have been doing world quests on my main for the last few weeks is for a chance at legendaries and for AP, but those rewards are no longer applicable. I have more legendaries than I can use, so the prospect of getting another no longer motivates me. Blizz’s coy little tricks with artifact traits have rendered AP valueless to me now. I am exalted with all factions, and the rewards for extended rep stink, so rep is not useful to me. I have about 200k order hall resources, over 300 Bloods of Sargeras, close to 3k leather, and way more gold than I can ever spend. Gear rewards from WQs have long since ceased to be of interest to me — I am relatively well geared at ilvl 908 (904 equipped, because of Blizz’s bizarre secondary stat mechanism that makes my 860 and 880 trinkets more useful than the 900+ ones I have). In short, I am done with world quests on my main, other than the odd one here or there. Even emissary quests hold no value for me now.

I will likely continue to pursue the hunter class mount, and I will raid with my team when the next raid tier comes along, likely getting some better gear in the process, but other than that, I am done with this expansion on my main. In a normal environment, I would try to max out my main’s professions, but Blizz has made that close to impossible with their dice-roll approach and their introduction of the tiered crafting system — the minimal additional benefit from level 3 recipes is not worth the time required to get lucky enough to get them. In any other expansion, this would be the point at which I start crafting high level items to sell on the auction house, but again Blizz has made that too painful to be a meaningful pursuit — the crafted legendaries, which are useless anyway except as stat sticks, require completion of an entire quest line, including certain mythic dungeons, for every legendary you wish to craft. Something in me rebels at that kind of blatant manipulation, and I just refuse to do it.

Even when we get 7.3, I do not anticipate significant changes in my feeling of being done with Legion. Yes, there will be some new quest lines and possibly some spacey stuff people will oooh and aah about, but I do not see the new planet zone in 7.3 as being significantly different from Broken Shore. In fact, my prediction is that it will be Broken Shore remastered — same daily grind, some temporary world bosses, some kind of new currency to grind for, some sort of random space ship bombardment, possibly a new dungeon and raid in the area, etc. I give Blizz credit that they do often come up with creative ideas, but unfortunately once they do, they drive them into the ground, using and reusing them for months or years regardless of how players receive them. Garrisons is a perfect example — players hated them, yet Blizz doubled down on them with patch after patch in WoD and even recycled them as class halls in Legion.

7.3 will be Broken Shore with a different artistic rendering. If I am wrong, I will happily eat my words. But I am not wrong.

The thought that strikes me about reaching my “the expansion is basically over” point is that we are still only 9 months into Legion, earlier by some months than I have reached that point in any other expansion. This seems ridiculous in an expansion widely touted as the “more content than you can handle” expansion, the one Blizz presented as “we heard you loud and clear in WoD and believe us we are not making that mistake again!”

But here’s the thing: I am done with Legion because there is no chance of achieving the normal game goals I set for my main each expansion. No, let me amend that statement: there is no point in pursuing my normal expansion goals any further because their completion relies on a lottery system, and in the case of my weapon, completion is simply not possible. There is almost nothing I can do to work towards those goals in a meaningful way.

Legion, for all its touted “content” and innovation, has revealed its dark side — players may only aspire to the goals Blizz sets for them, and they must pursue those goals in a strictly prescribed manner. Any deviation will almost certainly delay, if not prevent, their attainment. Anyone who does not like this is free to set their goals lower or abandon them altogether. Blizz seems to think quantifiable content is all that is needed to make a game great, and they have sacrificed player options in favor of it. They have lost sight of the fun players have when they can set a goal, work towards it in the way they find challenging or exhilarating, and achieve it. Content is fine, but from my worm’s eye view, being able to chase a dream is better.

As demoralizing as this is, it does not mean I am about to abandon the game. (Yeah, I know, that is sad.) As I have said before, I am someone who actually likes the latter part of expansions, because it is then that I permit myself to just be free to do whatever the heck I want to do, with no thought that I am letting others down because of failure to gear up a main or something. Normally, of course, I go into this end stage of an expansion feeling good because I have met my goals for my main and can now move on. In Legion, the feeling is more acceptance that such achievement is not possible, but move on anyway. Still, the end result is pretty much the same.

Like all metaphorical lines in life, you are usually not aware of the exact moment you step over them. But sooner or later you know for sure that you have crossed them. I have crossed my Legion line.