We are gathered here today to mark the passing of an MMO that was, for over a decade, singularly incapable of maintaining its own hype.
Inevitably, after an Expansion was launched, there’d be a glorious and brilliant honeymoon period where everybody you knew played, often well into the night or for far longer than was healthy. In fact, making time to be in Azeroth became a life skill many of us juggled with ease, much to the annoyance of non-players or those who had jobs which prevented them from full immersion. Then, as content dried up, so did players and the frustration at ActiBlizz’s inability to plan more than an Expansion ahead would rise, only to be appeased with first Blizzcon and then a Launch event.
That game died on August 23rd, 2017. From its still smouldering fel ashes rose Legion Patch 7.3 (aka Yes We Finally Cracked the Release Cycle, BE IMPRESSED), a glorious phoenix created by a year’s solid and unerring dedication to keep to schedule and provide long term, sustainable content that will last some of us for years after this Expansion is a memory. It paves the way for a huge, glorious Homecoming Opening Ceremony reveal at Blizzcon… and as 2018 arrives we’ll begin at least six months of Alpha/Beta testing, an interim patch (7.3.5) to provide content to reach as far as a new Pre-Expansion event and a Q2 launch, probably at the end of June.
Finally, everything came together: marketing, Social media and designers who have made recycled content the basis of everything that has taken place since your character hit Level 110. Everything from continental layouts to doodads (the building blocks of the game) can now be repurposed and redesigned in a fraction of the time of previous Expansions. The reason why things look familiar is, undoubtedly, that you’ve seen them before: just recoloured or subtly redesigned versions of previous zones, with changes to flora, fauna and architecture. This has allowed the game to keep pace with progress, and maintain a push to keep players engaged. In effect, players now dictate change on their own terms.
Those amazed that 7.3 is due next week fail to grasp that Warcraft is increasingly being streamlined to provide content for all forms of competitive players, not simply high end raiders. Instead of waiting for everybody to have completed content, it is now front loaded in a manner which suits the broadest range of consumers. This means it doesn’t matter any more that less than 25 Guilds have ‘beaten’ the previous Tier. 7.3 will provide the means for even more individuals to complete outstanding raids, catching up to the most current point, allowing anyone to dip in and out as they choose. Knowing this is how Azeroth is now consumed, the game itself is currently on special offer to buy until the start of September.
It’s all part of a concerted plan to pull as many people as possible back into the experience.
I’d not expect to see 7.3 raiding activated until late September, or until there’s at least 250 Guilds with Mythic ToS complete. There might, in certain places, be expectation of a last mini raid in early 2018, but after that? Well, historical wisdom would predict at least six months of the last tier will fly in the face of the relentless pace of progress, but we know that’s not the game being played any more. The fact that hints of the next Expansion are hidden in current game files is enough of a prompt for me to be confident that when the time comes at Blizzcon, this will be an Expansion reveal the like of we have never seen before.
This will finally herald the beginning of the next generation of World of Warcraft.
Watching the 7.3 reveal on Wednesday was a reminder that this is no longer the game I began playing in 2005. The innocence of discovery and exploration has passed: I doubt its like will ever be seen in any game again. It isn’t just the period that version of Warcraft was born in, it is the people who made that history a unique part of their own existences. This Warcraft is stronger, more robust and can be produced with the speed demanded by a modern audience. It is fully monetised too, both in merchandise and esports. That’s the key: what began as a happy accident has now been moulded and shaped into a fully self-funding behemoth, which shows no signs of reducing in popularity or scope as time marches on.
The old Warcraft is finally dead. Long live the new Warcraft.