Sunday, March 16, 2014
[WoW] Should Monolithic Expansions be Obsoleted?
Be careful what you wish for, because sometimes you might just get it.
Blizzard has promised faster content delivery for years, and the player base has been demanding it be rolled out faster as well. Four months for a small tier of five to seven bosses and a quest area is probably a little bit too long (i.e.: Firelands, Trial of the Crusader), and a year for any dearth of content is much too long. To meet that demand, Blizzard actually managed to release patches on a pretty quick cadence for Mists of Pandaria. In fact, they went almost too quickly...
When you look at how long it was between patches, it was 2 months from the release of Mists to Landfall, which contained no raids, but did contain a plethora of new Scenarios, PvP sub-quests, dailies, storyline, gear, etc. From there, it was another 3 months until Throne of the Thunder King. 5 months for 14 bosses in 3 “wings”, which was probably a tad too fast.
Arguably Blizzard could have taken a bit more time to stagger the wings, as I know of many Heroic raiders who felt fatigued after doing 3 races nearly back-to-back, with only a couple weeks between each one, whereas the rest of us were just making headway into the first wing, let alone ready for Heart of Fear or Terrace of Endless Spring.
Two and a half months after that, Escalation came out, offering some new grinds for folks to participate in, and then 4 months after that was Siege of Orgrimmar. Again, about 6 months for 13 bosses (14 if you count Ra-Den). I think our raid, which did get started on ToT right on the button, could have gone an extra month in ToT. We actually downed Lei Shen with a week to spare because we just started locking the raid once we were at boss 8, and did so for a month. Granted, we only raid 3 hours a week, so I don’t expect everyone else to move at our speed, but I think an extra month wouldn’t have hurt too many people.
And now we’re looking at a year of more for Siege of Orgrimmar. That’s definitely way too long. Took us 6 months to get Lei Shen on Normal, and we’re looking at Garrosh in about 6 months as well--we’re locking until we kill him. We’re at about 45 wipes across three weeks so far. I think one more week and we’ll have him. So by that measure, another 6 - 9 months is appalling.
Take a look at the patch timeline below (requires Flash sadly, but mouseover for magic!). Those last two dots on the end? That’s the release window. “Fall 2014”. A total of 12 to 15 months after Siege of Orgrimmar dropped. If they’re hedging their bets, that hedge overwhelmingly needs trimming.
Guilds and raids fall apart in that empty space between expansions. With nothing new to do, people move on to other things, and inevitably some don’t come back for the next expansion when it drops. It’s pretty rough. So what’s a company to do to reduce that time?
If I recall correctly, the developer team at Blizzard is really split into two, and for MoP, staggered releases. Team 1 was working on Patch 5.1 while Team 2 was working on Patch 5.2. Once 5.1 was done, Team 1 started on 5.3, and so on. Ghostcrawler mentioned that at some point, I just don’t have the reference handy. And that’s a pretty damn smart way to go about things, up until you have the monolithic Expansion, where everything changes.
So the easy way they could have reduced the end-game time was let patches sit fallow for an extra month. Finish up 5.1, sit on it for an extra month while you move on, and then release it. Repeat for each patch, and we’d just be starting Siege of Orgrimmar in November or December rather than September of last year. Granted, by the end of the expansion they’d have SoO done months in advance, but is that a bad thing to get ahead of the curve for content rather than releasing everything the second it’s ready?
The other half of the story is the monolithic expansion. That’s a lot of work. When you look at the staggered approach they took during Mists, it starts to look a fair bit like Agile development, whereas monolithic expansions are clearly ye olde Waterfall development. Plan a bunch of stuff in advance, build it all, release it in one go. And for something like the Squish, that’s probably about the only way you could go about doing it rationally.
There’s also the bonus of getting an extra influx of cash thanks to selling the expansion, which any business would be crazy to let go of as long as it’s the expectation. When you’re talking about that much content in a single go, it really is a new game, too. I mean, look at how much goes into a single WoW expansion, and look at how much goes into FIFA 2014, or Gears of War 3. They’re not building a new engine, but they are upgrading it, and providing an immense amount of new content, so why shouldn’t they get paid for it?
But when you look at having to release more content and be faster at it, monolithic expansion development flies directly in the face of that, as evidenced by the fact that it takes a year and a half of development time to build said expansion. So should the monolithic expansion be obsoleted, at the risk of not being able to hit the reset button for things like the Squish, or at the risk of not releasing an entire continent at a time, but instead parceling out zones every 3 months? Is that really a better model?
Monolithic expansions are too lucrative for companies to give them up, but I wonder how long it will be before MMOs bleed out their populations for a game that updates faster, or just get bored with the current pace of delivery. Or are things just peachy and while people grumble, the status quo is fine and continue indefinitely?
Confidential to Mei Francis: STAHP.
#BadDesign, #Expansion, #Waiting, #WarlordsOfDraenor, #WoW