On to BlizzCon 2013 and the Next WoW Expansion

BlizzCon is coming up.  In fact, it kicks off this Friday.

BlizzCon

We did not have a BlizzCon last year.  Blizzard claimed it was too busy to do the event.  And it did have a lot of stuff going on last year.

The last BlizzCon was 2011, which happened to be the third BlizzCon in a row that I watched via DirecTV.  While it had the big Mists of Pandaria announcement (and the subsequent groaning from just about everybody) I was kind of growing tired of the spectacle of BlizzCon.  I called it the BlizzCon Blues, because a lot of the aspects of BlizzCon… the tournaments, the costume contest, the dance contest, the talent show, Jay Mohr’s jokes… don’t really change from one year to the next.

And while I don’t want to be one of those people who says that Blizzard shouldn’t hold BlizzCon unless they have a big announcement… I am sure the people who attend will have a great time no matter what is said at the keynote or in various panels… those of us on the outside looking in are mostly interested in the news and insights aspect of the convention.

Fortunately, Blizzard appears to have a big announcement teed up for us.  Rumors began to fly when it was reported that Blizzard applied for a trademark on the title Warlords of Draenor.  The consensus is that this will be the title for the next World of Warcraft expansion.  Since this is coming from the same sources that have been correct on previous occasions, it seems likely to be the case.

People are already speculating about how this will fit into the jigsaw puzzle of lore that makes up World of Warcraft at this time, with blue space goats, pandas, and the Caverns of Time wildcard option.  Telwyn and Rohan both have some ideas about where this might fit. (And likely a good call by Green Armadillo for pointing at the Burning Legion.)

For me though, the lore is a second tier issue.  I will be interested in it, but this isn’t the same as Lord of the Rings Online where blue space goats would be an abomination.  Blizzard owns the lore and it is what they say it is.  If people can get past blue space goats and pandas, then I think we can get past whatever they have coming.

No, the primary concern for me is the mechanics of the expansion.  What will it actually add to the game?

History suggests that it will be five more levels, a new overland adventure area that is about 1 level per zone, so five zones.  This will be accompanied by some instances with various levels of difficulty available, raids, a battleground, and uplifts in all the various professions.  There might be a new class or a new race along with an expansion of what races can be what classes.  And all of this will be delivered next year around this time.

Actually, the progression of level cap changes suggests that this ought to be a 2.5 level increase, since the pattern so far has been to cut it in half every two expansions, though I doubt we’ll see that.

But 5 levels and all the rest, that is the safe bet.  It is almost mathematical.

And if that is what you want, you can probably rest easy.  Blizzard will probably try to add in some new game mechanic as a hook.  Maybe a new trade skill or some such.  We will probably find out Friday.

The question in my mind though is what should Blizzard add to World of Warcraft?

The game is about to hit its 9th anniversary and will be close to 10 by the time this expansion goes live.  It has been immensely successful, the industry leader for such games, and has set the standard in many areas, like system requirements, polish, and UI responsiveness.  It has been at the top of the heap for a long time, pretty much since it decisively dethroned EverQuest subscription levels in 2005.

However, being the biggest player, the company with the most market share, the 800 pound gorilla comes at a price.  Being on top often means becoming obsessed with staying on top, which generally means being very conservative so as not to screw up and alienate your customers or otherwise give a competitor an easy inroad on your position.  But that way tends to lead to stagnation and strange obsessions, which can be just as harmful.  For example, do you think anybody asked Microsoft to please make their desktop computer interface resemble that of a tablet?  No, that was all a product of Microsoft’s internal obsession about making ALL devices run on Windows, and since tablets are the latest big thing, Windows must look like a tablet!  So screw you if you don’t have a touch screen or see utility in the Start menu of old.

Unfortunately for us, Microsoft still has a stranglehold on the desktop, so you have may have to go with their awful ideas since your company probably makes you run Office and Outlook and whatnot.  Or your favorite game only runs on Windows.

Blizzard, however, does not have a similarly unassailable position.  There are a lot of competitors in the MMO space and in the gaming space in general.  Blizzard has seen its numbers slide from “over 12 million” to 7.7 million at last count, and I suspect that we will see quarterly drops until the next expansion.  And even then, I would be surprised if the game popped up to beyond 9 million again unless there was something huge to bring people back.

So what could Blizzard add to the game that might be a draw?

Well, not to cut too much on Blizzard, but they are really good at taking other people’s ideas and refining them into something better.  Note their homage to EverQuest at a past BlizzCon.  Without EverQuest there would be no World of Warcraft.  I would thus exclude anything really new and different.  So any new feature would likely have to be something a competitor already has.

What would that give us as possibilities?

Player Housing

This one has gone back and forth.  At one point Blizz said they were looking into it.  Later, they said that they did not want to pull people out of the common areas and into their own little zones.  Every company has their own cultural obsessions, and Blizz is obsessed with its servers looking populated and busy.  They like bustling home towns and crowded zones.

So housing seems like a long shot, which is sort of a shame.  I think Blizzard could do a really good job with housing, it could open up a whole new harvesting and crafting path akin to carpentry in EverQuest II.  There is the option of additional storage, trophy displays, prestige housing that would take gold out of the economy, guild housing, and so on.  Other games have really gone deep on this, and it is one of those things that will keep people tinkering after they have hit level cap.

Mentoring

Being able to go down in levels to experience content you have blown past or to be able to play with lower level friends without being the overkill king has its appeal.  Right now levels are a separator in WoW.  If your friends are at level cap and you are still on the 1-60 run, you won’t be playing with them any time soon.

Other games have attempted to solve this.  EverQuest II has had mentoring for ages.  Rift has it as well.  Guild Wars 2 forces you down levels when you go into lower level zones.  And the various implementations seem to mostly work.  Down leveled players always seem to be somewhat overpowered.

The question is, how would you want this to work in Azeroth.  In my heart of hearts, I would like to see the Guild Wars 2 method, though I think it would cause such an outcry from level cap players that it would end up hurting the game.

Mercenaries

This worked for EverQuest and EverQuest II, as well as showing up in other games like Neverwinter.  This lets you fill out your party or be able to go do multiplayer content alone.

I am not sure this would be a fit for WoW.  There just isn’t any overland multiplayer content any more, is there?  In EverQuest all of the overland content is pretty much multiplayer, so it was almost a required enabler to let people play when groups were becoming scarce.  But I don’t think this actually solves a problem for WoW, unless you think a tanking or healing mercenary will make Dungeon Finder queue times go away for DPS players.   And I do not think that it would fit in with Blizzard’s philosophy of the game.  They have Dungeon Finder and Looking For Raid to help players play with other players.

Free to Play

As much as Blizz loves crowded servers, I think they like buckets of money slightly more.  This change would give them more players, but every conversion is different and when you are already making buckets of money, even a strong likelihood that you could make more might not be enough.  A bird in the hand and all that.  Plus it would be incredibly disruptive.  We have seen with other such conversions that content updates pretty much go on hiatus while your team works on free to play.  And then there is simple pride.  Games go free to play when they cannot cut it on the subscription model.  No matter what you say, it is perceived in many quarters as a desperation move.

I could see them going on a path towards a monthly subscription getting you more.  Maybe there will be a tie-in or benefits with Hearthstone or Titan or other games.  But going the free route does not seem likely to me.

Player Designed Content

Cryptic has the Foundry.  SOE has its Dungeon Maker in EverQuest II and is pushing ahead with Landmark, its player focused building tool for EverQuest Next.  And player designed levels have a history with Blizzard in games like StarCraft and Warcraft III.  That is where DotA came from.  So there is precedent for this.

On the flip side, player created content is very uneven.  How many Dungeon Maker modules are “level you up fast” as opposed to actual adventures?  And the Foundry, while it has lead to some truly wonderful instances, does give players ample opportunity to shoot themselves in the foot of create otherwise crap content.  I think Blizzard could only do this if they committed themselves to vetting every single piece of content, a job which I think is beyond their abilities.

Other Ideas

What else is out there that Blizzard might have latched on to in the last year?  I would love them to steal the music system from Lord of the Rings Online, but it won’t happen.  Public quests or open zone events?  Level cap heroic versions of all instances?  An alternate advancement path?  Twitter and Twitch.tv and other social media integration?

What will World of Warcraft need when it hits its 10 year anniversary?

And what else do you think will come out of BlizzCon this coming weekend?

21 thoughts on “On to BlizzCon 2013 and the Next WoW Expansion

  1. Telwyn

    I’d like to see a serious commitment to players spending more time in the shared world – the two isles (Thunder and Timeless) offer this in part. But Blizzard is still mightily obsessed with herding us all into PUG’ed dungeons or raids.

    I would also love to see player housing with appropriate crafting, the farm grind or library collection aren’t personal enough for my tastes.

    As for classes or races I can’t see it happening this time, they’ll be up against time to get this out before subs drop even more as players get bored of the new content dearth. Here’s hoping we don’t see another long content dearth like there was after Cataclysm’s last major patch or subs could plummet even further…

    Compared to the competition the game has one of the slickest and most responsive combat systems around (yes it’s not action but it’s so very responsive) and the world is free to roam around without endless loading screens. Blizzard need to refocus on those core advantages more for the next expansion.

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  2. C. T. Murphy

    All good suggestions, but none of them would be big hooks for me. I’d love to see an EQ-style legacy server though, if only so I could replay Karazhan like TBC had just started again.

    Other than that, I think it is about time for WoW 2 with WoW going free to play in the near future. The Expansion model is great for MMOs initially, but eventually, they reach critical mass and just begin taking more bloat and bullshit than they are worth.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @C.T. – I almost put “classic/retro/legacy” server on the list, but did not because I think I have beaten that drum enough for now and my opinion remains that Blizzard will never do such a thing.

    Tangential aside: I mentioned to a friend in-game this past weekend that Blizz was probably going to announce the next WoW expansion this coming weekend and they responded, “What? Already?”

    I found this particularly amusing as it came from a person who was playing EverQuest pretty hard core when SOE was putting out two expansions a year. How times change.

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  4. kiantremayne

    The one “big idea” I can think of missing from your list is RvR or WvW – mass, open world player vs player conflict. It seems to be pretty popular in GW2, and would fit with the “warlords” part of the expansion title… not to mention the Warcraft part of the original game’s title
    The main issue is going to be that WoW is a 2 faction game, and RvR seems to need a three-way split to act as a balancing mechanism. However, you could work around that by making it server vs server (a la GW2) instead of intra-server conflict. So maybe invaders from “alternate dimensions” (other servers) are invading Draenor and your home world’s Horde and Alliance will team up to fight them…

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  5. Liore

    I want to see a full overhaul of the crafting system. It hasn’t been relevant to anyone’s character in years, to the point where I don’t even bother levelling crafting on alts. Why bother when you can do double gathering and make piles of gold and XP?

    I want rare recipes out in the wilderness, maybe some kind of crafting mini-game like EQ2, and perhaps a focus on costume items.

    That being said, Blizzard is traditionally weird about “cosmetic” features (like housing, as you mention) so it seems unlikely. As for what we’ll actually get, my money is on the mentoring in some form.

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  6. Eric Schoneveld (@ericscho)

    I hope that the expansion will hit sooner than a year off. We already had the last raid update and they wanted to release expansions sooner. Unfortunately this might also mean they have less time to come up with some sort of new cool mechanic / class / whatever.

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  7. Matt

    What do I want to see?

    Some kind of alt-management interface, akin to altoholic, coupled with an account bank in which one could store items without having to mail them. Seriously, why are we still mailing things to alts? Even better would be being able to switch characters without logging out and in again.

    Decoupling gear from progression. No idea how to do this, but I don’t care to raid and only do LFR for the gear. Unfortunately, that means I get not even second class gear but rather like 4th class gear now. If gear was less important to performance it wouldn’t matter so much, so maybe that’s the way to go.

    Full alt catchup. Bring back the current tier focus. Timeless isle was great, but make it Tier 15 level rather than 14.

    Combine all the bags into one, and integrate click-to-cast functionality into the default ui. Why do I still have to download mods to do this? (also, automatic repair and selling of grey items)

    more teleports, in fact just make flight paths teleport. I am on a website for the duration anyway, so why even bother?

    More queues. Let me queue for world bosses. Give raid leaders an ability to start a queue raid and see relevant statistics of people in queue and pick accordingly.

    I’m sure I’ll get none of this though.

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  8. bhagpuss

    Some form of open-world Public Quest or Dynamic Event system would seem possible. It’s a mechanic that’s now been around long enough to appear almost traditional to the point that it seems odd if an MMO doesn’t have it. Other than that, I’m no expert on WoW but weren’t two of Pandaria’s new features, pet battles and farming, “inspired” by games that aren’t MMORPGs in direct competition with WoW?

    What non-MMO games have features that have become popular recently that they might adapt?

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  9. rimecat

    At least according to MMO Champion they have the code, though they haven’t implemented it yet, to down-level characters and we’ve seen the (somewhat uneven) effect of normalizing iLevel in the Challenge dungeons and Proving Ground. I’d expect that they will, at a minimum, implement this for old raid and dungeon content; at least once they decide on a reward structure. No reason it couldn’t become a switch in the options to make it work for landscape content.

    New stuff, I’ll join with Liore on a full crafting overhaul. The only reason I bother with craft professions is the (miniscule) bonus for min-max purposes. It would be nice to have a reason to do crafting and a more complex system than the current. However, I’m not going to support a system designed to create repetitive stress injuries.

    I’d expect them to expand the classes again, perhaps drop the restrictions on all classes except Druids (as is), Death Knights (as is), and no space goat Warlocks. A new class or race, maybe not, though I expect that they will try. Housing seems very contrary to the Blizzard model and I’ve given-up on them ever doing it.

    What should they do? I expect that the best answer for the accountants will be “more of the same.”

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  10. Piacenza

    Is this a dream wishlist?

    1. Remove the cooldowns on crafted items.
    2. Make the mounts look more different from each other than they currently do.
    3. Let me send BOA stuff to my toons on other servers.
    4. I like Matt’s ideas – one big vault that all my toons can access – like my own private guild bank. Managing all my crap between my mules and inactive toons is cumbersome sometimes.
    5. Let me go anon like we used to be able to do in EQ.
    6. Speaking of anon, the Armory is very stalker-friendly. Maybe I don’t want someone to be able to figure out that my level 23 horde toon and my level 90 alliance toon are the same person. They equip the same pets and share the same activity feed. Boo.
    7. Portal shards for sale! Maybe mages can craft and sell them.
    8. New dances, flirts, and jokes. I cannot listen to “two tents” one more time.
    9. More cowbell.

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  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Piacenza – Expecting Great-father Winter to be especially generous this coming Winter Veil?

    I would go for just “more storage” on the list. And shared storage. How long ago did EQ put in shared storage?

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  12. Asmiroth

    Given that pet battles have been successful and currently occupy the sole reason masses of people would ever revisit a past zone, I’m putting my money on a similar mechanic. Rather than stretch out the end game, flatten out the world. Mentoring is one thing, open quests is another. Anything to get people out of instanced zones and playing in larger, dynamic groups while leveling.

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  13. Asmiroth

    Forgot to add, they have already announced a “mentoring-like” ability for raids, where you scale down to an appropriate level. That could be expanded some.

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  14. Carson

    I think mounted combat would be a more likely LOTRO steal than the music system. :-)

    But I concur with Bhagpuss – I think some sort of open world public quest / dynamic event would be most likely. The idea has been around a while – since WAR, then Rift, then GW2, then FF XIV, to name some big players. And it would feed in to the infrastructure work Blizzard has been doing with connected realms.

    Also they might want to respond to accusations that WoW has become World Of Sitting In Town While You Queue For A Dungeon, Raid Or Battleground by pushing people out into the world for some new content.

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  15. Doone W.

    You me and lots of players. The game is extremely bloated. Its a very nice appealing game, don’t get me wrong. But it’s really time to retire the original and move onto the next thing.

    But that’s so unlikely with a company like Blizz that we may as well place our bets on someone less experienced. It is an extremely conservative company. When was the last time we saw something genuinely new from them?

    I’ll wait.

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  16. R

    What I *expect* to see?

    10 levels, not 5. New world, not Outlands/Draenor (current or time traveled), we’re chasing some former Draenor residents to their new home. 6 or 7 zones. Updated character models. Some variation of a mentor system where there’s downscaling or upscaling (or both) available in some way, at least for instanced play, possibly in a more general way. Some new mechanic (beyond RAF) to get a new toon to max level far more quickly, perhaps a scaling XP buff the more toons you get to max level. Quiet mode for Battle.net. Minor revamp of profession systems and perks. More 5-mans through the course of the expansion. Consolidation of the various token systems (ie. the currency tab). More cooperative open world play that’s integral to the game rather than specific to a patch (but probably also ones specific to patches) – connected realms will make this much more viable across all servers so now’s the time.

    What I think *might* happen?

    Major revamp of the profession systems (I’d feel more confident in this if they’d been in the “yeah, we know there’s a problem, what would you like to see?” phase a year ago rather than now). Flex replacing normal raids / Normal raids becoming “flexible” (same thing but phrasing will depend on the viewpoint of whoever is commenting) with a difficulty level closer to current flex. BtA/BoA items will be fully account-wide in some way. Tabard/Toy tabs to get that crap out of inventory (and possibly an Heirloom one as well for BtA items). An increase in the number of character slots per server &/or total character slots. Some sort of tweak to how reforging works (40% of one stat into an absent stat has been the status quo since day one, it’s due for an update). Some sort of in-game PUG assistance tool, possibly an update of the old raid finder that nobody uses anymore, spamming Trade/General should never be the best option, let alone the only one.

    What *should* happen but probably won’t?

    Horde and Alliance bury the hatchet and are at least functionally cooperative, some hostility remains for PvP purposes but with cross-faction grouping possible (perhaps strictly for Battletag friends) and a combined AH. We seem to team up every expansion to fight the various big bads, this is long overdue. New mail-wearing class with Agility-based tank and dps specs, no healing. Int plate goes away, paladin healers get some sort of Str->Int and Exp/Hit->Spi conversion to compensate. Int shields no longer have armour on them. Lowering of the current subscription price to $10/month but adding a second subscription tier at a higher price ($25? $30?) that includes all pets, mounts and cosmetic items available in the store.

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  17. Pilgrim in Exile

    Wow is due for a shakeup, but it is hard to imagine what they could introduce that would pull back a large number of subscribers. When I look back on good feature hooks only a couple of things really stand out to me: flying mounts/Outland; the Arena; Death Knights as a “hero” class; Cataclysm/reshaping the world. (Sorta cool: Monks, pet battles, inscription, jewelcrafting, vehicle combat, new races, new talents/spells, badass armor sets.)

    I am not sure what competes with those. Something Blizzard might try is some sort of paragon class or dual class for max level characters. We will probably see some new kind of minigame – maybe for crafting. They proved with the talent system revamp and Diablo AH removal that they are willing to remove features also. As mentioned above, the game is bloated. I wouldn’t be surprised to seem some streamlining or removal of some of the battlegrounds. They have tried repeatedly to do a world pvp zone: we might see a cross-server RvR pvp zone or instance if they can figure a way to handle the lag (steal TiDi from Eve?).

    Occulus Rift integration would be an absolute killer feature, but that is probably a few years away.

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