With the release of The Burning Crusade and the commentary that has surrounded it, there are a couple of questions I want to dredge up. The first, and perhaps the easiest to discuss, is the timing of expansions. How often should an MMO offer expansions?
I have my own opinion on the subject, which is that once a year is about the right pace for major expansions. Any more than that and I start losing track of what is going on. But I am at the elder end of the MMO age demographic, so my views on the subject are pretty suspect.
To get around that, I grabbed some information on a few more well known MMOs to see how they have handled expansion time frames.
EverQuest The Buried Sea, the 13th expansion for the game, will be out in February, keeping their expansions on a twice-a-year pace like some crazy gnome-built contraption that nobody can shut off. Is there a good, detailed guide to EverQuest expansions out there? Or a random EverQuest expansion generator?
EverQuest II has had either three or six expansions, depending on whether you count adventure packs or not. Conservatively they are doing better than one expansion per year, but with the December producer’s letter from Scott Hartsman, there is some indication that they are going to ease off that pace and settle into something closer to once a year.
Dark Age of Camelot has had 4 retail expansions at the rate of about one a year plus two expansion-like free content upgrades.
Ultima Online has had 7 expansions since its release in 1997 that started off at the rate of about one a year. It will be close to two years between releases before the next one arrives.
Star Wars Galaxies has had 3 expansions since release, although The Trials of Obi-Wan got pretty well trod upon by the New Game Enhancements or NGE. The rate of expansions was about one per year until NGE.
City of Heroes has only one expansion in the sense I mean here, which is City of Villains. They do, however, provide pretty major updates to content on a regular basis, called “Issues” to keep in the comic book vein. They are on Issue 8 currently, which puts the pace at about one a quarter, but I do not know if each Issue has enough content to compare it to a retail expansion.
Lineage II has no expansions, but has introduced a “chronicle,” which constitutes a content upgrade along the lines of an expansion, nearly every six months, putting them in the EverQuest league for timing. Again, like City of Heroes, I do not know if Chronicles are as extensive as retail box expansions. The chronicles are free, so if you buy the game box on the shelf today, you get them all when you patch.
World of Warcraft is the big news of late, with a single expansion more than two years since release. They did add some free, high end raiding content during that time frame, but the average player saw little or no content since the initial launch.
My read on this is that an expansion a year is about right, though it isn’t an absolutely provable proposition. If you pull out the non-retail expansions, only EverQuest, and possibly EverQuest II, seem to be exceeding that rate.
This is one of those posts where I wish I had a forum, because it begs for reader feedback. What do you think the right time line for expansions should be? Or what MMO examples have I missed or misread that should be considered?