Every patch has tons of content for nearly every aspect of the game. It’s exciting — there’s almost too much to do. When a new patch releases, we’re in WoW heaven.
Then months go by and that content grows stale. Blizzard doesn’t give us new content at that point, but peeks at future content. We’re starving for a delicious content meal, but we can only look at pictures of the food.
-Scott Andrew, article Blizzard should rethink their content release model
I know that being in WoW right now, this is something that a lot of people are probably mulling over. The Siege of Orgrimmar update came out way back in September and players are not set to get anything new until the patch that will precede the Warlords of Draenor expansion sometime this fall.
Blizzard gets its share of flak for its long expansion cycle. Ironing things out to smooth averages, we’ll see the 5th WoW expansion around the 10th anniversary of the game, so we get one about every other year. This is actually kind of amazing when you consider how much Blizzard studied EverQuest during WoW’s development, because SOE appeared to be convinced that they needed to ship two expansions a year to keep subscribers happy and paying the bills.
Even after watching WoW in return for a few years, SOE felt that they could only relax their pace to an expansion a year. So we are at 20 EverQuest expansions in just over 15 years, but I may not live long enough to see 20 WoW expansions at their current pace.
The flip side of this has been GuildWars 2, which went through a long stretch of dropping new content every two weeks. I have no first hand experience as to how that felt as a player, but a number of bloggers writing about it managed to transmit a sense of frenzied exhaustion that I am not sure that ANet’s solution was the best of all possible worlds. If fans seemed a bit frazzled, I can only imagine how the devs felt working at that pace. And, in the end, a select group of players experienced a lot of one-time content that is likely never to be seen again.
They could run something like Super Adventure Box again I suppose, but storyline stuff that comes to a resolution would be jarring under all but the most specific circumstances, so becomes throw away content. And you won’t find many devs who like to write throw away code, so I am going to guess the attitude about throw away content would run about as strong amongst game designers.
And then there is what is going on with EVE Online and expansions.
With all the talk about players being content, you might not think that expansions are all that important. But, if you go look at the population graphs, subscriptions always surge after an expansion. It turns out we like new stuff and the promise of such will get us to spend money.
CCP is going from their “every six month” content vehicles to what I have always called the “train” method. Basically, you lay out a series of delivery vehicles… trains if you will… and as teams finish up features, they just assign them to whatever train is leaving the station next.
I have work with this system before. We failed badly at it, but that was primarily because the product group that was told they needed to adopt this method was responsible for software that was wholly unsuited to it. Enterprise software costing hundreds of thousands of dollars does not need six distinct releases a year. No IT department I have ever encountered wants to roll an update to anything more than once a year.
Were that not enough, we also managed to shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly. We would have a big feature that would span many departing trains in progress, and some small features going out, but the big feature would depend on aspects of the product that the smaller features would end up changing every freaking time, thus making it nearly impossible to ship a feature that couldn’t be done in under six weeks. You need strong leadership, discipline, and good communication for that. (As opposed to my project, which was an acquisition into our group and then had most of the team laid off. We were a mess.)
And then there is still the content question. The train schedule sounds great in theory, but what happens if you end up with a delivery vehicle where no features are ready? I am going to predict that there are going to be some uneven releases here, with some seeming amazing and some having us asking why they bothered to have a release at all. As any child who has gotten a filler gift like pencils for one of the days of Hanukkah can tell you, sometimes it seems like a good idea to save everything up for one big surprise.
Add in how CCP generally handles content releases… which from the outside looks like three months of development followed by three months of fixing what they just shipped… and it will be interesting to see how their new plan plays out.
In the end, I am not sure which one of these methods is the “best,” or even if any of them are optimum in any way for the company using them. All I can guarantee is that we’ll complain about them all no matter what.
Back to looking at pictures of food.