Legion in September 2016 is… about Average for Blizzard

The big bomb last night was somebody on Reddit discovering a web asset that indicated that the next World of Warcraft expansion, Legion, would be available “on or before September 21, 2016.”  I saw this first over at Blizzard Watch, so I’ll give them the link credit as I steal the image from them.

Legion pre-order specials

Legion pre-order specials

My gut reaction to that last night was something akin to, “OMFG are they insane?!?!”

Right?  I mean in the world of this week, with subscriptions down 45% from the 10 million peak when Warlords of Draenor launched, to the point that Blizzard is no longer going to talk about subscription numbers, along with some vague past promises about getting content out faster, how could anybody in Anaheim think this is a good idea?

In a world where the EverQuest team used to produce two expansions a YEAR in support of one tenth the number of subscribers that WoW has today, and can still crank out one a year even after being pared down and combined with the EverQuest II team… which itself is cranking out an expansion a year… how can Blizzard honestly imagine that 22 months is a winning strategy?

And yes, all of that doesn’t add up to a fair comparison.  Still, even in the cold light of morning I was thinking that September… and I wouldn’t read any more that a couple weeks of leeway into the phrase “on or before” here… was still way out in the future.  That would make the long summer drought in Pandaria seem like an oasis.

The problem is, looking at past expansions, September is about right.  Here are the gaps between launches so far:

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days
  • Mists of Pandaria to Warlords of Draenor – 778 days

And if we just buy into the September 21st date for the moment, the next gap is:

  • Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 691 days

That puts it mid-pack for timelines.  The average time gap up to this point was 728 days, and if we add in this last estimate it goes down to 722.

So technically, Blizzard is getting this expansion out a bit faster than normal even at the September 21 date.  And if they pull it in a few weeks it could be close to the fastest expansion turn-around ever for Blizzard.

All of which will be cold comfort in Anaheim if they don’t have some additional incentives or a bit of extra Draenor content to tide us over until Legion hits.  Whether they want to talk about them or not, subscriptions are a cash IV straight into the veins of organization.  Losing them will show in the numbers over time.

Anyway, BlizzCon will hit shortly.  We shall see if they have something else to show us.

21 thoughts on “Legion in September 2016 is… about Average for Blizzard

  1. Rohan

    The problem isn’t so much the time between expansions. Personally, I think that an expansion every 2 years is pretty good timing.

    It’s the time from the last patch to the expansion that’s killing Blizzard. If Blizzard had put out 4 content patches every 4-5 months, it would be good. Instead they seem to be putting out 3 content patches every 3 months, and then nothing for a full year.

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rohan – That is sort of the same idea, just from a different angle. If your expansions have nine to twelves months of content in them, then releasing them every two years is too slow of a pace. They can either come sooner or have more drops in between. Either way, somebody somewhere in Anaheim has to step up their pace.

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  3. Fenjay

    I’m with Rohan here. If they could figure out some way to delay the big bad of the expansion to even six months before the next expansion,the cadence of expansions and content release would seem smoother.

    I just looked up my comment when Legion was announced in which I predicted the release date. I picked February, which was WAY off (https://tagn.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/when-is-wow-legion/#comments)

    If the WoW movie comes out in June, that’s three good months till the expansion. Still, that seems likely to power some pre-expansion interest. Next fall will be an interesting time.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Fenjay – I picked March based on when I thought Blizz probably needed to release it based on customer retention. That was clearly way off. Yes, Syl hit the mark based on how Blizz has operated in the past.

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  5. Syl

    Yeap, my guess was based on simple math for the average expansion lifespan and then assuming Blizzard will stick to it. It still needs to be confirmed though and if it really is September, then players can only pray they got some secret major content patch still up their sleeves…
    You have to wonder if they really feel the need to compete with other MMOs at this point? When they benched Titan they were pretty outspoken how they do not consider themselves an ‘MMO developer’; they just don’t care that much about WoW at this point and they can always rely on the faithful returning for Legion? /shrug

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Syl – “…they just don’t care that much about WoW at this point…”

    I can come up with a half a dozen institutional/corporate culture reasons why Blizz has problems getting out content, but not caring isn’t on the list. Not being able to execute and not caring are not the same thing, and any single product that brings in a BILLION dollars of revenue is cared about deeply, I guarantee. Money talks. This is why we got a second season of Broadchurch, right? It certainly wasn’t because we needed one, but because somebody wanted to ride on the success of that first season to make some more dosh.

    You shouldn’t mistake the fact that Blizz is trying to break its dependence on WoW revenue by trying to develop new games as a lack of care for the core of its revenue base.

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  7. Jeff Kione

    GM and RL here. I felt that BRF opened way too early as there were still guilds working through Highmail when it opened. The pace was so quick that we went directly into BRF, and we cleared BRF with barely a couple weeks to spare before HFC came out.

    The biggest problem my raiders are having right now is that there’s nothing to do outside raid. People log in for raid, log out and don’t come back until the next raid night. We were talking about a September launch during raid last night and none of us could see how that’s possible.. that’s 10+ months from now, and we’re almost winding down raiding content.

    I don’t mind breaks between raids and between expansions as it gives everyone some time to recharge after the grind. But 10 or more months is way too long without something in between.

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  8. Syl

    @Wilhelm
    For sure money talks. It just seems like WoW is still a good enough cash cow without them having to push their hardest in order to remain always at the top of that market or worry about sub fluctuations before Legion. When I say they don’t care that much, what I mean is WoW doesn’t seem to be this big priority anymore while it’s still going “well enough” (and am sure it will for a long time yet).

    And that Broadchurch s02 should totally not have happened the way it did.

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  9. Kiryn

    To me, it feels like they “don’t care” in the sense that they’re not giving it as much attention as they used to, that they’ve given up on regaining the game’s past glory and now they’re just keeping it going for money with the minimum amount of content while they focus their big efforts on building up their new franchises. They know they have that core of subscribers who will stay because their friends are there, and they have a second huge group of people who will always buy the next expansion and play for a month or two before leaving again. Nice and dependable.

    The game isn’t dead, it will most likely keep releasing expansions for many years and continue to have more players than most MMOs can ever dream of, but by telling us they’re not releasing subscriber numbers any more, they’re admitting that they don’t expect that graph to ever be anything but depressing. Those of us who come back occasionally to revisit their world are starting to question why a bit more every time, and the core faithful will drop away slowly every time there’s a lull like this.

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  10. dachengsgravatar

    I’m still sure that May is the correct date for the expansion. The September date is just Blizzard covering their asses. All they’re saying is “it will definitely be out by September, no matter how pear-shaped things go”.

    By the way, I bought Legion today, for the level 100 boost.

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  11. dachengsgravatar

    Also, I think that if it wasn’t for the film coming out, Blizzard would have gone ahead with the Farahlon expansion and WoD would have easily taken 750 days or so. I would have preferred that to the current rush to the new expansion, causing them to abandon Draenor. I like taking two years per expansion. But I wish, like Rohan and Fenjay, that they would space the patches out more evenly.

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  12. Pingback: Blizzcon 2015 – World of Warcraft | GamingSF

  13. Telke

    A streamer I was watching today bought up the point that he thinks Sept 21st is the final day of summer – as a result they’re just saying it’ll be out before then. He couldn’t see them even possibly delaying it until September. His personal guess was ‘within 3 weeks of the Movie release date.”

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  14. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @dachengsgravatar – You know, we’re on the internet, you can look this stuff up. You can start with “seasonal lag” and how it applies to temperate zones.

    @Telke – Yes, I’ve see what I call the “movie launch faction” insisting that it will be June 20, the first day of summer. The thing is, Blizzard did the same thing with Warlords of Draenor, they said “Fall” and pointed out in the fine print that the season lasts until December 20. They ended up a month early, which was great, but still put them out as the second longest time between expansions.

    A June release of Legion would make it the shortest time between expansions by a fair margin. However, given Blizzard history and where we stand on beta (which is nowhere at the moment), I have to think the date will be closer to September 21 than June 20. And that doesn’t even start on my argument against launching the expansion with the movie, which is, essentially, why bring people to the game when there are server queues and other launch issue? That seems like a bad idea to me.

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  15. flosch

    I agree, having a joint expansion/movie release sounds good for the “wow” factor (no pun intended, for once), but it’s probably a horrible idea.

    I’ve been wondering, though: would it makes more sense to release the expansion first, or the movie? Movie first: get people back into the game, hope to hook them, cash in on the expansion. Expansion first: get people back into the game, hope to immediately sell the expansion and potentially a level boost to them; then hope to hook them, but even if not, have earned the maximum amount of money possible in a short time.

    Then again, I guess releasing the expansion before the movie is out of the question, with the way the dates are set up. Unless they postpone the movie… but that’s extremely unlikely to happen, I think.

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  16. Onwuka

    Do you think it’s possible that the decision to stop reporting subscriber numbers is related to plans to expand the use of the wow token? Maybe I’m dense, but my thinking goes something like this:

    From an accounting perspective, aren’t tokens as currently implemented essentially gift cards? Blizzard gets the money now, but unused tokens sitting in accounts are a liability they will have to make good on down the road. Selling two name changes is certainly far more profitable than a month of game play they’ll have to provide at some future date, and I imagine that they could see substantial increases in cash shop sales if they allow token purchases.

    The reason I suspect that they would not want to share subscriber numbers in this case is to obscure the connection between subscriptions and revenues. Strong revenue growth coupled with continued subscriber loss might give them a free-to-play stink they’d prefer to avoid. But continued subscriber loss and revenue decline is even worse.

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  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Onwuka – I’m not sure that tokens enter into it. But masking how much WoW is or is not masking may be, perhaps less to protect WoW from criticism than to keep it from standing out as the billion dollar a year giant in the midst of its other games. In previous financial reports, WoW not only got a subscription number listed, but also had essentially its own line item… online games or some such… that singled out its revenue. If that line item goes away and WoW revenue gets mixed into the rest of the revenue for Blizz games, one possible conclusion is that Blizz wants to make is broader portfolio look better.

    So it could be less “WoW is tanking” and more “Nothing else has lived up to WoW yet.”

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