I was a bit surprised to see a post over at Blizzard Watch which, as the name implies, is mostly about Blizzard and their games, musing about the fact that EverQuest was warming up to launch its 28th expansion, Terror of Luclin.
And it is a nice smooth read, not too deep in insight, but respectful of what the EverQuest team has managed to pull off over the 22 years the game has been around and how it continues to put out annual expansions.
Of course, it isn’t all that surprising that they are expanding on the topics they cover. Blizzard is both a mess, wracked by its own internal issues and a government investigation, and doesn’t really have much new on the horizon. Since the launch of Burning Crusade Classic in May and Diablo II Resurrected in September, there hasn’t been much to write about. You can can’t go on forever on the stagnation of the Shadowlands expansion for WoW or some tidbits about Diablo IV.
It says something that the big news out of Blizzard this year… erm… the big product related news that is… has been about remakes of a 20 year old title and a 14 year old expansion.
You can see why somebody at Blizzard Watch might glance over longingly at the Daybreak stable of games and wonder what it might be like to write about some titles that are actually planning to ship some new content. LOTRO, EQ, EQII, DCUO, they all have new things on their plate this year. And EverQuest is the king of that pack with its 28th expansion landing later this year.
I’ve been hard on SOE and Daybreak in the past, and justifiably so for some of their missteps, but I always given them credit for their ability to package up an expansion annually for both Norrath franchises.
They may not be as grandiose as they once were… the Visions of Vetrovia has four zones (not far off from how many as a recent WoW expansion generally has, delivered in half the time) while the Gates of Discord, the EQ expansion on which that content is being based, introduced 18 zones into old Norrath… but they still deliver expansions annually, with a major mid-year update as well.
And they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t making money and keeping people subscribed. I joke about expansions for the two titles being a bit of a commodity, with a requisite number of zones, dungeons, raids, collections, house items, pets, AA levels, and whatever else bundled up in those annual releases.
But the Norrath team is a content machine, able to turn out those expansions year after year while not having anything close to the resources that a title like World of Warcraft has available.
And the Norrath teams also launches special servers every year too.
Which does make one wonder what is really going on at Blizzard.
Yes, they have a different culture and a different view on how their IP ought to be presented and probably look down their noses a bit at how much the Norrath team reuses locations and how chaotic or easy to ignore a lot of their lore can be… I mean, I played through Blood of Luclin two years back and couldn’t really tell you much about it now beyond the fact that it was on the moon of Luclin and it looked pretty good… and how often a new expansion just leaves the old one behind without much in the way of transition, but there has been a whole additional expansion since I played Blood of Luclin and another one is arriving soon.
Blizzard has always prided itself on quality and polish and getting this just right, while SOE and Daybreak have had a much less intimate relationship with those qualities at times. And the success of WoW enabled them to live on that reputation and the huge user base it built early on in the history of the game, even when they were annoying their base or letting the game drift without news or updates for months at a time during their two year expansion cycle.
Now, however, with content droughts becoming the norm for WoW, I have to wonder if they couldn’t learn a lesson or two from the Norrath team at Daybreak about content pacing and what they ought to be able to deliver.
After two lackluster expansions in a row and a the whole hostile work environment fiasco that broke loose earlier this year, it might be time for the WoW team to think hard about what they really need to do to keep their user base engaged and happy.
It has been more than three years since we saw the end of Legion, the last strong WoW expansion, and it will be at least another year until Blizzard can deliver a new one. A two year expansion cycle feels like a long time when you get a lemon that doesn’t keep you invested.
I may not like all the Norrath expansions, but I will tell you true that knowing another one will land come the holidays takes some sting out of that. I am not sure that the WoW team can managed that. For all the pain of being understaffed, a small team can also be a more nimble team. Too many cooks can slow things down. But it feels like Blizzard needs to do something to get themselves and their WoW fan base on board and invested and looking forward to something new.