The EverQuest Expansion Machine and the Future of WoW

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.

The Terror of Luclin approaches

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.

4 thoughts on “The EverQuest Expansion Machine and the Future of WoW

  1. bhagpuss

    With my most-played mmorpgs of the last decade being GW2 and EQII, plus a decent amount of EQ when I’ve been in the mood, my feeling is that any new content trumps no new new content. In all three of those games, and especially the first two, players complain loud and long about all the things they don’t like about every expansion, update and Living Story drop but so long as they have something to complain about, they keep coming back for more. It’s when the content dries up that people start looking around for alternatives.

    And, honestly, in the EQ titles the content has been consistently pretty good. Or I suppose I should say in EQII it has, since I haven’t personally experienced any top-end EQ content at time of release since around the release of Secrets of Faydwer in 2007. And even then I only saw the starting zone. In EQII, though, I’ve been up to speed every year since 2014’s Altar of Malice and while some have been more polished (and more popular) than others, there haven’t been any complete duds and mnost have been good. As for GW2, I keep snarking about ANet but I’m stil playing daily after almost ten years and a lot of it has been fun. For all the sniping about missing deadlines and radio silence there, they’ve managed to find something new for us to do every couple of months or so since 2012.

    I don’t play WoW consistently. I drop in now and again. I read about it a lot, though, and the content release cadence there has always mystified me, not so much that Blizzard are so slow about it but that players put up with it. It seems from the outside that just about every other “name” mmo puts out new content faster than WoW and most of them do it much faster. How many DLCs has ESO released? How many free “expansions” have there been in EVE? It doesn’t matter so much that these might not stack up in size or depth to the few WoW gets – it’s the frequency that matters.

    And it matters even more when content that eventually arrives isn’t actually all that great. The whole “every other expansion stinks” trope about WoW is something I can’t imagine any other game getting away with but WoW players for the longest time seem to have been willing to accept poor quality on the understanding that Blizzard always provides top quality It’s a paradoxical belief that derives more from faith than experience.

    It’s beginning to look as though that faith may finally have been tested beyond breaking point for some Blizzard fans. The terrible PR about genuinely awful behavior won’t have helped, but two badly-received expansions in a row, when they only come along every other year, plus a genuinely viable alternative, perhaps for the first time, in FFXIV, might just be enough to knock a hole in the ship. It won’t go down, of course, but I think we might see it flounder for a while. And if Blizzard stick to their current course I could see WoW losing it’s pre-eminent position in the genre in time. I wonder what effect being #2 or even lower might have on the development process there?

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  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Furthermore, in the house of Blizzard in 2020, WoW and WoW Classic together added up to about a billion dollars in revenue, which was considerably more than the rest of the Blizzard franchises combined. Azeroth makes Blizz a player and keeps its name on the company letterhead. The cornerstone of revenue like that is the subscription model, which is only viable if you give people a reason to stay subscribed. And content is the primary reason.

    So there is a “well duh” problem that picture involving content creation, and if Blizzard can’t fix it I bet Bobby Kotick will find somebody who can.

    Of course, I’ve said that in the past and nothing has happened, but after two stinker expansions maybe something will change. As I have noted, Holly Longdale works there now, and having been the executive producer for both Norrath MMOs, she brings more with here than just how to run a nostalgia server.

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  3. kiantremayne

    I think Blizzard’s problem goes a lot deeper than two poorly-received expansions and everyone being shocked, SHOCKED to discover reprehensible bro culture goings-on at a video games company. I mean, I’ve played both of those expansions and while they weren’t the best WoW expansions ever, neither struck me as truly terrible. Instead, it almost has felt as if players were already feeling disenchanted with WoW and have gone looking to find things to complain about to justify that feeling. If that’s the case, then even creating kick-ass content at breakneck pace won’t help because people will have already decided to complain about the content.

    Also, Blizzard’s normal cadence was to push out an x.1/2/3 patch that was usually a mini-expansion for free every 6 months, so their rate of content creation is a bit more than one expansion every two years. I could be wrong, not being an EQ/EQ2 player, but I don’t think they tend to add zones and raids between expansions? It’s definitely not helped the mood of the WoW fanbase that we’re coming up to the point where we should have been getting the 9.2 patch, and instead we get 9.1.5 with almost no new content, some time/grind gating removal (which just plays into the narrative that those delays to progress were a mistake and shouldn’t have been there in the first place) and the fruits of what looks like a humourless crusade to purge any off-colour joke or reference instead of actually ADDING fun stuff instead.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @kiantremayne – You don’t get a whole new overland zone with the mid-year update for EQ and EQII, but you do get new raids and new dungeons and generally a new mid-year instanced storyline that builds off of the expansion for overland/instanced content. And you get a new expansion around the same time WoW is giving you that new zone/raid content.

    One thing that EQ and EQII don’t do is toss every class in the air and redo them with every expansion. Blizzard does a lot to stir the discontent it then can’t seem to understand. I have a series of retail WoW characters that are at various level squish levels now because the class was fun to play in one expansion and a pain in the ass in the next.

    Battle for Azeroth was probably a fine expansion, I enjoyed the overland content. But the whole thing where content scaled on your ilevel so at times you got weaker in combat when you upgraded gear did not make me want to play through with multiple alts. And the fact that they killed PvP by making it flaggable on all servers, thus effectively eliminating PvP servers was boneheaded in the extreme. And then there was the long end of expansion content drought.

    Likewise, I enjoyed the initial overland content with one character with Shadowlands. I have the posts here to prove it. But I didn’t really want to do it again and I didn’t want to grind Torghast every day. If it wasn’t for WoW Classic I would subscribe to the game for maybe six months out of every two year cycle.

    The real difference, to my mind, is that the EQ and EQII teams are a lot more dialed in on what their regulars want. (Though EQII has its own brewing pile of old hands in the forums who complain about literally everything, though they also seem to buy every expansion and run every raid.) The WoW team keeps trying to make some amazing new play that changes things up and makes everybody happy and brings in a whole bunch of new players again. At a certain point the installed base for a game is a very conservative bunch of old hands who are very easy to piss off if you change too much or try to make it a different game.

    [random off point meandering omitted after I re-read it.]

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