Today is the day for retail WoW, that rare bi-annual event when Blizzard ships an expansion to the cornerstone game of their portfolio. Today sees the launch of WoW Dragonflight.
Today at 3pm Pacific Time or Midnight Central European Time, the world-wide launch of the expansion kicks off.
Dragonflight is the 9th expansion in the eighteen year life of the game… again, bi-annual is the pattern here, though there is some variation in the times between expansions.
- 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 – 779 days
- Warlords of Draenor to Legion – 656 days
- Legion to Battle for Azeroth – 714 days
- Battle for Azeroth to Shadowlands – 832 days
- Shadowlands to Dragonflight – 734 days
But saying “about every two years” is close enough to the mark to cover it.
And there is quite a bit riding on this expansion. I don’t think it is exactly controversial to suggest that the previous expansion, Shadowlands, was less popular than previous entries in the series. There are a few reasons for that.
Every expansion shakes up the meta of the game to some extent, though it at least appears at first glance that those that change the least seem to do better than those that go all out to be different. And, in that spectrum, Shadowlands was one of the more extreme examples.
To start with, it was built on top of the great level squish, which made the rest of the game a level 1-50 experience… or a series of parallel 1-50 experiences… that still has me wondering if the whole thing was worth the effort.
Then, of course, there was the usual borrowed power mechanics, this time involving pledging yourself to a faction, which generally negatively effect all past content and builds you up into something that is going to be taken away from you the moment the next expansion drops.
Finally, Blizz decided to toss the normal leveling experience in the air and try something new. The traditional multiple zone effort to work through that might take a couple of months of casual play to make it to the ten levels to cap was discarded. Instead they made the journey to level cap a short run for even very casual players and bet the farm that everybody would just love doing faction dailies and running the same instances over and over again for the next 18 months.
It was the ultimate “we’ll make raiders out of all of you” by making even you solo play a raiding-like daily grind. As with the Battle for Azeroth “we’ll make all servers PvP servers” debacle, this did not work out as planned. (And at least BfA didn’t mess with the normal 10 level casual curve.)
So, as I said, there is a lot riding on Dragonflight. Did Blizzard learn the right lessons? The historical trajectory of the game tends to favor the answer “no,” and the whole “let’s go all-in on everything dragons” doesn’t fill me with a ton of confidence.
But I also haven’t been interested enough to read up on the expansion or join the beta, even though I was extended an invite without even opt-ing in.
That is largely because I am playing Wrath of the Lich King Classic, the last expansion to hold its numbers rather than having a second summer… or first summer… population crash. I am enjoying that and Blizz is getting my subscription money, but I have no interesting in buying Dragonflight on day one.
I am sure that a lot of people will buy it however. I am equally sure that we will get a post-launch press release that will frame the launch in a way to show it was the best launch ever. We will see if they have to come up with a new metric to do that… my skepticism abounds since Blizz stopped talking subscription numbers and adopted MAUs across all products as their metric. (Though even that went down regularly since they adopted it, so good work on that front.)
People will enjoy it. Despite my not sticking around, I enjoyed Shadowlands quite a bit for the month it took me to get to level cap. Then the prospect of 23 more months of faction grinds and instance dailies left me cold. And while I won’t be playing, at least initially, I will be watching to see how the new round of Blizzard ideas, from UI changes to another round of class revamps to flying for everybody from the moment of launch, plays out for them.