The Potential Future of Battle for Azeroth – A Discussion About Patch Frequency

With 8.0 out, the expansion launching in under 30 days, it is worth talking about the next big thing for World of Warcraft, namely patch frequency.

In the past, it was safe to assume we’d have a bit of a gap to not think about it – time to level, time to do endgame content, and only after all of that would we hear about the next big thing.

But now, there is reason to believe that we just may be thinking about the future sooner than we’d expect. Or not, potentially!

Legion Patch Frequency Is The Most Recent Example

This bears mentioning because I think that my optimism for patching in Battle for Azeroth comes from the example of Legion. Let’s rewind two years, shall we?

At this point two years ago, 7.0 was out, and we were doing Broken Shore, leveling Demon Hunters a whopping two levels, and doing raids in a weird state where rotations were incomplete and bosses were debuffed hard to make up for it. We were eagerly anticipating artifact weapons and the Broken Isles, level scaling and class halls.

It wasn’t until Gamescom 2016, in the middle of August, just a week before the launch of Legion proper, where we were all taken by surprise – 7.1 was going to be on PTR in the launch window for the expansion, and it was going to have a new dungeon (Return to Karazhan!!!!) a new raid, and a fair amount of other new content.

It wasn’t anything we expected – never before had Blizzard launched new content so quickly, and the idea that we were already hearing about 7.1 before even doing the 7.0 content was astounding. It was, in many ways, a sign that Blizzard had taken to heart the lessons of the precipitous drop in subs after the launch of Warlords of Draenor. It was a refreshing mode of play – knowing that even as we concluded leveling to 110 and gearing up, before we could even do the first raid tier of the expansion, we knew what was coming after. We’d get some time to enjoy the 7.0 content, as 7.1 did not come out immediately, but it was there, looming in the distance.

And on October 25th, 2016, we were given the Return to Karazhan patch. It was a great patch, full of new content that enhanced the gameplay that launched with Legion, and it started a cycle that Blizzard maintained for nearly a year – an 11 week spacing between major patch launches, which was kept up until 7.3.2 in November of 2017.

Arguably, the reason to be excited is that the current WoW team is the one that decided on this structure for content releases. We know that the team works on many things in parallel, and with the development window on the base game effectively closed short of bug fixes and tuning (which we will absolutely be discussing soon!), the majority of the team is almost certainly working on the next big thing.

If I had to be optimistic, pressed to an answer, I would say that we will see something similar, with 11-13 weeks between patch releases. The pacing of patch releases during Legion was far too well received to discard that momentum now. However, there is something else worth calling out…

Legion’s Patch Frequency Was An Anomaly

The other side of this discussion is harder to swallow, but here goes – Legion is one expansion, one game out of 7, soon to be 8. What Legion did may not be done again. The fact that it worked well does not inherently mean it would have to happen again. For comparison, here is the launch time window for every other expansion:

Vanilla WoW: 5 weeks from launch (1.1) to first patch (1.2) (Maraudon, Gurubashi Arena, Cloak/Helm hide toggle option, Feast of Winter Veil)
The Burning Crusade: 24 weeks from prepatch (2.0.3) to Black Temple (2.1)
Wrath of the Lich King: 26 weeks from prepatch (3.0.2) to Secrets of Ulduar (3.1)
Cataclysm: 28 weeks from prepatch 1 (4.0.1) to Rise of the Zandalari (4.1) (23 weeks if you count 4.0.3 with the world changes as the “true” prepatch)
Mists of Pandaria:  13 weeks from prepatch (5.0.4) to Landfall (5.1)
Warlords of Draenor: 19 weeks from prepatch (6.0.2) to Garrison Updates (6.1) (man, that patch title…)

So the trend, overall, has mostly been 2 to 2.5 times the wait that Legion offered between patches. This lends credence to the idea that at this point, Legion is still an aberration in this way, and may not reflect what we can expect.

WoW’s history has traditionally had much larger patches, however, where Legion offered a mix of patches with little bits of content and larger patches. Given that, there is one other thing that bears mentioning here.

Legion, Where Patches Didn’t Mean All Things Open Day 1

This is the lesson from Legion that the team will absolutely take to heart, and has already indicated in the most recent Q&A that the expectation going forward is exactly this – patch does NOT mean that all the listed content will be in day 1. In fact, even with 8.0, a slow trickle of content will keep coming out, with Burning of Teldrassil starting this upcoming week, leading up to the launch where we’ll get to do Battle for Lordaeron early as another preorder bonus. I’d expect after launch that we will see something similar, with pieces of the expansion features being slowly opened up. If I had to guess, Battlefronts could have a bit of a delay, time to finish other quests and the War Campaign before jumping into this new thing. I could see Island Expedition features opening up slowly, maybe the higher difficulty modes or the PvP mode. Unlike Legion, there is only one raid in the game files right now, and that is Uldir. We know there will be a delay before that opens, but what comes after? We’ve heard about Azshara, looming on the horizon, but what raid will she be in, and what form will that take?

To draw a line in the sand right now, here is what I fully expect we will see during Battle for Azeroth:

-Patch structure around alternating small and large patches, with dungeons introduced and opened in the same patch and raids often added to the game files with large patches but not opened until later
-An aggressive patch schedule with releases between 11-14 weeks apart (I’d gamble either 11 or 13 weeks specifically)
-Delayed content releases are going to be used to pad out the release window – expect to see more features gated, in a way similar to the 7.3 releases (no Broken Shore style weekly updates for 11 weeks, but rather a 3-5 week long burst of new things weekly)

And now, for the most controversial:

We will hear about 8.1 at Gamescom, with a demo on the show floor there in Germany, and a PTR announcement that same day or even going up on announcement. The first day of Gamescom 2018 is 1 week after the global launch of BfA, and I fully expect that Blizzard will hold out for this in order to ensure that story spoilers for the launch experience are kept to a minimum. Announcing Karazhan for Legion made sense in the context of the pre-patch experience there, but with Battle for Azeroth, short of the upcoming animated shorts, I think we will need to see some story reveals before they announce whatever is coming out with 8.1. I fully expect that we will see a dungeon and raid, similar to 7.1, where the dungeon will be large and significant, although not quite as “mega” as Return to Karazhan was, and the raid will likely be short and transitional in nature, existing to move us from the halls of Uldir to Azshara and what comes next.

But I guess first, we need to see the Burning of Teldrassil and what comes next after that!

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