World of Warcraft's newest expansion looks like it's coming far sooner than anticipated. Blizzard Entertainment has announced that it will be streaming the announcement of the next WoW expansion on August 6, 2015 at 9am PDT. There had been rumors swirling around Blizzard doing a Gamescom reveal, but those rumors came alongside a a trademark for an expansion called "Council of Glades" that was later debunked. Many later assumed that the reveal was related to Overwatch, the publisher's upcoming first-person shooter. Instead, we're getting more WoW.
This is surprising. Normally, Blizzard does its reveals at Blizzcon. The Hearthstone reveal at PAX East 2013 was a rare occasion, a company stepping outside of its normal boundaries for a unique product. That Blizzard could begin doing reveals at other major gaming events on a regular basis represents a shift in the company.
World of Warcraft itself on a pretty steady schedule. We've generally received new expansions every two years, with announcement coming roughly a year before the official release.
- World of Warcraft (November 2004)
- Burning Crusade (January 2007, Announced October 2005)
- Wrath of the Lich King (November 2008, Announced August 2007)
- Cataclysm (December 2010, Announced August 2009)
- Mists of Pandaria (September 2012, Announced October 2011)
- Warlords of Draenor (November 2014, Announced November 2013)
This puts the next expansion's release in a window from August - October 2016, unless Blizzard pulls a crazy swerve and launches the new content at Blizzcon 2015 in November. If that's the case, Blizzard may have been pushed there by the lowered subscription numbers and the general discontent surrounding Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor. Back in 2014, I surmised that World of Warcraft was finding its new normal around 7.6 million subscribers, a major drop from the game's all-time high of 12 million, but still amazing within the MMO space. When Activision Blizzard released its first quarter 2015 earnings, I was proven right, with WoW actually dropping to around 7.1 million subscribers.
With other titles within Blizzard and Activision exploring new business and release models, including Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Destiny, the World of Warcraft team may be tempted to change up WoW's content plans. The team at Blizzard has admitted as much.
"We find that expansions are what bring players back to World of Warcraft," former World of Warcraft designer Greg Street told Digital Spy. "Really good patches will keep them, but they aren't as good at bringing players back to the game. We really want to get to a cadence where we can release expansions more quickly. Once a year I think would be a good rate. I think the best thing we can do for new players is to keep coming out with regular content updates."
Whether those plans stuck around when Street left Blizzard for Riot in January of last year is anyone's guess.
Of course, regardless of when the next expansion comes, the real question is: What will it be about? Warlords of Draenor has taken the series towards an alternate timeline that in no way is going to square with the previous WoW plot. Are we going to continue to explore this new Draenor, or is that plot done with the major deaths and new allegiances in the most recent patch? (Spoilers, of course.)
The linked cinematic and Wrathion's visions in Mists of Pandaria point to a new expansion focused on the Burning Legion. The Emerald Dream/Nightmare has long been a rumored direction for World of Warcraft, but perhaps Blizzard is ready to pull the trigger? Another debunked rumor had a new region in Azeroth's South Seas, focused heavily on Queen Azshara and her naga. And what about the rest of the Old Gods?
Regardless, we'll be finding out about what's next for World of Warcraft next week at Gamescom. It feels odd typing that sentence.