This Friday October the 10th hails the beginning of Blizzcon 2008. Typically that includes announcements about future WoW expansions. It got me to speculating about what Blizzard plans on doing for their next expansion. I think there are two ways to look at this: 1) what Blizzard *will* do for their next expansion and 2) what Blizzard *needs* to do for their next expansion. Let’s face it, WoW is getting on in years. By the time the 3rd WoW expansion is released the venerable MMO will be at least 5 years old if not older. So what does the future hold for 10 million plus subscribers?
Predictions: What Blizzard Will Do
1 ) Timely Expansion Release Date – Blizzard realizes that they have to start releasing expansions faster. Due to the quick leveling and easy accomplishments players are getting bored of the content and tend to unsubscribe once they reach the level cap. With the release of each expansion, players are reaching the tedium threshold much sooner. Pressure from Activision shareholders who will want to see some return for their investment will also be a factor in Blizzard creating expansions on a more timely basis.
2 ) Restructuring of Development Teams – Due to the fact that they are lagging behind in their promise to release expansions in a more timely fashion, Blizzard will eventually realize that they need to create two distinct teams: a live team to manage the day to day WoW and an expansion team to develop and implement future expansion content. Blizzard has no excuse now as they have a shiny new headquarters and lots of money to hire new people.
3 ) Raising the Level Cap to 90 – Blizzard feels that 10 more levels will provide casual players with enough content to tide them over until the next expansion. Expect Blizzard to follow in the footsteps of previous expansions here.
4 ) Seafaring Expansion Theme – I fully expect Blizzard to create a seafaring based expansion theme full of goblins, pirates and naga. I believe the Maelstrom and the Undermine will play a big role in determining the geographic locations. Also expect to see the inclusion of the human city of Gilneas. You’ll most likely see Queen Azshara and Neptulon as raid bosses.
5 ) Personal Water Travel – Without a doubt there will be some kind of water based travel that Blizzard will devise. Expect to see gnomish water machines and/or surfboards for players. Players will literally be able to jump the shark with Blizzard’s help.
6 ) New Hero Class – Blizzard will most certainly create a new hero class and it will tie in to the lore of the new expansion following the precedent of the first hero class: the Deathknight. The new class will probably be caster or range type class or even a new pet class — pet classes are very popular with players. Also the new class will probably have the ability to heal as healers are in short supply; Blizzard used the first hero class to address a tank shortage so it’s likely that the next hero class will address some need. Expect the class to start at level 55 like the first hero class.
7 ) The Death of E-Sports – Blizzard will cancel their PVP Tournaments marking the end of their self-indulgent foray into e-sports. Blizzard has recently revealed that they are refocusing their PVP development on Battlegrounds. Good riddance!
8 ) Player Housing – It’s now or never for Blizzard. By the time the 3rd expansion comes out I predict WoW’s subscriber base will be in decline. Blizzard will implement player housing as way to help stop the bleeding. Players have been clamoring for this feature for years now only to be vetoed by someone at the top in Blizzard.
Wishlist: What Blizzard Should Do
1 ) Customer Loyalty Program – The 3rd expansion will probably be released between Christmas 2009 and Spring 2010. By then many WoW subscribers will have left the ranks of the 10 million for other MMOs. A customer loyalty program will help keep people subscribing. SOE created one for their EverQuest MMOs a few months after the release of WoW due to falling subscriptions.
2 ) Five New Levels Instead of Ten – Blizzard doesn’t need to release 10 new levels each expansion. Instead they should double the amount of experience needed to reach each level and only have 5 new levels. Fewer levels puts less pressure and demands on developers who have to create half the content and half the time testing new class abilities. Slower leveling means that players will be forced to enjoy the content at their level instead of bypassing it by madly racing to the level cap.
3 ) Live GM Events – Facing decreasing revenues from fewer subscribers, Blizzard should introduce live GM events in order to stop the hemorrhaging by renewing player interest in WoW again. Live events would go a long way toward making Azeroth come alive.
4 ) Azeroth Reborn Expansion Theme – Forget adding new areas to WoW. The boring, repetitive and unchanging content of old Azeroth has become a major liability. New quests, NPCs, stories and dungeons (instances) need to be developed in order to revitalize all of the old areas. Give players a reason to roll new characters. Also new players (who are the lifeblood of any MMO) would be able to experience more advanced quest technology that is currently being used in Wrath of the Lich King.
5 ) Role-Playing Support and Mechanics – Eventually Blizzard will realize that role-players are a very valuable asset to their much beloved player “community”. Players should be able to go to special vendors to purchase role-playing support which would include being able to spawn special NPC’s. Imagine being able to host a wedding, a treasure hunt, a party, a tug of war game — the possibilities are endless.
6 ) Guild Halls– This is a feature that players have been requesting for many years. Guild halls could provide guild masters and officers with many management features that are critical in managing a guild. Guild trophies of recent kills could be displayed. Statues and memorials to guild members could also be created here. Also they would provide rank and file members with places to congregate before and after raids.
7 ) Player Housing – Yet another long requested feature that Blizzard really needs to implement. Player housing gives players more of a stake in the MMOs they inhabit. They are also a great way to revitalize crafting as many crafted items will be required to decorate those homes. Player housing is the biggest no-brainer for any MMO and Blizzard can easily afford it.
8 ) Clean Up the Discussion Forums – Probably the most disheartening thing about WoW is the terrible forum community that has emerged. The WoW forums are a disgrace. The forum meta-game has become all about oneupsmanship, trolling and sophomoric nastiness that has managed to drown out the thoughtful and legitimate posters. If I was a new player researching a potential MMO to play I would be appalled at the forums and shy away from WoW. Blizzard needs to clean them up or remove them completely.
Players are getting tired of the predictable gameplay in WoW. The flaws in their MMO are starting to stick out like a sore thumb and it will only get worse in the next year as players experience more of the same fare with the release of Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
One thing is certain in this world: all good things must come to an end. WoW will not be at the top of the MMO heap indefinitely and their current business as usual attitude will need to change and evolve. It will be interesting to see how the inevitable reality of declining subscribers influences the decision making process at Blizzard with regard to new expansions.