Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Sustainability of WoW

When asked what the best MMORPG is, I answer "World of Warcraft" without hesitation. It has a huge amount of content, of excellent quality, is the most newbie-friendly, and is just plain fun to play for thousands of hours. Unfortunately at some point these thousands of hours end, and with WoW in its fourth year there are now more and more people simply burned out from playing it. Which leads to a lot of discussion of the possibility of the downfall of WoW, with one recent comment here calling WoW "as unassailable as the French in the Maginot line". Is the success of WoW sustainable?

It is very hard to predict the future. One technique to do so is to look at what happened in the past, find a trend, and extrapolate that into the future. If we do that with the trend of WoW expansions, we get something like this: In 2024 the 10th expansion for World of Warcraft is released, close to the 20th anniversary of WoW's release. The expansion raises the level cap from 150 to 160, adds a new continent for those new levels, including new level 160 raid dungeons. The 10th expansion adds the 9th and last hero class, so now every class has a hero class equivalent. The new hero class starts at level 135. The expansion adds a few new monster models, and introduces one more crafting profession (knitting?).

Of course extrapolations tends to be wildly wrong. But the silly extrapolation to the 10th expansion shows clearly what is wrong with the 2nd expansion: It is too little, too late. This kind of "more of the same" expansion would be a lot more palatable if Blizzard had stuck to the original plan of one expansion per year. If it takes them two years for every expansion, players expect more than just one new class. There is already visibly less hype and excitement around Wrath of the Lich King than we had for The Burning Crusade. If the extrapolation came true, how many people would buy that 10th expansion in 2024? Not many.

So why go down this path if it is so clearly not sustainable? Nobody says that making good expansions is easy, but one expansion per year certainly isn't impossible, especially given the huge pile of money Blizzard is sitting on, and could profitably reinvest into the game. Some people assume hubris, and think that Blizzard is simply incompetent. I can't believe that, there is nothing in the history of Blizzard to suggest they don't know their business. So the only explanation I can think of is that World of Warcraft isn't *supposed* to be sustainable. It is very well possible that WoW serves two purposes for Blizzard: to enhance their reputation, and to serve as cash cow, both in preparation of the next game. Blizzard could very well be saving their money and their new ideas for their next MMORPG, while just investing the minimum in money and manpower into World of Warcraft, to milk it for maximum return on investment.

What if Blizzard doesn't think of World of Warcraft as being unassailable? If you assume that there will be a next big thing drawing millions of players away from WoW, trying to create that next big thing yourself instead of waiting for somebody else to do it makes a lot more sense. Technically Ultima Online and Everquest are still alive, but barely so. Nobody has ever succeeded in keeping up subscription numbers for 10 years for any MMORPG. We can all think of popular features we would like to see in the next WoW expansions, but has anyone here an idea that would guarantee that WoW still is the market leader on its 10th anniversary in 2014? I don't think so. But if Blizzard brings out a new MMORPG around 2010, it would probably sell very well, because of Blizzard's great reputation from WoW, and because of all the money Blizzard would have been able to put into the development of the new game. They could very well still be top dog in 2014, just not with WoW. Most other computer games only get one or two expansions, and then the game company behind it brings out a sequel. Who says that business model wouldn't work for MMORPGs?
I think one thing people tend to discount far too easily is that you can't just throw money at the content problem to have it go away. Blizzard takes so godawfully long because they are ridiculously thorough about balance; They don't care if it takes 2 years, they want every new thing in WoW to be at the exact same level as everything else currently in the game, or above.

More developers COULD create more content, that is for sure, but there is a SHARP dropoff in the marginal increase of content per developer added. Essentially it is an issue of "too many chefs spoil the broth". At low levels, new staff add a LOT to the equation and it is more than worth the money to hire them. But as the staff size grows, it becomes unwieldy, there are more disagreements as to direction, and...well, no one really needs the analogy explained more, do they?

My point is simply that saying Blizzard is sitting on a pile of money is silly; Yes, it's certainly true, but they can't transform that money into more content, better content, or faster content. They are at what they feel is the equilibrium point.

Who can say whether it is their proper course of action or not? The old style of MMO patching/expansions seemed to be "throw a crapload of new stuff that is glitchy and horribly balanced and work out the kinks after the money from sales comes in". Blizzard has decided that they are going to play the tortoise instead. As a result you get people burning out due to not having content, but the content is generally really high level and, more or less, balanced. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to raids, since it is VERY hard to balance bosses without simply inviting guilds to do it for them. In house developers simply don't raid in the same ways as the general public, and when you KNOW how the encounter is run, you run it differently than if you don't. There are many stories of Blizzard putting in bosses that ended up being downed in COMPLETELY different ways than how the devs imagined it would be done.

It would be interesting how other people feel about the balance between speed and quality.
Tobold said:
"Blizzard could very well be saving their money and their new ideas for their next MMORPG, while just investing the minimum in money and manpower into World of Warcraft, to milk it for maximum return on investment."

I think your right on the money with that statement. I have no doubt that WoW will be around in 5-6 years (Diablo 2 still is). I don't think it will be top MMO for any longer than another 2. Players get tired of the same stuff over and over. New content is now being seen as more work (grinding), and not more fun to be had.
Nice analysis, Tobold! It seems like the business thing to do: keep as many people playing WoW for as little effort as possible, while working on other projects that will take over WoW's playerbase in a couple of years.

With WoW almost being a monopoly in MMORPGs, Blizzard has a lot of leeway in design. So all they really have to do now is 'string people along' until they release their next project. This also explains, and maybe this answers some of your concerns too, Caleb, why Blizzard apparently is doing a lot of experimenting on live realms. Some examples: the whole Arena system, the Sunwell, class balance, lowering/removing attunements.

Blizzard is clearly learning from mistakes, but they don't mind making the mistakes on live realms. This would be bad business sense if there were serious competitors, but there are none. So essentially they are using WoW as a sandbox to train themselves for their new MMORPG.

Maybe you're right, Caleb, and Blizzard cannot produce high-end content with this level of quality faster than they are doing now. If they can not do that right now, then at least rest assured they will be able to do it in two years.
Movie companies don't seem to have any problems managing a large creative staff while keeping the overall design coherent. Granted, managing a large amount of people is hard, but it's doable.

But back to the topic..

Unless you're making AQ opening-style grinding content, content is always consumed faster than it's created. No matter how rich Blizzard is, their staff is always going to be several orders of magnitude smaller than their customer base. In addition, making old content obsolete is only making the problem worse. They're trying to keep more and more players content with less and less content. I don't need to predict the future to see that this is inherently unsustainable.
"Movie companies don't seem to have any problems managing a large creative staff while keeping the overall design coherent."

And still it takes at least a year to make a movie.
For what it's worth, Blizzard is still fairly new to the MMO business.

You make a good point Tobold. I feel that Blizzard is getting dangerously close to the point where subscriptions (real subscriptions not the inflated Asian numbers) will start to decline all because they are failing to deliver new content in a timely fashion.

On it's own this is a major problem but it's even worse when you consider that Blizzard has failed to make any substantive improvements and enhancements to WoW. We're essentially playing the same game as we did back in 2004.

When you look at EverQuest, they MMO that WoW dethroned, at least they kept improving the genre with many new features. As an EQ player I felt that their MMO was growing along with me. We should give SOE credit for pushing the envelope in many ways. Blizzard has utterly failed to do match that that kind of innovation.

The only innovation they've tried to do is retrofit PVP onto a PVE game. PVP has been a failure. Think of the manpower and resources they have thrown away because of the experimentation and self-indulgence of Tom Chilton their lead designer with regard to Arenas and the Tournaments.

Also look at their push to develop esports and branch into motion pictures. All of this shows a lack of focus and arrogance in that they are failing to invest back into WoW -- the real reason why most of us care in the first place.

I suspect they are taking the funds from WoW and developing WoW2 which I talked about on my website. I have speculated that they are purposely not improving WoW in order to make WoW2 more attractive.

Another failure of Blizzard is that they have failed to divide the original WoW team into a live team that updates existing content and an expansion team that creates new content. The need to hire more talented people. Their economies of scale are overwhelming and unprecedented in MMO history to say the least. So there is simply no excuse that content can't be updated or newly created.

To sum up, Blizzard has failed to innovate the MMO genre and failed to deliver new content. This can't go on forever. People will not put up with Blizzard's intransigence indefinately.
The problem with adding new content is that it makes a lot of the old content obsolete overnight.

Probably 95% of new WoW players have never been to BRD or Scholomance. There is nothing wrong with that content at all, but it is no longer seen as relevant.

The upshot is that the new content becomes the only content people are interested in, and all the old stuff is either by-passed or hardly visited.

Hands up all the people who started playing WoW after TBC came out, and who have done all the quest chains relating to Scholomance and Stratholme? One in a thousand?
And still it takes at least a year to make a movie.
Yes, because they have to deal with real-world constraints. Game design is much more concurrent, and you can always go back to change some detail. Rebuilding a set that you blew up in your climatic scene and calling all of the actors back just because you noticed a glaring error during editing is much more expensive.

I somewhat disagree with Wolfshead, though. Blizzard does have a live team and an expansion team, but what they're doing is that the live team is merged with the expansion team when the "last" content patch is about to be released. If you compare the rate of updates before AQ to pre-TBC and TBC updates, the difference is pretty jarring.

Also, sometime around the era of "class" patches Blizzard got into the idea that content should be delivered in chunks, not incremental updates. And because the manpower was focused on a specific area (which was swarmed by players), other areas got neglected. They've stopped making the game in general better and started making only ever-decreasing parts of the game better.

Of course, a part of the blame belongs to the players. The chick that's the most aggressive will get the worm.
I disagree tobold. I think they have no real competition so there is no real pressure to change what they've been doing. No one likes change and it usually only happens when outside pressures cause it.

And I disagree also on the content thing. There is no reason they can't have a small dev team that does world events like the invasion. Changes up the holiday quests every year. And in general just keeps moving things around and adding and tweaking content.

And the fact that they put so much effort into Arena's has convinced me it is laziness. There was nothing innovative or new about arenas. And I think they learned the wrong lesson from arena participation. Instead of getting the fact that people who didn't have time to raid were doing arenas as thier "only" real way to gear up. They took it that all those people were having fun. And thats the biggest problem with the sustainability of wow.

I hear from more and more people that I play with how they are doing Arenas, or rushing through the raid content because they want to get to thier goal before WOTLK. But the pressure and time it takes to do that is actually taking all the fun out of the game for them. But they keep running on the hamster wheel because they have 2 to 3 years in thier character and just can't let go.
It's not only Blizz who don't come up with something new every 6 months or so. All the recent new MMORPGs failed to live up to the hype.

So I guess that truly new Ideas are hard to come by, no matter how many people you employ. It only makes sense to use the few precoius Ideas you have in a new MMO and not in an established one.

The problem I see here is my observation that many people don't want to leave their old accounts, mostly because they have so much time invested in them. That's a huge barrier to overcome for a new MMO.
I think Shalkis hit the nail on the head. The current development model can't keep up because it will always take more time to create content that consume it. How can WOW (or its successor) mitigate this? Well, for me the answer lies in player generated content. One only has to look at the enormous range and quality of addons that have been created to see the level of talent and enthusiasm out there.

Now there are two ways of creatig user-generated content: PvP(in all its senses, including economic competition) and allowing player generated PvE content. In the former case, EVE provides a great example. The game's economic and legal structure encourage player competition at many levels. What's more, this competition takes place in the game world, not locked away in arenas and battle grounds, so others can see it and get involved.

There isn't a good example of player generated PVE content in MMOs yet, but I'm convinced it could be done. I'd introduce this in small stages. First of all, I'd introduce an option for player characters to log off in "quest giver" mode, with user generated text (subject of course to the same constraints as apply in all public channels). So, rather than grind or look for 200 light leather on the AH, you could put your character in a lowbie zone and get them to collect it for you, in return for a named reward (which comes out of your money, or even a non-soulbound magic item if you want). It's pretty easy to see how a simpe menu-driven system could be used to generate more sophisticated combinations that are easily as good as the "Kill 10X" quests in the game at present. Since this simply recycles money and goods through the game, it shouldn't have an effect on balance. It would also introduce a variation between the realms, as different ones would have their own localised content.

Secondly, I'd add the ability to for players to create their own equipment templates. These wouldn't change the powers or bonuses of an item, but could be applied to change its shape or appearance. If you're feeling really daring, you could allow players to sell these for real world money, so that a secondary market can develop. Again, this woudn't affect game balance, as it only changes appearance, not function.

Thirdly, and this is the highest risk option, I'd introduce a Neverwinter nights type development kit. Let players create their own instances and quests and put them on specialist test realms, along with a scoring system. Those that get rated highest could then be playtested by Blizzard staff properly and moved into future releases in a suitably tweaked form. The reward for the creators would be in the form of recognition initially; one can easily imagine these things being a great CV item for budding game developers. If this works out long term, then the top creators could even be paid RL money, again explanding the secondary economy.

In this way, WOW would gradually become more like an operating system: the framework that others build on, rather than the only thing you ever need.
Judging by this Age of Conan post

Age of Conan's release wasnt so spectacular after all. A game released with crappy end game is not complete and not finished in my book. Blizzard polishes a game. Thats why it takes so long. That is why WoW is so good
I think Tobold is right on the money.
A leader does not remain so by being complacent. That is true in every trade and specially in video-games. So blizzard is trying to strike a balance between keeping customers interested long enough until the new MMO is ready but not impairing the new game with people reluctant to abandon the old one.
This is the best way to do it, i think. Hardcore fans will keep playing the same old game, while the ones most likely to burn out, the non-gamer gamers, will shift to the new game.
By "hardcore fans" i do not mean the raiding crowd, i mean that player who may even not raid but almos has a lvl 70 of every class, with more that one of them with the epic flying mount.
As for the raiding crowi think blizzard might be paving the way for them to change to the new game as soon as possible by lowering the incentive to raid in WotLK.

Just my two cents.
You definitely get the feeling these days that WoW isn't Blizz's top priority.

WoW is not sustainable if the only way to expand it is to raise the level cap every two years. IF there is another expansion, I really hope they find a better way to let the game grow at 'endgame' and not simply tack on 10 more levels.
"This kind of "more of the same" expansion would be a lot more palatable if Blizzard had stuck to the original plan of one expansion per year."

Well I'm going to disagree. Blizzard has released new content on average every 6 months. (see patch dates below)

There seems to be this ludicrous consensus that in order to be a true WOW expansion, it's has to come out of box at your local big box store and you should have paid $49.99 for it. With the exception of the TBC all the new content has been patched in at no extra cost to the consumer.

If Blizzard had released the "The Isle of Quel'Danas" expansion which would have also included all the content patches since TBC - Zul'Aman, PVP Arena season 1, 2, 3 and the Black Temple, plus all the smaller content adds - there would have been a huge outcry on how much the expansion failed.

Instead Blizzard has patched all this new content in over time, and the complaints are, "Blizzard fails to bring out new content once a year as promised 4 years ago!" And, "there's nothing new to do at level 70!; I'm bored!; WOW sucks!"

If you burn your toon up to 70 in 2 weeks and skip over content (BRD, Scholomance, Sunken Temple, whatever...) then who's fault is it?

If your looking to re-expenice that high of leveling up to 70 for the first time on your alt. It's not going to happen because the experience is not new anymore. I think this is what players are really upset at.

One improvment I'd like to see is an upgrade to raids and instances. All the old world instance should have a heroic version. And all old world raids should have level 70 version. At level 80 all the heroics/raids should be upgraded for difficulty again.

I also lol at the paradox that even though WOW is the most successful MMORPG it has also failed as MMORPG.

Patch 2.4 - March 24, 2008

Isle of Quel'Danas - new zone
25 raid
5 man instance

Patch - 2.3 November 2007

Zul'Aman - 10 man raid
Season 3 arena

Patch 2.2.2 - September 2007

Holiday content
Hallow's End

Patch 2.1 - May 2007

Black Temple 25 man raid
Ruins of Lordaeron Arena

Patch 2.0 to 2.0.3 - January 2007

Before the Storm / The Burning Crusade

Patch 1.11 - June 2006


Patch 1.9.3 - February 2006

Love is in the Air - Valentine's Day

Patch 1.9 - January 2006

Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj (Raid)
Temple of Ahn'Qiraj (Raid)

Patch 1.8.4 December 2005

Feast of Winter Veil

Patch 1.8 - October 2005

Silithus - New Zone
Dragons of Nightmare - The four corrupted dragons from the Emerald Dream.

Patch 1.7.0 - September 2005

Zul'Gurub (new 20-player raid instance)
Arathi Basin (15-player resource battleground instance)
Stranglethorn Fishing Extravaganza

I think a lot of the comments are pretty off-mark. the key to WoW's future success isn't a test of efficiency to see how fast they can push out well made content. even if they can do one expansion a year, it'll fail. the trick to long term survivability is in being creative.

adding just another class isn't creative and won't keep people. adding a class with new mechanics is somewhat creative.

adding another profession like say woodcarving wouldn't be creative and would bore people in a matter of days. adding inscription that allows you to customize your toon in a way you couldn't before is somewhat creative.

point is, as long as blizz can keep adding depth to the game, it'll stay around. as WoW gets older, that'll be harder and harder to do. even with new classes and profs, they'll have to figure out a way to INNOVATE. they're going to have to take WoW to a place we can't currently see.

when WotLK comes out, i'll go from purps, to greens, to blues, then back to purps. i'm still debating if i want to mess with the whole process for a few new tricks allowing me to do the same thing i've been doing for the last two years.

make it new, make it fresh. that's the challenge.
I keep hearing this request for one expansion per year.

I disagree with this request because majority of the people have yet to go through all the current content.

Until 50% of the guild are in BT and beyond there is no point in brining in an expansion.

There is no denial that Blizzard intended PvE raiding to be a major component of WoW design. I would hate to skip BT/SWP and go to level 80 instances or end game quest. For those of you who don't raid, I guess AoC, LOTRO, Warhammer could be the filler.
I don't think anyone can seriously consider Blizzard inept at development. If they wanted to they could add a new area and new dungeons every other month. I agree with tobold in his analysis. They simply don't want to. They kinda remind me of Microsoft.. ok they really remind me of Microsoft. And just as I hate giving Microsoft my money but still occasionally have to the same may end up being true with Blizzard. :P
Who would really want WoW sticking around for more than 10 years. While WoW has great art direction, and makes use of it's graphics very well, WoW is going to be so dated in 10 years. Unless Blizzard has a patch which revamps the entire engine. I doubt Blizz is going to revamp the whole engine as they would probably be better off just making a new MMO.

Apart from the graphics, the game is going to get boring. The lore, the skills, etc... I can't imagine playing this game with passion anymore. I can't imagine even playing past WotLK. We will see.

AoC? Age of Conan IMHO is WoW with a few tweaks, fancy realistic graphics and new classes/content/skills. This is all fine and dandy, and I like AoC about as much as I enjoy rolling a new WoW class for the first time. Perhaps a bit more due to the free for all PvP.

I can't play WoW forever, and I don't want to. I had my fun, and I had lots and lots of fun when I was hooked on this game. I think Blizzard should keep WoW going, but focus on a new, cutting edge, OMG mmo.
Having a big pile of money doesn't mean you can make content faster. Read:
In addition to the reasons others have pointed out, it seems likely that if blizzard added new types of content, it would unbalance or otherwise mess up the game heavily. The game has been designed around certain mechanics, and has built up certain expectations with playing it.

Blizzard (or any game company), will have an easier time designing mechanics into a new game from the beginning, rather than tacking them into an older game.
"as unassailable as the French in the Maginot line”

That might have been me, though I didn’t quite formulate it that way J

Anyway, anyone who knows their history knows that the Germans dealt with it by going around it J

Up to a point, that is what the newer MMORPG’s seem to be doing, making games that in a number of areas – setting, graphics, certain gameplay elements – differ from WoW and its kin (EQ, EQII, the PvE part of DaoC, etc.). Some of those attempts are a bit more radical than others (like PotBS compared to AoC). A full frontal assault, aiming at capturing the same or a very large portion of WoW’s playerbase is considered madness, so instead Blizzard’s competitors try to outflank it, targeting non-WoW players or specific, presumably bored / dissatisfied subsets of its playerbase.

As for WoW, I suspect the bright minds at Blizzard evaluate the future of the MMO market very differently from when they started developing WoW. It is becoming a market of big players with plenty of money now: EA Mythic, Bioware, Bethesda, SOE. Even Funcom, for whatever AoC’s long-term future, I think the current success may have made them a future acquisition / funding project of a certain company with deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep pockets that has been unlucky with MMOs so far. Let’s call that company “M”. Perhaps a few others will emerge.

Then there’s another thing: Blizzard is known for being not particularly innovative, but for being able to combine, polish and improve what already exists and has been proven to work. The current evolution in MMORPG’s hasn’t coughed up that many diverse new elements that would provide Blizzard with the raw material to craft a new sure-fire hit. And make no mistake, Blizzard, by virtue of its past success and the current huge size of development budgets, will be FORCED to create a massive hit. At the same time this limits their already unimpressive willingness and ability to be creative and to innovate: the more money there is at stake, the more cautious they will be. I don’t think we’ll see them being as innovative – on however modest a scale – and taking the risks Funcom, CCCP (or Mythic when they started out) and XXXdeveloper PotBS did.

Of course, they CAN create a somewhat larger, more polished and varied version of WoW; but how can they be sure that it’ll be able to really compete with, say, an expanded and improved AoC, a finely polished Warhammer, and whatever goodies Bioware and Bethesda will produce?

Also something that few people note: Blizzard, through WoW, has “burned up” the Warcraft mythos that was built up through four Warcraft games and their expansions (as well as some stuff that expanded the lore but never saw the light of day). New lore can be created, but that takes a lot of time and effort. It can be done, but to me it feels almost as if, with WotlK, but certainly with any possible future expansion dealing with Sargeras, the Warcraft “saga” is done. Finished. Complete. It may be a long time before we will see a true sequel, if any. And maybe it’s better that way.

That does not mean that Blizzard is going to do nothing; but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are currently looking for a real opportunity to shine (and make an awful lot of money at the same time). MMO strategy games are gradually becoming more common, but as of yet there is no truly “great” game in that budding genre. A Blizzard MMORTS game with some roleplayish elements in it, anyone?
I think using "50% of guilds are in BT" is a pretty bad yardstick. I think a very large portion of players don't play this game to raid and of those that do raid there's a significant portion that have no desire to do 25-mans. I know plenty of people who only do 5-mans, pvp/arenas, and/or level alts.

Myself, I play the game enough to have 4 70s but not a single one has ever stepped into Karazhan or higher.
This reminds me a little of the British Navy just prior to the First World War. A designer was running about, trying to sell the idea of what essentially became the modern Battle ship. Many of the younger nations were interested in developing these next generation warships, but the older more established powers were skeptical. It was commonly thought that the British Navy was very unlikely to pioneer them. After all, the introduction of a new type of battle ship would instantly antiquate their fleet, which was the largest and most powerful in the world. Other mid sized nations had a similar issue, and so they sat back, willing to turn down the expense and risk of such a large overhaul.

Then Britain did the unthinkable.

They launched the Dreadnought. With that one ship, they instantly antiquated their own navy and every other navy in the world. However, they did what was necessary to remain in a position of power by leading the arms race rather than pretending it wasn’t there.

Blizzard may very well surprise everyone with their own Dreadnought one day very soon ensuring their financial supremacy in the market, while the world waits and watches the glorious but antiquated WoW grow older and shabbier by the year.
Lets keep in mind...the rumor mill is running now...

A Diablo 3 rumor has been posted on Warcry
If Diablo 3 could happen, and have MMO aspects, Blizzard could follow the path of SOE with the Free to play WoW with a Diablo 3 scrip, etc...

I would play Diablo 3...if it was as good as WoW and Diablo 2 COMBINED
(I want that action combat as AoC has totally turned me off to future stare and hit hotkey combat anymore..but with the social graces of WoW...but, add housing dammit)

I'm actually looking forward to 2024 cuz I heard we will be getting underwater basket weaving as the new skill. And I'm looking forward to spending hours swimming and farming underwater mats to level it up! 0.o
"even if they can do one expansion a year, it'll fail"

Well..maybe it'll fail for you. I would accept it. The friends I've made ingame keep me hooked as long as some new content is being released from time to time. Even the actual release cycles don't hurt me, they simply give me the time to equip all my Maxlevel-Chars properly.

I'll stay as long as there's no other pvm-game with the same grade of polish (read: no WoW2), and I will be happy with it.

On the topic of saving creative content for WoW2 and using WoW as a cash cow:
I think you're right on this one, Tobold. Blizzard has reached the state where decisions are no longer made by gamers, but by business men. And your scenario happens to be the one with the most profit now and the best chance of staying market leader.
If it takes them two years for every expansion, players expect more than just one new class.

This is one of the main reasons I will most likely *not* be buying WotLK. Not only does there need to be more than one new class, the classes need to be a lot more compelling than what they've revealed for the upcoming Death Knight. A tank/DPS hybrid? Yawn. A complete disregard for any sensible lore? Gnome Death-knights? Is blizzard trying to parody themselves or have they just given up and said "screw it, we'll thrown crap on the wall and see what sticks."
A couple of things:

First, I do believe that Blizzard is incompetent. I’m constantly surprised by telling tidbits from what I read in interviews from the “lead designers” that indicate to me that they have very little (or poor) project or program management experience. There is no bigger indictment than their inability to stick to a timeline. I concur with the previous post about additional manpower not necessarily increasing productivity and simply throwing money at bad planning doesn’t solve anything. The types of things that I note as incompetence are related to an inability to plan properly and a lack of intelligent foresight.

Secondly, there has been no indication that Blizzard is working on the “next big thing” in the MMO world. Quite the contrary, the information coming out demonstrates incompetence and a lack of clear direction. There is no way I will believe that a company who can’t even effectively manage this expansion has somehow miraculously gained the vision and forethought to be actually working on a new project of the magnitude that Tobold suggests. I think they have their hands more than full at the moment just dealing with Wrath of the Lich King and any thinking that they are working on some secret future plan is ludicrous. Honestly, if such a secret project did exist, I think we would have at least heard hints about it to their investors.
I've seen posted here several times that blizzard doesn't innovate they take others ideas and polish them. I've posted it myself.

If you guys believe they are polishing someone else's ideas. Please tell me who's. For a publicly traded company to be working on such a big project to have no rumors at all is nearly impossible.

I think we'll find out that SC3 and Diablo4 are thier big projects.
Looking back at the Burning Crusade from the timeline perspective.. I'll have to retract my earlier statement about Blizzard having two content teams. If we look at only the PvE dungeons, you'll see that Zul'Aman, Hyjal, Black Temple and Sunwell were initially planned to be included in Burning Crusade. However, Blizzard had to cut them from the initial release to meet their schedule. If we take those into account, we'll see that the estimated total development time for Burning Crusade was at least a year longer than commonly thought. And only now we're starting to hear tidbits about WotLK dungeons, and Icecrown Glacier has already been re-scheduled into the last content patch of WotLK.

All of this leads me to the hypothesis that Blizzard doesn't really have two "content" teams. Instead, they have several teams each dedicated to a specific "layer" of content. Their dungeon team has been busy with Burning Crusade until now, and the majority of them had to finish Sunwell before they could move on to designing WotLK dungeons.

However, their world design team finished their work long ago, and had to make only minor changes to TBC after release. They've been free to design all those locations we saw in the first WotLK teaser. We didn't see anything else there because there wasn't anything else to show.
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