Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Guess the Cataclysm release date

It wasn't me! Elnia, second bartender of the Pink Pigtail Inn started it! She lists her arguments why she thinks that the third expansion for World of Warcraft, Cataclysm, will be released on February 1st 2010. Me, I think that is a bit too optimistic.

What is pretty much certain is that Cataclysm will be released in 2010. I do agree that there is a high probability that Blizzard manages to speed up their development process and needs less than 24 months between Wrath of the Lich King (released November 2008) and Cataclysm. The main argument for that hope is that patch 3.3 is already on the public test realms, and it has been said to be the last big content patch. It would be strange if we had to wait a full year between the last content patch and Cataclysm.

But February 1st? No way! I would think that we will get patch 3.3 between mid-November and mid-December, patch 4.0 in spring 2010, and Cataclysm in early summer 2010. And I think the key hurdle is patch 4.0: Unless Blizzard is changing their policy, the actual "cataclysm" will *not* happen on the release date of the Cataclysm expansion, but on the day patch 4.0 is released. Patches 2.0 and 3.0 both introduced all the changes that a player who would *not* buy the next expansion would experience. Thus there is a good chance that the zone changes to the old world will happen in patch 4.0, with the Cataclysm expansion then adding the new levels, new races, and new zones. Either way, as the changes to the existing content are major, I do think it will take Blizzard half a year between patch 3.3 and the Cataclysm release date.

So how about your best guess? When do you think the Cataclysm expansion will be released? And what arguments do you have to support your guess?
2009 is too optimistic for 3.3. A better case would be mid-January, unless Blizzard manages to get 3.3 out the door by American Thanksgiving (end of November); an unlikely time frame at best. December is a bad tiem to release raid-centric content.

If we presume a mid-January release for 3.3, that would put mid-May for a 4.0 release and mid-June for the expansion. That strikes me as logistically possible -- but does it make sense to release an expansion right before the northern hemisphere enters summer?

I would argue that it's very possible for Blizzard to release Cataclysm by June 2010 in terms of development time, but marketing concerns and the desire to *not* step all over the toes of Starcraft 2 will push it back to September 2010.
My gut tells me, that Catalysm will be positioned to counter the competition again, just like they did with Lich King. The Old Republic is rumored to launch late in 2010. November gets mentioned a lot and from what i can see, the product looks on track for that.

I do expect at least one filler patch between 3.3 and 4.0 aka the pre-launch patch. I mean come on, how could we continue without the usual Troll instance? 3.3 will last a long time i guess: February/March. Summer will be critical cause it is expected at E3 2010 for EA to announce the TOR launch date, that means in June next year, we should have a set date for the biggest WoW competitor to come ever. Blizzard would be less smart to not place a direct counter release, although i doubt they can delay Catalysm to late 2010.

If they build a filler Troll instance patch, i expect Catalysm to launch between June and November 2010.
The last major content patch of The Burning Crusade, patch 2.4, was released on March 25, 2008. Patch 3.0 was released a little less than 7 months later, on October 14, 2008. Wrath of the Lich King was released on November 16, 2008.

With the notification that all non-Battle.Net accounts will be offline after November 11 2009, I'm expecting that will be the day patch 3.3 is released. If Cataclysm follows a similar time schedule, we can expect patch 4.0 on June 2, 2010 and the next expansion on July 7.
My guess would be mid april 2010, based on the average amount of days between patches since WotLK release, and 3.3 being expected november/december this year, and assuming we won't get a 3.4 surprise.
A sensible approach would be to first consider what the Star Wars MMO release date will be, and then Cataclysm is likely to be a month and a half after that.

This is pretty much what Blizzard did when WAR came out, they allowed their customers to try out the new product and then released a new colour capped version (sorry, been watching Series 1 and 2 of The Wire lately) of their drug (cough) Expansion after people had finished their 1st month of free WAR.

It's a sensible approach. You aren't forcing your customers into a big "head to head" with the other game, you're letting them see if the grass is really greener on the other side. Then you're coming back to the market with a new intense product which they already know.
I'm going to go with late September - early October 2010. Reason why? They'll announce the release date at next years Blizzcon, and be pimping Cataclysm at all the trade shows next summer. So it will be the big push.

We'll be seeing some in game events post 3.3, a few months later, that will lead up to the release of Cataclysm. Those game changes will probably last about six months themselves. Plus Blizzard will toss out some Cataclysm changes pre-launch, such as maybe opening up rolling of some of the new classes (not Worgen/Goblin) like Tauren Paladin or Troll Druid.

So lots of time, lots they will do to drag things on, and it will have a huge amount of events leading up to the launch.
According to the PPI information, Elnia is male.

As for the expansion, the news streams about it have been close to zero except for Blizzcon. And there's no sign of a beta yet. Blizzard first has to create a Buzz by releasing more information. The extra talents, information about the new zones or instances... In short information to make us interested. Then they need months to beta test it.

I'd say it will take another year to get it released. November of next year.

But as has been mentioned, the release date is also determined buy the marketing guys. November is a good date for releases as it fits in the christmas sales period (which are HUGE). Or they might want to counter another game.

Another bonus is that after Starcraft 2 is released in the first part of the year they can put more developers on the expansion. Mixing Starcraft 2 with the expansion would be a very dumb move.
November 2010, with small amounts of teaser content leading up to the main event.
Tobold is exactly correct about the release timing, IMO.
No way will they release an expansion in June the summer months are historically slow for MMO's. Look for Cataclysm in the fall of 2010.
Depending on how long does it take for BioWare to release SWTOR, I'd say the date for Cataclysm is 'one/two months after SWTOR is launched'. ;)

But then again this is a situation where both developer companies have a reputation for postponing the releases of games until they are at the right state of development. So, if BioWare doesn't launch SWTOR in late 2010, my guess does not apply since.
With the release schedule the previous patches have had I would guess that 3.3 will be released early to mid December this year and we will see 4.0 closely followed by Cataclysm in May 2010. Blizzard has repeatedly said that the wait for Wrath at the end of BC was too long so I don't see them taking as long to get Cataclysm out after 3.3 brings Wrath to a close. I'd expect Cataclysm PTR by February, that would be way too early for the actual release though.
My dartboard says:
3.3: December 15, 2009
4.0 / Cataclysm: Thursday, July 22, 2010
I think you are wrong about patch 4.0.

From a practical standpoint, there will just be too much "updated" content to provide in a mere patch.

For example, the last two expansions have included close to 4 gigabytes of artwork and so forth.

You only "get" that when you buy the expansion itself and load the discs.

How are thy going to fit all that into a single patch?

This does raise an interesting question however. How much "updated" content will be left out for people who didn't purchase the expansion?

If the answer is "not much" then I think we are likely talking about two patches. A 4.0 "game" patch like we have seen in the past and a 4.1 "content" patch that happens within a few days of the expansion release (leading up to a launch event).
My own best guesses:

3.3 - sometime in late November or early December.

3.3.z (last 3.3 branch patch) will land around March and will, among other things, include 'stuff' to start the Cataclysm events. (Cf. scourge plague of 2.4.3.)

4.0 will come ~2 months after 3.3.z (so, May) and will be the 'actual' Cataclysm. Zone changes are complete at that point.

The expansion itself will launch about a month after 4.0 -- June.

My biggest concern about this timeline is that it puts the expansion launching at the beginning of summer -- historically a time of low player activity. Bliz might see a June launch as an attempt to 'fix' that issue. It's also worth noting that this expansion is tailored to inspire players to level new characters, which makes solo play much more viable. So perhaps a summer launch is reasonable.

This timeline postulates about 6 months of 3.3 content. That seems a long time. 2.4 lasted about 7 months, but it felt pretty stretched, and I suspect Bliz intends to decrease that window. So I can see Cata launching as early as mid-April, but I can't see it going much later than July, barring a 3.4 patch, which I rate very unlikely.
End of March 2010 as its the fiscal year end of US companies. With Blizzard now sucked into Activision they got to comply with the important business dates.
2012. The Mayans already predicted this one. C'mon, give me a hard question.
September 2010.
Blizzard and Bioware will declare a release date war, each one incrementally delaying their respective launches, waiting for the other guy to crack and launch their's first. This could get ugly folks.
Personally, I would consider Starcraft 2's release date far more then I would consider SWTOR.

I'm leaning towards:
3.3 November (possibly December)
4.0 April
Cataclysm May
Starcraft 2 November 2010
Cataclsym will be released on the third week of SWOTOR free play month. So when SWOTOR announces a release date add 3 weeks to that.

Me just being the cynical guy from marketing :P
Would it be too presumptuous of me to think that they'd release it on 11/11/2011 just because the numbers line up?
I'm bettering that Cataclysm will be out around the Sep-Nov 2010 time frame. However, since I am really looking forward to The Old Republic, I don't know how much of it I'll get to play.
from my understanding parcels of artwork ship a long time before a content patch because of the reasons mentioned: file size.

they usually tack small amounts on as they go, so expect some basic cata artwork with icecrown release.

still no troll raid, look to zul drak probly 1Q10. same tactics used vs WAR will be employed vs SWTOR for cata release.
Friday, July 30, 2010.

I think Blizzard will try to push hard, and go from the 26-month launch-to-TBC and 22-month TBC-to-WotLK schedules, to getting Cataclysm out 18 months after WotLK.

Which would be May 2010.

However, Blizzard being Blizzard, it will slip from initial intentions, and not get out the door until the end of July.
I have added all guesses from the last comments, Tobold´s and Elnia´s (21 dates). And the middle of all dates is 01.07.2010
Play have it being released on 24 September 2010,

Pure guesswork on their part or insider info? who knows?
I agree that we're likely to see 3.3 before Christmas time, the timing feels right, and the announcement about the upgrades lends weight (in my mind) to that timeframe.

Originally I was going to disagree with 4.0 coming out before the expansion, but the more i think about it, the more likely it seems. The less time between patch 4.0 and the actual release of Cataclysm the better, otherwise you lessen the impact of the actual release date in players' minds.

I'm thinking we'll see Cataclysm before summer of next year.
You are right about the huge amount of artwork and the likes that have been pressed onto the discs, but you forget that patches 2.0 and 3.0 are also meant to give the non-upgraders (yes, they do exist) the same data as the ones with xpack, but without the new areas/dungeons etc only reachable by having the xpack.

Same will go for 4.0 but then on a much larger scale. Blizzard already stated at BlizzCon that the 'whole' world of Azeroth will be affected by Cataclysm and will also include people that have not upgraded to the Cataclysm expansion. So Blizz is forced to release all the data via a patch (aka patch 4.0), just like they have been doing with TBC and WotLK, only this patch will be a bit bigger.

@Release date: I say Soon™ and When it's done™
Hi Tobold,

I agree with most of what you say, but I think early summer just doesn't make statistical sense. I posted an empirical analysis of when I think the expansion will come out, and dissected arguments given by you, Gordon and Elnia. take a look and tell me what you think!
I agree with Coldheat and others. Mid May for Cataclysm if IC is the final patch, Mid-Fall for Cataclysm if IC is the penultimate instance and we get a 'troll' patch. :P
@Carra "According to the PPI information, Elnia is male."

Correct. However, since my main is a female and I post under that name, I personally think "she" is more appropriate. But I can live with either.
No later than September.

I've posted my reasoning behind this on the Mania's Arcania forums, but basically it goes like this -- following the announcement-to-release timeline of BC, I was able to predict the week that WotLK would be released.

A week or two before August 21st, I read somewhere that a certain WoW team leader or Blizzard personality claimed that the next expansion wouldn't take as long to release as LK.

What frustrates me the most is that I'm not certain where I read it (Gamasutra / / G4 ...) or even who it was (J. Allen Brack, Rob Pardo, Tom Chilton...). I'm almost certain it was, but running a search is next to useless. If I find it, I'll post the link here.
World of Warcraft: 11/23/2004
The Burning Crusade: 01/16/2007
Wrath of the Lich King: 11/13/2008

WOW-BC = 26 months
BC-WOTLK = 22 months
WOTLK-CATA = 18 months

If there is a four-month consistent pattern here, it would be a May release. So what the heck, I'll guess that.
patch 4.0 may 15th
Cata release in July

May 3rd, 2010

Not to necro an old thread, but I'm curious Tobold what changed your prediction from early summer (in this post) to sometime in the fall (as you imply in "Looking From The Peak Into The Valley")?

Previous trends imply we should expect a 6-7 month gap from the last major raid instance until the next expansion's pre-patch, and then another month until the expansion's release. Following these trends implies a late June to early July release of 4.0. Season 8 just started this week, and people expect this season to go until the launch of 4.0 (similar to how Season 4 ended the day 3.0 went live). With an average season length of 20 weeks, that would also place Season 8 ending in late June.

Assuming a late June release of 4.0, we would also expect a late July release of Cataclysm, and beta starting sometime in early April (give or take a couple weeks for any of these guesses).
Part of that is always thinking that Cataclysm is 6 months ahead. :) But I'm also a bit suspicious that we hear so little about the expansion, so I'm not sure Blizzard isn't planning the announcement of the release date, and more details, for Blizzcon.
i guess around the 7th december.
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