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More People Equals More Content

While I want to talk more about Hearthstone, I also did not want this particular tidbit about WoW proper to be consigned to Draft Hell:

The team size has increased 40% and another 40% increase is planned, which will hopefully allow for a new content patch every month, a new raid tier every three to five months, and an annual expansion.

Now, this was just unattributed MMO-Champ paraphrasing, coming from some Gamescom interview. I made an effort to try and see if this was an exact quote by watching a few of the Gamescom interviews myself, but didn’t see it anywhere. The statement was, however, “confirmed” in a roundabout way by Nethaera’s response to the thread asking the obvious question of “If more people = faster content now, why not back then?” Neth’s response was basically that circumstances changing doesn’t retroactively make older statements a lie.

That is all well and good, but I seem to distinctly remember Ghostcrawler or somebody saying that more people = more cooks in the kitchen, some problems can’t solved throwing more money at it for everything else there’s Mastercard, and so on. So, after some digging, I dusted off this interview with Ghostcrawler from October 2010, on the eve of Cataclysm’s release:

Slashdot: A lot of players, when they hear you talk about how you didn’t have time to make a feature good, their question is, “Well, why can’t you just go out and hire more people?”

Greg Street: Yeah. The mythical man-month.

Slashdot: Can you explain why you don’t find that to be a viable solution?

Greg Street: The other example that gets used a lot is: if it takes a woman nine months to have a baby, then if you have two women, it’d only take four and a half! Our development process is hugely based on iteration and communication. It’s more important — for, say, class design and item design — it’s more important for me to have a small team that’s totally in sync than to have a large team and have no idea what anyone else is working on. We would end up with Hunter talents working one way, the Priest would work a different way, and it wouldn’t feel polished. It wouldn’t feel good to players. Often, when we say, “We didn’t have time,” players say, “You shipped it before it was ready.” That’s not the way we look at it.

The way we look at it is: we are extremely critical of our own designs. We have very long lists of things we want to fix in the game. Some of these things have been around forever, and some of the things are new that we just added recently. If we waited until we addressed every single one of those things, we would never ship anything. It would be years and years before games came out, and that’s just not realistic. That’s not what players want; they’re not going to wait six years for a new expansion. So, instead, we do what we can and we keep other things on the back burner. We’ve got Paths — this great idea. A dance studio — we’re going to do it some day. Just not yet. We’re saving it for the right time.

It is not quite the smoking gun that I remembered in my head, although perhaps I had a different interview in mind. Or maybe it never existed. Regardless, I still think it is a legitimate question to ask “what exactly changed here?” Are the Blizzard devs less concerned about additional people and faster content leading to less polish? Did Titan getting scrapped free up some additional talent? Or is it simply the case that losing 4.4 million subscribers between October 2010 and today puts things like polish vs actual content into prospective? Given how the status quo a year ago was 8 months without a content patch, I am assuming it’s the latter.

The interesting thing will be to see how “monthly content updates” are integrated with the game overall. Guild Wars 2 has their events every 2 weeks, for example, but I believe GW2 has a much lower emphasis on gear, story, and… well, things one might traditionally associate with RPGs in general. I feel like the dozens of daily quest hubs thing isn’t going to work a second time around for WoW, but neither can Blizzard really afford to hand out gear upgrades mid-tier. Or maybe they will, and simply de-emphasize the sort of full tier/BiS gear game they have crafted all these years.

Either way, WoW is definitely veering off into some uncharted territory here – at least, uncharted for as large an MMO as it still is. I am much more interested in how this particular change with shake out, as opposed to the much more mundane F2P possibility.

WoW Loses Another Million+ Subs

That is right, kiddos, WoW is down to 9.1 million. It hasn’t been this low since January 2008.

In what must only be completely unrelated news, WoW has shattered all previous records for “longest time without a new content patch.” No, seriously. Dragon Soul was released November 29th, 2011. It is now eight months later. When I relayed this to my friend, he didn’t believe me. The gap between ICC and Cataclysm felt like more than a year. Well, I said, let’s look at the timeline:

  • December 8th, 2009 – ICC released.
  • February 2nd, 2010 – final wing of ICC opened.
  • June 30th, 2010 – Ruby Sanctum released.
  • September 7th, 2010 – the gnome/troll world events start.
  • October 7th, 2010 – WoW hits 12 million players (!).
  • October 12th, 2010 – Patch 4.0.1, with all the new talents/class changes.
  • November 23rd, 2010 – The Shattering, all new 1-60 experience.
  • December 7th, 2010 – Cataclysm launch.

So, yes, in a strictly literal sense it was a whole year between ICC release and Cataclysm launch. Looking at that list though, shit happened. There was a filler raid, there were world events, and I always have a blast when we get to toy around with the next expansion’s talent changes early. In between TBC and the Wrath launch, I remember soloing most of heroic Underbog on my Ret paladin to cap out my Sporeggar reputation, for example.

Now look at Cataclysm:

  • November 29th, 2011 – Dragon Soul released.
  • August 3rd, 2012 – I wrote a blog post.

I mean, come on. A $300 million MMO was released, floundered, and went F2P in that same timeframe!

Only Blizzard gets away with this shit. Good lord.