'People change, and so did our approach to content'
For Blizzard, World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor was a learning experience.
Subscribers dropped off at a record pace, mostly because the team didn't support it nearly as much as past expansions, a mistake they're not keen to repeat for Legion. I sat down with Ian Hazzikostas, Legion's game director, and Patrick Magruder, lead software engineer, to find out exactly what went wrong, and how Legion is already circumventing a lot of Draenor's unfortunate missteps.
The crux of the Draenor problem lied within the need for a quicker turnaround, something that isn't typically found in Blizzard's "ship it when it's ready" mentality. Hazzikostas explained that they wanted to get the last expansion shipped within a 25 month turnaround from the last game, which ended up being tightened, and ultimately, a mistake. Although their ideas were ambitious, they just couldn't keep up with demand, and ended up only catering to hardcore players.
"People change," he explained. People who were once hardcore raiders now have families, and might not have time to play as much as they did. They want casual content. So if you wanted to do dungeons, you were basically out of luck with Draenor. You only had a small pool of content to go with, and although we think we did a good job with our raids, we lost sight of just about everything else and just didn't deliver. Mistakes were made, that's a fact."
But Hazzikostas quickly explained how they fixed that with Legion from day one. "World quests are a direct response to that...they're something that anyone can do at any time, and it's a brand new progression path for people to follow if they only have a certain amount of time per week to dedicate to the game." Following up on that I asked if the concept was going well enough to warrant inclusions in future iterations, and he responded with "most definitely...this is a complicit storytelling method that allows an addition way to play the game and it's something we're going to stick with basically for the life of the game. It's here to stay."
Naturally I wanted to inquire more on that, and Hazzikostas joked that "yep, you just got an exclusive...there's going to be another WoW expansion," but quickly elaborated on the idea of WoW as an ever-growing game. "Just look at screens of the original build versus the same zones you're seeing with today's build. It's like night and day. WoW will continue to grow. You might say 'what about WoW 2,' but we're on 'Wow 4, 5, 6, or 7' every time we make a new expansion. We're going to keep doing this, and there's no reason currently to stop."
Another thing I wanted to ask about specifically for a lot of our readers was class balancing. While some classes have worked out great, others have been shoehorned into specific builds or risk getting kicked out of high level groups. While this is always the case with high level MMO play, the pre-Legion class rework could have gone better -- mostly because they did everything at once and hoped it worked out. Hazzikostas agrees, and they're making baby steps in that department. "We're starting with Hunters in the next patch. We thought it would be a cool idea if there was a trap specialization, but realized later it was a bad idea to only have that selection actually lay traps. So we're giving other specializations options." Magruder notes that if you want other changes, they'll listen to the community (Warlocks, speak up).
It's an ambitious plan, but one Legion has provided the blueprints for. In addition to serving as an apology of sorts, it's also a font in which Blizzard can continue to build their legacy. Expect a lot of concepts within Legion like world quests (especially the Suramar line), variable dungeon difficulty, and accessible raid modes to be a part of future iterations. And really, as someone who doesn't have the ability to raid full time with a static as hard as I used to (extra full-time job hard), I like that I have the option to still experience basically everything the game has to offer.
As Hazzikostas mentioned, people change, and World of Warcraft is changing right along with them.