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Blizzard may be ready to annualize World of Warcraft's expansions

The team infrastructure for Blizzard's popular MMO is finally in a place where it may change how and when World of Warcraft expansions come out.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

November 10, 2023

2 Min Read
Thrall and Anduin in Blizzard's World of Warcraft: The War Within.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment.

Blizzard Entertainment recently revealed a trilogy of expansions for World of Warcraft. Starting with next year's The War Within, the developer hopes to release new big adventures for the popular MMO at a more consistent cadence rather than the alternating year model it's employed since 2008. 

Big MMO games of this type release massive expansions meant to reinvigorate the player community and change the in-game world state on a fairly regular basis. Depending on the game, the "when" of these expansion launches varies: Destiny 2 has largely had yearly expansions, while Final Fantasy XIV similarly alternates years. 

Talking to BloombergWarcraft general manager John Hight and EP Holly Longdale explained that Blizzard has built up a foundation that allows for expansions to be built at the same time. Much of this can be owed to the Boston studio Proletariat, which Blizzard acquired last year with the specific purpose of helping on World of Warcraft.

Assistant game directors have also been granted more staff authority and the ability to make key decisions. With this, Longdale noted that Blizzard "essentially [has] the makings of two expansion teams and a live team." The latter team handles content patches for Warcraft, in turn letting the expansion teams do as their name implies. 

It's a stark difference to how Blizzard's previous pipeline for the MMO worked. Hight acknowledged that with earlier expansions, the developer would "hire more people, but we didn’t actually build parallel teams." And notably, big decision making was handled by "a very small group of folks." 

This new method appears to afford more freedom to the larger World of Warcraft team. Longdale stated they were "doing things right now on [expansion 12, The Last Titan] that under [the] normal timeframe we would not be doing.

"We’re building these foundations, and it’s already working," added Longdale. "The team worked incredibly hard, and it’s paying off."

Expansion releases are all about timing

Definitive plans aren't in place yet for the World of Warcraft expansions' release model. But both Hight and Longdale told Bloomberg the studio would rely on player behavior data to figure out the right timing. 

Hight confirmed the studio has no intention of rushing players toward the next expansion all the time, because that would come to devalue their importance. But he also noted that it wouldn't be desirable to "drag things out longer than necessary," an issue players of Destiny 2 would be familiar with. 

Blizzard has an advantage over other studios in that it has two other ongoing live games in its stable: Overwatch 2 changes seasons on a nine-week basis, while Diablo IV sticks with the standard three-month model of most live games. It's unknown if the latter's plans will change with its debut expansion, Vessel of Hatred, in late 2024. 

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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