Thursday, May 6, 2010

Further Speculations on the Release Date of Cataclysm

The temperature in the WoW community is rising again, as we get further glimpses (or rather are flooded with pictures) from the world that is awaiting us.

Cataclysm is in alpha since a couple of days and the data miners are working night and day to keep anyone interested updated. To everyone else: close your eyes! Apparently the NDA flew out of the window, and maybe it’s a wise call from Blizzard. They need to get some buzz going, because frankly it’s felt rather dead for a while now.

This gives us a reason to speculate a bit further on when we should expect to line up for a nightly event to finally get our hands on the new release.

I don’t know why we’re so obsessed with this topic that we bring it up over and over again, but after all I think the release date affects our gameplay quite a bit. Once we know when it will happen we’ll start to plan the rest of our time in Wrath. How long should we keep raiding, when should I start to sell out the stuff I have in the bank, should I hurry up levelling an alt I want to have ready? Everything depends on the release date.

The February prediction
We did a bit of speculation once before here at the inn, in what turned out to become the most commented on post we’ve ever had: “Cataclysm release date February 1st”. It was published in October 2009, and people still love to go there to write a triumphant “fail!” in the comment section.

Mind you, it wasn’t I, Larísa, who made this prediction, but my former bartender and co-host of the blog, and frankly I never quite agreed with his prophecy even as it was published. I believe it reflected his wishful thinking, since he was a non-raider and was growing pretty bored with the game, running out if content as early as last autumn. He couldn’t bare the thought of having yet another six months without any good new content for non-raiders.

Still I suppose I can’t entirely take away my hands from it. After all I was the senior editor and approved of the publishing, so I’m somewhat responsible for it going live. But on the other hand:- as all blog readers should be aware of - bloggers aren’t always right and we don’t claim to be either. We make guesses and speculate just like anyone else. And if I could predict the future perfectly well, I’d rather take a job as a stock broker than blog about WoW.

Anyway: for all of you who like to think about and discuss what release date we could expect, I’m putting up this rather lengthy post, so you can argue in a fresh spot rather than in the failed prediction from six months back in time. So feel free to move over to this thread if you like to keep talking!

As a food for thought I’ll give you a few observations:

1. From announcement to launch
The elapsed time from the announcement of TBC (October 2005) to the release of the game (January 2007) and between the announcement of WotLK (August 2007) and the release (November 2008) was exactly 15 months, in both cases.

Cataclysm was announced in August 2009. Following the pattern, the release will be in November 2010.

2. From Alpha to launch
For TBC they needed five months from the start of the friends-and family Alpha testing in August 2006 to the release in Januari 2007. For Wrath the Alpha testing began in April and the release was in November, which meant seven moths of waiting. The Alpha testing in Cataclysm started in the beginning of May. If you take the average of the previous two expansions – six months from Alpha to release - this indicates a release date in November 2010.

3. The Content nerf
The pre-patch for TBC was released 1,5 months before the launch, including Christmans and New Year’s break. The pre-patch for Wrath was released 1 month in advance, without any major holidays interfering. The pre-patch for Wrath didn’t only include new builds and other sorts of adjustments – it also meant that they nerfed the raid content heavily – around 30 percent if I remember it correctly – thus making it possible for everyone to have a look at it before the expansion.

They’ve picked a slightly different approach to nerfing in Wrath with the ICC buff, increasing with 5 percent every four weeks. If they stick to this schedule ICC should be up to 30 percent – the equivalence to the 3.02 patch nerf in TBC – by the end of July. Giving the players one month to enjoy the maximum buff, this would suggest a release towards the end of August.

4. Ruby Sanctum
In February they announced the upcoming 3.3.5 patch with the “extra” raid instance Ruby Sanctum. We haven’t heard a word about it since then, it’s not on the PTR and frankly I wouldn’t be overly surprised if they’d linger on releasing it until August, as something to use as a lure to get players back to WoW after the big Summer Exodus.

5. Blizzcon timing
Then there is the timing of Blizzcon to think about. My innkeeper thought that Blizzard surely couldn’t have to nerve to announce Cataclysm at Blizzcon 2009 and then wait for over a year and let another Blizzcon pass before getting it out on the market. But actually I think they can. History shows us exactly this.

TBC was announced at Blizzcon 2005. There was no Blizzcon held in 2006 and then it was released in 2007. Wrath was announced at Blizzcon 2007. Then there was not only one but two Blizzcons arranged in 2008 – one in US and one in Europe. Neither of hem had Wrath as a major attraction. In US the Big News was about Diabolo. Blizzard could very well hold a Blizzcon in October with some other major piece of news than WoW. They have more games on their menu, remember?

However it seems highly unlikely that they would let the Cataclysm release coincide with Blizzcon. To get out as much publicity as possible of it they should do it either a few weeks before it or after it. And from a media point of view I would rather see the convention coming before the release, since it would be convenient for them to arrange media meet-ups, interviews and photo opportunities. I can’t see the point of doing that one month AFTER the release when Cataclysm is already “old news”.

6. “But Ghostcrawler promised…”
It has been pointed out many times that Blizzard has stated that they have the ambition to increase the pace, getting out one new expansion a year. But what is that kind of statement worth, really? They’re also known – and respected – to not make premature releases of half-done games, but keep working on them until they’re up to the standard they should be at. I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on the one-year-goal when trying to predict the launch date.

People also have made a huge issue out of a few words uttered by Ghostcrawler at Blizzcon last year, where he said that we would be “complaining about goblin rogues” in the next Blizzcon. Seriously. I don’t think you can read anything into this. And regardless of if Cataclysm is released or not at that point, he’ll be right anyway. We’re having pretty intense discussions on mechanisms in Cataclysm already, based on the information that has been handed to us. We don’t need to have the game in our hands to talk about it.

7. We're bored and will quit!
The pace in the game is really slow now and has been for a while. It’s apparent that many players are cutting down on their WoW presence heavily or even taking a break in their subscriptions to check out other games.

Some players seem to think that Blizzard should be overly worried about this and therefore feel the urge to get out Cataclysm asap in order not to lose subscribers, but personally I doubt that they’re governed by the day-by-day statistics to that extent. After all the company seems to be doing fine financially, and if they would need some extra cash they could probably just toss another sparkling mount into the store.

Just because people are taking a break in their subscriptions it doesn’t mean that they’re done with WoW. I would be highly surprised if not the majority of those who quit now will come back for Cataclysm again, regardless of at which point during the autumn it will released.

Some final thoughts
I suppose I should end this post with a prediction of my own, so you can come back and mock me and call me a fail blogger if it turns out I’m wrong. It’s more fun that way, isn’t it? Even if there are a few observations above pointing to a release early in the autumn, I’m leaning towards a November release. The Christmas Factor can’t be neglected. So let’s say something…closing my eyes, pointing randomly in my calendar… November 17!

It sounds like a long wait, and no one would be happier than me if I turned out to be wrong. However, judging from the gallery posted at MMO Champion today, (SPOILER LINK, look at your own risk) we really have a lot to look forward to!


Stabs said...

Cool, have written a note to self to mock you on November 18th.

Unless of course you're right in which case I'll quietly let the subject die.

You'll be too busy playing anyway to say I told you so!

Analogue said...

I've got my money on mid to late September. Before Blizzcon, long enough to do some serious testing, and the right time of year - between summer and Christmas - to get people fired up. That gives people til the holidays to get bored of the first tier of raids and the holidays are a down time anyway.

Spinks said...

I do think it would be funny if it got delayed and didn't come out until February next year. Then Elnia would have been right after all.

Redbeard said...

Given the reworking of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, I suspect Blizz will have to take a bit longer to Alpha and Beta test Cataclysm. Lots of old code will need to be stress tested with the new stuff, and depending on how things work out it could be next Summer before we see a release.

My guess is it could be a window from August 2010 to June 2011, depending on how the Alpha and Beta go.

Hatch said...

My Crystal Ball of Dubious Accuracy fully endorses Larisa's prediction.

Gronthe said...

I'll take the under at 3:1, you can have the over.

I saw a golf course in Azshara, a golf course! Quite a swanky playground they've got there in that zone.

Anonymous said...

*SpiritusRex shuffles and casts! The dark runes skitter across the surface. Noting the runes, he then checks the ancient sun and moon waxing/waning logs, accounts for the current barometric pressure of the Lesser Antilles,and declares,


Walking away, SpiritusRex cleans out his navel and tosses the detritus at a nearby murloc. The murloc, clearly entranced (as if mind-controlled), picks up the object and promptly consume's the waste.*

Saga said...

November seems rather likely, but I have to admit I hope it's sooner. September feels good since it's after the summer and plenty of time before Christmas. But who knows.. I just hope it will be this year at least :P

Perdissa said...

If you are correct, it would be a very nice birthday present for me. :d

Ngita said...

Reasonable. I have felt since last year that blizz was aiming for a June/august release but like Wrath the the closer the release gets to september the more likely the accounting weenies would go for a release exactly 2 years after the wrath(note its the biggest retail weekend in the states)

One thing you may not be aware of is the F&F alpha client had a hickup and is all ready a month behind when they hoped to release it. They ptr has also shown signs of activity by blizzard normally a sign that something will happen in a week or two, so perhaps 2 month till 3.5 with the 30% buff now 10.5 weeks away
But I severely doubt mid last year when they were working on 3.3 being the last major patch that they would have planned for it to last a year. They added filler(3.5) but its only going to give them another month or two of leeway.
So September to November

Green Armadillo said...

I think November is a bit late, but then I didn't think they'd bother with a F&F alpha either so what do I know?

MMO-Champion noticed that the PTR character copy mentions a Blizzcon event server which almost certainly means that Cataclysm will still be in beta but playable on the on floor.

Larísa said...

@Stabs: hehe, you’re welcome to tease me then!

: Could be… About holidays I think many find them great for levelling. While your guild is spread out you can do that on your own. I thought it was great to release Wrath in November for that reason and wouldn’t mind if they did the same again.

@Spinks: hehe, yeah. Just a pity he also dated it with 2010…

: yeah, I figure so too. It seems kind of complicated. If they manage to keep the same speed as in previous expansions I think they’re doing it good.
But release as late as in 2011… oh my. That’s the most pessimistic prophecy I ever heard, I just can’t believe it… I hope, I hope you don’t turn out to be right.

@Hatch: ah, then it’s confirmed! Thanks!

@Gronthe: wow! I haven’t looked to deeply into those pics tbh. Just a glimpse. I don’t want to see EVERYTHING at this point.

Rex: Hehe! November 26,, you said it! I’ll remember this.

@Saga: Oh it had better be….Not that people won’t come back if it will be later, but I wonder how many guilds that will endure such a long wait.

: nice!

@Ngita: yeah, I too was on the September line earlier, but I’ve started to change my mind now. As you said, they seem to be a bit behind schedule atm.

@Green Armadillo: exactly. I was kind of surprised that they did this. And MMO-champion thought it would be much earlier. Something seems to have messed up a bit, causing delays.

We Fly Spitfires said...

I'm hoping for an August release but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it ended up being around November. Shame we have to wait so long but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Wulfstan said...

Possibly the best way to guess a release date is to look at the Financial statements of the company.

Cata will bring a massive cash-flow in, and should be reflected somewhere in their financial forecasts to Wall-Street. This should at least tell us which quarter it will be released.

I haven't done this, but my guess is OND. However I have no idea how they will keep everyone playing until then. Perhaps the idea is to give time to switch to Starcraft before launching Cata?

Carson 63000 said...

"We're bored and will quit!"

Yeah, I'm one of the people who has suspended their subscription for now. About a month ago, my guild hit the point in ICC-25 where it was a bit beyond our capabilities, and crashed and burned messily. At that point, I decided I had nothing much left to do in-game and it was time for a break.

But the chance of me buying Cataclysm and reactivation my subscription is 100.0%, regardless of when it may launch. There's nothing else on the horizon that I'm even following particularly closely, let alone thinking "this could keep me away from WoW even when Cataclysm launches".

Sure, the sooner it launches, the sooner Blizzard will get my $15/month rolling back it, but they've proven for many years now that they're not the sort of company that is driven by short-term thinking like that.