Monday, August 10, 2009

Pointless Blizzcon Speculation Is Pointless

In the past, the major announcements of Blizzcon didn't leak out until the week of. There's no keeping them under wraps - eventually you have to tell the press so they can dutifully write their stories, and the pool of people who know will eventually get large enough to have a weakest link.

Still, I was not expecting to hear via Syp that "multiple sources close to the situation" have confirmed to WoW Insider/Massively that the expansion is called Cataclysm, including playable Worgen for the Alliance and Goblins for the Horde. Either Blizzard has been lax about information security compared to previous years, or something about this job market has made insiders less nervous than usual about the prospect of having "was fired for leaking confidential information to the press" on their resumes.

Of course, this isn't really news. It functionally leaked when Blizzard designed and added female Worgen Halloween masks to the patch 3.2 PTR's. Ozzy's appearence at the con was leaked courtesy of DirectTV. The Starcraft II delay was announced last week so that the negative headlines would be over with by the time the con started. What's really left?

I've taken two attempts at interesting WoW expansion ideas over the past year. Except for the 1% chance that Blizzard filed an unnecessary trademark and tasked some artists to make masks as a red herring, these ideas are off the table.

What we're getting is an expansion named Cataclysm with 10 levels, two races, no new classes, and new islands in the south part of Azeroth's sea near the Maelstrom to accomodate the trip from 80 to 90. Maybe we'll get another new profession (though I don't really see the point) or a higher starting level for the new kids (e.g. level 40, so that their newbie content can be used by alts of the old races in the sparse 40-58 level bracket). The expansion should launch sometime circa next summer, though I don't expect them to confirm that.

I would love to be proven wrong with an expansion announcement that I can actually get excited about, but I'm not expecting much.

Starcraft II
Starcraft II got delayed to accomodate improvements to the 2.0 advertising platform that will be required to play the game in anything other than off-line single player campaign mode. It should otherwise be in relatively good shape at this point, and we can probably expect a beta announcement.

Diablo III
There is no way that Diablo III is ready to go unless they're going to chop it up into a more episodic format. Last year, they tried to announce that they were eventually going to have two SCII expansions instead of just one, and that each of the three boxes would contain a single, triple-length campaign for a single race rather than three regular-length campaigns (one for each race). Somehow, they managed to bungle this announcement badly enough that the headline everywhere was how Blizzard was planning to charge three times for the same game. I don't expect them to want to go anywhere near the same kind of debacle for DIII. Expect a new playable class instead.

Mystery Projects 4 and 5
We know that MP4 is a new MMORPG set in a new IP universe (i.e. not the Lost Vikings, or any of the current big three). We know nothing of MP5, and this will almost certainly still be true in two weeks. I'd put a MP 4 announcement at 60/40 in favor.

When Blizzard held its very first Blizzcon, there were literally NO announced upcoming products, not even expansions. Right now, Blizzard will almost certainly ship three major projects in the 2010-2011 window, perhaps even four if the first of the SC II expansion can make the 2011 holiday season. Why announce MP4 when it's at least two years from launch, the project won't have the hype benefit of pre-existing fans because it's based on a new universe, and there won't be any significant details to unveil? A week ago, I was certain that there was no good reason to do this now.

Upon further reflection, though, there are upsides of announcing now. The presence of other news on the keynote stage might make the lack of concrete details about MP4 less obvious. Meanwhile, a genuinely new announcement has probably been easier to keep under wraps since there aren't any real details behind it that COULD leak, and the unexpected aspect might also give cover to the relatively boring slates for the big three. Finally, if KOTOR can have this much hype this far out, I suppose there's no reason for Blizzard not to try and cash in early.

I'll be scoring this one as a prediction FOR the MP4 announcement just for the sake of going out on a limb about SOMETHING, but I won't be shocked at either outcome.

That's all folks
Boring slate? Yes. Unambitious predictions were pretty successful last year, and I might not even have written them down except that half of them have already been spoiled, and I might not get another chance. Given my poor track record on predictions in general, let's see how many of these can be disproven BEFORE the show starts.


spinksville said...

Not sure what they could say about this new expansion that could get me excited about it. I assume there may be some underwater zones and boats? (Actually if you could play a pirate and have battles on pirate ships that might do).

I'm expecting something about and their plans for that.

Other than that, yeah I agree with you.

Green Armadillo said...

What I've heard is that there are more above-water islands in that part of Azeroth than you might expect. GC kind of implied that they would only do an underwater zone if there was a reason for it. We might get a 5-man, but it's not like you're going to spend the whole expansion with a diving helmet on your head.

I expect that there almost certainly will be naval battles using the vehicle interface, perhaps even a ship vs ship battleground. No reason not to cash in on the whole Pirates of the Carribean atmosphere.

I'm sure they will do their darndest to hype as Facebook for Blizzard. I will get excited about this the platform if it actually turns out to be useful for something other than targeted advertising. Though I'm sure we're all going to love having to watch "you should resubscribe to WoW" ads on the Diablo III lobby menu.

Overall, it's hard to understate my enthusiasm for two new races that start at level 1, if that is indeed what we're getting. It doesn't sound like Blizzard is willing to throw in the towel on lore-based race/class restrictions just yet (this WILL happen, but not as a marquis feature of this expansion), so we can scratch Pallies, Shamen, and Druids and figure that the new races get the other seven classes. /yawn.

Fish said...

I think the problem with blizz competing with Star Wars is that a pile of poo holding a lightsaber will sell at least as well as Warhammer or Age of Conan, if done right, it could be a behemoth. They need all the hype they can get just to stay relevant once Wow is retired.

Green Armadillo said...

@Fish: If KOTOR is indeed a full-time MMORPG, it could be a huge threat. I'm suspicious that it's more of a guild wars/episodic model. The heavy story focus is going to limit the pace with which Bioware can add content. They may be able to deliver an impressive initial box, but I think they would be hard pressed to maintain that level of quality if they get into a competition around quarterly content patches with everyone else. Meanwhile, there was an interview last year that suggested that players might use KOTOR as a second MMORPG. I just think that the episodic model fits what they're describing better than the monthly fee.