Preach Post-Trip Retrospective - The Third Era of WoW Starts with Dragonflight
03/11/2022 à 03:14
Preach recently returned from his trip to Blizzard HQ in California, and his first stream back has shared several details from his experience and soon to be released interviews with Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, Executive Producer Holly Longdale, Warcraft General Manager John Hight, Lead Combat Designer Brian Holinka, and more!
The full vod is a gigantic five and a half hours long, but contains several insights throughout, from the changes inside Blizzard's culture, to comments from several developers about design philosophy within what is being called the "Third Era of Warcraft" beginning with the release of Dragonflight.
The trip was Preach's idea, planned and paid for on the basis of asking the questions he wanted, rather than fulfilling an agreed upon commitment. His goal wasn't to do marketing for them or help announce a release date, but to offer viewers an honest impression of the direction of Blizzard and Warcraft as a whole. Letting people see what's actually happening at Blizzard is better marketing than any pre-scripted event.
Live interviews and mass media blitzes are often constrained by time, making it difficult to expand upon important topics while still getting through all of the talking points. This format put Preach in their offices, so that developers could just walk downstairs rather than shuffle from interview to interview repeating the same talking points to half a dozen different outlets.
Oddly enough, they agreed and gave his team virtually unfettered access to every part of the Blizzard Campus, including some areas discussing upcoming development that he probably shouldn't have seen. He even got to see Mike Ybarra, although the Blizzard CEO was far too busy to stop and chat. The only places he didn't go were financials, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and StarCraft, as he had little interest in them, or visit the Classic WoW team, because it was in a separate building, though he has shared that Blizzard will be sending out some things in the coming months that fans of Classic WoW should definitely respond to!
The Third Era of Warcraft
Dragonflight is changing the core game entirely. Whether or not an "official" descriptor, it's been referred to as the Third Era of World of Warcraft in the sense that it represents a fundamental change in approach for the long-running MMO. Preach wants to know what's changed internally to drive these redesigns, and where the game will go from there.
One of the big talking points was the amount of content that gets left behind from expansion to expansion. Things like garrisons, warfronts, and island expeditions get created and then dropped as soon as the next expansion arrives - leading many players to believe these features were dropped due to being failures, though the truth is most of them are designed to be standalone in the first place.
In some respects, this seems like a wasted effort in building up Island Expeditions or Warfronts, knowing that they're not intended to be brought forward into Shadowlands - an expansion which they don't fit thematically with - though this isn't entirely wasted effort. Much of the tech used to create those systems is reused in futured development, as are the lessons learned from players engaging with those systems.
The developers have recognized the pitfalls, however, as this does result in a backlog of old and rarely revisited content. Much of it gets cannibalized to create new content, but some of it remains popular even several expansions later (example: the Mage Tower challenges of Legion). This is something that the team is keeping in mind as they move forward into that so-called Third Era of WoW, and although that doesn't mean that
feature will be carried forward, with no answer given on whether or not we'll be able to dragonride in 11.0, but it sounds like the premise they're going for - creating content that should last into the following expansion(s), while players learning to do something in one expansion should carry over into the next.
This ideology also extends to more than just Dragonflight. Although he didn't spend a lot of time on Classic, Preach spent some time talking to Classic Lead Brian Birmingham about the future of Classic after Wrath of the Lich King, who relayed how open and flexible they are to feedback as to where Classic should go next. This Third Era of Warcraft is being driven by player input, so listening to player feedback is being embraced more as a core value.
For those wondering, Preach was also emphatic that while Activision certainly exists as an entity, they are not close to Blizzard development whatsoever and their influence is minimal at best. Occasionally they send a request to include something on the Battle.net launcher, but that's about it!
Story, Combat, and Gameplay Development
The story is another important talking point, with many comparisons to Final Fantasy (which many of the developers play and are big fans of). While comparison to Final Fantasy is a big topic, simply copying Final Fantasy's format wouldn't work for many existing fans - World of Warcraft's strength is its combat, not
killing bears in-between hour long cutscenes
. With that in mind though, one of the pitfalls of recent WoW expansions has been making them a little
self contained, making it hard to really care about a character like the Jailer, who just recently appeared on our radar. In response to that feeling, Ion and John Hight shared that they're looking into multiple expansion story arcs, instead of the self-contained stories where characters like Khadgar just disappear for a couple expansions.
Speaking to the combat team about the inclusion of Evokers, they emphasized how much they detest homogenization and really wanted something new and different. Not all of it may appeal to old school players, as Preach relates how both he and Holinka immediately turned off the new "hold to charge" function for Evokers, but that's why those things are options. They really wanted new resources and mechanics though, which is why they have the orb system and charge up spells, rather than just another version of Focus/Energy. Some of the driving elements of design are combat customization and wanting to create "Hero Moments," which feel unique and special for every class.
Another interesting piece of combat design they discussed is how much of a pain in the ass it can be for a big portion of players, which was an eye opening experience for Preach. For the not high-end players more interested in collection than pushing Mythic+ or clearing raids, combat effectiveness isn't of huge importance to you, but any sudden hotfix or update can be actually be a hindrance for those players. They're not the kind who want to worry about "what's best" now or who does 5% more damage, they just want to get on with what they want to do.
This results in a lot of pain for those players when big sweeping changes come in, and is one of the reasons they've introduced Starter Talent Builds to help ease the burden of picking talents to play with. Preach is interested in seeing metrics of how many players actually chose them and started playing, as opposed to players who create their own builds.
Another interesting question regarding the spectrum of skill and gaps between the low end casual pet battler and high end world race mythic raider is what do the majority of players in WoW
His answer is "everyone does everything" - there are high end raiders who've collected every single pet, while other players have never stepped foot inside instanced content. The idea of a vast majority is simply untrue - the playerbase is too broad and varied to really have a majority. This makes development a challenge, as they try to cater to several different interests, but it's also important to the team to make content for everyone.
Unfortunately isn't coming anytime soon. It's something the team knows is a very popular request, but would require a major engine update to make work the way it deserves to be done - otherwise it would be an awkward mix of preplaced garrison plots and limited customization. Although this may not be great news for fans of the oft-requested feature, it may be comforting to know that it is still on Blizzard's radar.
The entire vod is nearly five and a half hours long, which may be a lot to watch altogether, but is absolutely worth at least skipping through just for the sheer amount of insights and commentary, as well as a look inside the seldom seen executive branch of Blizzard HQ. With around 15 separate interviews still being edited, there is certainly a lot of information and highlights to be shared, so keep an eye on
Preach's Youtube channel
over the coming weeks!
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