14 Oct 2011

How Warcraft Will Never End

As Blizzcon rapidly approaches there’s a ton of speculation about what will be announced. Hopes are high for a new World of Warcraft expansion, although details are sketchy about what it may contain. The trademark ‘Mists of Pandaria’ has been suggested as a name following trademark registration, but this was later dismissed as being ‘wildly overhyped’ by the developer.

Regardless of what the next expansion is called, the important thing is where it takes the story and what possibilities open up. Is it possible that the upcoming expansion will close the book on the Warcraft universe, or are we looking at the prelude to something even bigger?

I’ll be the first to confess that I’m no lore expert, but regardless of the story intricacies at play I think that there’s a rough way in which the current Warcraft story arc will conclude, including how it’ll be the jumping-off point for something far bigger.

As always with discussions of this type, this is pure tinfoil-hat speculation. I’m not saying that this is an accurate idea of what will happen, just that it’s an example of what could happen. Don’t go placing any bets off the back of this.

Coming Up Next

Back in the mists of time an internet legend emerged. A list of expansions and associated levels had been produced sometime in early alpha or beta, posted on a forum only to later vanish. Some say it’s a genuine article while others claim it to be fake, but it’s worth looking at.

Whether the list is real or fake, it’s become clear from previous expansions that the story drives what zones are developed and what content gets included. What’s less clear is what drives the story, which is where strategy comes in.

I’ll come on to what the strategy is shortly, but I think Anne Stickney’s predictions on the upcoming expansion are largely correct. The next expansion is likely to feature the Broken Isles, Kul Tiras and all the other oceanic areas that weren’t included with Cataclysm. I think that Queen Azshara and the Old God N’Zoth will be the concluding bosses of the expansion. There may even be some play between Azshara and Sargeras, drawing the Burning Legion back into the game.

The Grand Finale

With the remaining Old God influence dealt with and the Naga finally eliminated, Azeroth remains safe from itself. Attention can then focus on dealing with the Burning Legion once and for all, with players finally able to give Sargeras some much-needed payback.

This is the expansion where we get a chance to recapture the Burning Cidatel and defeat Sargeras. This is where Velen’s prophecy plays out. This is the final chapter in the story, the point where Azeroth becomes safe and where the heroes can retire.

Or is it?

The defeat of Sargeras doesn’t mean that the Burning Legion is wiped out. There are thousands of worlds out there that have been conquered, destroyed or become allied with the chaos army. While one story might end with a fifth expansion, there are a whole stack of unanswered questions and untouched worlds left out there.

Insert Coin To Continue

If the story finishes on the Burning Legion homeworld then what’s the reason behind it? Why lead the players to that location and finish the story arc there? Ultimately it’s because it represents an ideal moment to make fundamental changes to the way World of Warcraft operates.

At Blizzcon 2012 it’s likely that we’ll see the announcement of their next generation MMO. It’ll probably follow a similar model to World of Warcraft, being subscription based and featuring content patches and periodic expansions. What’s more interesting is where this leaves Warcraft, as it’s likely that players will just simply trade up to the next Blizzard game.

This leaves two options: either use the same monthly subscription for both games or switch Warcraft to a free-to-play model. In this case I think it’s the latter that will happen, and I think Blizzard are already laying the groundwork for it. The Guardian Cub is one such example.

The remaining question is how Blizzard will fund and deliver future Warcraft content. It makes sense to offer players a selection of downloadable content, but the traditional prerequisites of needing an earlier expansion pack before a later one can be played has to be removed. Capturing the Burning Citadel makes perfect sense for this.

Think about it. The place is probably littered with thousands of arcane portals, each linked to another world. Some of these portals might be working while others need repair. Either way, each one provides a method of providing a story and a chunk of content packaged neatly as a unit. They don’t even need to be part of existing lore, providing designers and story writers with huge amounts of creative freedom.

Each content pack behind a portal can then be sold individually on the Blizzard store. If one story doesn’t appeal to you then you don’t need to buy it. If anther sounds engrossing then you can bag it and quickly start experiencing it. Blizzard already had the technology to sell you new content and ship it to you quickly through in-game streamed downloads.

It’s the ultimate move to episodic content – stories that can be experienced as part of a larger arc, but which can just as easily be consumed on their own. It would be similar in foundation to Stargate or even Mr Benn, where through each magical portal lies a different story and adventure.

Death Has Been Cancelled

There’s been a lot of talk about one game or another being the death of Warcraft. Whenever a new MMO came out it would be heralded as a ‘Warcraft-Killer’ before promptly tanking. Nowadays we have smarter marketing men who tend to shy away from drawing too many comparisons.

The conversation has since moved to how Blizzard would kill Warcraft, either through bad game design or a lack of new content. It’s even been suggested that the only thing to kill a Blizzard game would be… another Blizzard Game. Diablo 3 or Titan may yet pull away a substantial block of the Warcraft playerbase.

The real truth that videogame veterans know is this: great games don’t die, they just grow old. I would not be surprised to see World of Warcraft still being played ten years from now.

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10 Responses to How Warcraft Will Never End

  1. Greygamer says:

    Another nicely written piece. I think the biggest hurdle for WoW is the game engine though, won’t this require them to completely upgrade it at some point?

    Do you think Blizzard will competely re-boot WoW at some point in the distant future? In the same way ‘classic’ movies are re-imagined. That would give them a way to re-tell the Warcraft story possibly with major differences.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Two good questions. First up, Blizzard probably won’t revamp the game engine. There’s no need – you’re selling the story, not the graphics. Any major revamp will be saved for Titan.

      I don’t know about a WoW reboot. It depends on how the story plays out and how far the players get. What they might do are a couple more prequels to fill in the blanks, but that’s about it. I think this is why they’re wary of making a World of Starcraft, and why Titan is new IP.

  2. Tesh says:

    I’ve written about episodic content sales before, following a sort of “chapter” or “episode” model, using the Guild Wars business model of “buy once, permanent access”. I think it’s a great idea. If WoW really did segue into this model, I’d probably actually spend money on it.
    Tesh recently posted..Face FailureMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think it makes a lot of sense. You don’t have this nagging feeling of cancelling your subscription if you’re not playing, plus you’re directly rewarding developers for producing content you value. It also encourages developers to produce more content more often.

      Personally I reckon it’s a great way for Warcraft to fund future growth without being starved by players moving up to Titan or across to other MMOs.

  3. Very interesting theory – I’ve featured it on the Melting Pot today.

    My major question, as I said there, is whether WoW can actually last long enough as a subscription game for your Cunning Plan to go into effect. That’s a 3 year gap before F2P, optimistically speaking. Do you think that WoW can hold off the vultures for that long?
    Hugh @ MMO Melting Pot recently posted..A plausible theory of HOW WoW will go free-to-playMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think it can. I’m not sure what the break-even point is, but I’m sure that they can take a fairly substantial hammering to their subscriber numbers without losing too much. The recent entry into markets like Latin America is definitely going to help with this.

      I also reckon there’ll be a significant uptick to the subscriber base if they do implement this three years down the line. All those people who used to play but got fed up with the subscription model are probably going to come flooding back to catch up on everything they missed.

      Finally, here’s something really out of left field for you: what if they make the final expansion a gift to the players? Not saying it’ll happen, but think about what the reaction would be if they did…

  4. Razerbug says:

    I see what you did there sir! Tinfoil wizzards hat firmly pulled down. Between you and Shades’ I like WoW’s predicted future.
    Razerbug recently posted..Playing the Bad GuyMy Profile

  5. Longasc says:

    Ultima Online and Dark Age of Camelot are still running as well.
    The leaked document seems to be fairly accurate, but plans change and it might be more an inspiration than a plan by now.

    What really makes me wonder is that people still expect to play WoW in 2012 and even further down the line.

    Storywise people can only hope that they come up with something more original than more “Burning Legion” stuff. I would hope for an Emerald Dream expansion but can’t help to think that many WoW players would really like a Pandaren themed expansion. Talk about style, but Pandaren work on a level similar to that of beer and fart jokes, just more kid friendly. While I really couldn’t care less, see above, I hope Wrath of the Lich King didn’t mark the high point of WoW lore and storytelling, being quite Star Wars inspired. But hey, I still prefer a good copy over the Pandaren and Burning Legion ideas. that sound like utter tripe to me. Do people really want Blizzard to polish a turd? A polished turd is still smelling.

  6. Pingback: A plausible theory of HOW WoW will go free-to-play — MMO Melting Pot

  7. Jamin says:


    Now I would like to agree with the theory you have created. If anything, I would be happy for it go out that way. Save it’s dignity. Rather than see it crash’n’burn. Instead slowly phasing out and tying an end to as many, lore related, questions as possible.

    I also see that Blizzard will make the decision when WoW will draw to a close, or an alternative. Such as WC3 being pushed out by SC2 and so on.

    – Jamin