The content updates continue to roll out for World of Warcraft, with last week’s patch 7.2.5 unleashing flying, a new raid, and bunch of other changes into Azeroth. Just prior to the content launch, we talked with Paul Kubit, senior game designer for World of Warcraft, about how Blizzard approaches these “.5” patches, the state of micro-holidays, and keeping players engaged regardless of whether they’ve been playing since launch or they’re just starting now.
While Paul does a deep dive into the WoW’s design, the game’s class designers recently held an AMA on Reddit that you can check out here.
GameSpot: The timing for this update, hitting during E3. Was that intentional? Is it just that this is the time in the development calendar to put out the update? Or do you feel like these are different audiences–that E3 has a more console-centric feel versus what hardcore World of Warcraft players are looking for?
Paul Kubit: I don’t think we thought about it that hard. With Legion, we had a pretty holistic plan of making sure that we had a lot of patches come out; lots of times for that content train to leave the station. Whether that particular patch was delivering a new outdoor zone for questing or a new raid or just the additional side content or class updates like we’re seeing a lot of in Patch 7.2.5. We knew that those patches should come out pretty regularly, so 7.2.5 just kind of ended up landing around that E3 date, but it’s probably more coincidence than anything else.
And it has become such a regular rollout of content. It must feel like you’re almost on a well-oiled machine at this point.
Yeah, it feels a little oiled. I mean, there’s still a lot of work that goes into each one of these little patches, big or small, but yes, we’re really happy that we have been able to, up to this point, provide plenty of patches. 7.2 was not that long ago; we just landed on Broken Shore, and have been pushing towards The Tomb of Sargeras. Now with 7.2.5, we’re going to have that raid actually opening and also some additional little bits of content landing in as well, whether that’s a Chromie scenario, some new micro-holidays, new brawls, and so on.
How carefully does the team have that roadmap laid out? Obviously, for 7.2.5, you know what’s coming up, but for the ones further out, are you guys partly playing that by ear and seeing how things work out?
It really kind of depends. We don’t just work on one patch at a time. We always have lots of different wheels spinning, and how much of a head start you get on that wheel depends on how big the wheel is. For something like 7.2, that was being worked on either as original Legion was launching, or maybe even a little bit before it. For something like 7.2.5, the team that works on that is a little bit more agile. We’re able to respond more to what the game needs, so if that’s a particular change to something like a class mechanic, we can make those changes. If it’s something like just deciding when it feels right for the Tomb of Sargeras to unlock, we make those changes, as well as just adding content.
I mentioned the Chromie scenario earlier. One of the things about the Chromie scenario is, as we were building it, we were making a decision how often you can actually run the scenario, and after hearing a lot of feedback that some of the content in 7.2 felt, maybe it was a little bit gated, that definitely weighed into some of the decisions of how Chromie ended up playing, which there’s not really any time-gating at all.
What separates the raids specifically from the patches done, in terms of your development process? Compared to the past, the raids are not as closely timed to the patches as they were before. They come a little after. How has that impacted the development of the patches themselves?
It’s been freeing. We’ve started thinking about the game and the way we release parts of the game a little bit differently. In the past, it was more discreet patches–a patch is just “this much” content, and you get it on this date, and everything that’s in there is available. As we start building content a little bit earlier, if we have the Tomb of Sargeras in the game before it’s actually ready, it’s really time for us to be in the Tomb of Sargeras. Then we can release that raid or any type of content that’s time-gated at the time that feels right. We wouldn’t want to release it too early.
If we’d released it in 7.2, I would argue that it would probably feel like we didn’t have enough time to explore Nighthold. I know there’s lots of guilds who are still working their way through some of the last bosses, and if we’d waited much longer, then it would probably feel like we were in Nighthold too long. Sometimes a raid tier can drag on and lose your interest, so decoupling those two things has been freeing. It gives us a little bit more freedom to listen to feedback, feel out the way that the community’s responding to what they’re playing now, and then release content when it feels right.
Given how big 7.2 was, do you feel extra pressure in order to deliver more with the subsequent patch? Or do you feel like that gives you the freedom to just focus on class changes and the sort of things that you do expect from the .5 patches to begin with?
I don’t know if it’s “pressure” that we feel. I mean, as WoW’s development rolls on, our team has gotten a little bit bigger, and our efficiency’s probably increased as well, so you will see patches have tended to get bigger as time’s passed. But that doesn’t mean that every patch has to be bigger than the last. 7.2.5 for sure is not as big as 7.2, but it was never intended to be. This is more of an opportunity to explore other parts of Azeroth that aren’t as closely tied to the Legion storyline. 7.2 covered the assault on the Broken Shore and the Legionfall campaign, and that’s very much in the story of Legion, working alongside Illidan and fighting against the Legion.
The story stuff that’s happening in 7.2.5 is a little bit more evergreen. You’re working with Chromie, and she’s not even in Dalaran. She’s in Wyrmrest, in Northrend, so this content, as well as things that we’ve seen in other smaller patches like the Brawlers Guild, they’re not really tied to Legion. That also means that they’re going to be around for longer, or at least relevant for longer. You will probably not be playing through the Legionfall campaign one or two expansions down the line, but you’ll still be able to do the Chromie scenario or play through any of the micro-holidays or anything like that.
What has the feedback to micro-holidays been? I think it’s been about six months now since they were introduced. Are there plans to expand those further? Is there a certain point where you feel like you would have too many?
We’re still kind of feeling out the space that. Some of the answers to those questions–how often they should be and how many we should have–the response has been good. It varied from one micro-holiday to another. Some had more players playing in them than others. A lot of that had to do with just how long the micro-holiday is or, in some cases, just how far away and hard it is to get to. You know, we saw a lot more people participate in the salute-a-guard day just because it happened to be right there in Orgrimmar or Stormwind or any of your capital cities, you could flash “salute a guard” and then be participating in the holiday, whereas something like Hatching of the Hippogryphs, not as many people played because you actually had to fly all the way down to Feralas to get it.
But that’s okay for micro-holidays, as well. We intentionally built micro-holidays to feel like something that you opt into. You don’t feel like you need to absolutely do this unless you want to because, for something like Hatching of the Hippogryphs, all you really get as a reward is a little baby hippogryph who sits on your shoulder for the next five days or so. There’s no 500 gold or 100 million artifact power or anything like that. And, for a lot of people, that means they don’t want to do them because they want to get that artifact power. And that’s fine, but there are a bunch of people who are very interested in having a little baby hippogryph on their shoulder and will go hunt that down.
I imagine with the holidays, that you have really good insight into both who starts the proceedings for those and who actually goes through and completes them. Have you guys been surprised by the popularity of any of them, or, in the same way, surprised that people weren’t as interested in a holiday you thought was going to be a big hit?
I think we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the popularity that we’ve seen of these. One of the interesting things about it is that you do see different people being interested in different micro-holidays. It’s not just the same handful of people who are running them. For example, a lot of the people who chose to participate in the Glowcap Festival, were people who were a little bit more interested in reputation hunting because that one actually did give a reward which was a permanent thing for your character–the Sporeggar rep.
That kind of ties in with the point of micro-holidays, is that they’re not necessarily built to be for everyone, but some of them might be more interesting for you as a player than other people, people who are our peers, who are really into the Balloon Festival, because they had a lot of baked-in opportunities for players to RP their characters and interact with other characters.
I think you’ve said that the new Trial of Style thing was originally envisioned as a micro-holiday, but it seems to have graduated beyond that to being something bigger. What caused that change? Is there just a certain point where you feel like this is too substantial to simply be a micro-holiday?
Yeah. It was more of a feeling, that micro-holidays are, to be honest, a term we came up with very recently, so the actual definition of what one is is still up for debate. But up to this point, they’ve only been one to three days long, and the Trial of Style felt like a big enough event that you wouldn’t want to miss it, and it’s a little bit more miss-able, even at three days, so we extended it out to five days and, in doing so, said, “Well, let’s not call this a micro-holiday. We’ll just call it an event.” And that also frees us up to be able to release it at a different cadence if we choose to later, depending on how it feels once players start playing it.
Going more broad, it seems like new technology has been sort of an emphasis during the life of this expansion. Is that something that you sort of see as a continued focus moving forward?
I definitely think that. This isn’t just a Legion thing. Maybe we’ve done more of it in Legion, but since the original WoW, we’ve always been adding tech into the game. We didn’t have the capability to make a daily quest until BC came out, and then we decided we wanted tech for that. Our water didn’t look very good for a long time, and then all of a sudden, it started looking pretty good. There’s always tech being put in.
Legion is no exception. Even simple things like in the Chromie scenario, we needed bits of tech just to make the Order Hall talent tree work on Chromie, since she was not representing a class but just a character. Just getting the 1’s and 0’s to work behind the scenes to make that work was little bits of tech which all add up here and there, that makes it easier for people like me and other designers on the game to really make the experiences that we want to make.
Thinking about somebody like Chromie, when people come into the game, and especially maybe another year or two down the road, they’re not necessarily going to experience this patch in the same way that we experience it now. Are you guys giving thought to how you want to make that, accessible to players, no matter when they come in or when they Yes. For sure. We’re always thinking about stuff like that, and that’s really a big guiding principle in a lot of the content which goes into these .5 patches. We want to make content we call evergreen: things that you can play at any point in the expansion or future expansions. Chromie is an example where, the way it actually works is it uses time-walking, another little bit of tech we had to get, which is the ability to time-walk your level higher and item-level higher up to Level 112, item-level 1000. But that doesn’t mean that you can only run this at Level 110. If at some point in the future your character is higher than 112 and your item level is higher than 1000, it’ll still work. You’ll still be able to talk to Chromie on top of Wyrmrest and say, “I want to help save you because I heard that you’re going to get killed,” and it’ll still work.
Things like that, they help, instead of extending the length of the game, blow out the breadth of the game a little bit, giving you more things to do. It’s a different way of storytelling. It feels a little bit more incidental, a little bit more exploratory, as well as things like that, go to make the world of Azeroth bigger. When there’s more stuff to do, then the world actually feels bigger and more impressive.
One thing people have been talking about recently, not necessarily related directly to this patch, are the recent class mounts. Some people, of course, are really excited about their new class mounts, and some people, particularly druids, are a little bit disappointed, since for them, it’s just a form change rather than a new mount. Is that something you guys are also still addressing and talking to the community about?
It’s something we’re looking at and talking to the community about, for sure. Listening, absolutely. Things like this are. We want class mounts to feel great, so if people have feedback on them, they’re giving it to us through the right channels–via forums, via elsewhere–we’re listening. Nothing to announce in terms of changes right now. The class mounts just came out, but, “We are listening,” I guess is the important message there.
And naturally, the question always becomes, as soon as one patch hits, when will we start to hear about the next one? Do you anticipate that 7.3 will follow sort of a similar schedule, in terms of how long the gap was between the most recent, 7.1 and 7.2 patches?
Like I alluded earlier, when it feels right is when those patches come out. But one thing I do know is that 7.3 is being worked on. We know what Argus looks like, and that’s where we’re going next. Shortly after 7.2.5 goes live, PTRs will start rolling up with 7.3 builds. As far as actual release dates, nothing to announce at this point. It’s still a little early for that, but it is on the horizon.
And for this patch, I think the biggest thing that’s going available day one, outside of class changes if your class got any changes, is that Chromie scenario. I would say, in addition to anything else you’re running that day–your normal raids or mythic classes or world quests or whatever you’re doing–I would encourage checking that out, even if it’s not something that immediately catches your attention. It’s an iteration of a type of gameplay that we started just playing with in Legion with the Wizard Army Training, and something we learned a lot of lessons from. We’re very curious to see how people respond to it this time.
Another thing that I would point out for people to look for is micro-holidays. We’ve added a couple new ones, and they’ve been a little bit more miss-able in the past. You actually have to know they’re coming. You need to see it in the launcher or look at your calendar. Not everybody opens their calendar every day. I know I don’t. Those are going to be a little bit more visible–all of them will be in 7.2.5. We’ve added kind of advertisement characters into Dalaran who will be there a day ahead of time, so a day before the Moonkin Festival, you’ll see a couple druids and Moonkin show up there in Dalaran, in a very visible spot. You can talk to them, and they’ll say something like, “Oh yeah! The Moonkin Festival is here!” Or, “It’s coming tomorrow.” If you want to have a little Moonkin buddy who follows you around, be there. That’s something I guess people could be looking out for, as well.