Reactions to World of Warcraft's newest expansion, Mists of Pandaria have been more or less positive, overall — but the expansion has sold fewer copies, and those more slowly, than WoW's previous expansion, Cataclysm. WoW, while still a popular and beloved juggernaut among MMORPGs, is ageing, and the world of gaming in which it competes has changed.
So now that Blizzard has thrown playable panda-people into the mix, what else lurks in the potential future of Azeroth? In an interview with Rock, Paper, Shotgun, World of Warcraft production director J. Allen Brack dove deep into the past, present, and future of the game.
The elephant (dragon? very large panda?) in the room with modern multiplayer online games is, of course, the idea of free-to-play vs the monthly subscription. The classic $US15 subscription model is waning in popularity rather quickly. Might there ever be a free-to-play future for WoW?
Brack reiterated what most players seem intuitively to feel — that it's not in the cards anytime soon — but added that of course, the team does have to think about it. "We would be foolish not to at least consider it from time to time, think about what it would mean. I don't necessarily know what the right thing would be for WoW, if we were to consider that model," Brack said. "But we're definitely trying to learn lessons from other people as we watch them do it. It's a huge focus of [GDC Online]. It's been a huge focus in MMOs over the last few years."
Brack also delved into the increase in player sophistication and change in player expectations over the past eight years. He pointed to the raid strategies for the Molten Core, one of the zones included with the original launch of World of Warcraft:"Here's this boss. He's got these two adds. The adds can't be killed. You have to tank those adds. You have to DPS down the boss. That's it. That's an actual boss mechanic in Molten Core," Brack said. He continued, "We don't have dungeon bosses that are that simplistic anymore. Players would see that, understand that, and have no challenge instantly. It's amazing, the player sophistication, in terms of what they're able to consume, what they're able to do, the rise of the kind of player communication and everything that happens along with it."
So if the subscriptions are sticking around, and experienced players need new, different content at all times, what's next for World of Warcraft? "In terms of stories that are unfinished, certainly the Burning Legion story is unfinished. There's Sargeras and his guys who are bent on everything that he wants to do. Taking over the universe. That's maybe one step above Deathwing [in terms of epicness]. I don't necessarily think that's the right next story for WoW, but it's a story that we could tell," Brack mused.
As for the immediate future, Brack explained that the team is larger than it's ever been — at 165 — and that a mingled bunch of large and small patches is on the way. From "giant raid tiers" to "little vignettes," World of Warcraft just keeps on growing.
WoW's J. Allen Brack On What Lies Beyond Pandaria [Rock Paper Shotgun]