The latest expansion for Blizzard‘s juggernaut MMO World of Warcraft, Shadowlands, was recently delayed in what many took as a sign of the company being in tough times (after all, there have been many reports of Blizzard employees being laid off even as Activision-Blizzard posts extremely positive revenue numbers). However, even though it’s undeniable that the developer is indeed pulling some incredibly awful moves when it comes to the way they treat the people that have been working there for years, I believe that Shadowlands‘ delay will actually be good for both the game and its players, who have been burned by undercooked expansions in the past.
I doubt I’ll be alone in thinking that Battle for Azeroth was a major disappointment for the community who believe in Blizzard‘s promises pre-launch, and that’s partly why I feel that this delay will actually be a healthy thing for once, and not yet another blow for this venerable MMO. While Battle for Azeroth sold gangbusters, it was also probably responsible for a great number of lapsed subscriptions, which would only be recouped after the much hyped release of World of Warcraft Classic. I know for a fact that services that provide boosting in WoW were incredibly busy in the lead-up to the release of BFA, and then numbers dropped off like a rock.
Part of the problem with Battle for Azeroth was that Blizzard didn’t do enough testing with the community (or didn’t take into account their feedback as much as they should have) which is another aspect where Shadowlands‘ delay will help the game (in my opinion) as the pre-patch is already live in North America, and players are already busy reporting bugs and providing feedback on the myriad of new changes that have been made. Under normal circumstances, this pre-patch would have been live just weeks before the launch of the expansion, and Blizzard would never have enough time to respond to all the feedback and fix issues that probably didn’t pop-up in testing, but are now evident in a live environment. After all, Shadowlands marks the first time in the history of WoW that player levels have been “squished” (decreasing the level cap instead of raising it even further). This is not a trivial change, and it meant that the team had to rework the entire leveling experience (there’s even a new 1-10 starting area). Of course, with big changes comes the potential for even bigger unforeseen issues, so letting the players play with their new toys for more than a few weeks will be crucial when it comes to Shadowlands‘ health upon release.
Even if Blizzard doesn’t use the extra time to implement changes based on player feedback, this delay could also help the undecided, since they’ll get enough time with the new systems in place so they can decide whether it’s what they see as a good move for the long-running MMO or not, and spend their hard-earned cash on the expansion or save it for a different purpose (WoW pre-patches do not require ownership of upcoming expansions, thankfully). It acts as a sort of demo in a way, and it could send a strong signal to Blizzard in case they truly aren’t listening to their community as much as they did in the past. Hopefully things will go as they should, and the development team will be allowed to put the extra time to good use implementing community feedback and fixing critical issues, so Shadowlands can finally restore World of Warcraft to its former glory. The great thing is that even if that doesn’t happen, players will have had enough time with the most important changes coming in the expansion to make up their own mind about it, instead of having to rely on third party opinions and PR fluff.