That said, I don't think anyone has given much consideration to how much time Blizzard needs to create all this content they've promised. They are revamping every zone in the old world and reviewing every quest. That is a ton of work. They're also adding new zones with new quests for the 80-85 folks. So what we're going to end up with is Vanilla WoW + half a WotLK in one expansion. We just heard about this expansion two months ago. Somehow it's going to be finished and fully tested in six months? Ha, I say.
While a lot of folks seem to have been dazzled by all the demonstrations that were presented at Blizzcon, I'll tell you what I saw. Mostly smoke and mirrors. The Cataclysm trailer showed overhead views of maybe six zones. It showed a few snippets of maybe 2 new dungeons. We saw basic concept drawings of a handful of new monsters. We saw actual in-game footage of the two new starting zones, which pretty much had to be completed in order to provide playable demos at Blizzcon. During the panel discussions, we saw mostly static screenshots which were probably mock-ups.
Based on this, I assume that the goblin/worgen starting zones are probably mostly complete. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if the bulk of the Dev time leading up to Blizzcon went into those zones to make sure they were functional for the show. The rest of the new Cataclysm stuff is probably in the early development stages. I don't know how many of you followed the GCD presentation given by Blizzard in Austin, but I did. It was my understanding that artwork is one of the first phases of content development.
So when we see artwork, we're likely looking at the beginning of the production cycle. I don't know about you, but I saw an awful lot of landscape in the Cataclysm trailer. What I didn't see was objects, mobs, or interactivity of any kind beyond the goblin/worgen areas and existing content shots. At best I saw a handful of transformed zones, I could only solidly identify three (Barrens, Darkshore and Desolace). How many zones are in old Azeroth? I count 18 in Kalimdor and 23 in Eastern Kingdoms, not including cities or expansion zones. Out of 41 zones, we saw overhead views of maybe six. Personally, I take that to mean the others are in lesser stages of completion. Certainly they can't be more complete or they would have been featured in the Cataclysm trailer.
We also saw artist drawings of a handful of new monsters. I don't think I need to point out how skimpy that is, so we can probably safely assume that not much monster work had been done prior to Blizzcon. Surely if they had some shiny 3D models of monsters, we would have seen those in the trailer instead of pencil sketches. We also saw some dungeon shots, which may or may not have been the same dungeon. Some of them were oceanic looking and others more volcanic, so I'm gonna call that two dungeons. Still, we had no monsters or objects of any kind. We can probably assume that no boss or trash fight mechanics have been added, since the dungeons were empty. Based on the Dungeon panel at Blizzcon, I'd say that pretty much matches the first phase of implementation they described.
As for Archaeology, the new Path of the Titans, and the guild system revamp - they were kinda sketchy on details. In fact, I might go so far to say that they might not be finalized in terms of design. But based on all the new features being added and the fairly limited amount of work shown in the trailer and panels, I'm gonna call Cataclysm at best 25% complete as of August. If we can assume the bits we saw at the show were reasonably representative of actual progress, there's still a good 60-75% of the work remaining to be done. I'm not saying that most of this stuff hasn't been planned out and designed on paper, but they still need to be brought to life.
There are probably folks out there who have no problem believing that this can all be done in six months. I mean, once you have a blueprint, how hard is it to knock out? To answer that, let me run some other numbers by you. There are 37 designers for WoW. Thirty seven people to revamp 40+ zones, retool 1400 vanilla quests, create five new zones and all the quests those will need, come up with eight new dungeons with regular and heroic modes (in addition to revamping SFK and Deadmines), redesign the guild system, implement the Titan Path system and add the new Archaeology profession. There are 32 programmers and 51 artists who will be supporting this work by creating the tools and the artwork needed to put all this content together. But the lion's share of this expansion will probably fall on the 37 designers. That's a very small number of people to take on a task this huge. When I laugh at the predictions of a winter or spring release for Cataclysm, this is the main reason. I just don't think it's possible for a small team like this to finish and fully test a project this big in six months.
Here's my more realistic timeline: Once Patch 3.3 goes out the door sometime in November or December, they'll spend a good six months or so implementing the bulk of the Cataclysm changes. Then in roughly May or June they'll launch a Beta, with tons of new info coming out that will keep us busy drooling for a while. The beta will run for 2-3 months, and we'll get a release sometime between September and November of next year. I would estimate a pre-Cataclysm patch coming out around July or August with the expansion going live sometime in the fall. When you think about it, that's just over a year from announcement to release - pretty reasonable as far as I'm concerned.
I know, I know. Why don't they just hire more people or pull from other departments to make this go faster, right? Hiring more people usually doesn't work when you have a tight deadline because you have to train all those new people. I'm sure the training requirements for the WoW team are steep, which means every day (week, whatever) you spend training a new person is a day YOU are not working. When you're in crunch mode, this is counterproductive. If they really plan to shoot for a spring deadline, they can't afford to waste weeks training a bunch of new people. The other solution would be to pull help from other projects. In this case I doubt that would happen, StarCraft II and Diablo III are high profile products in their own right. I can't see management approving the poaching of talent for one project to the detriment of another.
Much as we might not like to believe it, our boredom during the December-June period probably won't be much of a factor in their development schedule. Player boredom doesn't give them a bigger team or more hours in the day. It's possible that they might take pity on us and invent an extra patch just to give us something new to do. Then again, an extra patch would take focus away from Cataclysm, which would affect the release date even more. Frankly, I'd argue to just let us be bored. Perhaps some of us will