“We’re constantly looking for ways to modernize.”
World of Warcraft is fourteen years old at this point, but looking at how popular it is even today and how widely it is played around the world, you wouldn’t believe that. That’s because Blizzard has been supporting the MMORPG tremendously well, with constant content updates in form of regular full fledged expansions, in-game events, and patches to fix what might not have worked too well. Just recently, in fact, the latest in its long line of major expansions, Battle for Azeroth, went live, with its first raid in the pipeline for early September.
And while the continued longevity of World of Warcraft is to be lauded, that comes with a few pitfalls of its own as well. For instance, every time Blizzard launch a new update or expansion, they have to make sure it doesn’t conflict with older content in the game in any way. Just as a tiny example, artifact weapon traits have been retired in the new Battle for Azeroth. Newer content is made, of course, with modern gaming sensibilities in mind, among other things, and making sure that they can reconcile that with the vast plethora of content the MMO is already brimming with can’t be an easy job.
World of Warcraft’s technical director Patrick Dawson recently spoke with GamesIndustry, and revealed that that is something Blizzard are always keeping in mind and looking toward, and that the developer is constantly finding ways to modernize the game without cutting off support for the game’s legacy content.
“World of Warcraft doesn’t shy away from doing difficult things by any means,” Dawson said, “It is difficult to support legacy content. Every time you release a patch or expansion you still have to make sure Ragnaros works, and Onyxia works, because there are people that still go back and do that. So the challenge is, how do you support legacy content while developing new content?”
“We’ve gotten a little smarter about things over the years,” he continued. “For example, there are features that are relegated to just one expansion now. The Artifact system for Legion is a good example of that. That’s been sunset. We don’t need to support that going forward. And what we’ve done is been able to take that and learn from it, figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t, so we can apply that to future expansions and not have to support other features like that going forward.
“However, there are a ton of features we do have to support. One of the most important things from a tech end is we always look at modernizing wherever we can. When World of Warcraft shipped it was on single realms that were completely independent from all other realms. Now we’re on a much more cloud-based infrastructure, which didn’t exist in 2004 and is now the industry standard. We’ve modernized our game to make use of that, so we have a lot more resources we can share between different realms and a lot more connectivity we can provide to our players in their gameplay experience.”
“You can’t expect any group of a few hundred people to hit every piece of content that’s ever been developed over the past 15 years,” Dawson continued. “We’re constantly looking for ways to modernize so we don’t have to have it be so painful to support legacy content.”
I’d say they’ve been doing an excellent job of it. To support a game for fourteen years must be no easy feat, and it’s even more difficult to do it as well as Blizzard have done with World of Warcraft. It does beg the question though- might there finally come a time when Blizzard decides that it’s time to move on and gets to work on a World of Warcraft 2? Could that day be on the horizon? One can always hope…