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Editorial > WoWApr 16, 2021 10:00 am CT

How long is too long between patches?

I’ve written on this subject before, of course — back in 2015, for example, and boy howdy that was six years ago — but seeing Reddit user cptshooter put together a timeline of every WoW expansion going back to vanilla showing when each patch dropped shows us that in Shadowlands we’re likely going to be sitting through one of the longer gaps between major patches in World of Warcraft history. That’s a fascinating thing to contemplate.

Now, I don’t agree that we won’t get patch 9.1 until August 1, which seems to be what they’re predicting — I expect that patch by June. So if I’m right, it won’t be as bad as they’re saying. However, if I’m right, it’ll still be close to 190 days or so since patch 9.0.1 dropped, and thus the longest we’ve gone between expansion release and major patch since vanilla, longer than any previous expansion at this stage of things.

Ironically, in an expansion all about a drought afflicting the afterlife, we’re experiencing one as players. The really pressing issue isn’t the Anima drought, its the content drought.

Droughts and the player base

Usually we get content droughts at the end of an expansion, and you can see that in the graphic as well, with the last patch of an expansion usually lasting over 300 days, — and with some actually lasting over 400. It’s rare for an expansion to start this slow — most expansions seem to release their first major patch between 120 and 140 days, with Wrath of the Lich King having taken 152 days and thus having made players wait the longest. 190 days will be a new record, if that’s how long it takes, and that’s worth considering.

Is it too long? Well, any amount of time is going to be too long for someone. Legion put out a patch in less than 60 days and I’m sure that was too long for a few folks. It’s fair to consider if asking folks to wait over half a year is a bit much.

…However, there are reasons.

The Pandemic pandemonium

First off, COVID. We all know it was nothing short of a miracle that Shadowlands launched at all. The fact that game development took place in a world where everyone was working from home for a year now and that we got a relatively bug-free (I said relatively) playable expansion with major gameplay systems, an opening raid, and multiple dungeons cannot be treated as something casual.

It was the result of a lot of hard work and Blizzard deliberately making choices like pushing the expansion release back to make sure the game came out as good as it did. Making that kind of decision has ripple effects, and you have to expect that with so much on people’s plates in this unprecedented time that there could well be delays in the release of a major patch. With patch 9.0.5 having released recently and it being fairly substantial for a non-content patch, and with testing on patch 9.1 being something that has to be done carefully considering how much content is in it, there’s a certain amount of leeway that has to be given as to when it releases.

Simply put, this expansion has had the deck stacked against it from the beginning of 2020, and we can’t just whip out a graphic of past expansion launches and act like things are taking place in the same year. If Wrath of the Lich King had come out during a global pandemic with much of Blizzard working from home, you might not have seen its first major patch for a whole year.

Half a year is a long time in patch terms

However, that doesn’t mean players are going to be happy. In a way, the content drought we’ve seen at this opening of Shadowlands only exacerbated, and was exacerbated by, the feeling of stagnation the gearing situation caused. That, of course, led to the introduction of Valor Points in patch 9.0.5, which has possibly contributed to the feeling of patch 9.1 taking too long to come out. If people feel like they’re doing the exact same content week in, week out, and getting nowhere with it — if it’s not dropping gear upgrades for whatever reason, be it the Great Vault giving you the same three items for two months straight or Denathrius forgetting he has different things on his loot table — players will get frustrated. And the longer it takes for anything new to show up the worse that frustration will get. Something can be both unavoidable and completely understandable and still feel bad.

Combine that with the Anima grind feeling endless and somewhat pointless — where people who want to collect things realize the current system will take literal years to get the things they want — and the fact that there’s no sign of a new patch with any changes to that system, and you get players literally clamoring for something, anything new.

So, to answer the question, “How long is too long between patches in World of Warcraft?” we are aware it’s a subjective issue, while also being aware that six months between patches in an expansion cycle that lasts two years and tends to have a big gap at the end between the last patch of the current expansion and the first patch of the next one seems like it’s too much. Hopefully it won’t happen again, because Shadowlands is on pace for the longest gap between its opening patch and the first major content patch of any expansion, and it doesn’t feel like players can handle that twice in a row.

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