World of Warcraft turns 20 next year, while the franchise celebrates its 30-year anniversary in 2024. Ahead of those massive milestones, Blizzard went big with Warcraft at BlizzCon 2023. It launched a new mobile game, teased impending World of Warcraft Classic and Hearthstone updates, and announced three new World of Warcraft expansions that will make up The Worldsoul Saga. To Franchise General Manager John Hight, the series’ strong showing was about showing players that Blizzard is doubling down on Warcraft.
“We wanted to tell our players that we’re doubling down on [World of Warcraft’s] story. A lot of our players have told us over the last two expansions that story is so important,” Hight told Pro Well Tech in an interview at BlizzCon 2023. “It is different for us at Blizzard because normally we’re a little bit secretive, but we felt like our fans were telling us they want to know more about what’s in store for them. It’s tricky to weave that in such a way that we didn’t spoil it.”
At BlizzCon 2023, Pro Well Tech spoke to Hight and Warcraft Rumble Executive Producer Vik Saraf about what the future of Warcraft looks like. They both made it clear that there are no signs of Warcraft slowing down across the MMO, mobile, and even RTS spaces. In fact, Hight tells Pro Well Tech he’d like to get World of Warcraft expansions out faster.
Building The Worldsoul Saga
Over the next several years, the most relevant things for the most hardcore World of Warcraft players will be the new expansions that make up The Worldsoul Saga: The War Within, Midnightand The Last Titan. Hight explained why this story had to be told across three expansions and not just the one coming out for World of Warcraft’s twentieth anniversary.
“[Executive Creative Director Chris] Metzen and the story team had this incredible idea, and it all evolved around the twentieth anniversary coming up. What story can we tell that is worthy of 20 years of operation?” Hight explained. “There’s no way that story was going to fit into a single expansion. The notion of doing it as a trilogy came forward because it provided for the creation of a conflict, a resolution, a turnaround, and then a bigger payoff at the end.”
World of Warcraft has consistently received expansions since it launched in 2004, and that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon as Blizzard delivers the grand payoff for a story that’s been building for over two decades. Hight did clarify one lingering question about the culmination of The Worldsoul Saga: “This is not the end of World of Warcraft; this is the end of this big chapter. We will continue to do expansions beyond that.”
As for when to specifically expect these The Worldsoul Saga expansions, The War Within is the only one with a release window (2024). We asked Hight if players should expect to wait two years between expansions for the rest of The Worldsoul Saga. While he couldn’t commit to specific release windows for those latter two expansions just yet, he explained that many production improvements have been made in recent years to allow Blizzard to deliver quality content at a predictable rate, and he hopes that rate gets even quicker over time.
“The ultimate goal for us is to be able to deliver content in a predictable fashion so players know when to expect the next expansion,” Hight said. “We would like to do it more frequently, we don’t really want people to have to wait two years for the next expansion. We’re not ready yet to commit to what that cadence is going to be because we’ve got to find that sweet spot between our ability, how much time we think we’re going to need, and when our players start to indicate to us when they’re ready.”
World of Warcraft developers shared this sentiment in a separate group Q&A attended by Pro Well Tech, where Associate Design Director Maria Hamilton reaffirmed that content for these The Worldsoul Saga expansions are being worked on in parallel. Before all that, there’s also the matter of twentieth-anniversary celebrations. As for how Blizzard will celebrate those significant anniversaries next year, Hight would only say the following in regards to the MMO: “We do something for every anniversary – there will probably be something this year – but you can expect it to be over the top for next year.”
Building Warcraft to last
Of course, Warcraft is more than just the latest expansions for the main MMO. There’s the throwback World of Warcraft Classicwhich is introducing new seasons and even re-releasing the Cataclysm expansion. On mobile, there’s Hearthstonewhich gets an expansion this month and a duos version of Battlegrounds next year. Then there’s Warcraft 3: Reforged. “We’ve done a lot of work to make that community happy. I think they’re in a good place right now,” Hight tells us about that game, which had a rough launch. And now, there’s Warcraft Rumble.
The game just launched after spawning from an incubation team within the larger pool of World of Warcraft developers. Hight and Saraf explained how they want Warcraft to always “be where the players are” and how mobile could be an appealing entry point for many players. Still, they wanted the game to be its own thing and feel tailored to mobile. Early user reviews for Warcraft Rumble across iOS and Android do seem to be positive, and Blizzard is eager to build on that success and let the game live on as long as Hearthstone and even World of Warcraft have
“Blizzard is known for creating forever games,” Saraf tells Pro Well Tech. “That’s what we aspire to be as well. You look at World of Warcraftalmost twenty years; Hearthstonealmost 10 years. Seeing these elder siblings essentially have games that have lasted as long as they have, it’s really inspiration for us to aim for that as well. We’re fortunate enough to have a very active, engaged, and committed community that allows that to be a lot easier for us, but our job is just getting started. We want to make sure that we are servicing fans with what they want and able to continue to inject new life into the game so it continues to stay relevant and fun for them to play for years on end.”
That means Warcraft Rumble should be in full swing when those important anniversaries arrive next year. Saraf says there are “active discussions,” but Blizzard is still “firming up those plans” as Warcraft Rumble launches, the interplay between these Warcraft games is explored, and we get closer to the actual anniversary. At the very least, Warcraft Rumble is somewhat of a throwback for the franchise as a real-time strategy game, so I asked Hight what he thinks the future holds for strategy-based Warcraft games.
“I love strategy games. When I was a game director many moons ago, I was game director and Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2,” Hight explained. “I play every genre of game. I love Warcraft. The storylines and characters are so unique, it’s so fun, it has got humor, it also has got danger, and it’s fantasy! I think we have the potential to do all kinds of games, as we’ve seen with the RTS, then the MMO, then CCG with Hearthstoneand now Warcraft Rumble.”
Warcraft dominated BlizzCon 2023 with lots of reveals and the most impressive show floor, and my conversation with some of the developers behind it reaffirmed that Blizzard doesn’t plan on slowing down with Warcraft anytime soon. Hight believes he’s just laying a foundation for future developers, following in the footsteps of companies like Disney.
“What I tell my teams is we’re the caretakers of the universe. If we’ve done our jobs right, we’re handing off to the next generation of developers, and they will carry it forward. I look at Disney as a model for us. We should be crafting that universe; we should be putting enough care behind it. Same thing with Marvel, it started off as comic books in the 1930s and look where it is today. As long as we’re being thoughtful and careful and laying that groundwork, future talent will be able to step in and take it even further. There’ll be new devices, new forms of entertainment, new ways for people to get together and enjoy this universe.”
Disclosure: Blizzard Entertainment and PR agency TriplePoint paid accommodations so that Pro Well Tech could attend BlizzCon 2023.