Tooooo sooooon, patch 5.2 is too soon, Ghostcrawler

It's an old debate but given current events, it feels worth a reexamination. Bashiok mentioned that the next patch is in two weeks on twitter: https://twitter.com/Bashiok/status/301013346717663232 and as usual it prompts the debate as to whether this is too soon, too late, or the right time, and what implications the release date holds. First, the notion that this patch has been out for 5 months is more than a bit disingenuous. The raids were staggered, with heroic Terrace of the Endless Spring not actually open until November 20th. So the newest content will have been out for a bit under three months, and many guilds weren't ready for it right off the bat anyway.

What of the guilds still working on heroic content? My own guild is making good progress on Sha of Fear, and although it will be close, we are likely to have it down before the patch. But we're also hovering around the US 50 25m rank. It's perfectly reasonable to assume that there are a great many guilds a bit behind us that still have content they can complete if given a bit more time. Why rob them of this triumph? That really is the crux of my concern; that releasing new content too soon will rob them of a sense of accomplishment that is currently at their finger tips. I've been there before in several guilds - sometimes we did seem to hit a brick wall that would require a change in guild philosophy to overcome (Heroic Lich King) but it takes a bit longer for this to seem the case. For me, and I have to assume several others, raiding really isn't about getting newer and better gear. Those are trophies. Trophies that I do value, but they are symbols of overcoming a challenge. That's the real meat of progression. If I didn't win a piece of loot, I still have the superior reward that is the satisfaction of completing a challenge. Conversely, a trophy for something trivial or that I feel I did not deserve would be nearly infinitely inferior. So the problem here is that you do not need to complete tier 14 heroics to access the easier tier 15 heroics, and in fact tier 15 normal gear is higher quality than tier 14 heroic.

It should go without saying that the way WoW progression works is that older tiers get outdated and thus less meaningful. The older tiers give inferior trophies and the content gives less satisfaction upon completion because our gear makes it trivial to complete (and the inferior trophies you get from completion reinforce this). While true that the content is still there, the psychological satisfaction from completing it is transient, and so failing to acknowledge this does a disservice. If you are merely interested in collecting new trophies none of this matters. But if you are like me in this regard, a new tier that does not require completion of previous content signals the death of previous challenges, or at the least a dilution. If you didn't complete it in time, you won't get an opportunity to do so again, without it feeling rather hollow. If you are still in the process of forging a road down tier 14 heroics, you suddenly find that someone has forked the road a mile back and paved an easier path in a new direction. You might go back to the old road you set out to clear originally, but surely it feels a bit in vain by this point.

Obviously the game must move on at some point, and neither catering to the high end nor the lowest common denominator seems practical. Does Blizzard look at number of guilds that kill an end boss? Overall progression stagnation? And surely the current tier should be considered for the amount of content that is to be digested - tier 14 simply has a lot more to do than Dragon Soul (which lasted a year). I worry that they release new content as soon as its ready, and the previous paragraph should explain why I think this is a problem. It is not additive to the content that came before it, it is a replacement.

There are a couple possible changes I would like to see to address these concerns, while still making new content accessible to a broader audience. One, make new normal mode gear equal (or perhaps slightly inferior to) the previous tier's heroic gear. This would make it so that doing the current heroic tier has long term benefits. A plausible downside to this is that this would mean there is less of a gear gap to overcome in the new tier, so content that a guild can clear without BiS gear will fall over quicker, and shorten the lifetime of the raid. Or perhaps bottle neck progression on the last boss. Two, doing normal t15 could require normal t14 cleared (I think it already does?) and heroic t15 could require heroic t15 being cleared. The guild that is in the middle of progression when t15 hits will still have a tangible reason to go back to t14, and a guild that only wants to do normal modes can just do the new normal mode. In effect, heroic and normal would have parallel but fully separate progression paths.

The other problem with releasing content too quickly, which I haven't really hinted on yet, is that Blizzard has a tendency to front load releases, to the detriment of later tiers. Tier 11 had a lot of content and Firelands came out to replace it fairly quickly. Firelands lasted probably the perfect amount of time, but then we got Dragon Soul which lasted a year. In retrospect, if we could have kept tier 11 alive a bit longer and delayed Firelands and Dragon Soul, I think the raid pacing would have felt better. This was actually an improvement over Wrath of the Lich King. Ulduar, one of the best raid zones ever made, with a large quantity of content, was followed in about four months by Trial of the Crusade - which lasted a bit longer despite having less content (and unfortunately ended up supplanting Ulduar, rather than supplementing it). Icecrown Citadel lasted for a year, with only Ruby Sanctum making a show to tide us over before Cataclysm! Perhaps the project release manager could use a class in kerning. In any case, it's reasonable to worry that the quick release of content now will be followed by a long delay later, resulting in less time on the shelf for the fresh content and more time for the stale content.