Ion Hazzikostas on Shadowlands Delays - Patch Schedule Still on Track, Maw Improvements, Development Challenges WFH
The topic of Shadowlands delays inevitably came up in the recent round of interviews with Ion Hazzikostas. In addition to discussing the general delays and challenges of working from home, he also highlighted recent Maw improvements and confirmed that the future Shadowlands patch cadence was still on track.
Wowhead's Exclusive interview with Ion Hazzikostas - Class Balance, Covenants, Season 1
Wowhead's Shadowlands Interview with Ion Hazzikostas
Group interview (Different than Wowhead's Interview)
Classes and the MetaOnly 3 Torghast Layers Available at LaunchNo Flight Master WhistleNo Legendary Transmog at Launch
Storytelling and LoreShadowlands Delays and Working From HomeEngagement Metrics
Concept Art for Covenants and Zones
Interview Summaries and Discussions
3 Pieces of Loot From Mythic Raid BossesGreat Vault Loot Doesn't Include Final Bosses Until Defeated Once
Working from home comes with its own set of pros and cons, as the Wowhead team is quite familiar with as we've always been remote. While meetings can be streamlined working from home, the feedback process and replicating the spontaneous in-person reactions to demoing new content are lost working remotely, which is something Blizzard struggled with. They're in the process of undergoing a post-mortem on the Shadowlands development cycle, so if working from home continues in future patches, hopefully the pipeline will be optimized for a smoother experience.
Of course when discussing any sort of delays, people want to know how the development team spent their extra time. We specifically asked how the Maw received improvements, as that zone felt a bit lacking during early beta and underwent a pretty substantial rework in the last month--including the last few days. (You can learn more about what to do in the Maw through our
). And in the group interview, we learned about general improvements to Shadowlands in the last month, as well as positive things and additional polish that came out of the extra time for teams that were already set for the original date. One example given was character cameos, and we've seen things like
Thassarian and Koltira in Oribos
enthusiastically received by the playerbase.
To end on a positive note, we did inquire as to the patch cadence in Shadowlands and if the launch delays have also delayed the pacing of the next major content patch--and it seems that things will still be on track, without an unusually-long wait between launch and the first major patch!
Did delaying Shadowlands cause a shift in the future patch cycle? Will it be a similar cadence to BFA?
Patch cadence is something we will figure out the details of over the course of the next year. There's no question that for some parts of patch development this had an impact but at the same time because it pushed the expansion back as well that shouldn't matter in terms of the gap between expansion and when the first major patch is, which is what I think most players are concerned with, as are we. It's less the calendar month and more how long is this tier going to last, how long do I have to wait until I get new goals and new places to explore and that's something that I think we're pretty happy overall with how Patch cadence during BFA worked, the 10 month long 8.3 withstanding that's a separate matter, but within the expansion itself it felt like a pretty good approach that we're looking to continue.
There's a lot to learn, as always, with every expansion with post-mortems and looking back at the process. Some of it without question is a product of the unique circumstances of 2020 and adapting to work from home and some things have come naturally in cases and been smoother than when we were all in the office. Carving out time to just focus and work on implementation or certain types of review meetings, going over art assets and sharing things with each other -- that can actually be much cleaner purely digitally, purely virtually versus someone sitting in the back of the room sitting and looking at what's on a board. The process of feedback and playing the game internally, talking to each other about where things are at, identifying concerns -- those processes that so often happened from people in a shared office having conversions with each other, that's what's been harder to reproduce from work from home. We've obviously learned a lot along the way and continue to learn a lot. We haven't really completed our review of what exactly we want to change going forward, we want to get the game out there first but there's not question that there will be a lot to learn and improve upon -- I'm sure we'll make entirely different mistakes next time.
Do you think the Maw is in a better state now and why were some of the recent changes done to it?
It's come a tremendous way in the last couple of months, there's a large multi-disciplinary effort really looking to rework every aspect of the Maw from the moment-to-moment gameplay within the different sub regions within the Maw, to the rewards offered from Ve'nari, to quests and other content and structure that gave players clarity around what they're supposed to do when they visit. I think originally, it was a little too far on the sandboxy end of the spectrum where there are cool elements to sandbox gameplay and it was certainly inspired by places like Timeless Isle or Mechagon, World of Warcraft doesn't actually do all that well when we just drop you in a place and say "Go do stuff", "Go do whatever", "Things drop stygia".
There are quests, there is a progression now within the maw. We also have significantly reworked Eye of the Jailer and how that interacts with the various objectives. There are some changes that have just rolled out to Beta within the last few days. We saw some original reactions to the new penalties for Eye of the Jailer level 3 and 4. At Level 4, a Winged Abductor would come and pick you up and basically carry you up in the sky and drop you to your death. The length of the time out involved in that was frustrating to a lot of players and rightly so. You can purchase a counter to that from Ve'nari once you get in her good graces and earn that with Stygia by in the mean time, we wanted to give players more clear counterplay so we reduced the health of the Abductor significantly, so you can DPS them down to break out but while you're in their clutches you'll be gaining more Eye of the Jailer, since once you reach Level 5, you're basically have to leave the Maw.
In general, the way it's structured for all players, you're going to want to visit the Maw at least once a week to rescue Souls and support of your Covenant, to upgrade your Covenant features and your Sanctum and to gain a Renown from that Weekly Quest. Beyond that, there's a sliding scale of efficiency if you want to do the weeklies there that are very efficient with regards to Stygia and reputation, you can do that. If you want to return on a more daily basis, the way that people engaged with 8.3 Assaults, many people would just do the wrappers and then come back the next week, others would come back and do dailies on a more regular basis if they wanted to farm up Gorged Eyes to socket all their gear. Players kinda pick their preferred level of interaction with the system and the rewards they want to get out of it.
Were the delays worth it for Shadowlands development?
There's no question it was worth it. It has been a great month for the team and incredibly gratifying as a development experience. When we made the decision, it was an agonizing difficult decision to say 'hey we know we promised you that the game would be coming out in October, we know many of you were counting on that, even taking time off from work to play...but it's not going to be up to the quality level we demand and that players deserve.' Every expansion always comes in a bit hot, down to the wire, that's how game development goes--that's how Wrath of the Lich King was, that's how Legion was. But I think we realized in the weeks approaching our final deadlines that it just wasn't there, and the community was telling us that too. It was a relief when we announced the date change, to see that the community was willing to wait longer to make sure that what they got at the end of the day was great.
As we laid out in a development update shortly after that decision was announced, the focus was on a few areas. It was on the overall max-level progression loop--your different activities, souls, economy, upgrading your sanctum, the clarity of what you're supposed to do for what rewards, the tutorialization and explanations of the different systems as you first join your covenant and unlock your soulbinds, the Maw and it's purpose. And speaking of the Maw, the content variety and moment-to-moment gameplay of the area, and the clarity of those systems and rewards. All of these things were areas we knew we needed to shore up for Shadowlands.
We knew a portion of the game needed extra time to be ready, but for the other teams who were ready for the original date, this extra time turned into an opportunity to polish and iterate further to find ways to add bits of love and inspiration. And that's what was so gratifying about it...in making World of Warcraft, we are always on a deadline. And that deadline is imposed by our community because it is a live service. We know that months have passed, players are hungry for something new to do, for a new adventure. We're always trying to strike that balance between giving players new content in a timely manner and trying to live up to our own perfectionist standards and make that content as great as it can be. So it's kind of a rare treat for a large chunk of our team to have really open ended time to just go make stuff cooler like adding little vingettes and homages.
When players jump into Shadowlands, hopefully all that comes across. I think it's a game and a world that really was a labor of love for the entire team that made it. It's been a joy. It's been a stressful year with ups and downs to say the least, but seeing it all come together in this past month, has been incredible.
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