WoW expansion dates

Note: please see Warlords: Now that we have a date for updated graphs


About a week ago the graphs below started to make the rounds on the WoW-related parts of the Interwebs, largely thanks to @HowToPriest and @Bashiok re-tweeting them, with Bashiok also posting them to Reddit. From there they hit MMO-Champ

This was kicked off by @HowToPriest asking about patch durations, with me re-tweeting some charts I’d originally posted at the start of March.

twitter-graphs

They produced some interesting bits of discussion, with nice blog posts from Mushan, etc and another from The Brewhall.

But… where did these graphs come from? And why did I make them in the first place?

The graphs were spawned from a blog post by @AlternativeChat back in November last year, where she was asking for people to guess the Warlords release date.

This made me pull out a spreadsheet and look up some dates for previous betas and poke the numbers a bit. From that I came up with a date of 23rd September 2014 which is looking distinctly plausible – I’ll cover the beta prediction stuff in another blog post.

As a part of this I looked at previous expansion duration and I was trying different ways of representing a WoW expansion – settling on the stacked bar graph style you see above. Since then I’ve poked at various different ways of showing the data, but the stacked graph is really quite useful to compare expansions.

Before I jump into the graphs, a few words about the graphs and the data they are based on.

Since the Warlords of Draenor beta has not started and Mists of Pandaria has not ended, I’ve defined their dates as Today() in the spreadsheet. aka today’s date – that’s March 28th 2014 as writing. Why do this? Well, if I was in a position to know when the Warlords’ beta was starting or when it was going to be released then I’d be working for Blizzard and I wouldn’t say! Plus, with their “When its done” mantra, I think that whilst Blizzard has a rough idea of when Warlords will ship (aka fall 2014) its not set in stone.

The dates for previous patches/betas/etc came from the following websites, along with some searching on Blizzard forums & website:

With that out of the way, onto the graphs!

major-patch-duration

This is shows all major patches for every expansion. As you’d expect the original game is something of a rainbow, having 12 major patches after the game was released. A lot of what you’d consider to be “Core WoW” was developed over this time – eg patch 1.5.0 introduced Battlegrounds, starting with Alterac Valley and Warsong Gulch.

The median length of a full release is 706 days; however the length of the original game at 784 days confuses matters. If we remove the original game and only look at expansions we have a median expansion length of 679 days – which also happens to be exactly how long Cataclysm lasted!

Right now Mists has been running 549 days; we have another 130 days – about 4½ months – before we hit that. This doesn’t include any beta time mind; Mists is likely to be longer than the median length.

What else can we see in this graph? Well, the first major patch of both Wrath and Cata were roughly the same duration at 152 and 161 days respectively. That’s around 5 months. This was the same as the combined duration of the first two major patches of Mists – 5.0 to 5.1 was 63 days and 5.1 to 5.2 was 98 days. Which was the same length as 4.0 to 4.1!

This does make some sense however as the first raid tier of Mists ran from 5.0 until 5.2; 5.1 added dailies linked to a lore-filled story, along with more of the legendary quest chain, new scenarios, item upgrades and the Brawler’s guild amongst others.

This increased speed of content release makes sense; Blizzard have said they wanted to release content faster and produce new expansions quicker than once every two years. Unfortunately this high rate at the start of the expansion is hurting at the end given the duration of Mists we’re looking at.

The start of the expansion had a somewhat “Quick! Quick!” feel to it. There was just two months between release and the first content patch – I know that I’d not yet finished off the first part of the legendary quest line on any character by the time 5.1 and the next section had dropped.

This increased release of content meant that even though we were getting raid content at about the same rate as previous expansions, the extra content made it feel far more rushed with a “Must get it done!” feel to it. Especially when you take into account the dailies and gating of factions which 5.0 had – looking at you here Shando Pan & August Celestials.

Unfortunately it looks like that feeling is going to hurt at the tail end of the expansion – at a guess we’re likely to be in 5.4 for over a year. This leads on nicely to the next graphs…

length-of-raid-tiers

The length of raid tiers – akaHow long was that boss in the window?” or “urgh; we’re not still here are we?“.

At the start of WoW there wasn’t much in the way of endgame and it took quite a bit of effort. I can still remember spending hours outside of Stratholme fishing up nightfin snappers for mana regen food. And whilst my raid group didn’t farm the corrupted plants in Felwood for their buffs, there were raid groups who did. Add in no limit on elixirs and chugging a potion every 2 minutes and you spent most of your time outside of raids farming materials to raid. Throw in the joys of cat-herding 40 people…

… I’m just glad I was a healer and not a warlock (what, you want something other than soulshards in your bags and do something other than farm souls?), mage (bags of conjured food and spending an hour before raid making it – pray you don’t get logged off for more than 15mins) or paladins (“buffbuffbuffbuffbuffbuffbuf..wait, is the boss dead?“).

But I diagress. Raiding was fun back in vanilla, but there have been a lot of quality of life changes since then!

What we can see is that the tradition of the last raid tier lasting longer than the others started with The Burning Crusade, but really got into its stride with Wrath of the Lich King.

The above graph does allow you to see the timeline as a whole, but there is a better graph we can use:

compare-raid-tiers

This nicely shows that in the original game the raids on release and at the end were the longest. And the raids in the middle were relatively short. Given what was happening with the original game this isn’t that surprising really.

The Burning Crusade had at least similar-ish length raids – with the 1st and 3rd raid tiers being roughly the same length. The 2nd tier was longer than 1st & 3rd and the last tier was longer still – almost double the length of the first tier.

Wraith is really where things started to go a little awry. The frst tier was a good length at 150 days – that’s around five months. Ulduar and the Colliseum were very short at under five months. We then had Icecrown Citadel for almost a year.

Think about that – a single raid instance for just under a year. We were fighting the Lich King for three months longer than Ulduar and the Crusader’s Colliseum combined. I know we had the Ruby Sanctum, but that was just one boss and was at best a brief distraction.

We then had the Cataclysm; it felt like a lot of the work went into the level 1-60 leveling experience. Now, the original game did need an update to bring in the years of experience Blizzard had gained, but the cost was what felt like a lack of content at end game.

We had the starting raids of Cataclysm for almost eight months – the longest starting raid tier we’ve ever had. It was almost as long as the final raid tier of The Burning Crusade.

We then spent very little time in the firelands by comparison at around four months. In fact the 1st raid tier lasted twice as long as Firelands. Even so, running through it felt a long longer than four months. And I’ve only just started to like the colour red again.

Then there was Dragon Soul. The start of Looking For Raid. And it went on. And on. And on. It lasted for around 10 months in total.

So we turn to Mists of Pandaria. The first raid tier was the longest first raiding tier we’ve seen before at ~4 months. The second raid tier was the longest second raiding tier at around six months… there is a bit of a habit forming here!

Since its still going we can’t say anything about the final raid tier of Mists, but with the beta for Warlords still to be announced its likely we’ve got another 4-5 months left in Seige. Which would mean that it’ll be the longest raid tier so far.

duration-of-rair-tiers

This final graph allows you to compare all of the raid tiers, no matter what the expansion they were in. It also includes the names of the raids as well. Since its still on-going I’ve made the bar for the Seige of Orgrimmar a different colour.

The first thing I see with this graph is the lenght of Ulduar at 112 days – that’s just under four months. Its tied with Zul’Gurub from Vanillia for 2nd shortest raid length and they’re only beaten by Blackwing Lair. What is worse is I feel the raids in Vanilla had a longer life than the current raids. These days, once a new raid tier is out you’ll probably not touch the old content unless you’re running alts or need something from it (cough pesky cloak legendary). I can still remember running Zul’Gurub towards the end of Vanilla as the shoulder enchants were great and the gear was pretty good still. Plus, you only needed 20 people to run it.

The reason I first see Ulduar is thanks to experiencing it. The guild I was in was slowly progressing in Ulduar and really enjoying it. I still think its one of the better looking raid instances in the game. We were working on the keepers at the time the Crusader’s Colliseum was released.

At which point a large portion of the raid team wanted to stop running Ulduar and get the better gear the Crusader’s Colliseum offered. We swapped a beautifully designed instance with lots of cute features – the train to Mimiron – for a circular room with no trash.

In comparison whereas Ulduar felt cut short the Crusader’s Colliseum felt like it lasted far far far too long.

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