World of Warcraft players are consuming content faster than ever before and, as a result, Blizzard is finding itself needing to quickly pump out content to meet that demand. Without saying what it would mean for the amount of content included in each expansion, Blizzard's Mike Morhaime said during an investors conference call today that the developer is looking to decrease the amount of time spent developing future WoW expansions.
"As our players become more experienced playing World of Warcraft over the many years, they have become much better and much faster at consuming content," he said. "And so I think with Cataclysm they were able to consume the content much faster than with previous expansions but that's why we're working on developing more content.
"We launched our first update last week and we have another update that's already in test. The response we've gotten so far from players has been very positive and we really think we need to be faster at delivering content to players and that's one of the reasons we're looking to decrease the amount of time in between expansions."
Asked if this means we'll see more frequent expansions with less content than in the past, he said, "We're not ready to talk about the content of the expansions at this stage but we are looking at ways to speed up the development process."
It was noted during the call that subscriptions have fallen back to pre-Cataclysm numbers of around 11.4 million paying members worldwide. That's attributed to the quicker content consumption and some players leaving to try out March's new MMO competitor (referring to Rift, though it was never identified by name). Morhaime noted that new MMOs typically have drawn away subscribers for a period of time before they eventually return, and there's no reason to believe the pattern will be any different this time around.
Blizzard has said in the past that the goal is annual expansion releases. With the first three expansions the gap has been closer to two years than one. Morhaime said in 2008 the company would like to speed things up but that it's unlikely it would ever narrow the time between releases to one year "because there's just so much content. We do want each expansion to be considered a big value for players." It's unclear if Blizzard is still concerned with expansions being so packed.
One of the ideas Blizzard has suggested it could try to pull off by the time its next expansion comes out is updating old story content, which is no insignificant task. Designer Greg Street said late last year that it's likely the next expansion will "be something more like a new continent approach. More like the Burning Crusade or Nothrend, where we send players somewhere new that they haven't seen before."