Expansion Packs: Two Case Studies

After writing all week about expansion packs I've been thinking about two prime examples of expansions packs in action.  Namely, World of Warcraft and EVE Online.  Although their update structure is different, they both have some of the best updating practices on the entire MMO market.

EVE Online uses the consistent but incremental system that I outlined in my last post.  They release expansion packs for free through patches containing new content and features. Sometimes these features are quite ambitious and create entire new ways to play EVE.  In the past they introduced exploration as a skill-set that differs from all the others.  They are currently working on implementing planet control and harvesting.  Their goal with the expansion beyond that is to allow players to walk in space stations and have a human avatar outside of their ship.

Not only do the features introduce new scope to the game, but they are delivered consistently and freely.  This helps EVE players feel that they are in a growing world, which in turn lets them stay engaged with the game.

World of Warcraft takes a different approach.  WoW releases patches that add new content - and sometimes features - between the release of their expansion packs.  When the expansion packs are released they are bristling with new content for players to explore in the form of further vertical advancement (levels).  Although there may be a long wait between expansion packs WoW's patches help fill the gap.  Usually they consist of a new raid or instance that is harder than current raids and instances.

WoW has recently gotten better at adding features, not just content.  The Looking for Dungeon tool added a more streamlined approach to grouping with other players and allowed for more dungeon play.  It also adds incentives for players that play together.  Another feature that was prominent with the release of Wrath of the Lich King was a completely new class.  A new class adds new ways to play the game and gives players a reason to replay old content.

With their next expansion WoW aims to do something never done before, destroy their old world and create a new one.  This is going to cause an influx of old players to resubscribe and create brand new level 1 characters to go adventuring with.  On top of redoing the old they are also adding 5 new levels to the top of the game.  Along with these come the new instances and raids we have all come to expect.  Path of the Titans introduces a new way to advance characters at the max level, although not much has been revealed about that feature yet.

Here we have two models presently deployed and functional in the real world.  They have their downsides, but compared to all other MMO update structures they work exceptionally well.


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