Mists of Pandaria release date – could it be Blizzcon’s dark secret? (Blizzcon 2011 commentary)

So, that’s basically it for Blizzcon, with just the Lore panel left to go (which I’ll talk about later). There’s been a lot of exciting stuff announced, and I’m very much looking forward to Mists of Pandaria. What they’re announcing sounds like it could revitalise WoW.

We’ve just finished 2 hours of Question and Answer sessions. But in them, there’s one question that we’ve not yet heard answered – and it’s the most important piece of information at Blizzcon. Yesterday I made a call on it, but I’m wondering if I was wrong.

The question?

When will Mists of Pandaria be released?

The Case Of The Missing Release Date

Most people are assuming that the Mists of Pandaria release date is on track for Q2 2012, or perhaps even sooner. There are a lot of reasons to believe that – the leaked Blizzard production schedule that MMO Champion featured, the extent to which the art appears very complete, the fact that parts of the expansion are playable at Blizzcon, and the fact that, with GW2 and SW:TOR looming, Blizzard really look like they need to have an expansion out soon.

However. Against that, we have a few facts.

  • Blizzard have never managed to release an expansion in less than two years. Sure, they might have beaten their record, but their list of new content is … ambitious.
  • Not all of the art looks even close to finished. The Mists of Pandaria B-Roll looks pretty, but I’ve spent a lot of time staring at Blizzard art whilst making Machinima, and I’d be surprised if even all the scenes we’re seeing there – notably the Summit scenes – are release candidate art. If that’s what they’re showing off, it’s a good bet that the other art is even less finalised.
  • There are rumours floating around on the ‘con floor that Mists of Pandaria isn’t even in Alpha yet. The sources are off the record, the commenters are Random Guys On The Internet. And yet…
  • There are a lot of features that we haven’t seen anything of yet. Only one raid has even been named, and three new dungeons. That’s exactly the same number as were named at Blizzcon 2009, talking about Cata… which was 12 months away. Even by February of 2010, we knew a lot more about Cata’s dungeons and raids than we do about MoP’s now.
  • On that note – in general, MoP seems to be at about the same stage as Cataclysm was a year before release. At Blizzcon ’09, the only playable areas were the starting areas. Blizzcon ’11, the same. The same number of new raids and dungeons have been mentioned. Although many people are saying the art looks more advanced, to my eye – comparing with the archived coverage of Blizzcon ’09 – the art might well be at a similar stage.
  • To the best of my knowledge, there has been no talk whatsoever at Blizzcon of Mists of Pandaria release dates. That’s not unheard-of, but it certainly raises some questions.
  • One game on the Blizzard release slate has already slipped – Diablo III, slipping back from Q4 2011 to some time 2012. That rather invalidates the entire slate as a reliable source, and implies Blizzard could be late with other things too.

Oh, yes, and there’s one other thing…

That 12-month subscription offer.

Oh, yes, that. I’ve already talked about the 12-month subscription with free Diablo III, mount and beta invite earlier. It mystified me at the time – why make an offer like that?

I had some ideas, but nothing solid. But there is another possible explanation.

If WoW was about to have a 10 month content drought before a new expansion, it would be a very cynical but intelligent move to attempt to lock as many people into a subscription before that happened. You’d want to push hard – even to the point of giving away valuable content – to get as many certain subscribers under WoW’s belt before the content drought seriously starts to kick in.

And by “push hard”, we mean “throw in an entire game and an inevitably popular mount”.

Is there Something Rotten At Blizzcon?

There is absolutely no solid proof that Mists of Pandaria is going to arrive later than June 2012. Indeed, if it does arrive in Q4 2012 (October or later), with no new content patches, it’s likely to be disasterous for the game.

I’m really hoping that we find out – and soon – that the Alpha is about to start, and we’re all going to be kung-fu fighting before the summer. If MoP is due out in Q2 of 2012, we’ll know about it very soon – probably within a month or so. If the alpha test hasn’t started by Christmas, it’s very likely we won’t be seeing Mists of Pandaria before August at the earliest.

But I wouldn’t recommend shelling out for a year’s locked-in subscription just yet. The expansion seems like it promises a hell of a lot – indeed, it sounds almost too good to be true. And the void where a release date should be is hanging in the air.

I’m very excited about what we’ve heard from Blizzcon. I’m looking forward to Mists of Pandaria.

Let’s hope it’s not too long a wait.

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