Every time Blizzard Entertainment prepares to release a new expansion for World of Warcraft players, the company prepares an early patch that introduces many of the new game mechanic changes, including changes to class, gear, talents, and threat, several weeks early to all WoW players in a patch. Most recently, Blizzard Entertainment has prepared to release patch 4.0.1, the first in the series of patches that will introduce Cataclysm content.
Many players are frustrated by this implementation of changes, as they are designed around new content that has not yet been released. Patch 4.0.1, for instance, is balanced for level 85 content and gear, while players remain at level 80. Called “lame duck sessions” by Blizzard, in reference to the “lame duck” sessions of Congress in which officials that have lost their seat through the elections system remain in session until their replacements begin months later, the changes can often cause confusion, and result in a great deal of downtime and frustration on the part of players, who may find certain content suddenly unplayable, or find their class or talent build either unplayable or overpowered. With tension high, especially as players are also waiting anxiously for an expansion, it’s easy to ask “Why?” – but there are several good reasons for an early content patch before an expansion.
Bringing the mechanic changes to live servers weeks before the expansion allows for more “true” testing. While the changes also go to the Public Test Server, data from the server is not always reliable because it is not a live environment. By patching to live servers, Blizzard Entertainment is able to gather and discover more valuable information on what works, and what is broken, before the expansion goes live because of the number of testers and the real nature of live servers.
Patching early leads to less overall downtime. Expansions require hundreds, if not thousands, of game updates. By splitting the changes in the expansion into two or more patches, Blizzard is able to better upgrade servers and clients, isolate problems, and quickly fix issues than if patched all at once.
Early patching lets players have time to adjust to the changes. While it may result in some lameness in the ability to continue content like PvP and raiding, pushing the changes through early lets players have some free time to learn new mechanics, experiment with changes to their class, and be better prepared to start the new content when it goes live.
An early content patch spices things up. In addition to changes that will keep players interested in learning what has changed and how to adapt, Blizzard Entertainment also patches in special events to garnish more interest in the expansion. Burnout typically increases the most the last few months before an expansion’s release, and these series of patches helps alleviate boredom and offer teasers of what’s to come.
So remember, despite the frustrations and sometimes unplayability of pre-expansion patches, these patches also allow you to test new content early and to ensure that the final transition into the expansion is as smooth as possible!