The Think Tank: Autumn is the season of MMO expansions

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The Think Tank: Autumn is the season of MMO expansions
Happy autumn! It's a season of MMO expansions. World of Warcraft, Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, EverQuest II, Star Trek Online, and bunches more are all getting major updates or expansions in the next few months. Presumably, expansions aren't meant only to give existing players something to do; they're also meant to give old players reasons to come back. But do they work?

That's the question I asked Massively's writers in this week's Think Tank. Do we return for expansions? Do we avoid them? Do we even like them? Let's talk expansions.

Anatoli Ingram, Columnist
@ceruleangrey: I love expansions. Some of my best MMO-playing memories revolve around the launch of an expansion or the time leading up to it. I think big expansions serve an invaluable purpose in how they're perceived as a soft relaunch, creating a point where people can jump in as though the game is brand-new. They're almost equivalent to a single-player game sequel. That also makes it easier to shake up gameplay and mechanics in big ways, since players (who can sometimes be change-averse) expect expansions to be massive game-changers. These are the biggest reasons I'm still hoping for a Guild Wars 2 expansion.

Bree Royce, Editor-in-Chief
@nbrianna: I'm a big fan of expansions. MMOs fall off everyone's radar when they don't update and give everyone a reason to reconsider having left. Most of my favorite MMOs didn't really become my favorites until they had an expansion or two under their belts, for that matter. This fall, though, I'm not sure whether any expansions will be bringing me back. Most of my regular games aren't expanding in a big way, and the one that is isn't really expanding in a way I'd like. But as a rule? Without expansions, MMOs simply look troubled. My favorites of all time: Guild Wars' expansionalones.

Eliot Lefebvre, Contributing Editor
@Eliot_Lefebvre: Funny thing is, as much as I love expansions, I can't think of one that's actually brought me back for the launch. There are a lot of expansions that I love and would happily buy again, but my departures and returns are usually based on other elements.

That being said, a good expansion is a great way to lure people simply because a good expansion is, in some way, a game-changer. It's a chance to not exactly push a reboot but make some major changes to the structure of the live game, shake things up significantly, and add new content mid-stream in a way that doesn't just fade into the background. Good expansions don't simply bump the level cap and call it a day. Wrath of the Lich King added a new class, new systems, changed raid sizes forever, and brought every potential class role into a viable state. Treasures of Aht Urhgan added three new classes that worked wildly differently from everything in place, added very different sorts of content, and introduced a whole region that wasn't reliant upon the same core conflicts from the first two Final Fantasy XI expansions. Guild Wars: Nightfall added (again) new classes and a different way of playing the game.

It's specifically why I'm not going to be going back for Warlords of Draenor; it's an intensely unambitious expansion, adding very little and functioning as Pandaria +1 with several elements removed rather than improved. It's why I'm excited for STO's Delta Rising and why I'm sorely tempted to jump back in to Star Wars: The Old Republic for Shadows of Revan. If it's not a game-changer, it's not worth the time.

Jef Reahard, Managing Editor
@jefreahard: I'll generally come back for expansions if the game's a) a sandbox, b) based on an IP I enjoy, or c) if there's a significant non-combat feature-add. Otherwise, nah. The reason I left in the first place is because the game sucked in some major way, and it's extremely unlikely that an expansion will fix that.

Justin Olivetti, Contributing Editor
@Sypster: For the record, I love expansions, and yes, they are incredibly effective in drawing me back to a game. A real expansion (not just some propped-up content patch) is a healthy sign that a game is doing well and that the studio has the resources to pour into a big project like that, so I always like to see them, even for MMOs I'm not playing. Expansions get people's attention and puts the spotlight back on older MMOs, which is a major PR boost for the studio and a gentle reminder that, hey, these games are still out there and kicking butt. Plus, an expansion is like a mini-launch, with much of the same anticipation, discussion, and day one excitement.

I'm most excited for this fall's RIFT: Nightmare Tide for reasons that I detailed in my column last week, although Star Trek Online: Delta Rising is intriguing as well. Heck, even Star Wars: The Old Republic's Shadow of Revan announcement made me strongly consider re-loading that game on my hard drive, even though I loathe the free-to-play model in that MMO.

Mike Foster, Contributing Editor
@MikedotFoster: World of Warcraft is the only MMO that's ever inspired me to care about expansions. Though my WoW days are over, I usually end up returning for a couple of months at expansion time just to push through the new dungeons and hit the level cap, at which point I go, "Oh yeah this is still WoW," and go back to whatever I was doing before. Games for me are a social exercise, so it's less about what the developer is doing and more about what my friends are playing (which is why Dota is my main focus right now).

I'll be checking out Warlords of Draenor, of course. But two months later it will probably be gathering dust on my hard drive, unless a bunch of my gaming friends defect from Diablo and Dota to hang out in Azeroth.

MJ Guthrie, Contributing Editor
@MJ_Guthrie: Don't forget classic EverQuest's expansion! I do not tend to return for expansions; rather I get them for those games that I am already a part of and have stayed with, even if not on a daily basis. I do, however, admit that at least one expansion in the last couple of years finally made me look at a game I was previously not the least bit interested in because it offered features that were staples for me.

For the most part, I advocate having smaller content additions throughout the year instead of just one large dump, but I feel EverQuest II has a really solid model that others could (and should) follow. With EQII, you get the best of both worlds: smaller but meaty content drops (including zones) throughout the year plus a massive expansion. As for this year, I am really looking forward to Altar of Malice.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the most caring of the carebears, so expect more than a little disagreement! Join Editor-in-Chief Bree Royce and the team for a new edition right here every Thursday.
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The Think Tank: Autumn is the season of MMO expansions