18 Months for Blizzard Expansions = D3 When?

Many a gaming news site is bursting with the recent semi-revelation by head B.net guy Greg Canessa that the next installment of SC2 should be out in about 18 months. Canessa later stressed that that’s not an official release date and that nothing is set in stone… wow, never heard that from Blizzard before!

I don’t really follow SC2 news, but that figure sounded unsurprising to me, since I’d had the 18 months estimate in my head since before SC2 was released. I wasn’t sure why, but after a bit of Googling I found this interview with the lead SC developer Christ Sigaty, that I must have read at some point. It was posted all the way back in April. The relevant quote:

Shack: What is the timeline on releasing expansion #1?

Chris Sigaty: It’s 10 years per (laughs). No, we’re estimating about 18 months from release of Wings of Liberty to when the next one comes out. That’s purely speculative, honestly. Historically, it’s taken us about a year-WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne is a good example—but you’ll see the sum-total package [in Wings of Liberty] has raised the bar and there’s a lot more to do with StarCraft II’s expansions. I think 18 months is probably fairly accurate.

Perhaps the SC2 team has been throwing around this figure internally, and it’s what popped into mind when Canessa was speaking at the GDC? Eighteen months might seem a long time for an expansion pack, but it’s right in the range of Blizzard’s usual x-pack speed. A quick summary: D2X was 12 months after D2. Brood Wars was 22 months after SC1. War3X was 12 months after War3. One might have expected SC2X a bit faster, after they split the game into three parts fairly late in development, and then had that extra six month delay that was attributed to B.net 2.0 technical issues, but it is what it is.

The real use of this survey, for most of us, is to speculate what it means for Diablo 3’s release date. We’ve recently seen a surprising (to me) resurgence of hope (for a sooner release date), with a new forum thread that’s basically a chance to, “guess the release date for the release date.” The voices of soon-soon-soon seem to be growing of late, and every time someone (like myself) says “2012, prolly” someone pops up to point out that,“no Bliz game yet has taken more than 3 years from announcement to release.”

Despite the public comments making D3 seem nowhere near completion, that 3 year time frame might repeat. If so, we’ll have to get news about the Diablo III Beta Test very soon. At Blizzcon, or at least before the end of the year. Which is, of course, exactly what fans are hoping for.

In the longer term, Blizzard takes years to make games, and there are too many moving parts for them to to put out accurate completion dates on in advance. They proved that often enough back in the early 00s when they were still willing to make (and inevitably miss) advance release dates. That happened with SC1, D2, and War3, which is why they don’t give release date estimates anymore, and why the recent “18 months” comment for SC2X is such big news. They do have internal goals and timelines, of course, and they do worry about timing; it just takes a backseat to getting the games right. So the game comes first, but they do pay some mind to market realities, and they’re not going to release two games right on top of each other. Even if they’re different genres, but especially if they’re not.

We should see the next installment of SC2 somewhere between December 2011 and March 2012. WoW:Cat is coming out in two months, and though Blizzard has long said they’d like to get out WoW expansions yearly. They’ve yet to come anywhere near doing so. WoW was released in November 2004, the first expansion was January 2007 (26 months), the second was November 2008 (21 months) and the next one is due December 2010 (25 months). If the fourth expansion comes out anytime before late 2012, Blizzard will probably be more surprised than anyone else.

What does that leave for D3? The soonest possible release, given that no beta has been announced yet, would be mid-2011. And that would work great with the other games; long enough after WoW:Cat, but well before SC2X. D3 seems to have a clear window up until about November 2011, but at that point it seems like the next installment of Starcraft 2 would be due, and it’s unlikely Blizzard would want to put two games on shelves at the same time.So look for D3 between May-Nov 2011, or else not until after April 2012?

Admittedly, trying to estimate even one Blizz release date is a crap shoot, which makes guessing 3 at once pure chance.You know you want to, though. Which is what the comments are for!

Update: I had the wrong date for the 2nd WoW expansion and that threw off the math. Some editing was done to clear that up. Thanks to entranced in comments for pointing that out.


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