Why do MMOs have expansions instead of sequels?

Before the post: remember my idea to fight fake news by ridiculing it? Well, I did good with the World of Warships reddit, but I’m nothing compared to this troll god!


The current World of Warcraft expansion is reaching its end. Players who farmed countless hours for their artifact weapon ilvl finally reached the max level – along with those who started playing 2 days ago, thanks to the catch-up questline in Silithus. Soon every item will be replaced and the old scenarios abandoned for the new lands.

Which raises the question: if everything old is destroyed and replaced, why do MMOs have expansions at all instead of sequels. I mean why WoW Legion is not left as it is, while a new game appear on the launcher that starts WoW Letskillorcsbecauseweareoutofideas? The players would start at lvl 110 (which would mean nothing) and would access the new lands and not the old (which they have no reason to go anyway)?

Most titles do exactly that. You can play Fallout 4 without ever playing Fallout 3 and you can still play Fallout 3 just as it always was, without being trivialized by Fallout 4 items or mechanics.

Sure the playerbase of the old WoW would decrease, but since cross-server technology is already here, that wouldn’t matter. Remember, WoW has 10x more players than the next MMO, so even if most players would exclusively play with the sequel, players of the old game would still find groupmates.

Like in World of Warships/Tanks/whatnot, subscription time would apply to all games, so you just have to buy the new sequel and keep up a subscription to play with all WoW “expansions”. Some files could be shared for saving space, the exe files could use the same databases.

Wouldn’t it be better?

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

12 thoughts on “Why do MMOs have expansions instead of sequels?”

  1. There are probably a bunch of contributing factors as to why companies go the expansion route versus making sequels. How some MMO sequels have turned out in the past (e.g. EverQuest 2, Asheron’s Call 2, Lineage 2) no doubt plays into it. Splitting the code base also means more work for devs, even if you put the first game into maintenance mode. You still have to keep the servers patched up and the client has to work on whatever Microsoft is selling at the moment. A sequel also has the chance of splitting up social groups. And you also throw away that sunk cost aspect, where people keep playing because they have invested so much in the first game. Saying that you have to start over from scratch to get the new stuff can be a barrier.

    Which isn’t to say that a sequel is necessarily a bad idea. Guild Wars 2 managed it. And rolling out a new MMO with a fresh leveling experience can work. People years for Classic WoW because of that 1-60 run. But there is enough arguing against a sequel… and enough evidence showing that expansions work… that it doesn’t seem to be the go-to solution for continuing MMOs.


  2. I guess, originally it was a question of subscription continuity, and then it was mutually accepted industry practice that nobody really questions.
    I do agree that there is little sense of having constant number inflation and arbitrary progress resets, when you can just do it like Megaman. WoW is sorta moving towards that with their flexible level systems. Once these are normalized, i can totally see them just doing away with it all in one way or another.


  3. What is the advantage of having sequels instead of expansions?
    Usually engine changes or massive gameplay changes. (Like in gw2: different engine, completely different core game)

    If they are not planning to make those changes, what is the point of a sequel? The only difference I see is that a sequel locks you out of old content, since it would not be in the game, and certain people love doing old content for some reason. My gf enjoys gathering transmog from old raids, and the pet battles in the old continent. Both those activities would not exist if you had sequels instead of expansions.

    Also, plenty of people get attached to characters and the time they spend on them, this is a viable selling point for expansions marketing wise. People already have investment.

    So for me: Sequel when changing core gameplay or engine, expansion when not.


  4. The discussion about sequels versus expansions has to center around content creation. Using WoW as the example, we can clearly see a strict, 2-year production cycle where expansions are concerned. I would imagine a full-blown sequel would take a minimum of 4 years. So I have to wonder how a sequel would be marketed to gamers, especially when the sequel would be in direct competition with its predecessor.

    Expansions are viewed as new content for an already existing game. So unless newer and faster content creation tools are on the immediate horizon, MMO’s will most likely remain in expansion territory for quite some time.

    It is interesting to engage in a thought experiment though: With WoW coming up on its 14th anniversary, that would be 3+ full production cycles taking into account a ~4-year production cycle. I really think I would have preferred three different level 1-60 scenarios with fresh new storylines, classes, professions…etc., rather than the endless, rising level cap of the multiple expansions we have now. But that’s just me.


  5. @Caldazar: wrong. A sequel doesn’t change the original game, you can still load that game and play it. An expansion destroys the old game.


  6. Most titles do exactly that. You can play Fallout 4 without ever playing Fallout 3 and you can still play Fallout 3 just as it always was, without being trivialized by Fallout 4 items or mechanics.

    exactly this. that’s the essence. And a lot of games have dedicated server or LAN capabilities. sure it isn’t the “massive” experience. But besides EVE and china-Aion (version 1.3. yes 1.3 not 1.5 as released in the west. abyss was the one and only endgame for everyone (pve, pvp) lv45 was the cap! no lv50) and china servers usually couldn’t handle peak hours. that was massive and I have fond memories. All destroyed with expansion and couldn’t that experience couldn’t be cought in the west. Just a headup for those waiting and hyping WOW classic.

    Wouldn’t it be better?

    YES! really anything else as the current mmo expansion model is better.
    I really liked the start of gw2 to separate game play and mechanics. larger zerg group pvp (wvw), pve, structure pvp (battlegrounds)

    Even semi expansion called seasons in path of exile are better. Where new game mechanics are “tested” for a season and some of the mechanics are merged into the base game others are purged or season only.


  7. Maybe WoW sequels do not exist because of business reasons – Blizzard does not make games that compete with its existing games. E.g., there is no Warcraft 4 the RTS because Blizzard’s RTS is Starcraft 2 (I’m sure Warcraft 4 would sell big time). Likewise, there will be no new first-person shooters, MOBAs, collectible card games and action RPGs from Blizzard.

    They do allow remakes (Starcraft 1 and WoW Classic), but that’s all.


  8. I think there are multiple factors to be considered. First is value added. The value that needs to be added (as one commenter noted above) to convince someone to completely abandon their sunk costs (sub + time + store) to move to a sequel vs. continuing with an expansion is much more. If you call something a sequel, people will expect at the least a updated engine and gfx + the content that goes in to systems, and quests. With a sequel your save a lot of money using / tighten up the existing assets and focusing on content / systems.

    The MMO player base as proven to be voracious consumers of content. Imagine if they had to wait 6-7 years (look at Diablo 3 to potential diablo 4 development) for WoW 2, 3, 4 etc. They would bleed subs even more than they do now. Expansions are a way to drip feed content, keeping the majority of the playerbase sated.

    Another factor is the emotional attachment that players have toward their characters (especially mains, but even alts), with a WoW 2, 3, 4 there is no guarantee that you can port your character over wholesale (ie difference in engines and backend database structures). Look at Destiny 2. My understanding is Bungie was on the hook for 3 full games. Luckily the were able to extend across console generations to justify at least upgrading the engine. Most of the complaints surrounding the disastrous first year is are they strayed too far from the Destiny 1 systems, players couldn’t port over their characters (aside: yes with each expansion you are essentially reset to run the “treadmill” again but you still have your collections, achievements and the emergent meta game play memories with your guildmates that are attached to those things. A sequel not only resets you but eliminates all those things the M&S addore as well).

    Fracturing the playerbase. EA is moving toward a free dlc (paid for by profits from microtransactions) precisely because if you don’t keep everyone in the same space you lose players. Loss of players = lost of revenue. There is no guarantee that all 8-10 million subs will move over to a WoW 2 ( people on potato computers may not even be able to) and when you fracture guilds, the ppl left behind may end up un-subbing all together.

    Ultimately I think Blizzard knows it’s in their best interest to keep the treadmill alive so that people keep clicking on the “Battlenet.exe” icon.


  9. @Gevlon: Wrong: A sequel would destroy a game like wow, as the population of older parts would dwindle even faster than the ‘current main game’. Which would mean less people for raiding etc + no outgearing of the content for the real casuals who don’t care about raiding (like my gf) and just enjoy the collecting part.


  10. There are no real technical hurdles to doing it the sequel way, and I think it would be much better. The model I have long espoused is game release with a cap of level 50, then one expansion to level 60… segue to sequel while leaving the old game as is forever.

    The sequel would start with a new level cap of 50 and you would start at level 1. All you would get from your loyalty of owning the previous expansion is your name.

    There is no technical problem with having a thousand game servers up. You just spin off teams to maintain them. People that continue to want to play the “legacy” version know who their “team” is and that they’re not on the “main” server.

    By resetting the level cap with each sequel, you eliminate the “power creep” and “level creep” that forces catch up mechanics and abbreviated leveling completely. I also espouse a classless system, so you can build just ONE character per game iteration. FF14’s “job” system is a good start, but it could be more classless than that.

    Yes, the player would have to have a completely separate game install for each version of the game they’re playing. No big deal. That’s easily handled with digital distribution. You have to ‘rights’ to that version as long as the server is supported, and can recover your client with the click of a button and a download.

    Of course, a real problem will be exploits. Eventually, people will figure out all the potential exploits in each iteration of the game, and that’s what the maintenance team is for, patch the exploit or eliminate the feature that is allowing it.

    Eventually, the old versions will be so far down it’s “long tail” of age that it will have one server left and be “maintained” by a skeleton crew that maintains all the dead versions, games that for all practical purposes, are “classic single player games.”


  11. First off, while WoW might have been able to do this back in 2006 with Burning Crusade, they can no longer do so because of existing customer expectations. So the real answer is “because they would alienate more than they would gain (now)”.

    But lets look deeper at someone that took the more or less identical philosophy you suggest: ArenaNet. Not in the sense others have identified, in GW -> GW2, but rather within the original GW1… released first as Prophecies (full campaign, level to cap, endgame). Then they put out two different additional campaigns (Factions and Nightfall).

    These two new campaigns were standalone (did not require the original to play) and let you, again, level to cap, finish the campaign, and do endgame content. However, if you had a character from any of the three campaigns you could jump into any of the others, playing from the “you-just-made-top-level” point through the remaining 75% of the game. The horizonal progression made this possible, since you would level to cap on “newbie island” in the new campaigns and then spread to new options, not higher power.

    It worked quite well. A-Net then decided they wanted to move on to new engines and new things, started planning GW2 and put on a “final” GW1 expansion (Eye of the North) that required any of the three campaigns — it was a true expansion, building on top of the other three.

    I think it’s a great model.


  12. The golden rule of MMOs has generally been to never split your community.
    From a numbers point of view, a sequel gives you extra expenses for supporting a maintenance-mode server and limited revenue from those customers. An expansion doesn’t have the revenue from those customers, but it saves costs on supporting the old game and transfers more players to the new server where they will spend more buying the new latest cash shop vanity purposes.


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