With World of Warcraft preparing to roll out its Dragonflight alpha this week, one notable concern is that, if Dragonflight is indeed intended to drop this year, this will be the shortest alpha/beta cycle World of Warcraft has had in recent memory. But Blizzard says this is due to a change in how it’s doing testing, and not a cause for concern.
Speaking to IGN ahead of the alpha release, production director Patrick Dawson reassures that Dragonflight will have plenty of time to cook. For one, he says, it’s been in development since before Shadowlands shipped, and the team has had about as much time working on it as they have any other expansion.
But to answer the question of the late alpha, Dawson admits that while it’s coming at an “awkward” time compared to past alphas, it’s just because Blizzard is shifting how it handles public World of Warcraft testing pretty dramatically.
“In prior alphas…we’d have a two, two-and-a-half-month-long process where different things came online in a haphazard and less structured way,” he says. “Maybe you’d get one zone, then have to wait two to three weeks, maybe even longer for the next zone. Systems wouldn’t come on at a consistent rate, that kind of stuff.
“But…one of the models we liked was how we do things like raid testing. What we do is we open up a boss for people to focus on, everybody plays that boss, we get great, focused feedback on that, and then we shut it down and move onto the next boss. Likewise, we looked at our alpha strategy, and we said, ‘How can we get that type of feedback out of an alpha?’ And the answer was, instead of having this long alpha, let’s compress it a bit and focus the feedback on specific things each and every week.”
What this means for Dragonflight, he continues, is that while the upcoming alpha is focused on one zone, the Azure Span, it won’t be available in the alpha for the duration of the test. Once Blizzard gets focused feedback on that specific zone, they’ll shut the Azure Span down, and open up a completely different zone.
But there’s another reason for the new model, aside from just testing efficiency. World of Warcraft is a very heavily community datamined game, between its alphas, beta, and public test realm. But this time, Blizzard wants to keep more secrets back from the public until it’s ready to fully release them.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight Alpha Screenshots
“Let’s not spoil everything in the alpha,” Dawson says. “Let’s not spoil everything in test. We’ll make sure to test that level of gameplay so that everyone has a quality experience when they play, but there maybe are some things we’re going to hold back a bit to surprise and delight the players.”
We also spoke to Dawson about how Dragonflight’s Dragon Isles are the largest expansion continent Blizzard has made yet, as well as how Dragonflight is building more evergreen updates than expansion-specific. Blizzard is on the cusp of opening up its Dragonflight alpha to the first wave of players, so we’re sure to hear more about Dragonflight in the coming weeks. For now, you can check out our full preview of what we’ve seen so far.
Rebekah Valentine is a news reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.