Soaring into Dragonflight with Ion Hazzikostas

Hello Azeroth!

We are thrilled to share something very special with you today. Yesterday, on a chilly November morning, two of our show hosts, Tru Villain Manny of For Azeroth! and Berzerker of Unshackled Fury partnered up with Hulahoops of Raider.IO to interview the Game Director of World of Warcraft, Ion Hazzikostas, about the upcoming Dragonflight expansion. Dragonflight releases in just a few days, on November 28th, so the excitement abounds!

We are pleased to share the full transcript written below. The interview was over an hour long, so while we hope you’re able to take the time to parse through everything Ion said, we understand time is limited. Check out our key takeaways listed below.

Manny, Berzerker, and HulaHoops had a jam-packed conversation with Ion. In addition to the following transcript, you will also be able to hear Manny and Berzerker’s thoughts on their upcoming podcast episodes. Be sure to subscribe to both shows on your favorite podcast players so you don’t miss a thing! 

Meet the hosts

Manny is one of the hosts of For Azeroth! a podcast featuring the news, lore, resources, and community feedback about Blizzard’s premier MMORPG. Along with host Olivia, they go beyond the headlines and weekly events.

Devastatingly handsome, charismatic, blessed with a commanding voice, and oh so humble, Berzerker hails from NorCal, the land of thrash metal, silicon and the produce on your table. He identifies with an anti-hero, is loyal to Bay Area sports, and celebrates every Friday with nachos. As a young Berzerker, he cut his teeth on cyberpunk and a steady diet of music that was–according to his parents–just too darn loud. With a lifetime of gaming experience, Berzerker has spent the last 15 years rolling in the land of Azeroth, collecting stories spanning every expansion and beyond.

Raider.IO is a World of Warcraft Mythic+ and Raid Progression rankings site! You can view your Character & Guild Profiles, check your Seasonal Mythic+ Scores & Raid Progress, Recruit Players or Find Guilds, setup Discord alerts, and follow the Race to World First. Raider.IO was represented by Hulahoops.

Key Takeaways

  • Ion discusses hard lessons learned from Shadowlands and the impact of these lessons on Dragonflight’s design and players’ time
  • The WoW team has made a full transition to a hybrid telework model, and is seeing great success in modernizing the way they meet and work in real time
  • Mythic Plus will no longer be the easy way to gear!
  • The Dragonflight expansion truly feels like a love letter to what makes WoW great, and the team feels as rejuvenated as we do
  • There are big surprises in store! Much of the end game content and many cinematics have been encrypted with even more future content to come in the new year

Dragonflight interview with Ion Hazzikostas


Ion, thank you so much for making time for us today. It’s really exciting to talk to you about the upcoming Dragonflight expansion and I am going to kick things off. I’ve got a few questions about the Race to World First specifically. As you know, Raider.IO works hand-in-hand with all the guilds in the Race to World First. So when I asked our team, let’s think of some questions the topic was the race. So first question: the Sepulcher of the First Ones race was pretty unique in recent memory in regards to its difficulty and length. Did this impact any design or other decisions regarding Vault of the Incarnates?


So yes, obviously this is something we’ve discussed a bit, there’s a lot of reflection looking back because we didn’t really serve anyone well with that experience. Our goal with tuning mythic in particular, particularly the start when it comes to the Race to World First, is we want to make the raid just hard enough that it’s difficult enough to allow the best guilt in the world to distinguish themselves from the second-best guild in the world. It’s like building an obstacle course for Olympic gymnasts or your game show of choice. If everyone completes it, well then we didn’t really learn who was better in that cycle or that season. Think back to Emerald Nightmare at the start of Legion. It was a little bit unsatisfying; and kind of felt like who got there first as opposed to who really played better. If it’s anything above and beyond that, it likely could frustrate the top guilt as we heard even. 

It’s also creating an experience that’s just more frustrating than fun across the board for everyone outside the top echelon and that’s unfortunate and that’s never our intent. It’s never a goal. And so, I think since sepulcher, there were multiple wall bosses, as we all know, but in the instance was also more difficult than intended on other difficulties. There are plenty of guilds that struggled on heroic despite having past history of comfortably getting Ahead of the Curve and moving into mythic. We hit a lot of nerves. 

Anyway, that led to a lot of conversations internally about both our tuning goals but also philosophies. When is it okay to wipe the entire rate instantly or a mistake. The answer is honestly should be almost never. At least when it’s more like a single person’s twitch reaction mistake of failing to do this bullet health incorrectly. It’s totally reasonable on mythic to kill the player for doing that. But to say the entire rate is over because someone was one yard out of position. Yes, that’s difficult. Yes, that will get us, three-digit wipe counts, and get the boss on the M.M.O Champion List of Hardest Bosses. But, that’s not actually our goal as encounter designers. 

Our goal is a fun, challenging experience. And so I think the design of Vault of the Incarnates, and our raids going forward should be very directly the product of those lessons. We still want a stern test for the best skilled in the world. We still want nerd screams and a real accomplishment when someone gets the World First and two or three other guilds are hot on their tail, but also we would rather not have to nerf it 20 times for the rank 100, rank 1000, rank 5000 guilds to be able to blaze that same trail afterwards.


That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. In terms of the race, we’ve got the simultaneous release of the three difficulties, which is new, coming up pretty soon. What was the thought process behind that? I know that some people are assuming it’s because of the race and the holidays, but is there something else involved? Are there any concerns about how it’s gonna play out in action for both the race and, the player base in general? Additionally, Is this something that you’re looking at to do for future rate tiers, or is it just a one-off for this [season] specifically?


Great question. I think that if it works well or close to well, we could learn from it and build upon it. I think this would be a good model going forward. It’s always been a little bit awkward that we have the season starts, but if you run a mythic plus higher than a seven or eight, you’re not going to get better rewards for some reason. If you’re a player who’s doing that, it’s like, well, why? Oh, because mythic raid isn’t open. Well, I don’t do mythic raids, but wait, who cares? Like doesn’t matter your rewards are capped because it would impact this other competitive scene that doesn’t involve you. That’s weird. There’s a lot of weird stuff that comes with that that we have just done to kind of support that structure. There’s no question. So it’s something that we thought about and weighed the pros and cons about in the past.

There’s no question that the calendar timing in the holiday season was kind of the impetus to force us to really grapple with some of those challenges and see what we have to change around in terms of our testing plans, in terms of how we use beta to build confidence in tuning, and how the fights were going to go because, obviously everyone knows when the game is coming out, now in a couple of weeks. We had settled on that release date, probably a couple months ago. So like this is where everything is tracking and realized that if we do our normal release plan, if we want to give people a couple of weeks to level, we don’t want to rush you into this season. Compressing that would be annoying for not just top guilds, but like everybody across the game who would feel like they got left behind if they didn’t get to max level by the time their guild started raiding or whatever. This is something really cool about that first couple of weeks in an expansion, in my opinion, before your weekly routine has started when you’re just doing with zeros, doing outdoor stuff, getting all ready, and you don’t yet have your rate schedule. We don’t want to compress that at all.

And if we hadn’t done that well, obviously like a regular release schedule would have pushed right into the holidays then like delaying the entire thing until after the holidays didn’t feel like the right option for anyone. That would have been a very, very long time to wait. So that’s, that’s why we’re trying this out. But I think that it’s very likely could be a model going forward now. It’s going to change the dynamic during the first week. That’s for sure. I would not be surprised if we see very few guilds actually go into mythic that first day, hardly anyone. I’m sure there’ll be some so they can claim World First on a boss and then forever get immortalized while the Liquids and Echoes and Methods so forth are out gearing up. We saw similar things in Sepulcher. With the last few bosses unlocking for the first time at the same time, that was actually, in some ways, like little bit of a proof of concept of how this could work. I think, it will be an interesting layer of strategy of balancing gearing versus progression. Of course, you want the best gear possible, but also you need time on the bosses and the old structure, as we know, people have had literally 100 68 hours, 24 hours times seven, just like how can we get the most possible gear in practice and how many splits can we do and how many mythic plus runs? And then at some point in some cases, how can we practice pulls to practice our mythic strats on the heroic versions of the bosses? Well, all that’s out the window this time, because every minute that you’re wasting is a minute that you could be spending pulling and learning the mythic boss. It’ll be fun to see unfold. 

I think another piece of it, getting back to the tuning question in Sepulcher, it’s become increasingly challenging, you know, in the past we talked about an arms race that we’ve been engaged into some extent with the high end community has become increasingly challenging to tune bosses to be challenging for the World First competitors without being just unattainably difficult for mere mortals in other mythic guilds because of how ratcheted it up splits have gotten and all the other systems that guilds have in place to optimize their gear, like the i-level that Echo had, that Liquid had when they were pulling some of those late mythic bosses was a number that ordinary mythic guilds might not reach for like 6 to 7 weeks later. And so they’re not just more skilled because they’re the best players in the world, they’re also better geared and that’s, that’s really messy. Whereas without having that whole extra week when people won’t have access to the great vault during that first week, for example, right? Like without all of that, we can tune things at a level that will challenge them while still letting gear growth and people getting their two-piece and four-piece set bonuses. People getting things from their vault bring those encounters within reach more naturally without us having to go in and make heavy-handed nerfs down the line.


Thank you. That’s a great answer. We’re definitely keeping an eye on this simultaneous release and how it’s gonna play out. Another change that has come in is that the European region’s daily reset has been moved forward by three hours. With the Race the World First and the oft-heard cries for global release impact this decision? Is it completely unrelated? Will any similar considerations be made for the Asian regions?


It is, it is actually completely unrelated. Europe has been, for a while, the only region whose maintenance window is de-synced from their weekly reset window. So [during] weekly, typical maintenance, when we have a patch release, when something’s going on, North American servers might come down at like 6:37 AM Pacific and down for a few hours. The reset happens during that time. They come up. Europe was [routinely having] their maintenance well before the reset happened, which actually led in a lot of cases of us having to extend the maintenance artificially for several hours because it would create either an unsupported or abusable state if they had a few hours in the new patch with the new content before the week reset had occurred where like they could jump in and kill the world boss or something.

We were often finishing our internal actual server maintenance and keeping servers down for like three extra hours for no reason other than preventing potentially game-breaking behavior. We just wanted to pull that to be earlier so that maintenance is could be shorter overall and there could be more synchronicity there. That obviously does have the side effect of it reduces the number of hours before, EU guilds get in when a new raid release happens. [There are] pros and cons there, but we’ll see how it plays up. Otherwise, no, no plans to make any changes to Asian Region maintenance; because again, that’s synced with their reset currently and, that makes sense.


Our community would kill me if I didn’t ask, will we see a global release in dragon flight?


Uh, no. Almost certainly no. It’s the same reasons given in the past. At the end of the day, there are millions of people playing World of Warcraft. And while the hundreds of people who participate in the Race to World First would like that simultaneous release, it would inconvenience hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in some way to try to move things around or line them up.

You’d have people logging in on patch day. Can we raid tonight? No. Why not? Oh, because Blizzard’s waiting for Europe to get the patch so that they can release the raid. That’s not a fun experience for most people. Or wait, why is a raid resetting in the middle of the evening for us? Oh, because they wanted to… like there’s no good answer there. That doesn’t convince a lot of people. 

The Race to World First is not an objectively fair experience. It is a community event. It’s not an esport. People have a lot of different factors involved, their schedules and there’s things that are offsetting. The people who get it a bit later, have all the information from all the streams from the first night that they can watch to see what everyone else did. Sometimes there are bugs, sometimes there are tuning changes that are made that, as we all know, may waste time for one group that gets there first, that others don’t have to deal with. If we do our job well tuning the raid and it’s not over in just a couple of days, a la Emerald Nightmare, it shouldn’t come down to the reset or a few hours one way or the other. It comes down to who overall played and executed better on those last couple of bosses and whether you needed 250 attempts or 170 attempts or whatever. That’s the difference between who wins. So no plans to change anything major there and that has been how it’s historically always been: who just played better. Not that hasn’t come down to the reset.



Thank you for answering that.


You were talking about the creation catalyst and how it doesn’t show up for six weeks and you were saying that many of the mythic guilds don’t get there until six or seven weeks. I kind of see that line up with the return of the [Catalyst] and being able to do a quest to get your charges. Is there any kind of catch-up for people who start late in the season?


For people who come along later in this season, our current thinking is the quest itself may give you more charges per week, like if you come along in week 12 or whatever doing the quest once they just give you two charges straight up at that point, so you can just get to set pieces right away. We understand that, you know, towards the end of the season, people want to get caught up and feel like they can play with their friends.


The charges you get is for Endgame content. For people who do solo content or who don’t like to go into instance content, is the Catalyst no longer something that they can do?


No, the gear that you get, for example, from like the high-end Primal Storms gear from outdoor world content can be converted into set pieces. The rough shorthand is like, do the stuff that would give you conversion-eligible-gear to complete the quest. So if you are a mythic plus player, run some dungeons. If you’re a raider, run your raid. If you’re an outdoor player, do that higher-end, outdoor content and get your charge.


Is crafted gear eligible for use in the catalyst?


Crafted gear cannot be converted into sets. The reason for this is that at making your high-end crafted gear requires these limited sparks that you have as a reagent to make them.

And so it would almost be a trap, like if you had, you know, you’re a couple of pieces of crafted gear that you could make within a time frame and you transform one into a set piece. You’ve effectively lost that capacity to make crafted gear as a result, the right answer really is to get gear that you’re using, that you’re getting from any of the other content, [and] that you’re doing. Make your set pieces that way and have the crafted pieces complement your sets.


Mythic plus has been a good way for people to gear and you were saying earlier that you have artificially kept what you can get in mythic plus because of that same thing. For players who are not doing Race to World First, who are maybe even not in Cutting Edge or guilds and really doing AotC, a lot of schisms have happened because players push on mythic plus and some players don’t. There’s a sort of social pressure for those people to do mythic plus even if they don’t want to. The same was true for Shadowlands PVP in Season one. So how has the team approached balancing the rate of gearing and in-game content in season one for Dragonflight?


Yeah, I mean I think we definitely set these systems up as self-contained, parallel progression tracks. We understand there are plenty of players who want to just do dungeons, want to just do mythic plus and don’t want to feel like they have to raid to keep up and, vice-versa. At the same time, we also recognize, yes, people who choose to do all of those paths or multiple of those paths can progress faster initially. That’s why we’re trying to do more in dragon flight, than ever before, to ensure that their endpoints actually are kind of pretty close to each other. 

We’re really excited to be able to raise the ceiling of rewards and mythic plus and now say that for the first time, someone who is a high-end key pusher, they’re doing twenties, getting those vault rewards. 3, 4 months into the season, they should have every bit as much i-level if not higher in some cases than someone who is full clearing mythic vault on a regular basis, even without ever having set foot in [Vault of the Incarnates], because they could be getting 421’s from the vault, whereas the mythic raider will have actually a lot of 415’s that they can’t get better than that in because you get, you know, your piece for that slot drops from an early Vault of the Incarnates boss. It’s 415. That’s the best available. A mythic plus player can get a 421 in those slots. Yes, they may be able to get a couple of other high-end pieces, but on average, they should largely be equal. 

On the lower end, I will say straight up, yes, it will be harder for a lot of players to get the sort of mythic quality gear than it was in the past. That is by design and it’s because of us trying to keep effort and reward, challenge and reward, kind of tracking alongside each other for dungeons versus raids. You can look at and see all the stats. We see them internally. The percentage of players who are able to clear mythic tens, mythic 15, versus those who do normal raids, do heroic raids. There’s a clear skew there and it has been very common for groups that are trying to get Ahead of the Curve to actually have a lot of people in the group who do mythic plus who are getting a single upgrade from any of the content that they’re doing to stop getting upgrades long ago. That doesn’t feel great from a like challenge reward perspective where you’re wiping with your group for a week to kill and to beat Rygalon and then you don’t actually need anything off the boss despite it being challenging for you.

And it also does cause social pressure where the folks who don’t have the time or the interest in doing dungeons on the side can fall increasingly behind. Of course, our goal is not to make dungeons not rewarding. It’s just to make sure that there aren’t so many players who feel like they are raiding at a normal mode, doing normal mode raids, that provides an appropriate level of challenge for them. They are actually working to overcome those bosses, but then it just feels like if they go set foot in a dungeon over the mythic plus system, they’re gonna get showered with much better loot.

We want to make sure the challenge and reward are commensurate the whole way up the scale, including at the very top, which is something that I think we haven’t done enough for a dungeon players in the past and I want to do better this time around.


In that early part of 2022, the whole world changed and suddenly everybody and their mother had to figure out how are we going to keep this thing moving regardless of whatever business that you were in. And obviously you folks had to do an enormous amount of work to continue what you were doing, get your lines out, continue developing working on dragons and all the things we’ve done.

So now that we’ve had some time and I guess the new normal of the era, are there any challenges or lessons from the Shadowlands development that you can share with us as they relate to how your team has adapted and what that might mean moving forward with development further into dragon flight and beyond?


It’s a great question. It’s something that we’ve been grappling with really for 2. 5 years continuously now. We finished Shadowlands. We basically made the entirety of dragon flight in a hybrid, primarily remote environments.

There are a couple 100 100 folks back in the office on any given day these days. A lot of people come in three days a week and work from home Mondays and Fridays. There are others who are fully remote, there are others who are 1000 miles away or in different time zones. And that’s how things work now. There’s an empowering flexibility to it, but also some challenges that we’ve had to overcome shifting to virtual meetings.

I think we quickly realized that actually it was superior for a handful of things for like certainly large meetings, you have to worry about fitting everybody into a giant conference room, but also things like art reviews. You didn’t have somebody in the back of the room squinting to see what was on a projector. People could actually do mark ups or paint overs on a shared screen. Everybody got the sort of front row seat for that collaboration. I think we all quickly realized that for those types of things we’re doing, or for example when we’re reviewing our like zone building or world building, outdoor environments, things like that. We could all while looking at it while in a meeting with someone explaining what we were seeing. Hoppin clients and jump onto a test server and actually be running around the world navigating ourselves while we’re being presented. You know what someone has just finished working on, that’s far superior again to just sitting around a conference room somewhere. And we all quickly decided we’re going to keep doing this forever, even if we’re all back in the office tomorrow, we’re still gonna run these meetings virtually. I think the things that you lose, obviously there’s just the casual social interactions that say, let’s go grab lunch together, things that, you know, make work inherently more social, more connected, more fun.

It’s also the freeform collaboration, freeform brainstorming. I think we through tools like zoom and slack and otherwise we still have great meetings and great planned collaboration. The thing that we’ve had to do work to to recreate is the case where someone swings by someone’s desk to bounce an idea off them, walks them through some things they’re thinking and someone sitting like eight feet away doing something else overhears. The conversation has a spark of inspiration, turns around and is like, cool, but what if you did whatever? Suddenly, we’re off to the races in a totally new direction and that was not a planned interaction that was not a meeting that was not like you wouldn’t have pulled that third person in necessarily, but that’s how it happened to play out and that isn’t possible when, you know, things are pre-scheduled, pre planned, but we’ve worked to create hang out channels and chat channels in place and encourage people, rather than private messaging each other, to blast their questions out or throw suggestions out for people to chew on on their own time to allow others to chime in who aren’t necessarily the direct recipient of the message.

And it’s just like building new processes and building new muscle memory for how we do that overall. Iit’s new, it’s different, but it’s exciting and I don’t think we have been this year limited or held back by the circumstances and what we’re able to do and the creativity that the team is able to muster and unleash, I couldn’t be more proud of Dragonflight and how it’s all come together and I can’t wait for millions of folks to jump in and experience what we’ve made in a couple of weeks.


Maybe you can give us an idea, based on those things. We’re always looking at like patch cadence and what that’s gonna look like. Is anything going to be faster or slower? Is any of that affected by the new way in which you tell a work or hybrid. I think some people were expecting something big yesterday, during that stream.


So, I mean obviously we have a bunch of stuff we’re working on. I think we also don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and our announcements. Remember [when] we announced Patch 7.1 for Legion before Legion came out. It was kind of weird actually. At the time, we wanted to get the information out there and really make the point of look like we have a lot of content coming your way.

But also people were like, wait, you’re like, what is that? Like the game isn’t even out yet. What are you guys doing? All in due time. We let people experience this chapter in the coming weeks. We have a lot of stuff right around the corner. We know, you know, we have heard loud and clear and deeply understand that Warcraft, it’s not just about the expansion we launched. [It’s] about how we maintain it. The legacy of an expansion is all about its content and how it played out.

So many expansions that may have seen as having a strong start, but then petered out because of a lack of content for plenty for long stretches of time. I know that obviously Shadowlands systems were not perfect by any means, but the long gap waiting for Chains of Domination update [and] the long duration of that first year was brutal. It was brutal for players, brutal for communities. We know we can’t repeat that. So, I think thinking about what the next cycle this expansion looks like.

We want to make sure that our seasons, our raid tiers, are not overly long. I think five-ish months, 5-6 months is a reasonable time. Once you start to get past that people get restless. People are done. Either they’ve accomplished their goals or they’ve decided they’re not going to accomplish their goals and they’re ready for something new. Tthat was actually part of our thinking in like we had a sense of when Dragonflight was going to come out. That was part of our thinking and planning and releasing Season Four when we did.

When we first announced it, people were like, you’re cutting the season too short, this is too fast. But actually, by the time it came out in August, that was five months of Season Three. I think people were ready to move on and I think it was nice to have a change of pace and something fresh for 2.5 months or so to wrap things up. The other piece that aside from those big chunks of content; from zones, dungeon seasons, PVP seasons, raids – is what’s happening in the middle of what’s happening between. Can we update our story? Can we add depth to the world? Can we add replayable events and new features that ask you to revisit old content? I think we learned a lot from Patch 9.1.5 that didn’t have a ton of new content in it, but really kind of freshened up a lot of existing systems and what people were doing in the middle of the season. So we want to do more of that. We want to actually release somewhat smaller, more frequent patches in between our major tent polls of 10.1, 10.2, etc.

But at the end of the day, it’s a lot of words. We know that proof is in putting in the actual actions and so we don’t want to talk too much about it until we just do it. We have big 2023 plans and you’ll be hearing more about the next small patch coming after, 10.02, in the very near future.


I think there’s been a lot of uplift recently with Dragonflight. I think everybody, at least in the community, we really feel that alongside recent comments about how this is sort of the Third Age of the World of Warcraft and these themes of returning and rebirth and renewal.

And there’s a very meta belief amongst the community that this isn’t just about the players and this isn’t just necessarily the characters in the game, but it’s also the development team is one of the things that we’ve, I think become more acutely aware of in recent years is that there are human beings who make this stuff and that there’s real people involved and like we should care about them and what happens to them in their lives and, you know, really try to support them better. Does does your team also feel this sense of rejuvenation, renewal, uplift and then for yourself, do you also feel that sort of vibe that’s coming in or is this just another day at the Office for Ion?


This is this is definitely not another day at the office or the week at the office. This is an awesome month. This month, it’s been a long time in the making. The team is excited. The team is just full of full of passion and and joy for what we’ve made together. I can’t wait to share it with the world and it’s it’s been a tough couple of years [on] a lot of levels and I think this one really is a labor of love.

I know that phrase has thrown around a lot. This one truly is and I think it was meant to be a breath of fresh air in its conception. It’s just open, joyous about exploration, about going to new lands, positivity and uplifting. All around after the time that we spent in the realm of death, let’s come back to Azeroth as new life comes to the world and it’s gonna be an awesome journey and just, I can’t wait, right? It’s for across the team these days. Something that’s been really fun in the modern era, that we didn’t get as developers in the past, is actually being able to watch everyone playing our game via live streams.

There’s just tons of seeking out, among every artists, quest designers, encounter designers, spending months, years making something and then getting to see people directly, play and engage with and be entertained and react and laugh and get excited by the thing you’ve made. It’s why we all do this. It’s all about just bringing joy to the world and being able to see it directly is just the most rewarding part of it all.


Santa Claus of the West Coast.


I love it. Honestly, it’s not a bad gig. When we do our jobs well, we are bringing people happiness. That’s the gist of it.

We saw the introduction of Fated Raids in Season 4. Do you consider this to have been a success, and can we expect Fated Raids to return in Dragonflight?


I think overall the whole thing was definitely a huge experiment [with] what we were doing with them. The plus season, for example, was also kind of testing the waters for old dungeons in the rotation, knowing that’s where we wanted to go in Dragon Flight, learn some things from getting old dungeons, sorts of changes we might want to make and so that was super helpful there. Overall, I think it was successful. Not without its flaws, but both looking at how people have participated in it and the feedback we’ve gotten from across the community, and just our own personal experiences playing the content. I think it beats another three months of Sepulcher and Season 3, which was the alternative. So in that world, it’s something that I think it’s likely we’re going to return to in some form. I think it makes sense as a short season. It was just kind of an outro or an epilogue to the expansion.

It’s like, “Alright, the stories over the next thing is on the horizon. Let’s just do a little remix and recap greatest hits of what the tier, and what the expansion had to offer. The Fated concept, in particular, was very themed around the Progenitors. I don’t think we probably wouldn’t reuse that exact term or concept or framing for the raids in the future. But some form of this Vault the Incarnates, by the time we get the end of Dragonflight, will be something that you haven’t done this in a while in a relevant way. Wouldn’t it be fun on the way out to just kind of revisit some of these encounters again. For people who didn’t get a chance to progress that tier to experience them for the first time for some relevant rewards. I think it’s something that feels pretty good overall. 

The one big missing piece that we would want to improve upon and change for next time is something for outdoor focused players. I think that [during] Season 4, if you were a Dungeon player, PvP, or Raider, there was a lot for you to sink your teeth into and get some great rewards. If you didn’t do those things? Well, I guess there was a world boss every week that gave something new, but that’s not enough. So I think a Dragonflight final season for us to be really, really happy with it and for it to be successful should offer something equally robust for players who don’t do instance group content.


With the introduction of cross faction raiding are there any plans to make changes to how the Hall of Fame functions?


There are no there are no current plans to make changes to how the Hall of Fame functions. It is a guild list, so you have to be a guild group to get the achievements that will get you into the Hall of Fame.

It is conceivable, if one of the World’s First guilds has eight Alliance members along with their 12 Horde, they could have the community World First, yet not be in the Hall of Fame because they wouldn’t have gotten the guild achievement. But that’s the rules. That’s the structure we have set up. Down the line when – I’m not gonna say if – I think at that point, we would shift to a single just unified faction-agnostic Hall of Fame; because, it will truly not make sense to have that separation anymore.


Can you tell us  a little bit about the process required to take an old dungeon, specifically one that was never designed with mythic plus in mind, and added to the dungeon pool. Additionally, what goes into choosing which old dungeons get brought back?


That’s a great question. I think the answer shifts a little bit like as you get to older expansions. There’s more change required and it gets more complex. I think we’ve kind of unofficially drawn a line at Mist of Pandaria internally, at least for now, in terms of how far back we would go. That’s for two reasons. One, I think pre-Mists, the visual fidelity is just in a very different place. Mist’s stuff still holds up. It’s older but it still holds up. As you start getting back to Cata/Wraith era dungeons or certainly earlier, that just doesn’t fit in with the aesthetic of the modern game. Asking players of Dragonflight to go spend tons of time every week in environments that just feel very dated, isn’t the greatest thing there. The other key piece, is the dungeons simply were designed with different goals in mind.

Mist? Yes, there was not mythic plus in Mist [or] Warlords, but there was challenge mode and those dungeons were designed with the concept of this added difficulty [in] a timed run. In some cases, mechanics were added to the challenge mode versions, or changed for challenge mode to kind of add the level of complexity or skill test that we were looking for. Those can be carried forward into mythic plus. As we’ve seen though looking back to some of the Mist dungeons, we may need to make changes to boss mechanics where needed. Add some mechanics if there were cases where bosses that had a lot of flash to them, but not really a lot of challenge or substance. Temple of the Jade Serpent saw some meaningful changes to Wise Mari at the left side. 

That’s something we’re open to doing, but at the end of the day, when looking at what dungeons we’re gonna pick, we’re thinking both about, nostalgia [and] fan favorites. Which dungeons were seen as successful versus which dungeon wasn’t particularly well loved or popular back then. 

But also overall length. As we look at the pool as a whole, we want there to be some variety there. It’s fine if there’s some five boss dungeons, some three boss dungeons, some that are a bit longer, and some that are a bit shorter. We’re looking at what we have as our existing makeup and what complements that well. But we want to continue to rotate through dungeons from past expansions alongside new ones that we continue to add, and we’ll evolve the structure going forward based on what we learn.


Are there any plans to expand the Mythic+ rewards system, similar to that of PvP, with exclusive transmogs, tabards, and more?


We want to expand cosmetic and utility rewards across the board were possible. That’s something that we want to keep moving towards. I think over the course of Shadowlands, adding things like dungeon teleports. The entire concept of the top 0.1% title for people to vie for as analog to the seasonal gladiator, high-end PvP title that’s existed there or to Hall of Fame.

That’s something we were excited to do. We want there to be a range of unique rewards that when you see someone on that mount, you know they’re a great dungeon player. They’re on that mount. They’re a great raider. That’s what they earned. It’s something we want to keep doing. There’s nothing specific to announce right now, but the goal is to keep evolving those structures. We know that this is where so many people spend their time, and we want to make sure that, once you move into new content and leave gear items behind, the cosmetic rewards that you get — the titles, the transmogs, whatever else — that those last forever.

Hulahoops: One real quick follow up on what Manny asked you: With the changes to the Great Vault loot obtainable via Mythic+, specifically that the highest rewards will now be available at Keystone level +20, are there any concerns about the attainability of these rewards? For example, in Season 1 of Shadowlands only 1.3% of characters that completed a Mythic+ dungeon did so on +20 or higher, increasing to 16.7% in Season 4. Are these loot breakpoints via the Great Vault something that may change over the course of Dragonflight?


Everything is flexible. Everything is subject to change. Obviously, if things are frustrating, [and] we’re getting feedback that something’s not working, it’s all flexible. I guess [the question is] what percentage of Raiders killed mythic Denathrius within that same timeframe? Spoilers: probably not 16%. So some of it is framing and the psychology around rewards can be tricky. 

Even the way you framed your question; it’s, “you have to do” plus 20 to get the best rewards now. Well, “you can get better rewards by pushing past 15” is the way we’re framing it. Before, yes there was a cap. We’re raising the ceiling. A lot of players aren’t going to be able to do 20s. That’s okay. You’re still going to be able to get the rewards you could before maybe some better ones. There’s always the next ladder rung on the ladder that you can reach for – a new challenge and a new tier of rewards. 

The vast majority of people who enter a raid zone, people who can say, “I’m gonna try raidng,” don’t expect that they’re going to beat mythic Raszageth at the end of Vault to the Incarnates this season; and yet, they have a satisfying progression and reward experience along the way. Most people who queue up for arena don’t expect to get the gladiator title, but they have a satisfying progression and experience along the way at all the different tiers appropriate to their skill levels. 

I think what we’ve seen with mythic plus is because of the difficulty tuning (and also the relatively low ceiling on the rewards in the past,) there was this increasing expectation of, “Like yeah, of course I do 15s as this new season starts. What what key do I have to do to maximize my reward?” It’s not a question of if that’s attainable? It was just what do I have to do to get the thing, with reaching the ceiling being a foregone conclusion. That’s a mix of the ceiling being a bit too low and some things along the way, maybe being more rewarding than the other parallel systems were. And so [with] this change and there will be people who are accustomed to maxing out their vault, who will no longer be able to. I understand that’s going to be frustrating. [I] understand we’re going to get some feedback around that that. It feels bad, but if people look at the actual rewards they’re getting compared to what they used to be getting and remain mindful that, there are now goals for them to strive for.

I think this will be a healthier overall ecosystem for the world of Warcraft Endgame and some of this touches on the stuff we talked a bit earlier in response to one of the prior questions about the pressures on Raiders and what dungeon loot does to other portions of the game where it overshadows the rewards and the progression experience that they’re offering. We’re trying to just kind of set up an equilibrium here that can work well for everyone. But, as always, it’s subject to change, subject iteration. If we’re off the mark here, will adjust it. 

One last quick point would be the stats that you have on people who were doing 20s. In Season 1 of Shadowlands, there was no reason to do 20s and there weren’t even dungeon teleports at that time. The only reason to push that high was if you were just trying to climb the Raider.IO leaderboards and you wanted to be able to say, “I am one of the best groups on my server, one of the best groups in my region.” You were just doing that purely for fun. I think with more motivation to push past 15s, we’ll see a lot more people have success at those levels.


Warcraft is live game and so while everything is always up for change, in the past there’s been a hesitancy to make changes. What’s the principle that you use to determine when to address or improve parts of the game and has the team’s philosophy changed about this? Are you still waiting between big patches or between expansions to make changes?


The answer is it depends tremendously on the sort of change we’re talking about. If there’s a bug that we that we learn about, we’ll often want to fix it right away. If it’s [something] that’s frustrating people’s experience, let’s figure out why it’s happening, let’s get it fixed tomorrow. Class balance is an area that I think we want to take a more active hand in, for example, we understand that it feels like if the community perception is that a given spec is not viable in a certain area of content that has an immediate negative impact on a ton of players, not just to like maybe just personally feel bummed that they watched a video and their spec was listed in the D tier of someone’s personal rankings, but that they applied for a bunch of groups and got declined from all of them because, “Sorry, your specs bad.”

We’re not doing our community good service if we let that situation persist for too long. There’s always gonna be someone who is perceived as the best and the worst, but our job is to keep things dynamic, things shifting, address those issues as they emerge and hopefully help reassure folks that if it seems like you’re perceived to be on the bottom right now, don’t worry, we’re watching that too and we’re gonna do something about it. No King rules forever, but also no one should be at the bottom forever.

Other changes when it comes to bigger systemic things, such as philosophical shifts, those take more conversation and sometimes, in some cases, they just take longer to implement. Something like cross faction guilds, we’ve been getting feedback and requests about since cross faction play went in a few months ago. It’s just a large undertaking because there are underpinnings of our guild system that we’re never ever designed around the idea of people of different factions ever coexisting in the same guild. There’s just some things to unravel there. It’s not something we can just push a button and make happen.

Some of the biggest changes that happened really have paved the way for Dragonflight itself. Going back to last fall, as we’re working on patch 9.1.5, coming out of the summer, and going into into that cycle; there [was] a lot of unrest in the community – a lot of justifiable unhappiness around the direction of the game and around the perception that, in ways, we weren’t always respecting players time as much as we should. People weren’t able to play and enjoy the parts of the game that they loved the most; because it felt like we were asking them to do things, they enjoyed less all the time, getting in the way.

Things like all friendliness that led to a lot of just extensive philosophical discussion and re-examination of some of the underlying pillars of World of Warcraft that have been the case going back to 2004. In some cases, our old bosses and predecessors instilled in us as these things are important to preserve people’s investment in their characters. And you know, these elements of friction may be important because they make decisions, weighty and meaningful and give the world as a whole impact.But we have to ask like are these really still true? Are these serving our players well in 2021, 2022, beyond? That led to a ton of shifts that we began to see in 9.1.5, that Zerith Mortis and Eterneties End were built with those principles in mind, but Dragonflight truly is the first expansion built from the ground up with ideals like promoting more stuff that’s account wide and alt friendliness and really just saying formally, “you know what, it’s okay if you ignore large chunks of the game.” We’re not gonna make you do these things, we’re gonna lay them out there for you, make them as appealing as we can and trust you to find your own path and to find your fun.

Um and if that means that you ignore this chunk of content, that a portion of our team spent a lot of time crafting, you know what, that’s fine. It’s not in anyone’s interest to make you do something that you’re not enjoying every day or every week. Now, of course, if no one is enjoying the thing that we spend time crafting well then why are we doing it? Let’s learn from that. Let’s do something else with our time in the future that’s going to better serve the player base.

That’s the large shift and that wasn’t like fixing a bug or implementing a feature. That was the product of dozens of hours of deliberation and discussion among the team, among leadership, among all of the designers, and developers who work on it, and then infusing those philosophies into all the decisions we make. 

That story is not over. The years ahead will chart hopefully a new direction that is more empowering for players, offers players more freedom, more agency than ever before.


Some of these changes, much like Cross-faction you have to do in parts like you want to do [cross-faction] guilds, but that requires something but you gave us cross factions at the end of the last expansion with some of the things that you want to get to. If you wanted to do something to further support guilds or communities that haven’t seen support in awhile would you be open to doing some of the changes that you can implement now, rather than waiting for it to be a big large roll out later?


Absolutely. I think in almost all cases, it’s better that we don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If we can make things better for players, but not all the way, let’s do that now rather than wait until we can do the full measure. The only exception I think are are things that conceptually require all or nothing overhaul like the talent system is something we’ve wanted to improve and change for years now. I think we had come to the conclusion probably four years ago that really the Mist style talents weren’t serving the long term game as well as it could. That’s not a thing where we can do a part measure, and every single spec needs a new talent tree. What system? How do we get this done? 

Our user interface revamp recently? There’s a lot more to do there and we see that as a foundation that we want to build on. We focused on the hub the things around your screen all the time, but there’s plenty more customization to offer Edit Mode, but also drilling a layer deeper. We have ongoing improvements we want to make to things like your quest log and spell book and so forth. We wanted to again get as much of the change in player’s hands right away. Give them a better up front look –  give them more flexibility while committing to continuing until the job is done in the months and years to come.


What a success is for the new talent system?


That’s a good question. It’s mostly subjective feedback because I think it’s tricky. Often, you can look at the raw stats of how many people do something when it comes to content. People are telling us the other pieces but how often are they returning to this content and that can help gauge its overall success? Well, the talent system is something that’s forced upon you whether you like it or not. So we can’t look at that. We’ll certainly be looking at how many people are using different builds and load outs; and how they’re switching among them to understand how what percentage of players are really like going deep into the system.


I think we can probably infer from that it’s working for them and that they’re enjoying the customization of flexibility and the depth that it has. Ultimately, it’s really going to be the product of just subjective feedback. We certainly will be looking at individual talents. That’s something that’s aside from the framework as a whole and the rules of how the system works. This is a starting point. We’re going to continue to iterate on all 38 of these spec trees and on all of these class trees. We’re gonna look as we get ahead into the later dragonflight patches and see which of the talents that are very, very unpopular, that almost no one is taking. Let’s change something about them; let’s replace them. If there are talents that are so dominant that they stifle choice in the tree, let’s do something about that too. So in that sense there is data that can guide us there, but so far it’s been really encouraging.


It was a scary change to make. It’s the underpinnings of the game. Every single person – like it or not – was in a log in to a completely transformed class spec experience. That’s also part of why we put in sort of the backstop of the default load out the starter build people who didn’t want to necessarily grapple with the complexity of it up front or even ever. They could just say, “you know what? This isn’t the part of the game that I enjoy. I don’t like tinkering and maxing. I just don’t wanna have to relearn how to play my spec. Just give me something that works and I’ll ignore it.” and that’s there for you.


But the flip side is, you know, hearing from people who are making different builds and load outs for different bosses for dungeons versus raids or just leveling new characters for the first time and feeling a deeper connection to their class and spec as they spend each individual point as they level, like those are all tremendously encouraging and heartening given our goals with this effort.


Speaking of Talents, I promised myself I would always ask you this question if I got the chance and that is: In the age of increased customization, if warriors could get a Headbutt as an alternate interrupt, it would be fantastic. Just the crown of the head, just right across the bridge of the nose. Let me tell you, it’ll mess up a spell caster every time.


I will pass that glyph suggestion along. That would be quite the pummel glyph.


Any chance that we’ll see one handed weapons being freed up to be able to use for 2 handed weapon transmog?


Not anytime soon.


Is there anything about dragon flight that you personally feel most proud of? What is going either unnoticed or under reported and you feel deserve more deserves more attention?


Honestly, I’m sorry this is kind of a cop out answer. Not really, y’all are really good at turning over stones and examining every nook and cranny of the stuff we build. I will say that there is an unprecedented amount of encrypted narrative content in this expansion that no one has ever seen and that is going to blow some minds in the weeks to come.

There are multiple endgame narrative chapters. There are multiple endgame campaigns that are available at level 70, that just were not available on beta. We have dozens of cut scenes that you’ll be seeing. Look forward to all of that.


What’s one thing that you wish the players understood about the development process of World of Warcraft?


Honestly, like the the most inaccurate thing that I see sad at times the most hurtful is that we don’t care, that we’re lazy, that sometimes we’re whatever. This entire team cares passionately and we are deeply rewarded by the joy of our players. We want to make everyone happy. If we’re unable to act on feedback, often it’s because we’re balancing the concerns and requests of very, very diverse player base with different goals, different motivations and often directly conflicting desires.

Where doing the thing that Person A requests would make the game worse for Person B and vice versa because they play the game in different ways and want to experience the game in different ways and that feedback is super valid. People should absolutely advocate for their personal play style. If you are someone who likes running dungeons and doesn’t have time for raiding; you should advocate and are justified in doing so that we might cater to your play style that we transform the game in ways that elevate the things that you like over the things that you don’t like. But also recognize there are counterparts and there are counterpoints and people who are advocating for and asking for the exact same things from other directions.

And so we’re trying to balance all of that. Sometimes it’s impossible to do both. Sometimes we just make mistakes. Understand that the mistakes are always coming from a place of positive intentions and wanting to maximize the happiness – maximize the quality of everyone’s time they spend in World of Warcraft. If we get it wrong, please be patient, let us know and we will do our best to fix it. But it’s it all comes from a place of earnest, good intent. 

Thank you. Thank you all for the wonderful questions. Take care, Bye bye.

Wrap up

Thank you for checking out this interview with Ion Hazzikostas! Remember, be sure to check out our upcoming episodes of For Azeroth! and Unshackled Fury to hear more from Manny and Berzerker about this interview.