Boubouille over at MMO-Champion on Tuesday broke the news that Blizzard had, just a few days ago, applied for a trademark for the name Mists of Pandaria, and that the coding for the application gave the indication it was for a video game, not a book or anything like that. This has led to much speculation, interest, excitement and intrigue across the WoW community. I wanted to spend a bit of time here before I leave town for a few days talking about my thoughts both ways on the name, and the allusion that this may be the next expansion to World of Warcraft, expected to be announced at Blizzcon this October.
First, let’s give you some back ground. Pandaria, home of the Pandaren, began it’s Warcraft life as a April Fool’s joke put on the Warcraft website as the ‘5th race’ for Warcraft 3 by renowned Blizzard artist Samwise Didier. The genesis, Samwise has since told, was that he has a habit of putting random panda images in his work for his kids. Since then Pandaren have been included in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne as a neutral mob, and references to the Pandaren Chen Stormstout have been found around the World of Warcraft since vanilla, when Horde players found Chen’s Lost Keg.
Since the original April Fool’s announcement of the Pandaren being the fifth class for Warcraft 3, a not insignificant amount of lore has been created via the information in The Frozen Throne expansion to WC3, to the RPG books, and so on. Given this, we still know very little about the Pandarens and Pandaria as compared to any other race currently in the game. We have no information on the current location of Pandaria, We know nothing about it’s current leadership, nor it’s current population numbers. There will definitely be a lot of ‘filling in the blanks’ so to speak if this is, in fact, the next World of Warcraft Expansion.
The Red Herring
Blizzard is made up of very smart people, though not without their mistakes. The Goblin and Worgen races were mistakenly leaked out in a Hallow’s End patch file that was datamined just before the Blizzcon 2009 announcement. Boubouille published a massive leak of nearly the full announcement details of Cataclysm two months before the official Blizzcon announcement. Wrath had major alpha testing phase leaks, which we here at All Things Azeroth covered via an interview with members of the Wrath Alpha wiki site.
Without a doubt, Blizzard is not immune to their plans being leaked out so far ahead of time. I think, though, that Blizzard had to know that in this, the last couple months before Blizzcon, the news sites would be watching like a hawk for any hints to report on for the elusive next expansion, the official name of Titan, and the upcoming expected beta and release of Diablo 3. I think it is quite possible Blizzard may have filed this paperwork with the knowledge it would be found and reported on, and knowing this I think it is entirely possible that they filed this to mislead the hawks in their attempts to get early info on the next expansion.
Blizzard is well known for their huge push for secrecy, often using lawyers as in the aforementioned alpha wiki site which got shut down for a short time over DMCA filings by Blizzard. While it can surely take some time to get a trademark application through the Patent and Trademark office, I am sure if they filed it a few days before the announcement, someone couldn’t then put an application in and be approved before them. I doubt even putting the application in this early will get the application cleared and approved before Blizzcon, not with a multi year wait as recentyl reported.
My last point, and I think it is both the best point, and the most unstable of all, is that Blizzard has repeatedly said that they have no plan on implementing the Pandaren more than they currently are. The reason this is the best? Because Blizzard knows best. The reason for it being unstable in a reason is two fold. First, Blizzard still says the Dance studios are coming, even though most players have given up on it. Two, Blizzard has said many times that they aren’t planning on doing something that must have been in development at the time it was said. Blizzard will bend the truth or twist their words to mislead the community until the point when they make an official announcement.
The Real Deal
Now that I have ended that Red Herring section on such a wishy-washy note, let’s get to the reasons and theories on why this might be the real thing. First, if I was blizzard and trying to misdirect, I would definitely be filling several applications, only one of which is the real one. It would really suck for Blizzard if some random jerk got wind of the name and trademarked it before they had the chance, all because they wanted to avoid a leak. No, I think they would be more likely to file 4 or 5 revolving around different potential ideas, and one of them being the real one.
My next bit of thinking on this is that overall, since the original AFD prank, Blizzard has acknowledged that the overwhelming response to the idea of Pandaren has been positive, and players have been in many cases strongly wanting Pandaren in game, if not as a playable race, at least a neutral faction. The theory that some have suggested is that this would bring in a new class, Monk, which the Pandaren would be training other races in, so that we wouldn’t need Pandaren playable, as we only just got 2 new races in Cataclysm, but we would be able to interact with them.
They wouldn’t need to be playable, just a new neutral faction, maybe with a bit of Goblin or other races thrown in, with some NPCs, a town or two, maybe even the capital of the Pandaren society will be revealed. The expansion could itself revolve around Pandaria, or it could be a central location with breadcrumbs for Alliance going through a newly reconnected Kul’Tiras and for the horde it could go through the original home of the Darkspear trolls, the Broken Isles, as Vul’Jin continues in his effort to find a more solid foundation for the Darkspear tribe.
We could see the aftermath of the Cataclysm on the Isle of Kezan, which has opened up to reveal Undermine, the true capital of the goblin race. We could see the Tomb of Sargeras as perhaps a dungeon or raid. There are many lost or forgotten islands for the players to discover. It could be the truly oceanic expansion for WoW that people were hoping we would get with Cataclysm. Instead of just the Maelstrom, Vashj’ir, and Tol Barad, we could have a fully opened up ocean map, with many islands, each a zone to level through, to explore, the final of which could be Pandaria, as our Pandaren quest givers on each island bread crumb us toward the final zone.
The next, and last major point, is that with the overall dismal reception that WoW: Cataclysm got with many players in the face of Rift and the impending Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic MMO release, Blizzard needs a big, exciting, and popular release. the long desired Pandaren will quite potentially give them that. It could well bring some of those many players who got to 85 and then left the game out of boredom back into WoW, to level through this exciting new content that literally no one has seen before. The new, the unknown, the undiscovered country could win back the fans of old.
Without a doubt, there are many ways you could imagine ‘Mists of Pandaria’ working out, hell Matt Rossi from WoW Insider even tweeted out a list of 6 ideas he had around such an expansion! I am sure a lot of players are very excited about this possibility. Some want to play a Pandaren in some wacky quasi-anime idea of playing a talking, walking, panda bear, and I am sure even more would just like to explore this idea that has been on the edges of lore since the development of Warcraft 3. There would definitely be a significant positive elevation in the eyes of many players for this idea and the potentially uncovered next expansion. There are those who, on the other hand, will be very unhappy as they are in no way interested in this idea of exploring the land of the Pandaren.
What is my conclusion? In one answer: Maybe. I will not say it is not going to happen, simply because Blizz has said before that they would not do something that they ended up doing not so far in the future. Nothing is off limits. Azeroth flying was once scoffed at as too time intensive and that it would take too long. Cataclysm brought it to the game. Pandaren have been scoffed at as never gonna happen. Well, they could be the next Azerothian flight. In the end, we will need a lot more corroboration to say with any certainty. Boubouille felt confident enough to say “It appears incredibly likely based on previous trademarks obtained by Blizzard that this is the next expansion.” That is a pretty confident statement from someone who has done a very good job figuring out Blizzard’s next move.