Going back just a few years ago, it seemed as though developers were falling over themselves to produce sequels and introduce new IPs. In the space of a decade, Funcom released Anarchy Online, Age of Conan, The Secret World, and a bounty of expansions to boot. In the same period, we have seen over 30 EverQuest related products, including two original games and a console crossover. And yet in a similar period, Blizzard have been particularly quiet.
While we have had Burning Crusades and a Kung Fu Panda or two, in terms of MMORPG legacy, World of Warcraft has sustained the greatest dynasty of any game, and yet achieved this relatively modestly. While most MMOs reach upwards of 10 expansions, Blizzard's adventure has a measly 4, and yet it still commands a medium sized country of fans.
When speaking to friends and comrades in the past, I have often waxed lyrical about WoW's success and the varied reasons. Blizzard, love or loathe them, are masters of design and seem to infinitely have their finger on the pulse of what customers want. If nothing else, Azeroth and its varied charms were the perfect essay and meditation on exactly how to produce a MMORPG.
Like EverQuest before it, WoW balances linear gameplay with just enough freedom to make you feel as though the world around is physical. The journey feels less like a series of destinations and hubs and instead like an adventure into your favourite fantasy realm.
And unlike the MMOs that came before, Blizzard also knew when to iterate and refine. The usual trajectory of online games follows a much short life-span in terms of high flying success. The subscription numbers, albeit now slowly declining, hit a prolonged period of peak that outweighed even its most illustrious of competition.
I remember when Cataclysm released and explaining to anyone who cared how intelligent Blizzard was. Friends of mine that hadn't experienced any other online adventure simply yawned as I explained how the developer had managed to swerve that age old concern of "the world getting further and further apart, with newbies and veterans aeons away in terms of game time". Instead Cataclysm managed to reproduce the world, negate the feeling of being static, while also giving good reason for people to restart, and not placing down another landmass somewhere off on a distant moon.
But even the most intelligent and considered design will only last for any length of time, and it seems clear to most that WoW is now a fleeting product. While it is still popular, it seems like the decline is beginning to set in, and the world inevitably shutting down slowly, inch by inch.
Perhaps it speaks of the developer/publishers clout within Activision Blizzard that it has never been forced to pump out the obligatory sequel almost a decade since WoW's launch. EverQuest managed to pump out a successor in half that time, and recently the news surfaced that Titan had essentially been pushed back far past the horizon and into the realms of the future.
Since its veiled, slight-announcement, there has been a sort of quiet excitement about Titan. It represents a new bite at the apple for a studio that has infinite amounts of MMO experience, and also a chance for those Blizzard naysayers to point and laugh at an underwhelming sequel and chant "told you so".
The problem is, we don't really know anything about Titan, other than that it has been in development for a number of years, and apparently scrapped and restarted a number of times.
Now not being a developer, I couldn't say that this is par for the course, but it does perhaps represent an uncertainty within Blizzard as they attempt their, so to speak, difficult second album. There is a tendency to release an below-standard or polarising MMO sequel and watch as the subscribers battle between products, ultimately allowing neither to reach their true potential.
So are Blizzard actually waiting for the revenue of their flagship product to falter? Is Titan being allowed sufficient time so as it might not be a competitor to their existing software? It's food for thought.
But more than anything, it seems interesting that Blizzard are taking time and almost second guessing themselves. If they have scrapped work on one build, it shows a sense of either brilliant quality control, or something of an crisis in facing up to their past creation: and doesn't seem nice that even a development goliath like Blizzard can get the pre-match jitters?
It also makes you wonder what Blizzard have actually got in mind for their new game. The smart money would say a new IP as both Diablo and StarCraft have seen strong showings in new instalments, but I wouldn't say that the game would be all that WoW inspired. Call me a dreamer but I think it wouldn't be out of the realms of possibility for Blizzard to take this one to the realms of EVE Online.
If World of Warcraft is their linear themepark, then their next online product would only seem natural to be something different: ultimately allowing for the eventual WoW sequel. Like EverQuest Next, the idea that we might return from the realm of quest hubs and laborious copy and paste design seems interesting but also just the sort of move we could expect from Blizzard.
Of course this is all conjecture, and whenever news of Titan emerges, everyone holds baited breath and hopes for gory details, but for now all we can do is dream.
What do you imagine Blizzard have in mind? What are you wanting from Titan? Is WoW a spent force? Let me know in the comments below.
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