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Michael Bitton: Blizzard’s Moving On to Smaller and Better Things

By Michael Bitton on November 12, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Blizzard’s Moving On to Smaller and Better Things

Blizzard started out creating small games with small teams, but the studio and its projects have grown incredibly in the years since Blizzard worked on titles such as The Lost Vikings and Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

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We eventually got staple PC franchises such as Diablo and StarCraft to go along with Warcraft and things got really crazy after Blizzard struck gold with World of Warcraft in 2004. Despite success in developing Diablo titles as well as StarCraft and Warcraft RTS games, the studio is primarily known for the wild success of its MMO over the past decade. World of Warcraft has reigned as the undisputed king of the MMO genre and gamers have been waiting for years to find out if lightning could strike twice for Blizzard with a new MMO project.

That project, known only as ‘Titan’ to those outside the company, was in development for seven years and there were many rumors of its struggle along the way.  It all came to a head last year when Blizzard announced that it would be overhauling the entire project. Roughly a year and a half later, Blizzard announced it was canceling Titan altogether.

Launching a successful MMO is a herculean undertaking and for every title that comes out there are countless others that never see the light of day. The genre has been struggling for the better part of a decade now and if you couple that reality with the expense of producing these titles, it can make the notion of putting out a new MMO pretty daunting. With that in mind, I’m not surprised that Blizzard appears to be shifting its MMO focus to keeping the crown firmly in place.

News of WoW subscription drops have been far more frequent than Blizzard would probably like and I’m sure much of it can be attributed to the dearth of new content coming to the game. WoW will have gone over a year between content patches when Warlords of Draenor drops later this week. Coming off the launch, Blizzard recently unveiled hopes to have the next expansion out by the end of next year and ensure that there are smaller gaps between content patches for WoW going forward.

I feel this doubling of efforts towards World of Warcraft is all you’re going to see on the MMO front for the foreseeable future. So, what now? What does it all mean for Blizzard? Well, it seems to me that the studio is looking to move on to smaller and better things.

The first hint of this came with the announcement of the Warcraft digital TCG, Hearthstone. In 2008, Blizzard assembled ‘Team 5’, an internal team of 15 developers whose goal was to develop smaller titles dissimilar to the types of games the studio would typically create, but with the same level of quality that Blizzard is known for, all without the huge team and crazy long development cycles. We all know how that experiment turned out. Hearthstone has been a wild success for Blizzard both in terms of its appeal to casual players and as an eSport.

Following Hearthstone, Blizzard came out with yet another project in Heroes of the Storm, the studio’s first official foray into the MOBA genre. Formerly known as Blizzard DOTA and then Blizzard All-Stars, Heroes of the Storm is still in alpha, but already has a burgeoning eSports scene growing around it. We don’t know how it will all shake out in the end, but things are looking pretty good so far.

If it wasn’t obvious yet that Blizzard is shifting gears as a studio, I feel the BlizzCon 2014 announcement of the Team Fortress 2-like shooter Overwatch makes things crystal clear. Blizzard’s never even made a shooter before and like the two aforementioned projects, Overwatch is yet another smaller, tighter project.

Instead of focusing on massive, lumbering MMO projects like the aptly named Titan, Blizzard seems to be rediscovering itself as a developer. The studio has been more open in recent years, candid about its mistakes and earnest in its desire to do things right by fans, and on top of it all, the creative juices appear to be flowing.  I’m not sure what it is that seems to have reinvigorated Blizzard, but I’m really digging the new look. For some, it may be a huge disappointment that Blizzard isn’t chasing the MMO unicorn once again, but with three projects announced or released in as many years, fans of Blizzard have a diverse array of games to enjoy and look forward to. It’s a good time to be a Blizzard fan.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

 
Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site''s Community Manager.