Luckily, the MMO is not as dead as Blizzard’s Project Titan. It seems like it can’t be true, right? After seven years of development, reassessing, and waiting… Blizzard is officially canceling Project Titan. As they did with Warcraft Adventures and Starcraft: Ghost, it seems the legendary studio just didn’t see the merit in making Titan a reality… at least right now. Polygon broke the story today, and I think I can speak for many when I say it made me really sad.
Say what you will about World of Warcraft, it was a landmark achievement in the MMO industry, and I was anxious as could be to see what Titan would be all about. I’m hoping against hope that we’ll still see the ideas at work behind Titan’s IP in a new game, but according to the Polygon story linked above it seems that even Blizzard realizes you can make insanely profitable and popular online games without spending $50 million dollars and then some on development. In fact, I’d be really surprised if we didn’t at least hear about some new game from Blizzard at BlizzCon this November.
But whatever comes next from Blizzard, be it simply more expansions to existing titles or a brand new IP, we can probably take bets that its development will be cheaper and more streamlined that any broad-ranging MMORPG. Maybe we can point fingers at the recent woes of WildStar or ESO for Blizzard straying from a new MMO, but then we could just as easily point at something like Guild Wars 2’s millions of sales and say there’s a reason to go further than ArenaNet.
Hell, who wouldn’t buy a World of Warcraft 2: Electric Boogaloo in a few years’ time?
Does this spell some sort of doom for the MMO? No. Not by a long shot. If anything, it’s a bit relieving. The MMORPG is constantly evolving, and finding new identity in different ways of presentation, but I think it’s safe to say that the era of major big-budget expenditures from AAA studios is nearing an end. Ryan Dancey of Pathfinder Online said it on our panel at PAX East: WildStar may very well be the last AAA themepark MMO for a long while. If ever, at least in terms of the traditional MMORPG.
The future of the MMO is twofold, in my book. On one hand, we’re going to continue to see smaller, more intimate MMOs, often times made by smaller teams, catering to niche audiences. On the other hand, we’re going to see AAA studios gravitate towards the “quasi-MMO” such as Destiny, The Division, The Crew, and others. These always online worlds won’t necessarily need the subscriptions or the sheer amount of content that goes into an open massive world like Azeroth… but they will need the production values and multi-platform userbase to be successful.
Blizzard’s backing away from Titan, with the knowledge that an MMORPG follow-up to the biggest game in the genre must be even bigger, signals to me that even one of the world’s most successful studios knows that simply spending a lot of money does not guarantee success. Hearthstone is a small scale game, and yet it’s reached over 20 million gamers. Imagine what a finite open-world RPG set in the Warcraft lore could do. They’ll never make a Dark Souls style game, but what if they made a title where you played a young Thrall through the events leading up the RTS games? Wouldn’t you play that?
Traditionally full-features MMORPGs, with the crafting, questing, levels, and need for constant content additions are impossibly hard things to make. Meanwhile Mojang studios made a quasi-MMO with the production values of a rock and just sold itself to Microsoft for 2 billion dollars. It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall in this case: smaller more agile game development is the trend. And Blizzard already spent way too long on Titan to be sure that it would work in today’s market.
Whatever the next project is from the house that WoW built, it’s going to be a smaller game than WoW… but I’m willing to bet it will still have millions of fans. Now if we could just get a Warcraft 4.