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The Free Zone: Blizzard's Titanic Question

By Richard Aihoshi on September 30, 2014 | Columns | Comments

Blizzard's Titanic Question

Last week, Blizzard revealed it had cancelled Project Titan, which can now lay claim to a couple of rather dubious honors. It's certainly the most eagerly and widely awaited MMOG to be killed off before we actually knew what it was, and it may also hold the record for being in the works longer than any endeavor that was never announced. In any case, its demise raises an enormous question. What will the company do instead?

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Frankly, the news was unsurprising. We learned a little over a year ago that Titan had been sent back to the drawing board, this after being worked on for at least six years. At that time, we were also told it would not be a subscription MMORPG. Let's make the seemingly reasonable assumption that it was originally intended to be one. How probable was it that adapting the same concept, which obviously had major issues, so as to morph it into some other category, would allow Blizzard to produce a game worthy of its high standards?

Why not immediately start over from scratch with a fresh idea? To some extent, I can understand wanting to take some time to see if Titan were somehow salvageable. However, I have to wonder why it took six years to realize the original concept wouldn't work. And should trying to revamp it have required a further 13 months? I suspect it was known for quite a while that cancelling the project was possible, even probable. Even taking into account Blizzard's well-established propensity to move at its own measured pace, both decisions seem to have been made very slowly.

Turning to what's ahead, it seems likely that the studio still intend to make another MMOG of some sort. Yes, World of Warcraft is still a huge cash cow, which isn't suddenly going to change. However, its revenues have been eroding for a while now, and there's little reason to think this trend will reverse itself. So, without bringing a second entry to the genre, Blizzard is looking at getting less and less money from a market that continues to grow. Suffice it to say I believe it has a different long-term business plan.

I'd be surprised if there the company doesn't have a new MMOG concept in the early stages of development, if not more. In light of what we were told about Titan last August, I tend to think it isn't for a subscription MMORPG. If not, then what is it? Two pretty obvious possibilities are WoW II and Diablo Online that aren't (a) subscription, (b) MMORPG, or (c) either. Another is Starcraft Online. With such solid options readily available, it's hard to envisage going in any other direction.

There's also the potentially troubling matter of how quickly Blizzard can bring a new MMOG to market. We know Titan was at least six years old when it was reset, and can safely assume it was nowhere near ready to launch. No matter what the presumed Project X turns out to be, how realistic is it to think the studio can develop and release it in less than five years? My money would have to go on the over.

This brings up another issue. The new game needs to be designed for the MMOG market that will exist in 2019 and later, not the current one. How and how much will it have evolved by then? In this regard, let's not forget that Activision Blizzard, being a business, has to think about global revenue, not just the portion from North America and western Europe. Another possible factor is that Tencent, in addition to being a major stakeholder in the company, is also the world's top publisher in the free to play sector, which is already larger than subscription now and rates to be even more so half a decade from now.

Since I'm well into the realm of pure speculation, I might as well guess what Project X will be (or already is). I'll go with a design that incorporates perpetual elements such as characters and gear within a mostly instanced world. This doesn't eliminate any of the aforementioned IPs, but my gut feel tells me Diablo Online is the best fit, albeit not by a huge margin. Admittedly, my choice here might be influenced by the fact it's the one I'd most like to play.

As for business model, I don't see giving the game away for free, at least not in those western markets where doing so would mean foregoing the revenue from millions of box sales. However, when I consider the growing importance of China et al, I suspect Blizzard “knows” that by 2019, it will be leaving substantial amounts of money on the table if it doesn't at least take some steps toward F2P. So, my guess is that Project X will be designed accordingly. 

Closing queries

  • How likely is it that Blizzard isn't planning to make another MMOG? 
  • Will it be WoW II, Diablo Online, Starcraft Online or something else? What kind of MMOG will it be? What would you like it to be?
  • How soon can Blizzard develop and launch another MMOG?

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