Posted in General

Scrap the Titan, Blizzard!

260px-Titan2005The big news of the day (or yesterday) is that Blizzard has apparently decided that its quite-secretive Titan project needed to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.  Or something.  Since the studio is barely saying anything about this project, we’re left with a lot of rumors and dubious reports to give us a sketchy idea of this black bag MMO.  The only thing that Blizzard said is that it needed to overhaul the technology or adapt like the Borg or… something.  I kind of get a Duke Nukem Forever vibe here — how many times did that team restart the game from scratch due to a new engine?

Anyway, here’s my completely unwanted and unheard advice to Blizzard: You should completely scrap Titan.  Like, burn that puppy to the ground, move on, and don’t look back.  It will not end well for you if you proceed.

Wow, that does not  sound like the game-happy, usually positive Syp, now does it?  No it does not.  But the more I think about it, the more I see so many ways this could go wrong and only a couple where it could go right.  TLDR: It’s a massive risk for the studio and players will be expecting the devs to strike lightning twice.

If anyone could do that, it would be Blizzard, right?  The studio is well-known for several attributes: It develops at a glacial pace, it puts a huge emphasis on polish and iteration, it has no compunctions against pulling the plug on products that it sees as sub-standard (Starcraft Ghost and Warcraft Adventures), and it does not like to take risks at all.

But that’s what Titan is: It’s a huge risk, especially if the studio is creating a new IP for it (I’ve heard conflicting reports on whether it is or not).  It doesn’t just carry the standard risk that all MMOs have, even from established and experienced game studios, but it has additional risk due to the overwhelming expectations that Blizzard’s legions of fans will have for it.

In a way, I have sympathy for Blizzard because World of Warcraft’s monumental success also became the studio’s biggest obstacle to developing a new MMO.  Everyone will be comparing the two, even if they are light years apart in similarity, and everyone will be expecting a monster, 10+ million player hit on day one.  What we tend to forget is that WoW launched at this golden sweet spot for  a potential hit of an MMO, not to mention the fact that it took some time to swell up in subscriber size (in other words, it wasn’t at 10 million subscribers at the end of the first month).

Blizzard cares deeply about its reputation and position as an industry leader.  That’s another obstacle, because any stumble, no matter how small, will be taken and used as a weapon against it by capricious gamers.  For example, while Diablo III has sold quite well and boasts a healthy population of players, the error 37 and auction house debacles have damaged the game’s reputation while slapping some egg on the face of the studio.  Blizzard has had to learn humility over the past couple of years, and it is odd and unnerving to see this formerly arrogant company stuttering out apologies.

This brings me back to Titan.  Maybe it will be a wonderfully polished product that will gain a huge day one advantage due to Blizzard’s built-in fanbase.  But it will also be compared mercilessly to World of Warcraft by fans who will want it to be a successor and provide that new-car feeling all over again, it will be mercilessly examined for weaknesses, and it will find that it’s dwelling with the rest of MMOs instead of  automatically being at the top of the pack.

I don’t know if Blizzard can handle that.  I totally would not blame the studio for feeling like it was a deer stuck in headlights, doubting and rethinking its every move.  Maybe this delay is just to buy the company some time to see how the competition launches and figure out if their product can top what’s coming from Bethesda, Carbine, and the rest.  But if I was in charge, I’d say scrap the project and focus elsewhere.  Making a full-fledged MMO right now is painting a huge target on their forehead and sets the studio up for a showdown that will only have one of two outcomes: Either it will miraculously be a huge, polished success, or it will be devoured by the wrath of gamers who have been waiting to pounce on the big dog for some time now.

12 thoughts on “Scrap the Titan, Blizzard!

  1. I think they’re already taking a huge risk by announcing that they’re restarting the project essentially from scratch. WoW is already ridiculously dated (note: I don’t mean ZOMG IT’S DYING), but looking at it from a standpoint of it’s nine years old. They need to get something new onto the marketplace sooner rather than later, before WoW craps out and they’re left in the dust by other MMO’s. Being several years into development and going “Nope, we don’t like it, start over” is a HUGE risk, and there’s no way other companies like BioWare and Trion are going to rest on their laurels.

    They just got handed an opportunity by Blizzard, and Blizz is gambling that their reputation will hold them through until they get Titan right.

  2. Yeah this does sort of seem like a giant “IN B 4” post in some ways. Blizzard almost has to make another MMO. If they truly believe in themselves and their skills, they will have to release Titan in some form or another at some point. Otherwise WoW will be seen as a product of the happenstance rather than the skill of the studio, and I’m not sure Blizzard will concede that without a fight.

  3. I don’t know where everyone’s so doom and gloom about this. Starting over at least once in the development process is pretty much standard procedure from Blizzard, to the point where it’s barely even news as far as I’m concerned. Many, if not most, of their games have been rebooted at some point along the development process.

    No matter what you think of the quality of their games, everything Blizzard’s done from the mid-90s up to and including the modern day has been an unmitigated financial success, so I can’t imagine Titan being any different. It may not be the ludicrous runaway hit WoW was, but I’d be shocked if it didn’t make itself a tidy profit.

    Personally, I don’t really care about Titan one or way another. I’ve already got plenty of MMOs and Blizzard games in my life, and I don’t really need anymore of either. My only interest in Titan at this point is an academic one based on my profession as a journalist. But I really don’t get why all the doom-sayers are coming out of the woodwork over this.

  4. Didn’t SoE do exactly the same with EQ Next, i.e scrap years of development to start from scratch. I suspect SoE’s motivations were the same, they were trying to compete with aging MMOs in a changing and crowded environment, hence the sandbox reboot…

  5. Blizzard could release the most polished MMO ever, offering a sublime play experience with the most gorgeous art every conceived and the internet would explode in a legion of critics who are certain that this is the worst waste of photons ever to grace a monitor. I dislike a lot of what they do as a company, especially in community management, but face facts – they are never going to make a decision that is not instantly attacked.

    From a business perspective I can understand the decision. If the game isn’t where they want it they may as well delay. None of the “games that will kill WoW” are doing all that well and unless ESO is much better than it looks there really isn’t a threat on the horizon, despite my hopes for Hex (kind-of-MMO) and Pathfinder.

  6. What’s so bad about a lot of angry gamers? WoW, despite being ridiculously successful, has a vast hatedom. Everything will be hated by someone and the bigger it is, the more people will notice it and find reason to hate it. If Titan is less than perfect, what’s the loss? It will be successful on its own merits, regardless of whether it fails to be the second coming of WoW. It’s one thing to strive for polish, another to give up on a project because someone might not like the product.

  7. I don’t see a lot of hate for Starcraft 2 – just the opposite. Can Blizzard deliver quality? Heck ya. Can it really innovate? Not really, as it’s made a business from copying others and tweaking the formula. LFD, love it or hate it, took 3 iterations to get even close to what we know now. The last “risks” they took went south and fast but moreso because of expectations.

    If they can find an online game type that’s under represented (there are plenty) and iterate the model to a level of polish, then we’ll see something great.

  8. Often times, public sentiment about a company and the true state of the company are two completely separate beasts.

    Then again, once you cross the line over to “developer” there is a strange fog around what players (including you) would actually want in a game. It’s strange. I’ve built a few small games myself, and as soon as I start coding, I feel as if I don’t ‘get’ my potential players anymore.

  9. Here’s my prognostication: Titan will release, but there will be a “bundle”. $20/month, and you get a sub to BOTH WoW AND Titan. That’s the only way I can see lightning striking twice for them. Give a HUGE incentive for players to play, knowing their primary audience is already playing their other product. The combined increased price really wouldn’t be noticed… heck, even $25 wouldn’t be bad… and they would get a ridiculous amount of players playing both games. And then with two games, most likely markedly different, they’d have less burnout overall and take an even bigger market share than what they already have.

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