Constants and Titanic Variables

In the off-chance you haven’t already read thirteen hundred blogs talking about it, VentureBeat broke the news about Blizzard’s new MMO “Titan” being sent back to the drawing board. Depending on how you slice it, that is between 2-7 years of game development being flushed, with 70 of 100 developers being redistributed to other games while the core 30 presumably get called to the carpet.

First thoughts? Well, maybe now Ghostcrawler will have enough staff on hand so that patches can have both raid and dungeon content instead of these unquestionably artificial “dilemmas.” ¿Por qué no los dos?

The normally sanguine Syp thinks Blizzard should scrap Titan altogether due to the risk:

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.

His point about holding Blizzard to higher standards is absolutely true, and the Diablo 3 point is especially apt.

Indeed, I am starting to think this Titan decision makes more sense coming from the other direction. What if it was not so much that Titan’s design was terrible or out-dated (having ostensively been drafted pre-mobile, pre-F2P), but rather it was not good enough to justify the loss of 70 top-quality developers for years?

One of the more frustrating realities of game design from the consumer perspective is that current success pays for future projects instead of being reinvested. While it isn’t that big a deal when it comes to single-player games, it’s huge when it comes to MMOs. Just think about the following:

We first reported on Titan back in 2011. Blizzard chief operating officer Paul Sams told us in an interview that “we have taken some of our most experienced developers and put them on [Titan]. We believe we have a dream team. These are the people who made World of Warcraft a success. We are going to blow people’s minds.” [emphasis added]

They had the very designers that crafted WoW into the 8+ million subscription engine it was back in 2004 tied to an unreleased (and now scrapped) game for the last X years. People joked about Ghostcrawler being a part of the B Team for a long time, of course, although I honestly do not have much against the guy. But regardless of where you fall on the WoW line, really think about that alternate universe where the original team was never split. What kind of game would WoW have been? What could we be playing today? Would it still be shedding over a million subs in a quarter?

So that’s my wild, out-of-my-ass idle speculation of the day: the old version of Titan might have been perfectly serviceable, but not crazy-good enough to justify keeping 70 people tied up when the rest of the boat(s) are taking on water. This is Activision Blizzard, after all, home of the billion dollar franchises. The Blizzard half cannot simply expect investors to be patient with Call of Duty and Skylanders propping up an ailing WoW to buy time for a Titan-ic (har har) gamble.

In spite of its age, WoW could be doing just fine as a money-printing machine. It just needs more and better things. And more agile developers. And server merges. Hopefully this transfusion of developers will be enough juice to keep the engine pumping.

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Posted on May 30, 2013, in WoW and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. IMO Titan was never much more than a concept. I suspect the concept is what was scrapped. I could be wrong, granted, since no one ever knew anything about it. It would seem strange to tie up that much development power without producing anything.

    The silver lining, I guess, is that what was developed isn’t actually “scrapped”. It will either be retooled for Titan v2 or retooled and put in some other game.

    • The problem is that they did have a lot of people tied up in it – including their best developers, e.g. the people that originally made WoW. I find it hard to believe they had 100 people working on just vaporware, so something had to be there.

      Ironically, under my theory we both could be correct: if the problem was that Blizzard couldn’t afford to let their other properties languish, then perhaps they could simply retool what they originally came up with.

  2. My inclination is that they must have at the least a solid core gameplay mechanic worked out. I’ve heard whispers from people who got to play it internally that what exists of the game is really really good. But so much has happened since 2011: every MMO which was thought to have a chance to replicate WoW’s success failed to do so; the subscription model fell out of favour with absolutely everybody in the industry; and World of Warcraft continued to be mind-blowingly successful despite the struggling industry.

    Basically I think when Titan was first being planned, most people expected World of Warcraft would have a major competitor by now, and Titan would ideally win back some of the lost market share.

    So I with this shift in focus I think they’re doing two things: retooling the structure of the game to work with a modern business model; and taking their sweet time with it because they already own the MMO market so shaking it up would be a completely unnecessary risk.

    • If Blizzard were merely retooling the structure of the game, why would they have taken 70 developers off the project? Granted, we don’t know if those are all code-monkeys or whatever, but I find it more likely it is a “return to the drawing board” style move to shift that many personnel around.