Welcome to the new MMO Update, a weekly column that focuses on Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming. Each week I will discuss an issue or topic relevant to the genre, community, or specific MMOs.
WoW Killer. The phrase itself is uttered virtually every time a new game is released. You’ll see it on the forums and fansites. You’ll hear it from various Warcraft immigrants as they pour into whatever the flavor of the month MMO is. Hell, as of late, you’ll even see it as a component to an advertising campaign. But really, does anyone actually think that WoW is going to be suddenly conquered by another MMORPG?
The notion of any game killing WoW is ludicrous at this point and we all know it. Even EverQuest (the original) still has people playing. Considering that Everquest never had a quarter of the subscribers WoW does, I think it is safe to say that World of Warcraft will never completely die without something catastrophic happening to Blizzard.
But of course, when we say WoW killer, we don’t actually mean “game that kills World of Warcraft,” do we? What we really mean is the next big hit, the MMO that will eclipse the king in subscribers, the game that will blow the market open a little more, eeking out a space among Warcraft’s truly massive market share.
Certainly, Blizzard knows that such a game is coming. In March, Blizzard’s Frank Pearce was open about the subject – stating that it was in Blizzard’s best interest to “cannibalize [our customers] ourselves [rather] than let someone else do that, because if we cannibalize them ourselves, they’re still a Blizzard customer.”
That future game may just be the future of Blizzard – but it probably won’t be an MMORPG at all. It’ll be something different.
Sometime last year a document leaked to the press with Blizzard’s stamp on it. The document was a brief slate containing estimated launch dates for all of Blizzard’s properties. Of course, Starcraft and Diablo were on there, along with a few World of Warcraft expansions – but the real news was at the singular mention of a new game, one called Project Titan.
Now, this wasn’t the first time such a game was hinted at. The past few Blizzcons have had rumblings of a skunk works MMO project. Adding to the mumbling was a constant stream of rumors fueled by a series of job postings on their official site looking for developers for a “next-gen” MMO team. While it got some people talking, most remained quiet. After all, was it really a surprise that the creative team behind one of the most successful games in history wouldn’t try to strike twice? Most assumed the game that was coming would be WoW2, or maybe a StarCraft MMO.
Then Mike Morhaime, Blizard’s CEO, shocked everyone – by announcing that not only was Titan real, it would be based on a brand new IP. Another interview showed that Blizzard execs weren’t worried about the new MMO cannibalizing sales. It was going to be a different style of game.
The internet surged.
Wild speculation broke out everywhere. What could they be developing? What tricks does Blizzard have up their sleeve?
Different is, indeed, the key. If you’re a business and you have one market cornered, you don’t try to corner your own market. Instead, you try to strengthen your hold on what you have while entering new ones. Even if the setting and story was a wild departure from the fantasy inspired Warcraft universe, it still wouldn’t make sense to release another MMORPG. By now, Blizzard has bled the RPG market dry. The next game would have to be something truly different.
It would have to be an FPS.
The MMOFPS is one of the few truly untapped genres, especially in the MMO market. Despite a couple of titles being thrown around, there have realistically only been two real massive shooters: PlanetSide and World War 2 Online. Both are still alive today, but neither commanded a serious presence, even in their heyday.
Realistically though, if we look at them objectively, it wasn’t their fault.
PlanetSide, in specific, was a game ahead of its time. It had incredibly huge 200 on 200 person battles spread across a massive universe, and yet, it never really hooked. While it had enough of a playerbase to barely hang on, it was very much the Crysis of its time, requiring a supercomputer to run smoothly. Likewise, it had virtually no advertising budget at all. In all my time of playing, I think I met two people out of game that had even heard of it, let alone play it.
The game also lacked polish. Balance was wonky at best, not to mention it lacked much of any serious developer support. On top of that, there was really only one expansion for the game – and it isn’t even worth talking about.
The market, too, was probably not ready for such a game in that era. MMOs were still unexplored territory for most gamers, dial-up was still a thing and the FPS genre itself was in a different place.
So, you might be wondering – if no MMOFPS has been a true hit, then how is Blizzard going to suddenly change things? In short, history.
When World of Warcraft launched, Blizzard was marching into a genre that already had a few established titles. Just like the genre of MMOFPS, the MMORPG was relatively ignored by most gamers. That, or, if they were brave enough to try their hand at EverQuest or any of the other games out at the time, they were greeted by decade-old mechanics that demanded a suspension of fun for the sake of “getting there.”
Indeed, Blizzard’s gift to the MMORPG genre wasn’t changing everything – it was taking the hallmarks of the genre and refining them to something acceptable for consumption. The MMOFPS – and even the FPS in general – shares many of the same problems that MMORPGs did. Think about how many potentially awesome shooters are crippled by poor mechanics, sloppy storytelling or net code that could’ve been fixed with just a little more polish.
Blizzard could very well grab the genre and charge through the competition. Forget Battlefield and Call of Duty, what FPS gamer wouldn’t want to head out into a battle with thousands of others in a dynamically changing world? It’s practically the golden dream.
Of course, I’m certain that they aren’t the only one chasing after that goldmine.
Fellow Activsion studio Bungie (I’ll never get used to saying that) is also working on a secret MMO project – once again, rumored to be an MMOFPS. Likewise, Planetside 2 was announced in December.
I don’t think all of this is just a coincidence. The market is now ready for an MMOFPS, and the first company that can produce a title with the same polish as World of Warcraft will find themselves building a small mountain out of gold and unicorn blood. The other studios realize this, and if they’re too late, they might just watch their own dreams float away as Blizzard runs off with yet another truckload of cash.
While I can’t imagine the servers ever shutting down, World of Warcraft will eventually lose steam. One day, another massively multiplayer title will eclipse it – and I fully believe that title will be an MMOFPS developed by Blizzard, although if they aren’t careful, Bungie or SOE could steal their lunch.
So, then, my wonderful readers, I throw the ball to you. Do you think Titan will be an MMOFPS? Do you think an MMOFPS has the potential to be a bigger hit than World of Warcraft?