Saturday, September 27, 2014

Is Blizzard okay without Project Titan?

Project Titan Cancelled. The headline reads ominously but given Blizzard's propensity for nixing titles that don't meet their stringent quality standards, I can't say that the news has left me shocked. Still, the public has been left to ponder exactly what Project Titan was and what Blizzard has coming down the pipe to replace it. While no one is rationally touting that the end is nigh for Blizzard, I do believe they're in for a rocky spell in the medium-term future. 

What little information that reached the public about Project Titan was sketchy at best. Job postings on Blizzard's website indicated that it was a next-gen MMO that was probably intended to replace World of Warcraft as a primary revenue stream. Also, Blizzard confirmed that the title was undergoing a complete design overhaul about a year ago which can now be interpreted as foreshadowing its ultimate cancellation. Pretty much everything else, however, is conjecture. Was Titan a new IP or a new entry in one of Blizzard's core franchises? Was it going to be developed for next-gen consoles? When was Blizzard intending on unveiling it to the public? These are questions that may never be answered though I expect details to eventually work their way out in due course. In any case, unless Blizzard has something well-hidden up their sleeve to announce, I think we're in for a pretty uneventful Blizzcon this year... yet again.

Looking at Blizzard's upcoming releases (both announced and speculated), it's pretty obvious that the developer is set for the short-term. Warlords of Draenor, Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void, and a bevy of Hearthstone add-ons should keep profit margins healthy. Further, if Heroes of the Storm is able to successfully seize a share of the lucrative MOBA market, this should nicely account for waning World of Warcraft subscriptions. Long term, I wouldn't worry too much as Blizzard has no problems attracting top-tier talent to realize big ideas for the next-next-gen. Where the waters are murky, however, is that period in between the next 2-4 years. Project Titan was expected to plunk nicely into this slot and it's unclear what Blizzard can do to fill the gap. Another expansion for Diablo 3 seems likely but doesn't carry the same panache of a full-fledged release. In fact, this is a concern that can be raised in relation to Blizzard's entire upcoming catalogue. Again, it's not that this is the beginning of the end, but without Project Titan, there is a decided lull that seems unlikely to be filled with anything of major substance - and that might make the bean counters nervous.

While unlikely, if Blizzard records flops on any of it's announced titles, pressure could mount during the predicted lean years to rush something out the door. If Blizzard succumbs to this, cancelling Project Titan due to quality concerns would be for nought. Personally, I would rather see a period of relative inactivity and hope that Blizzard is smartly building a war-chest now to sustain themselves and protect their reputation for the future.