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Perfect Ten: What Titan's death means for the industry and you

Justin Olivetti
Justin Olivetti|September 27, 2014 3:00 PM
Blizzard's fans are in mourning this weekend and its competition is no doubt rejoicing after the World of Warcraft developer finally cancelled its seven-years-in-the-making Titan MMO. Word on the street is that Titan was a little too similar to what Bungie came up with in Destiny, although all the studio itself will say is that it ultimately wasn't fun.

So Titan joins Starcraft Ghost and Warcraft Adventures in the Blizzard graveyard. It's a loss for those who were hoping to see what Blizz could do outside of World of Warcraft in the MMO space. But what does this cancellation mean for Blizzard, the industry, and us as MMO gamers? I have a few thoughts, although I'll pre-empt them by predicting that your life will most likely go on just the same it did before this momentous announcement.

1. Don't expect Blizzard to make another MMO.

Dev statements indicated that there are no plans to work on another MMO after Titan, and I think we all figured that it was going to be a huge burden for Blizz to try to "out-WoW" WoW in this day and age. Maybe one day in the distant future, but not soon.

Personally, I think that's a shame. World of Warcraft was a great game that I enjoyed for many years, and I would be keenly interested in seeing what else Blizzard could have done with MMOs. Kotaku described Titan as "Team Fortress 2-meets-Destiny-meets-The Sims-meets-World of Warcraft," which is certainly intriguing if befuddling.

2. Blizzard took a bath on Titan, but it can afford it.

One thing you can say in Blizzard's favor is that the studio really does put its money where its mouth is in the quality and polish department. If it doesn't feel a product isn't up to par, it will kill it, even if that means a loss of (estimated in this case) $70 to $140 million in development. Of course, Activision Blizzard is raking in gobs more than that every single year, even with World of Warcraft in decline, so I wouldn't fret that the studio is about to keel over from a deathblow.

Also, keep in mind that there's a good chance that technology, art, personnel, and other assets from Titan could be used elsewhere at Blizzard -- and may already have been. So at least that wasn't a completely wasted seven years.

3. Blizzard is committing to a diverse portfolio (just as it always has).

Blizzard isn't just about MMOs. Right now it's about one MMO, an RTS game, an online action-RPG, a card game, and an upcoming MOBA. That's actually pretty savvy in this day and age, considering how a tanked MMO can pull down a studio if it has no other life preservers to which to cling.

With Hearthstone's 20 million players and Diablo III's 20 million copies sold, it's not as if the studio desperately needs a new MMO to "save" it. Blizzard might even look at Hearthstone's success and decide to invest in more smaller, smarter projects that could reap proportionally larger results than an AAA MMO. Might I suggest a tablet online RPG?

4. Blizzard probably couldn't figure out how to replicate its success with World of Warcraft.

Why World of Warcraft was such a monster hit is a subject for many other articles, but many analysts agree that it was as much the game's well-timed arrival on the MMO scene as it was its accessibility, polish, and built-in fan base. I think that if Blizzard put out another MMO, it would do well whether or not it was good, but it would be hard to see it exploding into the same sort of phenomenon, which would ultimately look bad for the company. Blizzard's isn't dumb, so I'm guessing the devs knew that it was better to pull the trigger than fail against their own game.

Speaking of which...

5. Another Blizzard MMO would hurt World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft is an established product with a strong (if diminished) playerbase and probably has many years ahead of it. Those years equal guaranteed subscriber and expansion dollars for the studio. Why would Blizzard want to risk damaging that profit by leeching away players to another MMO?

It's not always a bad idea for a studio to host several MMOs under its roof, but in this case and especially if you consider the subscription factor, there's a good chance Titan would have wounded World of Warcraft and the studio's bottom line.

6. This news could get World of Warcraft fans to recommit.

There's a funny psychological thing that happens when we know that there's a sequel on the way. For some people, there's an increased desire to plunder the lead-in product, but for others, there's an emotional disconnect as they prepare to make the jump. Knowing that Titan was on the way could have convinced ex-WoW players to hang on the hope that this new MMO would be a great excuse to dive back into Blizzard's online worlds.

Now that Titan is nixed, it's World of Warcraft or nothing. If players can't cut the cord to Blizzard and can't expect to get their fix with a follow-up, then the allure of heading back to Azeroth might well prove irresistable.

7. The competition can breathe a little easier.

While the MMO industry might pretend to be all part of the same happy club, you can't tell me that there aren't studios popping the champagne cork at the news that they won't have to be butting heads with another Blizzard MMO in the near future. World of Warcraft plowed under several MMOs that would otherwise still be ticking today and scared off several others from finishing development.

With Titan out of the way, other studios have more room to grow without fear that Bobby Kotick will pop out of the bushes and give them a financial wedgie. Science fiction-themed MMOs in particular won't need to fear a WoW counterpart in their space either.

8. It's probably not a big loss to most of us.

Let's be honest with ourselves: Before news of the cancellation came out, were MMORPG gamers really hanging their hopes and dreams on Titan? Maybe a little, but I'd wager not a lot. Not only was Blizzard incredibly tight-lipped on what Titan was (as is the studio's M.O.), but we already knew that the project's been in trouble for more than a year now. When a studio wants to start over on an MMO and you're not getting Tabula Rasa flashbacks, then something's wrong. That's a huge warning light and an indication that you should be looking for your nearest hype exit.

So while this week a lot of people are going on that this is a huge deal, I have to wonder -- in the larger context -- if it's even a blip.

9. It might be a sign that big MMOs may be on the way out... at least for now.

If there's one aspect of Titan's demise that could reinforce a current trend in the industry, it's that there's an increasing willingness for studios to be bullish on big-budget, full-feature MMOs. Titan was one of a dwindling number of major upcoming MMOs, but now that we've seen several of those cancelled or launched over the past couple of years, there haven't been many to spring up to replace them in development.

Listen, MMOs are a financial risk with plenty of corpses left in the trenches. Some are profitable, but some are not, and it's a risk that studios don't want to wager a hundred million on so much these days. The larger market acknowledges and responds to what behemoths like Activision Blizzard do, and right now those behemoths are playing it safer than ever.

10. It's a good reminder that the industry does not live or die based on a single game.

Titan may seem huge (no pun intended) when you think about it, but it's hardly the first big-budget, high-profile MMO that died before it had a chance to really influence the industry. True Fantasy Live Online, Valve's MMO, Ultima Online 2, Project Copernicus, and more all are huge "what ifs" that are fading into history. So it will be with Titan.

Even if there are fewer big-budget, high profile MMOs on the immediate horizon, Titan's demise doesn't mean that everything is screeching to a halt. There are scads of crowdsourced titles that will be filling special niches. There are a few major headliners on deck as well as space sims, MMOFPSes, sandboxes, and a host of foreign imports. People are still making MMOs. People still love to play MMOs. The community and industry is far larger than any single title. And, of course, we have that savior MMO that will be all things to all people coming to us soon. I think you know that of which I speak...

...Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.

Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
Perfect Ten: What Titan's death means for the industry and you