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I still believe Blizzard is phasing out WoW

WoW dropped another 800k subs bringing it down to a lowly 6.8 million. Remember my crazy assertion that Blizzard is sorta okay with WoW slowly fading away? Yeah, I’m still crazy; I still think that’s the case. I’m not even close to hinting at even the remote possibility that they aren’t interested in making money — no, quite the opposite. I truly believe Activision Blizzard knows they can make more money by phasing WoW out and phasing in other more profitable products.

WoW is Expensive

I can only imagine how expensive it is to continually develop and support World of WarCraft. Very, very few products ever last for 10+ years with this level of continued support before being phased out for something new. Compared to something like Hearthstone or Diablo, WoW has to be sucking out cash like crazy. That’s fine since it also rains money down on the company, but there is a ratio and a point of inflection where I guarantee top brass want something a little more efficient. I face the same issues at my company right now where I’m trying to convince a team that it’s not okay to push our $18,000 product if we only make $2,000 profit — push the $9,000 product where we make $6,000 profit in 1/3 the time please.  No seriously… do it.

Momentum is Drying Up

Warlords of Draenor is still slated for sometime near the end of the year. This waiting game is totally intentional. Guess what happens when Blizzard fans don’t log in to play WoW? Many of them will try one of the other great games Blizzard has to offer. The strategists at Blizzard are incredibly insightful and know that the competition sucks right now — if you didn’t know that, it does. The landscape for transitioning customers right now is beautiful to behold.

Blizzard’s Future isn’t WoW

Blizzard has become synonymous with WoW.  People talk about WoW as doing things like WoW is the primary entity. For a while that’s okay to be known by your product, but after a while the team starts to squirm because that product cannot last forever, and when it does finally go away if you have absolutely no identity or loyalty to your company’s brand… ouch.  Lucky for Blizzard they have immense corporate brand identity, but that doesn’t change the basic underlying principles of this lesson

There will come a time when Blizzard is known for something else. They’ll want those 6.8 million+ people to transition to support a newer product with a longer shelf life. You can’t just start the moment the product releases. It takes time, and there’s no better way to start than to ever-so-slowly sunset a game without most people even realizing it’s happening.

Where did Blizzard go?

warcraft 2What the heck happened to the company responsible for the Warcraft RTS games?  I was thinking about Warcraft Orcs and Humans, Warcraft 2, and Warcraft 3 today and the hair on my arms stood straight up — those games are ridiculously good; Dare I say they are downright epic.  I can still hear the voice in my head…  “The once mighty army of Azeroth lay among the blackened and charred remains of Stormwind Keep.”  The image of that orcish armada sailing across the great sea is burned into my memory.  I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it!

starcraft 2When I think about Warcraft back then compared to what it is today I am baffled by how badly Blizzard strayed off course.  When I think about ‘Warcraft’ why aren’t Footmen, Peons, Grunts, Gul’dan, and the Bloodlust top of mind?  Why can’t I think “yes me’lord, righto,” and “work work!”  Why do I think about arenas, raids, gear, and MMO mechanics instead?   Why has the direction changed to such an off-putting product strategy?

warcraft 3The same can be said for Diablo and Starcraft.  All of Blizzard’s properties are slipping.  I feel like Blizzard is so focused on ‘being Blizzard’ that their core competence has gone from making games to making headlines.

I’ve come to know a lot of the Blizzard team over the years.  Blizzard is a really good company with great employees, but you guys are losing sight of the mark.  You are losing your identity and forgetting what’s most important: The Games.

diablo 2As a true fan of your properties, I’m devastated by the direction you are going.  I appreciate the business side of things like eSports, and I know times have changed, but there used to be such a timeless perfection to your games.  I miss it, a lot.

Can you please bring back the spark, the magic, the zug-zug… that classic feel?  I think you know what I’m saying.

 

Playing Hearthstone

Hearthstone TCGHeartstone is Blizzard’s digital card game and foray into the Free to Play market.

I was lucky enough to randomly receive a beta invite, and I’ve been playing for many hours over the last week or so.

Hearthstone has two great things going for it:

  1. Extremely high production quality
  2. Warcraft

In typical Blizzard fashion, Hearthstone runs flawlessly, looks great, and wins over the imagination with awe-inspiring attention to detail in everything from the cards to field of play.  Appealing to the WoW fanboys and live streamers doesn’t hurt, either.

The game itself is fun.  Although a somewhat watered down version of Magic the Gathering, there’s enough depth to develop a deck and deploy a strategy.  Games are very quick, and all strategies tend to revolve around overwhelming your opponent with creatures.

Selling booster packs will make Blizzard a gazillion dollars.  Blizzard definitely captured the feel of opening a pack and discovering the cards by having players place the booster pack on the table and turn over the 5 cards you get one at a time.  You read that right: 5 cards.

Paying for booster packs will give an enormous advantage, exactly like it does in every TCG.  Making Hearthstone your hobby will be expensive, but if you’re a TCG junkie this one is well worth the investment.

Titan delayed until 2016

wow escalation

It’s like they were trying to tell us something…

Okay, so maybe I was wrong about Blizzard wanting to use the natural lull to wrap up WoW and hype their next game.  In usual Blizzard fashion, Titan is rumored to be delayed until 2016.  And by delayed they mean 70% of the team is reassigned and they are starting over. Didn’t we all see this coming? Pretend you did. This reminds me of Ghost; when Blizzard was going to release the console game at the end of the original Xbox’s generation (not to be confused with Xbox One) but decided not to at the last moment and completely cancelled the game.  Most of the reasons why Titan is delayed are likely technology based, but part of me hopes deep down they want to make a truly different game.  They probably realized there’s no such thing as a WoW killer, and the more people try and label the next game a WoW killer, the more it solidifies WoW when players come running back to resubscribe.

But really, what the heck are they going to do with WoW?! Now I’m positive they’re going to really mix things up and go F2P or some new hybrid model.  Do they need to? No, but people are realizing that WoW is old and they’re wanting to move on and do something new.  Blizzard has to provide their players with a reason to keep playing, or create a new reason to attract large numbers of players.  Either some amazing changes to WoW gameplay, and amazing expansion packs (*cough* Burning Legion *cough*), or a shakeup.  WoW still has millions of people more than the next game, but I can’t imagine they’re really okay with the numbers dwindling without a plan to gather them all up and funnel them into a new game.

The only thing I know with absolute certainty now is that World of Warcraft is going to get bigger before it gets smaller (google: define escalation).  I was looking forward to a conclusion rather than the temptation to return when the next huge evolution of WoW inevitably drops.

Hearthstone: Let it be the first of many

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft Logo

I was about to tweet this, but I decided to blog it instead.  I really, really like the idea of game studios, who are entrenched in massive projects or well known for a particular type of game, stepping out of their comfort zone (as Chris Metzen calls it) to create even more games on the side.  Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a great and recent example.  Blizzard is known for making amazing RTS, action-rpg, and MMO games.  They’re known for taking years and years to develop a game, sometimes announcing half a decade before release.  Blizzard has, in a way, gone stagnant over the years and become quite predictable.

When Hearthstone was announced, I was pleasantly surprised by the elegant simplicity.  Watching the video (viewable after the break), I think Blizzard wants to think of it more as ‘epic simplicity’ where it’s nothing but simple fun.  Bottom line, they’re using this really familiar, really rich property to fuel other creative ideas.  A card game isn’t necessarily unique or innovative, but for Blizzard and fans of their franchises it sounds like a cool game to pick up and simply enjoy without investing so much; quite a departure from their typical games.

Of course I want to see Blizzard continue their traditional grand releases, but I would love to see them turn this into a new tradition of small team projects releasing much quicker, smaller, and epically simple titles.  This direction is perfect for a fan like myself.  I may be tired of World of Warcraft, but I truly love the Warcraft universe.  I want to see more imagination and creativity from studios — many different studios (including Blizzard). I want to enjoy new and familiar games in entirely new ways.  Everyone wins if that can be accomplished.

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