What (probably) happened with Titan

If you haven't heard the news, Blizzard has cancelled their next gen MMO Titan. People are not especially surprised - Blizzard has a history of cancelling seemingly big name games well into development. What then, went wrong?

What we know for sure, is that Titan is cancelled. Polygon got the scoop on this one. After seven years and development that apparently saw the game in a playable form internally, the whole thing has been scrapped. Their sources - Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen, so its real.

The genesis of Titan

After World of Warcraft, Blizzard set out to go one better. Remember at the point this started, WoW would have been in The Burning Crusade somewhere and on the ascendant. There was very little viable competition for a long time. Guild Wars, EVE, City of Heroes and other games had followings, but combined together they could not match the numbers World of Warcraft. Other companies were scrambling to release WoW clones, hoping to snag a piece of the pie. Those clones, however, were generally poor in quality and their expectations completely unreasonable. The only company that looked likely to topple Blizzard was ... Blizzard.

And so they developed Titan. They hired people. They moved experienced staff onto the project. Leaks suggested a late 2013 release. Blizzard staff were quoted as saying they were playing it internally. There was a 20 year plan for this MMO. Then, in May 2013, the project was rebooted. Staff were moved off the project and the whole thing was reset. Suggestions were that the subscription model was being abandoned in favour of free to play. The outcome of this reboot? Cancellation.

The changing MMO landscape

Officially, it just didn't work. Blizzard stated they had realized with Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone that they could make smaller games that were still fun and successful (Hearthstone has hit 20 million players since release which is an incredible number for a card game).

Thinking about that in a bit more detail, and you can likely trace that back to a change, not just in Blizzard, but in the MMO landscape. From having no real competitors, they started springing up like weeds - Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Guild Wars 2, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn and now The Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar - and thats just in the west. Individually, none of these games has huge numbers in comparison to WoW. We know SWTOR has said 'over a million' and FFXIV proclaims 2.5 million on its website. Guild Wars 2 doesn't let on but likely has at least 1 million, if not more, regular players. TESO, Wildstar and EVE likely all have somewhere less than that 1 million mark, based on current evidence. New MMOs are on the horizon. Aion, Tera, Lord of the Rings Online - all are seeing play. Add those all together? Thats quite a hefty set of competition.

Further to that, a lot of these MMOs have come up with some innovative ideas. Rift and SWTOR were probably the last of the clones, but Rift had the Rift style open world play that many other MMOs have adopted. It also has Dimensions and a solid free to play model. SWTOR played to the strengths of Bioware with rich class based stories and voice acting for every quest. Its added to that with Galactic Starfighter and Galactic Strongholds. Guild Wars 2 has added shared world bosses, fortnightly story updates, a fantastic customisation system and World vs World (not entirely theirs, but successful nonetheless). TESO brings a lore at least as rich as anything Blizzard has and exploits the console market. Wildstar has active combat, Warplots and challenges. Every new game adds something new.

Blizzard had said they wanted to bring the lessons of World of Warcraft to Titan. At about this time, the lesson was that they were falling behind. They don't update as often as other games, they don't innovate as much. They can't keep up with the demand from their customers for more content.

The likelihood is this: Titan was out of date already. It was an old MMO built on an old business model and old technology. Had Titan been built to be as quickly adaptable as some of their competition? Could they add frequent content? Could they offer real innovation?

Most MMOs would go ahead and release anyway and there may have been a market for the game. However, it would not have been a star of the Blizzard canon and the company would have been stuck developing an average game. This has never been the Blizzard approach to games - either they consider them top grade or they don't release them. This is not the first time, and it probably won't be the last.

What might have been

The recent rumours suggest that what they had been planning was interesting. According to Kotaku the plan was for a hybrid between The Secret World, Champions Online and The Sims. The game would have been set in the near future, following an alien attack. You would have a normal 'day job' as well as a 'secret identity' of some kind that called on you to go and fight with your superpowers. The scale was massive, as was the plan for players to be able to pick their own routes through the game. It seems the plan was to support crafting and housing style gameplay through the 'real' world and then combat and other mechanics through the 'alternate' world. This ties in with what was on the rumour list on Titan Focus.

As well as sounding interesting, however, this sounded challenging. Making all play styles interesting is hard. How would rewards work? Blizzard has struggled with reward systems in World of Warcraft, trying to find a balance between the different desires and needs of their playerbase. How would they translate these lessons to Titan?

Add to this the aforementioned MMO landscape. How would their housing compare to the flexibility of Dimensions in Rift? Or the destructability promised by EverQuest Next? What did their 'professions' look like. Would you get the character customisation of Guild Wars 2, or the vehicle customisation of Wildstar? Would you have the class flexibility of FFXIV or TESO? Could they update the story every two weeks? How often would they release new content?

Also, far from needing less resource for World of Warcraft, the game actually is demanding more and more. The size of the team has increased massively. The older an MMO, the more it takes just to keep up with the Joneses. Would their 20 year plan actually work?

Is anything salvagable?

It seems there are rumours that something has been salvaged from the game under the code name Prometheus or Overwatch. The likelihood is that this is lore and art assets which could be transferred to another game. Also, if the mechanics they were considering aren't going into a new MMO, they might be making their way into WoW. Garrisons, for example, seems drawn from some of the talk on the Kotaku article about interacting with NPCs. There is no doubt Blizzard spent millions of dollars on this development, so anything they can salvage, they will.

What does this mean for other Blizzard games?

There is a rosier side to this story - if you play other Blizzard games. MMOs are very resource heavy. It seems likely World of Warcraft would have been sunsetted shortly after Titan. Instead, Blizzard has recruited massively for ongoing World of Warcraft support including new staff to make more content faster. With Titan out of the picture, World of Warcraft is suddenly much more significant. Despite its losses, the game still has more players than any other and perhaps Blizzard will make an effort to increase subscriptions now its alone in the stable.

In terms of other games, Blizzard has been pleased with both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm thus far. The former was built with a very small team and we could see further games like this in development. The latter was built with the internal variation on the freely available Blizzard Arcade toolset, and so once again could be easily replicated to make new, fun games. We are likely, therefore, to see more smaller, spin off games.

The final question - does this decision paint the way for World of Warcraft 2? The answer is - no. In order to make a WoW2, one of two conditions would have to be met:

  • Blizzard could come up with a 'hook' on which to base a new MMO.
  • World of Warcraft would have to reach the point where its technology was so old it could no longer be developed.