Titan Officially Announced as Cancelled. Dealing with the Unanswered Questions.
Chris Metzen, Blizzard's senior vice president of story and franchise development, called the decision to cancel Titan "excruciating."
So, let's see what we've learned from this official announcement, made via Polygon. *goes through the interview for the 10th time* As it turns out, quite nothing!
We did get a confirmation that Blizzard is not currently involved in the development of any MMOs, as shown in the below quote, however this was also something highly speculated and basically taken as a given by many of us.
It's a pretty funny quote, considering it is coming from a company that has as its main income source an MMO which will hopefully be supported by the company indefinitely, according to Chris Metzen in this same interview. This apparent contradiction I think tells us more than the entire interview.
First of all let's get the obvious out of the way. A company as big as Blizzard, sewn together to an even bigger corporation, when deciding the fate of a project does not actually take into consideration if they're having fun building it or if it's what each developer / designer wants to make, or if it's something they can get passionate about. These are just buzzwords specific to the entertainment industry, used just to make it easier to explain financial and strategic decisions to the general public. The only questions that do matter are "Will it sell?", "Will it last long-term?" "How risky it is?" and other similarly practical issues.
I'm not saying this as some kind of blame, just in order to make things clearer. All developers / designers are people (doh) with families and loans and I guarantee you that the project they'll get most passionate about is the one they believe it will be most successful. It matters very little if it's an MMO or not. This applies even more to the higher up people, such as Chris Metzen and Mike Morhaime. MM would like nothing more for Blizzard to be considered THE MMO company if that would mean pulling off a new World of Warcraft, in terms of success and revenue.
Morhaime answered that last rhetorical question quite simply: "We don't want to identify ourselves with a particular genre. We just want to make great games every time."
So why not a second MMO? Why not Titan?
The obvious answer would be that all big game developers are running away from the MMO genre, due to its stained reputation, the high initial investment needed and the risk factor. We got this impression even from inside Activision, as Bungie's marketing department did its best to label as not an MMO a game which was obviously an MMO. Even if it wasn't, they would have been happy to let it be called that way if they thought it would be advantageous. They obviously didn't think this.
While likely a major part in Blizzard's decision to cancel Titan, it cannot be the only part. You do not cancel an ongoing project just because it's an MMO, no matter how risky the genre is considered these days for major developers.
I would thus like to suggest the missing piece, namely that Blizzard has become too big to make big projects. This I believe is true in a couple of ways.
Activision Blizzard has always been defined as a company that bases its success on extremely high revenue from very
few projects. Blizzard especially, since before the launch of Diablo 3, they were basically making money only from World of Warcraft. An immense risk for any company.
Alarm bells went off at both Activision and Blizzard to diversify their income sources. I can't speak for Activision, however this has become more than obvious with Blizzard. World of Warcraft was morphed to be able to bring money even if somehow they were forced to lose the subscription, thus minimising its risk value. Old franchises were reborn (SC2 / D3) and new, smaller ones were created (HotS, HS). We also suspect of at least 2 projects in the works, some close to release. This is a huge change for the company. I remember pretty much everyone, from players to press, being shocked at Blizzard launching a "small" game as Hearthstone. Well, get ready for 2,3,4 more just as "small" in the near future!
In the process of becoming huge, Blizzard lost its developing discipline. When working at a very large project, the easiest thing to happen is to get absolutely lost in its details, obsesses over the smallest things and be annoyed this still-in-progress project is not already perfect. Have a look at the below quotes and tell me this isn't what happened with Titan.
I refuse to believe that a project which Blizzard, one of the largest gaming companies in the world, "set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine", was not something we would have found fun and played the crap out of. Nothing short of showing me the game itself *nudge nudge* will convince me otherwise.
I am certain that the project was not flawed or too ambitious by itself, more than any game is in pre-pre-alpha. It was however too big and too ambitious as a game developed by Blizzard. If we take a look at the company's history, this should become obvious. Every project has gone through delays and there haven't been any really major projects since, well, since World of Warcraft.
"But Mynsc, surely you are forgetting Diablo 3!" You mean the game that suffered endless delays and was launched half-complete? Furthermore, for Diablo 3 Blizzard had a very clear pattern to follow, that of Diablo 2. It was making a sequel, not a brand new game. Same with Starcraft 2, which is virtually identical with the original Starcraft, except 10 years into the future.
Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone also do not get close, even when counted together, to the magnitude of Project Titan, from a development point of view.
In other words, Blizzard is a huge company that since 2004 has not launched any truly major and new projects. No matter how you look at it, it is not a company that was suited to complete a very large project such as Titan. Having deep pockets is useful for such projects only if you have an inside culture that's disciplined and organised enough to be able to use them.
This may very well be by choice (knowingly or not), as the company has always prided itself in its ability to ignore deadlines. And we may very well be looking at the company embracing this and thus focusing on smaller projects. Less risk, more income sources, a more efficient development model. Hell, if Hearthstone is of any relevance, probably even more fun games! This may very well be a winning bet for them.
However the transition period may be harder for us, the players, than for Blizzard. I find it truly sad, at a personal level (not criticising the company in any way), that I know to not expect any major AAA games from Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming companies and definitely one of my favorite ones. I love Hearthstone, I play it almost daily and I spend money on it, however it will never be Warcraft, Starcraft or Diablo. Well, it technically is Warcraft, but you hopefully get my meaning.
What was Titan?
What I find even sadder is that we are heading towards never knowing what Titan was. An incredibly ambitious project, the MMO that was to replace World of Warcraft, the game too big to exist. However we do not have a single non-metaphorical detail regarding it.
And now that it is past the point of official cancellation, we're at risk of never really finding out. Sure, we may assume some of the features and worlds in Blizzard's next games have been taken from Titan, but will we ever know this for certain?
At this point I'm half-expecting to only find out 10 years from now, in a Blizzard-made documentary for a 20 year anniversary or something of the sorts.
I do not feel entitled to private info from a company, however I do think it would have been nice and awesome for them to include in this announcement a screenshot or at least a sentence of concrete actual info regarding Titan. Although it's true that this would have had the opposite effect of what they hoped to achieve with this, namely to make people forget about Titan and make room for new games, such as Overwatch.