Blizzard has canceled one of the largest, most ambitious games it ever tried to create. At least, it might have been. No one knew that much about it. And now it's dead.
The quotes from the company about the decision are hard to read. The work and the budget that went into Titan have now been sunk, although it's likely some of the ideas and technology behind the game will aid Blizzard in some way. It's rare that these things are a total loss, although this means that there are likely people who have put the better part of a decade into a game that will never see the light of day.
But this move signals a new direction for the company, and the industry is bound to pay attention.
"I wouldn't say no to ever doing an MMO again," Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime told Polygon. "But I can say that right now, that's not where we want to be spending our time."
Why would anyone?
The changing of the guard
World of Warcraft has long been one of the most popular, and profitable, games in the business, but things are changing. It's not just that it's going to become harder to hang onto players. The fact is that there has yet to be an MMO that has remained profitable, or has kept its subscription fee, in quite some time.
It's a space filled with battered wrecks of games that have been forced to move to a free-to-play model, and it's unlikely that any of these titles will ever come close to World of Warcraft now from a business perspective, much less the numbers the game enjoyed at its height. Taking another run at that hill would require a huge investment, and a very special product. And Blizzard didn't feel Titan would have been that game.
"We took a step back and realized that it had some cool hooks. It definitely had some merit as a big, broad idea, but it didn't come together. It did not distill," Chris Metzen, Blizzard's senior vice president of story and franchise development, told Polygon. "The music did not flow. For all our good intentions and our experience and the pure craftsmanship that we brought together, we had to make that call."
Blizzard didn't feel Titan would have been that game
Being able to make that call at all is one of the most telling examples of Blizzard's power in the video game world. In nearly every other situation, with this much time and money riding on the seven years the game had been in development, the publisher would likely have forced some kind of product to be released.
Blizzard was given the privilege of taking its own dog behind the shed to put it down, which is an odd way for a company to show its muscle. But make no mistake that this is a company flexing its ability to react to the market and only release the games it's completely sure of.
It's unlikely that we'll see another company create the kind of MMO we're used to seeing from companies like Blizzard, and instead the sort of "always-online but please don't call it an MMO" class of games like Titanfall and Destiny are bound to take over. Blizzard is moving into other areas with the upcoming Heroes of the Storm, a clear shot at the monstrous MOBA market, and Hearthstone, a trading card game that has become a massive success.
The puck had disappeared
This is how Blizzard works: They follow the crowd, but the company is talented and clever enough that it has always been able to make the definitive version of the game they're trying to emulate.
"Let's take a game that we all love playing, do what we want to do to make it ours, just like we've done with every single game from the past. Vikings was Lemmings. Rock and Roll Racing, name any of those car games out there. Warcraft came from Dune, so it's the same thing with Heroes of the Storm," Sam Didier, a senior art director at Blizzard told me when discussing Heroes of the Storm.
"It's like, we take a game that we like and then we make our version of it. If we like it, it turns out that people like it as well."
During the course of Titan, it sounds like Blizzard lost that path, and even worse they were no longer skating towards where the puck would be in a few years. The puck had disappeared. Blizzard was chasing its own tail, and may have been inspired by its own success with a previous product rather than anything that ignited the company's imagination.
Killing the game now, and still having two of the most promising titles in active development in Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, not to mention the still-popular World of Warcraft, shows the power and might of Blizzard, and it may be a situation where a failed project makes them one of the more admired developers in the business.