Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is it really stealing if you already own it?

One topic that periodically pops up in the MMO blogosphere is whether or not Blizzard plans to introduce a new subscriber-based MMO like World of Warcraft. Inevitably, whenever this subject pops up someone comments that Blizzard would never do such a thing because they wouldn’t want to steal subscribers away from WoW. Tracey John finally puts this debate to rest in an interview with two top Blizzard execs at the WWI in Paris.

Paul Sams, Chief Operating Officer
“The idea of doing games that could compete with World of Warcraft is something that I think a lot of people would say, ‘Geez you shouldn’t do that.’ [If our] developers come up with the next great game that they want to make and it’s an MMO, then we’ll do that. We would go about trying to make the best MMO of all time, and to try to eclipse World of Warcraft.”

Frank Pearce, Executive Vice President of Product Development
“At some point, some product’s going to come along and cannibalize the World of Warcraft player base, and if it’s going to happen, it’d be better for us to cannibalize our own player base compared to having another publisher do it.”

Thank you for finally putting this silly argument to rest, Tracey. Cannibalizing your own market to exercise greater control over the entire market is a very common and expected business practice. This is a huge reason that R&D exists. The expectation is that your competitors will try to make a place in the market and successful businesses will look to anticipate and counter such competitive threats. The idea that Blizzard would be close-minded about a new MMO simply because they already had an MMO is ludicrous.

That being said, I think Frank Pearce’s next comment that “[Our] hope is that Starcraft II and Diablo III will be games that can be enjoyed by our fans simultaneously with World of Warcraft” reveals quite a bit about the future plans for Warcraft. This tells me that at least for the foreseeable future, WoW is it for them as far as MMOs go. So while they would certainly be open to the idea of a new MMO, it’s not something that is remotely on the radar. The current strategy appears to be to continue to make WoW better through expansions and use game enhancements (like in-game chat, UI and addon performance improvements, etc) to evolve the existing game.

Honestly, if that’s the strategy, then they really need to increase the pace of the expansions. As I wrote in yesterday’s entry, WoW is fighting stagnation and I know that I personally am not going to endure more gear grinds or another long draught while I wait for new content. The next expansion has 4 months of my time, maybe 8 if I split it between that and another game like WAR.

So with that in mind, what exactly does another statement like this from Paul Sams say about WoW’s future pace of expansions: “I think that there will be a little bit less time [between product releases] but we’ll continue to take our time to make sure that they’re right. […] I don’t think our development cycles will shrink on any of the projects that are going on; it would just be that there’s more product flow.”

In other words, we can expect that additions to other product lines (like Starcraft and Diablo) will increase the overall frequency of product releases from Blizzard, but the development time taken on any one project (like a WoW expansion) will not shrink. So assuming an expansion is released in 2008, we won’t see the next one until 2010. I can only speak for myself, but there is just no way I am lasting until 2010 for World of Warcraft: Uprising of the Storm Queen.

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