Friday, February 11, 2011

Titan Conjecture

With MMO fans frothing at the mouth for details on Blizzard’s mystery MMO –codenamed Titan- any and all official information is going to be hyper analyzed, and premature predictions will abound.  And I’m no exception, so prepare yourself for a conjecture lecture!  Based on scant previous details and yesterday’s tidbits from Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime, here’s what we know:
1) Titan will be able to coexist with WoW
2) Titan will address MMO issues that WoW can’t “because of the design decisions we've made, you just can't address”
3) Titan will break the mold of MMOs, and "To break the mold, sometimes you have to start over"
4) Titan will be a new franchise
5) Playing with friends is critical to an MMO experience (stressed by Morhaime)

Titan will be able to coexist with WoW – This means it won’t cannibalize the playerbase, meaning different enough to bring in new/different players, but familiar enough to still fit Blizzard’s winning MMO formula.  This is on the other side of Zubon’s Genre Uncanny Valley, and will require pinpoint accuracy the likes of which only Blizzard is capable
Titan will address MMO issues that WoW can’t- WoW created an entire generation of casual MMOers, and did so by excluding some genre staples.  Expect these in Titan, including player housing, non-combat classes, true exploration, and unsoloable public areas.  This also likely refers to multi-server infrastructure, and I agree that Titan will likely be an EVE-like single universe.  Hopefully this also means an alternative to the leveling treadmill, maybe they’ve discovered the elusive solution.

Titan will break the mold, and to break the mold you have to start over- Start over? Didn’t WoW start over and reset most genre conventions to a basic casual level?! How much further back can you go to start over?  Here’s a hint: Get those twitch reflexes ready.

Titan will be a new franchise- No Diablo, WoW or Starcraft, which means no Gothic, Medieval or Aliens.  As tempted as I am to believe Titan will have a space theme, I can’t help but feel that it would cause brand confusion between itself and Starcraft.  And  for anyone thinking Titan is a clue that the theme will be mythological, forget it, there’d still be too much overlap with WoW themes.

Playing with friends is critical to an MMO experience- Pretty basic, I think we all agree, but it leads to a interesting train of thought on implementation.  Finding people to play with in an MMO used to be a great challenge, but with the advent of WoW’s Dungeon Finder it suddenly became a snap (unless you’re DPS).  When you log on now and see which friends are playing, depending on where they are it may be difficult to meet up immediately.  Look for a more Facebook-esque approach in Titan, with a constantly updated friend list giving you all their recent accomplishments, locations, and a “Teleport to them” button accessible most of the time.

So what to make of all this?  Here is my prediction:
Titan doesn’t imply anything about its theme or franchise, its actually a simple comment on its own scope.  Blizzard will have about a decade of MMO superiority under its belt, pushing our expectations for Titan even higher, meaning it HAS to be huge. Not genre bending, not genre breaking, but genre assimilating.

Blizzard has singlehandedly grown the MMORPG genre population by several orders, and it would be risky to a fault for them to assume another MMORPG would somehow continue to grow the genre population without cannibalizing WoW. However, in the broader meta-genre of MMO games, there are tons of markets untapped by Blizzard.  I believe Titan will be a central context and hub for several different genres of gameplay to come together, all in the same universe, allowing players to switch between their favorite kinds of gameplay/genres without ever logging out of one game.  Picture this scenario:

You log into Titan and your avatar wakes up in his private room in a huge star destroyer-type spaceship. You proceed out of the barracks into the mission hub, where dozens of different mission types are listed, relating to the exploration, exploitation, colonization, defense, conquest and sterilization of surrounding worlds. Having worked all day in RL you just feel like some mindless tower defense gameplay, so you choose a defense mission on a nearby planet.  You then enjoy a crisp, Blizzard polished Tower Defense experience, until you begin to lose interest in TD gameplay.

Now you feel like getting down to the ground level and taking a more direct approach to the action, so you change to a First Person Shooter assault mission on another planet, spending the money you earned during the TD mission to do some last minute upgrades to your assault gear.  In the midst of capping some baddies and increasing your assault mission rank, you get a message from one of your friends to help him out on a conquest mission, so you accept his invitation and transfer into a RTS style gameplay, helping your friend secure a new colony in unclaimed territory.

After a great session of several types of combat, you head back to the mothership and find that all these missions have given you enough experience points to level up your macro rank, unlocking new types of missions and gameplay!  You visit the store, where you spend the money you earned from the various missions to buy some equipment for the new mission types you’ll be trying tomorrow.  Seeing that you don’t quite have enough game money, you make a small micropurchase, just to ensure you have an edge on your next ____ type mission.

Sound farfetched?  Sound like an impossible mega-game with too many disparate gameplay types to develop, program and balance?  Sound like it would take even one of the greatest game companies years and years and years to create? Absolutely.  Blizzard may be the only company in existence with the budget, expertise, reputation and patience to make it happen.

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