Last week Blizzard unveiled the first iteration of Patch 5.4 on the PTR and its assorted new game-changing features. Previous expansions saw LFR and transmogrification introduced before their end, and the vast changes to player interaction with World of Warcraft provided new ways for players to experience existing content. It’s not clear if Flex Raiding or Virtual Realms will do the same, but the problem from Blizzard’s perspective is that it doesn’t matter. While WoW is far from dying, it is in decline, and no matter what Blizzard tries, World of Warcraft is never going to return to its previous heights.
Many new MMO’s over the last few years have been hyped, either by the press or by their publishers as WoW-killers. With free-to-play becoming the new financial model for MMO’s, WoW seems to be immune to destruction by a competitor of that nature. Instead, Blizzard has been under assault from a genre that they themselves helped spawn: the MOBA. League of Legends and DOTA 2 have been duking it out for the title of most played online game, and Warcraft has been nothing more than an afterthought. The best Blizzard can hope to do is get Blizzard All-Stars out; although at this rate it will be late to an already crowded party. All Blizzard can hope is that for players who are tiring of Warcraft, All-Stars (when released) will be where they wind up instead of one of their competitors. With their three main franchises already each representing a gaming staple (WoW – MMORPG, Diablo – ARPG, Starcraft – RTS), Blizzard All-Stars looks to shore up their lineup by adding MOBA coverage.
It is this reason that the recent announcement of a new Battle.net client-launcher becomes more important. Blizzard needs to transform the Battle.net launcher into a true portal for online gaming. This doesn’t just unify chat at a level above the games themselves — this gives Blizzard the opportunity to invite players to check into Battle.net before deciding how they want to play today. As much as WoW has been about giving players more and varied activities to do, Battle.net does the same by expanding WoW beyond Azeroth’s server-based borders. Just as players today may open Steam and peruse their library before deciding what to play, Blizzard wants people to consider which experience they want with Battle.net.
Hearthstone fits perfectly into this new paradigm. It’s another online game that can be enjoyed, that keeps players engaged within the Blizzard network (and with Blizzard IP). Just as Cataclysm was able to bring WoW to new heights with a healthy dose of nostalgia by enticing lapsed players to witness how the old world had changed, Hearthstone‘s use of the original nine WoW classes and figures from throughout Warcraft‘s history (e.g. Gul’dan, Rexxar) will be familiar to anyone who played World of Warcraft once upon a time but may not know what a Mogu is. Even if Hearthstone isn’t a huge success (and there’s no reason to think it won’t be, based on all the early feedback), it adds to the overall entertainment option that Blizzard provides. Blizzard isn’t looking to defeat Riot or Valve by finding an individual game to overtake their numbers – Blizzard is looking to turn Battle.net into a gaming service with such a varied scope that they will win with sheer numbers.
What’s most interesting about Blizzard’s struggling lineup is that a common online type is missing: the FPS. It had been rumored that Titan would be an FPS, having been worked on by a large number of ex-Bungie employees. At this point, that is unclear. But it may be that the true reason for Titan’s recent delay is that Blizzard looked at the library they are amassing, and realized that they don’t need Titan to be a successor to WoW; they need a game to complement WoW. This is similar to how Blizzard morphed the Warcraft franchise from an RTS staple into an MMORPG, thus bringing them into a new market and reducing the overlap with Starcraft. However Titan is implemented from this day forward, it will be with an eye towards giving players yet another option in the ever-growing family of Blizzard games.
WoW, Starcraft, or Diablo may not overtake League of Legends anytime soon, but as long as the total number of people playing Blizzard games are number one, then Blizzard will be exactly where they want to be. By uniting a motley crew of assorted game-types in this battle for online gaming supremacy, Blizzard is precisely living by their own motto, “For the Horde!”
2013 Arena Pass Registration is now open! I look forward to getting put into a virtual realm with the Arena Pass Realms. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/10253262/Arena_Pass_2013_-_Registration_Now_Open-6_18_2013
All the WoW games are on sale this week. I wonder what feature Blizzard is going to introduce next week that will negate any reason for people to buy these! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/10245929/This_Week_Only_–_Epic_Summer_Sale-6_18_2013
Blossoming Ancient pet now available in the store! It changes with the seasons! It’ll be brown after patch 5.4, and then turn green again when the next expansion hits! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/10210435/Blossoming_Ancient%E2%80%94New_Pet_Store_Exclusive_Now_Available-6_14_2013