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Peering at the Titan

This is not the Titan you are looking for

Anytime now we are going to get the reveal for Project Titan, Blizzard’s next MMO. That’s if Paul Sams (Blizzard COO) is to be believed. He indicated that it will be their next big thing after Diablo III and since ‘Heart of the Swarm’ and ‘Mists of Pandaria’ are both known quantities at this point this might be the perfect time to roll out the hype train with some concrete info. With this in mind I believe now is as good a time as any to peer into my crystal ball and predict what sort of beast Titan will be. Since information on the game is scarce predict is all I can do….

When will it be released?
The game moved from preproduction to production at the tail end of 2011. If all went according to plan they already started creating game content and they surely have something playable internally by now. They have hired more staff over the past 4-5 years in preparation for this and other projects so the release of Diablo III and the eventual release of the two expansions later this year should not have affected progress on project Titan.

My prediction: Unless they’ve been extremely cautious with the information released till now I am guessing we can expect a late 2014 release, at the earliest.

What payment model will it have?
Blizzard’s president, Mark Morhaime, has gone on record saying that he is not a big fan of F2P. In reference to WoW he said that they are aiming at the higher end of the market and going F2P was not something that they were looking into. He did admit though that a lower barrier to entry would definitely benefit them. We have seen them making WoW more accessible by releasing a free unlimited trial (or demo) which lets you play the game for the first 20 levels. Later on they introduced the updated refer a friend scheme to get more people on board. Their latest release, Diablo III, has no monthly fees. While not an MMO by definition it still necessitates players to play on the Blizzard servers, making it very similar to an MMO when it comes to server maintenance costs. Blizzard have offset these by introducing the real money auction house. Each transaction on this auction house makes Blizzard money. This indicates that Blizzard can be quite savvy when it comes to finding ways to create revenue for their games.  In the past Arena.net has shown that a hybrid model can work extremely well. With Guild Wars money was made from selling the boxed copy. In the long term the sale of content, fluff items and in-game commodities created more revenue.

My prediction: Blizzard is in an envious position where they effortlessly shift full priced copies of their games so I doubt that Titan will be given out for free. Question is: will it have a regular subscription? They do envisage a scenario where both WoW and Titan co-exist but how realistic is it to expect their fanbase to fork out two subscription fees per month? My guess is that they will sell the game but follow the Guild Wars model of selling us stuff and new content regularly in lieu of a subscription.

Sandbox vs Theme Park
Blizzard has given no information regarding the nature of the game. Morhaime did say that the idea behind Titan was to implement design decisions that were impossible to retrofit into WoW but that can mean practically anything at this point in time. Last May an individual claiming to be an ex Blizzard employee held an ‘ask me anything’ session on Reddit. To be fair it’s unclear whether this source is legit but it’s interesting to see what he had to say on an early version of Titan which he allegedly saw briefly:

‘It’s not WoW… it’s not gonna be anything new either. Just as any other Blizzard game, it’s gonna be a lot of proven concepts refined to the best of the genre mixed with reliable ways to sell to the masses and added with some tiny bits of hardcore to appeal to even the darkest of souls…. also Sims players.’

The claim that the new MMO would appeal to Sims players (supposedly referring to EA’s game) is intriguing. Then again, any MMO with a very good housing and wardrobe system can appeal to Sims players. The rest of the statement says very little since Blizzard has never been the beacon of innovation.

My prediction: In the wake of WoW relatively few games have opted for a sandbox design. Those which did, such as ‘EvE Online’ and ‘A Tale in the Desert’ have become quite niche, something which you do not normally associate with Blizzard Entertainment. This clashes with claims that Titan will have a very broad appeal. I am expecting Titan to follow a theme park model but the engine will be much more dynamic than the static one found in WoW.

Hotkeys vs Action
Action MMOs are becoming increasingly popular. They offer a different experience to more traditional hotkey based MMO games. There is still the question of whether current technology can provide true action based gameplay in an MMO environment. Many would say that if anyone could do it then it’s definitely Blizzard. On the other hand even Blizzard botched the launch of their latest online game (Diablo III) despite their vast experience in the field. It was interesting to hear Harry Hol* recount his experience of visiting Blizzard’s HQ. He explained how he visited their book library where they even loan games and said that one of the most requested games at the time was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Now I might be looking too much into this but it could be that the staff working on the new Titan game were instructed to give KoA a go since it really does action in an RPG extremely well. A more substantial hint coming from Blizzard themselves came during an interview with Rob Pardo where he did not completely dismiss the possibility that Titan might eventually appear on consoles. Traditional hotkey MMO mechanics would be impossible to translate properly to a console, so the very fact that he did not dismiss a console version of the game is a bit telling.

My prediction: It will be more Tera than Rift.

So there you have it. My crystal ball is telling me Titan will be a theme park action MMO with no monthly subscription. If I am wrong, I’ll blame it on the crystal ball.

*on the MMO Reporter podcast episode 20 or 21 if I remember correctly

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