The Power of Being Able to Say No

The big news in the cycle yesterday was Blizzard canceling the Titan project, their work-in-progress next generation MMO.  We don’t know what it was, only that it was delayed at one point and now it has been cancelled.

It probably wasn't this

It probably wasn’t this

(Picture from the iOS game Giant Realms and the breeding guide site)

This has led to any number of people to say, “Ha ha! Blizzard sucks!” or other equally inane things.

Let me tell you about what really sucks in the real world.

What really sucks is being in a company where you have to ship your product, whether it good or not, because otherwise the place will go out of business.  When you have to release work you know isn’t quite ready or needed another design pass or just should have been shelved at some point, that sucks.  Or when your product hits the market after a year of crunch only to find that the customers interested in it only want some small feature that got tacked on because it was easy… and they aren’t willing to wait for version 2.0, much less pay for it… that sucks.

But being in a company with enough financial independence to be able to say, “No, that’s not good enough,  we’re not going to ship that,” that totally does not suck.

It is not easy.  Every project gets a life of its own, and if the company has invested in the project and talk about it outside the company, turning things off can be, as Chris Metzen said, “excruciating.”  And you have to be willing to ignore the whole sunk costs thing, because money has been spent. I have worked at a couple of companies that should have said no to bad projects, that would have been better off if they had, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

So seeing a company that is both secure enough in its market and knows what it is about enough to drop projects, that makes me envious more than anything.  That is what I was told “real” companies do back in college.

So Blizzard will just have to carry on with its streak of best-selling, money making games by not shipping something they didn’t feel worked.

I am hoping to see something deeper on the subject once people get past mocking the market leader for an alleged failure.

For example, what does it mean for the MMO market that Blizzard doesn’t necessarily want to make another MMO?  Is this opportunity for others, or just something that will scare off more investors?

And, of course, what does that mean for World of Warcraft in the long term?  The billion dollar a year cash cow that is WoW is part of the reason that Blizzard has the flexibility to say no at this time.  I expect that we will see even more focus on Azeroth to keep that revenue stream active.  Let it go?  How about never?  Is never good for you?

22 thoughts on “The Power of Being Able to Say No

  1. Asmiroth

    Funny enough, I thought about writing a similar post in that decisions like these are generally good for the industry. I mean, yes, it sucks that quite a few people need to find another stream of work (many apparently were moved to MoP and rumor is that the next expansion is 18 months away) but when you take a step back, it’s quite rare for a company to put quality above quantity.

    The NBA series from EA is a super example of shipping garbage, knowing it was garbage. Way too many games ship in beta state (NHL15, most MMOs) and get “feature patched” a few months after launch. I mean, at some point someone must have said “Aliens: Colonial Marines must never see the light of day”. Instead it ships and sinks a dev.

    Blizzard is famous for “soon” and for good reason. They’ve cancelled more games than others have put out. Warcraft Adventures, Ghost and Titan are the most prominent but each was deep into their dev cycle. D3 famously went through a mechanical re-write 6 months before launch (then again for consoles). WoW beta 6 months before launch did not play at all the same.

    It takes a serious pile of courage to make those decisions and an even larger pile of money for it to even be an option. I see no fault for what Blizz did here and hope that other companies can learn from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Genda

    There are a laundry list of projects with a ton of potential that didn’t live up because of financial restraints. Star Wars: Galaxies shipped too soon, Vanguard, it’s not hard to find them.

    To be a company that is financially and emotionally secure enough to look at a 7 year investment that topped out over 100 devs and say; “nope, not gonna put our name on this” is exceptional and and opportunity that most companies just don’t have.

    It’s nice to see that pointed out in such a level-headed post here. Some of what I have read just makes me shake my head. It’s amazing what some people will say and write with authority while not knowing anything about the reality.

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  3. SynCaine

    The easy answer is, of course, that no one has made an MMO since 2004 that Blizzard felt comfortable copying. My guess is Titan was an EVE clone, but Blizzard couldn’t figure out how to make the copy/paste work.

    Plus as always, Blizzard today isn’t the same Blizzard that made the classics that got them their name. D3 isn’t D2. WoW today isn’t vanilla/TBC WoW. SC2 is SC1 with a facelift and basically nothing else. The last ‘big’ release was a heavy dumbed-down MtG clone tied to one of the biggest IPs in gaming. What exactly has Blizzard done for us lately?

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  4. seanxxp

    Completely agree with this. Blizzard are simply in a financial position to scrap it if they don’t feel it’s up to scratch. I don’t think there’s anything more sinister at work here.

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  5. Codeblue

    I applaud Blizzard for the official announcement of the unofficial “new” mmo. I look forward to what will come out of this for WoW. I read a comment that one of the things that came out of titan was Hearthstone.

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  6. bhagpuss

    It’s interesting what different people take from the statement. I thought the whole press release came over as weary and crestfallen.

    Mike Morhaime is quoted as saying “…we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn’t come together.” Chris Metzen then says that turned into “Is this really what we want? Is this really what we want to burn our passion and our work lives, our careers on, for years on end?”

    I can’t read that as a positive, affirmative decision to go with quality and say “that’s not good enough, we’re not going to ship that ” because that’s what a good business does.To me it says we let our imaginations run away with us. We thought we were more capable than we actually were. It turned out to be too hard and we realized we couldn’t do it so we gave up and now we feel bad.

    They’ve given it the best positive spin they can but, like SOE dumping development on EQNext two, three, four times, in the end it doesn’t make me feel confident in either their judgment or their competence. In the former it looks like lack of imagination and an inability to read the market is a problem (viz Omeedd’s resignation speech on Reddit and Keen’s reaction piece); in the latter it looks more like hubris leading to a spectacular fall.

    Fortunately for Blizzard, at least, they have many other revenue streams that have been managed with more of an eye on commerciality and less on Our Place In History. To go from “we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs” to “I wouldn’t say no to ever doing an MMO again…But I can say that right now, that’s not where we want to be spending our time.” sounds like an admission of defeat to me.

    No wonder they want to lick their wounds, go back to their safe place and “support [WoW] forever”.

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  7. Random Poster

    Why on earth would they even think of copying EVE? As successful as Eve is on its own terms it would be considered an abject failure if Blizzard released it and got the kind of subscription numbers EVE gets.

    The people who play EVE are a proud and vocal group, they are also a small group. To get a game like that to appeal to more it would change it to where it couldn’t even be considered an EVE clone. It would just happen to have ships in it. (which is what CCP struggles with coincidentally)

    Not everything Sci Fi related is an EVE clone.

    What would not surprise me is if Titan was very similar to what Destiny has become. It would be interesting because I think whatever they made if it was like Destiny would have been reverse of what we got. Better story and MMORPG elements/social interaction but worse controls/gameplay due to no experience with shooters.

    IAny way it’s all speculation. I would love for Blizzard to actually do a post mortem and talk about what Titan was.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – Oh, they are clearly not happy. Nobody ever is when their project gets canned, even when they know it isn’t turning out well. But there are a lot of studios out there who would just have to grit their teeth and ship if they were in that position. That is the whole Tabula Rasa thing. In the long term, the ability to be able to say no is a strength.

    I have been at companies that could say no, but didn’t because we had expended time and effort, only to ship stuff that nobody bought or, the horror of the enterprise software industry, one customer bought, which meant we then needed to support it forever.

    @Random Poster – Copying EVE is just SynCaine’s theory.

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  9. Random Poster

    I know it was it just seems extremely unlikely which is what I was trying to get across. Though hell mine is just as unlikely :D

    As for your post on the whole thing I agree with you. The fact that they are in position to NOT push out a rush job just to please shareholders is a good thing.

    I get the distinct feeling everyone is just enjoying seeing the most successful guy at their high school reunion has had something go wrong so all the others who aren’t as successful get their chance to point and laugh and feel a little better about themselves until reality that they STILL aren’t as successful sets in again.

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  10. Isey

    WoW is/was amazing because it had timing, luck, and design. I am assuming Titan may have the design part but timing and luck? Surely they see what is happening in the marketplace and even they realize they can’t make an MMO top 10M players anymore. They already have the best one. As mentioned in many places, you can make a card game that is a fraction of the cost of an MMO and get millions playing and be highly successful.

    The main problem with MMOs is the design time. the design manifesto created 7 years ago would get WildStarred today. Maybe they saw things in the market that were similar – or maybe too different than what they were doing. Either way, they lost their nerve. They had a lot more to lose than gain here (reputatoinally) and even as you see in the responses in the net about this cancellation people are itching to see them fail.

    It was a good call and as Wil mentions good on them they can do that. I think they were just wise enough to avoid the disaster the launch would have been.

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  11. Jenks

    I just hope we get more details on what it was going to be, and less importantly just how far along they were. Chances were I wasn’t going to care for it much anyway, like everything Blizzard has released in the last 9 years.

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  12. Blizzfanboi

    “Why on earth would they even think of copying EVE? As successful as Eve is on its own terms it would be considered an abject failure if Blizzard released it and got the kind of subscription numbers EVE gets.”

    Where most of the industry copies others and hopes for a substantial fraction of their success, Blizzard has a history of copying others and increasing the success over what they copied by an order of magnitude.

    “What would not surprise me is if Titan was very similar to what Destiny has become.”

    Blizzard tried to make Destiny, putting all their top guys on it, but failed utterly? How is that even plausible? I’d split the difference, and guess they tried to make EVE and Destiny together in one game; which is basically just EVE with the WIS thing CCP wanted to do + full integration with DUST 514, right? CCP failed at doing that right, and if my guess is right, Blizzard failed at doing it as well. I’m open to other reasonable scenarios, but your scenario just doesn’t make any sense.

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  13. SynCaine

    “Why on earth would they even think of copying EVE? As successful as Eve is on its own terms it would be considered an abject failure if Blizzard released it and got the kind of subscription numbers EVE gets.”

    Name the most successful MMO in the last ten years not called WoW.

    Blizzard copies something successful, opens it up to a larger market, and profits. What other MMO would they try to copy?

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  14. Random Poster

    I’m assuming you are basing EVE as the most successful off what.. Surviving? Because if it’s off revenue or subscription both SWTOR and LOTRO (and that’s only counting monthly subscriptions not the free to play people) would beat it. Not to mention Lineage 1.

    I’m not disparaging EVE in any way. But that type of game appeals to a very specific audience you tinker with it and you you fundamentaly change what makes it unique which paints the developer in to a corner. Which is where CCP finds itself.

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  15. SynCaine

    Did Wow resemble EQ1 in 2004? Because that’s what Blizzard cloned, yet at the end of the cloning process one could say its hard to say they are similar. Blizzard is better at cloning than most. So yea, Blizzard trying to clone EVE would result in something that wasn’t of full appeal to EVE players, just like WoW didn’t initially appeal to EQ1 players.

    Also I’m just going to take you bringing up SW:TOR and LoTRO as example of success in the last ten years as a bad joke.

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  16. Mighty Viking Hamster

    I agree with the premise that scrapping a game which you feel is not good enough is a good thing. However I do question Blizzard’s way of developing games at this point. Rob Pardo said back in 2011 that they had 40 people working on it and were preparing to move from pre production to production – which would mean having 90 people working on it. Assuming they did this in 2012 it means 2 years of production which did not cut it. It would be far too easy to say that Blizzard are the heroes for not releasing a bad product – however it is a bad product which they had been creating for the better part of 7 years.

    I understand that Blizzard care a lot about their brand and would not want a bad product tarnishing their reputation, especially after the Diablo III fiasco. But I do emphatic with players who feel let down after 7 years of teasing. I discussed my thoughts on what this might mean for the industry. Whatever the effect I think it will be significant.

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  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @MVH – Blizzard is in an odd position. They are making plenty of money from other titles, but WoW is always there adding in a billion dollars of revenue, dwarfing everything else. In that scenario there is, without a doubt, a huge amount of pressure to make another MMO. I am surprised that they ever let Titan drop with that hanging over them. The software developer mind has, in my experience, two modes: “I can fix this!” and “We need to re-write this from scratch!” So I can see the lure of all that money and the nature of developers to combine and keep things rolling for a lot longer than you might think is sane.

    And if you think that is somehow bizarro world insane, come by some time and let me tell you about Taligent, a whole company created to keep a bad idea going for nearly a decade.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. sean

    that’s a very charitable interpretation of the Titan cancellation – rooted in real experience, and that question (to ship or not to ship) is, yes, often wrongly answered due to the whole sunk-cost fallacy – but still charitable.

    There’s an uncharitable interpretation that says: Blizzard have worked out that lightning doesn’t strike twice; that any MMO they release, regardless of quality, will have two unalterable features: 1. it won’t be as successful as WoW; 2. it will supercede WoW.

    Being the successor to WoW (in practice, if not in intention) means that WoW suffers – people moving from EQ to EQ2, by way of reference. Being the successor to WoW without being as successful as WoW (because the online world has changed, and the connectivity that WoW offered that is now available for free via Facebook, Twitter, etc; or because lightning doesn’t strike twice; on indeed for whatever reason you wish to ascribe WoW’s success to) means inevitable reports of comparative failure; ‘post-mortems’ on why Titan didn’t succeed, etc. This destroys Titan, as it inevitably does (where destroys = makes it impossible to be as successful as WoW, regardless of the qualities of either game), whilst meanwhile significant numbers of subscriptions have already left WoW to play Titan, which is now regarded as a failure so they go somewhere else…

    in short, releasing Titan was a guarantee to kill the golden goose that is WoW: the cash cow for the entire Activision-Blizzard company. No business manager anywhere is going to reasonably agree to murdering their own cashcow; and thus killing Titan was the only reasonable decision: do you want a half a billion free profit for the next for years, or risk everything on maybe no profit? The only answer to that question is ‘kill Titan’. For me, the only surprise is it took so long.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Mighty Viking Hamster

    I think that Blizzard put themselves in a corner the moment they divulged information on project Titan. The expectations for that game were so high that it would have been impossible to meet let alone exceed. Blizzard had a choice – lose $50 million or take a huge hit to their (almost) stellar reputation. They did the former and with good reason – they can afford to lose money but they cannot afford to tarnish their reputation.

    Moreover an MMO is not something you release and that’s it – its a commitment for the foreseeable future, and I am sure that most of the creative people at Blizzard lament the fact that WoW necessitates so much attention.

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