I’ve been thinking about the possibility that Blizzard might release an MMO based upon other popular franchises of theirs in light of the enormous success World of Warcraft (WoW) has enjoyed for over four years. Sadly, it’s not going to happen, and I’ll tell you why.
Smart companies–those that are insanely good at generating profits–know that the cornerstones to new product development are: 1) know what the market niche is for the product, 2) know who your customers are (related to #1 but it is important to understand their particular tastes and preferences), and 3) never allow your products to cannibalize each other. Product cannibalization has haunted the sales and marketing departments of countless organizations and it occurs when a new product appears and appeals to or shares features and attributes with another product released by the same company. If the new product serves as a sufficient replacement, consumers will purchase the new product in lieu of the old one. This isn’t what companies want, of course: They want consumers to purchase both products.
Blizzard is a smart company. They’re not about to release a product that would eat into the margins they’re making on World of Warcraft. Starcraft II and Diablo III are certainly not poised to convert WoW players. Instead, I believe these two products are targeted toward two groups: fans of these franchises and players who have grown bored with WoW. Current WoW players may fall into both categories, but for those who are still continuing to pay the monthly fees, don’t expect them to drop Warcraft. World of Warcraft’s social aspect is too powerful. Starcraft II and Diablo III then are perfectly positioned to fill the gap between content releases for WoW. For players who are tired of the mindless grind of Warcraft or are simply biding their time for the next expansion or content patch, Blizzard’s next two titles will be a welcomed addition.
Of course, Blizzard may yet surprise us. Remember Starcraft Ghost? It seems in retrospect that the first person shooter set in the Starcraft universe was little more than a cover project for WoW, and while I don’t think they’ll abandon a Starcraft II RTS (or Diablo III RPG for that matter), there is always the possibility that there’s something else brewing in the depths of their headquarters.
How might Blizzard create another MMO that would coexist with their current ecosystem? I’ve pondered this question off and on for a while and can think of a couple strategies Blizzard might employ. First, there could be the potential for a “combined account” system where players of one game could purchase a second game and attach the license to their account. Whether Blizzard charged an additional fee or not is simply a matter left to their sales department to decide. By charging another $15 fee for a second MMO, they’d run the risk of cannibalizing either game and driving it to ruin. On the other hand, if they charged a marginal fee–or no fee–for a second game so long as you paid for a unified account, they could gather revenues from two sources: additional boxed sets (though this only covers the cost of production with a little profit for other costs) and new accounts from people willing to play, for example, a Starcraft MMO but unwilling to pay for World of Warcraft. In my opinion, the second option would be smarter and most players would probably be willing to pay an additional $3-$5 to support a second game type; I sincerely doubt I’d be willing to shell out nearly $30 just to have access to two games I am incapable of playing at the same time!
There are some who believe Wrath of the Lich King is the last major content installment Blizzard has planned for WoW and thus hastens their believe that another MMO may be planned for some point in the future. However, it is important not to overlook gaps in the lore itself that has yet to be covered. The Emerald Dream, for example, has yet to be explored in any content patch or expansion and is a perfect target for the next major release. In WotLK, the dragon aspects of the red, bronze, and green flights have unified and are openly receiving aid from the mortal world. Given the ties of the green dragonflight to the emerald dream, it would hardly be surprising to see the lore open further as bold adventurers plow headlong into portals across the world that lead into the dream itself. There are also numerous allusions made throughout the lore toward the unrest and nightmares existing within the emerald dream itself, from the Wailing Caverns to the druid level 70 flight form quest to a quest line available in Icecrown.
Icecrown also plays a role in exposing the player again to Mal’Ganis who has appeared to escape death at the hands of Arthas. When it is discovered that Mal’Ganis is in charge of the Scarlet Onslaught and he is beaten back, the dreadlord flees to the Nathrezim homeworld. Although it is unlikely to be expanded upon at this point, Blizzard has available further lore regarding the dreadlords, the plague, and perhaps a final, pivotal battle with the Burning Legion. In short: WoW is long from dead yet, even when the world is at the heels of the Lich King (although Malygos is destroyed in WotLK, thus removing one of the more significant barriers blocking the dragon aspects).
Unless Blizzard intends to create an accounting system that would accommodate multiple games, don’t expect to see MMOs from the company just yet. The MMO market it saturated, and Blizzard would be foolish to release another $15 per month game when WoW still has the capacity for generating more revenue on the long haul.