This was a weird BlizzCon this year, one that felt like it may not needed to have happened at all, given the scope of announcements that took place. The biggest story of the event was the backlash to Diablo Immortal, the upcoming mobile adaptation of that series, which was announced in lieu of Diablo 4, a game that is being made, but Blizzard is desperate not to talk about yet.
All of this mess caused Activision’s stock to dip, but I think Blizzard’s current issues extend past simply one mobile game or another. I alluded to this in an article yesterday, but after being a market leader in a ton of different popular genres over the years, in the current market Blizzard is constantly feeling increasingly irrelevant.
Starcraft and Warcraft once ruled the RTS scene, but that kind of game has been out of favor for eons now, though fans were excited about a Warcraft 3 remaster, which somehow ended up being the biggest announcement of the show (which should tell you a lot).
World of Warcraft announced a new patch, and has been king of MMOs pretty much forever, again, another long-faded genre. WoW will always have its core devotees forever, and yet this is a game that was released in 2004, almost a decade and a half ago.
Heroes of the Storm was a rare miss from Blizzard, and while it has its fans, was too late to the MOBA scene Blizzard helped create, forever stuck in third place behind DOTA and League.
Hearthstone is still king of CCGs, but remains an incredibly costly game to keep up with, and endless new expansions don’t generate a ton of excitement outside of the hardcore crowd, which is smaller than it used to be.
Diablo has been the model for ARPGs, but this Immortal mess has taken the focus off that and made the narrative about Blizzard turning its beloved series into a mobile cash-grab, a fair assessment or not. Diablo 4 will generate excitement when it arrives, but who knows when that will be.
Overwatch, Blizzard’s first new IP in nearly two decades, was a smash hit at launch, introducing a colorful new world full of instantly iconic characters. It destroyed all its new-era hero shooter competition, but now is currently doing little but adding new characters every so often and selling loot boxes. It’s still successful, sure, but is kind of ruler of its own little island at this point, and feels increasingly irrelevant in the current gaming landscape, despite its initial breakout success.
Quite simply, after years and years of Blizzard owning the top property in a bunch of respective genres, many of its offerings are starting to feel stale, continuing forward in only patches, character additions or remasters. Many of the genres it was once leader of are no longer all that sought-after, and Blizzard is not competing in what are the most popular current genres in the marketing place.
Currently, we are seeing the huge success of:
Battle Royale games (Fortnite, PUBG, COD: Blackout)
PvE looter games with a sprinkling of PvP elements (Destiny, The Division, the upcoming Anthem)
Sprawling single player, story-driven, open world RPGs (God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, Red Dead Redemption 2, Assassin’s Creed Origins/Odyssey)
Unfortunately, what seems the most likely to me is that Blizzard may end up chasing the battle royale train, and when whatever series they try to force into that genre does come out with its own title, that trend will already be on the decline (honestly, I think it already is).
Rather, everything I’ve said so far leads me to my thesis (talk about burying the lede), that I believe Blizzard needs to seriously think about reviving Project Titan in some form, and expanding the world of Overwatch with a single player/co-op story-driven, open world RPG with at least some loot, leveling and skill tree elements that are emblematic of the genre.
What I constantly find myself thinking these days is that while I continue to love the world of Overwatch, I have almost no desire to…actually play Overwatch. It was fun for a while, but at my core, I am simply not a competitive shooter person, and Overwatch eventually became particularly exasperating given how much effort was required to coordinate with a team that goes far beyond anything you’ll find in Call of Duty, Battlefield or Destiny’s Crucible.
To be clear, I’m not saying Overwatch is bad or should cease to exist just because I’ve found that it isn’t for me. But I do think that Blizzard has way, way more potential with this world than its using, which you can see by the roughly two hours of animated shorts Blizzard has produced about the game, plus all the comics and supplemental materials. This has the potential to be one of the most fun, compelling and interesting universes in gaming, yet it remains entirely stuck inside this hero shooter framework. The most exciting thing I can say about Overwatch these days is “ah hey these new event skins are neat.”
Once upon a time, Blizzard was developing a theoretically WoW-replacing MMO called Project Titan. The project faltered, and ultimately failed, as WoW didn’t actually need replacing and MMOs in general were on the outs. From that wreckage Blizzard took concepts and art style and at least some gameplay elements to form Overwatch, turning a disaster into gold.
And yet I want them to go back for another go at it. I can’t tell you how excited it makes me to imagine creating my own Overwatch-universe character in a start screen, then roaming around a huge, open world designed by Blizzard to accommodate the concept. Sure, this would be way, way different than the current situation with each carefully designed hero having a locked kit, but I think this could work. Blizzard’s shooting mechanics in Overwatch are on point, even in the limited PvE content they’ve had in Overwatch for special events. The framework is there in this world for an RPG between all the various conflicts and factions, Overwatch, Blackwatch, Talon, Omnics, different gangs and rivalries and a world in need of saving/ruling.
This would be a huge project, clearly, not something Blizzard can just do in its spare time, but again, I think it needs something like this. So many of its biggest titles are just in maintenance mode, adding new characters and maps and little else. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry dominates the headlines and charts with blockbuster releases in more relevant genres every month.
I don’t know how healthy Blizzard actually is since we don’t know exactly player counts or revenue figures for each game currently. But I do feel like what was once a titan in the industry is often an afterthought, and something needs to change.
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