Disclaimer: I am by no means a fan of Warcraft. That doesn’t mean I don’t like it, but just to forewarn you that I am aware of its place in the pop culture and gaming landscapes, and that the following are observations/out-loud thoughts made by an outside observer and not someone intimately familiar with the franchise. In other words, I might be off about something here and that’s probably why.
Activision Blizzard’s Warcraft has been making headlines lately, both for better and for worse. On one side of the coin, it seems that World of Warcraft subscription numbers are down, enough that the company has decided that releasing those numbers henceforth is a bad idea, instead choosing to focus on “other metrics” said to be “better indicators of the overall Blizzard business performance,” i.e. “more pleasing to stockholders.”
In reality, 5.5 million subscribers — though down from its heyday of 12 million — is still nothing to sneeze at. Still, it’s clear that things have at best begun to level out, though the decline has some speculating that its days are ultimately numbered.
That means that this was either a bad time or a perfect time for them to roll out a trailer for the upcoming Warcraft movie:
So, that’s pretty cool looking. As I said, I’m not a quote-unquote “fan” of the series, but I would definitely be interested in checking that out. And that’s precisely the kind of reaction I’m sure Activision Blizzard is hoping for. That said, a couple of hours is far less of a commitment than the indefinite time they are likely hoping would come from new subscribers to their landmark Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.
Through all of this, though, I’ve been wondering: why haven’t they released a new Warcraft game?
Not discounting World of Warcraft as a video game, but it originally came out in 2004, and even with revisions, I don’t think it can be considered truly “new” by any reasonable metric. What I’m referring to is from what some might call “the before times.”
The very first game, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, was released a decade before its MMORPG successor was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, and it had sequels as well. But the last non-World game of the Warcraft series — not counting the mobile collectible card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft — was WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, released in 2003.
While appealing to mass audiences is great, Warcraft is first and foremost a video game franchise, and while it’s seen tremendous success in the MMORPG arena that most companies would be happy with but a fraction of, I can’t help but feel they’re leaving money on the table, so to speak. MMORPGs are not everyone’s cup of tea, and one would think that the fans of the real-time strategy iterations of the series which preceded it might feel cast aside. I’m skeptical that between the combined might of both Activision and Blizzard that there isn’t enough money or enough resources to pull something together, something which might draw in a non-MMORPG gamer and turn them on to the world, thus gaining them more subscribers in the money pit (and possibly sell to some of those same MMORPG fans as well).
For that matter, who says a new Warcraft game needs to be either MMORPG or real-time strategy? The brand is still huge, encompassing tabletop board, miniature, and role playing games, comics, manga, and a ton of novels — you could probably market a number of other different genres under that banner. Heck, as noted, there’s already a collectible card mobile game with 40 million registered users (and a real life version, too), expanding into other genres would no doubt grab some attention.
Mind, I’m not saying we need Warcraft Kart or Warcraft Party, but I’m sure there are ways to expand the video game side of the brand to more than just the relatively small niche its occupying genre-wise. And as noted, hooking people in one branch, immersing them into the world and turning them on to the brand at large might help funnel more people into the MMORPG that might not otherwise be interested.
Such are my thoughts. Desperate times, even if they aren’t necessarily “desperate” yet, call for greater measures, and Activision Blizzard are in the fortunate position to be able to takes such measures without as significant a risk. They should take advantage of their situation while it still allows them to without becoming truly desperate.
As I was writing this (and looking for some more images), I just found out that Blizzard might be remastering Warcraft III. I suppose that’s as good a start as any.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.