StarCraft 2 recently came out and sold one million units on day one. Analysts predict that this figure will increase somewhere between five to seven million units sold by December 2010, and those estimates are conservative. When faced with this information, people often shrug and say something to the effect of, “It’s Blizzard, what did you expect?”
Gamers are so accustomed to associating success and quality with the blue Blizzard logo that we are willing to spend money on their products without giving it too much thought, knowing that polished gameplay and high production values come with the package.
Only a minority realize that this widely accepted view is the result of a lot of money and effort spent on Blizzard’s behalf. The company pays an extraordinary amount of attention to the way it is perceived by customers and has managed its reputation so well that most of them believe Blizzard is simply unable to release a bad game.
How many of you have heard of Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans? Probably not many because this point-and-click adventure based on the Warcraft universe was canceled. After a year of intense development, magazine interviews, press tours and built-up hype, Blizzard decided that the game was just not good enough. Fans were in uproar, and an online petition to resurrect the game was formed mere hours after the announcement hit. Blizzard responded to the community but remained adamant in the company’s decision, citing that the game did not provide enough value for their customers and that the company would not sell out on the quality of their games.
A similar story happened with StarCraft Ghost – a title that promised players a chance to explore the StarCraft universe in more detail through the eyes of a psychic operative called Nova. Ghost was delayed several times and even changed studios. But in the end, the project was put on an indefinite hold.
I have no doubt that if these titles were released in their current state, they would still sell well and make money. However, this would look like a victory only in the short term. Blizzard, better than anyone, understands the long-running repercussions that releasing unfinished games would have for the company. They have earned the trust of gamers due to their ability and willingness to shut down a game that might receive decent reviews but would not compare to previous titles. It would smear the reputation Blizzard worked so hard to obtain and in order to prevent that, the company is prepared to suffer losses on its projects.
With regards to judging if a game is ready for release or not, MMO developers have adopted a variety of approaches. Not everyone has the funds to delay a game or even cancel it, and that’s understandable — but a lot of bigger companies do. So it’s a shame to see that greed and a desire to recover losses at every opportunity are more important to them than earning our trust and respect. Some of you may remember surrendering to AoC’s pre-release hype and promises made by Funcom, only to be disappointed when the game finally shipped. A similar pattern was repeated by NCSoft’s Aion. How many of you will eagerly rush to buy the next game these companies put out? Nowadays, most jaded gamers adopt a cautious approach and wait a couple of months to see what other players have to say about the new MMO on the block.
While a lot of people call World of Warcraft a real phenomenon and a true success in the genre, it is important to remember that it’s not just the game that was so successful, but also the principles and work ethic driving the company behind it. Perhaps if other developers were to adopt them, they would also attain the famous “magic touch” that Blizzard seems to possess and pass on to every game they release. That is, whenever they do release one.