Titan Was Destined to Crash

Earlier this week, Blizzard Entertainment announced the official cancellation of Titan, a long-in-the-works MMO project set to reinvigorate the genre after the cultural milestone of World of Warcraft. Seven years of speculation evaporated in an instant. But how did this enormous endeavor reach its demise so suddenly?

Titan’s history is almost entirely connected to its role as a successor to World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft was the defining MMORPG of the last decade, trumping heavyweight competitors like Everquest and Final Fantasy XI. It earned widespread critical acclaim and became one of the most important games of its generation, scooping up new subscribers every week. Re-capturing that kind of success is nearly impossible, but Blizzard was reaching for the stars right off the bat. The planned successor, code-named “Titan”, was notoriously elusive. Promised to be unique from World of Warcraft (even predicting the two games’ co-existence in the market), Titan was hyped to be Blizzard’s next big step in MMO domination.

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Over the next six years, Titan’s development was kept in strict secrecy, with any updates being relayed through cryptic developer interviews. The hype was as colossal as the code name suggested; Titan was going to redefine the MMO market. Sadly, Titan’s development wasn’t as smooth as many expected. In 2013, Blizzard reported that Titan’s original form was unsatisfying, leading them to rebuild the project from scratch and move many of their team members to other Blizzard divisions. Development continued in secret, until the Titan project was officially canceled earlier this week.

The first reason for Titan’s demise can be traced back to World of Warcraft’s other legacy. WoW was enormous, one of the most successful and culturally relevant games released in the last 15 years, but it succeeded in a fresh market. The MMO firestorm ignited by Everquest was spreading into a more mainstream field. It wasn’t just fantasy fans that took to WoW; everyone took to WoW. Celebrities from William Shatner to Dave Chapelle loved the game, forwarding the excitement to the mainstream audience in addition to dedicated role-players. MMO culture had a broad reach, but by the end of the aughts, it had become fragmented. Developers were doing less to find a universally accepted MMO standard, instead catering to niche markets. New MMO subcultures were popping up in individual series; there was no “one MMO to rule them all.” Blizzard’s Titan was set to be that mono-game, but as the years went on, it became clear that it would cast too wide of a net.

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In addition to a divided MMO market, World of Warcraft was suffering. Compared to its population in the last decade, World of Warcraft has begun to shrink at a worrying rate. It’s just not as addictive as it once was, and its subscription model has a tough time competing with the free-to-play challengers like Path of Exile. The players who stuck around with World of Warcraft were die-hard fans, not the waves of newcomers looking to see what the big deal was. The casual MMO players have evacuated Azeroth, leaving only the most dedicated behind.

Titan’s lengthy development made it difficult for Blizzard to adapt to these transitional periods. With a sky-high budget and massive hype surrounding the game, it was touted as the MMO that would bring everyone back in again. But Blizzard didn’t anticipate how the MMO community changed during Titan’s seven years in development. Players divided into sub-groups that wanted to play a smaller game – one that was more focused and accommodating to them.

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As abrupt as its cancellation announcement was, Titan’s end wasn’t too difficult to predict. Blizzard’s secrecy in the game’s development concealed their struggle of making an MMO that could be all things to such a fractured community, all with an immense budget at risk. Titan could never truly be the second coming of the Blizzard MMO. With a gaming market that’s changed so much since World of Warcraft set the world on fire, that lightning simply couldn’t strike twice.