Which is good, because lately that’s about all they’ve been able to do right. I know, heresy! Blizzard are the gods of the industry, who can do no wrong! Well if you still believe that, you must have been sleeping the past couple of years. Here, I’ll fill you in while you get some coffee.
First Blizzard totally dropped the ball on their Warcraft license. Warcraft 2 was a solid hit for Blizzard, and the plan was to follow it up quickly with Starcraft using the Warcraft 2 engine, an adventure game title, and finally a next-generation Warcraft 3. Well, when an early build of Starcraft was shown at E3, it was laughed out of the auditorium. It was literally Warcraft 2 with orcs in space. To their credit, they took it back in house, retooled it, fixed it, and had a monster hit. It wasn’t really Warcraft, but they sold a copy to literally everyone in Korea (where it displaced Buddhism as the national religion) and quite a few elsewhere so it was OK.
Meanwhile Blizzard plugged away at Warcraft 3. It was originally intended to be a hybrid role playing/real time strategy top down 3D title. Then they decided to drop the role playing element. Then they decided to drop the top down 3D element. Now it looks like Age of Kings with orcs. Which is nice and all but not terribly revolutionary and you wonder why is taking Blizzard around 30 years to create Warcraft 2 with a nicer game engine.
And then you have Diablo 2. Diablo 2 was really Blizzard’s fall from the heavens. They saw that Diablo was a cheater’s paradise. Why? Well as Raph Koster wishes he had never said, “the client is in the hands of the enemy.” Well, with Diablo, it was not only in the hands of the enemy, it moved in with the enemy, crawled into bed, and wore a slinky negligee while crooking its finger alluringly. The “revolutionary” Battle.net service which Blizzard was praised loudly for maintaining “FOR FREE!” was merely a matching service. Think Gamespy with ad banners. Except Gamespy has ad banners too. OK, so it’s basically Gamespy. ANYWAY. Since Battle.net was merely a matching service, the games themselves ran on the client’s machine, which meant clever young boys could lovingly craft DiabloTownCheatKillMaimDestroy v6.3 and show everyone how studly they were at pushing buttons that caused other players to explode.
Blizzard decided this was bad and had a brainstorm – why not be like those Ultima Everquest Online games and host the games on Battle.net? I mean, Everquest makes a lot of money, and OSI is still around and stuff. It’ll be great!
So Diablo 2 launches, eventually (Blizzard taking its time-honored sweet time in releasing what turned out to be code as buggy as any other game release) and players try to log on to Battle.net to play it.
They tried. Really hard. The players that is. Blizzard apparently didn’t try very hard. Or maybe they thought they could run Everquest-style online massively multiplayer game servers and the required hardware and bandwidth for these monstrosities off of Battle.net’s income.
You remember Battle.net? The free service? That made its money off of ad banners? Well, that certainly worked out well. So well that every game that Blizzard sold cost the company money assuming they actually tried to, you know, play it online.
Blizzard’s response was to go “uh, er woops” and try to patch up things to sort of work while their customers decided to either play on Diablo 1-style client-side-networked games (which became as cheat-happy as Diablo 1) or to simply play the single player game and put it back on the shelf. Meanwhile, Blizzard’s only source of funding for Battle.net since the ad banner collapse remained selling titles. When Diablo 2 stopped selling in Korea, Blizzard brought out an expansion. It was pretty weak (one long dungeon in particular was repeated identically), the new classes weren’t tested very well and quickly nerfed on release, but it got on shelves and sold just like every other Blizzard title did – astrnomically. Which I guess made sense, since it had very high production values and the in game cut scenes were cool. Gameplay, as I said, was weak, but that’s a minor detail these days.
But everyone has the expansion now. SOMETHING has to pay for Battle.net. Obviously ad banners aren’t going to do it. So it’s time to actually get something on Battle.net that pays the freight. A massively multiplayer title. You know, like Asheron’s Anarchy Age of Call of Camelot or something. No, I know! “World of Warcraft”! They can just get some old Warcraft 2 maps and throw out some sprites and have players rox0r each other and charge $9.95 a month.
Really, it’s quite doable. You read it here first!