Friday, June 16, 2006
World of Starcraft
Lots of action in the past couple of day on speculations about Blizzard making more MMOs from their other franchises, like World of Starcraft. The speculations were kicked off by a PowerPoint presentation from Vivendi, who owns Blizzard. Then Blizzard says on their forums that Vivendi has been misunderstood, and nothing is being worked on. Finally Blizzard asks the fansites to take down copies of the PowerPoint presentation, citing copyright violations. Latest development is a comment by SirBruce cited on Cesspit, who points out that the PowerPoint presentation is on file with the SEC, and thus available for everyone. SirBruce isn't the most popular guy in the MMO world, as he is a bit of a stickler, but he is great at finding information and defending the facts. I like him.
So, hopefully in his sense, here are some facts: The Vivendi presentation lists in a table on slide 8 crossing "product development per game" and "Blizzard" a cost of "over 50 million Euro" (about $65 million at todays rate). This has been interpreted as having been the cost of WoW, although I'm not quite sure whether this isn't the projected future cost of a similar MMO, based on a slightly lower cost for making WoW in the 25 to 50 million Euro range. Why do I think that it could be a projection for the future? Because it says under development time on the same table "2 to 4 years", which looks a lot more like a projection to me than a report of past performance.
Slide 12 lists 6.5 million customers, of which 4 million are "East". Slide 14 lists the different business models in the different countries, which shows how much less the "East" customers pay: $3.72 for 60 hours in mainland China, $9.00 for the same in Taiwan.
Slide 14 talks about the lifecycle of a MMO, saying "all other major MMORPG's are thriving 5 years after launch". And obviously at least Vivendi knows how: "Compelling new content is key". I couldn't agree more, although I have my differences with Blizzard's lead developers what exactly "compelling new content" is. (Hint: Naxxramas isn't). The slide after confirms the release date for the Burning Crusade expansion to be Q4 2006.
Slide 17 is interesting, as it talks about WoW marketing strategies. One future option: "PC and equipment OEMs". Wanna buy a PC with World of Warcraft pre-installed? At currently 6 GB footprint on the hard drive that isn't such a bad idea.
But the slide that caused all the uproar is slide 19. A simple table which has the three core franchises of Blizzard, Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft crossed with MMO, PC, and console games. And basically everything which isn't marked as existing, is marked as potential, including a Diablo or Starcraft MMO. Quote:"We are investing right now in developing new executions across multiple franchises ... Put investments in place for numerous future Blizzard products ... Due to long development cycles, for competitive reasons, we do not disclose releases far ahead of street date."
My interpretation of that is that we *will* see World of Starcraft, but it hasn't even been started yet, and with a projected 2-4 year development cycle we won't see anything before 2010. Which is fine. There is no "clash" or "power struggle" between Vivendi and Blizzard. Vivendi just lists possibilities for the long term investment future, and Blizzard said that no other MMO is currently being worked on. While a Diablo MMO is also listed under "potential", I think it is less likely, as it would be exactly the same genre as WoW. Starcraft is a safer bet. I think everybody is confident that Blizzard could make a better SciFi MMO than Star Wars Galaxies. But we also know that they can't do it fast. So I'll go on record with a prediction that somewhere in the period between 2010 and 2015 we will see a MMO developed by Blizzard based on the Starcraft franchise. And frankly, that isn't really exciting news, but more a statement of the obvious. So you can all calm down now, people.