Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 21, 2014
 
The Ubisoft formula versus the Blizzard formula

This year there has been some discussion in gaming circles about the "Ubisoft formula" for making an open world game. It is basically a recipe that is shared by various Ubisoft games, from the Assassin's Creed series to Watch Dogs, and which has become so well-known that even open world games that aren't from Ubisoft, like Shadow of Mordor, have been shown to conform to that formula. Meanwhile a lot of pundits seemed somewhat confused about what to make of Blizzard's latest announcement of a new brand, Overwatch. Why is Blizzard making a multi-player shooter? Blizzard isn't know for making multi-player shooters, or even just shooters, so why Overwatch?

I do believe that Blizzard has a formula as well. And I would say that it is a much better formula than what Ubisoft has. While the Ubisoft formula allows you to churn out a large number of largely identical games with new coats of paints, the Blizzard formula leads a collection of very different games. Blizzard's formula is taking whatever genre is currently popular and then applying great craftsmanship to that genre, basically trying to make the best possible game of that genre.

That is the secret sauce that game companies making WoW clones for a decade never understood. World of Warcraft isn't successful because it is highly original or the first of its kind or has a specific set of features. World of Warcraft is successful (and currently growing by 3 million players again) because it took a known concept from games like Everquest or Dark Age of Camelot and simply perfected it. Everything just works in a Blizzard game, notwithstanding occasional errors of judgement like the Diablo 3 real-money AH. Blizzard removes barriers to entry and makes games more accessible for a larger audience. And as larger audience means larger income, they get filthy rich in the process.

The ability to look at existing games, find out what exactly makes them tick, find out what doesn't work, and produce a better version is what makes Blizzard so successful. It is the reason why Blizzard is the market leader in MMORPGs, and not for example SOE or Mythic. It is the reason why Blizzard is the market leader in online trading card games, and not Wizards of the Coast. It is the reason why Blizzard is the market leader in real-time strategy games, and not Westwood Studios. And it is the reason why Riot Games should be nervous when Blizzard makes a MOBA, and Valve should be nervous when Blizzard makes a multi-player shooter. It is extremely likely that the Blizzard version of any game is better than the original, because it is SET OUT to be better than the original. Blizzard isn't making "me too" games, they are in the business of finding and polishing raw diamonds.

And who knows, maybe one day Blizzard will make an open-world game that makes Ubisoft look like amateurs.

Comments:
WoW offers something that takes a LOT of time to be perfected: lore. If you exclude the Star Wars franchise, everything else is almost non-existant.

WoW features an insane amount of quests, references, things to do/see/acquire. Most of them are deeply tied to each other. Some feature an incredibly deep storyline.

You can play WoW on your own, considering it a kind of "online single player" experience. You can either spend your time inside endgame dungeons or waste months exploring the gigantic world/regions.

That's why, in my opinion, WoW will keep the crown forever. At least until Blizzard will decide to kill it or transform it into something else.
 
Considering Blizzard is doing the "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" routine with the instant (and paid for) L90, they're deliberately torpedoing their leveling experience for the sake of emphasizing the new expac.

Sure, you can level from L1 to max level --and I used to do that with a new toon every expac just to see what the experience was like-- but that experience isn't exactly encouraged by the devs these days.

As for the Blizzard way, I think that Tobold's got a big point here. At the same time, nothing is assured in the video game market. Shooters are so often associated with console games that I find it interesting that Blizz isn't bothering with a console edition, where most of their potential buyers would reside. There are a lot of Blizz fans who --like me-- can't physically handle a shooter. (I get motion sick when playing one.) Still, I wonder whether they'll get enough buyers on the PC market vs. the console market to make it worthwhile.

 
Shooters are so often associated with console games that I find it interesting that Blizz isn't bothering with a console edition, where most of their potential buyers would reside.

As I understand it you can't make a good cross-platform multi-player shooter, because PC gamers would massacre console gamers. Mouse aiming is infinitely superior to gamepad aiming. Even if you kept the two populations separate, it would be hard to make a game that works at the same speed for the two populations. Console shooters tend to be far slower, because their aiming method is so much slower.
 
Blizzard are quite free about being inspired by other games. They take things that they love and fine tune them. They rarely come up with new ideas, but instead focus on refining and making improvements.
 
That cross platform issue didn't stop them from making a console version of Diablo 3.

They could potentially sell a lot more product to console gamers, if that were their goal. My belief is that their real goal is a slice of the MOBA driven video game pro-league pie, so console gamers are irrelevant to them at the moment.
 
I honestly don't think Riot has anything to worry about from HotS. People will try it, people will love it, but I think it's mostly Blizzard fanboys that will fully dive in. I think they're making a MOBA for Blizzard fans, not MOBA fans. From what I've seen/read, taking away the depth from the game might be its undoing. Not for the unwashed masses, but for people who actually enjoy LoL. I still plan to play it, try it out, and might enjoy it. But it won't dethrone League. It might match DOTA2 numbers, maybe even surpass them.
 
I think they're making a MOBA for Blizzard fans, not MOBA fans.

I think you are half right. Blizzard is not making games for some sort of nebulous "Blizzard fan". But when they take on a new genre and make a game there, they certainly don't make that new game for fans of the genre. Blizzard didn't make WoW for Everquest fans, and the most hardcore EQ fans hate WoW for being "dumbed down". Blizzard generally makes games for the mass market, which means making a genre more accessible, and moving away from the hardcore market.

Having said that, not everybody who plays League of Legends is a hardcore League of Legends fan. With every game there is always a good part of the population that doesn't use all the intricate features and is just playing for fun, usually to the scorn of the hardcore players. Those "for fun" players might very well be attracted by a Blizzard version of a game, and there tend to be a lot of them.
 
The coolest part of Blizzard formula isn't great craftsmanship as such (Dota2, which is copied by Heroes of the Storm, and Team Fortress 2, which is obviously copied by Overwatch, is made by Valve with pretty high standards too). The coolest part is Blizzard's ability to clean someone's mess, identify gameplay problems and effectively solve them. Actually if you're familiar with TF2, Overwatch trailer looks like a huge list of things Blizzard corrected.
 
Ubisoft formula:

Put a climbable tower there.
???
Profit.
 
I've always figured Blizzard's success was like this:

Requirement 1: make game even someone who's never seen a computer before can grokk within a few minutes.

Requirement 2: Dad and mom should still be able to play even while baby is in one arm nursing.

Requirement 3: get 'em early. Game should be "playable" even at a young age. See Requirement 1.

Requirement 4: end-load the complexity. The people who want complex will put up with the simple stuff to get there. The people who find the simple stuff fun or challenging need to be appeased immediately...they won't wait for it to "get good" but the dedicated crowd will.

Chilling evidence of this has been demonstrated in my household over the last three years as my 3 year old grows. He has his own WoW character which spends most of its time saying hi to giant moths and checking out plants. He can "explode zombies" in Diablo III with mom (Dad didn't quite approve) like a champ. I'll be he can beat my ass in Starcraft II by the time he's 8 (not a boast, I suck at SCII). Overwatch could possibly either the last game that's really "dad's and mom's" from Blizzard or the first new game they produce that belongs to my son's generation. Time will tell.
 
Follow up in UBisoft's defense: I play ACIV with my son (and Watchdogs) and he loves them both, from his worldview. He spends his whole time wandering pirate ports and Chicago looking for cats and places he can swim. So I guess Ubi's got a thing, too. All they need to do now is realize that emulating EA and pooping out a new entry in the franchise every year without proper QA is a terrible idea.
 
It's too bad that you decided to skip the latest WoW expansion. I'd be curious to hear your take on the garrison mini game. I'm quite enjoying it -- it feels to me like a new twist that makes the game compulsive again.
 
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