The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and the Legacy Server Question

In the wake of the much discussed Nostalrius server closure, Gamespot published an interview with Blizzard’s Overwatch team about the great failure that was Titan, as part of a history feature for Overwatch. Titan having been this great hush-hush project for so long, with only a single Kotaku article shedding some light on its demise at the time, I found both the timing and takeaway of this new interview quite fascinating. It is rare for a developer of Blizzard’s caliber to come out and talk about screwing up projects of such magnitude in candid fashion, with notable commentary by Jeff Kaplan and Chris Metzen. Yet if youtube comments are anything to go by, it was another smart move on their end in terms of marketing Overwatch and generating some more trust and curiosity within the player base.

The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and Legacy Servers

What the Titan interview is too, is a rather ironical look at the long-lasting after-effects of the monster that was created in 2004 – World of Warcraft, proclaimed hero and villain of mainstream MMORPGdom depending on whom you ask. Over the years many a case has been made against WoW for hijacking the creative diversity of the genre, causing a plethora of unfortunate clones or ill-budgeted AAA-titles crashing in one treacherous MMO bubble. What isn’t discussed nearly as often however are the negative side-effects of WoW from within, for a company and creative enterprise. WoW may be the best thing that ever happened to Chris Metzen and Co. but it “happened” to them in the same bewildering, unforeseen and uncontrollable way it happened to the entire market; a child of chance and momentum as much as creative genius and industry know-how. An alchemy that defies simple re-creation.

That fortuitous chain of events led the team at Blizzard through the same process it would lead anyone that could not be prepared, from a time of unstoppable force and hubris to a place of shattered dreams and identity crisis when it came to Titan, crushed under the real MMO giant that remains World of Warcraft. The irony is strong in this one. WoW casts its long shadow to this day and left the staff soul-searching and scavenging Titan’s remains to come up with Overwatch, a completely different, much smaller game to complement their genre palette. Thus a team used to the dizzying successes of the past stood humbled, as Chris Metzen points out in the Gamespot feature.

The Long Shadow of World of Warcraft: Titan and Legacy Servers

Among MMO bloggers there goes the saying that “there is no WoW killer other than WoW” and indeed, nothing can seem to affect this title’s weight, not even the next Blizzard MMORPG. This must create a challenging emotional ambivalence even among those closest to WoW and most blessed by its many rewards. And I can’t help but think it also plays a role in Blizzard’s unaltered disregard for WoW legacy servers; something that surely makes sense business-wise and in terms of fan service. But if we then consider a crew of people who are simply tired of old WoW and eager to create new experiences, experiences not continuously outclassed by a 12 year-old zombie that just won’t stop rearing its insistent head, well then we can empathize more with that decision.

You run legacy servers when you’re actually happy to keep the past alive. At this point, I don’t get the feeling Blizzard are content to be defined by the successes of WoW’s heyday and this weighs heavier on their mind than a couple more subscriptions.

4 comments

  1. I totally get their frustration with the WoW situation from an artistic point of view. Imagine being a musician and at every concert you go to, people don’t want to hear anything but that one big hit you had a decade ago.

    From a business perspective, not loving your biggest property is cringe-worthy.

    More than anything else though, I think that WoW has become big enough that its community deserves some consideration too, even if they don’t “own” the game. It reminds me of George Lucas, his urge to “improve” the original Star Wars trilogy and the prequels. He thought he was doing a good thing but many fans actually hated him for it. I think selling the IP to Disney was a good move both for him and for those who love the universe. Maybe Blizzard should think – if not about selling WoW (which would make no sense from a business perspective) – then at least about letting someone else take the lead who is actually passionate about it and understands what made it appeal to the masses back in the day instead of feeling it’s an albatross around the neck that stifles all creativity.

    1. Oh deffo, I agree completely. Actually we were just talking about the same thing last night, but it’s questionable if Blizz would ever go for such a drastic step with WoW!

  2. The video confirms what I thought, that the WOW team just got tired of working on WOW. I understand and hope for their sakes that Overwatch is a success. It isn’t something I’d play, never having been a Shooter fan.

    What I would hope for would be an influx of new staff for WOW, with new ideas and enthusiasm. Give it over to a new generation in order to make it new again.

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