The best is still not good enough
Okay, so if the remaster of the legendary Command & Conquer is worth 1.3 million under-priced copies sold, what sales could the new Warcraft expect? Think for yourself. Five times that? Ten? Why not, after all, a sequel isn't a remaster. That would get us about 13 million copies. Let's round it to 15 and assume that Blizzard would sell it at full price, i.e. 60 dollars. Sure, creating a new Warcraft would be much more expensive than releasing a remaster, let's not forget that.
That sounds pretty optimistic, but realistically, StarCraft II Wings of Liberty hit 4.5 million copies sold within about six months of its release. But is this a desirable outcome for Blizzard? Overwatch according to official data has found 50 million players. They not only paid full price for the game, but also spent a fortune in-game.
Let's assume Warcraft 4 sells 10-12 times better than Command and Conquer remaster and is sold for $60 a piece... It still wouldn't suffice.
Of course, an RTS can also accommodate micropayments, but if that actually worked in StarCraft 2, then its development would not be stopped, right? Let's add that a noticeable part of potential buyers of Warcraft 4 would be old times, to whom these practices seem highly repugnant.
Diablo 3 also coped well, selling 30 million copies from May 2013 to August 2015, and Blizzard probably improved on that since. With a Switch release, for example. It is worth making a comparison here. Legacy of the Void sold a million copies within 24 hours of its debut. At the same time, Diablo went to 3.5 million players.
How did Warcraft 3: Reforged fare? That's an important question, because it could have been a benchmark, a probe to gauge market interest in the series' return. We don't have sales figures, but we do know that the release was a flop. There was a lot of news of various problems, and then Blizzard's official apology and the promise of a refund to everyone who submits a request.
That was a pretty clear signal from the community. The corporation could decrypt it as follows: "There's no point in creating a new game in this series, because the community has exorbitant expectations." In this case, were they correct? I think so; the release of Reforged could have looked a lot better. Is Blizzard willing to do it again? Probably not.
At this point, Blizzard can act in two ways.
- Either: Warcraft is a legendary franchise, and no one makes better RTS. This genre is us, and if we create a new Warcraft, it will be so good that the whole world will fall in love with it.
- Or: RTS are dead. Creating a new game in this genre is a risk that is not worth taking. Today, players are looking for a different type of experience that provides longer engagement even after the premiere (micropayments). It would be wiser for the company to follow today's trends.
I think there once existed a Blizzard that would take the risks. But that''s not the way Activision Blizzard acts nowadays. Why would it? The company was founded by Allen Adham, Michael Morhaime and Frank Pearce. The former left the company in 2004 to start a hedge fund, and returned in 2016. Until 2018, Morhaime was the CEO, but then left. Frank Pearce left the company a year later. Along the way, Chris Metzen, Ronald Millar, Patrick Wyatt, J. Allen Brack, David Brevik, Erich Schaefer and many other veterans also left.
It's perfectly normal. People come and go. It's just as normal for a business to focus on profits and minimize risk. Back in the day, Blizzard was a bunch of misfits who couldn't afford market research and marketing specialists. Now it is a corporation that works like a machine.
A certain indicator of the popularity of Warcraft may be the result of the movie. Warcraft earned 439 million dollars in theaters with a budget of 160 million. This is a good result, and the film can be called a success, because it returned the investment. 440 million is, however, less than impressive in Hollywood. Similar earnings recorded such films as Terminator Genisys, Lucy and the Lego Movie.
A new hope?
There is one glimmer of hope for the RTS genre, the long-awaited sequel to the Age of Empires series, created by Relic, who know it better than anyone. If this game breaks the bank, brings huge profits, and has a live network with players willing to spend money on micropayments, then Blizzard may become more interested. Is that likely? Maybe, but that would show once again that Blizzard is no longer the alpha male.
Martin Strzyzewski | Gamepressure.com