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Blizzard Kills Project Titan: Avoiding the Sunk Cost Fallacy

A Titan falls as Blizzard goes in another direction.

Analysis by Mike Williams, .

If you were waiting for Blizzard next-generation MMO experience, then your wait is over. Blizzard Entertainment has told Polygon that Project Titan, its next big online thing, has been completely shelved. That ends almost seven years in development on the title, a considerably long time in the current industry. (Seriously, here's a list of games that survived development hell. Note how many games are above six years.)

"We had created World of Warcraft, and we felt really confident that we knew how to make MMOs," Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime told Polygon. "So we set out to make the most ambitious thing that you could possibly imagine. And it didn't come together. We didn't find the fun. We didn't find the passion. We talked about how we put it through a reevaluation period, and actually, what we reevaluated is whether that's the game we really wanted to be making. The answer is no."

The re-evaluation period Morhaime spoke of happened last year, when Blizzard cut Titan's development team from 100 people down to a core team of 30. At that time, it looked like the ambitious Titan was also going to drop the idea of being a subscription MMO. Now all that work is for naught.

Well, it would be in the minds of most people. The idea behind continuing to commit resources to a failing project is called the sunk cost fallacy. It's related loss aversion, in that people tend to hate losing spent effort even if it means throwing more wasted effort on the pile. Looking at sunk costs makes sense, but sometimes it's better to know when to call it quits. Crossing six or seven years in development with hundreds of developers on staff can be scary; you've spent enough money with no clear indication that your efforts will be rewarded. Blizzard's been around the block long enough to know when something isn't working.

"It's always really, really hard to make those kind of decisions. It was hard when we canceled Warcraft Adventures. It was hard when we canceled StarCraft Ghost. But it has always resulted in better-quality work. The discipline of knowing when to quit is important," Blizzard senior vice president of franchise development Chris Metzen said. "We were losing perspective and getting lost in the weeds a little. We had to allow ourselves to take that step back and reassess why the hell we were doing that thing in the first place."

Titan won't be the only game Blizzard has cancelled. Warcraft Adventures, a point-and-click adventure game, was shelved only a year into development. Starcraft: Ghost, a planned third-person shooter originally developed in partnership with Nihilistic Software, had four years in the spotlight before Blizzard decided it wasn't worth it. It's better for the company to realize where resources haven't been put to good use because it leads to a smarter, stronger Blizzard.

Starcraft Ghost is another title put out to pasture at Blizzard.

That's not to say that a long development time means a game isn't worth it. Seven years is surprisingly around the amount of time it took ex-Blizzard staffers to found Carbine Studios and release Wildstar. Square Enix seems to be particularly devoted to making it all work out: Final Fantasy XIV had eight years from the first announcement to the launch of A Realm Reborn, Final Fantasy Type-0 is a Japanese-only PSP RPG that's coming to the West on PS4 and Xbox One next year, and Final Fantasy XV will reach nine years in development if it comes out in 2015. Even Blizzard's own Diablo III began development in 2001, released in 2012, and finally reached what many fans consider classic status with the launch of the Reaper of Souls expansion this year.

Sometimes you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Blizzard didn't see one for Titan.

Again, this is a good thing. The team of 30 core developers is probably being moved to existing projects or new development efforts within Blizzard, instead spending another two years hammer their heads into a wall. That can mean better content for World of Warcraft, Diablo III, Starcraft II, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm in the future. That can mean brand-new Blizzard experiences, especially outside of the realm of the MMO.

"I wouldn't say no to ever doing an MMO again," Morhaime said. "But I can say that right now, that's not where we want to be spending our time."

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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #1 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    Even though the numbers are steadily decreasing, WoW still makes more money than any other MMO these days. It's a little weird to think they don't have a successor lined up.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #2 pdubb 4 years ago
    I would say Blizzard still is ahead on the sunken cost curve because I am positive that at least some of the code or ideas for this game have been scavenged to other projects either earlier in the cycle or now as we speak. I know when I dabbled in music sometimes I could put together a song that was from the wastelands of several not so good songs to make something decent. I imagine writers, programmers, artists, and other content creators do something similar.

    Good luck to those who are moving on to better projects.
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  • Avatar for Macuelos #3 Macuelos 4 years ago
    As a Business major, these articles make me happy. Sunk costs (opportunity costs involved), hmm.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #4 VotesForCows 4 years ago
    A courageous decision - one not many companies would take. Fair play to them.
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  • Avatar for docexe #5 docexe 4 years ago
    @touchofkiel I think part of the problem is that, with the current market conditions, no subscription based MMORPG will ever get again the numbers of WoW, and there would be very little point for Blizzard in releasing a F2P based one as long as the golden goose keeps producing.

    Not to mention that the online scene is increasingly being dominated by things like MOBA and other F2P games. In that sense, games like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm might end becoming the actual successors of WoW rather than another MMORPG.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #6 ShadowTheSecond 4 years ago
    @pdubb

    Yeah, if nothing else the experience that the team members gained on the project will be valuable for future efforts. New hires would have become quite experienced in their roles after that many years, and the experienced staff are even more refined.
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