Yesterday, soon after business began in California, I watched ActiBlizz’ three main franchises all post either proposed changes to gameplay or means by which players and developers could interact (former for Overwatch and Hearthstone, latter for Warcraft.) If I didn’t know better I’d say there was a memo circulated from management to tell everyone its time across the Summer to become more forward-facing and make customers feel far more involved with development. Of course, the deal struck with Twitch for esports coverage might have summat to do with some of this, but for me this is largely irrelevant. As we discussed yesterday, I’m not in the Warcraft ‘Universe’ for anything except Azeroth, and even that is on fairly tenuous terms right now. It means this morning I have pause to consider what is my relationship with World of Warcraft going forward.
This is the issue, pretty much any time I have a problem with Azeroth. The game didn’t alter overnight, but I’m evolving, and as more things demand my time I have less inclination to sit for hours playing. This game has always demanded a level of static interactivity that got me into a mess of overweight and inactive to begin with. I still love the distraction and relaxation I gain from playing, but more often than not I’d rather be up and moving first. My Fitbit will, at the end of every hour, buzz on my wrist to inform me if I’ve lost track of time and not made some movement in the previous 50 minutes, and that still happens a lot more than I’d like. This gave me pause for thought: what if I could do more Azeroth stuff ‘on the go’ and restrict my playtime to a couple of hours maximum? Certainly with the state of the Warcraft Mobile App, that is possible.
I remember the day it was announced that ActiBlizz had bought out King, famous then for Candy Crush and pretty much not much else, and how smart it would be if I could play in Azeroth on the train, or sitting at the Gym after a workout session. That’s what this ‘test’ has been, more or less: the Companion App, like everything ActiBlizz ever does, was made with a long term plan in mind. They’ll be aware how many of us rely on this when there’s no time to be at a PC, that we’ll dedicate a couple of hours to playing regardless but for everything else, this is what works better.
It is why I’ll bet this sizeable pile of goblin gold stashed to my left that when we get to Blizzcon in November, it won’t just be remasters of W3 and D2 that take the headlines. Everybody and Jeff Kaplan’s granny knows there’s a new IP being worked at Irvine. Enough of the Warcraft staff have vanished ‘to pursue new opportunities in Blizzard’ for it to be the worst kept secret in gaming right now. This is also the company who kept Overwatch a secret for a very long time, so don’t expect anyone to spill the beans on what we can expect… but if it isn’t at least partly mobile based, I’ll be stunned.
The question then becomes twofold: would this be a Warcraft ‘universe’ spinoff, or a completely new game? Part of me thinks that both have merit: if the company wants to keep people like me with limited time locked into their franchises, the former might be a great place to reward 12 years of playtime. If there a way to play Warcraft ‘lite’ that could stand alone, yet still have a relevance to the existing Expansion, we’d willing keep paying a sub to play it, especially if that allowed a continuing sense of togetherness with the Warcraft ‘community.’ If this were a stand-alone title I sense it will have to be so radical a diversion from what we have to perhaps stand the chance of alienating audiences.
If the key is maintaining interest, I have a feeling that maybe a roleplay version of Azeroth could be the way forward: roll a character, quest and build your gear up, take part in PVP games with friends on a turn basis. Think Warcraft meets Clash of Clans, or maybe Pokemon… a way to be a part of the experience, but with the emphasis on playing in your own time, on the move. The distraction craved when stuck on public transport or away from your PC, able to be taken outside and accessed on the go. The best of Azeroth and your mobile device, combined in the same space.
This game already thrives on an increasing number of stand alone UIs: what is a mobile app but a series of these, strung together with animation? Take the brightest minds from the Warcraft stable, combine them together and produce a mobile game that can dominate the gaming market as Hearthstone has, but with Azeroth as its base.
Really, is this such a stretch to make real?