Blizzard's Dead Children

By Nick Breckon, Feb 07, 2008 5:27pm PST Want to know the secret to a successful family? Kill some kids every now and then.

Fresh from the D.I.C.E. Summit--one of those mild-mannered, acronymish video game conferences--comes an interesting list of projects that Blizzard has canceled over the years, courtesy of a presentation by CEO Mike Morhaime. Few details were divulged of the games, but the short list provides a bit of a look behind the mysterious machine that is the cool company from Irvine.

The corpses in question:

  • Warcraft Adventures
  • Games People Play
  • Crixa
  • Shattered Nations
  • Pax Imperia
  • Nomad
  • Raiko
  • Denizen

"An image of Raiko was shown, a pencil sketch of something looking like Gollum wearing a turtle shell that was full of arrows," wrote Game|Life correspondent Chris Kohler. "And Nomad was illustrated with a screen of two giant zeppelin airships in a cloudy sky."

Blizzard has always admitted to the idea that their constant, unbroken stream of hit games is due in part to their willingness to throw out the bad apples before they get served to anyone. Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans was an early example of this philosophy, a traditional adventure game that got to the screenshot stage before having its plug pulled. At the time, Blizzard honchos admitted that the project simply wasn't up to par.

"In essence, it was a case of stepping up and really proving to ourselves and gamers that we will not sell out on the quality of our games," said a release from the company circa May 1998.

StarCraft: Ghost is the most recent example of a major Blizzard abortion, and probably the most famous. Having eventually bought an entire company to produce the game in Swingin' Ape Studios--and having gone so far as to have the cinematic intro produced (below)--Blizzard finally gave up in March 2006, putting the project on indefinite hold. Notably, the game wasn't mentioned in the D.I.C.E. talk, and Morhaime has stated that the company would like to return to Ghost in the future.

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On the one hand, it takes some balls to so ruthlessly weed your own garden. On the other, Blizzard has always sailed in financially safe waters. This is a company that hasn't needed to take a risk in years. And now with the phenomenon that is World of Warcraft pulling an estimated $520 million in pure profit for the company--per year--and an impending merger with major publisher Activision, it's hard to see that status changing.

The cynical gamer in me says that Blizzard's financial security is both a blessing and a curse. I've been as big of a Blizzard supporter as anyone of late. In terms of criticism, the furthest I can go are some half-hearted digs at Warcraft III. Hero units? More like lame units.

But by largely limiting themselves to sequels and spin-off titles, when one stops and glances at Blizzard's credits over the past decade, one finds a positively staling list. For a studio that began its life putting out original titles like The Lost Vikings, it's a shame that three franchises have so dominated its recent efforts.

Valve is another company in a similarly lofty position. In some cases they too have played it safe, riding the Half-Life wave and picking up successful mod developers to continue their projects under its banner.

But where is Blizzard's Portal?

Somewhere in that list, perhaps. While I can't wait for StarCraft II, would kill for a Diablo III, and wouldn't be terribly against a World of StarCraft, I'd be even more excited about a fresh Blizzard IP.

Maybe something with Craft in the title. Yeah, that'd be awesome.

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