If I hadn’t already prepared yesterday’s post before leaving work, the first news item I saw on Wowhead would have been yesterday’s post instead.
What is that story, you ask?
Let me start with the obvious wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Whew, I feel better.
Okay, so in all seriousness, this isn’t necessarily bad news on its own. New phones are cool! A WoW phone would be cool, and if a manufacturer I could buy easily in the United States came out with one (especially if it was my favorite smartphone, the Samsung Note series) then I would save a seriously hard choice to make, similar to the one I wanted to make in 2006 when Dell came out with a WoW-branded XPS laptop (that also included vanilla CE keys for the bonuses in-game, the only CE I don’t own!) Thankfully, then I did not have the income I do now, and an overly high-end gaming laptop was out of reach for me. The phone being a product on its own doesn’t inherently mean there is a WoW mobile game, or that it’s coming soon, or anything of the sort. This announcement, so far, is just one Chinese manufacturer saying, “we have a cool limited edition phone coming out.” What’s the harm in that?
However, with the recent blunders of Blizzard in the mobile space, naturally the imagination of the internet is alight. A WoW-branded phone seems like a particularly good vessel for a WoW mobile game, and coupled with the additional news yesterday that Blizzard sued a Chinese game developer over a clear WoW ripoff on mobile seems…well…interestingly aligned.
Of course, it is a more conspiracy-minded alignment that you need to read those two stories and connect them together 100%. Blizzard hasn’t said anything publicly about a WoW mobile game, have they?
Specifically, we heard late last year in reports from Kotaku’s Jason Schreier that the WoW mobile title that appeared to be in the works was a sort of take on Pokemon Go. What that would actually look like is anyone’s guess – pet battles, maybe? – but given the accuracy of Schreier’s reporting on a variety of other topics, I wouldn’t discount the possibility. Blizzard is under a lot of outward pressure from Activision to develop new games, and a WoW mobile title, even if it linked to existing accounts or required a standard game subscription, would be another vector of engagement.
The thing about the idea is, as I said after the Diablo Immortal debacle last year, is that I don’t think a mobile title is automatically low quality or evil. They could make an astoundingly great mobile game that uses WoW assets – Diablo Immortal isn’t really a bad game either, from what I got to play – it’s a confusing misread of the Diablo audience and an entry into one of mobile’s most crowded genres. Mobile games read poorly in general because they often use the most abusive monetization practices, and for Blizzard specifically because Blizzard’s core audience doesn’t really engage with mobile gaming as much. Mobile exists as a value-add (Hearthstone, the WoW Mobile Companion app) and even non-PC titles were debatable in the modern era (Overwatch seemed like it could end up being PC exclusive but wasn’t, and the Diablo III port to consoles required some adapatation which makes the game similar, but different – it is actually really good and I think I enjoy the console version a slight bit more than the PC version!).
However, right now, we are in a pit where the new things Blizzard does are often, well, not great. BfA is still firmly mired in mixed reactions, a pet battle app is about 3 expansions late to really capitalize on the energy that existed for it, and Blizzard’s other franchises are mostly all in ruts of some sort.
There is one thing that gives me hope for a mobile WoW game, however.
Diablo Immortal is controversial to me primarily because it isn’t fully being developed in house by Blizzard – it’s instead being made mostly by Tencent, who are the exemplars of all things wrong with mobile gaming.
But Blizzard’s mobile teams aren’t made up of new employees or largely external hires. Blizzard’s mobile incubator team has been said to be made up primarily of the company’s A+ design and development talent. Tom Chilton, former WoW game director, is said to be in this department now. In fact, a lot of the people in Blizzard who’ve shuffled off of their various projects have gone here. One person I know for sure is in this team is Cory Stockton, a former lead game designer on WoW whose final major project on WoW was…pet battles.
That’s not to say that these people are specifically working on a WoW mobile offering, or that them working on it would assuage my fears. Cory Stockton could make a bad pet battle setup for mobile, and Tom Chilton was in charge for expansions both good and bad. However, if a WoW mobile was developed by this team in full, working under the leadership of one of Blizzard’s original founders in Allen Adham, that could be a good game. Could be. Now, if we get to Blizzcon 2019 and the only new WoW announcement is a mobile game? I’ll go to the supermarket down the street from the Anaheim Convention Center and buy their full stock of tomatoes for throwing.
Given all that, then, do I expect that Blizzard is making a WoW mobile game? Yes, definitely. While it would be easy to dismiss the upcoming promotional smartphones as just marketing to tie in to Classic, the fact that they were just pre-announced, and that Blizzard quickly acted to take down a competing product that was stealing their stuff tells me that there is more to this. Yes, Blizzard has to defend their IP, and yes, that includes takedowns like this, but games like the blatant Overwatch clone that came out way back when generally were not so sharply acted against. Similarly, unless the hardware of the phone is emblazoned with elegant, one-of-a-kind WoW artwork, I don’t see a reason currently to roll this out. Likewise, Blizzard has the ability to log in to WoW with a phone number instead of an email being added in 8.2.5, which only further ratchets up suspicion for me – phone number authentication is becoming more popular, but really only for mobile apps. Seeing it rolled into the full game is…odd, but it also gives Blizzard a flexible framework from which to convert a mobile player to full game or vice-versa.
We know that Blizzard has a mobile incubator team working on something for every franchise – games too, not just companion apps. It would be unfathomable that one of those efforts would not be WoW. In fact, if I were Blizzard, I would use this year’s Blizzcon as a 3-hit combo – announcing content plans for the future phases of WoW Classic, revealing WoW 9.0, and introducing the mobile game, with a near-immediate release date and show floor demos. The removal of Heroes eSports and the reconfiguration of space inside Blizzcon gives them more room to showcase more things, so even if we assume that there will be a Starcraft stage and half-hall setup for the game, I could see Blizzard configuring a full hall and the front half of the adjacent one for WoW, with the eSports stage, a WoW 9.0 demo area, and then a mobile demo alongside.
Doing it this way means Blizzard can avoid the ire of only announcing a smartphone game, shorten the tail of criticism they’ll receive for announcing it, and avoid the memes and general reception they got for only announcing Diablo Immortal for that franchise last year.
Will it work? I have my doubts, but I think that is a better play than whatever they did last year with Diablo, for sure. Will the game be good? Well, if it exists, I’ll hold my judgment until I can see it and get hands-on with it, but I’m open to the idea.
However, what I do know is this – can I get an Alliance-engraved Galaxy Note 10 here in the States, Blizzard? Please?!