Updated Fri, Mar 11, 2011 by Cyrak
The Warcraft franchise is Blizzard’s longest running and arguably most popular universe. It spawned three popular RTS games and the MMORPG that we all know and love. It’s definitely popular and rife with potential but the big question here is will there be another RTS installation?
Blizzard is always remarkably consistent with the storylines in their different universes. That’s part of what we all love about them and the games that they make. A “Warcraft 4” would have to mesh with the storyline of World of Warcraft to some extent which could be problematic. Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, the latest RTS offering in the Warcraft universe, ended with Arthas ascending to become the Lich King. It took World of Warcraft a while to catch up story-wise but as of 2010 we’ve already killed that guy! Logistically that presents a couple problems for a future Warcraft game.
Any future Warcraft games will have some serious logistical problems to contend with.
First, the Undead have basically ceased to be a major threat. That’s an entire race that has been basically removed from action, a race that many players of the RTS are very fond of. Second, an obvious problem would be that the Warcraft 4 designers would no longer have carte blanche to decide what happens and when in their game. If anyone remembers the Warcraft III release delays and development period then they’ll recall that Blizzard always takes their time to perfect their RTS releases. That’s a problem when you’re designing a story for a game that’s going to come out 3 years down the line when the story has to be congruent with an MMORPG title whose story advances every 6 months or so. Frankly, story-wise Blizzard is going to have a hell of a time if they try to release another Warcraft RTS title.
Another issue to consider here is self-defeating competition in the RTS market. Blizzard has a stranglehold on the competitive RTS market, there’s literally no competition at all. Starcraft II is immensely popular and is slated for an additional 2 expansions. There’s nothing to gain by Blizzard releasing another RTS title any time soon, the market is already saturated with their product and they’ve got no competition of note. For that reason alone if we’re looking for a Warcraft 4 we should be looking in the distant future.
For an idea of what ‘the distant future’ might mean let’s take a look at the Starcraft franchise. Starcraft: Brood War was released in 1998, while Starcraft II just came out last year. That’s a 12 year gap that it took for Blizzard to reboot the Starcraft franchise. We could be looking at that kind of time gap for Warcraft 4 as well, though that’s probably a worst case example. The main point here is that if there is one it’s not coming any time soon.
Starcraft II came out 12 years after Brood War so there's always hope.
Another reason that the far future franchise reboot for Warcraft seems more feasible is that there’s a good chance that World of Warcraft won’t be as much of an obstacle at that point. MMORPGs have a half life and the fact that WoW is still building in popularity and subscriptions is nothing less than miraculous. In ten years who knows if WoW will even have content development. It’s about the worst kept secret out there that Blizzard is already developing a second MMORPG title. They’ve shifted key people like Jeff Kaplan (Tigole), the ‘father’ of WoW’s raid game over to development so it’s clearly a serious enterprise. If WoW dies down a bit then Blizzard will have more leeway to make significant changes to the Warcraft universe for a 4th RTS game. That frankly seems more likely than releasing a title while WoW is in the height of its popularity since the designers of the two games would be stepping on each others’ toes.
There’s an argument to be made for rushing out another Warcraft title though: “Product Synergy”. Releasing a Warcraft title while World of Warcraft is insanely popular will guarantee hype, free advertising galore, and many box sales to current World of Warcraft players. This type of product synergy is the type of thing that the higher ups at Activision would be drooling over. However, it’s a pretty crappy reason to rush out a title and I have faith that the good people at Blizzard are better than that.
I’m not clairvoyant and I can’t see the future. There’s no way to definitively answer the question of whether there will be a Warcraft IV. All we can do is look at the various factors that Blizzard would be looking at when making their decision. Starcraft has just come back to life in a big way and Diablo is about to do the same, these franchises and their expansions will be booming well into this decade. There’s another MMO in development as well and let’s not forget that World of Warcraft is still going stronger than ever. Now, and the immediate future, is just not the right time for another Warcraft RTS game. There are just too many other great Blizzard titles coming out already. If you’re looking for a fourth installation of the Warcraft series then look to 2018 and beyond. Until then enjoy what we’ve got!