Blizzard freezes non-WOW MMOG rumors

[UPDATE 2] Following a flurry of rumors, the developer-publisher denies Starcraft or Diablo MMOG is in the works; image surfaces purporting to be confusing slide from Vivendi presentation.

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Last night, F13.net sent waves through the PC gaming community. Under the headline "Blizzards [sic] says 'EVERYTHING IS AN MMOG,'" the independent game blog ran a story attributed to a Vivendi Games presentation on Wall Street.

According to the story, the French publisher had used the unnamed event to talk up its profitable subsidiary, Blizzard Entertainment, and its number one property, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. According to F13, the Vivendi rep on hand boasted that "All Blizzard franchises will become MMOGs"--meaning Diablo and Starcraft would both eventually go massively multiplayer.

The rep also reportedly said that Vivendi has "a model now to develop an MMOG in three years for $50 million." If true, the report meant that the next Blizzard MMOG could come as early as 2009, even if it hasn't been started yet.

Invoking the name of some of the most popular PC titles of all time understandably set off a firestorm of enthusiasm. That, in turn, launched a wave of subsequent stories in the games press, ranging from skeptical rumor notices to straightfaced news.

Alas for those yearning for a marathon World of Starcraft session, Blizzard moved quickly to quash rumors of any non-WOW MMOGs. "No, that rumor is not true in regard to Blizzard," the company told GameSpot this morning. "We believe that the rumor circulating about this subject is based on a misinterpretation of information provided to industry analysts."

Blizzard also took pains to emphasize it has not become Vivendi's specialty MMOG developer. "We do not currently have any MMO development plans beyond the upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, and furthermore, we don't have any intentions to focus on only one genre or platform with our future games," a rep told GameSpot. Indeed, Blizzard's jobs page has listings for both console and PC positions, although none mention any specific new titles by name.

[UPDATE 2] Shortly after this story went live, GameSpot was presented with slides that were allegedly from the Vivendi PowerPoint presentation which started the whole rumor avalanche. While Blizzard had not confirmed their authenticity as of press time, the slides did appear legit--and could, to a non-savvy observer, give the appearance that Diablo and Starcraft MMOs were imminent.

In particular, the final slide shows a chart which listed "Warcraft," "Diablo," and "Starcraft" in three rows. The chart is divided into three columns titled "Massively Multiplayer Online," "PC/MAC," and "Console." Each of the chart's nine cells is either colored Navy Blue and filled with titles, meaning Blizzard had released games from a franchise in a genre, or colored light blue for "potential" and left blank, indicating one of the three series could be extended into the specified genre.

For Warcraft, the graph lists "World of Warcraft" in the "Massively Multiplayer Online" column, and all five Warcraft strategy games under "PC/MAC." All three Diablo titles are listed in the same column, as are StarCraft and its Broodwar expansion. All other fields on the chart--the StarCraft MMOG field, the Diablo MMOG field, and the "console" fields for all three franchises are blank and marked "potential."

To the unfamiliar observer, the chart might give the appearance that StarCraft and Diablo MMOGs are in the works. The comments below it must have likely added to the confusion. "Blizzard's three core franchises were born on PC but are naturally extendable," read the first line under the chart. "We are investing heavily now in developing new executions across multiple franchises," continued the slide, just above a bullet-pointed reminder that the company bought Metal Arms developer Swingin' Ape to be the "center of [its] next-gen console strategy."

The slide wraps up by proclaiming that Blizzard has "put investments in place for numerous future Blizzard products." Then it delivers the ultimate teaser: "Due to long development cycles, for competitive reasons, we do not disclose releases far ahead of street date."

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