Most of the talk in my part of the world over the last 72 hours or so has been around how the Warcraft Movie’s not exactly being marketed in the most effective manner. There have been various attempts to pitch material to the gaming community, which have resulted in quite unique and embarrassing levels of fail, depending on where you happen to stand.
What worries me most is that this is from a film company who really should know an awful lot better. I understand this isn’t Blizzard that’s responsible for the output, because they’ve very much learnt their lesson on how to sell to your audience. Warcraft’s next generation legacy has not only been identified, but is now being targeted with an almost revolutionary zeal. It’s been a long time coming too, and after the last couple of years it has become finally and rather reassuringly apparent that here is a company that’s not going to stop making World of Warcraft any time soon. In fact, Warcraft’s ‘Next Generation’ legacy is not only safe but very secure indeed, and was cemented yesterday evening with the announcement of ‘Traveler’, a young adult novel based on the franchise written by the man responsible for ‘Gargoyles’ and Star Wars: Rebels’, Greg_Weisman.
It should really come as no surprise that Blizzard’s shifting the focus of Warcraft to a larger and more comprehensive audience, and that kids are being particularly targeted as a growth sector for the company. After all, the kid that grows up with Blizzard games in their life is more likely to go on and be the eSports competitor of tomorrow, and I’m saying that without a hint of either sarcasm or cynicism. This is how life works, after all: kids need to be nurtured and enriched, and as teens many people who are now in their 20’s and 30’s had this self same thing happen to them with Blizzard’s original games. It makes logical sense to now target the next generation of products and services at the progeny of these players as well as the grown ups. Activision Blizzard’s already in a particularly strong position to make the most of this too, having started their own television production company earlier in the year, whose first task is to produce a TV show for guess what? Skylanders, already a massive kids gaming staple. In fact, the timing of this is particularly apposite considering were now able to pre-order Warcraft Movie tickets from our local multiplexes.
The true reality of Warcraft’s next generation legacy is not likely to really bear fruit until that title goes to DVD and digital access. There’s already talk of sequels in the works, long before it is apparent that the movie is capable of recouping costs. What these will rely on is those all important opening weeks, and it is no surprise that Universal picked the weekend it did to launch this film, considering how well a certain motion picture about dinosaurs fared in the same slot in 2015.
Assuming this outing at least generates some interest? There’s undoubtedly going to be an influx of new players to Azeroth on the back of the success, and this could mean a complete redefinition of what constitutes Warcraft’s player base. For many years that has been composed of a large migrant mass plus the same core crux of original lovers of the old games, ‘sitting population’ that many feel are at the heart of so much of the games current malaises. Except that’s just not true, and an increasing number of players are fighting back at the accusations that being a Warcraft player means elitism, narrow mindedness and only an interest in raiding and competition. There’s been a healthy and encouraging renaissance of Community spirit in recent weeks: witness the birth of the #WarcraftWelcomeWagon (catchy name that) which is aiming to place long term players into Warcraft starting zones on the movie’s release in an attempt to help new and inexperienced players to find their feet.
I’m seeing individuals offering already to help out with those in game who have been lured to level a character to 20 on the back of a recent Hearthstone promotion, and this enthusiasm appears to be infectious. There appears to be a genuine and palpable desire from an increasing umber of long term stalwarts to not only rediscover but reignite the initial joy that playing this game first commanded. It means that, at least for some, the influx of new players holds the potential to mark a rebirth, vital redefinition of why the MMO matters so much.
Of course, there are those of us for whom this change in outlook from the parent company is a long time coming, especially when recalling previous marketing strategies that never spoke to players like me with any kind of graspable relevance. I never grasped the zeal or motivation for Azeroth Choppers, for instance, and crafting huge hammers was never going to reignite my love of what the game was really about. Faction pride, like it or not, has had its day, and Legion is no longer about pitting one side against the other in a fight to the death. Sure, there’ll be issues to deal with and mountains to climb in terms of factional squabbles, but Red v Blue has ceased to be our crux: unless of course, you’re half-arsedly promoting the Movie.
The future is about friendship and co-operation plus huge sweeping story lines not unlike those you found in Pandaria, or Northrend, and it is no wonder that ‘Traveler’ is going to tap into the huge wellspring of story and plot that has gone untouched for so long. It appears that the company finally got the memo about story mattering above the colour of your banner. I knew if I went on about it long enough… No, I didn’t cause this, but lots of complaints about Warlords did. Once this Expansion finally serves its purpose as the one meant to tie into the movie (who knew?) we can move onto the Broken Isles, and ‘Traveler’ will arrive just in time for Blizzcon.
I think you can probably expect some animation to go with that too, looking at the popularity of the Overwatch short that was launched last week. In fact, don’t tell anyone I said this but I’m going to make a prediction here, based on how I know Blizzard work. I would not be at all surprised if, for Blizzcon, you found a mobile tablet game based on the book available to play. I’d also predict that if that doesn’t happen, you could well see a TV series pitched to co-incide with the hardback release. Activision Blizzard are extremely canny when it comes to the way they market, and books are only part of the equation. Transmedia is going to be big business in the next decade, and even though the company might swear blind they won’t touch VR with a barge poll? If someone offered you a VR tour of Stormwind, you’d take it. That actually happened last year with the Movie, and was supremely popular. November release date’s chosen for a very good reason, because that’s Blizzcon month, and BIG THINGS are already in store for this project.
Warcraft’s ‘next generation’ legacy isn’t just about the game itself, but using the resources Activision Blizzard now have at their disposal to reinvent Azeroth in new and exciting ways. The possibilities are endless when you aren’t only able to make the games on a single platform. If they can sit in your hand, or wrap around your eyes, there are ways and means to redefine pretty much anything. If you create a TV series to digest with your book, if there’s an interactive version of events to accompany your character online… once upon a time, you’d just design the concept and that would be your lot. Not any more: so many disparate threads tie different forms of media together. Mostly, if you can imagine something? The future now presents you with far more tools with which to create a vision.
For a long time Blizzard has focussed on only what it knew. Now it moves forward to invent new means by which to communicate, and the future on that front is very bright indeed. It is going to be an interesting couple of months before the Movie goes live: a number of EU sites have offered beta keys for access to Legion, but there is as yet no indicator when that phase of testing will actually begin. The Alpha still lacks a number of key elements to allow Legion to call itself ready for more extensive testing, but it cannot be long before the Pre-Expansion event is available if the company has any chance of hitting the self-imposed September 21st ‘deadline’ There’s still also the possibility that buying a Movie ticket could grant you access to all the games Warcraft has ever been, with possible in game freebies always a possibility. Frankly, it’s a wonderful time to be a fan of Azeroth. Warcraft’s ‘next generation’ legacy is alive and well, and I am it, because even though I’m 49 going on 12? FINALLY with ‘Traveler’, Blizzard might have found a way to sell me a book. It’s the closest they’ve ever gotten so far, and I’m seriously considering it.
Let’s see if they can knock this one out of the park too.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Book, Column, Transmedia, Warcraft Movie, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday