Despite its reputation for a "when they're done" approach to release schedules, Blizzard said during Activision's fourth quarter earning call last night that it now intends to release one "frontline" game per year.
Much of the call focused on Activision's performance in the market, along with forecasts for the future including a prediction from Activision President Mike Griffith that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 install bases in North America and Europe will grow by eight million in 2009 while the Wii will see growth of over 16 million units in the same period. But more interesting was a statement from Blizzard COO Paul Sams, who said the studio was now scheduled to put out one major release every year.
"Blizzard intends on delivering one 'frontline' release per year," Sams said. "I think you can see in our numbers that that is contemplated." Blizzard currently has Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3 in the works and it's safe to assume there's action on the World of Warcraft front as well, but Sams wouldn't say which "frontline release" gamers can expect in 2009.
The smart money seems to be on Starcraft 2, which Sams recently announced is expected to enter beta "in the next few months," but there's also a hint of concern going around that Blizzard's fabled commitment to quality over timetables may be under pressure now that it's part of the Activision stable. Intending to make regular annual releases isn't the same as actually doing it and what constitutes a "frontline release" is hazy, but committing to a major release every year is awfully optimistic for a studio that's managed only three new games, three expansion packs and an MMOG since the release of Diablo all the way back in 1996. There's no doubt Activision has the resources to make it happen, but will the final result be what we've come to expect from Blizzard?