Activision Blizzard released their Form 10-K Annual Report for the fiscal year ended on December 31, 2009 to inform their investors several strategies to milk [increase the revenue] of all the franchises across their portfolio.

While not all players know much of finances, NASDAQ, or Exchange Commision babble, this fiscal year report slipped an interesting clue at what’s cooking behind the neosteel-reinforced walls of Blizzard Entertainment.

The overview section of this Activision Blizzard investors document might imply the Irvine studios has more than one Diablo game on its tinker table. In short, Diablo III might not be the only Diablo game in development, or there are early plans for more in the future. Here is an excerpt from the report released on March 1, 2010.

“Blizzard has released two expansion packs to  World of Warcraft;  World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade  and  World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Blizzard is currently developing new games, including a new expansion pack to the World of Warcraft franchise  , Cataclysm  ,  StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty,  which will be released with the new and improved, and [sequels] to the Diablo franchise.”

There is another quote that commits to produce more MMOs in order to retain the customer base amd to prevent them from moving on to one of the competitors.

In the past, some players have theorized Blizzard would never cannibalize their own MMO flagship, World of Warcraft, but more than cannibilize, they would be retaining and recycling their own subscribers; while at the same time cross-promoting their porfolio of games through the new built from the ground up to interlace all their game communities into a single solid one with social-networking in mind. Here is another quote from the Activision Blizzard report:

“To remain the leader in the MMORPG category, it is important that we continue to refresh World of Warcraft or [develop new MMORPG products] that are favorably received by both our existing customer base and new customers.”

Blizzard Entertainment is currently developing a Next-Gen MMO that hasn’t been officially titled nor unveiled. It’s likely to be announced in a future Blizzard Worldwide Invitational. Both, Starcraft II and Diablo III, were formerly unveiled there, and Blizzard offered a playable demo at BlizzCon.

The nature of the Next-Gen MMO is unknown, but Blizzard has stated its experience and gameplay differs from what players are accustomed in World of Warcraft, enough to make them two different beasts that would hardly compete with each other.

Blizzard Entertainment is currently developing five games:

1. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
2. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
3. Diablo III
4. Untitled Next-Gen MMO
5. Brand-new IP game (unofficially confirmed to IncGamers a few months ago to be using the World of Warcraft engine for testing purposes until they hire a programmer to craft its own engine. Some might speculate it’s a third MMO).

Blizzard Entertainment, among other things, is known for expanding the experience immersion of their customer base by licensing their IPs and co-developing the stories. Blizzard’s Creative Design team, led by Chris Metzen and Mickey Neilson, and companies such as Pocket Books, TOKYOPOP and Wildstorm work together to bring the WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo universes to the novels, mangas and comic books markets.

These are not products based on stand-alone stories separate from the games.  Blizzard actually make these stories tie-in with the games’ upcoming content.  Once these novels go on sale, months later the developers introduce the characters and plots of these books into the game.

The WarCraft: The Sunwell Trilogy by Richard A. Knaak introduced five new characters: Kalecgos, Anveena, Jorad Mace, Dar’Khan, and Tyrigosa.  Characters who debuted months later in the World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade expansion.

The same author introduced another character from said manga known as Trag Highmountain into the WarCraft Legends manga series — a Undead Tauren Death Knight. Months later, Blizzard Entertainment introduced that character as an NPC in the Argent Tournament content patch.

World of WarCraft: Rise of the Horde by Christie Golden was a tie-in with the Burning Crusade expansion introducing many of the characters, locations and plots to be found in the game. The Developers were inspired by the novel to develop some quests, and even the Talbuk mount — made up by the writer — was introduced into the game.

However, there was an instance in which Blizzard Entertainment planned to release the StarCraft: Ghost FPS game and its novel tie-in StarCraft: Ghost Nova simultaneously — as revealed by its writer Keith R.A. DeCandido in an en early interview with me.  The game was postponed on March 2006, a few months after our interview, but Blizzard decided to release the book later that year.

Pocket Books launched StarCraft: The Dark Templar barely a couple days after Blizzard Entertainment officially announced StarCraft II at the 2007 Blizzard Worldwide Invitationals  in Seoul, South Korea. There are some extraordinary parallels between these novel tie-ins and upcoming or current games and expansions.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King by Christie Golden hit the New York Times Bestselling List twice on April 2009, just a few months after the expansion was released. The content of the book was a tie-in with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. While it mostly retold the WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and WarCraft III: Frozen Throne from the point of view of Arthas, there were mentions of characters introduced in the World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King expansion such as Matthias Lehner (Arthas Menethil’s child self), Marwin and Falric, and a vision of the future [divined by Arthas the Lich King] where he heard laughter from the depths of the Great Sea, and a posterior cataclysm.

Four months after this book was on sale, Blizzard announced at BlizzCon 2009 the World of WarCraft: Cataclysm expansion, highlighting the new underwater zone and a new revamped Azeroth shaken to its core after the earthquake caused by the emergence of Deathwing from the Elemental Plane of Earth: Deepholm. Can you see the parallels and tie-ins between the novels and the games?

Blizzard continues to awe fans with their game/book’s plot tie-in marketing strategy. A few days ago, Blizzard and Pocket Books launched World of WarCraft: Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak, marking the return of Malfurion Stormrage and the revelation and semi-conclusion of an old and long-overdue plot intrdouced in the World of Warcraft MMO since 2004: the Emerald Dream’s Nightmare. This novel story is set after the Patch 3.3: Fall of the Lich King and before the World of WarCraft: Cataclysm expansion, narrowing the gap between both expansions.

There’s a new book expected later this year titled World of WarCraft: The Shattering by Christie Golden which reveals the plot that leads to the World of WarCraft: Cataclysm.

Back in 2004, the early Alliance quests in World of WarCraft revealed the King of Stormwind was missing. On 2008, his whereabouts were revealed not in-game, but in the Wildstorm and DC Comics World of WarCraft comics book. Shortly after, King Varian returned to his throne in the game demonstrating how clinical Blizzard Entertainment is about making the stories and continuity in printed media and the MMO to be one and the same.

A new Starcraft II tie-in novel titled StarCraft: Heaven’s Devils is expected in April 2010 by William C. Dietz.

Blizzard Entertainment is going to make a game announcement anywhere within the next two years to reveal what the Next-Gen MMO is about. If the marketing trends between games and novel tie-ins are to be considered, the fact that three manga and one novel based in StarCraft: Ghost are scheduled — a game postponed four years ago — that should mean something.

TOKYOPOP’s schedule: StarCraft: Ghost Academy Vol. 1 launched on December 2009, Vol. 2 (August 2010) and Vol. 3 (Spring 2011). Pocket Books plans to release StarCraft: Ghost Spectres on November 2010.

Might the upcoming Next-Gen MMO be a resurrected StarCraft: Ghost Online? That certainly fits an MMO much different than the World of WarCraft MMO’s fantasy genre and gameplay style, as hinted by Rob Pardo not long ago.  Pardo has mentioned several times in the past two years he is confident they will reestablish development of StarCraft: Ghost. It’s just a matter of when.

The Activision Blizzard Form 10-K Annual Report adds a new equation to the enigma that is the Next-Gen MMO.  The report used a plural implying there is more than just Diablo III in their development pipeline. Are they refering to a Diablo IV or a Diablo Next-Gen MMO? While people will always deny that possibility, one has to remember WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos and World of WarCraft were in development simultaneously by two different teams before both games were officially announced.

Back in August 2008, Jay Wilson told MTV the following statement:

“We also tried to focus a little more on bringing characters back, and not just from ‘Diablo II’ but from ‘Diablo I,’” he said. “We feel like a lot of the focus is on ‘Diablo II’ but ‘Diablo I’ started it all and has a lot of really good stuff on the gameplay side and on the character side. So people can expect to see characters from ‘Diablo I,’ more characters from ‘Diablo II,’ and characters from some of the books. We’re definitely going to bring a few of them in.” And while “Diablo III” ends the trilogy, fans needn’t worry — it’s not the final curtain for “Diablo.” “We’re not saying this is the end of the ‘Diablo’ universe, but we are trying to bring this storyline to a close,” Wilson said. “It’s not just ‘Diablo III’ — we’ve got plans beyond.”

It is highly possible there are plans for Diablo IV or an MMO, if the Diablo game goes the route seen with WarCraft III / World of WarCraft.

WarCraft III and its expansion Frozen Throne introduced the new lore that would set the groundwork for the MMO quests, rich characters and locations.

Diablo III will heavily use material such as characters, plots and locations not only from the original Diablo game and Diablo II, but from the novels too. The Diablo universe is no longer a battle between the High Heavens, Sanctuary and the Burning Hells.  Back in 2006, Richard A. Knaak introduced the groundwork for Diablo III and beyond with Diablo: The Sin War trilogy.

During a public Q&A I organized to ask the author details of this trilogy he slipped a massive hint that Diablo III was in development at the time — nigh two years before its official announcement.

How much of the book is creation of yours, and how involved is Chris Metzen behind the canon storyline of Diablo: The Sin War Trilogy? Do you think the ramifications of this book impact the storyline of Diablo 3 the game?

“This is a pure collaboration between myself and Chris Metzen/Blizzard. All that is written is passed by him and the others there. This will be canon and has adjusted earlier info. The ramifications here will be used for any future project … and I ain’t writing for a dead game. I am not writing for a dead world … but a world with dead. ‘nuff said!”– replied Knaak, Oct 2006.

Here is an excerpt straight from the Diablo: The Sin War trilogy which reveals there are more worlds out there beyond Sanctuary that might be open for exploration during the battle between the forces of angels and demons.

“The gateway was nearly complete, and then the voices struck him from all directions. You cannot! You cannot! You cannot! At the same time, the gateway disintegrated despite his best efforts to keep it from doing so. Filled with an unaccustomed anger, he confronted the voices. This is my burden! This is my duty! You have no say in this, none of you! There was a moment of silence, and then, together, they responded, But we do … this goes beyond Sanctuary now. Beyond all of us who stand sentinel.

The dragon Trag’Oul grew wary. How so? How can that be?.

Their words struck him as nothing else could. Because the war is coming to Sanctuary, and if you interfere with what the Balance demands, it and all existence may be forfeit.”

They left him, then, all the others who stood guard as he did over their separate worlds, left him with the knowledge that it was his Sanctuary whose imminent fate might decide theirs. — The Veiled Prophet, page 168.

Whether the Next-Gen MMO turns out to be StarCraft: Ghost Online, Diablo: Sanctuary Online or something else, one thing is clear. Blizzard Entertainment is the best at what they do enriching their worlds with tie-in novels.

Upon reaching Blizzard Entertainment today for an official statement concerning the 10-K Annual Report’s slip (i.e. and [sequels] to the Diablo franchise) Blizzard’s response is:

Blizzard Quote:
We appreciate the interest, but we don’t have any new announcements to make. For the Diablo franchise, our full focus is on Diablo III.

Source: Activision Blizzard 10-K Annual Report