If you've been following the gaming scene for the past few years, you may be familiar with a little software company based out of Irvine, California, called Blizzard Entertainment. It's had a few mildly successful titles, drummed up some press - you know, that sort of thing. Since I was in the neighborhood for this little "Blizzard Convention" shindig that they have going on, I was fortunate enough to take a look behind the cast-iron gates of Blizzard's campus to see where the proverbial magic is made.
What do you do when you're running the world's most popular online game, and raking in over a billion dollars in revenue every year? If you have more money than you know what to do with, and you're Blizzard, apparently you build a ten-foot-high bronze statue of an Orc riding a wolf. This was my first time seeing the thing in person, and it was ... okay, yeah, it was pretty awesome.
There's an inlaid bronze ring - inscribed with the runes on the Lich King's magic sword, Frostmourne - surrounding the thing, with eight tenets of Blizzard's core philosophy at each of the major and minor compass directions: "Every Voice Matters," "Play Nice; Play Fair," "Think Globally," "Lead Responsibly," "Learn & Grow," "Commit to Quality," "Gameplay First," and "Embrace Your Inner Geek."
Boy, have they ever taken that last one to heart. Beyond the standard Blizzard memorabilia - statues of StarCraft: Ghost protagonist Nova, Warcraft bad boy Illidan, and all the dozens of awards that the company has won over the years - the halls of Blizzard Entertainment are thoroughly (and wonderfully) geeky.
We got to take a tour through the halls and rooms where the WoW development team makes it happen, and (as you might expect from a game company), the shelves are lined with memorabilia and figures from Mario to Marcus Fenix. Their meeting rooms might have had black screens pulled down over the whiteboards to protect sensitive information, but the Blizzard folks made no effort whatsoever to conceal their Rock Band drumsets or the arcade cabinets nestled up in the corner. Some of the more senior members of the WoW team even had honest-to-God metal shields hanging above their desks emblazoned with the royal crest of Lordaeron. Go figure.
And that isn't even getting into their Library, where books on game design and programming language are nestled up right next to full manga collections (of titles like Berserk and Naruto) and the rare Japan-only artbook for Turn A Gundam, with a massive collection of games on platforms ranging from the Super Nintendo to the Xbox 360 just to the side. "Embrace Your Inner Geek," indeed.
We sat down to lunch with a handful of WoW developers, chief among them Greg Street, Lead Systems Designer for the game - better known to WoW forum denizens as "Ghostcrawler." In his own words, he's the man who takes the blame for everything people have ever found wrong in the game. Yes, ever. Must be a tough job to handle.
Unfortunately, as one of the most successful companies in the industry today, Blizzard is also one of the most secretive - photography was prohibited everywhere past the main entrance. While we did get to see some of the new Diablo III skills and areas, and we got a sneak peek at what might be the next StarCraft II Battle Report - and it was totally awesome - there wasn't anything big we hadn't seen before: No new D3 classes, no developments on SC2, and a curious lack of anything at all about World of Warcraft.
Of course, that's with good reason: With BlizzCon '09 right around the corner, why take the wind out of their own sails a day early?
There are rumors flying back and forth about what we might catch glimpses of here at BlizzCon - perhaps an announcement of, shall we say, "Cataclysmic" proportions? We'll know soon enough, as Keane Ng and I hit the show floor tomorrow morning to bring you the very best in BlizzCon coverage. (Also, as I thoroughly hand him his rear in StarCraft II.)