InterviewsFive Years of Warcraft: Speaking With Blizzard's Rob PardoInterviews - RSS 2.0
Mega-MMO World of Warcraft turns five this month, and to celebrate, our sister site The Escapist sat down with Blizzard's VP of Game Design, WoW mastermind Rob Pardo to chat about the lessons they've learned, the mistakes they've made, and how they'd like to beat themselves at their own game.
The following is a full transcript of the interview - for a quick summary of the juiciest bits, head over to The Escapist:
Five years ago, where were you imagining that you'd - by that I mean Blizzard and the game - would be right now?
I don't know if I was thinking five years in advance back then. We were really just focused on where WoW would go in the next year. We knew it would be really popular since we had such great feedback from the beta. Honestly, we just hoped it would be really successful - more successful than our previous games. Every game we'd done had in the past few years had beaten the one before it, and we hoped it'd be the case with WoW, too. We were figuring that WoW would be another blockbuster, and we'd just move on to StarCraft II. I certainly did not expect it to have such a transformational effect on our company and the industry as a whole.
Before we launched WoW, Blizzard had a staff of 700-800. Now, we're north of 4000. Almost all of it is support for WoW. Our product development groups didn't grow like that, the rest of the teams grew slowly, the way they've always grown, but not at the astronomical rate as the customer support group.
What's the one thing that has surprised you the most about the past five years of WoW?
I guess... I was very surprised at how big this genre could get this soon. From the beginning, we always had a lot of faith in the MMO genre, and we thought that WoW would be able to expand it, but I figured that... if any game would ever pass the 10 million subscriber mark, it would be in many years, many generations of MMOs, many different evolutions of the genre.
You were originally the guild master of [renowned hardcore EverQuest raiding guild] Legacy of Steel, correct? What did your experience as a hardcore MMO raider make you want to bring to WoW, and what did it make you want to leave out?
As a hardcore guild leader, I realized the depth that there is to these games. Previous to that experience, there weren't a lot of games out there that you wanted to continue, to be powerful with a large group of other players and constantly beating new content. I'd been hardcore in other games before it, like FPSes and RTSes, but in those games the joy of the game comes from the competition, and the only thing unique that changes is the competition. I think that when you look at EQ, the high-end guild game and the raiding, you realize: Wow, if you could be in a cooperative game, you get to know people, build up these bonds and teamwork, as you're presented with challenge after challenge? It's a very positive thing.
As far as things to leave behind? It's something we've been working on since the beginning, and we're still doing this with [Wrath of the Lich King]... we keep trying to think of ways to how to get the incredible experiences like that down to a larger group of players. We were doing 40-man raids at launch, things that were grounded in EQ motifs, but we keep trying to give more and more people that cooperative MMO experience. We've made it less hardcore, and it requires less people. We have Heroic dungeons and normal dungeons, we have 10-man raids. We wanted to introduce that fun and experience to as many people as possible.
If you weren't a designer, but a hardcore WoW raider, do you think you would think the game was too "casual" these days?
Quite possibly. I have this theory that, when you're a really elite hardcore gamer, what you really want - what drives you - is that sense of competition; really having that gap between you and the less skilled, and more casual. That's what drives you, and that's not different no matter what game you're playing: WoW, Counterstrike, Warcraft III, games like that. You strive to make the gap as big as possible.
So I certainly think that there is that sense that "Hey, I remember back when I had to walk uphill to school in snow both ways, and other players don't have to do it as hard as I did!" There's naturally going to be some resentment, but in the bigger picture, it doesn't diminish their accomplishment at all. They're still better and more skilled - but the gap has changed.
Do you think that the massive success of WoW makes it harder for other games to succeed in the MMO space?
No, actually, I think it helps them. Well, it all depends on how you want to define success. I think there's plenty of games out there that wouldn't have been successful if WoW hadn't blown up the market. For many people, their first MMO was WoW - maybe it was even their first game. They had written off MMOs as a genre, but they played WoW and liked it. And then when they were done, they decided to go, "Hey, I'll give Lord of the Rings Online a chance, or Dungeons and Dragons Online a chance." The genre benefitted from the growing of the market.
Where the challenge is, is for the people who want to take the throne from WoW. There's a sense among gamers and even in the media that if you aren't as big as WoW, and if you don't have as many subscribers as WoW, you've failed. But if you do want to try to be that No.1 MMO, it's hard, because not only are you going up against the five years of development we had, you're up against five more years of development that we've had since the game launched. Players won't think, "Oh, this game has as much content as WoW did at launch," they think "Oh, this game doesn't have as much content as WoW does now." It's a huge hill to climb.