Interviews

Interviews
Five Years of Warcraft: Speaking With Blizzard's Rob Pardo

John Funk | 13 Nov 2009 16:10
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Since Blizzard develops games almost solely for an online PC audience, are you worried that Diablo III - and especially the unannounced MMO - will cannibalize WoW's audience and leave the company with twice the work for essentially the same playerbase?

Well, those are two very different questions.

With Diablo III, I think there could be some worry, but I don't think so. I think that there's going to be a lot of WoW players who try playing D3, but I don't know if they'll leave WoW to play it exclusively, since it's such a very different experience. It doesn't have the same appeal, the same persistence, same guild and social structure as WoW does, so it's going to feel more transitory similar to other games.

With other big games, RPGs and FPSes, we've seen that people will maybe become more casual in WoW for a few weeks while they go crush this other new game, and then they'll come back. We've actually thought ahead, and that's one of the reasons we're putting WoW on the new Battle.net, so you can be connected to your WoW friends who are temporarily in StarCraft II or Diablo III so you don't feel like they're leaving the other community.

For the next MMO? Obviously, we want to compete with ourselves, and create something bigger than WoW. If there is some cannibalization of the WoW playerbase, that's okay. We know that someone is going to beat WoW one day. Someone is going to make a bigger MMO, it's going to be faster and better, and the WoW audience - some of them, anyway - is going to go to that game. If someone's going to beat WoW, it might as well be us.

Another thought I have is that you have to also remember that the subscriber base of WoW today is not just the one we had when we launched. There's a whole bunch of people who tuned out of WoW two years ago or four years ago, but who really enjoyed it, and when another MMO comes out that tickles their fancy, they'll jump into it. I don't know what the exact number is off-hand, but the total number of subscribers we've had is easily more than double - maybe closer to triple - the current subscriber base.

So looking at it logically, if we can get them interested, you could have the same subscriber base without cannibalizing WoW too badly.

What are you most proud of over the last five years? What was the biggest mistake you think you made?

What I'm most proud of? It's just kind of the achievement of WoW itself, of having this goal - our goal was to look at the genre, and we saw what was super fun about it, but unfortunately in the previous MMOs you always had to be hardcore to get to that really "sticky" fun. But for the people that did it, we all saw how much fun there was in that genre that so many people couldn't ever get to. Our No.1 goal with WoW was, "Lets make a game where people can get to that fun, see it, and get invested in this wonderful genre instead of scoffing, and passing over it because it was an MMO."

We did it through a lot of methods; we had directed quest gameplay from beginning to end, you could solo all the way to the top - grouping was encouraged rather than required. The level curve actually matches the content. There were lots of little implementation details, but the idea was this: "Let's just take this super fun genre that people don't know really exists, and expand it out so that everyone can enjoy that." We set that goal and achieved it, and I'm most proud of that. A lot of the time you try to achieve goals, and don't quite make it all the way - you might make 70% of the goal - especially if it's so lofty.

As for the biggest mistake? There's a lot of them that I think, were ... they just "fell out" of things. One example: I wish the servers were more stable when we launched, of course - there's a lot of that sort of thing. We have a lot of excuses for that - we didn't expect nearly the response - but we can't say it wasn't a mistake. If I was going to pick on a game design thing that I look back on and think was a mistake? We really never designed WoW to be a competitive e-sports game; it was something that we decided to start tackling because there was such a desire and demand to evolve it in that direction, to introduce competitive arenas. I'm not sure that that was the right thing to do with the game.

We didn't engineer the game and classes and balance around it, we just added it on, so it continues to be very difficult to balance. Is WoW a PvE cooperative game, or a competitive PvP game? There's constant pressure on the class balance team, there's pressure on the game itself, and a lot of times players who don't PvP don't understand why their classes are changing. I don't think we ever foresaw how much tuning and tweaking we'd have to do to balance it in that direction. Either I'd go back in time to before WoW ever shipped and change the rules to make the basic game more conductive for being an e-sport, or if not that, just say it doesn't make sense. Right now, WoW has a bit of a schizophrenic philosophy behind it, and we're trying to figure out how to guide it.

It's tricky, now that we've gone down that road, because we have a passionate, large audience that enjoys it - the Arena, the e-sport - so we can't just chop off that head. We can't just say, "We fouled up and will go back to how it used to be before," because we have a really passionate audience that wants it in the game.

If I could go back in time before we shipped WoW, I would have either made serious changes to basic class balance to facilitate that type of play, or if I went back to when we had the idea two years later, I would have said, "Maybe we shouldn't go there."

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