Following the massively successful launch of the World of Warcraft add on Wrath of the Lich King, Jonathon Harker talks to Paul Sams, chief operating officer at Blizzard?

Caught in a Blizzard

How much are MMOs propping up PC hardware sales?
I don’t buy or subscribe to this ongoing discussion over the death of PC gaming. World of Warcraft for example has proven that to be incorrect. I think that there’s always going to be a very big place for PCs – they are multi-use devices. Consoles are brilliant, but at this stage are not multi-use devices, or at least not compared to a PC. If I have a PC, I can play games on it, do my work on it, I can use it as a communication device with email, and so on, and it has such a diverse use that we’re going to continue to see that as a staple in homes.

If they have a limited amount to spend, then people are going to go for PCs as there are so many other uses for them.

Are games such as World of Warcraft representative of how PC gaming will be in the future?
I think it’s all about great games being made for the PC platform. MMOs will certainly be a genre that will play a big role on experiences on PC, but I think that if you provide other great games and great content there are different genres that are quite successful. If we didn’t think PC was the place to be then we wouldn’t be making Starcraft II or Diablo III and we really feel that it’s about creating great games. It’s like Field of Dreams – if we create great games then they will come and play them. We don’t feel that it’s a PC versus console conversation at all, we feel that it’s all about great games.

Do you think MMOs are intimidating for the uninitiated or the casual gamer?
Some MMOs can be, however we have really developed a mentality of making our games easy to learn and hard to master, so the uninitiated can get into the game and it’s a very easy and gentle learning curve for them. Eventually they’re doing very difficult things because we’ve introduced them to it gradually at an appropriate timepoint. We think of World of Warcraft as very accessible for new players that might be considered more casual, but also it really ramps up quickly to serve the needs of the hardcore gamer.

Is WOW more accessible than other MMOs?
I think so, that’s kind of Blizzard’s design philosophy – to make it accessible yet really focused on delivering what’s needed for the hardcore. We’ve been able to do that not only in World of Warcraft but in our other games too. I think that’s something that sets Blizzard apart.

Is the plan to continue to release expansion packs for Warcraft? Or will you be concentrating on another franchise?
As it relates to World of Warcraft we’re very committed to that product, and to providing ongoing content between expansions. We’ll concentrate on that and you can count on there being further expansions for World of Warcraft. There’s a passionate group of players that play World of Warcraft and we’re going to continue to support that group for as long as there are a meaningful number of people that want to play it.

That doesn’t mean that Blizzard is resting on its laurels either. We’ve got Starcraft II in development as well as Diablo III and we have an unannounced next generation MMO, but we’re not giving out details on that, or any specifics. However, it is publicly known because we are hiring for that project. We’re keeping ourselves busy and not just sitting around.

Is the next WOW expansion planned already?

Well, we don’t have anything to share on that but the development team has a very long forward look, and they don’t know all the specifics elements of the future, but the general framework is in the heads of the production staff, designers and team members. So they do know where it is going to go, but a lot of specifics they determine along the way. It has long legs and it’s going to be around for a very long time.

It’s one of the biggest challenges when making an expansion or content update – deciding what to put in while keeping the theme coherent.

We have a lot of creative people on the team and they have no shortage of great ideas – it’s a matter of figuring out the right ideas for each content update or expansion that fits the story that we’re trying to tell. Every time I talk to that group the ideas just keep overflowing, so we feel there’s a lot still to do.

Do people have time to play more than one MMO at a time?

I think they do – Blizzard has really focused on delivering an MMO experience that accommodates a variety of play styles and timing, certainly there are different experiences that you can have in World of Warcraft, including the longer sessions of play. With our questing system I think we’ve done a really good job of creating an experience for players that can be really short – you can go in and be heroic for 30 minutes, allowing you to complete quests in short spaces of time.

A lot of people talk about MMOs requiring a large amount of the gamers’ time to advance in and enjoy and I think for certain games in the genre that might be the case, but for World of Warcraft the way that we’ve designed it is to be such a questing heavy experience that it can be experienced in a lot of bite sized chunks as opposed to endless grind.

Finally, what does Blizzard hope to achieve over the next year?
The continual focus for us is to not take our eye off the ball for World of Warcraft as at the moment, it’s the big game that we’re supporting.

We’re looking to make strong progress on Starcraft II and Diablo III as well as our as yet unannounced MMO. Its a challenging time for us – we’ve got a variety of balls in the air right now, and the trick is to make sure we give enough focus to each area. That’s always our challenge.

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