Helen French and Greg Lockley talk to the developer/publisher about its key gaming franchises and success in PC stores

INTERVIEW: Blizzard Entertainment – what’s next at retail?

Not many publishers can claim to have produced three of the highest-selling games franchises on the PC – but it’s one that Blizzard Entertainment takes in its stride.

World of Warcraft remains the world’s most popular MMORPG with over eight million monthly subscribers. Diablo III quickly became the highest selling PC title of last year and remains the fastest selling PC game of all time, shifting 3.5 million copies in its first 24 hours on sale.

Meanwhile, the recent release of StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm has propelled the franchise to new heights of success as one of the key titles driving the eSports movement.

With these hugely popular franchises under its belt, Blizzard is primed for success at retail with add-on options such as expansion packs, time-cards for subscription-based titles and agreements with leading PC hardware makers to produce fully licensed gaming peripherals for its leading franchises.

Being a PC games publisher isn’t solely about selling games anymore and Blizzard is a shining example of what avenues of opportunity are available in the competitive market. 

PCR: How have the past 12 months been for you? It looks like it’s been a busy year for the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft franchises in particular.

Blizzard Entertainment: It’s definitely been an exciting time for Blizzard with the launch of Diablo III, World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria, and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm – a packed schedule that has brought all three of our franchises into the spotlight at the same time.

You won a PCR Award recently, which is voted for by experts across the computing channel – how did that feel?

PC gaming remains at the heart of our business, so being recognised in this way is really important to us. As we said at the time, it is an honour to receive the award.

Blizzard is perhaps best known for WoW, but of course you offer a lot more than that at retail. What else should retailers look out for?

World of Warcraft obviously remains a major pillar of our business but our two other key franchises are seeing great success at retail.

Heart of the Swarm, released in March, is the first of two expansions scheduled for StarCraft II, while we have just marked Diablo III’s one year anniversary.

Away from the games themselves, there’s also our range of licensed products; and now, alongside these, there’s a fresh retail opportunity for consumers with our initial POSA (point of sale activation) card offering.

What are some of the benefits of POSA cards?

The simple answer is that Battle.net Balance Cards allow players — who either don’t have or don’t want to use a credit card — to add funds to their Battle.net Balance and purchase various Battle.net digital services and games. 

To date we have launched two designs of the card into the market – one branded with the Diablo III Auction House and the other with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Digital Deluxe Edition – and we plan to expand this range in the future.

There are a number of Blizzard licensed peripherals available. What can you tell us about the process of finding the right manufacturer?

When we are looking at potential opportunities with partners, it is extremely important to us to ensure that their values, their commitment, their understanding of our players’ expectations and ultimately their enthusiasm fit Blizzard’s own expectations. 

We will then either engage with various partners when we have a specific idea, or sometimes companies will come directly to us with a concept of their own. The next step is a detailed proposal that makes sense from a financial perspective. 

We also need to consider where the product will be distributed as we’re a global company and we always seek to serve players in as many territories as possible. If the proposed project is from a partner we are not currently working with, we will extensively test their current product to gauge quality. 

We also evaluate what the potential partner can bring to the table besides sales figures. For instance, brand recognition in the gaming community, how passionate they are about their products, how knowledgeable they are about Blizzard games, how community-driven they are, and their culture of innovation, etc.

Ultimately, quality is paramount; once a partner has been selected we engage with the usual Blizzard approach of iterating on the design and features before prototyping and testing the final product.

Many retailers are decreasing their games space for physical boxed copies as sales go online, but presumably there are still opportunities at retail for evergreen titles like Warcraft, for those players who might want to buy the game at the same time they buy the licensed mouse?

Blizzard has always had strong relationships with our licensees and we’re always working on ways to ensure that we’re all on the same page when it comes to cross-promotion around a title’s launch.

On top of this, there’s the ongoing objective of rationalising related ranges at retail. Many stockists across Europe already host Blizzard Corners where the games, peripherals, and merchandise all sit together to create the best possible offering to players. 

The gaming market never stops evolving, and it can be difficult to predict where it’s going. PC gaming hasn’t died off, despite its naysayers, and E3 saw many big games being developed on PC. What do you think of the future of the console/PC battle?

The PC is a great platform to create games for, and that’s never been truer than right now. Today’s PC gamer has a huge range of options available to them, and the level of creativity out there among game-makers is fantastic.

Every game platform continues to evolve as technology and gamers themselves change over time, and we’re excited to be a part of that. 

While we’re exploring the free-to-play market and making a return to consoles, it’s important to note that in the past 12 months we’ve had great success with all three of our key franchises with the traditional boxed-copy model, and we hope for that to continue.

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