If you ask me to recount, say, shocking life revelations from 2004, I’ll just furrow my brow and eventually retort "Er, I believe I had a birthday that year." But I’ll probably take my first moments in WoW, which launched that winter, to my grave. Slowly but surely, however, the magic faded, and I — like many, many other players — jumped ship. Flash forward to today. With a new generation of MMOs — including Blizzard’s own Titan — on the way, is WoW doomed to obsolescence? Does Blizzard have any hope of bringing the magic back to WoW? I spoke with Lead Quest Designer Dave Kosak, Lead Systems Designer Greg Street, and Production Director J. Allen Brack to find out.
The War Against Time
"It’s incredibly challenging," Brack began, referring to the end goal of keeping WoW fresh yet familiar. "We did go off and specifically decide to have a different tone [with Pandaria]. You get a fan reaction from that. I think there was also a fan reaction to Cataclysm, which was very oppressive and very heavy and very doom-and-gloom. Very ‘Oh, God, how has this zone been destroyed?’ You just have to do the best you can and focus on increasing the amount of fun players are having from moment to moment, increase the number of systems that allow players to come together and have a good time together, and feel like they get rewarded. It is a challenge. There’s no doubt about that."
Subscriber numbers are dropping, but Blizzard’s as relaxed as this incredibly casual panda.
Recent times have seen Blizzard’s behemoth come frighteningly close to stumbling from its beanstalk.And yet, for the longest time, Blizzard made it look easy. The numbers didn’t lie: gamers and non-gamers alike were flocking to WoW and leaving other MMOs – and, in more worrisome cases, their personal responsibilities — in the dust. No one can stay on top forever, though, and recent times have seen Blizzard’s behemoth come frighteningly close to stumbling from its beanstalk sky palace. For Brack and co., though, this isn’t "how the mighty (and stock prices) have fallen" scenario. Instead, It’s simply business as usual.
"We don’t really design or engineer while thinking about things like that," Brack was quick to point out. "When we were developing WoW, Allen Adham, who’s one of the co-founders of the company said, ‘Look, guys, one day this game will have one million subscribers.’ People in the company at the time just laughed at that. Yet here we are. We’ve got an order of magnitude more subscribers than even the most optimistic person ever thought we would have. So it’s impossible to get down into the details of thinking about, for instance, ‘As a quest designer, how do I make this quest that’s going to get us 200,000 more subscribers?’ You can’t operate that way. You can’t think like that. You just have to focus on making the best, most fun game you can."