Designing World of Warcraft: Tom Chilton interview

Tim Edwards at

PCG: Does designing and developing a game take away the fun of playing it?

Tom Chilton: Not really, surprisingly because designing and developing the game is a completely different exercise. It's weird because in a lot of ways when you're working on the game it's almost like you're working on this theoretical game that exists in the future, versus the actual game that you go home and play. Sometimes there's a little bit more of a direct crossover, when you're playing the game and you're like “okay this is clearly broken, tomorrow I'm going to go in and we're going to get this hotfixed and changed.” That's when you really feel that connection, but the vast majority of my day is spent doing things about this theoretical future of the game that, in a lot of ways, feels very intangible.

PCG: Do you find yourself getting your hands dirty with pure design and encounter design and the rest of it?

Tom Chilton: It's a combination, although I would say that it's definitely less getting my hands dirty than it was in the past, which is sometimes a bummer, I like getting my hands dirty! But it's still enough to where it's a very fun work experience. It's not like I'm doing nothing but doing press interviews, you know? (laughs)

PCG: We've seen both Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online recently go free-to-play. Do you play any free MMO's?

Tom Chilton: I have played several of the MMOs that are now free. I have not played any of the ones that since became free

PCG: Is that the only way you can compete with World of Warcraft, to give your game away at this point?

Tom Chilton: I actually don't know that they're doing it to compete with us. In a lot of ways I feel like they're doing it to compete with other games that are on a similar subscriber level that they were at. I imagine that when one of them went free to play it cannibalized some of their other subscribers, so they're kind of going back and forth on that similar level. I can definitely imagine that being the case with World of Warcraft. If another game comes along and blows us away. At some point it may not make sense for us to have a subscription fee, or maybe, further down the line when we have another MMO out, I don't know... but for now, for us, it's too early to say.

PCG: So it sounds like you have thought about the implications of it going free at least.

Tom Chilton: Yeah, vaguely, vaguely. It's just not something that's a reality for us in the near future, so we're not spending a whole lot of time thinking about it.

PCG: Do you think WoW is better in a guild? And are you trying to push people into joining guilds?

Tom Chilton: We're trying to look at it more in terms of, not that we're trying to push people into guilds, but have the game recognise that guilds are a big part of people's game lives, and trying to give an opportunity for the mechanics of the game to recognise that. I feel like a very large percentage of players that are max level are already in a guild, it's not like there's a whole bunch of people that we need to push into guilds. I think it's more about recognising guilds as being a significant entity, and as being more than just a shared chat channel.

PCG: There's a really irritating bug that I'd love to bring to your attention now. I'm really sorry, this is the nerdiest thing. We have a PC Gamer guild, which is very big. The problem is that the guild list can only display 500 people. My guild mates are constantly hammering me to get it fixed. I can't exactly do anything about it other than draw it to your attention.

Tom Chilton: [laughs] That will be fixed in Cataclysm.