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10 years of World of Warcraft: an interview with Ion Hazzikostas

World of Warcraft

PCG: Have there been any recent MMOs you’ve enjoyed or taken inspiration from?

IH: Yeah, lots. All of us on the team are fans of the MMO genre: we’ve played all the games and not just for market research, but because we’re excited to see what people are doing with the genre. Whether it’s Guild Wars 2, Aion, Wildstar, Elder Scrolls or Destiny - if it’s in the genre we’re playing it, we’re talking about it and we’re enjoying it. There’s certainly things that we look at. We make sure that if they’re doing something better than we are then we ask what can we do to fix that, how can we improve, what elements could we adopt to make our player’s experience better. It’s not about copying or keeping up, it’s more about keeping pace with the industry as a whole, the way the MMO genre evolves and doing the right thing by players.

PCG: World of Warcraft is head and shoulders above its competition. Why is the paid model not working for some competitors? We’ve had Star Wars: The Old Republic and Elder Scrolls Online struggle of late. Are players shifting away from the subscription model or is it a problem with the genre?

IH: It’s tough. It’s hard for me to really speak to other games and their particular stories. I know that for us, we feel like the subscription model continues to be the right one for us and our players. We deliver high value for the monthly subscription because it allows us to provide a steady stream of content, and we don’t have any plans to move away from that any time soon.

PCG: Blizzard has a good track record launching stable expansions. What’s the mood in the office when it ticks over?

IH: Always anxious, always tremendously excited. There are few greater joys as a designer than sharing what you’ve created. It’s always this excitement at seeing people run off into a world, and the excitement of playing it ourselves. We’ve obviously played it extensively internally, but the game is so big that it’s hard for any one staff member to see it all, so there’s always tonnes of surprises to experience for the first time. It’s always incredibly high energy and a fun week.

PCG: It’s been mentioned a couple of times that Blizzard hopes to release expansion content on a more frequent basis. A yearly basis has been suggested. Could these be as big in scope as Draenor or Mists, for instance?

IH: There isn’t a specific template that we try to fit every time. We’re pretty happy with the number of dungeons and raids for example, and the scale of a Pandaria or a Draenor I think is something we’d try to stick to. Clearly talk is cheap and action is what counts, and we’ve been talking about wanting to release more frequent expansions forever: they date back to 2008.

That runs into both production realities and our inherent perfectionism. We don’t want to just push the game out there because we said we’d hit a date: we need to make sure it’s the right thing for our players and the right thing for us. That said, the WoW team has grown significantly in the last year and a half. We’re trying to be capable of meeting some of those goals and of course you have to walk before you can run. Things slow down a little bit as you bring a tonne of people on as you need to train them up. You need to integrate them into your culture and into your environment, into your workflow, and so those are some of the reasons why there was a large gap between Mists and Warlords. But we feel like we’re not going to repeat that, but of course again: time will tell.

PCG: How did the idea for Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor evolve?

IH: It grew from a couple of things. We had this very small feature in Mists, which was the farm. You received a small plot of land where you could plant crops and unlock a few additional rows and fields. It was a tiny aspect, but players loved it. There was a lot of attachment and joy in the sense of owning a piece of the land to yourself. We saw that unexpected success and thought about how we could build on that further. It also dovetailed with the themes of Draenor: it’s sort of a return to the series’ RTS roots, both in terms of the franchise story, but also the idea of building a base and having the iconic looks of the old barracks and the blacksmith and the armoury, in addition to the storyline of needing to raise an army. All of that came together and now the story of Draenor is the story of you and your garrison.

It’s a very Warcraft version of player housing. Many MMOs have done it and many have asked for it, but we could never square the idea of player housing with our universe. Does your Orc warrior come home and decide what kind of drape they’re going to have or how the couch is going to look? No, you come home and decide whether you want a barracks or an armoury. That’s Warcraft.

PCG: Are there any ideas to expand Garrisons beyond the Draenor expansion?

IH: There aren’t specific plans, but you never know what the future holds. If it turns out that players are so attached to their garrisons then it’s a problem we’ll happily accept and find solutions for. Right now we’re envisioning it as something that’s very integrated into the Draenor experience. As part of the ten year anniversary and the scope of the game, it’s important how we approach features like this, to try to keep them focused where possible on specific expansions. We’re never going to release expansions quicker if every new addition creates a new maintenance process. That would mean having to create new garrison buildings, or 50 new followers etcetera. Where it makes sense we’ll do that, but we’d like to try to focus things so that the experience from one expansion to another is more varied.

PCG: Did you hear about the guy who leveled to 90 in the Wandering Isles starting zone? What do you get out of a story like that?

IH: It’s definitely cool, it’s just emergent gameplay. Some people try to do things in unconventional ways. In this case clearly you were supposed to have to pick a side, it was designed that you would join an alliance, but this was a loophole. In retrospect if someone in our QA team entered a bug that it’s possible to level indefinitely by collecting herbs in the starting zone we would have fixed it before the game shipped, because it’s clearly not intended. But once someone is out there doing that, it would be terrible to undermine that person’s efforts. It’s not something that’s for everybody and clearly they had fun doing it because they had random people logging on just to have a chat, and it became a spectacle. In general we like to let people have fun unless it’s coming at the expense of someone else’s fun. We always get a kick out of that stuff.

Shaun Prescott
Shaun is PC Gamer’s Australian editor and news writer. He mostly plays platformers and RPGs, and keeps a close eye on anything of particular interest to antipodean audiences. He (rather obsessively) tracks the movements of the Doom modding community, too.