PCG: Are you nervous at all that the amount of level variance as more maps are added will go counter to that philosophy of simplicity?
DB: We have some strategies for how to handle that. There are a couple of things we could do; one is, we could actually pull maps from rotation for periods of time. So we could say that the optimal number of maps in rotation is four or five, for example, and then the maps are going to be pulled and they’ll come back later if we still like them. You could also do a map rotation, so every week it’s a different set of maps, every two weeks, every month, whatever seems appropriate.
I think the feedback hidden in your question though is valid, which is: is there a point where there’s too many maps in play and that it’s difficult to keep it all in your head. Each map is simple enough, and that’s fine, but maybe there’s too much? I don’t know, that’s a fair question. Nobody, to my knowledge, has tried this many maps in this type of game before and certainly hasn’t kept adding them at the crazy rate that we’re adding them. We’re definitely in new territory here, which is a happy place where we want to be. We want to be doing new stuff that keeps the game fresh and interesting. But yeah, maybe. Maybe at some point we should consider a rotation, maybe at some point we should pull maps out. I’m not sure. It’s a good question.
PCG: Heroes of the Storm is built with the StarCraft 2 engine. What are some of the challenges or advantages of building a brand new game off of that veteran engine?
DB: We get the capability to prototype very quickly. We have an amazing map and game editor that was shipped with StarCraft and our community for StarCraft has used to create some of the most incredible mods I’ve ever seen, and this is in the tradition with all of the map editors we’ve shipped with all of our previous games; Warcraft 3, Warcraft 2, StarCraft, going all the way back. [...] It makes us very agile. It allows us to develop battlegrounds quickly. It allows us to develop heroes quickly as long as we can get the ideas and the balance correct. Tools are not the problem, the only problem we have is being smart enough to use them correctly.
[...] The ability to build these battlegrounds comes from the fact that we can sit down and brainstorm an idea with one guy—like a guy on our team, Meng Song, who is this amazing technical game designer who worked on StarCraft for many many years—he comes over and he sits with us and says “Hey guys, we want to do a map that’s like a pirate ship and you collect coins, I don’t know...” So we brainstorm with him, and literally three days later we’re playing that map. It doesn’t look great yet, but you can playtest the gameplay and we can start tuning and polishing from there. Incredibly powerful for game development to have that kind of firepower.
PCG: Are you planning on adding a map editor or true custom modes?
DB: We really would love to. We’ve got a few little hiccups to work out but they don’t seem unsolvable to me. We will definitely get to it. It’s not [an engineering problem], it’s actually some policy issues. Like, in StarCraft if you go in and make the Mickey Mouse vs Batman game and then Warner Bros. and Disney are knocking on our door going “What is this!?” We’d just ban you or we ban your map, and we say “go away, and if you want to come back in, you’re going to have to buy another box.” It’s a little barrier to being a bad guy, to abusing other people out there in the world. Heroes of the Storm is free to play, so if you want to come in and make Batman vs Mickey Mouse and we ban you, you can put it right back up tomorrow. We don’t really have an easy way to stop that right now.
So we’re going to work it out, but it’s not unsolvable. It’s more like how do we want to work that out? How do we want to control this? How do we make sure that you don’t put up a bunch of highly questionable things like that or pornographic stuff or I don’t know. People do bad things, right? We just have a policing problem, but it’s not a technology problem and we just need to get the time to do it. Right now we’re just so desperate to stand up our ranked modes, to get a profile screen, to get a score screen, to make sure our servers are good, but it’s something that we’re very passionate about. I can’t see a world where Team 1 doesn’t get to that. There’s too many people on Team 1 who love that stuff. We’re way too passionate about it as a group. It’s how the genre was invented.
PCG: We saw a showmatch at BlizzCon this year, but what are Blizzard’s long term plans for supporting Heroes of the Storm as an eSport?
DB: It’s really simple: We’re going to watch what the community does and talk to them, and then jump in and support them as best we can. That’s the whole strategy from a high perspective. We have an e-sports team here at Blizzard that’s very passionate about e-sports. [...] They’re ready to go and they’re talking with tournament organizers now, they’re talking with pro gamers, they’re talking with shoutcasters—all of whom are interested in creating an e-sports experience around Heroes of the storm. And once we see what they’re doing more of, we will leap in to help them as best we can without interfering and damaging them, you know what I mean? We don’t want to mess it up for them. These guys have put in lots of work and they deserve our respect and trust and they deserve our support.
PCG: So it’s more of a supportive role rather than a proactive role like Riot Games has taken.
DB: I don’t see a world where we’re owning them, no. We want them to be successful, we feel like they’ve earned it. It’s the same strategy we took with StarCraft, it’s the same strategy we’ve taken with Hearthstone, it’s the strategy that works for us. We think it’s a strategy that promotes our communities, that promotes our eSport personalities, that promotes our e-sports organizers. They do come talk to us and they give us advice [...] If we hear advice that we think we can act on, then we’ll do it. But I don’t know exactly what advice we’re gonna get. I don’t know exactly what advice we’ll act on, but we are certainly ears open and we’re listening. We’re seeing the beginnings of an eSport community develop and we’re super excited about the people who have had the courage to jump in early like that. We’re very honored at those people who have jumped in early and are trying to help build this up, and we’ll do everything we can for those guys to support them and see that they’re successful.
PCG: Ideally, would it be your intention to have every hero and every level be competitively viable?
DB: No, no, no. For example, right now Gazlowe the goblin tinkerer is not considered a top tier character on any map except Sky Temple, where we’re starting to see Gazlowe do some pretty cool stuff because he’s very much a board control piece. Gazlowe can’t fight for much but he can own an area of ground. Well guess what Sky Temple is all about? It’s all about owning ground. So suddenly here’s a hero, probably a tier two maybe tier three hero, who is suddenly first pick on Sky Temple, and that’s what we’re going for. We want variability in these heroes. We don’t want twelve heroes to be top. It may happen, but that’s not the goal. We want the variation in battlegrounds to cause changes in your composition. We want variation in enemy team compositions to change your composition, and with the introduction of ranked play, we’re finally getting to see how successful our strategy has been here in creating that kind of variability. We could have guessed that before, but we never would have seen it, and now we can start working towards more and more of that kind of variability.
PCG: I have to ask before you go: why’d you guys have to double up on the HotS acronym?
DB: [laughs] Heroes of the Storm was one of our favorite names for the game, and we almost didn’t call it that just because of that reason, like “it’s another HotS! We can’t do another one! Nooo!” But we were like “aw...It’s not about the acronym. Okay, we can do it. People will make fun of us, but it’s okay.” So I accept your mockery, sir. It is a little silly but it was not our intention, it was an accident.