World of Warcraft's lead storyteller quietly left Blizzard last fall: 'I've felt the itch to stretch my creativity in new directions'

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A Shadowlands-era publicity photo of Danuser. (Image credit: Heather Newman)

The World of Warcraft community discovered almost by accident recently that the lead creator of the game's stories has quietly left Blizzard.

Warcraft narrative director Steve Danuser's departure wasn't announced, but rather discovered by fans who noticed an update to his LinkedIn page that sets the end of his Blizzard employment to last November, right around the time of the annual BlizzCon convention in Anaheim.

Danuser confirmed his exit to PC Gamer, telling me that he had "nothing particularly noteworthy" to say about his departure—although he did offer two reasons—and Blizzard also confirmed the news when reached for comment.

"World of Warcraft is made greater by the teamwork of the many stewards of Azeroth over its near 20-year history," said a Blizzard spokesperson. "While it was sad to see Steve go, we're grateful for his contributions to the WoW team, the game, and our players over the years and wish him well on his next endeavors."  

Fans speculated that Danuser may have left because of a clash with famed Blizzard storyteller Chris Metzen, who recently returned to the company as executive creative director for the Warcraft universe. In reality, Danuser says he was ready for something new, and that he had geographical motivations. Blizzard recently enforced a return to office policy, and Danuser's LinkedIn page puts him near Minneapolis-St. Paul, a long way from Irvine.

"Wanting to continue working remotely was a factor, as I'm a big believer in the effectiveness of online team collaboration," he told me. "But eight years is a long time to work on a single game, and while helping to architect WoW's story direction for the next several years was challenging and rewarding, more and more lately I've felt the itch to stretch my creativity in new directions."

The lead image for the Sylvanas-Nathanos Blightcaller short story "Dark Mirror." (Image credit: Blizzard)

His newest plans aren't settled.

"I was fortunate enough to be able to relax and recharge over the holiday season," Danuser said. "As for what's next, I am not announcing anything yet, but I look forward to exciting things in 2024."

Danuser had his hand in much of Warcraft's storyline while he was at the company. Some of the content he personally wrote includes:

  • The Legion expansion's hunter order hall and the Marksman hunter artifact questline
  • Some of the original allied-race quests
  • The Il'gynoth and N'Zoth whispers and prophecies
  • Tons of in-game books, including those found in the Forbidden Reach and Emerald Dream in Dragonflight
  • Many scripts for "stay awhile" conversations and in-game cutscenes

Danuser's biggest impact on WoW may have been the story of doomed high-elf-turned-undead-queen Sylvanas Windrunner. He authored significant pieces of her tale, including her love affair with Nathanos Blightcaller. That story, and particularly its thread throughout the unpopular Shadowlands expansion, was sometimes controversial with fans.

"There had been hints of a relationship between them, but I was the one to make it canon via my 'Dark Mirror' short story," he said. "And I wrote a number of their in-game scenes, such as their banter on the dais during the demon attack at Vol'jin's funeral and many moments between them in Battle for Azeroth.

"I wrote the loyalist scene in which they said goodbye at the end of BfA, when he calls her 'my love.' And I wrote the Sylvanas message to loyalists in the Forsaken questline, in which she hints that she's going after his soul in the Maw."

But the work he loves most is in the current expansion.

"I'm most proud of my work on Dragonflight, from creating the original pitch for the expansion's story, cultures, and history to helping plan its narrative beats across the patches alongside my fantastic creative partners," he said. "And of course: 'Guards! Arrest this handsome wizard!'"

That line, one of the best from the expansion in my opinion, got a wonderfully smoky reading by the voiceover actress Rebecca Lee and immediately became a fan favorite.

Danuser says he'll miss the narrative team he built at Blizzard, and the "many friends" he still has there. Find an earlier interview I did with Danuser about the Dragonflight storyline here.

This article was updated after publishing with a comment from Blizzard.