In late October, Preach took to the skies in a nearly 20 hour journey that would eventually take him to Irvine, California. The result of months of discussion and planning, he was there to take a deeper look at a game he had played for over 15 years, and the company behind it. With PG Team member Nupss flying in as cameraman and audio wizard, they were ready to meet with several members of the Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment team to put together an (almost) Access all areas look at Blizzard and WoW. To look at what went wrong, what changed, and what the future holds.
In this article we’re going over some of the main points from our interview featuring Vice President and Executive Producer for World of Warcraft Holly Langdale and General Manager of the Warcraft Franchise John Hight
Holly has a long history in gaming, having been the senior producer for EverQuest 2. Once she joined Blizzard took on the role of Executive Producer for WoW Classic before taking on the role of Vice President and Executive Producer.
John has worked in the gaming industry since 1993 and even (literally) wrote the book on game design and development!
World of Warcraft went back to its roots in August 2019 with the revival of its original, base game experience with Classic. John explained to Mike that off the bat they didn’t think launching Classic would be a great financial decision and neither did they think a lot of players would really engage with it, but a lot of players were asking for it.
“It was a love letter” explained John. A love letter they justified by making their fans happy.
Despite their expectations, Classic took off. The launch was unreal and more popular than they had ever expected. The original thought was “You think you want it but you don’t” and John quickly adds that on launch they realized “We thought you didn’t, but you did!”, and it turned out players really did. When they were originally planning Classic they didn’t get all that many servers, and when classic launched within weeks they had to get 10x the amount of servers to accommodate everyone wanting to play.
Watching players play Classic again has given the team some valuable insight into the things that people miss that isn’t just nostalgia. One of the conversations that came out of Classic was talents and how valuable it is to be able to experiment with your class. “The team is taking the pulse,” said Holly, and how they looked at content in general was also given some attention. In Classic it was less guided.
Looking to the future, they are looking at Cata Classic. They are asking players what they want, what they like and don’t like, they’re reaching out because they want feedback, and Holly reiterates that if the general sentiment is that something is broken or needs attention, they want to look at it and fix it. They don’t want to sell the experience short.
One of the biggest changes from the initial launch of Warcraft and the present day are arguably the number of solo players now. Mike can’t imagine playing a game without his guild, and John admits that its one of the challenges they face when working on the game. A lot of players want to log in and play by themself doing their own thing, but know that they have that option to play with other people if they want to.
A lot has happened in the past couple of years, including the challenges many faced around the world of working and living through the Covid pandemic. For Blizzard they mobilised pretty quickly when the pandemic hit, said John. Within a couple of days this once bustling campus was quiet as people worked from home. Blizzard ensured all the staff had the equipment and got everyone hooked up to zoom. They had to learn to adapt.
The pandemic was not the end of the struggles for Blizzard however and the allegations that came out were damning. A lot of conversations needed to be had, and John says the team felt very strongly about sending a message out to players about where they stand and what they want to be. It was a wakeup call, and growing the team onwards he states that it is very important that anyone new coming in needs to feel safe and understand their values.
It made them look at the wider picture too, wanting to increase their inclusivity and diversity.. John seemed proud to share that in the 28 year history of the Warcraft franchise they had accumulated an audience of around a quarter of a billion players. John tells Mike that it is important that the diversity of the players are reflected in the team making the game “Letting our team and our game stand for us” he says.
“Its important that the team making the game reflects that diverse audience”
From the mistakes of the past, the interview also covers John and Holly’s hopes for the future. Holly wants to lean more into what it means to live on Azeroth, and how to make it feel more alive. The team is really committed to that idea she emphasises. Whereas Holly wants the world to feel more alive, John’s sights are set on the characters that inhabit it, saying:
“I want to double down on the story of WoW and the characters, and have long term plans spanning multiple expansions”
John feels it is very important that they ‘think above the expansion’ and wants to know why we should care about the characters, what will they do that will make the player love or hate them. Adding that the team has a great responsibility because they’re the caretakers of the world of Azeroth.
John makes an interesting point, that when WoW first came out Facebook was still just in Harvard, and a lot of people got that social interaction from the chat of WoW. “Between where Technology is going, where gaming is going and where social gaming is going, those are things we want to incorporate into WoW” says John.
The interview ends on a thanks from John:
“Thanks for not giving up on us”
You can see the full interview with John and Holly on the premium section of our website!
You can see our more in-depth videos on our Blizzard HQ trip on our Youtube Channel!
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