Blizzard’s ‘standard’ should be universal

I apologize for the lack of updates the past week — busy times with school.  That’s not the only reason though.  I’ve run into a spell of writer’s block.  For the past two days there have been a few, albeit not so interesting, announcements that could have warranted some sort of blog post but they would have felt pushed.  GDC is happening but every announcement or bit of content that comes out is old news or stuff like “We’re working to make our game the best – yeah!”.  Personally, I don’t care who runs Alganon now and I don’t know why anyone else does either.  I’ve really been scouring the internets to find anything interesting from GDC that is relevant to anyone that doesn’t play Star Trek Online or Runes of Magic.

There was ONE interesting thing to come out of GDC so far and it’s from Blizzard’s Rob Pardo in a presentation titled: “Making a Standard (and Trying to Stick to it!): Blizzard Design Philosophies”.  I usually don’t agree with everything Rob says, but while reading the presentation I found myself nodding the whole way through. A big part of the presentation was devoted to listing the failures and successes in Blizzard titles; everything from economies to certain quests. He makes key points that I’ve been rattling off for years on this blog.

– Gameplay over technology. Every aspect of design focuses on the gameplay first.
– “Easy to learn, almost impossible to master.”
– It doesn’t take anything away from a game by making something “epic.”
– Don’t complicate things if the bare essentials are the best part. “concentrated coolness”
– “Play, don’t tell.” Let players experience the story, not be told it.
– Focus on incentives, not punishments.
– Learn from the failures and the successes and make improvements.

The last point is my absolute favorite and I feel it encompasses everything about game design. Regardless of how big or small a failure OR a success, understanding what led to that result is the key to improvement. We’re seeing so little of this in practice. Game after game releases, sometimes by the same developer, with mistakes being repeated or successes being ignored. We’re also not seeing improvement, but regression.

Some would argue that this is a luxury, being able to have the time to look back and learn from the past.  I say that if you don’t have the time, talent or the money to do it, then you don’t have what’s necessary to make a game.

  • Blizzard is one of the few (perhaps the only) to actually keep to this. The key is evaluating what works and what doesn’t, and then making changes where necessary.

  • I’m not positive I agree with incentivizing everything, but in general their successes speak to the wisdom of their design philosophy.

    I’m surprised RA Salvatore’s talk didn’t spark any interest in you, although I understand you’re rather down on 38 studios. But the mmorpg ideals that he holds dear ring very close to home.

  • My only experience of Blizzard is WoW, which I started 5 years late. As far as i could tell, far from learning from thier failures and successes they hadn’t been able to tell one from the other.

    I wish I’d played WoW when it started, because from everything I’ve read since it was much more interesting game then than the efficient, smooth, dull affair it is now.

  • @Bhagpuss: What you hear about WoW being a god compared to what it is, is just nostalgia clogging up peoples minds. There are people out there who will say Super Mario World is the greatest platformer of all time (it’s great) and then when they play it again they do not find themselves enjoying it the same way they did 15 years ago. This goes for WoW as well, being a 5 year veteran, the game has improved upon everything that WoW stood for. In the beginning, WoW was a hardcore gamers game. Nothing was there to let someone play that had a life outside the game and nothing was implemented to let people play for 30 minutes and feel fulfilled during that time. It was either hours of grinding gold for pots and repairs, or sitting in Stormwind talking about Chuck Norris.

    World of Warcraft has improved (albeit made everything easier) and thats what it is supposed to do. Not only does the hardcore crowd win out on this on fantastic content still being delivered, but there is rarely an mmo that comes out that caters to both the Hardcore and the Casual crowd. I have found a new job that pretty much negates me from being able to raid anymore, yet I found the joy of crafting, gathering, questing, arena, dungeons, and even 10-man raids! It’s an MMO’ers dream to be able to do what the big boys do and downing the Lich King with 9 of my friends instead of having to gather 39 other people like in Vanilla-WoW which takes hours, is something that is a success and not a failure.

  • @filch: Nothing really stood out in Salvatore’s talk. It was just a bunch of stuff you would expect to hear. As for incentives for everything, I too would disagree with that. However, focusing on incentives in -most- situations is usually better than trying to penalize people.

    @Bhagpuss: It’s a shelf life situation. WoW has reached the point where it’s past due on the expiration date. They’ve locked into their meta-game right now. It goes beyond WoW though, as this entire subject spans ALL games, not just MMO’s.

  • I’d agree with Keen and Massively was reporting this on their MMO report. WoW hasn’t increased in total subscriptions in 2 years. Considering the game went from abou 400k subs to 11 million in 3 years it is staggering to think it hasn’t gone up at all in the past two. Yes they gain as many people as they lose but if you look at it from a growth perspective it isn’t very good. WoW simply isn’t growing and alot of that simply has to do with age.

    I really think Blizzard is running about 12 months to slow on their new MMO. WoW will be ready for a replacement by the end of this year and while Catcylsm will help it wont save WoW. The customers are getting bored faster and faster with every expansion.

    (I think I’m off topic)

  • This works well when you have an effectively infinite budget and time frame. Thats the real reason Blizzard products are so excellent. Remember Starcraft: Ghost, that made it really far into development and Blizzard felt they never got it quite right, and then just ate the cost. Most companies would patch up something vaguely passable and release it recoup some losses.

    Thats why Blizzard puts out only good games: Because they can afford to implement their good plan. Granted, the good plan matters, and they live up to it, which is impressive, so don’t get me wrong. But don’t underestimate what resources and time to iterate will do for you.

  • At the risk of sounding like beating the proverbial deceased horse, it should be noted that Blizzard are once again absolutely unique.

    They have all the money, all the talent and all the power to afford a luxury that literally nobody else can.

    They can develop for as long as they want, and they can develop whatever they want, they have no external pressures (anybody who believes Activision has any real hold over Blizzard are plain wrong), no deadlines and all the time in the world.

    It’s easy for them to say these things, and impossible for others to carry them out.

    The advice isn’t worthless, but the idea that if everyone held to these core values they would achieve Blizzard’s level of success, well, put simply; no.

  • @Mahlah: I’m going to have to disagree. Money helps a lot but there is simply no way that you need Blizzard’s infinite budget or empire in order to follow these standards. I have a shelf full of games from the past 12 years+ that all can be considered high quality and accomplished titles that follow the above standards and the Blizzard titles are only about 1/5 of the games.

    @notbad: They had to start somewhere, right? I don’t think anyone is saying that if you stick to the standards there that you’ll be a winner. I also don’t see any reason why -any- of those standards require an inordinate amount of money. Blizzard didn’t one day wake up and become the company that they are in the place they’re at. Clearly they worked towards and earned that position. It took years and multiple titles before WoW even came out. Other companies should expect a similar climb.

  • I agree with Keen here. And to be honest I’m sick and tired of the “Blizzard is rich they can afford to do anything thus their games are good” argument. Sure, the money helps. But as Keen said they didn’t start out as a big budget company they are now.

    And don’t even let me start talking about bad games with big budgets….

  • Bioware is the only company I can see who could live up to Blizzard’s success on the MMO market. That’s why I’m looking forward to their SW-MMO. It ‘might’ be the messianic ‘WoW-killer’ that we’ve heard of for so many years.

  • The only thing that will eventually kill WoW, is WoW. Even that is going to take some time. WoW is old, sure, but just because it isn’t getting subscriptions does not mean it’s already dying. It simply means the game has reached it’s peak on subscribers. Every game does it. However, just like any game it will eventually fall out of existence. I just don’t see that day coming anytime soon. WoW is 5 years dated and not losing subscriber numbers. That speaks volumes.

  • I totally agree with Keen. There is more to Blizzard than just plain money and it can’t be plain luck either. They are good at knowing what the players want and even at anticipating those needs by creating something a player would like. That is what a good company should do.
    Players aren’t all turned stupid yet, they will still overlook some flaws IF all the rest is great, and in this Blizzard is a master.
    In my opinion Blizzard’s huge success can be very well summarized in the points written in the OP’s post because I see evidence of that in all their games I tried so far.

    Also, they have all this money because of their success and this surely helps in investing infinite time in a game; that isn’t just a money showoff tho, they do because they care about what their players base want and they want to deliver exactly that, more if possible.
    They do it for the money? They sure do, they’re a profit based company, but they do keeping in mind their players and that’s good.

    It sure is difficult for the other companies to deliver the same satisfaction in a game because Blizzard can spend near to infinite resources, but it’s not someone’s fault if they have it and they are using them.

    Also, i don’t exactly agree with this “WoW must die” thing. I mean, poor WoW. If it’s in the place it is is because there is no valid alternative and even if there was there would surely be people that would choose WoW over the other game.
    I’d be more than glad to play an alternative game but I don’t wish WoW to die, let people decide what they want to play.

  • I’m just telling you like it is from the viewpoint of someone inside the industry.

    We’d all like to think that within such a creative field that it’s about dedication, talent and sticking to your guns, but quite honestly, money is everything in games these days.

    You’re right that it wasn’t always like this, but it’s grown into it, it is comforting to see some guys break out (Darksiders was a great example, but at the same time I don’t think anyone would claim it was of Blizz standard), but most of the time it doesn’t happen with a greater focus on quick releases and fast IP establishment, it really is getting to the point where publishers are using the mantra “throw enough shit at the wall and eventually something will stick”.

    The sad fact is that it really does boil down to throwing money at the problem now.

    Also, Blizzard was very rich before WoW came out, you’d have to go back as far as before the original Warcraft to find Blizzard before it was a titan.

    I think we could probably find a middle ground to agree on, but the freedom Blizzard experienced early on to establish it’s standards, simply does not exist anymore.

  • @notbad

    you said: “We’d all like to think that within such a creative field that it’s about dedication, talent and sticking to your guns, but quite honestly, money is everything in games these days.”

    I disagree, especially these days you make money by delivering satisfaction to your players and that requires “dedication, talent, sticking to your guns”, time and money.

    Blizzard has all of the above and the results is showing.

    Blizzard could establish it’s standards because those standards brought satisfacion in the players base and no one else was up to the task as much as Blizzard did. It was the time when there was still the freedom you speak of but none of the challengers could keep the pace and that is definitely not Blizzard’s fault, it’s more of a pro than a con point.

  • @notbad

    So Love is about money? If one person can create a MMO that is getting positive reviews why can’t anyone else?

  • “Personally, I don’t care who runs Alganon now and I don’t know why anyone else does either.”

    Probably because all you’re seeing is the game (Alganon) or the person (Derek Smart) and not the actions that are being done (which is probably why you didn’t even read the announcement because it sure sounds like you didn’t which is ironic considering this article you wrote). If these same actions were announced by an executive from Allods, you’d have people freaking out in excitement (i.e. Roll back of patches, removal of FoD, etc). Again let me try to paint a picture for you. This announcement had absolutely nothing to do with Alganon or Derek Smart. It’s got everything to do with wanting to see a change within this screwed up industry, as you so desperately seem to want to see.

    Unlike you, I actually do care about every game out there and who is running it because every single game executive or developer is influencing this industry’s culture for better or for worse. Therefore, even if I have no interest in playing the game itself or in the quirky thoughts of the person running it, I absolutely damn care about the actions this person does, especially if they are going against the grain of this screwed up industry (i.e. more honest talk vs less PR bullshit, etc). In effect, we need more people at the fringes starting to make changes and a difference so that eventually these changes work there way into the mainstream and start influencing the games that we do play.

  • I agree that Blizz has a bottomless pit of a pocket that results infinite iterations (=”polish”) but don’t think for a moment that other studios couldn’t throw the same money at any title. The real difference is in structure and track record. They are simply built on not publishing anything than a major hit. Missing a milestone, arhuing about a feature, whatever, they can simply point at that record and pull “do you want to be responsible for our first screw up?”

    Maybe not this obviously.

  • WoW became this success because of the magical ‘right place at the right moment’. Not because it was so dramatically better than anything before or after it (I still view UO as the best MMO ever made).

  • Don’t forget that before WoW came 6+ amazing games (and their numerous expansions) that just got better and better each time. Look into Blizzard’s original start back in 1991 to see how the company was built by a few guys with Bachelor’s Degrees. The company has not always been this mega giant that it is today. The company did work to where it is at and I can’t see how anyone can think that it isn’t because of the standards they follow.

  • WoW came in at the perfect time, but the companies track record is what caused the game to initially sore. People loved blizzard for their amazing RTS titles. That caused a large influx of initial players to see what Blizzard could offer to the community. Sure, they dumped major cash into the game. That didn’t make their game a success, however. Their reputation did, initially.

    However, since then. The sheer amount of support and management on the part of Blizzard has been pretty good. Not to mention there one of very few companies that truly listen to their playerbase. Now, this can be tracked to people who complain about classes and the like. Sure. However, it still boils down to them looking into their game and re-evaluating it based on player feedback. Almost continuously, mind you.

    Sure, the game has gone casual. Who cares? Do you honestly think that 25-30% of a game’s entire population should be what the game caters to? I don’t. I don’t exactly like that it’s so easy to get things done in WoW. However, I would like it even less if it took me months on end to feel like I’m actually getting anywhere.

    It gives players like me, who step back from the game, a change to actually play catch up when I’m a few months behind. If I ever choose to go back. It’s that amount of accessibility that keeps this game alive and keeps people going back to it. Not to mention the sheer stability it’s had so far.

  • @Epiny: That’s sort of a silly thing to say, of course every now and then an indie darling breaks through and impresses, but the game will probably not meet much success, even the creator realises that, due to financial constraints. Do you know how many tens of thousands of indie games fall flat on their faces to provide a single one with any sort of achievement?

    @Keen: The industry is vastly different to how it was in 1991 or even 5 years ago, I still hold that nobody could do what Blizzard has done in the current and almost certainly future climate.

  • If they followed the standard for the 10 years that Blizzard has, sure. If they’re expecting to release one title, especially a MMO, and expect the same results then of course they can’t.

  • Blizzard got their start when there was no established practice, statistics or measure or success.

    These days there’s nothing BUT those things, that’s the difference, and that’s the problem.

    With that said, gaming wouldn’t be such a dynamic and widespread hobby were it not for the industry turning into such an ugly beast.

  • Like you said, the industry has changed in the past decade. They’ve had to change with it. Almost every one of their major titles came out in a different gaming market then the previous.

    When Warcraft 3 came out the market was vastly different from Orcs and Humans’ time.

    It really can’t all be tied to “right place, right time”. There’s a level of quality and talent factored in.

  • Starcraft 2 Beta is “Meh” at best (IMO), their next MMO (if there really is one) will never come close the success WoW has achieved, D3 will be a big monetary success but will it have the longevity of D2?, who knows. Personally, in the coming years I see the mighty empire start to crumble.

  • There have been doomsayers for Blizzard’s stability for years. It’s no different than it was back then. Blizzard is here to stay for a long time. Their reputation alone will make their games a success. Also, the SC2 Beta is just like the original SC with better graphics and new units. Which is how it should be. There’s no point in changing the heart and soul of a game when it already works so well.

    Will their next MMO have the success of WoW? Doubtful. Not because it won’t be as good, but because the reason WoW is such a huge success is because it’s the game that truly did rocket the market for today’s gaming generation. As I said before. The only thing that will kill WoW is WoW. Just like the only thing that will kill Blizzard is Blizzard. Which I don’t see happening anytime in the foreseeable future.

  • @Epiny

    Something I completely agree with. Look at F2P games today. Especially allods. 12 million dollars may be a lot of money to us, but look at it’s quality. Then compare it to a game like WoW that had considerably more cash dumped into. Allods is pretty close to that quality on a considerably smaller budget. It’s not the money that makes a quality game. It’s the person determined to release a quality title. I don’t care if you dump a few billion into the development of a game. If the development and determination by the staff in that game faulters.. then the game will as well.

  • You know what I don’t understand? Why does everyone put blinders on when it comes to Blizzard? The first year of WoW was almost a complete disaster. I was in the closed beta of WoW and there were a number of things that weren’t completed before launch or were just added and hadn’t been fully tested yet.

    Not to mention the first year or WoW in terms of game stability was a joke. It was one of the worst game launches EVER. Oh and please don’t bring up the, “they sold so much product that they couldn’t handle it.” If you put a product out on the shelves and I buy it, you’d better be able to handle it. I don’t go out and buy a TV and expect it to work only half the time. WoW is the only MMO I’ve ever played where they had to bring down 10+ realms for over a week to fix them.

  • 10 realms out of 200? That must be devastating. Anyways. Please, name me one MMO that had a perfect launch. I dare you. There’s not one. There’s no way to predict the stress something will go under when the influx of a large population hits the servers. I don’t care how much closed beta testing you do. The same was just seen with Allods. Trying to bash a game for the flaws that all MMOs go through is really nothing more than grasping at straws trying to find a way to hate it. It’s not really impressive at all.

  • I absolutely agree that Blizzard’s standard should be universal. The big problem is really money and cash flow. Blizzard were in the fortunate position to be able to take their time with WoW but most MMORPG developers aren’t. I think as soon as publishers learn that a well polished product is more likely to succeed, they will invest more money into getting the game into a better state.

  • @Damage Inc

    I agree, though I didn’t play on launch I’ve heard that many times. I think the problem is that it has been so long ago people have simply forgotten. WoW has also managed to consistently put out quality expansions now so they have earned the right of the benefit of the doubt.

    I will be interested to see how their new MMO fairs at launch.

  • @Shadrah, It wasn’t 10 out of 200 US servers, it was about 10 out of 50 at the time. I’m also pretty sure that if it was one of the servers you were playing on you’d have been pretty pissed. Hell people go ballistic when the server goes down for an hour or so. These servers were down for over a week.

    Oh and you missed the point of what I was saying. I was making the point that for some odd reason, people look at WoW with rose colored glasses when in fact the game had many many flaws, had a ton of content that they decided not to put in (Hero Classes) and had huge server issues.

    Vanilla WoW was a decent game (personally I really don’t like the connect the dots quest hubs that WoW introduced). Once you got to 60 if you weren’t in a raiding guild you were screwed. So they attempted to fix the situation and to me they just made the game shittier.

    Why not look at the first four MMORPG’s, where you didn’t need to raid at all to have fun and have access to high end armor/weapons etc… All four MMORPG’s, UO, EQ, AC and DAoC had virtually no BoP and BoE items. This meant that almost all items could be sold and people could be powerful and do end game stuff without having to raid if they didn’t want to.

  • “- Learn from the failures and the successes and make improvements.”

    I think the last point is odd because every successful business does that.

    The problem, as I see it, is that people don’t give MMOs the benefit of the doubt. New games have to compete with games that have been around for a few years, and are found lacking.

    This says more about the audience than company’s design philosophies.

  • @Damage

    Yes, while you’re looking at those 4 games. Remember how many weeks it took you to get those items because you were so lost from lack of it being user-friendly that you want to pull your own teeth out.

    Yes, WoW had flaws. As I said. What game doesn’t have a pretty shakey launch? When you can name one for me that released perfectly then I’ll actually give merit to that argument. You’re not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. Just because it happened to WoW doesn’t mean we should all just bend over and take it for every game that releases after it with terrible launches. Just because people make excuses for them to be able to.

  • @Terroni: Every successful business does that, sure. Let’s translate that into successful MMO’s and successful MMO studios.

    Go back the past 6 years and evaluate the games and their companies. Based on that, how many “successful businesses” do you see?

    You’re saying that common sense and intelligence is a fault of the audience? If a new game comes out OF COURSE I’m going to judge it based on past and current games. Who doesn’t do that in EVERY industry?

  • How many of those 4 games are still going strong? Blizzard’s standard must be doing something right. You (damage) mention some troubles…well yeah, I guess 5 years ago they had a few ups and downs. How long ago? yeah, 5 years ago. I was there, I was frustrated. But 5 years later, and trying (almost) every MMO thats come out, I still log into WoW on an almost daily basis without worrying about any bugs/glitches/down time. And still find fun, friends, new stuff, and challenge.

    Worst launches ever? LOL yeah right. Been through much worse. Its the ‘standard’ companies follow after these problems that determines how well they continue. And whether they’ll keep my money or not.

  • I cant think of a similar industry to MMOs so I can’t really make a comparison. I know of nothing else where you knowingly buy an unfinished product that could change completely during the time you use it.

    Games such as Darkfall and AoC have improved greatly since release, yet we don’t see their subscription rates rising. It took WoW nearly two years to get a significant subscriber base.

    What I’m saying is I don’t think people would give WoW the year it would need to establish itself, if released today.

  • That’s just it… the product shouldn’t be unfinished. Products shouldn’t change completely during the time you use them. If standards were followed, there wouldn’t be this unreliable (and unstable) industry.

    As for improvements to games, it’s (again) like any other industry. You only get one first impression. Screw up bad enough and you blow it.

  • ^ This.

    AoC and DarkFall aren’t getting significant numbers because first impressions do matter. You have to realize, there is a sea of MMOs our there to play. When one releases that is so terribly unstable for quite a while then people are going to leave it. Most of those people will never return because of the impression made on them.

    No game should ever release one way, and then completely reworked down the line to be another. Especially after that game already gets a following. It almost always spells doom for the title. How would you have felt if WoW had released.. and then 6 months in they made it a first person shooter just for the hell of it? Such is the same for any game on release. When a game drops, the heart and soul of the game should already be there. Which means all of the basic functions and mechanics. Not 6 months down the road when you’ve finally figured out what you’re doing.

  • I have an analogy I like to use when people complain that it’s unfair to judge a new game by comparing it to existing titles that have years of post-launch development and polish.

    Let’s say you’re sitting down to dinner at my place, and I’m serving roast chicken. I put two chickens out on the table. One is roasted to perfection. The other has only been in the oven half an hour and is mostly raw in the middle.

    Do you eat the perfectly roasted one? Or do you choke down the half-raw one because it’s unfair to compare it to one that has had the benefit of more time to cook?

    I’m a consumer. I care about the quality of the product I’m buying. In the case of a computer game, this means I care about how much entertainment value the game will provide to me. If I can play WoW and be entertained or play some new title which is simply not as entertaining, I’ll play WoW. I don’t care whether it’s “fair” or not to compare them.

    And never forget that there is a balancing factor to all this: as people have spent so many years playing one game, they become increasingly willing to buy and play ANYTHING else, even if it is objectively not as good, simply because it’s fresh. Personally I think almost all of Allods’ appeal can be attributed to that, but I’m a minority opinion on this blog, I know. 🙂

  • – Gameplay over technology. Every aspect of design focuses on the gameplay first.
    – “Easy to learn, almost impossible to master.”
    – It doesn’t take anything away from a game by making something “epic.”
    – Don’t complicate things if the bare essentials are the best part. “concentrated coolness”
    – “Play, don’t tell.” Let players experience the story, not be told it.
    – Focus on incentives, not punishments.
    – Learn from the failures and the successes and make improvements.

    I have to say that i agree completly, no mistake in any point.

    I have to that i agree completly, no mistake in any point

  • – “Play, don’t tell.” Let players experience the story, not be told it.


    I try to play, but each time I want to do something different WoW doesn’t want me to. There is nothing else anywhere.

    Phrasing, making a single player game out of WoW.

    Playing is about being one with the game, being able to try different things. WoW doesn’t do this.


    WoW shows you. You do minor stuff, but generally the developer’s single design path for the player is completely obvious.

    I agree with the first poster. Blizzard can spew crap all they want.


    You’re joking right?

    When WoW was released it was one of the friendlist MMORPGs to date. It was friendly to NORMAL people, I was a casual and I had a blast (unlike WOTLK).

    Now WoW is retard friendly, meaning banging your head against the keyboard is viable.

    And no, it hasn’t improved. You OBVIOUSLY never played the original… Or any other MMORPGs for that matter.