Interviews

Blizzard's Rob Pardo

VP of game design on WoW, Starcraft II and troublesome definitions

Rob Pardo is probably the most powerful game designer in the world. In his position at Blizzard he's responsible for the overall game design on all their products, and for hiring and firing the talent that has produced some of the most successful games in history. His twin passions: games, and ensuring that the people that make them are working to their best ability.

It sometimes feels like the games industry is backing away from the PC, yet Blizzard have the most successful game around, and it's a PC exclusive. What's going wrong?

Rob Pardo: I totally understand why so many companies aren't developing on the PC... From a hardware perspective, you're developing for a moving target, it's becoming more and more expensive to develop technology, and you have to be careful with system requirements... From a financial point of view, you get more money back from PC games, but you also have to spend more money on marketing and getting shelf space: you need to be working with a strong publisher.

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Something else that's been well documented, but I think depends on the game, is the whole piracy element... But I don't subscribe to the notion that the PC is dead. Until consoles have the same sort of inputs as a PC, I see no reason for it to go away. PCs have the biggest install base of any game system. As long as that remains the case, you're going to see a lot of PC games. It just might be a different business model.

A WoW dungeon isn't just a cave with monsters, it's always a temple for someone who's been kicked out, or the bottom layers are occupied... is that a carefully considered template?

Rob: It's not, actually. We have an organic model for game development. The lore informs the game mechanics, and the game mechanics inform the lore... we get a lot of back and forth. We come up with many ideas that we don't present to the players, but it makes our job easier, and ultimately delivers a better product, because it feels cohesive.

Even if you don't know the lore behind a dungeon, at least it feels like there is lore. That there's a story behind it. It feels like someone really considered why these different factions are inside the dungeon and why these bad guys live in this room... We don't expect every player to read up on every quest, and read up on all the lore of, say, Auchindoun. I still really believe, though, that it comes across if you don't read a single word of text.

You have around 140 people working on WoW now...

Rob: It is big... Every time we go to a new tier of team size it does cause us ripples for a time. We have to come up with a new way to build a creative and organisational structure for the team. Certainly, the creative process for a 140 person team is vastly different from a 20 person team.

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Who has the final say, then? Who is the boss?

Rob: Here's the funny thing. When I bring people from certain types of cultures, it takes them time to understand the answer to that question. Everyone on the team has the power to veto. It's the team that's approving the game. If I veto something or approve something by myself it's only if the team allows it to happen.

On one of my games, I had one of my designers kept coming to me to approve stuff. I had to say, "Yeah, I like it, but you should talk to person a, b, and c, to see if they like it." He replied "But you like it, can't I just put it in the game?" I said "you can, but it's at your own peril, because if they don't like it, we'll go back and change it."

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