World of Warcraft Cataclysm Pt. 2: 'We're thinking about what's next'
7th Dec 2010 | 08:00
World of Warcraft's third expansion pack, Cataclysm is finally in shops from today.
Ahead of last night's mega London launch event Blizzard's lead systems designer Greg Street and game designer David Kosak sat down with CVG to talk all things WoW...
Does the fact you're six years in make it more of a challenge for Cataclysm to be as successful as Lich King or Burning Crusade?
GS: Wrath was a great story, we had a character that fans of the world really knew. Everyone kind of knew that Arthus was there, he was coming and we were eventually going to use him. It's always hard to top yourself and it scares the hell out of me to think about how we're going to top this and the next expansion, if it's going to be this exciting.
DK: I think Cataclysm really proves it's a living, breathing world with an on-going story - more so than any other expansion we've done. So that's kind of exciting and opens the door. You're going to be attached to this world and it's going to constantly change. The story is going to continue to evolve, so from that respect the fact that we have six years under out belt gives people an attachment to the world that helps us going forward.
The scale of your player base is gigantic. Does that make it harder for you to make design decisions that are a bit more risky?
DK: The game has always been a big umbrella. We have a lot of casual players that play for the story and the leveling up, then we have some hardcore players that just live to beat the most difficult fights in the game. That umbrella never really changes so we always need to make decisions to incorporate the needs of a lot of player; it's kind of a strength as opposed to a hindrance. We always try to think of the wide audience.
GS: There are going to be fringe elements of players that will say 'oh you took out this thing, I loved ammunition for my ranged weapons', and we are like 'what? It didn't make any sense so we removed it'. There will be players who don't like the change, it's inevitable with an audience that big but we try and listen to what people are saying and opinions we trust to get an overall sense, rather than looking at a couple of forum posts from someone who says 'you changed this one quest in Hinterlands and that was my favourite, I'm not going to play anymore'. We always get a little bit of that.
Do you think any other MMO has matched WoW in terms of quality?
GS: I think there have been some great games out there that offer a really good PvP experience, or a level up experience. I think the advantage WoW has is that we've been going for six years so it's easy to add really large features. We didn't have battlegrounds or achievements when we launched, we've added all of those now. I think that's probably the hardest place to compete.
What would increased competition from rival MMO games mean for you as designers?
GS: Good designers are really good at analysing the strengths and weaknesses of any games. If a game comes out with a really good idea we'll see if there's a way for us to incorporate something like it into WoW. On the other hand we have 12 million and growing players so even if that number dramatically fell to two or three million that would still be enormously successful in terms of MMO games.
DK: We're pretty veracious at Blizzard; the designers are always playing things, swapping stories and looking at designs. I think the more MMO games that come out the better. There's going to be more innovation, all kinds of things to look at and new players brought into the industry. I'm excited to see what the next few years will bring to the genre.
Your subscription model clearly appeals to a lot of players - 12 million in fact. Do you think a subs model could work in other online genres, such as your StarCrafts and Call of Dutys?
GS: I think it depends on the game. StarCraft, WoW and even Diablo will have very different models. The subscription based model seems to be working really well for us so we're not going to mess with WoW for the foreseeable future but different games might have different solutions.
Why do you think no other online genre has attempted the subscription model so far?
GS: The challenge of subscription means you're making a contract with a player promising high quality content regularly. It's an investment from the player so you've got to make sure you give triple A content, support, polish and a community experience. They are really high stakes and you have to make sure you deliver on that once you're asking a player to pay a subscription.
The BBC's aired a Panorama documentary focusing on 'gaming addiction'. You've already put out a statement - but do you think MMO games have a responsibility to include parental controls and such to protect those susceptible?
GS: Our games do offer parental control options and things like that. A lot of our players are non-traditional gamers who are able to have fun by playing casually - you can get far if you only play once or twice a week.
I think there are certain features that players or parents expect right now. I'm not sure I'm qualified to talk about what's responsible or not but parental controls and time management tools are part of the feature set that I think triple A games offer these days.
Why hasn't there been a big MMO on consoles yet?
GS: I think the control scheme is a part of it, the traditional MMO has always had a lot of typing and is dependent on the mouse and keyboard paradigm. A few years ago everyone said the FPS couldn't be done on consoles and clearly Microsoft has been able to pull that off with Halo and other games. Hopefully someone will be able to do the same for an MMO on a console.
DK: It's a real design challenge because you have to throw out a lot of what you've learned on a PC. On PC you're sitting right in front of a screen, you can have a lot of dense information displayed and very complex control schemes. If you're playing on a couch from a distance with a controller, it requires very different design. I'm sure someone will solve that problem. I'm amazed it hasn't been solved yet but someone has to put a lot of thought into it and it has to be the right game for that medium.
I think we'll see something in the next few years. (Laughs) I said that a few years ago but I'm pretty sure someone will solve that problem! It's tricky but someone has got to be able to find an answer to that.
Do you think the various console models, such as Microsoft's closed Xbox Live system, need to be discussed too?
GS: Yes, I think certainly that we would place really heavy demand on the technical structure of those things before it was something Blizzard would want to get into.
What's next for you lot then? Vacation?
GS: The good and bad aspect of MMO design is that it never really stops; you're not releasing a product then sitting back and letting it go.
We're immediately going into bug fix mode to find things that slipped through; players handle content differently than we expect and we go in and fix that. We'll start thinking about 4.1, what is our first big content patch going to have and the next expansion. We want to get expansions out on a fairly regular schedule so we can't really sit back for too long.
Any final words?
GS: I think a lot of players didn't realise just how much of the world was going to change, how many new quests were going to be offered, going to a zone is totally different and really thrilling.
The feedback has just been awesome to read and how players were blown away by how much new stuff there is so it really invites you to make characters to go up through different zones, and after tomorrow there will be the Goblin and Worgen too, we're really giving players a ton of content. It feels sometimes like we're offering two expansions here.
DK: If you haven't played Warcraft for a couple of years check out the new content, the whole leveling experience is so dramatically different, it's a whole new game in a lot of ways.