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.