AGDC Keynote: How to Rule the World...
...of Warcraft. On Wednesday morning, Managing Editor Jon Wood attending the opening keynote address at the Austin Game Developers Conference, where Blizzard co-founder and president Mike Morhaime discussed the secrets of Blizzards success.
Day one of the Austin Game Developers Conference kicked off with a keynote speech from Mike Morhaime, the President and Co-Founder of Blizzard. If you've been living under a rock in the MMO world for the last few years, Blizzard is the company that brought World of Warcraft to the market, and paved the way for an expansion in the MMORPG industry.
"Our industry is young, and moving fast."
Morhaime led off by talking about the major leaps that have been made by way of communication in the 20th century.
The world has become a smaller place," he said. He's right. Online communication has made it possible for people who may never have had the opportunity to communicate with one another to meet, share ideas and become friends. Online games were a logical consequence of that change.
Blizzard is a good example of the results of the aforementioned communications boon, and has an interesting history to go with it:
In 1991, Blizzard as started by three graduates of UCLA armed with $20,000 (given as gifts or borrowed) and two computers (both powerful 386s). To make a long story quite short, the company was purchased in 1994, the company was sold to an educational software company and is now a division of Vivendi Games, Blizzard itself being a full-fledged publisher with full control of their creative products.
Morhaime attributes the company's success to the fact that they have stayed committed to the same core philosophies. This brings us to the whole point of the keynote: The keys to World of Warcraft.
"If we don't get this part right, none of the rest matters."
That quote may sound like the kind of things that companies may say and not mean, but in the case of Blizzard, it seems to have been true. Their mantra for the last few years has been that games should be "easy to learn, difficult to master". According to Morhaime, the game should be deep and re-playable while still appealing to the mass market. He also cited the fact that Blizzard tries to keep their system requirements reasonable, producing games for systems purchased within a few years of the game's release.
Build and Protect the Brand
Blizzard wants to make sure that they have positive brand recognition. Basically, this means that they want to make sure that anything with a Blizzard logo on the box is a game of quality. This means that when you release a new game, people are more likely to buy it based on who made it.
Resist the Pressure to Release Early
We've all played games that were released before they should have been. It's not a good thing, and often leaves a bad taste in people's mouths.
"You only get one chance to make a first impression." It's a cliché, but it's a cliché for a reason. Morhaime urged people to think long-term, citing the fact that Both Diablo and Burning Crusade missed their chances at a Christmas launch (traditionally a big sales time of year... duh) and well, we all know how that turned out.
"Shipping a game early," he said, "can do tremendous damage to a brand or franchise."
Resist Pressure to do Everything at Once
Morhaime urged potential developers to make sure that they don't run headlong into things and said that you should build on your successes, gain expertise and then get more ambitious.
"WoW was not our first game," he reminded us.
Blizzard as a Global Company
He then went on to tell us about Blizzard's Evolution as a global company, and their philosophies on the subject.
The main point that I took away from this part of the presentation is that Blizzard doesn't buy into what he called the "myth of the regional taste". According to Morhaime, regional taste (in this case being the philosophy that each region wants different things from a game) doesn't really exist.
"Different styles of play," he said, "exist everywhere, just in different concentrations."
He said that Blizzard doesn't believe that the game needs 15 different versions in order to be a success worldwide.
Running an MMORPG is not Just Game Development
Here, Morhaime talked about Blizzard having had to expand their customer service in areas like IT, CS, Community Management and the like. They had to transition to become not just a game company, but also a global customer service company.
Communicate (Or People Will Make Things Up)
With any MMORPG, it is very important that the company communicate, not only with the people who will play their game, but also with everyone else that is involved in making the game. The bottom line seemed to be that communication is key. Another cliché that really is a cliché for a reason.
Avoid Financial Incentives
Morhaime noted things like: Gold Farming, Account Stealing and Credit Card Fraud as things that Blizzard has been trying their best to fight. They feel that the most effective way to do this is to take away the rewards for people who would engage in those activities.
"This is our game," he said, "we have to be able to protect our players."
Testing (Never Trust Version 1.0)
The Blizzard philosophy holds that everyone at the company is involved in the testing phase of their games. This is before they move into their Public Beta phase. The bottom line here is that they thoroughly test their game before launch, and, according to one of the above paragraphs, if the game isn't ready. The game doesn't ship.
That's my small overview of the keynote. I should also note that the room was packed full of developers from all over the industry as well as the press in attendance. One thing is certain: When Blizzard talks, people listen.