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Starym

WoW 2, Development Mess Before Vanilla and More: An Interview with WoW's First Level Designer

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John Staats, the very first 3D level designer for World of Warcraft, has an interview with Gaming Bolt, covering his 10 year tenure at Blizzard. They talk about his 2018 book "The WoW Diary", the dev's expectations of how big WoW would be before it released, the possibility of WoW 2, both then and now, how the development process changed over its first decade, his favorite part of the game he worked on and a lot more.

One of the more interesting aspects of his book is that it focuses on the side of development we don't hear about much, the "complaints and personalities, the surprises and mistakes ", as opposed to similar books that focus more on making the studios looks good. He also mentions the other reason he started writing stuff down for an eventual book, 6 months into his stay at Blizzard, was just how much of a mess things were.

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The game was ugly, things weren’t working, and no one had answers to how to do things. Months were wasted on dead-end solutions, and no one on the team was surprised. The veterans assured us that development was often this bad, sometimes worse. “That,” I thought, “is an interesting story.

And here are some more interesting answers, but be sure to check out the full interview over at Gaming Bolt.

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World of Warcraft had become an institution in and of itself over the years, but back when it was still in development, what were you and your fellow developers at Blizzard hoping the best-case scenario would be? Did you expect it would become as massive as it did?

Before online distribution, preorders were indicators of how much demand there will be for a title. WoW presales were terrible, possibly because there was such a stink on MMOs back then, people may have doubted our game would run on low-end systems.

The team always believed in the MMO genre. I remember that 1 million players in North America was the boldest predictions any of us dared to make. Most of the team felt a quarter million (which was still great) was where our subscriptions would hover. We knew the game was going to be fun, but the subscription model made us very nervous. It had never proven itself with a casual audience, especially after EA’s The Sims Online flopped.
 

How did the development process change through the years, as your goals shifted from getting the game off the ground to continue adding content to it?

I joined when there were 20 people on the team, and we shipped with about 65 devs. Team size was a huge change. Going to hundreds of devs made the culture more corporate, more structured, and predictable. Productivity is always the cost when you want predictability. Kevin Kelly wrote a great book called Out of Control about how productivity is affected by different types of organizations. Vanilla WoW was operated by a low-management system. In it, was tons of waste, low-predictability but it was far more prolific. The key is hiring self-motivated people.

 

During all your time with Blizzard working on WoW, was there ever a conversation for how long you guys would keep adding to the game before deciding to do a sequel? Is that something you think might happen in the foreseeable future?

Doing a sequel makes no sense when devs can simply upload live updates. I suppose you could call Cataclysm (or any expansion) a sequel. I really doubt Blizzard will ever make WoW 2, it just doesn’t make business sense, especially since it could be said that things like WoW Classic splits the WoW audience.

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