Warren Spector lecture 07 – Mike Morhaime

Ok. This is just cool. Stumbled across this and going to try to do something a bit different, but inspired by the notes on Peter Thiel’s lectures here: http://blakemasters.com/peter-thiels-cs183-startup/.

Will need to review to get flow right I think.

This is a super rough cut and clearly needs editing.

Because I’m currently digging at Blizzard, Mr. Morhaime got to go first, but I’ll need to work my way through the rest. What follows is a super rough, highly paraphrased, transcription of the parts of this discussion which interested me.

If you like what you read, watch the video. It’s “Inside the Actor’s Studio” good.

Fodder for thought: Why the hell isn’t some variant of this hosted directly on blizzard.com? It would be an awesome addition to the careers section.

Formatting: Quoted text is Warren Spector. Square Bracket text is me. Everything else is Mr. Morhaime.

  1. Gameplay first
    All Starts with a Donut.
    Core market is the center (the hole)
    The Causal market is the donut.
    Core markets + casual markets = success
    Make our game accessible to the casual market, but deep, repayable and competitive.
    Easy to learn. Difficult to Master.
  2. Build and Protect the Brand
    The Blizzard is our most important property. High quality, polish, fun.
    The absolute worse thing we could do is put out something which damages the Blizzard brand.
  3. Resist the Pressure to Ship Early
    Think long term.
    We only get once chance to make a first impression.
  4. Resist the Pressure to do Everything At Once.
    Build on your successes, gain expertise, then get more ambitious.

Myth of “Regional Taste”
Blizzard’s perspective is that there are different play styles everywhere, they just exist in different concentrations.

  1. Estimating Demand – Really an impossible thing to do.
  2. Human Resources is really important.
  3. Running an MMO is not just about game development.
  4. Communicate or people will make stuff up.
  5. Avoid financial incentives. (Gold farmers. Credit card fraud.)
  6. Testing. Never trust version 1.0.

Email is our best tools for communication. We had to become a lot more systematic about our email lists. We make it a point for senior management to visit all offices.

We are a lot better having development centralized in one location. It will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

Selling the company when we did accelerated what we were able to do.

It’s better to do it the best. We do try to learn as much as possible from what’s working or not working. Rushing something to market is not something [we do]. That’s called the bleeding edge…

If you read any business book… If someone is going to cannibalize your market, it should be you.

Mike Morhaime – Studied Electric Engineer at UCLA. Loves Poker. Loves Guitar Hero, Rock Band.

There are certain types of games which we wouldn’t do because they wouldn’t raise to the standard of being a Blizzard quality title. They’re not epic enough.

Played Basic D&D. Never really evolved into Advanced.

Things he found compelling about staring Blizzard:
1) Allan make the point that they were both smart guys and they could figure out how to do it.
2) There aren’t many industry where you can start a company from the ground up via bootstrapping.

Pat Wyatt was personal friend of Mike’s before Blizzard.

I find it helps you to put on your player hat, instead of looking at what the market tells you all of the time. Think about what you want to play as a player.

Could you charge for online? They decided No. Instead of trying to charge, it feels a little bit awkward. We follow the TV model…we display ads to them. It didn’t have to generate a ton of profit. It just had to pay for itself.

Why wasn’t Brood War the game that StarCraft should have been? Because we needed several months of the public playing the game to know what StarCraft should have been.

After Brood War we had another unannounced game in development. We asked ourselves if we could work on any game right now, would it be the game we are working on? No it wouldn’t be.

“Does MMO equal fantasy?” No

“Is there a thought process between stopping working on a project? …Indefinite hold…?” If you want a high-level, we cancel a project because the effort and resources it would take to get it to a completion at a point we would consider it Blizzard quality is greater than the opportunity costs than doing something else.

Bought StarCraft:Ghost developer during development. We still think that the concept for the game could have a lot of potential and it could be a great game. Competing with Halo, Gears of War. We were on the wrong platform (Xbox old gen). Our market wasn’t growing. It was plateauing and maybe decline. In order to finish that game it needed a lot of resources…Blizzard attention… We have this concept of a big giant spotlight we can shine on one thing but it takes a lot of effort and momentum to move it, but once it’s there that’s where the polish happens.

“Blizzard seems like a company which is laser focused on goals. The one place I don’t get where you’re coming from is consoles. … Where does Blizzard fall on the consoles?” We like consoles. We like playing on consoles. [Smiling and literally bouncing on his chair.] We would like to be able to make console games without it impacting our PC business and do great. If we could do everything at the same time, we would do that. … You have to focus on what’s really important and not doing it at the same time. This is one case where we had to do that.

“Are you at all concerned that the MMO world is going to move from the PC to the consoles (the new consoles)?” I’m not concerned. I think consoles are a great platform. Eventually you’ll have larger and more epic online components in those games. I certainly wouldn’t take that off the table for us. I think we need to focus on doing a small number of things and doing them really well.

“All these people who seem critical to quality leave, but Blizzard quality doesn’t fall. What the fuck are you doing over there?” Commitment. The people we have are committed to maintaining certain level of quality. We don’t hit it right away. Nobody does. … It all comes down to what’s really important and what are you committed to.

“Do you have official training methods?” The training process is going through development. If you go through development, you start off and you don’t really understand, and if you come out you understand. How it works. Why it works. Why something is important.

“What do you think it takes to get a job in the game business?” There is not one answer to that. There are a number of different paths into the game industry. It should be something you’re passionate about. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work. It’s moving really fast. You have to stay up on things… Sometimes it helps to get your foot in your door and to get to know people. … People that rise up through the ranks maybe have a bit of advantage over someone who is outside the company trying to get in. We get a lot of resumes. … Experiment… Those things become part of your portfolio, so when you come in on your interview you can show that, “Hey I was really interested this, so I did this. Look.” We can see this guy took the initiative. He learned on his own. You don’t go do side projects on your own if aren’t interested in it.

“When you hire is it team fit or talent fit?” We look at both as they are both important. You can get disqualified basically if either of those aren’t there.

Must be a gamer. For all of positions. Our director of finance is a hard core WoW player. This saves Mike time because he doesn’t have to go convince him that we need to spend money on things like support.

“Before WoW came out, you said … the thing that the industry underestimates it the appeal of location based entertainment.” It’s about the appeal of playing with other people. You could call Rock Band location based gaming with 4-5 people in your living. The social aspect of gaming that connects people together is really exciting [bouncing in chair] and has a long way to evolve.

The Sims is a single player game. “With a single player community” But just to say, maybe there’s something there…

Probably if you look at it, the stock market is maybe one of the largest massively multiplayer games. (In reference to what Allen co-founder is working on.) Allen sounds like my kind of guy. Loves finance & money.

“What would you give up games to do?” I haven’t really found the thing. I love playing poker. I really love programming and I would like to get back to that. Maybe I’m just taking a really long break.

We can’t do something half-way.

Related Posts:

Lecture 1 Warren Spector
Lecture 2 w/Patrica York
Lecture 3 w/Harvey “Witchboy” Smith
Thinking, Fast & Slow – Irrational Perseverance
Lecture 4 w/Hal Barwood
Lecture 7 w/Mike Morhaime