Thoughts about BlizzCon 2013 Keynote

Mike Morhaime @ Blizzcon 2013:
We originally created blizzard with a simple idea. If we gathered together talented and passionate gamers and made games we ourselves were excited to play, that many of you would also enjoy our games. 22 years later it turns out we were right.

Through the many years of Blizzard’s growth I have learned that making great quality games consistent is THE hardest thing to do.

Rob Pardo @ Blizzcon 2013:
As a Dungeon Master, I really learned early on that it’s not about creating experiences for your players, but taking that journey with them. And really having that entertainment experience as a partnership that you take on together.

Warren Spector & Mike Morhaime 2007:
[… discussion about the next 25 years of gaming focused on the social aspect of gaming…]
Spector: “So I really am doomed.”
Morhaime: “The Sims is a single player game.” Dismissive (?) look on his face. Imp-ish grin for sure. Tossing it out as a counter point to Spector’s repeated expressed desire to make single player games. “Tough.”
Spector: “With a single player community. They built a huge community.”
Morhaime: “But just to say, maybe there’s something there…” Dismissive response.

It patently unfair to try to connect things said at such different times and forums, but there’s something here which merits consideration anyway. From a couple of different angles actually.

Thought #1: People have a tendency to hire people who think like they do. Blizzard doubles down on this, to the point of actually driving out those which do not conform to the aggregate culture, at least based on what I read in “Stay a while and Listen.” This is not a bad thing – exactly the opposite. It’s one of the key tenants of their success.

Thought #2: Just look at Morhaime’s reaction to Spector’s expressed support of arguably the largest PC boxed title ever. The Sims is hugely successful – but it’s primarily played by people OTHER than the sort that play Blizzard’s games. Question to be answered, is Morhaime’s dismissive response to Spector a blind-spot as a result of a strong mono-culture?

Thought #3: Blizzard is hard at work wearing out the word EPIC. You see one definition of it by Pardo above. These shared experiences have as their foundation a story with a fixed ending written by Metzen, et al. As a result, there is a partnership, but the lead role is Blizzard’s, not the player’s. The Sims is exactly the opposite. There’s so little “game” there that the epic comes purely from the players themselves.

Thought #4: Had a conversation with a friend on the Diablo III team. In it he mentioned that his daughter is playing mine craft, a lot. As my own daughters play it, and we experience the shared stories, I’m having a much more Sims-like experience than anything WoW could ever deliver. Even though we play both games, it’s pretty clear to me that MineCraft has the  stronger social aspect, at least for the early game.

Thought #5: This connects to the lens of game development concept. (http://www.whatgamesare.com/2011/12/the-four-lenses-of-game-making.html)  It appears to me that Blizzard is quite comfortable remaining in one quadrant and not branching out. Specificially the Nattartivism quadrant described as follows:

Tadhg Kelly, whatgamesare.com: “Narrativism is about using a game to impart a storied experience in which the player takes an active role and develops sympathy toward its outcomes. It is inspired by literature, cinema, theatre and other narrative arts,…”

This desire to do one thing and do it well is the bedrock of their consistent (and difficult as Morhaime acknowledges above) development process. The question is is their fundamentally conservative nature a long term strength? It leads them to miss opportunities which should be within their power to achieve. This to me is the greatest mystery of Blizzard as a whole. Why, with what should be all the resources in the world, they aren’t able to achieve more?

 Mike Morhaime (2007): “Rushing something to market is not something [we do]. That’s called the bleeding edge…” “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.”

There you go – the whole thing wrapped up in a bow. Quality => epic => storytelling/gameplay/social.

Thought #6: Mobile just won’t support big games – at least as considered by Blizzard. They’re simply insufficiently epic. ON THEIR OWN. Just like the Sims is insufficiently epic, until you add the player. Mobile is insufficiently epic until you connect the games together. (Yet another reason to do that.) Conceptually I think of them as a wobbly stool, that’s crafted to lean toward something else which provides the stability it does not intrinsically posses.

Stay a while and Listen: “So [Allen’s] idea was to do a series of games called WarCraft that were about various times in history: a fantasy game, a Vietnam game, a World War II game, earlier historical periods, futuristic games.” “It’s called WarCraft: Orcs & Humans.”

Thought #7: The power of the colon. They already know all of this. They just need to be helped through the process of making the technology transition. This must be one of the reasons why they’re hiring a CTO: http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/careers/posting.html?id=13000B5.

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