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J. Allen Brack interview with Venturebeat
26/05/2019 à 10:16
World of Warcraft
Producer, Production Director, Executive Producer, Vice President, and now President of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack has had a long relationship with the game, nearly as long as the game's own history.
recently published an interview in which he shares some of the insights he's gathered along the way.
We'd encourage you to read the full interview (linked above), but we've summarized and added our own thoughts to some of the highlights below. To be clear, this is not simply regurgitating their interview and not every talking point is expanded upon, but providing context and additional thoughts to the major topics discussed. Please reference the
for the exact questions and answers.
Being the man in charge is a daunting task. Blizzard had 300 employees when World of Warcraft launched, which has since inflated to 4,300, and the new president hasn't been the gaming community's favorite person since taking the reins from longtime predecessor Mike Morhaime last year either. Primarily remembered for his infamously derisive response towards returning to Vanilla WoW, and while some players may even be inclined to agree with his assertion, it's hard to deny the hype that's been generated since the announcement of WoW: Classic, made on that very same stage a year later at BlizzCon 2018 - at the very least the announcement proved to some degree that Blizzard does in fact listen to its community, and it was fitting that the man who initially decried the idea was the one to then announce it to the world.
Likewise, the BlizzCon 2018 Diablo: Immortal announcement received a rather tepid response, followed by company-wide layoffs, which only rubbed salt in the wound of public opinion. While Brack expected the transition to be a difficult challenge, he maintains that with more games in the works than any other time in Blizzard history, the future of their franchises is what will ultimately decide success or failure. This seems a fairly reasonable sentiment; we knew Blizzard planned to increase the size of their development teams, and with
Battle for Azeroth
Patch 8.2 shaping up to be one of the
largest patches in the history of WoW
, those plans appear to be coming to fruition; although whether that will be enough to win back the hearts already broken by this expansion's rocky start remains to be seen.
While certainly not everyone is excited for Diablo: Immortal, as has been repeatedly pointed out Mobile Gaming is a
, tempting for any developer to try to tap into. While some might maintain that Blizzard should be a "PC only" developer, their cross platform sales of Overwatch and Diablo III have been relatively successful, especially on the Nintendo Switch, which could very well lead to more cross platform development in the future. As Brack explains, not every game or console necessarily needs to agree with player, and it's alright if some enjoy mobile games while others don't - they're not replacing the core game models, merely alongside them. Perhaps Diablo: Immortal's biggest crime was being announced to a community starving for a new major release, a lapse which will hopefully be forgiven whenever that announcement finally arrives, although Blizzard has long maintained that it's Coming Soon™.
Brack as a WoW Player
Sharing some of his highlights as a player who has put thousands of hours into Diablo, StarCraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, and even more into World of Warcraft, J. Allen Brack recalls some of his favorite moments in the game: defeating Ragnaros and Kael'thas for the first time, achieving the Undying title. Like many players, the moments that stand out are those that bring a team together; the screams and exhilaration of accomplishing a major challenge. This even exists second hand, as we saw thousands of twitch viewers watch as guilds
raced for World First
clears of Uldir and Battle for Dazar'alor.
As a developer, he has other favorites: the creation of different expansion systems, particularly the scale of
between reviving Illidan, obtaining artifacts, revamping world quests, and creating Argus, along with a special mention for
Mists of Pandaria
- while Brack calls it a misunderstood expansion, many players
seem to agree
. There's an interesting parallel of public opinion between MoP -> WoD and Legion -> BfA, where both
initially faced heavy criticism, but are now looked upon very fondly; perhaps it's an "on and off again" curse of WoW expansions, or maybe hindsight really is 20/20.
Brack also felt that the two year/three patch expansion model fit World of Warcraft at the current time, but also mused on experimentation and what-if scenarios that slipped through the cracks, such as an Argus-only expansion. But following the rigid expansion development model, would such experimentation even be possible? Patches generally introduce a new zone like the Broken Shore in 7.2, Tanaan Jungle in 6.2, or Timeless Isle in 5.4, only to discard them a patch later, moving onto the next story beat. There's no real room currently for a mini-expansion concept, where a zone like Argus may not have the heft of a full-fledged expansion, but has the potential to be something more than a patch. Some parts of the zone felt rushed, with lots of exposition crammed into
"A Thousand Years of War"
, instead of Alleria receiving a similar narrative treatment to Jaina in the
La Fierté de Kul Tiras
There’s always all these could-haves, should-haves. Should we have made Argus its own expansion at some point in the future? That’ll be always with us. Obviously we chose not to do that and that ended up being pretty good, but certainly we were thinking about it. We’ll continue to think about it and continue to experiment.
Most games cannot compete with World of Warcraft's longevity and popularity, and the developers have spent 15 years experimenting with the right pace of content, which is currently the 2 year/3 major patch model of the past few expansions. Of course, Classic coming out later this year stands separate from that; the first time the game will have ever had two concurrent live clients, and because it's all part of the same subscription it gives players more options to play their favorite version of the game or switch back and forth between the two as they see fit.
That’s something we’ve experimented with a lot over 15 years. That’s what we think is the right thing right now. The big inflection this year is going to be Classic. That’s a huge piece that’s going to be midway through the cycle, coming out at the end of August. That’s pretty exciting. We’re always looking for what the right thing is from a development standpoint, the right thing to do in patches, the right thing to do in expansions, how the story all comes together. Again, it’s a circuitous process. It comes together quite organically. But we’re always open to thinking about different things we could have done or could do.
Feel free to agree or disagree with J. Allen Brack or my own thoughts on the topics discussed. While to some he may never represent anything more than a meme of a shortsighted comment, he's been ingrained in Blizzard Entertainment, particularly World of Warcraft for longer than most players, but a lot changes over 15 years both in terms of design and the people involved in it. Sometimes that involves experimentation, sometimes it involves going completely over the top (
!), followed by the natural disappointment when the following act is unable to reach the same scale much less exceed it, and sometimes it takes time to hammer out the rough patches, as has been seen in
Reaper of Souls
Mists of Pandaria
, and currently happening with
Battle for Azeroth
At the end of the day, gaming is a pursuit of passion for both players and developers, which is always going to lead to controversial opinions - leave yours below.
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