WoW’s J. Allen Brack On What Lies Beyond Pandaria

By Nathan Grayson on October 16th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

Whether you’re a sucker for their furry brand of kung-fury or not, World of Warcraft‘s pandas are officially here to stay. Fortunately, Pandaria’s mysterious de-misting actually revealed one of the better WoW expansions in recent memory, so life goes on – and quite merrily at that. But while fresh competitors like Guild Wars 2 continue to be the talk of the town, MoP didn’t quite take the world (Warcraft-flavored or otherwise) by storm. Slow and steady though the process might be, MMOs are evolving. Sure, WoW’s world is bigger than ever, but its every strained lurch is followed by a deafening creak. So what’s next? How does Blizzard plan to keep WoW relevant? Does it involve free-to-play? A return to the Horde vs Alliance glory days? More species of playable bear? During GDC Online, I sat down with production director J. Allen Brack to find out.

RPS: Mist of Pandaria’s finally out, and it’s quite good! But it didn’t sell as well as expected. I mean, it managed the same number in a week as Cataclysm did in a day. Why do you think that was? On a surface level, Cataclysm was a giant dragons and all these big apocalyptic things while Mists of Pandaria is… bears. Do you think that image dissuaded some people?

Brack: I do. It would be interesting to see where we are in another month, in terms of sales and how that comes out. There’s a percentage of people who are not necessarily excited about Pandaria or Pandaren. We didn’t really necessarily know what that was going to mean for the expansion. I saw some criticism about it getting kidded-up a little bit, which is not really what we were thinking about. But I also have heard that the word of mouth is probably better than Cataclysm.

You’re right: it’s really easy to identify with a giant dragon killing the world. That’s a very common, archetypal kind of theme that we have going on. It’ll be interesting to see where we are in another month. I would say that we’ve been pleased with how things have been going so far.

RPS: The plan is to focus on the Horde vs Alliance war again now, right? You’re kicking that off in the next patch. What’s the wider plan for that, though? How are you going to bring that battle back to the forefront in a way that really shapes the game?

Brack: The central theme that we explore with Mists and Pandaria, with the base game, is this idea that war creates the problems of Pandaria. There’s a lot of stories where the player is figuring that out. Patch 5.1 is going to introduce the vanguard of… Okay, now Pandaria has been discovered by the world. We’ll have the armies of the Alliance doing their land grab.

In the subsequent patches we’ll have other raid tiers, and then we’ll have the war escalate to the point where Garrosh [Hellscream] actually starts to do some things that are not necessarily in keeping with what you would consider to be honorable Horde traditions. We’ve already announced that we’re going to have him as the final boss of this expansion cycle. We’re excited to see how that goes. We haven’t actually figured out exactly how that’s going to escalate and all the various pieces of that, but we’re deep into talking about it.

RPS: The introductory blog post mentioned daily quests and stuff like that. That doesn’t seem like a giant, epic war to me, though. It just seems like more of what I was already doing, but with a different wrapper.

Brack: Yeah, totally. We’re trying an experiment where we’re going to do smaller… We’re going to change what it means to be a WoW patch. Every patch for the modern WoW era has been a raid tier, sometimes a dungeon, sometimes not, but a whole content for every kind of level.

We’re trying to make smaller patches and larger patches. We’re still going to have patches that are the giant raid tiers. We’re still going to have patches that are going to be what people traditionally think of as a WoW patch. But we’re also going to have very small patches that just have a few scenarios, maybe a movie or two that are little vignettes, and a round of daily quests. That’s what 5.1 is.

RPS: Do you think that’ll help cut down on the heap of canceled subscriptions that tends to follow once things have settled after a new WoW expansion?

Brack: We didn’t think about it that way. That’s going to potentially be something that would be awesome, but we didn’t think about it in those terms. It was much more about… We know that players come in and consume content. We know that they want more content. We know that we’ve been trapped in this cycle of what it means to be a WoW patch. We just had to make a decision about how we’re going to do these updates that are quicker. Because that is better for players, to get more frequent updates. So how do we do it? The answer is to create these smaller updates and larger updates, to try to stick to a more rapid schedule.

RPS: How hard is the team working on all of this? I know you’ve moved a fair number of people over to Project Titan…

Brack: Actually, the team is larger than it’s ever been. It’s at 165 people right now.

RPS: Wow. That’s a very large team. I imagine you have many name ideas for XCOM. At any rate, free-to-play. I know you’ve been asked about it a million-billion times, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t check in – especially given how many people absolutely swear by it here at GDC Online. 

Brack: We do look [at it]. At a lot of games have gone through this transition. We didn’t make WoW for a free-to-play market, though. Looking at the games that have done this transition and how they’ve done it, we’re trying look at how they do it. It’s not something that we feel like we’re imminently considering or working on.

You’re absolutely right, though. We would be foolish not to at least consider it from time to time, think about what it would mean. I don’t necessarily know what the right thing would be for WoW, if we were to consider that model. But we’re definitely trying to learn lessons from other people as we watch them do it. It’s a huge focus of this conference. It’s been a huge focus in MMOs over the last few years.

It’s amazing to us, the consumer mindset. The consumer mindset is turned off by this idea of a recurring subscription. $15 dollars a month is incredibly cheap. It is incredibly cheap. You can barely go to a two-hour movie for $15 dollars. But it doesn’t matter. Then you say, “Well, here’s a free-to-play thing…” You can spend $30, $40, $50 dollars a month on it and people have no problem doing that. It’s an interesting psychology for both types of game.

RPS: There’s an ongoing debate about whether or not the desire to stimulate the brain’s wallet cortex ultimately influences game design. Plenty of designers swear up and down that it doesn’t, but what do you think? I mean, you mentioned that WoW wasn’t created with F2P in mind. Do you think, on some level, that kind of consideration’s unavoidable?

Brack: Yeah. There’s a lot of companies doing it a lot of different ways. Certainly some companies have this whole… “We separate the monetization from the design people. The design people say what’s happening and the business people find some ways to monetize that and they’re successful.” I think there’s also the opposite side, and it’s also a way to successful, which is the business people saying, “Hey, we want to change this and monetize this, and have the game design support that.” Everyone’s done everything, right?

It’s just deciding what it is that you want to do, or what it is that you want to gravitate towards. I don’t really think there’s a right or wrong, necessarily. It certainly is plausible to me that you could have a game where the monetization aspect is separate from the design. The idea that we’ve got this game, we’ve got it monetized in this way, and we’ve got these various monetization points – where the business of it is separate from [design] decisions. But certainly not all of them.

I think it can make things messy. I don’t think it’s a rule that it has to. If you think about… This is not free-to-play, but it’s the same thing only different, which is the rise of DLC on the console. A few years ago there was no DLC. Now it’s ubiquitous with most games. A lot of games come out with DLC. Are they designing that game with DLC in mind? Maybe. Can you enjoy the game without it and just pay your $60 dollars and you have a good time with it? Absolutely.

It’s about the presentation. It’s about the design. It’s about where those points are. I think that’s key. You can definitely do it so it feels like “Here’s where we’re charging you,” and you as a player know that’s what it is. Then you can do it a lot more gently where it can be more cosmetic, or a lot more subtle. There’s a lot of options for that.

I don’t think the industry has figured out [a perfect model]. The industry is still flailing, right? They’re still figuring out what the right way or some of the good ways to do it are. Some people are very successful and some are not as successful. We’re still figuring it out as an industry.

RPS: The other major them I’ve seen from MMO devs at this year’s GDC Online is alternative approaches to MMO interaction. Many of them imply that players are tired of questing, raiding, PVP-ing, etc. Others outright say it. How do you respond to that, given that you sort of pioneered a lot of it – at least, as it is today?

Brack: The “player sophistication” is how we talk about this at Blizzard. The player sophistication is incredible today versus when WoW came out. It’s amazing to look at boss mechanics that existed in Molten Core, as an example. Here’s this boss. He’s got these two adds. The adds can’t be killed. You have to tank those adds. You have to DPS down the boss. That’s it. That’s an actual boss mechanic in Molten Core. We don’t have dungeon bosses that are that simplistic anymore. Players would see that, understand that, and have no challenge instantly. It’s amazing, the player sophistication, in terms of what they’re able to consume, what they’re able to do, the rise of the kind of player communication and everything that happens along with it.

Emergent gameplay is fantastic. I think emergent gameplay can be monetized a little bit easier and a little more transparently than content. If you think about… This is a terrible example, but… I want to go run Molten Core, that will be one dollar. That’s very much an in-your-face, “We walled off this content and you can’t have it unless you pay.” You put your quarter in the machine to go through the turnstile.

Emergent gameplay, it’s a bit more interesting. Maybe there’s weapon upgrades, in the case of PlanetSide 2. Different things like that that they’ve got that make it feel a little more… “You’re having fun. You’re doing well. Wanna do a little better? Here’s this store where you can do that.”

RPS: Do you think WoW could benefit from more emergent-ish elements?

Brack: Yeah. We’ve had battlegrounds in the game since 2005. We keep adding battlegrounds and new gameplay. We think that’s really good reusable, replayable gameplay that people have a good time with. There’s the honor mechanic on top of that. Arenas are much more of a niche, but they’re a similar thing. We’re always trying to do stuff like that.

I think WoW is a content-driven game. Right now that is the game that it is. There is certainly a player expectation of how they’re going to experience a story, how they’re going to experience the world. It would be difficult for us to get away from that. But putting things on top of that is always something we’re interested in doing. Pet battles are less emergent, but it’s a lot less content-directed than many of the systems that we’ve put into the game.

RPS: What about something more tangibly different, though? I mean, battlegrounds really shook things up back in the day, but they’re a genre standard now.

Brack: Whenever we’re talking about the next expansion or the next patch or any systemic change we want to make, we’re always trying to layer it on top of something that we probably already have. A good example of that for Mists of Pandaria is going to be challenge modes. You can run dungeons. You can run them in challenge mode. There’s rewards that exist for that stuff. It’s somewhat reusing existing content, but it’s a new slant on that same type of thing.

Will we talk about that for an expansion? We absolutely will. Every expansion, we talk about… “What is the story we want to tell? What is the land that we want people to adventure in? What are the systems we feel like the game needs or that player would like to have or that would just be cool ideas?”

RPS: So then, how many completely new things can you actually add? I mean, WoW’s tech first landed in players’ hands back in 2004. Is WoW simply too rooted in older tech to make sweeping, dynamic additions or changes to its core structure?

Brack: We can, actually. The team is larger than it’s ever been. The team was 60 people when WoW shipped, so now we have more than 100 more. It’s a huge percentage of people larger. We have a really talented engineering group. The server and the backend components have effectively been rewritten to do all of the server-type features we want to have. In 2004 with the existing server architecture, there was no ability to do instancing the way that we do it now. There was no way to do cross-realm. There was no way to do phases. There was no way to do the various looking-for-group pooling, looking-for-raid. All these things required us to completely rewrite the server. It was a one-year project. It was a huge investment in that. There’s nothing that we can’t do if we have enough time.

It’s just, do you want to take that on? Do you think that’s the right thing for the game? We don’t really think about, “We can’t do X-Y-Z.” We think about, “What’s a good game experience and how do we technically accomplish that?” And, “Are we willing to do different things?”

RPS: Even so, one of the main complaints I hear whenever people come back to Pandaria is “It’s really good content, but I still feel like I’m playing an older game. There are a lot of things that I can do in new games that feel more intuitive, and it’s weird to have them absent here.” What is your plan to evolve WoW and keep it relevant – both from a content standpoint and in terms of how it feels?

Brack: That’s something we consider as time goes on. There’s new things that we’ve introduced with Pandaria that we’ve never had before. We have new mechanics with the monk class that we’ve never had before. It would be very difficult for us to fundamentally change a lot of how certain classes operate. You can add new mechanics on top, but ultimately you’re not going to want the person who plays a mage, for example, or a rogue, to log in the next day and have a completely different way of operating. So there’s that piece as well. It’s a delicate balance.

RPS: You have been looking into modernizing certain aspects, though, right? Making the older races look more in line with the new ones, revamping lackluster Burning Crusade content, and whatnot…

Brack: Yeah. Every BlizzCon, someone will ask in our open Q&A about what’s the plan for that. That’s something we definitely want to do. Talking about it being a balancing act… I feel like changing players’ characters and how that works is very fundamental. It’s very core. It’s very dangerous. It’s very scary. My favorite story about this is, we had a… The human female. This is years and years ago, in the Burning Crusade days. We released a patch, and there was something different with the human female character model in the patch. The forums were on fire. “Oh my God! It looks so terrible! It looks awful!”

We looked back in the changelog because we didn’t even know what’s going on. What happened was, a tech artist had gone through and he had fixed the right eyelid blinking. The right eyelid would blink, and the lid would invert whenever it blinked. He changed it. He moved one vertice up just a little bit, so now it’s blinking right. Great. Fixed. Move on to the next thing. He didn’t think anything of it.

You’d look at the forums and you’d think we killed a baby. “Oh my God, they changed everything!” No, really, we changed one vertice that you probably can’t even notice. But it’s amazing how people gravitated on to that. Because that’s their character.

RPS: Yeah. It’s really fascinating. People spend thousands of hours with these characters, soaking up every last detail.

Brack: And it is them, in some regard, right? There’s definitely a kind of personification that happens for a lot of players. To change who they are is pretty serious. That is definitely something we want to do. It has all those challenges. It has all those problems. But it’s definitely something we want to do. You look at the pandaren, or even a goblin, and you compare them to the human, which is I think the first character that we ever made in the game, or the tauren… It’s pretty sad.

And then Burning Crusade, we’ve talked about that as well. There was a while where Burning Crusade was the best thing we’d ever done. Now it’s the worst thing we’ve ever done, because everything else has raised the level, with Cataclysm. It’s definitely on the list of things we’d like to do, but we haven’t talked about doing it quite yet.

RPS: So recently, everyone died.

Brack: Yeah, someone was using a hack. It wasn’t like something that QA screwed up or that we screwed up, necessarily. What happened was, there’s a scripting language. There was a way to spoof the server into running a script that ended up killing the player the script was attached to. We brought the servers down, we added a check to say, “Hey, are you allowed to do that right now?” The problem was solved very quickly. But it was an interesting couple of hours, to say the least.

RPS: Well, it’s World of Warcraft. It’s the MMO everyone knows about. I imagine you get a lot of people attempting to pull off stuff like that, right? But I don’t think a lot of people understand how much work you put into just making sure your game is defended.

Brack: It’s unfortunate, the number of things that we can’t do because of bad people. Because of cheaters. There’s a lot of energy and time that goes into exactly what you’re talking about. Sometimes we miss and there’s dead people all over the capital city. That’s a fun time. But yeah, it’s interesting, the amount of energy that has to go into stuff like that. People are always trying.

RPS: So you blew up the world with Cataclysm, and then the Pandaren – WoW’s last sort of “what if” race – joined the fray. To be blunt, what’s left? What options do you have left in the World of Warcraft after this?

Brack: In terms of stories that are unfinished, certainly the Burning Legion story is unfinished. There’s Sargeras and his guys who are bent on everything that he wants to do. Taking over the universe. That’s maybe one step above Deathwing [in terms of epicness]. I don’t necessarily think that’s the right next story for WoW, but it’s a story that we could tell.

There’s also a lot of local, homegrown people that we have. There’s thousands and thousands of characters. So don’t think that there’s a shortage as far as how we’re going to do it. There definitely is a shortage of Warcraft III [holdovers]. A lot of the Warcraft III villains, they’re past their prime. We’ll have to make new villains.

We wanted to take a break from the apocalyptic thing with Pandaria, so we invented a new villain to help that along and have it be a little bit more of a brighter, happier world. I’m happy with how that turned out. I think it was good for the players. Pandaria feels so much less oppressive. Even though there’s this malevolent force… You’ve also got, say, the dungeon with the drunk monkeys. When we first started talking about them, I said, “Well, that sounds kinda stupid.” But actually playing it and going through the beta, it’s super fun. It’s super whimsical. I started to laugh out loud a lot more with a lot of the things we did in Pandaria, which I think is good. I’m not worried about a shortage of villains. There definitely is a shortage of known villains, though, that’s for sure.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

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59 Comments »

  1. Bhazor says:

    More places to grind.

  2. MarigoldFleur says:

    Another interview, another quote about how Blizzard is making as many excuses as possible to put off updating character models. I remember the first time the talk about possible new player models coming during the Wrath of the Lich king beta when Blizzard first started really rolling out the “if we change anything the players will get super mad!” in regards to fixing the horribly broken Moonkin models. There was also talk of the player models getting updated for the new Death Knight class aaannnddd…

    Nothing happened.

    That was over 4 years ago. Excuse me if I don’t hold my breath for this ever happening.

    • Gozuu says:

      Who actually cares if it happens? People only request it because they find the game graphics to be very old, not because it conflicts with their interests.

      No one, will discard gameplay over graphics. WoW only has to last until Titan. Close to Titan, WoW will either go free2play or slowly take off in development.

      • MarigoldFleur says:

        Aesthetic quality IS an interest, whether you like to admit it or not. It’s one of the reasons horses got a model and rigging update 6 years ago.

        • Gozuu says:

          As you hear, about the female eyelid change, aesthetic changes are NOT an interest. Something that was incorrect, was frowned upon until realizing it was actually an upgrade to an previous version.

          Character appearance in WoW is not a deciding factor. I know of no one who quit WoW due to aesthetic reasons. None and I have never heard of it. People claim it is “aging” which is correct. Do the game lack in graphic quality? Arguably, it could be better. Did Age of Conan succeed or did it fail? It failed miserably. Did they value graphics over gameplay? It sure looks like they did.

          • MarigoldFleur says:

            Updating the character models does not mean they’ll put graphics over gameplay and that’s ridiculous. And guess what! Nobody probably quit over the eyelid thing either!

          • The Tupper says:

            I truly don’t understand what gameplay exists in WoW beyond its lovely aesthetic and gotta-collect-em-all pokemonism.

          • Ahtaps says:

            You may not know people who quit over aesthetics, however, I know of people who didn’t start playing it at all because of aesthetic quality.

          • paddymaxson says:

            Thing is, Worgen and Goblins look great as do Pandaren, Draenei and Blood elves look almost acceptable and then the original 8 races look like sausage meat pumped into an inflatable doll. They really need redoing, the simple solution is to redo them and let every character have a free visual respec of some sort. The only reason it’s not been done is because it would actually take quite a lot of time (the meshes for every armour in the game are based on the models, they’d have to make sure every mdel doesn’t suddenly start clipping everywhere (more than they already do))

      • Lysaara says:

        I sure as hell care, for one. Character customisation is one of the most fun parts of WoW for me; when they introduced transmogrification I was ecstatic. I would love to see updated versions of all the character models, and I have heard many times this sentiment echoed by people who actually work on the game, but I can believe that they’d be nervous about it. New models with new textures will look significantly different to the originals, because the technology and the art style has evolved since 2004. And some players will be upset, and angry players are a bad thing, whatever they happen to be angry about.

        I have little doubt that if you left the decision to the art team, the character models would have been updated already. But you have to balance the desire to improve one aspect of the game against time creating new content and the potential impact of changing things that people are generally content with already.

    • Kdansky says:

      If they make changes, they will lose a ton of existing customers who are put off by those changes. And you can be absolutely sure that people will resist changes.

      If they don’t make changes, they will slowly lose existing customers who are longing for changes.

      But in neither case they will gain customers, because those who have quit won’t return for a graphical update.

      Therefore it’s better to leave it alone.

      • MarigoldFleur says:

        If people were constantly leaving because of change the game wouldn’t have survived past a single content patch or expansion.

    • Nevard says:

      This time they’ve said that they’ve almost finished Dwarves and are working on Humans and Orcs, which they believe to be the two most important for art direction.
      That’s a lot more than “we’ll get to it eventually”.

      • MarigoldFleur says:

        Another thing they said was that they’d probably not have it done within Pandaria’s lifespan as an expansion, which will probably be around 2 years like the previous expansions.

    • Carra says:

      I would bloody hate it if they changed the way my gnome looks.

      Still, there’s the option to just leave it optional at the barber or give it as extra options with the char creator.

  3. malkav11 says:

    Huh. So the leader of the Horde is going to be the final boss for MoP, even for the Horde? How the heck is that going to work?

    Also, it’s not about how much you’re paying for a monthly fee. It’s the perception that you -must- play the game you’re subscribing to, and play it at least X amount, to really justify that subscription fee. It’s this huge psychological burden. (And, FWIW, $15 is a crazy amount of money to be spending on watching a movie. If it cost that much around here I would never, ever go to the movies. Our matinee pricing is about $5.50.)

    • Gozuu says:

      A movie ticket (2 hours of entertainment) is $12.50 in Europe. I can rent a movie, for 24 hours, at half that price at home. $15.00 in subscription fee is unlimited hours of entertainment. I would justify $15.00 for 4 hours of monthly fun.

      • malkav11 says:

        Like I said, it’s not really the -amount- of the subscription fee that matters. I think it’s absolutely crazy that movies cost that much in some places and I would refuse to go to them at that price, but obviously it’s possible to extract a lot more entertainment value from the $15 a typical MMO subscription costs than $15 worth of most other media. It’s still a psychological burden.

        • Spengbab says:

          Actually, I take issue with having to pay for a hat, key, new suit, a mount, grenades, backpacks, armor for a horse and whatever else developers can hawk. If I buy a game, I should be entitled to all of it’s content.

          I don’t mind a €15,-/$15,- monthly fee at all, because I’ve got a job. Kids who don’t have the money don’t get an opinion.

          • Jumwa says:

            And yet WoW has the subscription, it has an upfront cost (plus expansions) and has those microtransaction things too.

            So WoW’s subscription doesn’t save you from being bothered by that stuff either.

          • Nevard says:

            The price of WoW’s microtransactions does bother me a bit, though it is at least limited to things utterly divorced from gameplay and there’s an in-game stigma against using them because “you didn’t actually EARN that”.

      • DrGonzo says:

        I can get Netflix for less than that and have a lot more original content for a lot cheaper. Or pick up a much better game for a lot cheaper every single month, and have a brand new game, every single month.

        That argument doesn’t work at all.

        • ffordesoon says:

          This, pretty much. It’s not that you’re paying fifteen bucks a month, it’s that you’re paying fifteen bucks a month for a game that’s relatively static.

          I mean, when all those people in the capital cities got killed, I can’t be the only one who thought, “Wow, if stuff like that was happening in WOW every day, I’d renew my subscription.” I don’t mean hacking, obviously; I’m talking about if shocking emergent events like that one happened as a consequence of the systems in the game. Whatever you think of John Smedley, he’s exactly right that people are bored of designer-authored MMO questing, because you go through it in however long it takes, and then you’re just killing time in the game waiting for the next thing, and in that interim, you’re getting lured away by other games, Netflix, etc. There’s only so many times you can lure people back with static content when their attention keeps wandering to dynamic stuff.

      • ninjapirate says:

        Considering that Europe is a continent of around 50 countries, that’s a pretty ballsy induction.

    • Low Life says:

      “Garrosh [Hellscream] actually starts to do some things that are not necessarily in keeping with what you would consider to be honorable Horde traditions”

      Doesn’t that explain it pretty well? Essentially he goes rogue -> he’s no longer leader of the Horde. And by that point he’s likely caused more than enough trouble so the new leader(s) to send an army after him.

    • InternetBatman says:

      It’ll probably work the same way that the Undercity instance (against Varimathras) worked in Wrath of the Lich King. Thrall and Sylvanus will lead a charge against the Warsong clan. It’ll just be written even more poorly because the premise of unending war runs dry pretty quickly when you have to do it in a serialized setting with the same characters.

  4. DiamondDog says:

    “$15 dollars a month is incredibly cheap. It is incredibly cheap. You can barely go to a two-hour movie for $15 dollars.”

    Yes, but I can choose when I want to go see a film, and in a F2P game I can choose when and how I spend my money, rather than being locked in. That’s the point. If money becomes tight because of real world issues, I know I don’t have a sub to worry about.

    • Neurotic says:

      Absolutely. Ab-so-fucking-lutely right. And no one ever says that, when the slavering idiot hordes of anti-F2Pers are clanking their chains and ranting about subscription-less games ruining everything, no one ever says ‘If I have to stop playing suddenly for a while, I don’t feel like I’ve wasted half the sub money.’ It must be the difference between those who pay for their own subs and those who have it paid for them somehow. I don’t know. But yes, when DDO first announced this and tipped the first AAA F2P domino, my immediate, instinctual reaction was ‘Yes, finally, I don’t have to debate about whether I can justify the 10 +/- Euros this month, because I may or may not have extra work or other problems to deal with that will prohibit me from making full use of it.’ Fuck yeah, thank you for saying that DiamondDog, you nailed the bastard right on the head.

    • Moraven says:

      And a lot of people end up spending more than $15 a month on F2P.

      Sure it might be great for you, but will it be for everyone else?

      • DiamondDog says:

        Yeah, it’d be interesting to see some proper data on spending habits for F2P. All I have is anecdotal stuff from playing League of Legends, but I know people that have probably spent more money on skins and new champions than they would pay on a standard sub.

        The point is though, the choice is there to spend as much or as little as you want.

      • Silarn says:

        It’s also a bit of a poor point of comparison that I see bandied about a lot. $15 is not for ‘unlimited’ hours. A lot of hours, sure, but not ‘unlimited.’ There is plenty of entertainment out there, games included, which offer literally unlimited uses for a one-time fee. You can also buy quite a few movies for $20 to watch as much as you want. Movie theaters also forego the need to buy expensive equipment to be able to view your entertainment.

        A more apt comparison is the monthly fee necessary for a service, such as Netflix, television channels, or satellite radio. These options are often more expensive than a $15/mo subscription, to be sure, but they also provide many many more avenues of entertainment. Netflix offers a massive library of movies and television shows. TV subscriptions divide that money between at least a dozen networks and offer hundreds of channels. Sat radios also provide dozens upon dozens of choices of music, radio shows, and news.

        MMOs have a lot of content, most of the time, but they also basically offer one choice of entertainment. Maybe two or three if you’re willing to count PvE vs PvP etc. I think the costs here even out, and it’s hard for me to say ‘Yeah, $15 a month is clearly more entertainment value per hour!” Is it less money per literal hour? Mathematically, of course it is. But is there as much on offer to divide between those hours? Do they all have a significant mandatory initial fee before that monthly subscription kicks in?

      • DrGonzo says:

        A lot of us spend nothing on Free to Play. Why do they never mention that? I read somewhere the stats are around 90% of F2P players never spend anything.

        • malkav11 says:

          Yep. Even on the F2P games I -have- spent money on (LOTRO, DC Universe Online, DDO), I’ve certainly not spent anything like $15 a month.

  5. Spinks says:

    I laughed at “I imagine you have many name ideas for XCOM.” Good interview.

  6. Lydia says:

    The solution is so simple, it hurts. Nearly everything that’s being done right now revolves around killing stuff. In my infinite arrogance, I’d dare to suggest that people need a break from it sometimes. Even the badasses who don’t think they do.

    So, why not integrate some creative activities, even if they’re instanced at first ? How could WoW or GW2 not benefit from giving people the tools to express themselves in new ways ? There’s a fucking reason Minecraft is so popular, maybe the rest of the industry should ask themselves why.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      That’s a problem for games in general, though. Not just MMOs. One of the reasons games are so often unimaginative is that you’re limited to encountering only the small number of things that are OK to kill.

  7. ahac says:

    Pandas are cool. They are not the reason why I didn’t buy MoP (yet). The reason is that I was bored with WoW long before MoP and have enough other games to play right now. I think it’s the same for many others. A differently themed expansion wouldn’t do any better.

  8. Ergates_Antius says:

    On a surface level, Cataclysm was a giant dragons and all these big apocalyptic things while Mists of Pandaria is… bears

    Umm… Pandas aren’t bears, Horace would be appalled!

  9. zbmott says:

    I love Blizzard, I really do. I’ve been with them since WarCraft: Orcs and Humans (I cut my computer/gaming teeth on that one along with, apropos of nothing, Wing Commander: Privateer). But hearing WoW’s production director claim that he thinks “emergent gameplay is fantastic” leaves me deeply disappointed. I think Blizzard spends too much time protecting and cultivating gamers’ experiences (and by extension, its bottom line) to make any sort of credible claim about valuing emergent gameplay.

    If Blizzard as a studio truly values emergent gameplay, they ought to take cues from games like Terraria, or Minecraft, or StarCraft: Brood War, or Diablo II.

    It’s entirely possible Mr. Brack feels differently than the high-powered muckity-mucks making executive decisions over at Blizzard Entertainment, and if that’s true, I hope he starts getting his way a lot more often.

  10. Dances to Podcasts says:

    I suspect the sales thing is because of knock-on effects. In the same way that I feel The Secret World suffered from Age of Conan’s disappointment, so Pandaria suffered from the after effects of Cataclysm, especially the long quiet between the last patch and Pandaria launch.
    Of course, these things work in positive ways as well, that’s why we have sequels, so the future should look quite good.

  11. Flesaur says:

    I played WoW from launch with a bunch of friends and we all took breaks at some point during Cataclysm. When Blizzard announced that the next expansion would include giant pandas, that was pretty much the day most of us deleted the game from our drives and quit.

    It’s a real pity in a way, cos Blizzard has usually done things quite well. However, the direction the game took didn’t really inspire many of the people I know to hang around, or play on. It just seemed like Blizzard were interested in taking a comfortable option, with pretty much more of the same.

    A good game will always evolve and create new challenges and goals, along with maintaining those reassuring facets which people enjoy. In aiming to please more people, WoW has done little more than dilute the overall experience, without offering up anything progressive.

    Good luck to the guys though, had plenty of fun in the past with their game.

  12. djbriandamage says:

    I love J. Allen Brack and Chris Metzen interviews. I so appreciate their honesty and humility. They’re never shy to talk about where they’ve failed to meet customer expectations or how difficult it is to make the highest percentage of people happy.

    I also have to compliment Nathan Grayson’s interviewing skills. He asked some touchy questions and pressed even harder where necessary. Good follow-up questions to their responses as well.

    It’s a rare treat to read about WoW at RPS and you guys pulled it off as well as I could have hoped. Very enlightening, informative read.

  13. lexoneir says:

    Did he seriously just say that Burning Crusade was the worst thing they’ve ever done?

    • Chesterton says:

      No. He was referring to the questing/leveling experience……which at this point, is the oldest, most tedious & worst leveling stretch in the game. When it came out though, obviously things were much different.

      • Jenks says:

        Vanilla and TBC servers like The Emerald Dream are picking up a lot of traction as people tire of the new, brain dead, f2p-esque leveling/quest experience that Blizzard has shifted to.

        • malkav11 says:

          It always stuns me that people can claim that WoW’s questing has departed dramatically from its original concept and design. It’s always been essentially linear chains leading you from point to point. It’s always been a guided theme park tour. It’s just that now it’s better about pacing, the quest design is vastly more creative and varied, and the routes are more sensibly plotted. But I guess that’s a bad thing somehow.

  14. sebmojo says:

    I thought that was a splendid interview Nathan, thanks. At this stage I can’t see myself going back to WoW unless it goes F2P. So many good times, though.

  15. Bensam123 says:

    Scenarios are a waste of time. I did one and it was lame and pointless. Just a giant scripted fiasco where all three people run around like a chicken with their heads cut off. They aren’t even fun. HEAVILY SCRIPTED GAMES ARE NOT FUN!

    Shit the FPS genre is already starting to figure this out, yet Blizzard seems intent on shoving this style of game play down our throats. Doing everything for players is not fun. Only being able to accept 2-3 quests from a quest hub and having to kill monster X, pickup Y, and use Z is not fun. I really pitty anyone that will have to level another character through pandaria. There is no way to power through that content. You’re going to be stuck listening to the same upteen hours of dialogue, cut scenes you can’t skip, and quests that you can’t do more then two of at a time. I found pandaria terribly terribly tedious, even if they tried to spruce things up, they really just made it take a heck of a lot longer then a traditional leveling experience.

    Dailies are not fun! Dungeons that are way too easy are not fun(MoP)… in retrospect dungeons that are waaaay too hard are also not fun (Cata). Wrath had the right difficulty level and gear scaling. It was fun at all points and all the added dungeons were quite fun. Tabards should be the traditional avenue of grinding rep as per Wrath. No one wants to do dailies. Making people do dailies will not make the game fun for them, it will not encourage them to continue playing, it will make them loathe it more.

    I know WoW has copied other games in the past to attempt to suck their playerbase away (BC to GW, Wrath to WAR, Cata to Aion (I really don’t think Cata had a target and thats why it was such a failure), MoP to GW2), but GW2 is so far outside the WoW norm that trying to make it like it is really killing the game. WoW is not GW2 and trying to make it like GW2 by simplifying everything is making the game not fun. There are more choices in glyphing then there are in the talent tree now! Making it so tanks can only tank, healers can only heal, and DPS can only DPS is weak. People should have the choice of being able to hybrid and unfortunately the only class that can still somewhat do this are DKs. Somehow they escaped being homogenized like every other class in WoW.

    Making stats so completely pointless that all your gear is already decided for you is not fun. Having quest givers simply give you your gear so you wont mischoose one of the four items he’s giving you is not fun. Yes a warrior should be allowed to wear spirit and int if he’s stupid enough to pick it.

    Making a game heavily structured to the point where the game plays itself is not fun.

    I really don’t know why I’m wasting my breath saying all of this, so many people have also said similar things. Blizzard just continues to ignore it and drive the game into the ground. Wrath was the pinnacle of WoW both in terms of story and game development. If you want to make the game fun again I’d suggest looking at that again.

    Oh, and hey, Stormwind is still on fire. People could fix a city faster in real life.

    • Bensam123 says:

      Oh and if you’re going to put microtransactions into a pay to play game, you should better make the game free to play or you’re going to lose quite a bit of your player base, if not all of it. Arenanet knows what’s happening.

      Blizzard just simply wants more monies without giving anything back. $15 a month from 10m subscribers is a lot of cash. They could be putting out content patches every one-two months and still have their pockets more then lined. I’ve been saying that for years though. A new dungeon every month, a new BG every two, a new raid every 2-3 months, fck scenarios. I’ve seen indie groups develop content faster. You could even assign sectors of the company to make specifically these things like clockwork!

    • malkav11 says:

      HEAVILY SCRIPTED GAMES ARE BOATLOADS OF FUN.

      Well, they are for me, anyway. But I guess I should generalize that to everyone that plays games in a shouty manner because it’s surely inconceivable that people could enjoy different things than I do.

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