Blizzard On ‘Diablo’ MMO Hopes, New Franchises And More

At the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in Paris, it wasn’t all about “Diablo III.”

Amid the festivities, I sat down with Blizzard execs Paul Sams, Chief Operating Officer, and Frank Pearce, Executive Vice President of Product Development. The pair, in separate interviews at the event, gave me their insight about several topics, including:

  • Why “Diablo III” isn’t an MMO
  • Making another MMO to compete with “World of Warcraft
  • The player overlap between their games
  • The time between their game releases
  • Creating a new game franchise
  • And more

Read on for the details…

On why “Diablo III” isn’t an MMO:

Sams: When we’re deciding what type of game we’re going to make, we look at what the gameplay experience is going to be. We talked to the team a lot and say, “What is it you want to play? What is it that you want to make?” And we really felt like “Diablo” is a franchise that is very cooperative in the manner in which you play it. We felt like the gameplay experience that we had delivered historically with being in a non-persistent world was the right way to do it for this particular product. I think a lot of people expected us to say that this is going to be an MMO — maybe an obvious choice in a lot of people’s minds. But really, the bottom line is we thought the right game to make was “Diablo III” in the way that we’ve announced it.

On making another MMO that would compete with “World of Warcraft”:

“If we wanted to make was another MMO, then we would do that. I don’t think we’re scared to do that.”

Sams: Well, it’s certainly a conversation that we’ve had. The idea of doing games that could compete with “World of Warcraft” is something that I think a lot of people would say, “Geez you shouldn’t do that.” But I do believe that if the game that we wanted to make was another MMO, then we would do that. I don’t think we’re scared to do that. And I think that if our developers come up with the next great game that they want to make and it’s an MMO, then we’ll do that. We would go about trying to make the best MMO of all time, and to try to eclipse “World of Warcraft,” if we were ever to do such a thing. But it really all comes down to what type of game we want to make, and the people that we have working at the company.

Pearce: Whether or not it makes sense to have another subscription-based MMO competing against “World of Warcraft” within the Blizzard space is hard to say. At some point, some product’s going to come along and cannibalize the “World of Warcraft” player base, and if it’s going to happen, it’d be better for us to cannibalize our own player base compared to having another publisher do it. But our hope is that “Starcraft II” and “Diablo III” will be games that can be enjoyed by our fans simultaneously with “World of Warcraft.”

On the player overlap between their games:

“It’d be better for us to cannibalize our own player base compared to having another publisher do it.”

Pearce: I’m not sure exactly how much overlap there would between the “Diablo” player base and the “World of Warcraft” player base. We’ve found that there’s not a large overlap between the “Starcraft” player base and the “World of Warcraft” player base. But it’s really hard to say. Our hope is that we can build a big online community, like the Battle.net online service, that would give us the opportunity to introduce all our fans to all of our different franchises across all the different genres.

I’m sure our marketing group is ready to do some research about how many people would migrate from the “World of Warcraft” to “Diablo III,” but those aren’t necessarily the data points that we use for decision-making when it comes to the games that we want to make. What’s most important to us is that we’re servicing our community and our fans with great games and so if we come out with a new great game where some people playing on existing games will migrate to the new game, they’re still our fans, they’re still our players, and we’re still happy about it.

On the Activision merger helping with having three announced games all at once:

“As it relates to what games we’re going to make and how many we’re making, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the Activision-Blizzard merger.”

Sams: I think [the merger] certainly gives us access to more talent and experience in the industry. There’s a lot we can learn from them, and I think vice versa. So I think that’s an opportunity to gain strength in retail and gain strength in the manner in which we market out games and make our games available to customers. But as it relates to what games we’re going to make and how many we’re making, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the Activision-Blizzard merger. … Right now, we’ve been able to build up one of the best group of development teams in the industry, and we feel like we’re in a place right now where we have the necessary and requisite talent to be able to do a few games simultaneously.

On the time between game releases:

“I think that there will be a little bit less time [between Blizzard releases].”

Sams: I think that there will be a little bit less time, but we’ll continue to take our time to make sure that they’re right. I don’t see there being any differences in our thought processes as it relates to that. We’re going to make sure that we put the time and the energy and the money and the resources into making the best games in the world that we can. And do I think because we have multiple development teams that the release dates will go closer together for Blizzard releases? Probably a bit. But I don’t think our development cycles will shrink on any of the projects that are going on; it would just be that there’s more product flow.

On creating new mobile and web applications:

Sams: Those are areas that are very much booming — the phones, the iphones and the web apps. Certainly, it’s an area that we’ve looked at and that we’ve explored. I can see us looking at those further but I don’t know if that will be a core focus of ours. We’re really focused on doing the types of games that we do — the RPGs and RTSs and MMOs — and doing them on platforms that really allow us to spread our wings and do the best games we possibly can. There’s more limitations on some of those devices, so I don’t know if we’d be able to deliver the types of experiences that we would want to on those devices just yet. If that changes and we find that it’s the right platform for us to be on, then certainly we would look at it. We’ll see, but I think that it will probably be a bit of time.

On creating mobile applications connected to existing games, like being able to check “World of Warcraft” auctions [news that MTV Multiplayer broke at DICE in February]:

Sams: At this point we don’t have anything that we can share about that. I can say that’s certainly something that we’ve explored and are continuing to examine. And if we think we can do something that’s compelling and will be of value to those that play our games, then we certainly would look at that. Standalone type of apps, probably not so much, but the type of apps you’re referencing where they’re connected to other parts of the games — that’s possible. We’ll have to see though. We’re still exploring it.

On creating a new game franchise:

“We have a lot of developers that would be really enthusiastic about the idea of doing a new intellectual property.”

Pearce: We have a lot of developers that would be really enthusiastic about the idea of doing a new intellectual property. Everyone at the Blizzard offices loves the “Warcraft” franchise, loves the “Starcraft” franchise, loves the “Diablo” franchise but we’ve been doing a lot of that for a long time, and I know there’s a lot of guys that at some point would love to have the opportunity to do something new. When the current development teams roll off what they’re working on, we’ll involve them in the decision-making process for what game they’re going to make next. And we’ll be having those discussions when those teams are rolling off “Starcraft II” and “Diablo III,” but that’s a ways down the road.

***