The 2010s Era: New IPs

Day9: Once Warcraft had been out for a while, this is when we started to see a whole explosion of new titles and sort of modern Blizzard era with Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm, and then Overwatch; and Mike, what was that like transitioning to creating a whole bunch of additional products, or were they still just in development alongside World of Warcraft.

Mike: Well, certainly World of Warcraft took the entire focus of the entire company. It is one of the reasons that it took us so long to get StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty out. Bob mentioned that he was working on World of Warcraft for a year. Well, that is because he wasn’t working on StarCraft II, and so we had a lot of people that were kind of pulling from everywhere to help us finish World of Warcraft, and then continue developing it; and it wasn’t until six years later that we released StarCraft II, and then Diablo III; and so I think at this point we have sort of finally gotten to the point we have been able to scale across all of these multiple teams, and focus on operating these games globally; but it took us awhile to get there.


Day9: Frank what was that like? Because I have heard people say that you shouldn’t think of Blizzard as one company. Think of them as like the five teams all working.

Frank: Certainly. So for a long time it felt like we were the World of Warcraft company. Almost exclusively, and I think it took a long time for us to scale and segment so that we could actually do more than one thing at a time; and so now with all the different games that we are operating each of these teams and the leadership of those games has a tremendous amount of autonomy in determining not only the content they create, but how we are going to do over it, how we are going to support it as we go forward; and so yeah, we have a leadership structure for each of these game teams, and we rely on them very heavily to make sure that they are shepherding their products appropriately, and thinking about all aspects of it, making sure that it is just a successful and sustainable business in the way we want them to be.


Day9: I have to ask about (most recent) Overwatch, which I know is really good. It is like amazing. But it was a bumpy and difficult process to get there. Mike, what you might talk to me about the development of Overwatch, and what that experience was like?

Mike: Well, this is sort of coming out of the cancellation of Titan, or we were thinking about what do we really want to work on, and they came up with this idea for Overwatch, and the entire team was just so excited about making it. They just went to town and really brought this vision to life with these amazing characters, and it is really a great story of triumph for that team. I could tell you one of my favorite– people ask me: what are your favorite BlizzCon moments? and definitely one of my top favorite moments is the announcement of Overwatch, because we had all been playing the game, and loving it, and we had all fallen in love with that opening… the announcement cinematic, and usually when you have something THAT big, there is this big risk that something will leak, an image will leak, and we didn’t have any leaks, or speculation leading up to the announcements. We were all back stage going: Oh my Gosh, nobody, this is perfect, nobody knows anything.

Day9: I think this is the only time I have ever seen Chris Metzen actually look nervous on stage, and he was nervous, and I started to get nervous because like there was no leaks, like what’s happening. It is just watching, I mean just seeing the elation from the Blizzard team was just so so amazing, and one of the big things that I wanted to touch on is, in this day and age, there is so much social media, there is so much ability to share stories of how people played your games, to share fan arts, to see the community in a way that you were unable to before; and Sam I want to ask what are some of your favorite community stories, your favorite chance of getting to see the people who have played your games for so long face-to-face?

Samwise: We have had a ton of art from the media, from all over the world, and a lot of it is better than what we do in my opinion. So instead of looking at that and feeling intimidated, I’d rather be inspired and say hey let’s see what this person is doing. We have a fantastic story. One of our artists Luke Mancini (named MrJack), are you guys familiar? He was this guy from Australia, and every time for StarCraft II would release some artwork of a new unit, or something, he would do one that was as good or better; and we saw that and we were like: what is this guy doing?

So we ended up giving him a call, and now he is working on the Heroes of the Storm team doing a lot of the artwork for all of our heroes and everything; and it is just something that going out to all the artists here, I know there is a lot of artists that want to work at Blizzard, and are really inspired by Blizzard games, if you create the artwork and you posted, chances are one of us is going to see it. So don’t be intimidated by the artwork. If there is something that you want to do, create it, we will see it, put it up in Heroes of the Storm, WoW, on all the different social media sites. So all of us in our own way are artists, we would love to create, we know you guys like to create, how about you guys can create with us?

Frank: Don’t let Sam fool you, because the best community moments that Sam has had especially as it relates to BlizzCon, is being the front man for Elite Tauren Chieftain, and playing on the stage in front of all our fans at BlizzCon. How many of you guys want to see Elite Tauren Chieftain return to BlizzCon someday?

(audience screams loud)

Day9: You don’t open for the other band. They close for you. Yes. Mike you briefly brought up Wei Wang, just a moment ago.

Mike: Yes, I was going to tell a story about– So I was on one of my trips to China. I was trying to visit the game room when I go out to Asia, and we are visiting this one game room in China, and I get approached by this kid, and he hands me a portfolio of his art, and I open it up and some of the most amazing art that you have ever seen all Blizzard-inspired; and it says something like: I love Blizzard. I love Blizzard games. Here is my art, I would love to work at Blizzard one day; and it has got his information. So of course, I brought that back, showed it to Sammy, who thought it was amazing and that’s Wei Wang, one of our amazing artists.

Samwise: You guys know Wei? He is responsible for a lot of the key art for all the Blizzard projects. He has done some of the most killer arts that we have done, and most recently Warlords, Legion, things like that. That’s all Wei, and he was just this kid who loved the Blizzard art, and showed it to Mike, and now it is I think ten years later probably (even more maybe) that– he has worked on movie, he has worked on all the games, and all it took was him just saying: I love Blizzard art. So that could be the next one out here maybe? So practice.

Bob: They are bringing up a lot of art. I’d like to also point out for those of us who like design and engineering that the same thing applies to designers and engineers. We have hired designers just because they have done great MOD maps for Warcraft III, or StarCraft II. Sometimes there is a lot of programming involved in some of those, and we have hired programmers who have pointed to: look at this map I did; and so a lot of what you guys do gets in front of us, and we see it, and we hire people based on that.

Samwise: Bob has been one of our main programmers for years. And I remember Bob taking time off work to go to a programming contest, and he came in second place. Can you imagine what the first place guy must have been like, like just some super brainiac creates toxic waste.

Bob: It was a team, four people from Australia to beat me.

Allen: Actually, I want to continue that line too: Designers. You may or may not know Jeff Kaplan. We recruited Jeff Kaplan because he was– The part of the story you may not know is that we recruited Jeff Kaplan because he was the guild leader of Legacy of Steel in EverQuest, which secretly a bunch of the Blizzard employees were a part of.

Is there a Legacy of Steel player out there? I thought I heard a clap. Alex Afrasiabi also he was the guild leader of Fires of Heaven, and we reached out to him because we played with him, and knew him from the game. Kind of a funny story, very recently, I won’t tell you what game it is, but the guild leader of my guild in a game I have been playing recently, I PMed him in-game, and it was quite humorous because he refused to believe that I was who I said I was. And so I told him, okay that’s totally reasonable, how about email me, and I gave my email address and I’ll bounce it back to you. And so he did, and I bounced it back, and he still refused to believe that I was.

He said you could be spoofing their email, which you can’t really do if you know anything, you can spoof it one way. You can’t receive it, you can’t hijack it. So I said okay let’s do this: call the main number at Blizzard tomorrow, and navigate through the phone system at 9:00am o’clock, and I’ll be sitting at my desk, and I’ll pick up the phone and you can talk directly to me; and then what happened was I wasn’t at my desk.

So this time he was convinced it was not real. So I joked with Bob: Let’s walk out to the orc statue, and take a picture holding up his name and–

Bob: Like proof of life. We put a newspaper with today’s date.

Allen: –and then, he won’t believe that either because he’ll think we Photoshop that. So we scheduled a proper phone conversation in and I think two or three days later and around twenty emails, he finally kind of believe that what had happened was for real. The way he described it was being Charlie and Willy Wonka opening his candy bar and getting the golden ticket. So we’ll see where that goes, but for those of you that play, we are out there, and if you are good in playing a game of a genre that we are interested in, it is not uncommon for us to look for gamers as a source of designers.

Bob: Yes, through all kinds of games, there may be some people out there that know me from another game even. We are in lots of games. We are everywhere.

Day9: Now I am going to ask just one more set of questions to the panelists; and I believe that there is someone out there scouring for some of your questions that we are going to be able to close out with after that. So get ready. Get ready. I think. I hope, should be happening. The last thing I want to talk a little bit about is the explosion of eSports, and Blizzard. Having sold so many titles throughout the years and then the Overwatch League coming forward, Mike, I want to ask what it was like to see StarCraft become such a phenomenon in Korea and then to see the rest of Blizzard games sort of fill in throughout the rest of the years?

Mike: Yeah, one of my first trips to Korea, I went to see a live StarCraft event, and it was just–

Day9: What year was this?

Mike: Gosh…

Bob: We have talked about this before, and we haven’t really been able to nail it down.

Mike: It must have been 2000-2001.

Bob: I thought it was the 5th Anniversary, but then you thought it was the 10th year, and you never–

Mike: I think we were celebrating two million copies of StarCraft in Korea, and so I don’t know when that was 2000-2001, something like that; but we had this big-big event, and you never know how many people are going to show up to these things, or whether anybody even knows about it, and we are driving up and there are just people everywhere, and the whole arena was packed with people, and the intensity during the match was just amazing.

This game that we worked on, but the crowd seemed to understand what was happening way more than we did. I mean every little thing that was happening there were just on the edge of their seats, and cheering, and it was just so amazing. It took many years for that really to start expanding outside of Korea.

I think Warcraft III had some success widely, started to become very popular in China, and then they changed the laws they used to broadcast those things on TV in China, and then they made it so games couldn’t be on China which really set eSports back in China several years, but we dreamed of the day when eSports would become a global phenomenon, we could take the passion that existed in Korea, and sort of exposed competitive gaming to the rest of the world; and now it is really about finding the best way to identify a showcase and celebrate the top players; and then humanize them in a way that you can really understand the incredible stories behind these players.

Next: Panel Q&A

The 90s EraThe 2000s era: World of WarcraftThe 2010s Era: New IPsPanel Q&A

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BlizzCon 2019 Panel Transcripts