Blizzard Entertainment has thousands of employees engaged in making some of the most popular games of all time, including World of Warcraft, Diablo III and Starcraft II. Blizzard accounts for over one-fourth of Activision Blizzard's revenues, and perhaps half of the company's profits. Following the launch of the most recent World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, GamesIndustry International went inside the company's headquarters in Irvine, California to find out what the working environment looks like for this successful developer.
Blizzard Entertainment's headquarters are located in the Southern California city of Irvine, in world-famous Orange County, California (the OC is also home to Disneyland). The headquarters are located amidst many other office buildings in classic California office-park style; two- and three-story buildings surrounded by grassy swards and large parking lots. The complex of buildings that house Blizzard Entertainment have one obvious difference: The fences surrounding the complex, with a security post at the entrance. It's understandable when you think about the number of fans Blizzard has, and their level of dedication. Keeping curious strangers out allows employees to be more casual about spending time outside on the grounds.
The grassy area in between the buildings is sometimes used for company-wide gatherings, often celebrating major product launches, or for other events like concerts and picnics. The building to the left of the main office houses the employee cafeteria and shipping, along with an extensive gymnasium that includes locker rooms and showers, accessible 24/7.
Most of the entry points for the various buildings house enormous statues of iconic Blizzard characters, created for past BlizzCons and other events. The soaring Tyrael statue (from the Diablo series) dominates its space, while a stalwart dwarf gunner helps guard the lobby from intruders.
The massive 12-foot high orc and wolf statue in the courtyard is cast in bronze, and was created especially for Blizzard by WETA, the New Zealand special effects workshop that worked on the Lord of the Rings movies (and the upcoming Hobbit films). It's an impressive piece of work, and the plaque lays out Blizzard's motto: Dedicated to creating the most epic entertainment experiences... Ever.
As you enter the main building the reception area features several game stations where you can while away any wait time by checking in on your World of Warcraft character. On the other side you can look through the museum where Blizzard stores numerous awards, and displays artwork and sculptures from projects. Going through the museum you arrive at an impressive theater, where cinematics are screened, lectures for employees are held, and movies are shown.
The main area toured was the World of Warcraft team area, where the artwork featured was (of course) drawn from World of Warcraft, and most especially from Pandaria. The next floor of the building was off-limits, since it housed the ultra-secret Titan team working on Blizzard's highly anticipated new game. All that's known about the game is that it's an MMO game of some sort, and that Blizzard now employs well over 100 people on the project. What it is exactly and when it might appear are mysteries that we won't likely know the answers to for another year or two.
Blizzard hands out employee awards for longevity; at the 5-year mark you get a sword, and at the 10-year mark a shield is added. These aren't small replicas for your desk; they are full-sized, impressive works of the armorer's art. At two years of service employees receive a large beer stein sculpted with Blizzard characters. Small gestures, perhaps, but it is nice to receive some recognition for years of service, particularly in an industry where changing companies every few years is all too common.
One of the advantages of having artists and designers on staff is that you can decorate the walls with rare style, and Blizzard has certainly done so. Some display niches contain beautifully painted statues, including ones from the recently released Mists of Pandaria expansion. Dramatic lighting enhances the effect of the artwork on display, creating an atmosphere that should hopefully serve to inspire creativity.
In one hallway, tables hold copies of the collector's edition of Mists of Pandaria, signed by members of the development team, ready to be bundled up and sent to carefully chosen recipients.
The principles of effective quest design are detailed in one full-wall, beautifully illustrated infographic. It's both decorative and a useful reminder for designers.
Offices are not the huge cubicle warrens found in some developers, nor the large open-space collaborative environments seen in others. Instead, there is a mix of working spaces; some cubicles, some individual offices, some communal offices with multiple work stations. Throughout the hallways and public spaces, the common elements are muted lighting, and many pieces of artwork and sculpture.
Ultimately, our tour left us with a favorable impression of the Blizzard Entertainment campus and working environment. And hey, you can't beat the Southern California climate.