Blizzard is a company with a lot going on right now. The last five year of its history has been domintaed by World of Warcraft, but its success has allowed it to make some radical moves with implications for both its business and its approach to design - like Diablo 3's real-money trading feature, and the Arcade, where the StarCraft community will be able to sell their own mods.
Orchestrating all this is the unassuming figure of president Mike Morhaime, managing the operations of the world's most successful developer with an ex-programmer's eye for detail. In this interview, we talk to Blizzard's president about keeping World of Warcraft fresh, succeeding in China, Diablo's real-money auction house, and the lie behind the free-to-play future.
I think we're always looking at what is the right thing for the game, what does the game need, and also trying to evolve the game and elevate it.
Well I think that with Cataclysm, we did make the endgame a little bit too difficult, and so in some of the recent patching we've been easing up on the difficulty.
I think we want to give people a beautiful new land to explore and a brand new character which plays a little bit different, is cool and unique. We introduced the Pandarens back in Warcraft 3, and we always thought it would be pretty cool to make them officially part of World of Warcraft and let them be a playable race.
Chinese consumers and even the Chinese government is much more open these days to international companies entering the Chinese marketGamesIndustry.biz Is it fair to call this expansion quite light in tone, with features for casual players?Mike Morhaime
Well I guess the Pandarens are light, there's certainly an amount of levity and humour. And also a nod to Chinese culture. But yeah, really excited about the pet battling system. You know, World of Warcraft needs things like that, mini-games and things that you can do when you're not raiding.
Well, now that the expansion is announced, I think we're very interested in feedback on those types of topics, and so we'll be working closely with our local partner NetEase and we have a local office in Shanghai. We'll be getting a lot of feedback about cultural sensitivity issues.
I did get some reaction yesterday from some Chinese gamers who are very excited about the Panderans.
Well, first and foremost we're making it with a global market in mind, and we're doing what we think that the game needs. But we recognise that you can't find pandas anywhere in the world outside of China... unless somebody in China has sent you a panda. So I think that definitely it's an opportunity to inject some Chinese culture into the game and I think that that will be appreciated out in China.
Good question... Be patient. I think that approaching the market too aggressively, you can make some mistakes. I think it's best just to be patient and focus on delivering a high-quality experience to Chinese players, and when there are challenges or roadblocks then you just have to take them one at a time and deal with them. Eventually, hopefully, things will work out, but you can't force it.
Well from our perspective, it seems like it's getting easier. I do think that, I mean jeez, China's come so far if you look at the past five years, but go back farther than that I don't think that there were really any companies doing much in China.
I think that Chinese consumers and even the Chinese government is much more open these days to international companies entering the Chinese market. I think they're just very cautious about how quickly that happens and in what ways it happens. But you know, we've had some great discussions with Chinese officials, and they've been very encouraging.