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Burning Ambition

Part 2 - What's Blizzard's take on broken street dates, next-gen consoles and the best ways to spend an awful lot of cash?

Yesterday, we published part one of our interview with Itzik Ben Bassat, Blizzard's vice president of business development and international.

Here, in part two, he discusses Blizzard's attitudes to those retailers who broke the street date for recently launched World of Warcraft expansion pack The Burning Crusade. You can also find out Ben Bassat's thoughts on bringing WOW to consoles, why Blizzard is keeping a keen eye on Sony and Microsoft's online plans and how it plans to spend the rewards reaped from World of Warcraft. The Burning Crusade officially launched on Tuesday January 16 but retailers across the UK broke that street date and started selling it over the weekend. Will Blizzard be taking any action against them?

Itzik Ben Bassat: It's very disappointing. The launch of The Burning Crusade is an event we've worked really hard on. We decided on a launch date and we did everything we could to provide everyone, including retailers, with the best tools possible to market the game.

Most of them have been excellent. It's unfortunate that some people haven't respected the one thing which we really asked of them, which was, 'Let's make sure we all launch it at the same time.'

Those people who bought the game early weren't even able to play it because our code wasn't open - so essentially those stores deceived their customers, and that's something we'd never do. I hope that people know that, and I hope that in the future people will have more integrity.

Will you be reconsidering your relationships with those retailers in the future?

I don't think it's specific retailers; I've only heard of very specific cases. It was individual stores which made those mistakes, I don't think any retailers gave their stores instructions to sell the game. I would find that very hard to believe. Most retailers have integrity and we have a great relationship with them.

One way to avoid broken street dates would to be opt for digital distribution only. Is that something Blizzard has considered?

We love our relationship with retailers, so I see us working closely with them for years to come. I think it would be a mistake for both of us not to work together; there is great synergy.

The question of whether WOW will appear on consoles is still popping up from time to time... Have you got any further with making a definite decision?

Yes. We are not going to develop WOW for consoles. WOW was designed for PC and I think it will stay that way.

We have been talking to Microsoft and Sony. Personally I love XBLA - I think Microsoft has done an excellent job developing it and there are lots of exciting things there.

When we come to consider the new game we're developing, we'd have to take that into consideration and ask ourselves if we want to develop the game for consoles and PC or keep it PC only.

What it relates to is where console gaming is going to go. Online console gaming is still in its very early stages, and it needs to be developed further to provide opportunities of a scale which will be interesting to us.

So we might see a Blizzard MMO on consoles, but not WOW?

Firstly, we're not just doing MMOs. We're the leading online game company and people often forget that the old Battlenet used to have 13 million users. They forget that we've been making online games since the mid-nineties.

So when we come to develop a new game we will look at the kind of opportunities that exist out there and what we want to develop, and if it could be interesting on console. We should remember that a 360 is just a sophisticated PC, and there are a few things which are happening in the market.

The PC is becoming an entertainment hub - you use it to watch videos and TV, play games, listen to music... With wireless, you can send your content from your PC to anywhere in the house, to your TV, something I already do. You can play PC on your TV because it's an LCD screen. Consoles are becoming sophisticated PCs which sit in the living room.

We'll have to see how all this develops. Maybe in five years you won't need a console because you'll have one PC which delivers content all over your house.

The main thing to remember is that Blizzard is an online games company, and wherever there are online games that's where we'll be.

You mentioned XBLA as an example of how consoles are working well in the online space. What have you seen of the PlayStation 3 network and how do you think it will compare?

I don't know much about that. We've been talking to them in Japan, the US and Europe but I haven't seen much of it.

With my colleagues at Microsoft I can give my opinion on what I've seen. I'm very impressed, I'm impressed by the people who do it, and the service is very easy, very intuitive. I love it.

Blizzard recently announced that there are now 8 million subscribers playing World of Warcraft, with the majority of those paying between EUR 10.99 - EUR 12.99 per month, plus EUR 44.99 for the basic game. What are you going to do with all that money?

We're reinvesting a lot of money back into the game. We're committed to development quality that can only be achieved through a very long and involved development process.

We're investing a lot of money in hardware; we're chasing it rather than vice versa. We're always looking for hardware that can deal with our code, which is very innovative, pushing the limits. We also have 24-7 support around the world.

It's not like we're sitting around collecting the cash. Blizzard is a gamers' company; we do what we do out of love for the games. We want to be proud, and creativity is what drives us.

We don't build a profit and loss sheet and think, 'This is where we need to go, the RPG market is where the money is. We sit down and say, 'What are we passionate about? What are we better than anyone else at? What can we bring innovation to?'.

Then we build a business model. After all, we are a company and we have to deliver...

Itzik Ben Bassat is vice president of business development and international at Blizzard Entertainment. Interview by Ellie Gibson. To read the first part of this feature, click here.

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Ellie Gibson avatar
Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.
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