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D.I.C.E.

Operating without corporate interference has been a key to the company's success, said Blizzard CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime.

Speaking at the D.I.C.E. Summit 2008, Morhaime and Blizzard VPs Rob Pardo and Frank Pearce detailed the company's early history on the eve of its seventeenth year.

When the company was purchased by Davidson in 1994, the new owner had a hands-off approach. "They told us 'We'll give you full creative control. We don't want to change anything you are doing'", said Morhaime.

"We had the illusion that, even though we had sold the company, that we still owned it - or still had the control to do the things we wanted to do or make the games we wanted to play."

When Davidson sold the company, Blizzard already had a track record and were able to continue operating in the same fashion — which Morhaime notes as a factor of their success over the years.

CUC acquired Davidson in 1996, then merged to form Cendant in 1997. Vivendi-owned Havas acquired Cendant in 1999, shortly before Vivendi acquired Universal.

"If you look at these companies, most of these entities don't know anything about game development," said Frank Pearce, referring to the many corporations that have owned Blizzard over the years. "That can be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon how they view the studio beneath them."

He noted that Morhaime had kept the developers isolated from what the corporate owners were doing, allowing them to focus on making games.

Rob Pardo, who joined the company after Pearce and Morhaime had already been there, noted the lack of corporate interference. "From the point I started to even the point I am now as an exec, it is pretty rare to see people from our parent company at Blizzard.

"They don't walk around the halls. We don't show them or games for greenlight or approval process," he said. "That's something I always thought was amazing working at Blizzard."

Morhaime provided an example of what went wrong when they relied upon a corporation to their detriment. "We actually did a deal with Interplay to do the French distribution for Warcraft: Orcs and Humans.

"Back then, we had copy protection — "enter word 5 on page 5" of the manual. [Interplay] didn't actually localise the game into French, but they localised the manual."

Blizzard was shocked that a game could be released with such a major flaw going unnoticed, and from then on their own QA group has been responsible for testing their products — no matter what language they are in.

Blizzard, currently owned by Vivendi, will remain with the company as part of the Activision Blizzard merger which was announced last year.

"Once the Activision Blizzard merger goes through, Bobby Kotick will be my eighth boss," said Morhaime, pointing to his experience bridging Blizzard with its parent company so that both are comfortable.

"We actually have a term for that," Pearce said. "We talk about how Mike has to train his new boss every time he gets a new boss," to which Morhaime reluctantly admitted, "We talk about that in the office," to laughter from the crowd.

"Maybe that won't need to be done with Bobby as he's been in the industry for a while," Pearce explained, recovering quickly.

The trio went on to detail Blizzard's development process and the learning curve expanding World of Warcraft globally and Pearce noted that their track record is impressive largely because they have been willing to delay or cancel products in the long-term interest of the Blizzard brand name.

"We've been fortunate because we have a strong enough track record to be able to make these tough decisions and feel confident that ultimately it will work out in the long run,â Morhaime said.

"The worst thing we could do is put out a game which doesnât live up to our quality expectations."

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