Blizzard goes big at GamesCom, and this year was no exception. Gargantuan queues wrapped around its Diablo 3 booth on the show floor, and its 20th anniversary press conference was packed to the rafters. With Diablo 3, StarCraft 2 expansion Heart of the Swarm, an unnamed World of Warcraft expansion and Project Titan all in the works, these are exciting times for the company.
But Blizzard is not beyond controversy. In recent months fans have reacted strongly to the fact that you cannot play Diablo 3 offline. The always online debate has raged, with gamers polarised on the issue. It was with this in mind that we sat down with co-founder Frank Pearce and StarCraft 2 lead designer Jonny Ebbert to get Blizzard's take.
Eurogamer: Congratulations on 20 years of Blizzard. What is Blizzard's greatest achievement?
Frank Pearce: It's difficult to point to one specific thing, because we've had a lot of success over the last 20 years and we've created a lot of great games. Definitely, World of Warcraft is one of the things you have to point to. 12 million active players at one point is a lot of really passionate fans sharing a common experience. That's probably the biggest impact we've had on the industry in the last 20 years.
Eurogamer: Is it your favourite Blizzard game?
Frank Pearce: It's definitely near the top of the list. I've probably devoted more hours to World of Warcraft than any of the other games we've done.
Eurogamer: How many?
Frank Pearce: It's totally measured in days. But I haven't checked it recently. It's probably in the neighbourhood of 100 days played. I only have one main, so I don't have to add it up across multiple avatars.
We offer a great value proposition. $15 a month and the number of hours you can devote to it in a given month, it's a pretty good deal. It's cheaper than drinking. It's cheaper than the movies.
Eurogamer: What about you Jonny?
Jonny Ebbert: I've only been at Blizzard for two years, but shipping Wings of Liberty was big.
Eurogamer: Now you've had a year to reflect on StarCraft 2, how successful has it been?
Jonny Ebbert: We keep a close eye on the eSports community and how much the eSports is thriving. Also, how much the mod community is thriving, and concurrency on Battle.net. When we're watching MLG matches or other league matches, it's just how exciting the games are and how creative people are able to be with our game and how much entertainment it can provide to the viewers is really our version of Blizzard Bucks. It's like, yeah! We're really rolling in Blizzard Bucks.
Eurogamer: From a commercial perspective, how successful has it been?
Frank Pearce: I don't think we want to look at sales. Certainly we had good sales out the gate and set some records for that genre. But we still have a lot of work left to do. It's only been a year. If you look at the original StarCraft, that's been around for 12 years, and it's still passionately played and used and leveraged by the eSport community.
We've got a couple of expansions planned, including Heart of the Swarm. We've started asking team leadership to take more of an ownership of product line P&L, but honestly, I don't want them to stress too much about that right now because StarCraft 2 was a long time in development, but we still have more things that we want to achieve with it. They all know that.
For me and for the other leadership at Blizzard it's more about an active, thriving community around that game, and putting us in a position to take advantage of that in the future. So it's a very long-term view. A year might seem like a long time in most products' life cycles, but for us, a game that's only been around for a year is still in its infancy, and we still have a lot of things to do.