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Blizzard's Perfect Storm • Page 2

The industry's top developer knows the merits of the confessional.

Yet in doing so, Blizzard demonstrates an honesty and an openness which connects it with the fans. Other aspects of its approach echo this. When it patches its games, for instance, it issues incredibly lengthy patch notes which explain every minute change it has made. Even its senior executives are happy to talk about challenges as well as triumphs, a kind of honesty which doesn't normally strike executives until their company is in trouble and explanations are needed.

You could argue, pretty convincingly, that this is simply a demonstration of how comfortable Blizzard is with itself - and with WoW continuing to be the industry's greatest money printing machine, why wouldn't it be comfortable? It can afford to talk to fans, to open itself up and to dodge all the bluster and petty hype-building, because it has something nobody else has - the most commercially successful game in the world.

However, there's an equal argument which says that Blizzard's success is in part due to that approach, which predates the success of World of Warcraft. Indeed, even at the launch of World of Warcraft in London all those years ago, the developers were astonishingly open and conversational about a game whose launch was still years away.

No, it's not Blizzard's commercial success which has created the comfort zone that allows developers to talk in this way. Rather, it's the fact that Blizzard is at peace with its internal processes. It is comfortable and happy with the systems it uses to design games, to assess and refine those designs, and to measure the quality of its games as they progress - and that gives it the confidence to talk to the world about what's happening behind the scenes.

Many other developers, even some of the world's finest, will wryly compare their business to a swan - graceful above the water, but if you look below the water, it's all feet thrashing away crazily to maintain that gliding motion. Blizzard no doubt has moments like that - its scramble to meet demand for WoW in the first few months after launch revealed that the company's processes don't anticipate everything, for instance. However, in general, its system for refining and improving games from the design stage right up to launch seems to be firmly bedded-in.

It's not perfectionism, either, no matter how many commentators seek to ascribe that label to the firm. Perfectionism isn't a commercially viable attitude, and while the firm certainly has perfectionist tendencies (a game as balanced as StarCraft couldn't have been created without them), its real outlook is one of realism. Blizzard, it's clear, has an "it's good enough, ship it" mentality, just as all other developers do. It's just that it sets the "good enough" bar far higher than most, and it seems to have a solid understanding of how to improve a product that's not good enough - something with which many developers struggle.

The products that Blizzard Entertainment creates are magical, there's no doubt about that - but there's nothing magic about the creative process which builds them. Most other developers have many lessons to learn from the Californian studio - and thanks to the first of them, openness and transparency, the study materials for those lessons are freely available to any who care to look.

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