GC: WOW Factor

Blizzard's Paul Sams on why 6 million subscribers can't be wrong.

It's odd to learn that Blizzard Entertainment might be wary of taking on a new challenge. After all, the decision to create a Warcraft MMORPG, despite the huge amounts of time, money and risk involved, worked out rather well.

So well, in fact, that the game is now played by more than 6 million players worldwide - and counting. What's more, they're all forking out at least $12.99 a month for the privilege, which means Blizzard probably isn't having too much trouble paying the bills. Namely the bills for their champagne fountains, personal helicopters and office chairs made out of melted-down fabergé eggs. Possibly.

But as all good businesses know, you can never have too much money. So, what with the next-gen battle truly kicking off at the end of this year, it seems logical that Blizzard might turn its attention to consoles next. Surely there's a huge section of the gaming audience crying out for a console version of World of Warcraft - and since they'll be willing to pay for the privilege, surely Blizzard will oblige?

Not neccessarily, according to chief operating officer Paul Sams. He's kindly agreed to sit down for a chat at the Leipzig Games Convention, and to address the issue of bringing WOW to consoles - an idea which Blizzard is considering but, by the sounds of it, is some way from being committed to.

"We've met with Microsoft, we've met with Sony, and we are exploring these things, but the list of challenges is long," Sams says.

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The Burning Crusade's two new races, the Blood Elves and the Draenei, battle it out.

"One really big challenge is that one of the key features of a massively multiplayer game, especially WOW, is consistent and regular content updates. They require hard drive space, and there's a finite amount of that on each of those platforms."

Then there are the strict certification processes put in place by the platform holders. At Blizzard, Sams explains, they build content updates on PC, give them a thorough going over on a test server, and then release them. "There's no certification process outside of Blizzard's internal process. When you introduce Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo, you introduce a whole new certification process."

Which can be a bit of a bloody nightmare, presumably... "It can be. What if we have something that needs to be dealt with promptly, a bug that's causing crashes? On PC, we make it, we test it, we deploy it. On console, we could be waiting for days, because you've got to submit and test it. And if they don't like something, we've got to go back to the drawing board."

And it seems Blizzard doesn't like going back to the drawing board - well, not because someone else has told them to, anyway. They remain fiercely autonomous in creative terms from parent company Vivendi, maintaining full control over all decisions that affect their products and the way they're marketed (though Sams talks at great length about what a supportive force Vivendi is). Moving WOW to consoles, Sams says, might mean making compromises - and that doesn't sound like Blizzard's style.

"We have an architecture that we've already established, and it's very set. [The platform holders'] architecture is also very set. How well do those match? What kind of compromises do we have to make, and what kind of compromises do they have to make? The list is not short, to be candid."

Even if Blizzard decided to start work on a console version of WOW tomorrow, Sams continues, we'd have a good while to wait. "It isn't as simple as flipping a switch... It would require a couple of years of development, realistically, to make it playable on those platforms."

So is it worth all the effort? "Potentially, certainly... The issue of certification testing is only one of the many challenges, however. So we have to ask ourselves if there are enough new customers there to justify all of the other issues we'd need to overcome."

But WOW aside, that doesn't mean Blizzard isn't looking into console development at all. "What is more possible is to build something from the ground up... But whether or not it will happen, I'm not sure."

However, Sams is sure about which of the next-gen consoles he personally prefers. "I think the 360 is the best box," he says, but adds that he's also keen to see what the PS3 and Wii can do, and will "absolutely" end up owning all three machines.

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