GC: WOW Factor • Page 2

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

In terms of online gaming, though, Sams reckons there's a clear winner. "On console, I think that Live will reign... [Microsoft] has a much longer track record and history of multiplayer gaming, and I think they absolutely will have the lead.

"It's going to be excruciatingly difficult for anyone - including Sony - to take that away from Microsoft. They're way too far ahead."

Observe, though, that Sams began the above statement with "on console". For the majority of online gamers, he believes, the PC is still the platform of choice.

"When you look at Battle.net and you look at the subscriber base we have with World of Warcraft, even Xbox Live is not even close to us... I think we absolutely are winning. And you can count on us bringing MMORGs as well as more games that would be playable over Battle.net."

All in all, it sounds like - for the time being, at least - Blizzard has its attentions firmly focused on PC gaming. And why not? After all, the number of WOW subscribers is already huge ("We're over 6.5 million and just shy of seven million"), and still growing.

"For example," says Sams, "If you look at Europe as a territory, that territory has sold more units in August than it did in December." A videogame that's been around for 18 months, and is still selling better in summer than it did at Christmas? Now there's a rare thing.

And sales are set to get another boost with the release of the first WOW expansion pack, The Burning Crusade. It's not quite ready yet, but Sams says they're "fast approaching the beta test period". As for the finished product - "We're still quoting winter, very confidently... Once we hit beta, you'll know it's coming quite soon."


As previously announced, TBC will feature a host of new content, including two new races along with new zones, dungeons and battlegrounds. According to Sams, it's more than a third of the size of the original game - "Somewhere between a third and a half, yeah."

So will all this extra content mean the game costs Blizzard more to run? "What costs us more to run it is people," he says - as the number of subscribers ramps up, so must the technology.

"We need more firepower on the server side, so we're upgrading the entire global network and we'll be adding new data-centres as well. When you add more players, you also have to increase the number of game-masters and staffers to support all of those players, as well as you have to increase the bandwidth in sizable costs."

But it won't be down to WOW fans to pick up the bill - "We'll be keeping the subscription fee flat," Sams confirms. Though, of course, players will have to pay a one-time fee for the expansion pack itself. Blizzard is considering a releasing bundle pack which include the original game, and perhaps a collector's edition - but nothing's been confirmed so far.

Even with the arrival of The Burning Crusade, though, can Blizzard really sustain such a rapid rise in subscriber numbers? It's a question that Sams is careful to answer cautiously.

The gates to Karazhan, Medivh's tower, One of the many new instances in the expansion.

"Will we have the same number of subscribers in two years? I don't know. I certainly hope so, but being realistic, that's a tall order."

Sams believes the key to keeping subscribers, and attracting new ones, is to continuously offer new content. "So, starting with The Burning Crusade, every year thereafter we plan on bringing out out a new expansion set every 12 months."

He's also aware that Blizzard could do more to support markets outside North America, where the WOW fanbase is growing all the time. "We're trying to figure out how we can improve, and how we can service each of the regional markets."

And that includes Europe, of course, which Sams describes as "A majorly important market". As a result, Blizzard is hard at work "exploring how we can better service the community in Europe".

Does that mean Blizzcon, the two-day event celebrating all things Blizzard which is held in Anaheim each year, could make it to Europe? "I would say we're certainly exploring that," Sams hints.

What the forthcoming release of The Burning Crusade, the planned technological overhaul, and the challenges that come with managing a huge online community, it seems that Blizzard has plenty on its plate at the moment. Perhaps too much to start worrying about console gaming. That might come as a disappointment to those who were looking forward to playing a Blizzard MMO on their shiny new machine, but for nearly 7 million other people, it's not the end of the world...

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About the author

Ellie Gibson

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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