Blizzard likes to get things right. Whatever the game, if it has a Blizzard logo on the front end then the Californian developer won't let it out the door until it meets its own expectations - and frequently betters them. Indeed, only recently has the firm started to follow industry trends and farm out development of certain titles to other companies, and in doing so has been extremely cautious about who it works with, and equally mindful of their progress - you need only look at Starcraft: Ghost for evidence of that. So, in a sense, the "surprise success" of the American version of World of Warcraft - Blizzard's first MMORPG - has been nothing of the sort. The only disappointment, from our perspective, was that we were expected to wait several months longer in Europe than anywhere else in the world to get our hands on it.
Fortunately though the waiting period is drawing to an end, with WOW currently being beta-tested by the likes of you and us, and due out on these shores in the next few months. Pricing and packaging details are in place, it's all working, and, although Blizzard has been reluctant to discuss the reasons for its delay in releasing the game worldwide, WOW is undeniably still at the top of European MMORPG fans' wish lists. With that in mind, we spoke to producer Shane Dabiri about the reaction to the game in the USA and Blizzard's plans for keeping up momentum.
The response has been amazing! Our development team did a midnight box signing on launch day at a local computer store. We were thinking maybe a few hundred, or at most, a thousand people would show up. Boy, were we wrong. We had over 5,000 people show up, and they started lining up at 2pm in the afternoon. We were signing boxes until 5am in the morning the following day. We did some analysis of existing massively-multiplayer online games in the market and expected to do at least as well as the top three. But we didn't anticipate vaulting into the number one slot in just the first week!
Thankfully, we did have plans in place for accommodating growth; we just had to move up those plans sooner than we expected. We quickly ramped up, adding additional servers, upgrading hardware, and making sure we could meet demand. We're thankful for such terrific, loyal fans, and appreciate them giving us the time to perfect World of Warcraft and make it what it is today.
One of the reasons why World of Warcraft is successful today is because of our beta testers' feedback. As developers, we can become so close to the game design that we lose some perspective on whether it is good enough or not. Putting it into the hands of the beta testers made us all very anxious. We were nervous thinking, "Are they going to enjoy it?" But we also had the excited feeling of knowing that someone outside the company was getting to experience it.
Of course, we couldn't implement every idea from our testers since so much feedback was generated during the beta test. But I feel we did a stand-up job of getting as much of their input in as possible. Are there a few things that I wish we could have had ready prior to release? Of course, as developers we always struggle with the "Wait! Just one more feature!" syndrome. Take for instance the PvP rewards system and PvP Battlegrounds. As much as we wanted to get them into the game, they just weren't ready and up to our level of quality for release. It pained us, but it was the right decision to hold them out so we could spend the additional time necessary to make them fun and polished. This is just one example, but we have many more things planned for the future of World of Warcraft. Recently, on our website we began posting some of these upcoming updates to give players a glimpse of what is to come.
I cannot get into too much detail on how we track these types of exploits, as it might give creators of such tools a leg up. I can say that we have monitoring tools and an exploit investigation group within our GM staff that responds to these alerts and tracks players in the game. We will only ban someone after we have verified through our exploit investigation group that they are in fact "botting" or hacking. We are taking a very heavy stance on these types of issues from the get-go. It is important for us to maintain the integrity of the game for everyone to enjoy.
Our plans for continued content release will give casual and hardcore gamers alike more and exciting adventures to go on. For example, the coming introduction of the PvP honour system and Battlegrounds will open up many possibilities for players to experience another part of World of Warcraft. Next year, we will also be working on the Hero system, which will give hardcore high-level players additional class advancement options beyond their base class. These are just two examples of full game systems that are being implemented. Aside from the new features, we will also be adding new content such as zones, dungeons, quests, monsters, and many more items for players to discover.
The public beta test in Europe has the same benefits as the one we conducted in North America. We get feedback from testers who can fine-tune the game. And it also lets us tailor the game for the European market, gauge their reception to the game and to ensure that our infrastructure can support a large-scale MMO roll-out in Europe.
As we have stated before, we will have an announcement on a solution after the game launches in Europe. At that time, you can be sure we will inform our audience just how they can accomplish that.
We will be ready to announce a release date in the very near future. Please stay tuned to the European World of Warcraft community site for an announcement regarding the upcoming release date for the game.
We have a lot of respect for the other companies making games in this genre. Since working on World of Warcraft, we have become well aware of the commitment and dedication it requires from a developer to not only produce one, but to also support it for years to come. We feel World of Warcraft will help break MMOs out of their current niche market. With millions of dedicated Blizzard fans from our other games, we think World of Warcraft will not only draw in the hardcore MMO gamers, but newcomers as well. We've taken steps and designed our game to ensure that it is compelling and easy for anyone who has never played an MMO before. It is our hope to have the largest online community for a game of its type worldwide.
The most satisfying thing is having worked with the 65 dedicated, talented developers that put their hearts and souls into delivering the most exciting online game I've ever played. But then again I might be a little biased!
We have not made any announcements as to when an expansion would be released, but we are currently working on live content updates to be released throughout the year.