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Interview: Blizzard Co-Founder Pearce On  World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm 's Reboot

Interview: Blizzard Co-Founder Pearce On World Of Warcraft: Cataclysm's Reboot

December 7, 2010 | By Chris Morris

December 7, 2010 | By Chris Morris
More: Console/PC

[As Cataclysm reboots many areas in World Of Warcraft's universe, Gamasutra editor-at-large Chris Morris talks to Blizzard co-founder and EVP Frank Pearce about why the early grind in WoW "doesn't have the best content", and how the expansion is fixing that.]

Blizzard has always been a collection of perfectionists. But it wasn't until the impending release of its MMO expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm that we saw just how exacting they can be when it come to quality.

The rise of Deathwing the Destroyer in Azeroth, as you surely know by now, isn't confined to the expansion pack. His eruption from Deepholm has ripped the entire game world asunder - even impacting what new players of the game see and experience.

It makes for an epic story, yes, but the real reason for the epic scope of the changes lies in Blizzard's chase for perfection.

"We're revamping a lot of the content from the original version of the game," Frank Pearce, executive vice president of product development at Blizzard, tells Gamasutra.

"We call it the brown box, but a lot of the community calls it Vanilla WoW. The content was created years and years ago, before we really knew how to create the best content for the game. The level 1-60 experience really doesn't have the best content. It's not putting our best foot forward. This lets us do that for new players."

It also gives existing players an excuse to explore areas of the game they've possibly ignored for years.

"Most of the content we've revamped is the content people are playing to level up their characters," says Pearce, who is also a co-founder at Blizzard. "This [and the two new race additions] gives players who have been part of the community for a while the chance to experience it from a new perspective."

Cataclysm will be the second Blizzard game to hit shelves this year. That's something that hasn't happened since 1998, when Starcraft and StarCraft: Brood War were both released.

Some jaded gamers have taken that as a sign that Activision Blizzard management is pushing the developer to distribute games faster than the tortoise-like pace the company is famous for. Pearce says that's not the case. This was just happy coincidence.

"We don't set product release windows based on any financial projections we have," he says. "We want our games to meet our own expectations and the expectations of our fans. It was just by chance that the Starcraft team and World of Warcraft team both had their products ready to go this year."

Blizzard expects Cataclysm will result in a subscriber surge, as lapsed players renew their accounts. (Historically, that has been the case when new expansions come out.)

This time, though, the company is also hoping to convert more of the curiosity seekers - people who subscribe for a free trial amidst the midnight openings and excited chatter amongst their friends. Among the improvements Blizzard has made is implementing new streaming technology that will allow trial players to begin playing in a smoother fashion.

Also, for the first time, a Blizzard game will be available digitally at the exact moment it becomes available at retail. (Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty gave retailers a nine-hour window of exclusivity.) While the company is interested in seeing how much of the audience opts for the digital model, Pearce says brick and mortar stores still have several distinct advantages for Blizzard's audience.

"Retail has things to offer that we can't offer digitally - like the collector's edition, which is always popular with our very passionate fans," he says. "We're also planning midnight launches for the game at retail around the globe with our developers in attendance and signing autographs. You can't get that experience through the digital purchase."

Up next for the WoW team - after seeing through the Cataclysm launch - is planning for the next expansion. And the gaming world's eyes will soon turn to the Diablo team, with avid hopes that the whispers of Diablo III launching next year prove to be accurate.

Last month, the company posted several job openings that indicated a console version of that title might be in the works. Blizzard quickly moved to manage expectations, noting it was simply "exploring a Diablo-related concept for consoles".

Pearce re-emphasized that this week, noting that if the company had unlimited resources, it would love to explore other platforms - including Apple's iDevices - but it all comes down to what makes for the best play experiences.

"We've got to make sure the experience we're delivering on those platforms makes sense for those platforms," he says. "We have, in the past, tried to port some of our games over to consoles - and I don't think anyone would agree that was an entirely successful approach."

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