Does Blizzard still have this "bring your ideas to lunch" type attitude, where you're just exchanging ideas in the hallways? Where it doesn't matter what discipline you are -- somebody in programming has an interesting design idea, a designer says, "That's a good idea," and the idea becomes reality?
JW: Yeah. That's what we aspire to. I think at times we can fall into the trap of being too separated by discipline, and it's actually something on the Diablo III team that we're working, right now, to make much better. I'd always been of the belief that a designer's job is not to come up with all the awesome ideas -- that there's no end of awesome ideas that can come from any source on the team.
A designer's job can make sure that the right awesome ideas get into the game. Because we do a brainstorm for a new class, we get anywhere from 400 to 700 skill ideas. And there's a whole bunch of them that are awesome, but they either aren't right for the class, or they aren't right for the game. That's the designer's job: to know the difference. It's not an artist or producer's job to know that. It's the designer's job to know that.
Builders are supposed to know the mechanics of the game; they're the ones who are supposed to know the overall vision of the character, they're the ones who are supposed to help define that.
And so a lot of the times I think you see people get into design because they have a lot of ideas and they think, "If I'm the designer, then everybody just has to do my ideas." And I would say if that's your reason to get into design, please don't go into design. That's a terrible direction to come from.
If you are a designer on a game, you will get your ideas in, by the sheer fact that you will be implementing a lot of things. By the sheer fact that there's a lot of areas of games that people don't have any ideas about, and don't want to. So don't worry about whether all the ideas are yours.
If anything, your goal as a designer should be, "I can't wait to get somebody else's ideas into this game," because you're not going to be the one making it. Your art team and your programming team are going to do a ton of the hands-on work. You're not even going to be able to work until they do their job.
And if their ideas aren't there, and they're not excited, then the tools and things that you're going to get actually implemented are going to be weaker, and your work's not going to be as good.
So you have to make it about the team. You have to make it about the ideas that come from everyone, while at the same time accepting you're going to have strong opinions about it. There are big, passionate ideas on the project that I shot down because I didn't think they were right for the game. I still have people who think we really should have done that, and I'm like, "Nope, we shouldn't have."
How do you manage to balance milestones, the expectations of Blizzard and Activision Blizzard, and the attitude of "it's done when it's done"?
JW: The thing I always try to explain to people about the "it's done when it's done" thing is the reason we don't announce dates is not because there isn't one. The reason we don't announce dates is because we often don't know, until we're fairly close to the date, whether or not we can hit it or not.
So to the team, we say "this is the date," and the team shoots for that date, and they do their best to hit it. And then that quality is not something you can always put a date on.
We can know we're going to be done with X amount of work by this date -- we know that. What we don't know is the intangibles -- we thought this system worked, and then we played deep into the game in a way that we haven't been able to before, because content didn't exist, and the system falls apart. So we have to rework that system. So quality is what you can't account for.
And since you can't account for that, and it's not a compromise element for us, that's why we will move a date. We don't give dates because we don't like to promise things. It's very important to us. And so for us -- we don't like to lie. This lie where, if we give a date and then we don't hit it, we consider that lying.
Now, there are other things where we'll have a system in and we'll change the system. We don't consider that lying, because we tell people all the time this isn't final, and it could change dramatically before the end of the game.
But we found in recent years that we like that dialogue with the audience. We like them to see our development process. We used to be a lot more secretive, but now we see a lot of value in them seeing the process that we go through. But they don't need to be yanked around with dates. And so we don't like to put them out there for that reason. But there's always a date.
There's always a goal, and a deadline that we're going for. If anything, I want us to have more dates, and more deadlines. I think deadlines drive team efficiency and performance. I think there's always a dream of the endless timeline for creativity, but nobody actually wants that. Creative people think they want it, but when they get it, they don't know what to do with it, and the truth is they don't finish things. And nothing makes creative people happier than finishing things.
How did the idea for the auction house come about? That didn't come from the design department, did it?
JW: Yes, it did. It came from the design department. So here's one of the things that I will say -- that no one in forums will believe me -- but we never make business decisions outside of the game development team. We always make them based on what we think is right for the game.
We have a saying internally, which is we always want to be the guys in the white hats. Which means, we want to make money because making money means we get to make more games, and we get to make bigger games. And everybody wants to be successful. I don't think it's a bad thing to want to make money. I think it's a bad thing to want to make money off things that are not a good service or product for your customer, and that's our inherent belief, is that it's okay to make money on a service we provide for our customers that we think is a good service worth paying for.
And that is how we feel. We looked at the auction house and we said yeah, this is a good service worth paying for that we can provide to people. Do we want to make money off it? Of course we do, because we want to continue to make games, and we want to be successful. But we also think it's a good service. We think it's a thing players want, and want to do, and they want to be able to do it securely and easily, and they want to be able to make some cash off of it if they want. They want to be able to recycle that back into getting more items.
The whole trade economy of Diablo II was a really interesting element of the game, but the game didn't support it hardly at all. And so we looked at that and said that's a real failing, and something we need to fix.
Are you still experimenting and exploring the console version of Diablo III?
JW: Yeah. We haven't officially announced it, because we're not "experimenting." We tell people that basically we're experimenting, because it helps us hire people. The better people we hire, the better chance we have to actually make it. That's why we haven't kept it super secret, but we also haven't confirmed it, because we're not sure yet whether we think it will work, and whether we think we have the resources to do it.