[EDITOR'S NOTE: Blizzard have asked Gamasutra to make it clear that this interview was conducted immediately before the mid-July announcement that the MMO has reached 9 million users, hence the mention of 8.5 million in Pearce's comments on this page.]
One of the most fascinating success stories, albeit the most-repeated, in recent years has been the expansion of Blizzard into the MMO space with the tumultuously successful World Of Warcraft, the largest worldwide success in the history of massively multiplayer games.
In fact, that product is so dominant that at times, it threatens to overwhelm the rest of the company's work, which includes seminal titles in the RTS and other franchises. Blizzard can also be publicity shy at times - which is why Gamasutra was fortunate to catch up with Senior Vice President Frank Pearce, one of the three founders of the original Blizzard (then called Silicon & Synapse) in 1991.
He was accompanied by Starcraft II producer Chris Sigaty, as they discussed the state of Blizzard's union in 2007, the next steps for the firm's MMO and RTS franchises, and just what else they might be working on in the mysterious back rooms of their Southern California HQ.
Where is World of Warcraft going to go from here? You know…you're the biggest fish in the pond right now, what do you do to expand from the pinnacle?
FP: For us, the most important customers are our current customers. So we want to keep doing live content updates. We've got some great content updates in the works - we want to continue providing live content updates for our current subscriber base.
As far as expanding though, that's a big undertaking because, you know, eight and a half million subscribers is a lot. There are some emerging markets that we are constantly evaluating, but if and when we'll hit that up is hard to say.
Do you think there will be a need for a World of Warcraft II? Or will it just be expansions for a long time?
FP: The game's only been out for about 2 1/2 years. So I think for the foreseeable future it’s going to be expansions as it relates to World of Warcraft. We haven’t even thought about the idea of a World of Warcraft II. I mean, we are all really invested in the game ourselves as well, we’re part of the community, we play the game. And we love it and we want to make sure that it has a long lifespan.
What would necessitate a sequel?
FP: What would necessitate a sequel? For us as gamers, we are making the games we want to play. So it would really be about the dev team, and if they said ‘OK, we just can't do what we want to do in regards to the Warcraft intellectual property with the current structure’. It would have to be a situation where we said: 'This is what we want applied to what we want to do, and we can't do it on the current framework’.
Who would you consider to be your actual competition?
FP: There's a lot of great stuff out there, and a lot of good stuff on the horizon. Certainly the Warhammer Online game has a lot of potential, Age of Conan, that looks like it has potential. There's some good stuff out there inbound so we don't spend a lot of time dwelling on what other people are doing. It’s more important that we feel that we're doing right by our customer base, regardless of what other people are doing.
That said, the competition is what's most healthy for the industry, because that's what drives studios to give their all to creating the best product a customer can get. So we embrace that philosophy. We want people to be doing great things within the industry because we’re gamers. We also know that it's what motivates us to deliver great product for our customers.
Do you think that any other online experience will be able to surpass that 9 million mark?
FP: I think it's very likely that some day that will happen, yes. I'm not quite sure when, not quite sure what, but certainly. The Internet is just exploding. I mean all the social communities, experiences. Just the whole virtual aspect of it all has really taken off, and the younger people are really embracing it. I mean, I'm old. I barely text message. This is what everyone's doing.