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Interview: Blizzard COO Sams Says 'Many Years In Front' Of  WoW
Interview: Blizzard COO Sams Says 'Many Years In Front' Of WoW
March 8, 2011 | By Kris Graft

March 8, 2011 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

World of Warcraft has 12 million subscribers, StarCraft has a massive following and is virtually a national sport in Korea, and Diablo is firmly implanted in PC gamers' memories as one of the best action RPG experiences ever.

So while past performance is no guarantee of future results, it's easy to see why Irvine, CA-headquartered Blizzard is supremely confident that it can continue to deliver with expansions of existing franchises, as well as new IP.

"I think we have a very bright future," Blizzard COO Paul Sams told Gamasutra in a recent interview. "We obviously have Diablo III coming out, which we are very confident in."

"And we're very confident in the other products, supporting products like Warcraft and future expansions there," he said. "And there are future expansions to StarCraft II. Those are real mainstays for us."

World of Warcraft Business 'Effectively Protected'

But while future expansions for World of Warcraft and StarCraft II are poised to move millions, and Diablo III already has enviable buzz, Blizzard now has to answer the question that its competitors have had to try to answer for the past six years: Can you beat World of Warcraft?

Blizzard plans on answering that question with its upcoming unannounced "Titan," the codenamed full MMO that will follow World of Warcraft's extraordinary success.

"I believe [it's] the most ambitious thing we've ever attempted," Sams said. "And I feel like we have set our company up to succeed on that. We have some of our most talented and most experienced developers on that team. Many of the people that built World of Warcraft are full time on that other team."

That expertise in working with the most successful MMORPG in the world for the past several years will prove vital for the success of the new MMO. Sams assured that World of Warcraft is still under the watch of experienced staff, even though key members are moving onto Titan.

"We've spent a lot of time over the last number of years transitioning those people off [of World of Warcraft], and having great people below them that were trained up by them to run World of Warcraft," Sams said. "Those people have been doing it for the last couple of years without the assistance of those people that created it."

"So, I think we've effectively protected that business as it relates to our development resources and capabilities," he added, "and at the same time taking some of those other folks that had all that experience and unleashed them on this new thing."

"Many Years In Front" Of World Of Warcraft

In the coming years, World of Warcraft may lose some of the MMO spotlight to "Titan," but with such a massive, established worldwide player for World of Warcraft, the company will support the game as long as it is feasible to do so.

"I see World of Warcraft as having many more years in front of it," Sams forecast. "We have over 12 million subscribers. We're continuing to grow and we feel very good about them. We're going to continue to support that product for many, many years to come."

"As it relates to that other [MMO], we think that it's going to be very impactful in our industry and, we hope, very impactful to the world," Sams continued. "We think that that will be, after Diablo III, the next big thing from us. The thing that we hope will happen is that it will not stop World of Warcraft but we believe will eclipse it."

"We're very confident in that product. It's an awesome one," Sams added. "We're playing it already. It is a total ball to play. We think that the reach of that product is greater than anything that we've done before. We're very excited about that. I believe that it's the type of game that will have a very long life, much like World of Warcraft has."

"So, hopefully in 10, 15 and 20 years, that [new MMO] will still be growing strong and will have set a new mark in the industry for that type of product."

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Chad Fillion
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Sounds like codename Titan is going to be a huge explosion on the scene...

Might we see a peek at E3 in June this year???

Ray Johannessen
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Interesting. These guys continue to amaze me...a person could learn a thing or two from a company like this. I'm excited to see what this Titan is all about...personally I hope it has more aspects of gameplay like Ultima Online had...but I know that's probably a stretch.

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I don't know Ray, if they don't want to cannibalize too much from their own player-base then I would think they would take a different page of the MMO-book and polish it like they have with the current one. There are a few directions they could take that would minimize their own cannibalization, sandbox is one of those options much like UO.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I'm not even a fan of WoW, and this interests me. I guess it's because every other MMO seems to be playing catch up with Blizzard, but Blizzard can afford to (not saying they will, be can afford to) be looking at the future. Add to that the fact that they don't want to compete too much with WoW and we might see an MMO with a unique setting/feel, and hopefully a more social/more role playing/less grindy feel. Eh, maybe that's not sustainable in a mainstream market (the type of market needed to support the dev cost of any reasonable sized MMO), but it's what I want, so let me dream :]

dennis crawford
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Why does everyone say that people are playing catchup to WoW? The only thing that Blizzard did was make it easier to play an MMO. Throw in a popular IP and you have an instant hit for starting out until every mom and grandma plays. It's really no different than EQ, or any other MMORPG, except the learning curve is extremely low. As we see with everything in the game industry right now, the more simple it is the more people it gets to play. Not saying that isn't the smart business decision to do but its not some prolific idea that should be amazed at.

The other failing MMOs of the last few years stumbled more on themselves than they did by being beat out by WoW. Rift has a lot of similarities to WoW but has a lot more possible community building which I haven't seen since EQ or DAoC. That alone enough to be able to compete? I don't know, but I am enjoying playing Rift where as I was completely bored with WoW 3 years ago.

Ben Droste
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People are playing catch-up to WoW because WoW has 6+ years of:

- Content

- Development and refinement

- Developer experience

- a massive, experienced player base

- popularity and public awareness

That's a LOT to be up against, even with a strong IP like Star Wars or Warhammer, and especially if you're targeting the same market space.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"Why does everyone say that people are playing catchup to WoW?"

I say it because people are playing catchup to WoW. In the west, at least. It is more popular, more successful, more profitable than any other MMO in the west (unless you start considering X-ville an MMO, which I guess you could) and has visibly affected design and marketing decisions in and outside of its genre. I don't say it as a sign of respect for what they've done for the artform if that's what you're looking for (I might consider WoW to be _the_ most overrated game of all time, grinding made popular because it's popular), but their business success is undeniable. You just don't see the attitude of "let them have their mountain and we'll make our own", everyone has to try and chip away at the mountain of the leader without realizing that that is the surest way to failure. This problem only worsens as the dev costs rise, and what is more expensive nowadays than a full 3D MMO?

Nollind Whachell
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"Why does everyone say that people are playing catchup to WoW?"

Actually for the very reasons you listed.

- popular IP

- extremely low learning curve

- simple for people to play

And, of course, Blizzard didn't stumble over themselves (at least not as much as others) which to me is a pretty important trait of a company. I mean it sounds like you're saying the basics are easy but if so, why are so many companies not following these basics?

If anything, what's the most amazing thing about WoW is that it is engaging and enjoyable, even with all of its faults. And that is what I think Titan will hopefully focus on. Addressing these faults which are mostly social barriers.

1) Easy to start playing alongside your friends immediately, even if they started playing the game a year before you did (i.e. no grinding / leveling by yourself before you can play alongside friends).

2) Easy to get engaged in the gameplay that you like immediately (i.e. no grinding / leveling just to raid or do open world pvp, no grinding / leveling as a warrior just so I can become a master blacksmith and sell my wares in town at my own shop).

The tricky part is allowing this much diversity within the game because you're creating a sort of ecosystem that needs to have everything tied together, thus giving meaning and importance to each individual part (i.e. interconnected interdependencies).

This is why I'm intrigued by the following quote of "We think that it's going to be very impactful in our industry and, we hope, very impactful to the world". It's almost as though he's saying its influence will be felt in more than just the gaming industry as a "game". That maybe something about the game (i.e. its approach, way its played, etc) could actually influence the way things are done around the world (i.e. new approach to working, collaborating, etc). Not sure. Maybe I'm looking too deeply into it.

James Hoysa
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With so much talk about Titan, we haven't heard anything about a new expansion for WoW. It's been quite some time since Cataclysm was released and they should start dropping hints about the next expansion.

Ben Droste
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Quite some time? It's only been out for three months! They haven't even released the first major content patch for it yet.

If previous expansion time-frames are anything to go buy I'd say we can expect over a year before the next one is out, and at almost that before they start talking about it.

Nollind Whachell
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Agree with Ben. The next major "store shelf" expansion probably won't be for another year. The good thing though is that they will be releasing these mini point release expansions more frequently, starting with 4.1. Thus instead of seeing new content every six months to a year, we might start seeing them every three months or even potentially less.