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The Devil's Workshop: An Interview with Diablo III's Jay Wilson
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The Devil's Workshop: An Interview with Diablo III's Jay Wilson

May 14, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

How do you handle fan feedback? Of course, there was the art controversy a few years ago. Were there any aspects of the game that fans criticized, and you thought, "Hey, these guys have a point"?

JW: Well I actually can honestly say that I don't think I've made a decision on this project, or the team has made a decision on this project, that hasn't been criticized by someone.

So you learn very quickly to listen, and decide whether you agree. And that's critical. And that's one of the things that I think, when we do get criticized sometimes by some people in the audience, saying that we're not listening -- it's really more that we're not agreeing.

Listening and agreeing are two totally different things. And if we listened to everyone complain and try to solve all their problems, we would have a mishmash mediocre mess of a game. I can't even get two groups to agree, a lot of the time, about exactly how they disagree about something. You have to listen, but you still have to make your own judgment call.

And so a lot of the times we've had a lot of negative responses to the skill system [from fans]. We looked at the complaints that we had, and a lot of the complaints were, "Okay, that's not reflected in what we see internally." The problems that they're running into, the things that they're complaining about, we're not seeing. That's not what we're seeing internally when we have people test the game, when we look at our own developers playing the game, and listen to their responses. Is [the complaint] invalid? No, but is it a downside that we can accept? Yeah.

And that's usually what it comes down to. I think people think that a perfectly designed game has no downsides, has no cons to it. I think a well-designed game has lots of downsides and cons, because if the developer made an interesting and well-designed game, it means they made really strong choices. But strong choices always have downsides.

Design is a real, real gray area. So I think it's better to make a strong, bold choice for a more interesting game. I think if you look at any of the games that people really, really love, there's some very, very strong choices there. I really love Skyrim, but there's a whole different design paradigm at work in a game like that than in a Blizzard game.

You never see a game like [Bethesda's] Skyrim come out of Blizzard -- just because. And it doesn't mean [Bethesda is] wrong. Their design philosophy has been extremely successful for them, but it's a very different one, and it has its own pros and cons. And it's the fact that they focused on it is what made them successful, and we're the same way.

For us, good design has a lot of depth and is very approachable. That's always our first priority. And the problem that you run into is we attract a very hardcore audience, and hardcore audiences don't like things to be approachable. They like their hardcore game. They like their elitism. And that's just not what Blizzard's ever been about.

It's not that we're not about our hardcore audience. If anything, we think we're more about our hardcore audience, because our goal is to make more people become them. But we don't do that by making our games obtuse and hard to get into.

It's funny that you say that. In this Diablo II postmortem, [former Blizzard North VP] Erich Schaefer described the "mom test." Is that still used at Blizzard? It was the same idea; you just get a mom to understand how to play the game.

JW: Yeah. Oh, my wife and daughter -- more my wife, she's not a gamer, but my daughter has no choice, because she's my daughter. [laughs] My wife is one of my main testers. I love just to watch her play the game, and I've totally done several tests where I've watched her play. We brought in people externally, and we basically do the mom test. We do it more formally, now.

As I said earlier, I don't believe in focus groups for telling you how to design your game. I do believe in focus groups for telling you what's wrong with your game, where it's confusing, where it's too hard, what players can't grasp or understand. Those things, I think, are super valuable to bring people in, essentially, and do what Erich calls the "mom test" -- which I think is a great way to put it. Valve, I think, calls it a tissue test, or something like that. Yeah, it's the same basic philosophy, and I definitely think it's a great way to go.

Did Diablo III have an official design document?

JW: No, not really. I certainly had a PowerPoint that I put together, which described high-level pillars of the project, and was seven things that we considered to be the core of the game.

Do you remember what those were?

JW: Those seven things were: approachable, powerful heroes, highly customizable, great item game, endlessly replayable, strong setting, and cooperative multiplayer.

We basically said these are the pillars we have to live by. Each one has a description of what they mean. And any time that we have a question about what the game should be, we just look back at those pillars. And that was our goal. That was how we set the project up.

We had some others, too, that were more [about] what we're adding to the project. And they were more feature-based, so for example, the PvP mode was one. The bigger focus on RPG elements was one, because we wanted it to be a more story-based game, without getting in the way of the action. So there were a few more like that.

But we didn't have a formal design document. I don't believe in the big design bible. I've done it before, and nobody reads it. I think the only purpose for having a design bible like that is for the guy who wrote it. If you, as a designer, you write a bible to get your head around your vision and your idea, write your bible. But don't ever expect anyone to read it. Don't even show it to anybody. Nobody reads that.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

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