After working at Blizzard for more than seven years, company veteran Paul Della Bitta stepped down to try his hand at mobile development. Earlier this year, he and other ex-Blizzard devs made good on that goal and co-founded Superplay Games, a studio that takes some key lessons from the Blizzard playbook.
Della Bitta previously served as Blizzard's senior director of global community development and e-sports, and played a multi-faceted role at the company. He had a hand in nearly all of Blizzard's modern products and services, spanning community outreach programs to internal development on World of Warcraft and Battle.net.
In the months leading up to his departure, Della Bitta began to see some exiting new opportunities that he couldn't pursue at Blizzard itself, and these opportunities spurred him and other Blizzard developers to step down and found their very own mobile studio.
Reflecting on his reasons for leaving Blizzard, Della Bitta told Gamasutra, "To me, when mobile devices -- tablets, especially -- started coming out with processing power equivalent of a PlayStation 2, that was a signal that there was a revolution about to happen."
That revolution, he said, will allow developers to jump into emerging markets like the mobile space to create games that harken back to classic gameplay styles that we no longer see on traditional platforms.
"This whole process is exciting to me, because I love throwbacks; it happens every time Nintendo releases a handheld, and it's happening now with all the phones and tablets that are coming out. We're seeing games like the early Final Fantasy style role-playing games, and other things that just make me nostalgic for when I was first gaming," he said.
Della Bitta added that making the jump to mobile has allowed him to move away from Blizzard's notoriously long development cycles, and create games without the bureaucracy of a 4,000 person studio.
"Freedom played a huge role, I think for everybody," he said. "Blizzard is obviously an amazing development company, but they are very set in how they do things, with very long development timelines. Being able to jump in and produce games on a month-based schedule instead of years is very exciting."
Della Bitta explained that after just six months of development, the team at Superplay had already finished its first title: a turn-based combat game dubbed Cosmonauts (pictured).
Lessons From Blizzard
Looking back on the game's development, Della Bitta said a number of Superplay's key design principles reflect lessons he learned while working at Blizzard.
"The thing you need to take away from Blizzard is that quality and gameplay come first," he said. "We would build games with circles and squares, and if it's fun with circles and squares, then you know it's going to be fun with cute characters or whatever you decide to wrap around it. If the game's fun, the game's going to be fun no matter how you skin it."
That's not to say a game's aesthetics aren't important. Della Bitta explained that Superplay deliberately went with a cartoon-like style with Cosmonauts to help the game stand the test of time -- a tactic clearly seen in World of Warcraft.
"We tried to make the game comical, light, not too serious, and we used that cartoon style to bring more people in. That's another thing that we took from Blizzard: if you want a franchise that lasts longer, pick a style that can last."
These lessons from Blizzard even influenced the company's approach to monetization. While Cosmonauts ended up using a free-to-play model, Della Bitta pointed out that Superplay doesn't want to think about business strategies until a game is well under way.
"We don't really have a business model in mind when making our games. We're gamers first, and we followed another Blizzard technique, which is to hire gamers to make games," he said "When we were deciding which titles we were going to work on, it was more about, 'I love this gameplay style.' Once we built it, when we looked at it and said, 'What [business model] works for this?'"
"Our mantra is: Make fun games, and business will follow. That really is the Blizzard style. Don't make a business model and fit the game into that; make the game and then the business model -- that's a bit of an opposite approach compared to what some companies are doing nowadays," he said.
Superplay Games is currently working on two unannounced projects, which Della Bitta says will debut within the next several months.