When I met the two Blizzard developers who were in Singapore for the Legion launch party last week, I had an ulterior motive.
About 1 month ago, I re-subscribed to World of Warcraft (WOW). It was the first time in nearly two years that I stepped back into the game, and reading about the game’s upcoming expansion then, Legion, had gotten me excited.
But I was also embarrassed – ashamed, even? – about playing WOW again. It was like going back to an old habit you kicked. Or dating your ex again. I could imagine my friends sneering, shaking their heads and saying, “What? That old game again? I thought you quit man.”
I would be a pariah amongst them, shunned for my weakness and my sad inability to move on.
Meeting the devs was going to be my last chance to find a reason – any reason – to put the game back down. Maybe they’d show how they didn’t really understand the game. Maybe they’d reveal their true, greedy ways that WOW is nothing but a cash cow. Maybe they’d look at me funny.
“Hi! I’m Adam.” I shake his hand. “Hi I’m Travis.” I shake his hand too.
Oh my god I just touched the hands of people who actually worked on WOW. I must never wash my hands agai – DAMMIT! Alright, keep your calm, you can do this. Remember – any reason, just any reason at all.
Adam Kugler is the lead class designer of WOW, though for most of the expansion he was a senior FX artist who worked on, among other things, improving combat animations and – perhaps more notably – the new Demon Hunter class for Legion.
Travis Day is the Senior Producer of WOW, who, besides ensuring tasks were on schedule, also worked on the Demon Hunter class, major new features like Artifact Weapons, and as he puts it, “generally taking care of people”.
WOW’s current development team is the largest it’s ever been, Travis tells me, and at 265 people the team has produced a staggering amount of content for the expansion.
“If you saw the trailer we put out at Chinajoy, that basically lays out all the new features (of the game), it goes on for eight minutes. Arguably, I think some of our expansions more content than some MMO’s initial offerings.”
It’s hard to talk about WOW without talking about how old it is. At 12 years old, it’s still the most successful MMORPG on the market. A huge part of this is due to the fact that WOW is never the same game for too long – even in between expansions the game gets updated with huge content patches and other improvements.
And yet it looks amazing for its age. Adam described the special care they took to ensure the new combat animations were visceral. “My main’s a Fire Mage, and I never understood why anyone would want to play a melee character before I joined Blizzard. It didn’t feel great.” He pushed for combat animations to be improved, especially because he and the team had great ideas for what they wanted to do.
Being this old for a game a unique set of problems too. Improvements that were made to the game had to be carefully implemented so it didn’t break other things. “Also,” added Adam, “We had to support the current players we still had, because they use such a broad range of machine types.”
Clearly the work they do is, by and large, remarkable. But was that really it? Produce new content, polish the silverware so that everything’s always shiny, and players will always flock back?
“Why do you think players keep coming back? Why can’t we quit you?”
I didn’t actually ask that second question.
“For me,” replied Adam, “it was all about the love of the game.”
He revealed that he applied to work for Blizzard Entertainment during a certain point in WOW’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade. “I loved the game so much. Even in the cover letter to apply for the company I was like, ‘I just want to get here to continue the tradition of excellence and give the joy that I experienced to somebody else’.”
“We’re still making the game we want to play,” adds Travis.
And there it was, the reason for the longevity of WOW. It’s a massive labour of love. It has weathered 12 years – and possibly many more – through polished reinventions of itself but mostly because of a creative development team driven by their passion for the game.
How could anyone be embarrassed about playing WOW, then?
My time with Adam and Travis felt less like an interview and more like that moment when strangers realise they shared a common passion. C.S. Lewis calls that the start of friendship. I’d like to think it was.