Blizzard's J. Allen Brack, Frank Pierce, and Rob Pardo sat down in front of a small group of members of the press this morning to answer question about Blizzard's history, games, and outlook, and WoW Insider was there. In the hourlong chat, we covered Wrath of the Lich King, WoW's past, whether WoW should appear on a console or not, and what's going to happen to the old world. Just for you guys, I personally asked about Heroic Deadmines, midlevel content, and what they're going to do about those AFKers in Alterac Valley.
My notes from the chat are after the jump. There were not one but two PR people hovering around the developers, so even they had to stop themselves from revealing secrets, but they did provide a lot of background and a lot of clarification about what players want to know about Wrath of the Lich King and Blizzard behind the scenes.
On why Northrend is more high-level expansion content
Rob Pardo: It's always difficult trying to figure out which piece of content we're going to do-- we try to look at where our content is, and try to make it for the largest group of people, and we've got lots of folks at higher levels.
Frank Pierce: That's not to say that we aren't trying to do features for people at those lower levels. We're releasing integrated VOIP and guild banks.
RP: I think the dream is an all new 1-70 levels, but that's not going to happen. We always feel like we're behind trying to add new content, and at this point we don't think we can afford the time to revamp old content rather than creating new stuff.
When's WotLK coming out? What kind of development time do you expect compared to BC?
J. Allen Brack: Once a year expansion is a goal for us, but we're not going to let that do something that's wrong for the game. We're making sure that when you get it, it's a good complete experience.
RP: We actually don't know when WotLK will come out. We've always had Northrend as part of the plan, and even in development Northrend was one of the zones. Northrend has been a big part of WoW for a long time.
Are drop rates from high end content too low, so much so that it's not worth it to defeat the bosses?
FP: I was thinking that drops were more frequent. We just upped the epic loot in the later endgame.
RP: The problem isn't raid drops, it's drops in other areas of the game. It wasn't that not enough loot was dropping, it was that we were giving out loot in other areas that was too good. This PvP and Arena award iteration is our first pass, so we'll be looking at that. We'll continue to look at the balance between PvP and Arena loot and raid loot before the expansion.
Is there a "standard" for Arena matches? Blizzard supports 5v5 in game, WSVG supports 3v3, and 2v2 is playing at BlizzCon. What is the game balanced for?
FP: I don't think there's a standard that's really been established yet.
RP: 2v2 is the one that's the most difficult to balance. We didn't design for 1v1, and 2v2 is really close to that., 2v2 is a goal, and 3v3 and 5v5 are easier to balance.
FP: We'll also be adding other things into the game that will make it easier to spectate all of the matches, including adding better camera functionality and other features in the works.
The Old World feels empty-- is that a problem and what are you doing about it?
RP: I wouldn't call it a problem-- the worst is in the level-up dungeons, pretty unlikely to find groups for like Scarlet Monastery [I disagree on SM, places like Mara and ZF are worse -Mike]. Some of is the reality of where the players are, since most of them are at the higher levels. That said, we have ideas-- we're going to look at the leveling curve, make 1-60 a little faster. New things for refer-a-friend to make it easier to play with friends in the game. It's definitely something we're watching.
Any plans to revamp old content? Heroic Deadmines?
RP It's something we always talk about-- I'm sure you'll see a little bit of that happening over time. We can either focus on revitalizing old content, or we can deliver new content. We could have a 500 person dev team and never run out of ideas. We have to pick and choose the thing that we actually want to work on.
Does Blizzard want to work on a brand new IP?
FP and RP: Yes.
RP: The trick is that we have a company full of creative game developers and we always want to work on new things, and yet we made some really amazing universes and grown those, and we want to expand those.
What stops Blizzard, from a business perspective, from doing anything but pumping out franchises?
FP: We don't feel like we can honor our philosophies for quality.
JAB: We're picky. We're picky with everything we do. We're picky with the ideas, we're picky with people. Yeah, WoW has given us a lot of resources, but just churning out franchises on schedule [like EA, for example] violates the things that are important to us.
You said that Hero classes are "epic but not superior"-- what's that mean?
RP: Just that they start at a higher level. Rather than starting the Death Knight at level 1 in Northshire Valley fighting kobolds, Death Knight really sounds like a hero, and we want the play to reflect that.
JAB: They're going to be powerful, but not way stronger than other classes. If we start seeing raids of 23 Death Knights and 2 Priests-- if that happens, then we screwed up.
RP: You'll start with some gear, looking like a Death Knight with pretty good gear for you level-- whether greens, blues, or purples we don't know yet. And we'll probably do some retroactive itemization.
When you buy Wrath, will you be able to level 60-70 without BC, or will you have to buy BC and Wrath to get to 80?
FP: We haven't finalized that, whether WotLK will require BC, or anything else. A bundle is always a possibility, and those have worked well for us in the past.
Will we see Arthas with the next expansion, or in a patch like the Black Temple?
RP: Both-- players will interact with Arthas the whole time in Northrend, but as far as when the fight goes down, it will probably be in a content patch right after the expansion, Kel'Thuzad is really the boss of shipping WoW, Illidan is the boss of Burning Crusade, and Arthas will be the big boss for Wrath.
Some players are worried that if we take out Arthas, that's the end of WoW-- he's really the last boss we can meet. So what's next?
RP: That's hopefully the point of every kind of world boss-- there's always going to be somebody better than the big boss. There's plenty of stuff in the lore, and we can make up all kinds of stuff too-- you've got Deathwing, Sargeras, Kil'jaeden. I view the story of WCIII ending at the Frozen Throne, but there's still plenty of lore out there that we haven't explored outside Northrend.
What kind of attunements will we see?
RP: We don't know yet-- we've been learning a lot from BC attunements. We did some things right and some things wrong, and we're learning.
Now that we've seen the old Mount Hyjal in the Caverns of Time, any chance we'll see the current Mount Hyjal open up?
RP: I don't think we have plans right now to put it in Wrath, but that would be interesting. We are going to do another CoT instance, and there are a few other locations that we're looking at including.
JAB: When we first did the meeting about the Caverns of Time, we came up with about twenty different events that we could look at, so the Caverns is a really exciting thing for us. There's no limit to what we can put in there.
What are you playing right now besides Blizzard games?
RP: I'm playing Okami for PS2, Guitar Hero 2, Zelda, TP, Puzzle Quest on PSP, I'm an Animal Crossing maniac, God of War II, Crackdown, Calling all Cars.
JAB: I'm playing Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s, and re-playing Warcraft III actually.
So it sounds like you guys like consoles, but does Blizzard like consoles? Or did Ghost sour you forever?
RP: We love PC and consoles. The thing is that we come up with the game that we want to make, and then we really decide what the platform is, and the game goes to where it best fits. We are a company that resists the urge that PC is dead, it's true.
How much of an impact did cancellation of Ghost have on your other games and is it truly dead?
FP: We've got a ton of guys from Ghost on WoW team, and it really helped us out.
JAB: That was an opportunity for us to inherit some top quality talent without dealing with a long hiring process.
FP: But that wasn't the reason for what we did. At the end of the day, we make the games that we want to play.
RP: Right. We didn't stop that game because we didn't think it would be successful, we stopped it because it wasn't coming along at the point that we wanted to.
[As for whether it's dead or not, a PR person gave the old line of "it's on indefinite hiatus."]
Dalaran flying up to Northrend for WotLK was an interesting choice-- did you know it was going up to Northrend?
JAB: [Sarcastically] Absolutely, 100% without question. [Laughs]
RP: We always had plans to open it up-- we had a lot of ideas for how it would appear. But we always had the idea that once the dome went away, it would float.
Isn't it ludicrous that Death Knights, the mantle of the Scourge, is being passed to players and the Alliance and the Horde?
RP: All will be explained in the game experience. We have a cool backstory to explain how players are becoming Death Knights and meeting Arthas.
You've said changes are coming to Battle.net, and that they'll be cool. Will it be so cool that it'll charge a monthly fee?
FP: Hard to say.
In the opening ceremony, you joked that you were going to ban everyone who read the internet sites that were printing rumors and leaks. Is that a big problem for you all?
FP: Not really. When information does leak, it's disappointing. The teams work really hard to prepare for grand reveals for the press, and if that's already revealed, it's not as cool. But at the same time, that's good, because it means that people are excited about us and what we're doing.
JAB: It's a measure of how excited people are about the game.
Have you all started spreading any disinformation yet?
JAB: No, not yet.
If you did, would you tell us? [Laughter]
JAB: No, probably not.
About gold trading and gold farming-- is there a reason why Blizzard is fighting it rather than taking the same steps other companies have?
RP: If we're talking about WoW, it's an established product, we don't have any plans to make changes about gold farming-- RMT is a TOS violation. The fanbase is pretty committed to being against it, and we've got a group of guys that are committed to stopping TOS violations. The game was never designed for that in mind-- everyone starts off even. In the real world that's not true, but in WoW everyone starts even, and the RMT stuff messes with that.
What are you going to do about the AFKers in Alterac Valley? You can't control how players play, but how can--
FP: [Interrupts, ominously] We have plans for those people.
Is there a better way to implement narrative than scrolling text screens? [I didn't ask this question, and I don't agree with its premise, that the only way narrative has appeared in WoW is via scrolling text. -Mike]
RP: Wow was never designed as a narrative experience sort of game. The sheer amount of quests that we deliver, some are a little more formulaic than others. you'll get meat and potatoes sort of quests, but we try to mix that up. We talk about showing, and not telling the player. Bombing run quests, quests where you drive the felreaver around-- those are where we're pushing the boundaries.
Were you surprised by the big player response to new hairstyles? Do you expect to let players customize their gear?
FP: I was surprised, people cheered the most about that, and I was thinking about not even mentioning it yesterday.
RP: We've always realized how important that is. One of the challenges is where to do it- there's a lot of MMOs that spend an inordinate amount of time on your cheekbones, and then you put a helmet on the characters and no one can see it. Prestige gear vs. player customizeable gear and you can't really combine them. The right decision for us is to have prestige gear-- if you see Tier 3 gear, you know they've done and they're proud of wearing it.
From us at WoW Insider, a big thank you to Rob, Frank, and J. Allen for speaking with us.