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BlizzCon 2008: WoW Insider interviews J. Allen Brack

Here at BlizzCon, we just got to sit down with the head honcho of our favorite game, J. Allen Brack, lead producer of World of Warcraft. And the biggest surprise of the interview wasn't a nice tidbit about the future of WoW (and its battlegrounds) or how class changes are made, though we did talk about both of those things. No, the biggest piece of news we got out of him is that he loves WoW Insider -- he told us that Blizzard is paying close attention to what not just us bloggers but you commenters are saying on this site, and that the community plays almost as big a part in directing the game's development as the developers themselves do.

But the WoW Insider love didn't stop us from grilling him on what's next for the Wrath release and the game beyond. We talked about what changes Blizzard aims to make to battlegrounds, what kind of ideas Brack and his team have for after the second expansion, and even what he wants WoW to do that it hasn't yet. And yes, we got the story on dance studios, and why we won't be cutting a jig quite yet in Wrath.

Click the link below to check out our exclusive interview with J. Allen Brack.
WoW Insider: Let's start out with the expansion -- the expansion's going to be huge, that's the number one thing we're looking ahead to in the World of Warcraft. I wanted to find out what your top three goals were for the Wrath expansion and what you want the release to do for the game.

Lead Producer J. Allen Brack: I think the biggest thing is just to increase the amount of content available to players -- we've got a lot of stuff coming out with the 3.0.2 patch, the patch that will be out before we launch Wrath of the Lich King. That'll give players the 51-point talents, the barbershop, access to Inscription, change the way the pets and mounts work in the game in terms of not taking up bag space. So just give players a lot of nice content, a lot of nice new features that will make the game much more enjoyable. Increase the polish, the overall polish of the game -- as we've added more mounts and more pets and things that people like to collect, the achievements system now tracks those things. It exposed some things that we can make nicer, and I hope we've done a good job with that throughout the Wrath of the Lich King.

In terms of goals, do you mean like from gameplay or financial, or?

Financial might be interesting, but going into designing the release, why did you want to add the expansion to the game in the first place? What did the game need?

More content. World of Warcraft is a content-driven game, right? And so we did a huge patch with 2.4 with the Sunwell, where we added an entire island and a whole bunch of daily quests and a new dungeon and a new raid, and I think everyone really expects there to be the new type of expansion that we did with Burning Crusade, where we add new zones, or huge numbers of new zones, different types of zones, different types of questlines, new technology.

Next, I wanted to ask about class balance. We could probably talk all day about balancing classes and going back and forth on class balance.

Yes.

And everyone on our site always has a class balance concern of some kind.

Always!

But I wanted to ask what, in terms of a dev team, is the number one thing you all are working on lately and what are you doing to try to fix that balance? What's the main balance concern that you have in terms of developing at the moment?

Class balance doesn't really work the way people probably percieve. People probably percieve it as, "ok, we're going to look at the Ret Pally, and we're going to solve that problem today." The hard part is usually not making the change. The hard part is usually figuring out what the right decision is. Once we figure out what it is that we want to do, usually doing the change -- there are some exceptions -- but usually doing the change is relatively quick. So there is not like the time where we have the group think tank, where it's "what are we going to do about Ret Pallys?" It's very much "let's talk about classes and kind of go class by class or build by build." There really isn't like the top number one type thing, there's just "ok, we've got the meeting this week, what do we see, what are players saying, what do the DPS meters tell us, what do the stats we have tell us?"

Can you run us through specifics? Did you have a meeting this week?

This week was actually mostly focused on BlizzCon.

Ok, right, you guys are pretty busy. But at your last meeting, what did you sit down and talk about?

Ok, the last thing that I think was really talked about extensively was, umm... (thinks) Yeah, that's a really good question. Most of the things that we're talking about right now are tweaks to talents. Because that's what people are going to see with 3.0.2, so there's a problem with XYZ talent that we need to try to address, or is not working correctly, so it's mostly just that kind of type of polish stuff. Everything that you do with every talent affects the DPS bottom line, and so you can't really look at something at the very bottom and say clearly we need to increase the amount of damage that they do because all of the various talents kind of feed into that.

But you still have to come at it from a specific perspective, you can't look at a big picture all the time. You do have to say what changes are we going to make, and how do you determine how those specific changes come about?

That's a combination of player feedback, our own feedback, our QA feedback, our DPS meters testing, and just design sense.

I also wanted to talk about the future of battlegrounds. We've heard that some big things are coming -- tell us about what's next for battlegrounds. What do you want to do, what kind of changes would you like to make to battlegrounds in the future.

Well, battlegrounds are a big part of World of Warcraft, and we want to basically continue to make them a big part of World of Warcraft. We haven't really launched Wrath of the Lich King, that's what we're focused on, we haven't really started talking about exactly what the key details are beyond that. When we finish something, we immediately release it to the players, so if it hasn't been released, it's because it's not done, and so Wrath of the Lich King is not done, and that's really what we're focused on. It won't be until that finishes until we really start to get into details about the future after that.

But if you're deciding to work on battlegrounds, or even if you're working on them right now, then there are things with battlegrounds that you would be interested in changing or fixing or updating. What kind of things are driving you to look at battlegrounds? What kind of things are you wanting to do with battlegrounds that aren't happening in the game right now?

So, the team does not -- do you mean me personally, or the team as a whole?

The developer team as a whole. We've heard that battlegrounds are going to be worked on. The question is, I guess, what kind of things are there in battlegrounds that you think that you can work on? What's driving you to battlegrounds as something that needs to be changed in the game?

Mostly just because we think it's one of the better parts of content that exists in the game right now, and it's one of those things that we always want to continue to make better. There's a billion different kinds of things that exist with battlegrounds -- we would want to increase the amount, or equalize the amount of honor that people get between battlegrounds is something that gets brought up. Something that gets brought up all the time is having some kind of better way to deal with AFK type issues. The way that Blizzard makes decisions like that is to come up with all the lists of issues that we want to talk about, or problems that we want to solve and then figure out the right way to do each one. So we know we want to address battlegrounds, and so we'll have that discussion of, these are the issues we want to talk about, these are the things we want to address, this is how we're going to do it.

Ok. It sounds like you guys don't have much to talk about yet, but Wrath of the Lich King is almost due out, which means it's almost time to start looking ahead to the next thing. Emerald Dream and the Maelstrom have been mentioned for a long time as to expansions that you'd like to do, and even Northrend has been on the drawing board, we've seen whiteboards since way back when. So are Emerald Dream and the Maelstrom still on the table for future expansions?

Sure. Definitely. The way we made the decision with Northrend was to come up with a whole bunch of different ideas and say what is the strongest idea. We knew we wanted to introduce a new class, we kind of got to Death Knight as the class we wanted to introduce, and Northrend coupled with that really nicely, and so we made the decision for Northrend. When we start to talk about what the next expansion is, what it's going to be, I'm sure we'll come up with -- Emerald Dream is certainly on the list of things we want to see, Maelstrom is certainly on the list of things we want to see, there's other things we want to see.

So what else is on the table, not in terms of your exact plans, but what else as things you feel could be explored in full expansions?

There's, I think, a billion things that could be explored -- the World of Warcraft is huge. There's been stuff talking about doing stuff with Caverns of Time, doing some kind of expansion based in that kind of a universe, that would be very cool. Caverns of Time is kind of one of my most favorite type of things I love most is to go back and look at old things and have players experience them in a different way, that's kind of exciting. There's huge numbers of things that are happening in Warcraft, and so there's plenty of opportunities to come up with what we want to champion in terms of the next expansion.

We asked readers this weekend and on the site what they wanted us to ask you, and one of the things that came up a surprising amount was dance studios. Where are the dance studios?

It's not ready to be released yet. We're working on it, we still have some things to do before it's ready to go, and as soon as it's to a point where we think it's good and we're happy with it.

Is there a specific issue that's not right yet?

There's just not enough yet to justify a feature. Whenever that comes out, we want it to be a great experience, and it's not there yet. Really, dance studios was the number one question people wanted asked?

Dance studios was big. Class balance, obviously -- everyone has things to say about class balance, but like I said, we could spend all day shaking out the issues with class balance, and we only have a few minutes here.

(As if on cue, Blizzard PR lets us know there are two minutes left in the interview)

World of Warcraft is basically on top of the world -- it's far and above the biggest MMO out there, it could be the biggest game in the world, and obviously, your company has never been better and just keeps growing. So the last question is just, what haven't you done yet? What else does Blizzard want out of this game?


Oh wow. Well for me, I mean, as a player, there's always new stuff I want to do. Caverns of Time is one of my favorite things, so I want to see more Caverns of Time. There's a lot of areas in the world that have trails to further adventures, so like Grim Batol and what's going on there. The Hyjal zone, I'd like to do something with that. There's a lot of areas in the world that already exist that I'd really like to explore, and there's also the new ideas, we brought up new ideas for new expansions. Emerald Dream, what would that look like. Going back to some of the Ancients stuff from more of a lore perspective, seeing what that was like. Seeing the War of the Dragons, that would look good, that would be really cool. I think it's a huge world, so there's a lot of opportunities to find cool stuff.

Is there anything in terms of mechanics, not just content? Not even specific mechanics, but things that you'd want to accomplish in terms of WoW being a game?

There's always new kinds of mechanics that we'll be talking about or new features in term of what they are. There's millions of ideas that the readers of WoW Insider are always coming up with.

What's your favorite idea, or new mechanic to think about?

Uhmm..

This is just to think about, of course. (laughs) I'll clarify to the readers: this is not happening, no one's expecting it in the next patch. This is just you thinking.

(laughs) For me personally, I'm always interested to read and hear people bring up guild housing that they want to do or some kind of guild revamp. I'm always excited to hear about things that people want to do in terms of wanting to change their class, or say "for this dungeon, I want to play as a Mage, for this dungeon, I want to play as a Paladin," that kind of stuff, where you kind of have different classes do different things. Everyone's got ten ideas in their pocket who play WoW, and there's always lots in the player base.

See, but it's the ideas in your pocket that people care about.

(laugh) We're a collective, we don't have a structure set up where I hand down ideas or Jeff [Kaplan] hands down ideas, we all come up with ideas together and figure out what the strongest idea is that comes to the top.

It sounds like there's a good dialogue between you and the readers of WoW Insider. You know what they want, they know what you want. Is there anything you want to tell them?

(laughs)

I'm just opening the channels here, making sure communication goes back and forth. That's my job.

(laughs) No, it's all good. Well, keep on putting up what your ideas are and what you'd like to see in the World of Warcraft, because we do listen and we do pay attention.

Cool. Great, thanks so much.

Cool, you're welcome.

Stay tuned to WoW Insider all weekend for more exclusive interviews, liveblogs, pictures, and other coverage direct from BlizzCon 2008.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends, Blizzard, Instances, Interviews, BlizzCon, Wrath of the Lich King

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