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BlizzCon press conference with Mike Morhaime

Mike Morhaime held a press conference earlier this afternoon, which WoW Insider was able to attend. I arrived a little late since it started before I finished up the UI panel liveblog, but I managed to catch a majority of the Q&A. Unlike the various panels, most of these questions were aimed at the philosophy and business model at Blizzard. How they've operated in the past, and how they'll operate in the future.

BlizzCon itself came up a lot throughout the conference, the big question being will this BlizzCon be a letdown? There haven't been any major announcements. Announcements, sure, but nothing on the scale of Starcraft II or Diablo III. Mike Morhaime actually seemed most excited about this particular BlizzCon, because it isn't just showcasing one game. All three of their primary franchises have something new on the way, and fans of all of those games are in attendance. Beyond that, he believes the community is extremely important, and gatherings like BlizzCon are important as well. Blizzard themselves were blown away by just how many people were trying to attend the convention this time around. The number of hopefuls completely dwarfed both last year's BlizzCon and the more recent Worldwide Invitational. Will BlizzCon continue to be an annual event? Maybe. They'll focus on this weekend first, and then they'll start talking about next year once it's through.

What I found most interesting, though? Morhaime was asked what the most unusual, off the wall concepts they had for a game that simply did not work out. He mentioned a game titled Nomad that Blizzard was developing after Starcraft was first released. A game they had never mentioned or announced until now. It was a post-apocalyptic style setting, but each day they sat down to work on it, it was with a little trepidation. Eventually they asked themselves, "If we were going to work on just one project today, would it be Nomad or would it be something else?" They went with something else. That something else was World of Warcraft.

Like I said, there were a lot of questions about how Blizzard runs things. Morhaime was asked how Blizzard chooses which franchise to work with next, and the answer was rather interesting. They decide what kind of game they want to make first (FPS, MMO, RTS) and then figure out what setting it will work with. They don't necessarily say, "Let's make another Warcraft game. How about an RTS?" They say, "We want to make an RTS. Which of our franchises is most appropriate? How about Warcraft again?"

This was the case with the infamous Starcraft: Ghost. They decided to make an FPS game, and Starcraft seemed to be an appropriate setting. In the end, though, Starcraft: Ghost just ended up not very exciting to them. When faced with decisions like allocating assets from one project to another, when the decision game down to focusing on Starcraft: Ghost or focusing on a project they were more excited about, Ghost just didn't get much love. The example Mike Morhaime gave was, "If the Starcraft: Ghost team needed a 3D artist, and the Warcraft team needed a 3D artist, and they both liked the same guy..." Their decision to cut Ghost makes a whole lot of sense when you look at it that way. They weren't excited about it, and there's no sense in wasting resources on a project like that. There was also mention of Diablo III having been in development when Ghost had been canceled. That's impressive.

Warhammer Online came up a few times, the first question being a rather amusing one. Morhaime was asked, "Have you tried Warhammer?" His answer was a very simple and conversational, "No. Have you?" The question was asked if Warhammer may have underestimated the logistics of running an MMO in the modern day, to which Morhaime responded that everybody underestimates the logistics of it. Blizzard themselves vastly underestimated it. Did Warhammer mess with Wrath's release date at all? Absolutely not. Morhaime stated that trying to beat the other guys to the punch as far as release dates is just backwards and silly. Putting out an unplayable game first means that they'll try your game, see that it's awful, and go to the next big thing, which is probably that competitor you just tried to one-up.

That was followed up with: What in the world does Blizzard do with all of the money WoW makes in a year? "Building a spaceship?" A raw number was cited by the individual that asked the question, which matched the number a lot of us out playing WoW like to toss around. Morhaime quickly debunked that number, but didn't supply another. Many of the territories WoW operates in work off of a different business models, specifically China and Korea, and in some of those areas other companies help them localize the game. Again, China is a good example of that. It's a very profitable business, he said, but it's also a very expensive one. They have 3,000 employees worldwide on their payroll, there's maintenance, bandwidth, hardware, the whole deal. Is there profit? Oh yes. Is it is large as we think it is when we try to wrap our minds around 11 million players? No, it's not.

The conference went on with many, many questions trying to get Morhaime to slip about any future projects, but he upheld Blizzard's tightlipped reputation. The Warcraft movie was something he was willing to talk about, but only slightly. Is it still happening? Yes. He said that the process takes far, far longer than they'd like, but it is certainly happening. They're still in the process of interviewing directors. When asked if Blizzard could and would pull and trash a script that they didn't like, the answer was a yes. As with all things, if they don't like it, it isn't going to happen.

The final note (that was spread throughout the Q&A but I like keeping this neat and tidy) that was very popular was Blizzard's relationship with Activision. Have they impacted things? Have they changed things for the worse, or for the better? Morhaime made it very clear: "They don't nag us at all about our games." He says that both Activision and Blizzard have things to learn from one another. If Blizzard takes another stab at console games, Activision has a lot of the infrastructure for that already in place. Activision has a strong interest in how Blizzard operates in general. Mike Morhaime mentioned one of those things is the fact that Blizzard has a very strong following in Asia, which is something very few American game companies has managed.

Oh, and their 12 foot tall bronze statue that was supposed to be in the courtyard of their HQ? It's still on the way. It's real bronze, and it will supposedly still be floating around somewhere 1000 years from now, assuming it doesn't get melted down someday. And thanks to that statue, Morhaime says, people of the future will see it and think to themselves, "Wow, Humans sure were ugly back then!"

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, BlizzCon, Wrath of the Lich King

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