63: Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard

How does a small shop specializing in console games transform itself into a top-tier juggernaut PC developer? Russ Pitts looks at the rise of Blizzard Entertainment, and how their unique organization allowed them to create better games.

Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard

I'm sorry. That was a really good article on Blizzard but how can you skip over the entire Starcraft franchise? Not to mention Starcraft's dominance in Korea.

BakaBaka:
I'm sorry. That was a really good article on Blizzard but how can you skip over the entire Starcraft franchise? Not to mention Starcraft's dominance in Korea.

Alright, for those of you who've missed that this is a reprint of an article that ran a few months ago, and/or weren't around for the discussion phase on the first go-round, I'm going to address this question once.

Once.

And then I'm going to go away and leave you all to it.

The question: Why didn't you talk about my favorite game, and the best game ever, Starcraft?

The answer: Because Blizzard became a successful company before that game was created, and that's the part of the Blizzard story I was trying to tell. Really, it's just that simple.

Why, then, talk about WoW?

Because that game's development and success were directly tied to fallout from the success of the Diablo franchise. I'm of the belief that the story of Starcraft in spite of its amazing success world-wide, is a tangential story. Who knows? I may revisit Blizzard at some point and cover that story. At least I'll know going in that I'd have a captive audience.

If you love Starcraft have followed its development and think it's the best thing Blizzard ever did, then I ask that you mentally insert that knowledge into the file created by reading this article and carry on with your lives, confident that you now have the complete story.

Thanks.

I love you all. Truly, I do. Thanks for reading.

-Russ

I thought this was published before...and a quick dip into my e-mail archive shows 6/6/06. Ooooh.

-Iain

Fletcher:
Alright, for those of you who've missed that this is a reprint of an article that ran a few months ago, and/or weren't around for the discussion phase on the first go-round, I'm going to address this question once.

*phew* I thought I had read this before. It's a re-run.

Re-run is such a negative term. I like to consider it a "Special Presentation."

Fletcher:
Re-run is such a negative term. I like to consider it a "Special Presentation."

You mean, like the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition?

Psaakyrn:

Fletcher:
Re-run is such a negative term. I like to consider it a "Special Presentation."

You mean, like the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition?

Hehe. If we were going to do that, I'd have added a sentence about Starcraft shooting first.

WTF Kerrigan totally screwed over Arcturus Mengsk first.

...spoilers?

This isn't a very good article.

I mean, I am happy to see a positive story on one of my favorite topics, but this is like getting ready for your 60 Minutes interview only to sit down across from Katie Couric.

There is some good stuff here. The business about two star-crossed studios meeting at CES over a multi-platform Justice League game is a good yarn. The insights into the online gaming scene of the 90s is a welcome re-examination of a critical (and under-analyzed) period in gaming history. I would like to see that discussed in greater detail sometime soon, but this is not the piece to deliver that discourse.

There is no meat here. Why does this article exist? What is the thesis, or what is the timely news piece that prompted its creation? Is it merely historical filler for a Blizzard mega piece? If so, what is the strategy behind the story's structure? If this is to be an article about the nature of Blizzard Entertainment what conclusion does the piece draw? There are no answers here. The article ends with a literal admission that the author has uncovered nothing. If he has any opinions, they are similarly missing.

This shouldn't come as a surprise when you tick off the spare essentials to the article. The author's primary sources, Hedlund, Brevik, and Kern, are long gone from Blizzard. While Hedlund constrains his comments to things Diablo, Brevik's comments about North are indiscriminately placed along a thread that seems to be about WoW. Worse, Kern is quoted on subjects he had no part of:

"I wasn't with Blizzard at the time," says Mark Kern, "but I recall that it seemed an exciting acquisition for both parties."

Well, I wasn't a part of Blizzard when PaRappa the Rappa came out, but I've heard that people in the company were pretty jazzed about that, too.

Kern, while critical to the success of WoW, was not a longtime Blizzard employee, and hardly qualified to comment on topics that span the breadth of the company's lifetime. This fact isn't exactly concealed, but neither does the author flinch from using tangential quotes.

I think that the truth of this piece, which begins to become evident even to non-Blizzites upon the second reading, is that no one from Blizzard was coming anywhere near the piece, but the author was able to scrape together the favors or acquaintences that met the minimum requirements for a lean article. A piece was born. As one who does not want to see ill said of my favorite company, I have to say that I would still prefer a critical-but-even-handed analysis of Blizzard's policies and strategies to pleasant anecdotalism that lacks a point. I would rather see the story about claymation in Diablo in punishing-but-insightful critique of Blizzard's evolution from gaming fledgling to industry juggernaut in Wired.

The article fails to challenge Blizzard or The Escapist's readers in any way, so I will propose a more interesting article, and offer it to the editor. Blizzard HAS evolved from gaming's one-great-product-every-three-years-or-whenever-we-feel-like-it darling into the forerunner in the one game genre that requires content be shipped on a neat and timely basis. How can the auteur-ish home of gaming polish adapt to the needs of calendrical content? What pangs has that company experienced, and will the long term impact of these changes be on the development of its non-MMO products?

Either Pitt didn't have the guts for an article that asked meaningful questions, or he didn't have the means. Either way, I have to say that I would like more from the Escapist. If that periodical wants to really break away from the ugly morass of favor-trading between developers and game journalists, it is going to have to threaten its subjects with some real analysis. Blizzard could have survived a real inquiry. Escapist readers might have enjoyed a serious look at the turning points of the organization's evolution. Unfortunately, this story delivered neither critique or meaningful history.

Please, Escapist, do not publish any more articles that end by looking into the camera, raising an eyebrow, and saying something vapid. Or, if you must, please present them as video pieces, so we can all have a good laugh viewing them.

BlizzardEmployee:
Please, Escapist, do not publish any more articles that end by looking into the camera, raising an eyebrow, and saying something vapid.

I would ask the same from the contributors to our forum.

BlizzardEmployee:
This isn't a very good article.

I find it interesting that you can just say this about an article that just got published in a "best of" edition of the escapist.
I happened to really like the article, I think it is a very good piece and based on the feedback in the forums I'm gonna say that a lot of other people feel the same way.

Articles don't have to be a challenging analysis of their subject matter to be "good" in the same way that movies don't have to be insightful arthouse pieces to be "good".

BlizzardEmployee:

Why does this article exist? What is the thesis, or what is the timely news piece that prompted its creation? Is it merely historical filler for a Blizzard mega piece?

Actually I think that was the point. If you'd bothered to go back and look at the issue in which this article was published you would have noticed that the entire edition was devoted to blizzard.

I'm a little disappointed. I see that the last paragraph of my post was a little pointed, but I don't think I was off-base. Do you really think that my post was vapid?

Also, I DID see that this article was part of a larger edition, but again, what was the point it amongst those pieces? Historical filler? Do, you really think that was the point, Goofonian? Is that a good point? Wasn't there something more meaningful that could have been said in that space?

(I also think that ANY article is open to criticism, even those published under a "Best Of" banner. I think you secretly do too!)

I believe that articles DO have to be a challenging analysis of their subject matter to be worthwhile. I think that, if you fairly give the subject some thought, you'll have to admit that articles, and movies, that don't provide insight are simply enjoyable bubblegum. I think that the Escapist aspires to more than that.

Well, if I was too provocative, I apologize. Perhaps my misunderstanding was in thinking that this publication valued provocation and critical thought. If you consider the nature of my post, I think you will see that, for an anonymous internet forum poster, my feedback was pretty non-caustic. I felt that I was being pretty fair with my criticism, but if THAT was too offensive or threatening to receive a genuine reply, then... well, stay away from every other message board on the planet. It gets quite a bit wilder out there.

BlizzardEmployee:
Also, I DID see that this article was part of a larger edition, but again, what was the point it amongst those pieces? Historical filler? Do, you really think that was the point, Goofonian? Is that a good point? Wasn't there something more meaningful that could have been said in that space?

Actually I really do think that was the point and I think it is highly valid. If your gonna devote an edition of a periodical to a company, telling a bit about the history of said company is fairly important. I found the article to not only be a good read, but also interesting an informative. I learned a lot about blizzard from this article as well as enjoying the time I spent reading it.

As a "BlizzardEmployee" I'm sure there was nothing new in the article for you and I can see how you may have seen it as pointless. I'm also sure that you are in the vast minority as far as how much people generally know about the history of blizzard. The article may also have been interesting if it had some analysis of the decisions blizzard has made in the past but that sort of thing is not as absolutely necessary as you make it out to be. There is nothing wrong with enjoyable bubblegum and the escapist happens to produce some amazingly tasty bubblegum from time to time.

I am of the opinion that asking for more challenging insightful articles from the escapist is like asking the pope to be just a little more catholic. There really isn't any other publication out there that does as well and you cannot blame them for adding some filler occasionally (they produce a LOT of content after all). In fact, if every article the escapist published was as analytical as you seem to want it to be, I would stop reading. That sort of thing is often just not very enjoyable.

Goofonian:

BlizzardEmployee:
Also, I DID see that this article was part of a larger edition, but again, what was the point it amongst those pieces? Historical filler? Do, you really think that was the point, Goofonian? Is that a good point? Wasn't there something more meaningful that could have been said in that space?

Actually I really do think that was the point and I think it is highly valid. If your gonna devote an edition of a periodical to a company, telling a bit about the history of said company is fairly important. I found the article to not only be a good read, but also interesting an informative. I learned a lot about blizzard from this article as well as enjoying the time I spent reading it.

I don't think you can really emphasize this point enough. If a publication dedicates an entire issue to a company, then they'll need all their readers to be on the same page and to have the same context when approaching the articles about said company. Therefore, I'd argue that the historical overview piece in such an issue is the most important one; it catches everybody up to speed. Without it, fewer people would understand - or even care about - the articles that followed. And without that shared knowledge base, readers will be turned off.

So in that sense, a historical piece is certainly not filler, in the sense that it's just occupying space. It may not ask challenging questions, but that's not really the point. (In fact, had it asked many challenging questions, that might have distracted from the purpose I mentioned before.) But just because it doesn't ask challenging questions doesn't make it a vital part of the issue, or prohibit it from being a good piece of writing. Both of which it was.

And don't underestimate the power of a nostalgia piece. They make readers feel warm and fluffy, and you know what? Everyone likes to feel warm and fluffy sometimes. :)

BlizzardEmployee:
Well, if I was too provocative, I apologize. Perhaps my misunderstanding was in thinking that this publication valued provocation and critical thought. If you consider the nature of my post, I think you will see that, for an anonymous internet forum poster, my feedback was pretty non-caustic. I felt that I was being pretty fair with my criticism, but if THAT was too offensive or threatening to receive a genuine reply, then... well, stay away from every other message board on the planet. It gets quite a bit wilder out there.

Criticism we can handle. We actually like it. Anyone who's been a reader of The Escapist long enough to feel comfortable telling us what should or shouldn't be a part of the magazine should already know that.

If you've missed that bit, go back and take a look at our "Letters to the Editor" sections. You'll see that we proudly display the negative letters right alongside the positive ones. We feel that's an important way of maintaining an open dialogue with our readers. The Forum is just another part of that.

Being open to criticism, however, does not mean that we're also open to people acting like jerks. There are plenty of places on the web where one can post whatever they like and generally be an Internet Jerk. This is not one of them.

image

/mod

As for the article, I believe it stands pretty well on its own and requires no further justification from me or anyone else. But I'd be happy to hear from those who think otherwise. Without the sarcasm, however.

Goofonian:

BlizzardEmployee:

Why does this article exist? What is the thesis, or what is the timely news piece that prompted its creation? Is it merely historical filler for a Blizzard mega piece?

Actually I think that was the point. If you'd bothered to go back and look at the issue in which this article was published you would have noticed that the entire edition was devoted to blizzard.

(Emphasis mine.)

Is your default expectation really that anyone who wants to comment on this article should have found it in the archives and looked at its original context? I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

Given that it was a reprint, though, BlizzardEmployee's criticism might be better rephrased as "This article is not interesting/relevant outside of its original context." If you're right and the piece was intended to help provide context as part of the "Blizzard Issue" -- and I see no reason to think otherwise -- then why reprint it outside that context? I assume it's because people liked it the first time around (as evidenced by feedback), that people at the Escapist office liked it, or a combination of the two. I didn't think BlizzardEmployee's original post was vapid, and while I don't agree with his criticism, I don't think it should be dismissed out of hand.

Having said all of that, I read and enjoyed this article when it was originally published*, have no problem with the choice to reprint it, and wouldn't make the criticisms I outlined above.

Goofonian:
In fact, if every article the escapist published was as analytical as you seem to want it to be, I would stop reading. That sort of thing is often just not very enjoyable.

I don't know about "every article" -- I think that would be taking it much too far -- but I'd actually enjoy a small to medium-sized move in that direction. In some ways I think The Escapist is aiming to be the Harper's Magazine or The Economist of gaming publications. I have a subscription to the former and have considered subscribing to the latter, so it's from that standpoint that it appeals to me. :)

*I didn't read last week's issue simply because I'd already read the articles... and there was Chromehounds.

 

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