Metrics and numbers can be a good tool for developers, says Blizzard VP Rob Pardo, but one should never rely on them alone.
On some level, games like World of Warcraft are all about numbers - this new weapon increases my damage-per-second by 2.1%, bro! - and Blizzard certainly has a lot of numbers at its fingertips. However, when asked by Edge about one number in particular - the mere 30% of WoW trial players that ever get past level 10 - Blizzard Executive VP of Game Design Rob Pardo said that he didn't believe in designing a game on numbers.
"I don't ever pay attention to numbers like that. Sure, that sounds great, but I'm not very metrics driven," said Pardo. "I guess a better way of looking at it is to ask why people quit the game."
This isn't to say that numbers and metrics are an inherently bad thing, though. "I think metrics are an awesome tool and in some ways I do wish we used them more, but I don't think it should be the thing that drives your creative decisions. Games that are driven entirely by metrics might have some success, but all you're really doing with that is giving players what they want now. Metrics never predict what players want tomorrow."
Pardo took the opportunity to compare his studio to one of the other major players in a (decidedly different) online space, FarmVille developer Zynga. "[Zynga] would always take the perspective of looking at that number and how they can inch it up a few percent by implementing changes; then they'd look back at the number."
"We don't really measure ourselves like that ... Our design is driven by what we think is going to be fun. Then we put it to the company and out to the public, and whether we feel that we've been successful. We look at larger numbers like how many players are playing."
In other words, it's good to have the numbers and data for when you need it, but it's not something that should drive your game design. I can't really argue with that at all. Game balance, on the other hand, should be a numbers game.
The full interview with Rob Pardo is here, and it's a great read for WoW players eagerly anticipating Cataclysm or for people interested in picking the mind of one of the men helming one of the most popular game studios around.