Blizzard President Mike Morhaime delivered his keynote speech at the Austin Game Developers Conference today, touching on the company's history, lessons it's learned and other aspects of Blizzard's formula for success.
Speaking of Blizzard's early years, when the company moved from 16-bit console development to PC titles, Morhaime said that while World of Warcraft has led to massive changes in the company, its basic philosophies have remained essentially the same. He said that "gameplay first" remains one of Blizzard's central principles, and added, "I should say right off the bat that if we don't get this part right, none of the rest of this matters."
Brand protection is also vital to the company's success, he said. "The Blizzard name is our most important property," Morhaime said, adding that brand protection is one of the reasons Blizzard resists pressure to ship games early. Referring to the practice as "very risky," he said, "Shipping a game early can do tremendous damage to a brand or franchise." The industry should begin thinking "long term," he said, pointing out that "nobody looks back at Diablo and says, 'If only they'd released it three weeks earlier.'" Diablo, originally slated to be released for the 1996 holiday season, missed its target but still became a tremendous success.
Morhaime also touched on the "myth of regional taste," saying that different play styles exist everywhere, and the attempting to appeal to different regions based on perceive preferences is bound to fail. He did emphasize the need for cultural sensitivity, however, pointing out Blizzard's initial addition of the Pandarens to the Warcraft setting. Originally, Pandarens - humanoid giant pandas - were dressed in samurai garb, which angered Chinese players. Morhaime said it was a "big wake-up call" for Blizzard, and the Pandaren's attire was quickly changed to a more traditional Chinese appearance.
Other topics covered in the speech included avoiding financial incentives within the context of the game, the importance of thorough testing throughout the development process and the necessity of accurately estimating a game's demand. Full details of Morhaime's keynote, as well as photos, are available at WOW Insider.