Where Blizzard’s Design Philosophy Failed (And Succeeded)


Blizzard’s Rob Pardo spoke about the core tenets of the company’s design philosophy and outlined specific failures and successes.

Speaking at GDC 2010, the lead designer of World of Warcraft knows what it takes to make a game that delivers on every level. Rob Pardo said that he was preparing an internal speech for Blizzard and that he decided to test it out at GDC. He thinks it’s a smart idea for developers to clearly state their design philosophy, so that every team member is on the same page. He outlined Blizzard’s core values, and backed it up with specific instances in which the design succeeded across all of its titles but also where it failed.

A well-known tenet of Blizzard’s philosophy is “Easy to learn, difficult to master.” Pardo elaborated that in his talk by claiming that, at least for World Of Warcraft, the real phrase is “Easy to learn, almost impossible to master.”

WoW is a pretty hardcore game,” Pardo said. “It just happens to be a much more accessible game. Once you get to that endgame, there’s hundreds of hours of gameplay with raids, PvP battlegrounds, arena teams, all this incredibly hardcore stuff. Designing all of that depth is really important to us.”

Where Blizzard failed in making a game almost impossible to master was with the Diablo II economy. “Once you got into the escalated difficulty modes, money quickly becomes meaningless,” Pardo said. That led to the rise of Stones of Jordan as currency, which was something that the dev team never intended.

Another philosophy is the idea that “control is king.” A game has to feel responsive to the player and that can sometimes come at the cost of coolness. The example that Pardo gave was the mounts in World of Warcraft. The first animation implemented was the puff of smoke and you appearing on your mount automatically. “When we first put that [animation] in, we all thought it was retarded. Why don’t we do it more like Zelda?” said Pardo, referring to Link calling Epona, who galloped from over the horizon to you in Ocarina of Time.

“We actually mocked that up. The problem was that it took several seconds for the animation to play out and if a rogue just jumped on you and stunlocked you and was up your butt, you probably didn’t want to be watching a horse galloping over the horizon.” So while the puff of smoke animation wasn’t as cool, Pardo thought giving responsive controls was more important to the player experience.

Some of Blizzard’s philosophies are more operational as far as how ideas are presented within the team. Pardo wants developers to be as communicative as possible so that big failures can be averted. The big story here is with the Horde capital of Silvermoon which was implemented in Burning crusade. Silvermoon was built in parts and it was very difficult to assemble it all together and play a test version of it.

“We only played it once or twice over the course of a year. And since we never did that, we couldn’t see it and play it and iterate upon it. So Silvermoon ended up a very beautiful city, not a particularly playable city. Now we call it ‘silvermooning’ anytime anyone does something like that,” Pardo said.

In contrast, the battleground of Arathi Basin was shown to the team from inception. Pardo showed a very basic diagram that was the original design document. “It looks like some Atari 2600 tank game or something,” he said. They continued to make a very early playable version so that everyone could sound off on what worked and what didn’t. “It ended up being one of our best battlegrounds and one of the fastest battlegrounds to make.”

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