Where Blizzard's Design Philosophy Failed (And Succeeded)

Greg Tito

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Sep 29, 2005
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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 [http://www.amazon.com/World-Warcraft-Pc/dp/B000067FDW/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=videogames&qid=1278969746&sr=1-3], 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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Scrythe

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Greg Tito said:
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.
That's pretty much how WoW is now as well, now that marks are the new gold.

But real life economy works when it wants to, so I can only imagine how hard it would be to simulate a real one. At least their games aren't completely broken in that regard. I just wished that the goblins would have their own little Nasdaq. That would be freakin' awesome.
 

Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
there is one thing that wow did that I wish other mmos would, make it rather easy to lvl, warhammer did a good job on it for most of the game but near the end it got kinda annoying but aion, aion really needed to copy that logic, it became a massive pain in the ass
 

PunchClockVillain

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Scrythe said:
Greg Tito said:
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.
That's pretty much how WoW is now as well, now that marks are the new gold.

But real life economy works when it wants to, so I can only imagine how hard it would be to simulate a real one. At least their games aren't completely broken in that regard. I just wished that the goblins would have their own little Nasdaq. That would be freakin' awesome.
Personally I wish more games would insert something like Runescape (Yes, I admit I play it from time to time) did with the Grand Exchange. It keeps the governing force behind the items in the game mostly in the developers control, and allows rare items to become more easily accessible.
 

Scrythe

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PunchClockVillain said:
Scrythe said:
Greg Tito said:
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.
That's pretty much how WoW is now as well, now that marks are the new gold.

But real life economy works when it wants to, so I can only imagine how hard it would be to simulate a real one. At least their games aren't completely broken in that regard. I just wished that the goblins would have their own little Nasdaq. That would be freakin' awesome.
Personally I wish more games would insert something like Runescape (Yes, I admit I play it from time to time) did with the Grand Exchange. It keeps the governing force behind the items in the game mostly in the developers control, and allows rare items to become more easily accessible.
Having never played Runescape, I had to look up the Grand Exchange, and that does sound pretty awesome. The closest thing you can get to that in WoW were the faction reputation discounts, which was nice in it's own way.
 

Patinator

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Worgen said:
there is one thing that wow did that I wish other mmos would, make it rather easy to lvl, warhammer did a good job on it for most of the game but near the end it got kinda annoying but aion, aion really needed to copy that logic, it became a massive pain in the ass
I'd have to agree with you there, mostly. For me, leveling up, exploring new places and learning the story of what's changed since WarCraft 3 was why i played it for so long. But i will admit, the hell that was leveling from 40-50 was too long. If you made it past the early levels, chances were that you'd either quit at 40, or be good and tight for endgame.
 

CuddlyCombine

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Is it just me, or does he look like he's been mauled by a Predator, given the scars on his neck? This dude is one bad-ass fucker.

I've always disliked the World of Warcraft examples. In my opinion, Blizzard's magnum opus lies in Warcraft III. Talk about accessibility all you want; WC3 has it in spades and then some. Also, the map creator is incredibly easy-to-use and intuitive; you could probably train some broccoli to operate it (though you'd have to domesticate the broccoli first).
 

Carlston

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Game design. Normal item = grey, magic = green, rare =blue, epic = purple.

What they failed on is well most of WOW's build was a lot on diablo 2. And since they took 10 years to make diablo 3, they lost cash not making new games and piddling with WOW so much.
 

samsonguy920

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CuddlyCombine said:
...I've always disliked the World of Warcraft examples. In my opinion, Blizzard's magnum opus lies in Warcraft III. Talk about accessibility all you want; WC3 has it in spades and then some. Also, the map creator is incredibly easy-to-use and intuitive; you could probably train some broccoli to operate it (though you'd have to domesticate the broccoli first).
I agree with Cuddly as far as Warcraft 3. I fell in love with the map design in that game. It wasn't realistic, which it didn't need to be, but it was beautiful. I always wanted to make just a park map, sit there and read a book by a waterfall.
The hero system they implemented there also was an awesome tool, though I wished at times that the heroes had some of their own leadership skills, and save some effort on the player's part. At the least leaving a hero to direct defense of a colony would give the player more direction over offensives. I would imagine in multiplayer, however, that wouldn't be as effective, though still useful. In front of every great General is a great Sergeant.
I should point out that broccoli can never be domesticated. It is its own vegetable.
With all the things Blizzard learned with developing WoW over the years, it gets me curious what we have to look forward to with their next MMO that is just over the horizon. Especially with Pardo's thoughts on what helps with great development.
 

CuddlyCombine

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samsonguy920 said:
I agree with Cuddly as far as Warcraft 3. I fell in love with the map design in that game. It wasn't realistic, which it didn't need to be, but it was beautiful. I always wanted to make just a park map, sit there and read a book by a waterfall.
That's another thing that should be mentioned. Warcraft III retains its playability because it went for a (at the time) sophisticated, yet cartoonish, look. In my opinion, having a game that knows it's slightly ridiculous is great when said game just runs with the ludicrous character design. Throw in well-balanced gameplay and you've got a recipe for success.

samsonguy920 said:
I should point out that broccoli can never be domesticated. It is its own vegetable.
Blasphemer. It will be done.
 

Zer_

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Feb 7, 2008
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Well, Blizzard could have done mounting up in the same way that Mount & Blade: Warband does it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0l-iZrpLbI

Warband does it in a way where you can actually accelerate the horse almost instantly after stepping on the harness. That means that you can finish mounting the horse while on the move. If Blizzard did it that way, it'd provide a decent compromise.
 

Worgen

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Whatever, just wash your hands.
Patinator said:
Worgen said:
there is one thing that wow did that I wish other mmos would, make it rather easy to lvl, warhammer did a good job on it for most of the game but near the end it got kinda annoying but aion, aion really needed to copy that logic, it became a massive pain in the ass
I'd have to agree with you there, mostly. For me, leveling up, exploring new places and learning the story of what's changed since WarCraft 3 was why i played it for so long. But i will admit, the hell that was leveling from 40-50 was too long. If you made it past the early levels, chances were that you'd either quit at 40, or be good and tight for endgame.
oh yeah, the 40-60 grind, I dont miss that, really in wow after 30 it started to get annoying.
Im always confused when ppl say they played wow for the story, I mean its just so easy to miss.... and doesnt really make much sense if you think about it too much.
 

Arcticflame

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Carlston said:
Game design. Normal item = grey, magic = green, rare =blue, epic = purple.

What they failed on is well most of WOW's build was a lot on diablo 2. And since they took 10 years to make diablo 3, they lost cash not making new games and piddling with WOW so much.
Except WoW rakes in an estimated 800 million a year. They aren't losing any money.
 

ravensshade

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Mar 18, 2009
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Worgen said:
Im always confused when ppl say they played wow for the story, I mean its just so easy to miss.... and doesnt really make much sense if you think about it too much.
because they love the lore of the early warcraft games?
anyway it additionally made less sense due to the fact that they retconned quite a bit of stuff.
but i totally understand it (i played on a less the legal server to check up on the lore first hand)
 

Jared

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Jul 14, 2009
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UltimatheChosen said:
Interesting. I always enjoy getting an inside look at design philosophy.
And especilly when it comes from such a successful company. They do have some intresting ideas. I will give them that much.

Although, despite the ups and downs...they seem to be onto something solid!
 

G-Mang

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I can't help but feel like this "Blizzard design philosophy" is basically the same as everyone else's. "Easy to learn, difficult to master" and "responsive controls" are mottos everywhere.
 

AboveUp

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Stones of Jordan as currency.

Am I the only one who felt a little nostalgic reading that?
 

Jandau

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Dec 19, 2008
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Another philosophy is the idea that "control is king."
This here is (IMO) one of the main and most overlooked reasons WoW is so popular. The game is so easy to play and responsive. I remember trying Warhammer Online and being immediately turned off by the sluggish controls. Then I played a few more MMOs and realized that the "sluggish" controls are the norm, and WoW is a superior product in that regard. It's a minor thing and easy to overlook, but makes a game far more enjoyable to play.
 

Xersues

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I loled pretty hard at "WoW is a pretty hardcore game".

They definitely succeeded by adding in many many different things to do at different points in the game. Their endgame however is nothing different than in any other MMO. If they have a failure anywhere, its their lack of innovating anything. They're great at building on top though and polishing through to create high standards.

Since most of business is just building and polishing upon whats already out there, taking huge risks doesn't seem to be in Blizzard's business plan. (Granted one could argue creating an MMO is a huge risk), but really it wasn't that different from any other MMO when it came out. They didn't pioneer anything in the MMO industry, just built on it, after many companies had their issues and risks out in the open for them to learn from. Smart move.