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Interview

Blizzard’s Frank Pearce Interview

Blizzard’s Frank Pearce took the time out to discuss Blizzard’s strategy with StarCraft 2, Battle.net and the future projects we’ll be hearing more about after BlizzCon this year… First off, do you have anything new for us on Battle.net?

Depends on what you know on Battle.net!Well, is there anything on the horizon that you haven’t talked about up to this point?I don’t think so. Not at this point. We’ve got a street date of 27 July set for StarCraft 2, and I think pretty much everything that you guys are going to see coming 27 July has already been talked about pretty extensively.Are you happy with the league system that you have at the moment? I know one or two fans have some slight concerns with it.I think we’re pretty happy with the league system. It’s a difficult balance to strike, because you want to feel like you’re competitive within the context of that system, as a player, and if you’re just being ranked in a huge ladder against 800,000 other players, or whatever it is, you start to feel pretty anonymous and inconsequential, and so with the league system the way we’ve got it and the different skillsets for the different leagues, you’ll always be able to be competitive within your bucket, within the scope of Battle.net. So it’s based around the concept of intramural type leagues, and things like that. Even though you might be playing soccer within the context of the league, you’re not playing at a professional competitive level, but you still feel like you’re competitive within your league.How many do you have in each of these brackets, normally?It really depends on how many players are on Battle.net. We’ll bucket them based on their skill level, and the number of players that the matchmaking system doles out.One of the things that people have asked about is if it would be possible to change your name on Battle.net, or reset your stats?In terms of your profile on Battle.net? Nothing specific planned for launch, but definitely something that if there’s a big demand for it, then we can certainly consider it, and we’ll see what the community reaction is to the feature set when we launch.

That’ll possibly be similar to how World of Warcraft does it, then?

Sure. Maybe. Yeah. Depends.

What does it depend on?

Depends on whether or not it’s something the community really wants. [Laughs]

I know you’ve said you have plans for guilds, or clans. Is that something you’re planning to release before the first expansion?

Groups and clans is definitely something that we would have a goal of delivering prior to the first expansion. We’ll be definitely releasing patches along the way, and so we’ll try and get it into one of the patches before Heart of the Swarm comes out.

So that’ll be small patches and content patches?

Content patches, I think, is probably something more reserved for the concept of a game like World of Warcraft. I don’t know if we’ll describe any of our patches as content patches, but definitely patches that enhance the feature set of Battle.net. We’ve got guys that are working on new maps that we can deliver online, and whether we do something like a “Map of the Week” or put those in a patch is still to be determined.

You did that for StarCraft and Warcraft 3, I think.

Yeah, for Warcraft 3 we did maps every week.

Would those be in the same concept, or possibly using the premium map-making system for people to buy them?

Well, we don’t have any plans to launch the marketplace any time soon. Definitely something we want, because we want not only to be able to deliver content that we create to the community, but also if the community is making great content for themselves, have a mechanism by which that can be distributed to the community as well.{PAGE TITLE=Blizzard’s Frank Pearce Interview Page 2}There are many Europeans that have loads of American friends, and have a problem finding matches with Americans. I know you’ve already promised to bridge this divide…

[Bob Colayco: That’s not the case.]

No, it’ll be structured very similarly to World of Warcraft, where you’ve got the European region and players matched against the other players within their region.[BC: We haven’t promised anything like that. That’s something we’ll look into, but I just wanted to jump in and clarify that.]But you’re not excluding the possibility – you’re just saying there are no current plans for it?There are no current plans for it, and if you’re a European player and you’ve got friends that are in another region that you want to be able to connect with, we definitely want to support that. It might mean that you have to access it through the US client, but those facilities will definitely be available in terms of, if you want the US client, go to the US website, download the US client. So I can use my same account?No. So I need to buy two clients, that’s what you’re saying?Yeah. But I can have two of them in my Battle.net account?You’d have an EU Battle.net account, and a US Battle.net account.And that wouldn’t be against the Terms of Service or End User License Agreement?No. I’m pretty sure that’s not against the TOS or EULA, but you’d be subject to the terms of the EULA for the region in which you’re playing.Another thing I thought you’d promised was chat rooms within Battle.net…Nope. No plans for specific chat rooms at this time. You’ll be able to open up chats direct with your friends, and when we add clans and groups there’ll be chats for your clans and groups, but no specific plans for chat rooms right now. Do you really want chat rooms?Loads of people within the community are wanting Looking For Group chat rooms, and that sort of thing.Well, if we’ve done our job right in terms of the matchmaking service, then hopefully they won’t feel like they’ll need it for that service.With the whole divide thing, though, Australians have ended up with the south-east Asia region. They’ve been wondering why you’d choose to do that, as obviously there’ll be primarily non-English people playing with them.That’s an interesting challenge for us, because we want to make sure that the connectivity to the servers is such that the game experience is not impacted by a high-latency connection, and the latency between Australia and New Zealand to the servers in the US was such that we felt we would be able to deliver a better gaming experience by using their servers in south-east Asia.You guys aren’t the first people to do this, as this has happened recently with another game. Generally, this seems to be the problem with the Australasian reason. Is that across the board? Do you think that’s the reason?I can’t speak on behalf of any other game developers, but definitely for us. A high-latency connection to the servers for StarCraft 2 is going to impact the game experience.Is there going to be any kind of work to resolve that issue, to get them onto an English-speaking server of some description?You know, it depends on the technology infrastructure provided by the telecommunications providers. It’s something that we’ll be constantly evaluating and looking at. In an ideal world, the Blizzard gaming community would be unified in one global region, but the technology’s just not there yet. Ten years ago, we weren’t making 3D games. Hopefully, in the same way that we’re making 3D games today and we weren’t ten years ago, down the road the connectivity in terms of the internet will be such that we can bring everyone together in a unified community, but it’s just not possible right now. That’s the ideal world.[BC: The other thing is that the Asian players are playing on an English client, so they should be able to speak enough English to communicate a “gg” or “attack now,” “help.” Singapore is an English speaking country, the Philippines is an English-speaking country…]Hong Kong.[BC: It’s not like it’s going to be one Australian surrounded by 500,000 Thai people. There’s going to be plain English spoken.]Plus, isn’t StarCraft 2 the universal language of RTSes? How much English do you need to speak to communicate with your opponent and kick his ass? [Laughs]{PAGE TITLE=Blizzard’s Frank Pearce Interview Page 3}You’re taking Battle.net to a very community-like perspective, and a lot of people have been asking if there’s any possibility of having a small client, so you don’t have to log into the entire Battle.net?That’d be really cool, and I think it’s definitely something that we will be evaluating. It sounds like an easy task on the surface, but it’s not something that’s really trivial. We have to figure out if we were going to do something like that, which resources we would use, and if using those resources for a stand-alone client would detract from implementing some of the features that we still want to implement and deliver to the fans in the existing scope.That would obviously be appreciated by World of Warcraft fans and Diablo fans, as well as StarCraft fans.Yeah. It’d be really cool. It’s something we’ve definitely talked about and we will be continuing to consider.How involved have you been, in terms of games development?In terms of…?The creative process. What would your favourite unit be that’s currently in the single-player/multiplayer setup? Do you have one?No, I don’t have a favourite unit in terms of the multiplayer/single-player. I’ve played through a lot of the campaign. Not necessarily to evaluate the game balance or to look at the units themselves, but to look at the way we’re delivering the storytelling experience.How about a favourite character in the story?I think the story’s really awesome. To pick out a single-character, I dunno… I mean, I think Raynor’s got a lot of character development through the story, and we introduce some new characters throughout the story. Tychus is a new character that’s really cool. I like to experience it all from the perspective of a fan, and I just think the whole experience overall is really cool.You take on a lot of feedback from the beta at the moment. How do you go about evaluating different sorts of feedback, from people saying “This unit sucks,” or “That unit sucks,” and trying to balance it all out? Or do you look more at data?
We have a lot of data that we can evaluate in terms of that stuff. We also have our Quality Assurance department filtering through the feedback, we have our community team filtering through the feedback, trying to summarise it and deliver those summaries to the development team, and then ultimately the balance designers and the game director on the team are responsible for determining how they want to incorporate that feedback. One of our corporate values is “Every voice matters” which means it’s actually more about listening than talking, for us, and even though every voice matters, that doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily going to implement every opinion.A lot of fans have been asking about a StarCraft expansion unit called the Lurker. It was originally part of StarCraft 2. Are there any plans to bring it back? Why did you cut it?It’s really an issue of making sure that the ideas we have our cool and focused, and there’s not enough space to implement every cool unit that we concieve. While you may not see some of the cool units that have been conceived in the multiplayer experience, you’ll see a lot of units that are very signature StarCraft units in the single-player campaign. The Goliath is in the single-player campaign, but not multiplayer. The Firebat is in the single-player campaign, but not multiplayer. The Science Vessel. Any of that stuff that we have used and developed along the way that we don’t end up incorporating in the multiplayer component, you still might see in the single-player, and then the map editor is really very full-featured and all those units that we’ve created along the way – even if they’re not in multiplayer – are available to the map makers. You might see some really cool multiplayer maps from the community that incorporate those units.Do you have any plans to incorporate, for instance, some of the 3D models from Warcraft 3 in the map editor?No plans for that right now. I’m not even sure if the formats would be compatible – I’d have to go back and ask some of the guys if that was even compatible. But even if that’s not compatible, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the community finds a way to import that.There are two expansions to this – or three parts to the actual game. Are you going to add two more units per expansion?We’ll definitely evaluate different ways to incorporate new game mechanics to the different races, whether it’s in the form of units or something else. It really depends. We’ve got some interesting ideas, but I don’t think it makes sense to talk about them right now because we might change direction.When we were talking to you at… I think Blizzcon 2008, you had the ideas, at least, to release the first expansion somewhere around a year after release. Is that round about the same idea you have now?We don’t have any specific schedule for the expansion right now. Our focus is to get everything ready to go for the launch on 27 July. After that, we’ll probably take a step back, put together a big long list of the feature set we want to deliver in Heart of the Swarm, and strike a balance between how long it’s going to take and the features we want to incorporate. The development team is not going to be held to any specific schedule just as of yet. It’s way more important that we deliver a great experience than to deliver a product on a specific timeline.The other thing said at the same event was that Diablo 3 will probably be released before the first expansion. Any comments?Anything’s possible.{PAGE TITLE=Blizzard’s Frank Pearce Interview Page 4}On that note, last year, we saw a lot of publishers put back a lot of their titles because of the recession. How did that, if at all, effect your release dates? Did anything have to be changed internally?No. Other publishers’ schedules and the state of the economy really don’t impact our release dates. We feel like if we have a great game, we should get it into the hands of our fans as soon as we realistically can. Our products have such long life cycles that if someone’s not thinking about buying our games when we launch, maybe they’ll buy them six months from launch, or a year from launch, or two years from launch.So the recession had no impact on Blizzard’s release schedules?None at all.Your Collector’s Edition has seemed to have been sold out relatively quickly…

I’m not sure; that’s really more of an issue with the retailers than us.No, I mean, are you making more of them, are you done printing them?No, the allocations to the different retailers are all set in terms of the quantities and so if they’re sold out in a specific retailer, it’s sold out.TOS and EULA, you actually have to opt out to not have your personal details shared with the company and other partners of yours. What was the thought behind this? If you have your names on your Battle.net accounts, you need to email Blizzard to opt out of sharing that information with your partners and third-parties.That might just be a legal clause that we were required to put in the EULA. I can’t tell you for sure without talking to the lawyers, but we’re not interested in taking the Battle.net data that we’ve got and sharing it with anyone. We want to maintain our connections and relationships with our customers ourselves and not give it to anyone else.Do you have any plans for doing big launch events, like with Wrath of the Lich King?Definitely something that we’re talking about. We’re not sure what cities, or where, but the midnight launches are a really great opportunity for us to get out and interact with our fans around an event that’s really exciting.Are you coming back to London?I’m not sure where I’m going to be for the launch, yet. [Grins]On a slightly skewed angle, as far as Blizzard’s concerned, how important is Asia and the Asian market?For Blizzard, every market is important, where we’re shipping and publishing. All of our fans are important to us worldwide. If you just look at Asia in terms of market share, Asia is huge for us. We have millions of players in China playing World of Warcraft, and we feel like China is still a big, huge growth opportunity in terms of the gaming market. So yeah, definitely really important in terms of we’ve got millions of fans there and we want to make sure that they’re served well, and there’s still growth to be seen.With the new IPs you’re talking about, are we looking at them being within the same worlds, within the same storylines, the same StarCraft, or Warcraft, or even Diablo, or are we looking at new ventures?If it’s a new intellectual property, then that, for us, means “new,” in terms of “outside the scope of the existing franchises.”Have you got any more information on that? You’re not going to tell me a little bit more?No.Not even a little bit?Not even a little bit.I have one more question. I know you said you’re not going to support LAN play with StarCraft, but there has been rumours that there might be some semi-offline mode – log on once to make sure that you have the client, and can connect. Are there any such plans?The offline mode would be for the single-player component, so if you want to play the campaign offline, if you validate the version on Battle.net and then you play offline for campaign.If you have a really bad internet connection, but you have a couple of friends there…That functionality’s not there. Our goal is to make sure that connectivity to the Battle.net servers is such that that’s the experience that people want.For Brazil and Russia, you have a semi-subscription planned for StarCraft. Will the single-player also be unavailable after the initial couple of months of Battle.net?That’s actually something we’re still talking about, and we don’t have a final decision on how we’re going to handle that. Discussions are still going on, so it’s hard to say.I presume that also deals with the DRM issue, the whole Battle.net thingThat’s not really our primary focus with it. We just want an online destination for our community to be united. If we do our job well in terms of the feature set, and the immersive nature and compelling nature of the Battle.net experience, we hope that’s where people will want to play.

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