How World of Warcraft was born from turmoil

    Published on:

    When John Staats landed his first task in the game industry, he was shocked to learn he ‘d be working– in a central function– on among the biggest games ever made. His brand-new employer was Blizzard Home entertainment, and this was early2001

    He understood, immediately, that the internally named World of Warcraft was an once-in-a-lifetime chance.

    As it turned out, his new education would have to do with more than texture-mapping and asset-placement. He will discover the value of creative mayhem.

    John Staats sitting at his desk

    The Wow Journal author John Staats
    Image thanks to John Staats

    A worn-out workplace

    Coming from a glitzy media profession in Manhattan, Staats was at first perturbed to find that World of Warcraft was being created in a shoddy office where junk lay on the floors and line managers sat at hallway desks.

    However he mored than happy with his brand-new, dream task. Staats had been a suit-wearing Madison Avenue mid-level advertising executive, earning a decent salary of $80,000 But he liked video games. In his extra time, he developed highly detailed mods and levels for first-person shooters.

    Back in New York, when he ‘d spotted that Blizzard, among his preferred developers, was looking for designers, he ‘d used. His portfolio of extremely refined Quake levels pleased Blizzard’s imaginative leads– keenly so, it ended up, because they were having a hard time to find experienced talent– therefore they hired him. He started on $50,000 a year, a substantial cut in pay. He moved from the urban expenditure of New york city City life to the snowbird-fueled expense of Orange County, and started work.

    Extremely informal

    In his new book, based on individual journals written at the time, Staats recalls his time at Blizzard, from the earliest days of WoW’ s development, right approximately the video game’s launch in2004 The WoW Diary is a great read, loaded with human, creative, and technical details of the game’s difficult gestation.

    In 2018, The WoW Diary attracted almost $600,000 from 8,379 backers on Kickstarter.

    Among its primary styles is how the early development effort was extremely casual. “The [development] location was a dump,” he composes in the book’s first chapter. “It was decorated like somebody’s basement … Half the lights were burnt out. The closest thing to a cooking area was a tiny microwave next to a sink loaded with dishes. Food stains were ground into the carpet.”

    This is a far cry from Blizzard’s contemporary offices which are trendy, spacious, well-lit, and festooned with expensive statues and artifacts. Blizzard’s contemporary success, its sumptuous riches, are spent for by Wow‘s success, a game that has actually drawn in more than 140 million players throughout its life time to date, grossed billions of dollars, and is currently enjoying a renaissance following the release of World of Warcraft Classic


    pages from The WoW Diary, a book about the making of World of Warcraft

    A choice of pages from The WoW Journal
    Image: John Staats

    Speculative mode

    The initial World of Warcraft was created by a group of 40 individuals, which eventually doubled in size as the launch drew close. By contrast, the present World of Warcraft advancement team numbers in the hundreds.

    In 2001, Blizzard was already 10 years old, and a significant player in the video game industry. Blizzard enjoyed success through the ’90 s with franchises like Diablo, StarCraft, and Warcraft. Influenced by the successes of Ultima Online, Family Tree, and most specifically the 3D MMO EverQuest, the business’s leaders chose to develop an enormously multiplayer video game, in which gamers would adventure together and interact socially.

    A main style in Staats’ book is how Blizzard’s leadership, led by Allen Adham, Frank Pierce, and Mike Morhaime, believed strongly in decentralized choice making, many particularly when the business remained in speculative mode.

    ” The structure was extremely flat,” Staats remembered, in a phone interview with Polygon. “Other companies are and were extremely hierarchical with lots of levels reporting to each other, and somebody at the top with a driving vision, like an orchestra conductor. There was no vision at Blizzard and very little structure. It had a jazz band type of feel where everyone was just figuring stuff out together.”

    In his book, Staats composes that Blizzard workers were “actually proud of the company’s creators.” He adds: “Hearing my colleagues speak about [the founders] with enthusiasm was strange to me, originating from the politically charged atmosphere of Madison Opportunity.”

    From 2D to 3D

    The WoW Diary is a story of how the team worked its method through World of Warcraft‘s fraught development, together, making it all up as they went along. As Staats mentions at the start of his book, the company had no experience in making MMOs, and “no experience” making 3D video games.

    The majority of companies paid greater salaries than Blizzard.

    “Blizzard was owned by Vivendi at the time, which was a home of cards. Blizzard’s cash went to Vivendi.

    When he was totally integrated into the group, Staats discovered that a few of the circumstances that he ‘d initially considered as being cheap, were in fact smart. Seating the video game’s producers in the hallway, instead of in their own offices, was an intentional effort to reduce the flow of details amongst team members.

    ” By consistently inviting staff members to give comments and ideas, Blizzard’s leadership produced an environment where people felt comfortable providing viewpoints,” he writes.

    Blizzard’s dependence on common issue resolving came with its own costs. Choice making took a long time, which equated into wasted cost and effort. The group typically discovered themselves following blind alleys. “We made a great deal of mistakes, and they all cost a lot of cash,” he states.

    Tools and Engines

    Wow was especially vulnerable to issues with well-worn tools and engines, which turned out to be flawed for MMO advancement.

    Originally, the group worked on the same engine as its sibling group, establishing Warcraft 3, primarily as a matter of benefit and cost.

    Blizzard made the choice to write a whole new engine. “However that was constantly the Blizzard method.

    Morale problems

    The free-roaming nature of the task was not popular with everybody on the team, which led to severe morale problems. “A lot of individuals wanted structure,” recalled Staats in our interview. “They simply wanted to be pointed in the right instructions, and work 9 to 5.”

    Blizzard later implemented an anti-crunch policy, in which designers’ hours were limited, WoW‘s designers and developers routinely worked 60- hour weeks.

    ” When your routine is to come in and deal with tree stumps, bushes, fences, and homes and you’re simply doing this, day after day, every year, it becomes truly old, particularly when there’s just no end in sight,” Staats said.

    Regardless of grumbling and fatigue, he said that the majority of the group were totally dedicated to the video game. “I didn’t have a life outside Blizzard,” he recalled. “It felt natural to come in on the weekends and to work late nights. A great deal of us simply loved the video game, and the work we were doing.”

    Staats thinks that Wow‘s success wasn’t based upon the copyright (its main competitor, in the early days, was Star Wars Galaxies), nor on any grand vision, and definitely not on generous financing. He said a company-wide ridicule for marketing-led procedures and the vision thing, permitted totally free imagination. “Video game designers ought to build from strong moment-to-moment gameplay,” he composes, “discovering where it leads them, instead of working in reverse and forcing a vision to take place. The incorrect approach is starting with a cool idea, and shoehorning it into the video game.”

    Blizzard’s free-for-all approach had its drawbacks, however it definitely achieved its goals. The group was enabled and encouraged to separately fix numerous tiny little problems over a duration of years, up until the game came to fulfillment.

    In his book’s conclusion, Staats writes that World of Warcraft was “never ever a video game with innovative technology or unique features,” however a gestalt of “meaningful and elegant systems” that were painfully obtained, however that permitted players to enjoy an MMO of extraordinary depth and durability.


    Leave a Reply

    Tristan Dyason is an author at Gaming Ideology, with a passion for Battle Royale games. He enjoys streaming and writing about his gaming experiences. Formerly a freelancer, Tristan is now a permanent member of the Gaming Ideology team.