It’s a tantalizing dream for some: A handheld version of World of Warcraft or Diablo that will no doubt spell the end of productivity and free time. And such games might be in the works.
Attentive MOP reader Sallly Bowls transcribed a key part of Blizzard’s recent conference call in which CEO Mike Morhaime hinted at mobile versions of the studio’s properties.
“The second opportunity is to take our very successful PC and console franchises and extend them to mobile,” Morhaime said. “And we think this is the time to do it and it’s an exciting opportunity for few reasons. First, mobile gaming is of course now very much at scale, large and growing with billions of people around the world who essentially have a mini console or PC in a pocket. And kind of the second reason that the technology we feel has advanced to a point where we feel there is a mobile platform now that can fulfill the requirements of our core IP.”
Were you there?
Many of us were. Many weren’t. Either way, November 23rd, 2004 was a watershed date for the MMORPG industry and one watched and experienced by millions of gamers. It was on this day 13 years ago that Blizzard finally transitioned World of Warcraft from beta testing to live operation, ushering in an age of Azeroth, DKP minus, murlocs, and Leeroy Jenkins.
I was there, both at the end of beta and the start of launch. As time had made a mockery of my memories, I can only remember brief bits: The server downtime, the rise of the phenomenon, making footprints in Coldridge Valley with my Dwarf Hunter, and pretty much shoving every other game to the background for the next year or so.
I thought it might be worth the effort of dusting off the cobwebs of my — and your — memories by revisiting the first three months of World of Warcraft’s live operation, taking us from November 2004 through January 2005. What happened during this time? How did Blizzard respond to the floodgates of players pouring into this game? How different was it from what we play now? Let’s reminisce together!
This will be neither the first time nor the last time we relay again to you that Blizzard is working on some sort of mobile title.
Blizzard’s Mike Morhaime was teasing mobile development in early 2016, and we knew about a new project being worked on secretly last winter. Then last spring we started seeing job listings pop up for an unannounced mobile game: one for a VFX artist and one for a mobile software engineer.
Today’s clue also comes in the form of a job listing, since deleted from the site, but this one is the first one that’s given any sort of genre to the game.
“Blizzard Entertainment is seeking an experienced Unity mobile client engineer to work on an unannounced MMO RTS project. The ideal applicant has an unwavering passion for mobile development and solving engineering problems unique to mobile app environments.”
Everybody knows that if you are truly serious about being a legitimate force in the e-sports industry, you have to own your own arena. It’s just common sense. And soon enough you can marvel at Blizzard’s games in the studio’s own venue in Los Angeles.
On October 7th, the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles will open as “a cutting-edge live-event destination” for e-sports players and fans. The arena is situated in Burbank Studios and features several sound stages, practice areas, and control rooms. Its first showing will be the Overwatch Contenders Season One playoffs from the 7th through the 8th. The arena is also expected to be the center staging ground for Blizzard’s anticipated Overwatch League later this year.
CEO Mike Morhaime explained the decision to open up an e-sports venue: “We’re at a tipping point for e-sports and we look forward to helping usher in a new era of competition-based entertainment. As we open the doors of Blizzard Arena Los Angeles and welcome fans from around the world, we’re honored to bring the best in Blizzard e-sports to the same stage that some of the biggest names in entertainment have called home.”
Blizzard is doubling down on diversity and inclusion when it comes to its own hiring practices.
That’s according to a leaked internal memo from Blizzard President Mike Morhaime, which Kotaku excerpted in a report last night. Morhaime is apparently spearheading a “global diversity and inclusion initiative” intended to spur on the hiring of underrepresented people inside the company — specifically women, who make up only a fifth of employees, and other minority groups, who make up only 14%.
While Blizzard will not operate under strict hiring quotas, employees are being encouraged to seek out and recommend women and minorities who are traditionally overlooked in the male-dominated video games industry. Networking sessions, mentoring groups, diversity training, and gender summits are also on order, along with fostering a women-centered advisory council akin to the LGBTQ council that already exists.
Not to be cowed by the other news and announcements this week, Blizzard stepped up to the microphone to deliver a few doozies. Game Director Ion Hazzikostas sat down for another hour-long Q&A session, this one focused on players’ journeys through World of Warcraft’s Patch 7.3.
The good news is that unlocks earned by progressing through the new Argus storyline will be account-wide, which will be a great boon for alts. It’s also going to be a lot easier to catch up on artifact progression, with the game automatically advancing artifact knowledge on a weekly basis.
Outside of the World of Warcraft floor, Blizzard apparently has a lot more cooking in its secret chambers. Studio Co-Founder Allen Adham has been leading up a team working on special projects, including “incubation teams” that are developing new IPs. Of course, this being Blizzard, it’s a long shot whether any of these will see the light of day or a full release, but it’s interesting to know that the studio isn’t settling for its current successful roster.
On Monday, we covered some of the MMORPG companies speaking out against new immigration policy that opponents of the current US administration have dubbed a “Muslim ban.” Add to that list none other than World of Warcraft studio Blizzard, whose CEO, Mike Morhaime, issued a letter to the company telling employees that he shared their concerns over the impact to the company and genre and in fact has already dispatched company resources to help those employees directly affected. He then writes,
“The executive order strikes an incredibly sharp contrast with the values on which our company was founded. We are, and will always be, a company that strives for inclusion, embraces diversity, and treats one another with respect. This is the very foundation of what makes not just our company — but America — great, which is why I am so troubled by these actions. Regardless of where you are from or what your religious beliefs are, our strength is in our diversity.”
Blizzard joins Electronic Arts, Bethesda, the ESA, GDC organizers, and notable genre figures including Raph Koster and Scott Hartsman in criticizing the government policy.
Comments will be strictly moderated.
Over the past weekend of BlizzCon news, you might have heard someone exclaim, “Oh my goodness, Allen Adham has come back to Blizzard!” This sentiment was quickly followed by someone else saying, “Awesome! Who?”
Don’t feel embarrassed if you are unfamiliar with Adham. He is the lesser-known original founder of the company who first roped in Mike Morhaime and Frank Pearce to make games back in the early 1990s (Pearce in particular has been adamant in multiple interviews that Adham isn’t a co-founder but the founder). Adham remained involved with the company over the next decade, taking on the lead designer role for World of Warcraft in 2000. However, burnout set in, and a desire to be with his family led to Adham’s departure from Blizzard in 2004 before the MMORPG launched.
After 12 years away from Blizzard, Adham met with Morhaime and both men expressed a desire for Adham to rejoin the studio he helped to create as a senior vice president. Considering how many big and notable names have left Blizzard over the past few years, such as Rob Pardo and Chris Metzen, it’s at least a nice shot of publicity to be able to boast of one returning studio giant.
The World of Warcraft vanilla emulator team Nostalrius, which undertook a mission into the depths of Blizzard’s HQ this past weekend, has returned and posted a report on its adventures. The gaming company had invited five members of the player modders to present a talk on the emulator, community data, volunteer plans, and the tech behind the emu’s anti-cheat system. Combined with the Q&A afterward, the entire meeting apparently lasted the better part of a work day.
“When Blizzard initially proposed this discussion several weeks ago, we were anxious that it would be a simple PR / damage mitigation move,” writes the team’s admin and project manager Viper in a forum post to gamers today. “It is now clear to us that this wasn’t the case.”
Viper says that Blizzard’s representatives didn’t force the attendees into an NDA and seemed well prepared to discuss the desire for vanilla servers — even expressing their own desire to go back. “[O]ne of the game developers said at a point that WoW belongs to gaming history and agreed that it should be playable again, at least for the sake of game preservation, and he would definitely enjoy playing again,” the Nostalrius team posted. “After this meeting, we can affirm that these guys WANT to have legacy WoW servers, that is for sure. We did everything we could to make this presentation & discussion as professional as possible, which was something that clearly was a pleasant unexpected surprise for the whole Blizzard team, Mike Morhaime included.”
Mark Kern, who this weekend went to Blizzard’s campus armed with the printed vanilla World of Warcraft server petition, has returned from his meeting there and has posted a video describing how it all went. Kern says he believes that Blizzard “took this meeting very seriously” based on how CEO Mike Morhaime and his staff handled both the social and the technical discussions, but Morhaime did caution him that he would make no promises. According to Kern, Morhaime “wants you guys to know that he is listening to you and the WoW dev team also is following this very closely.”
“What Mike wanted to convey was that the technology — while it’s not insurmountable — is definitely more complicated than we’ve made it seem,” Kern acknowledges. “It’s not as easy as throwing up a server like Nostalrius did. Blizzard has a huge infrastructure and a lot of systems that tie into it. Plus they’re very concerned about hitting that quality bar. They want to make sure that anything offer is going to be of exceptionally high quality to match everything else that they’ve done, especially for a flagship product like World of Warcraft.”
Fans have now propelled the Nostalrius petition asking Blizzard to reconsider World of Warcraft vanilla servers to over 200,000 signatures, which means that former WoW team lead Mark Kern is following through on his promises by
1) Printing the petition. All 5000 pages of it.
2) Writing an open letter to [Blizzard CEO] Mike [Morhaime], and sharing it with the community.
3) Shooting a video of the open letter and uploading it to @SodaPoppinTv’s channel
4) E-mailing the whole thing to Mike on Friday and making the letter/video public on Friday as well.
5) Following up on Monday with a call to Mike on his cell and office.
Kern has been no stranger to notoriety in the MMO space since his departure from Blizzard. As founder and CEO of Red 5 Studios, he went on the record suggesting then-modern WoW was a stale formula and had made MMOs too easy. “Sometimes I look at WoW and think ‘what have we done?’ I think I know. I think we killed a genre,” he famously said in 2013. His own game, Firefall, was at one time a hopeful contender for transcending the “circle of suck,” but he himself was forcibly removed from the company following layoffs and the suspension of PvP in the game; former employees called out his behavior as CEO “erratic” and mocked his infamous e-sports bus project. He founded a new studio for a VR MMO in 2014.
When you think mobile gaming, chances are that super-casual (and extremely cheap) titles come to mind. Blizzard might be looking to change that stereotype, as its execs are publicly mulling over future mobile development with deeper, more serious titles.
In an interview with Venture Beat, President Michael Morhaime, Senior Vice President Frank Pearce, and Senior Vice President Chris Metzen hinted at some of the paths that the studio might take in its upcoming titles. The execs said that “conscious evaluation” was being given to bringing deeper titles like StarCraft to mobile platforms.
“I feel like there’s still a big opportunity in mobile beyond just casual games,” Morhaime stated. “I’m not sure we’ve figured out what that is yet.”
The MMO industry moves along at the speed of information, and sometimes we’re deluged with so much news here at Massively Overpowered that some of it gets backlogged. That’s why there’s The MOP Up: a weekly compilation of smaller MMO stories and videos that you won’t want to miss. See any good MMO news? Hit us up through our tips line!
This week we’ll look at a webseries where gamers end up living in their MMO, an accidental banning in Neverwinter, an MMORTS being developed by a single person, and more!