Blizzard Entertainment A Case History Stanford University

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Blizzard Entertainment It is a name that has become synonymous with creativity. record breaking sales extremely long development cycles and above all else quality. Blizzard Entertainment is the company behind the WarCraft StarCraft and Diablo. series Every game they have released since WarCraft II The Tides of Darkness has. gone to number 1 on the sales charts with the latest installments Diablo II and WarCraft. III Reign of Chaos each selling over 1 million units How has Blizzard maintained this. track record How are they able to avoid the bombs which seem to be inevitably released. by every other game company no matter how good Blizzard owes its success primarily. to its almost unique corporate culture which has foregone promoting single developers in. favor of a team environment and ignoring advantageous release dates in favor of. actually completing a game before releasing it Within their games they excel at creating. balanced games which are easy to play but difficult to master Blizzard also established. themselves and later maintained their dominant position by always moving forward and. pushing the boundaries of established genres, One of the most significant things about Blizzard is that everyone they employ is. a gamer right down to the receptionist When John Waters visited Blizzard HQ close to. the launch of Diablo he was greeted by a darkened room where nothing but the backside. of a darkened monitor was visible Only the distinctive claw hammer meets ripe. cantaloupe splurch told him he was in the right place 1 Having avid gamers on staff is. crucial because in the PC game industry it really does take one to know one This allows. them to have virtually instantaneous feedback we don t have to wonder what our. audience wants because we are our audience 2 Blizzard takes maximal advantage of. Waters 1997 240,Schaefer 2000 4, this environment by listening to and acting on feedback from all of their employees be. they programmer or musician No idea is sacred in the development process Regardless. of how dear to someone s heart a feature may be if it doesn t make the game more fun. it s scrapped And people who have spent lots of time playing games have a much better. handle on what s fun than people who don t, In terms of a corporate philosophy Bill Roper senior director of developer. relations says that they have always been focused on creating the best games possible. and have remained dedicated to not releasing a game until it meets the standards that both. we and our fans have set 3 Many companies claim to have this philosophy but many. still fall into the trap of releasing a game in time for Christmas and planning to patch the. game later Blizzard however has absolutely adhered to it For instance the liner notes. on the CD case for StarCraft list Diablo II as coming in 1998 It was eventually released. in 2000 Blizzard has been able to do this because their games have always been of the. highest quality and once people finally get them they no longer care how long it took. Blizzard also avoids some pitfalls by not setting specific release dates until a few months. before the game comes out Instead they use release windows such as first quarter. 2004 Since the release windows are vague customers don t develop the same degree of. anticipation Hearing that a game has slipped from first quarter to third doesn t have as. much of a psychological impact as hearing that a game has slipped from January 8 to. September 20 Currently about the only way to tell that Blizzard is going to release a. game soon is when they start public beta testing, A large amount of the extra time Blizzard takes goes to testing resulting in games. that are almost completely bug free They maintain a permanent staff of 15 20 testers. Saltzman 2000 55, and that number rises to 30 40 when they close in on a release date Once they are fairly.
satisfied with a game they open signups for a public beta test This serves two purposes. First it allows Blizzard to obtain feedback from a large group of people who are very. interested in the game but who haven t been working on it for the past two to three years. Second since the betas are only playable online it allows Blizzard to stress test their. Battle net servers Blizzard is currently beta testing WarCraft III The Frozen Throne. their expansion set for WarCraft III with 20 000 people. Blizzard doesn t simply test and patch for bugs though Play testing and. balancing is one of the most crucial and difficult part of any game but it is especially. crucial in Real Time Strategy RTS games and it is there that Blizzard has refined unit. balancing to an art Rob Pardo who was in charge of unit balancing in StarCraft before. becoming the lead designer for WarCraft III has four main tenets for balancing units. keep early units fair give each unit a specific purpose eliminate any invincible unit. combos and avoid redundant units 4 In many games units are rendered useless by a. clearly superior version of the same unit for instance a heavy tank replaces the light. tank Blizzard avoids that by keeping the number of different units low and making each. one fit into a certain role so that while some units are clearly stronger than others units. that are built for initial defense still prove useful in the later stages of a game. Balancing takes on a different form in Blizzard s Diablo series where players are. not directly competing against each other They have to ensure that monsters can. challenge all the different classes equally which was especially difficult given the great. degree of customization Blizzard built into their skill system Each of the five classes. seven counting the expansion set has 30 unique skills divided into three trees which. Saltzman 2000 143, vary between the classes The Barbarian has Combat Skills Combat Masteries and. Warcries whereas the Sorceress has Cold Fire and Lightning Each probable. combination of skills had to be tested to make sure that none had a significant advantage. or disadvantage The development team sought to avoid having any character which a. player had put 100 hours into be unable to continue on Hell difficulty because they. choose to focus on the wrong skill tree, Blizzard doesn t stop once their games are released either They continue to. track down bugs and release patches as quickly as possible In addition to fixing bugs. Blizzard will often tweak gameplay with a patch For WarCraft III they modified the. amount of hit points units had how often certain spells could be cast and how many. resources an upgrade would cost In Diablo II they even added a new feature cool. down time Once the patch was installed players could no longer invoke certain skills. continuously Instead they had to wait a specific length of time anywhere from 4 to 2. seconds depending on the power of the skill This had a profound impact on the game. forcing players to rethink their strategies Blizzard still isn t finished with Diablo II. they re currently working on patch 1 10 which will apparently make even more. significant changes, Patches can only do so much so Blizzard also usually releases an expansion set. for their games They released expansion sets for WarCraft II StarCraft Diablo II and. are currently working on an expansion for WarCraft III There was an expansion set for. the original Diablo but Blizzard did not publish it they only authorized it These. expansion sets allow Blizzard to add things they ran out of time for In Diablo II this. took the form of two more character classes a greater role for the helpers players could. hire in town and class specific items In their RTS games they add units to cover for the. weaknesses each side has and introduce new strategies This is all in addition to new. missions dungeons which serve to continue and expand the storylines from the originals. Creating a compelling story and environment takes a backseat to other aspects of. development at many companies but Blizzard integrates the story into their entire design. process They always have thick manuals where most of the space is devoted either to. backstory or to vivid descriptions of units spells or monsters Missions in both. StarCraft and WarCraft III were structured and planned around what story events were. going to take place during them This is most evident in WarCraft III where mission. objectives frequently change several times during one mission Blizzard has always. striven to create a cinematic feel with their games Their primary tool in this are has been. the computer generated cutscene They always open with a compelling cutscene which. sets the tone for the game or chapter and draws the player into the world they have. created Blizzard even has a separate film department which works closely with the. development teams to ensure that the worlds shown in game and in cinema share a. common look and feel The cutscenes in Diablo II a screenshot from which is shown. below added greatly to the environment of foreboding the game created. Screenshot courtesy of http www gamasutra com, To further this cinematic feeling in WarCraft III Blizzard allowed the player to rotate the. camera and zoom in and lower the camera angle to a much more panoramic view as seen. on the following page This view was very impractical for actually playing the game as. it restricted visibility of the battlefield greatly but it put the player much closer to ground. level increasing his or her immersion and mimicked the epic views of battles popular in. Screenshot courtesy of http www blizzard com, One of Blizzard s main focuses for all of their games is the User Interface UI.
Bill Roper says that the interface should be as intuitive and clean as possible 5 Erich. Schaefer refers to it as the Mom test Could Mom figure this out without reading a. manual 6 This idea has lead Blizzard to create UI s that are easy to learn but also offer. advantages to those who learn their subtleties Diablo and Diablo II s interfaces are. marvels of simplicity Everything can be done by clicking To attack a monster to open. a door or chest to talk to someone all the player has to do is left click on him her it At. the same time there are many keyboard shortcuts which the experienced player can use. such as holding down the shift key to keep stationary while using a ranged weapon or. assigning hotkeys to spells or skills he or she frequently uses Blizzard has also lead the. Saltzman 2000 54,Schaefer 2000 3, way for refining UI s in the RTS genre WarCraft II introduced the auto command. Rather than choosing a specific command such as move attack or gather the player. could simply right click on an enemy location or resource and the game would. automatically determine what the most likely command would be for that unit and that. target and issue that command StarCraft used an almost identical interface but added. the attack move command so that units would move towards a specific point and engage. any enemy units along the way WarCraft III kept all of its predecessors innovations. and included the auto cast feature Since battles in Warcraft III typically involve fewer. units than other RTS s and more spellcasters many units have one or more spells which. the player can use auto cast on When auto cast is enabled that unit automatically. detects conditions which should trigger that spell to be cast and casts it appropriately. However not all spells can be auto cast so players with more experience managing their. spellcasters can still gain an advantage, Blizzard s innovations are not limited to in game mechanics With each game. they release Blizzard usually either defines or re defines a genre Diablo turned the. Role Playing Game RPG genre on its head It took the basic ideas of Dungeons. Dragons and boiled them down to the bare necessities required to make combat work It. threw out everything which didn t contribute to monster bashing narrowing the in game. world down to just the dungeon and immediate surroundings Plus it took place in real. time where almost every RPG up until that time was turn based This offended many. RPG purists as did one of the other most creative features of Diablo the random. generation Most RPG s thrive on a set world The dragon will always be at the top of. that mountain there will be a helpful old wizard living in that hut The only fixed part of. Diablo s environment was the town and the fact that Diablo was waiting at the bottom of. the dungeon The layouts of all the levels and the monsters populating those levels were. generated anew for each game Diablo s final and most subtle innovation was in it. artwork Up until it s release the appearance of characters in most RPG s was set If a. character started out shown with a sword he always carried that same sword regardless. of whether or not he was using a different sword or even an axe In Diablo whatever. weapon you equipped that s the weapon that showed up in your character s hands This. approach to artwork has been mimicked in many games since then most notably in the. recent Dungeon Siege Diablo landed in the RPG genre primarily because its heroes. leveled up and used magic but it was in many ways the Doom of the RPG genre As Bill. Roper put it Many people argued about whether Diablo was a true RPG or some. action RPG hybrid What no one ever argued about was whether the game was fun 7. Diablo II continued in the vein of its predecessor having random maps and. making combat the focus of the game However it replaced the spell system of the first. Blizzard Entertainment A Case History or The Right Way to Make a Computer Game Luke Daley STS 145 Professot Henry Lowood Winter Quarter 2002 2003 Blizzard Entertainment It is a name that has become synonymous with creativity record breaking sales extremely long development cycles and above all else quality Blizzard Entertainment is the company behind the WarCraft StarCraft and

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