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Old March 14, 2005, 11:24 PM   #1 (permalink)

World Of Warcraft Interview with Computer Games Magazine

Not sure if you have all read this or not, but posting here to read and discuss :

Shane Dabiri of Blizzard talks to Computer Games Magazine to get an update on their best selling MMO game World of Warcraft.

Without a doubt the biggest MMO game to be released in recent years was Blizzard's World of Warcraft and despite some growing pains since its November 2004 launch in the US the game continues to grow in popularity. With the game now firming established in North America, Europe and Korea, Computer Games Magazine got a chance to ask some questions of World of Warcraft producer Shane Dabiri about their current and future plans for the game.

Computer Games - First, World of Warcraft has had perhaps the biggest launch in terms of initial sales than any other US developed MMO game. Did the sales figures exceed Blizzard's own internal expectations for its release?

Shane Dabiri - Well, we weren’t necessarily surprised at the number of people who wanted to play World of Warcraft. What we were surprised at was how quickly it happened. Our internal projections were that we would probably see over 500,000 accounts creations and 200,000 peak concurrency, but only after a year of slow steady growth. Instead, as we all know now, that happened after just a few weeks. We’re very grateful and despite our faith in our game, still a little surprised at the rapid adoption of World of Warcraft. But as for being taken completely by surprise, we weren’t. We’re just surprised it only took three months instead of the 12+ months we thought it would take.

Computer Games - Server infrastructure seems to be the biggest hurdle at the moment to World of Warcraft''s success. Can you talk about how the servers were constructed before the game's launch and what Blizzard has done to improve the hardware since launch?

Shane Dabiri - Well, I really can’t get into how we structure or build our infrastructure. Much of the information is proprietary and complex. However, we have multiple servers per realm spread out among several datacenters in each region where we launched World of Warcraft. And we had plans all along to deploy more realms as the population expanded, and additional datacenters when we reached a certain population milestone. As everyone knows, we experienced significant challenges meeting the demand for the game because of its rapid expansion, and we added realms and servers very quickly. Along the way, there were problems, but we always worked hard and immediately to remedy them. I can tell you that our network operations and World of Warcraft teams spent a lot of their winter holidays in the offices stabilizing our service and expanding it for our players.

Computer Games - Currently how many servers does Blizzard have for World of Warcraft and how many does the company plan to install to keep up with the increase in players?

Shane Dabiri - This information is unfortunately, once again, proprietary, but I can tell you that we have been expanding at a quick and controlled pace. We have thousands of servers that work together to maintain our game realms and service. And we have plans for additional servers to support more realms as our population grows. In fact, we recently added five new realms to World of Warcraft. We’ll continue to add realms as our subscriber population grows as we’re dedicated to making the service enjoyable.

Computer Games - Is Blizzard also concerned that the game's own network programming might also need to be upgraded to deal with the increase in players?

Shane Dabiri - We monitor the impact of players on our service daily, and we continue to make improvements to our service as warranted. Just as our design work isn’t done with World of Warcraft, I wouldn’t say our programming work is done either. There is a significant amount of work that goes into maintaining our service, and that happens as a matter of course and not as a reaction to a severe population explosion. We’re prepared for population expansion, and not concerned about our ability to accommodate it.

Computer Games - Upgrading hardware and software obviously takes both time and money. Even with the game's large player base are the funds going to be available to keep up this kind of customer support and upgrades?

Shane Dabiri - We can’t really get into the specific financials of running World of Warcraft, but part of the monthly subscriptions fees are meant precisely to maintain the hardware and software necessary for running the game. It also enables us to provide the level of support and upgrades we are channeling into the game. We want to reinsure everyone that they should not worry about our ability to support World of Warcraft.

Computer Games - You have stated that new shipments of copies of World of Warcraft will not be made until server upgrades and stability are met. Can you give us an idea on when new shipments will head to stores in the US and in what numbers?

Shane Dabiri - We continue to place more copies of World of Warcraft into the market at a steady pace. It might not be as fast as some gamers would like, but we are trying our best to meet the demand. We’re quite happy with the level of service we have currently, and so you have seen an increase in the number of units for sale across the country. As recently as last month, 70,000 new copies were put on store shelves in North America.

Computer Games - Can you give us any preliminary figures on the sales in Korea now that the game has officially launched in that country?

Shane Dabiri - Sales are a little different in Korea. Gamers there pay a subscription fee immediately, rather than buying a boxed copy. However, we can reveal that as of last week, over 630,000 people had downloaded the game, which is a huge number in Korea. We also have reached over 120,000 peak concurrency in the region.

Computer Games - How did the US and Korean launches help when the official European launch of World of Warcraft happened?

Shane Dabiri - Well, I’m happy to report that the launch in Europe went amazingly well. In fact, it trumped even our North American launch in terms of sales and excitement. We set a record of 240,000 sales in day on in North America, and Europe beat that by over 40,000 games! We’re very pleased with the results there. And based on the explosive success of World of Warcraft here, and our experience in setting up account creation in both North America and Korea, we were able to have a smoother account creation process and service from the outset in Europe. Our work in previous regions was definitely of great help in ensuring a smooth launch in Europe.

Computer Games - On a slightly different topic, some players have stated that there are some character class issues that need to be dealt with in the game. Does Blizzard have a plan to adjust some of the player classes in the near future?

Shane Dabiri - You might have read forum postings from our designers on the official World of Warcraft site, but I’ll reiterate what they’ve said in case you have not had the chance yet. We felt our game is very well balanced, but of course there are some aspects of certain classes that we are looking at closely in an attempt to further fine-tune them. Changes are indeed in store for some classes, such as the warrior and the warlock, and they’ll hopefully address some of the concerns of players worldwide.

Computer Games - In terms of hacking, cheating and player abuse in the game, has Blizzard had to deal in force with these issues in the game and if so how is the company dealing with them?

Shane Dabiri - From the beginning, we have taken a zero tolerance position against cheats, hacks, and player abuses. We moved swiftly to ban accounts that were using speed hacks and selling in-game property for cash. Our work in maintaining a fair and safe environment for all our customers is ongoing, and a day doesn’t go by that our staff isn’t monitoring and pursuing players guilty of using unfair advantages in the game. Our responses have been swift and decisive in dealing with cheaters and hackers, and we continue to reserve the right to pursue legal action against the most egregious violators.

Computer Games - What other customer support related issues will Blizzard be addressing in the near future?

Shane Dabiri - We’re focused on developing the upcoming Battlegrounds and PvP Honor Systems, maintaining quality customer support, and monitoring and banning those who cheat and hack in the game to the detriment of their fellow gamers.

Computer Games - Finally, this is Blizzard's first foray into the MMO game market. Now that the game has been live for a couple of months in the US, what lessons will the company take from this period and how will it affect possible future MMO game products such as expansions to World of Warcraft?

Shane Dabiri - We’re always very mindful of the reaction of our fans and their high expectations for our games and services. We know gamers are savvy consumers who appreciate quality games and support. It’s been our goal to continue to meet their expectations, and I think we’ve seen how we can better manage that goal with the events of the past three months of release in North America, Korea, and Europe. We’ve taken a lot of feedback from our players and our own internal experiences in all regions, and we’re applying that to our continued work on updates for World of Warcraft. Our goal is to support World of Warcraft for years to come, and everything we learn today helps us better the service for tomorrow.
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