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Gameplanet: Were there any disappointments back then?
Morhaime: Well, one of the first disappointments I remember - we were constantly trying to do things bigger and better, and after releasing Warcraft and Warcraft II, everything we put out just sold really really well, and we started putting our games and our expansions together in a bundle for the holidays. We call it the Battle Chest. We still put out Battle Chests today and they sell really well, and we had what seemed like this really great idea; why don't we take all three of our franchises, Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo, and put them all in a box, and we'll call it the Blizzard Entertainment Gift Set. It seemed so obvious. We put it out and it didn't sell at all.
I guess the lesson there was, who would buy the gift set? Only people who didn't own any of those games. If you owned any of them, you just wouldn't buy the gift set, because it felt like you were re-buying something you already had. It was a real niche buyer who would be interested in all of those games, but not have any of them.
Gameplanet: Do you play other developers' games?
Morhaime: That's a struggle, because I do try to play our games, and our games are pretty big! I tend to play some casual games in my spare time, iPhone games, console games, I love the music genre games, Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Right now, in my spare time, I still come back to StarCraft II and World of Warcraft.
Gameplanet: When you sold the company in the '90s, did it detract from your focus on making games?
Morhaime: No, I think we were extremely focused on making games. I was actually programming on every single one of our Real Time Strategy games, up through to Warcraft III. There was a lot to do, so thinking back to the StarCraft days, I remember doing my Vice President managerial stuff during the daytime while people were here, then when people started leaving I would spend another seven or eight hours programming, go to sleep really late then wake up and come back into the office and start over again. So it was kind of like doing two jobs.
Gameplanet: You're listed right up to Warcraft III as a programmer - do you miss it? Ever wish you could go back to that?
Morhaime: I totally miss programming! I'm not really programming any more. In my spare time I still have the desire to mess around with some of the new platforms, just sort of as a hobby, but I don't have time to do it at the office any more. There's too much other stuff to do.
Gameplanet: Do you have a favourite Blizzard game?
Morhaime You know, I like all three of the franchises, they're really great and I'm really proud of them. It's really tough to pick one, and they're so different too. I'm really looking forward to Diablo III coming out, hopefully very soon, and we keep talking about Warcraft turning into a feature film, that's something I'm very excited about and really looking forward to doing. It took us a very long time to finally get StarCraft II out the door, but I couldn't be happier with how well that game came out. It both evolved the genre and stayed true to the spirit of StarCraft, something really difficult to do. But I think the development team did a fantastic job with that game, and you know, I really love watching the top StarCraft players compete. We're running a league in Korea, called the Global StarCraft League, and I love watching those masters, and it's really exciting because those players are so good.
Gameplanet: How does Blizzard decide what games to make?
Morhaime: It's actually decided at multiple levels. We really try not to mandate to a team what game they should make. We're certainly involved in the conversation, but we feel like the team really has to be excited and passionate about the games they're making. So when we're thinking about what games to make, we'll brainstorm all sorts of ideas, and since our games do take a few years to make, we have a bunch of time to think about it.
Generally there are some ideas percolating in the company that we're already starting to think about when a team becomes available. Sometimes it's really obvious what game we should make, and sometimes it's not quite so obvious. In the case of World of Warcraft, after we shipped StarCraft Brood War, we started up a new team and they actually were working on a game very different to World of Warcraft, but they were struggling with defining the genre and the lore of their game, and about a year into it we all kind of asked ourselves if we were going to start over. Was the game they were making was what we all thought they should be making, and everybody said no, that they would make something different. We all arrived at the same conclusion, that we wanted to make a massively multiplayer game in the Warcraft universe. So it wasn't that controversial. It was just the right thing in that particular case.
In the case of StarCraft II, this is the same Real Time Strategy team that has developed all of our RTS games going back to Warcraft. We've certainly grown the team since, and evolved the team, but you've got some very veteran RTS developers on that team, so when that team shipped the Warcraft III expansion The Frozen Throne, StarCraft II was a game we were all very excited about, and everybody felt like we couldn't wait to make it. It had been too long, you know.
Gameplanet: Is there any one characteristic or quality that Blizzard commits to that can adequately explain the success you've had?
Morhaime: Well, two of our core values are "Gameplay First" and "Commit to Quality", and I think those really speak to our desire that every game we make lives up to the Blizzard level of quality that people expect from our games. It's a very iterative process, we don't get it right the first time a lot, and we'll go back and fix things, change things, redesign things. I think the talent and commitment from our development teams is very important, it's not something that just magically happens, it takes a lot of work, a lot of commitment and at the end of the day if it's not there, we continue iterating to get it right. I think all of those things are very important.
If you don't have the right people and you don't have the right talent, and you don't have the right passion, then all the iterating in the world isn't necessarily going to get you there. You have to have all of those things in place, and then you have to understand what the path to get there is.
Gameplanet: So where did this core philosophy come from?