Gameplanet: What are the things you learned from the beta?
Jay Wilson: The game wasn’t hard enough. We even came out saying, “no the game’s definitely hard enough!” because we really consider Act 1 to be the tutorial. But we got a lot of feedback – enough feedback from enough different sources – so we said, “OK, even for a tutorial the game’s not hard enough.” So we definitely learned that.
We learned a lot about security, which was part reason for the beta. Also about our infrastructure generally – hardware infrastructure.
The rest were one-off small things so it’s hard to pull them back off the top of my head, but those were the major ones. There are tons and tons of feedback that we get but they’re usually not something I can call out.
Gameplanet: How do you extrapolate a difficulty curve for the rest of the game from something like the beta?
Wilson: There are two sides to difficulty. One is the capabilities of the player, and the other is the capabilities of the monsters. So what you do is categorise those capabilities: [those categories] are really evident in our skill system now. When do you start introducing primary spamming skills? When do you start introducing area of effect skills? When do you introduce movement? When do you introduce defensive abilities? When do you introduce what we call tertiary abilities such as auras and shouts?
[The idea is to] pull on the player’s mental bandwidth. Now they’ve got these other things working, they’ve got this new thing they need to think about every now and then. You essentially guess: where is the good place for these things to unlock? And you place them.
You do the same thing with items: unlike Diablo II that opens up all the items right away, we hold off a little bit, there’s a little bit of time before you’ll get a helmet, for example. There’s a little bit of time before you’ll get a ring. I’m not sure amulets even show up in the beta since they’re not available [to characters below] level 14.
On the monster side we did the same thing. We have this big list of categories, of things that monsters can do. There’s a heavy-hitter – a monster that does a lot of damage. There are tough monsters, there are fast monsters, there are monsters that I call “beehives” which are essentially summoners and things like that – they produce [other] monsters. There are monsters that do AOE [area of effect damage], then there’s about seven sub-categories of AOE: point-blank AOE is not as effective as ranged AOE; circular AOE is more powerful than line AOE.
So then you guess where all those things need to fall throughout the game, and then when you play the game and see all your guesses are wrong, you adjust them.
Gameplanet: What’s next for the development team, what’s happening post-launch?
Wilson: Sleep! Vacation for some of us! But the first thing is going to be our Player vs. Player [PvP] patch. We’re already working on that. There’ll probably be something – we tend to plan a whole series of patches. We already have our “this is an emergency just in case something goes wrong-patch” that we put out this point. This is our “emergency balance-patch”, that we put out at this point. Then we have our PvP patch that we’ll put out and it’ll also probably be our secondary balance patch.
Those are our focus right now. We are starting to talk about if we’ll do an expansion. We think the game might be successful now [and] warrant such a thing. But we’ll see! We also have a group internally that’s exploring console.
Gameplanet: So that brings up a couple of things: what goals, or what benchmarks do you personally hold that will need to be met in order to qualify this game as a success?
Wilson: We have mathematical numbers internally. Those are boring to me. I want us to hit them and I think we will because the game is good, and it’s not that I’m dismissing that – the game’s got to make money – but I think it’ll make money because it’s good, and we worry about that first.
So for me, if a community builds around it similar to the community that built around Diablo II, then I will feel like it’s a success. If that community is vibrant and wars with each other, and with us, and struggles and fights to make the game better, then to me that's worth continuing to work on the game. That’s success.
Every company I’ve worked for before – through no fault of their own – when they finish a game, they’re done. Once the game is out the door, they really barely think about it again unless they do an expansion. Even so, if they do an expansion, that’s very expansion-centric, it’s not really looking back at the previous game.
Blizzard’s not like that. We look at the game shipping as the start date, that’s when the game really starts, and that’s when our work really starts, because now we can build a game in the best environment you can possibly build, which is with people playing it.
Gameplanet: Now that you know what’s made it into the box, what are some of those ideas, perhaps for example classes, that didn’t make it?