World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth Interview

Over the past few weeks, Blizzard Entertainment has been releasing promotional videos and cinematics in preparation for the launch of World of Warcraft's upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion. Some of the story implications in those videos were met with a fair share of fan push back. And now, this PC Gamer interview with a couple of Blizzard developers addresses that lukewarm reception, while also mentioning a few things about the changes coming to the MMORPG in the next expansion. An excerpt:

That said, there was a massive difference in the response to these two cinematics. When Warbringers: Sylvanas came out, people seemed to lose their minds. They were so upset. A lot of people were criticizing it as bad writing. What was it like as creators of this story to be in that position and know that, very soon, the Old Soldier cinematic was going to release and provide the valuable context to Sylvanas' actions that players wanted?

John Hight: What was fun for us in a way was, this is a time where we're telling the story in the game and outside the game. We had choreographed it in such a way so that Warbringers and the [Old Soldier] movie could be shown separately. It was fun because we literally saw the reaction to the Sylvanas piece, the outrage, the Horde players feeling somewhat betrayed and the Alliance players being like, how could you do this? And behind the scenes we were like, "Wait for it, wait for it!" And then when [Old Soldier] landed and watching the reaction to that, it was awesome.

The team is so solid this time around. I think they honed the story in Legion and in [Battle for Azeroth] they set the stage for telling these emotional stories both in and outside of the game and pacing it in such a way that we're going to keep people pretty excited and engaged throughout this whole expansion.

Hazzikostas: I think a lot of the player reaction stems from that emotional investment in people's views of Sylvanas, a character that has been prominent in the Warcraft franchise going back years and years—at this point predating WoW itself—and then of the Horde as a whole. One of the big questions in players' minds was, "Well this act seems evil. Does this act define the Horde as a whole? Does this implicitly then define me as a player who is a member of the Horde?" I think the rejoinder to those concerns came just a couple of days later as a reminder that, no, the Horde is much greater than any one act and any one person. There's a lot more story left to tell as we continue to explore that dynamic as that unfolds.


So The War of The Thorns wasn't the only thing in the 8.0 pre-patch. There was a bunch of under-the-hood updates too, like the stat squish. That really broke a lot of things for a bit there. What happened with that and where are things now?

Hazzikostas: This is the second time we've done one of these, the last was in the Warlords of Draenor pre-patch four years ago. [The stat squish] is re-normalizing, re-tuning the combat to bring the numbers back into sane, graspable ranges so we aren't all walking around with tens of millions of health points fighting bosses with tens of billions of health.

Now the difference between what we did this time and last time was, we recognized that the need for ongoing power progression in our game, combined with a desire for the numbers to stay manageable, is going to suggest that we'll probably have to do something like this every two or three expansions. We wanted to give ourselves a more seamless, less error-prone way of doing this in the future. What that meant was actually going back and effectively refactoring literally 14 years worth of spells and creatures and other systems to work in a way that was, under the hood, scalable.

So that if we wanted to say, okay we want to reduce the health of all creatures in the 60 to 70 level range by ten percent or we want to increase the damage their spells deal in this raid zone by five percent, we can change one value and make that happen. Whereas a few years ago, we would've had to hand-edit and do some sort of database process to touch hundreds if not thousands of individual records. That's a huge efficiency gain going forward that will improve our ability to tune the game and make it easier to do this sort of thing in the future so we can better focus our efforts on making more content for players.

But there was this one-time cost. And applying this massive infrastructure change to 14 years of data, there were some things that weren't re-tuned or converted over in the correct way. We caught a lot of those in the course of our beta and PTR testing from quality assurance and feedback from players. But, particularly in the level-up experience, there weren't a ton of people necessarily scouring every bit of content on the beta and some things got missed. Of course, we have millions of players going through and doing that on the live servers and those issues will add up quickly and it can seem like, wow, there are dozens of different bugs that are being fixed.

I think, with a lot of hard work over the course of those first couple of weeks since the patch went out, we have a very good handle on all of those. At this point, the game is in a very stable state and we're excited and looking forward to the Battle for Azeroth launch in just a few days.