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Pearce: Blizzard Has Considered Equivalent To 'Pixar University'

Blizzard cofounder Frank Pearce tells Gamasutra that finding top talent is one of the developer's "biggest challenges," adding that the company has considered a "Blizzard equivalent ... to Pixar University."
Aside from work related to the art and science of game creation, there are a lot of moving parts and organizational tightrope-walking behind Blizzard-developed games like World of Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo. For instance, Irvine, CA-headquartered Blizzard Entertainment has to take a very focused approach towards talent recruitment and internal education in order not to spoil its success. With the upcoming codenamed "Titan" MMO deep into development, Blizzard is still working through recruitment challenges, WoW executive producer and Blizzard cofounder Frank Pearce told Gamasutra in a recent interview. And finding good help isn't exactly easy. "Really, our focus [with Titan] is on recruiting, trying to build a really talented team with some of the best developers within Blizzard and within the industry," he said. "Specific projects aside, the talent pipeline has always been one of our biggest challenges," Pearce explained. "So we've got a presence at GDC, to find some good talent, and we're trying to figure out ways where we can nurture and grow some of our own talent internally." In the past, Blizzard has been compared to elite CG film studio Pixar -- most notably, the comparison came from Pixar itself. Pearce said Blizzard has been mulling over the idea of implementing an in-house professional development and educational program akin to the filmmaker's own Pixar University. "We're talking about what the Blizzard equivalent would be to Pixar University, if we can do anything like that to try to grow talent," Pearce said. "...Obviously, a project and vision of that magnitude would have to be something that was built over the course of years. That's not something you can put together in weeks or even months." "We have a learning and organizational development department in Blizzard," he explained. "One of our corporate values is to learn and grow, so that department is part of that commitment to making sure people have the opportunity to continue to advance in terms of their skillset in the online space." "So yeah, it's definitely something that we looked at, and we want to make sure if it's something that makes sense for Blizzard, whether it's something as ambitious as Pixar University or if it's just something more modest in scale and scope," he said. Blizzard currently hosts regular sessions at its offices called "/learn," said Pearce, where the company has either internal experts, or sometimes external experts, to come in and hold "very GDC-like" sessions for employees. The developer also has educational reimbursement programs in place. "I think for us it's really a multi-pronged thing, making sure that if we are ever going to do something as ambitious as Pixar University, we have a good roadmap that gets us from where we are today to where we might go to in the future." While Pearce said finding people with appropriate experience has been difficult, he said Blizzard is counting on new, low-barrier venues for game development, such as digital distribution, mobile and online to reveal talent and allow a new generation of smart game developers to gain experience and build their portfolios. "I'm hoping that these types of opportunities, in terms of platforms and more social and casual games, are something that will help grow the talent pipeline," Pearce said. In a separate recent interview with Gamasutra, Blizzard COO Paul Sams was frank about the company's high standards for recruitment. "We're not willing to settle," he said. "If the best person of the bunch does not meet our criteria? Well then, guess what? We won't hire him." He added, "We'd rather go without, and find that Navy Seal, and hire the Navy Seal. If you're not a Navy Seal ... chances are in product development you're going to have a difficult time getting into Blizzard." Sams echoed Pearce's hopes that a thriving independent game development community might highlight bright talent that could help fill the talent pool. "I'm excited about that because that's where our development leaders -- people that started Blizzard -- came from. They came from a garage. ... We're excited about this, because we know what kind of talent can be grown in that type of environment."

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