"I think that's a story that has repeated itself with many new types of tech that we've gotten over the years: Run wild using it initially, learn its limitations, and then pull back to a more measured place."
-Ion Hazzikostas points out a pattern with World of Warcraft's development
USgamer has assembled an extensive history of Blizzard’s massively influential MMORPG World of Warcraft, pulling from the memories of current and past Blizzard developers like former chief creative officer Rob Pardo, Battle for Azeroth game director Ion Hazzikostas, principle artist Jimmy Lo, former lead systems designer Greg Street, and technical director Patrick Dawson to tell the story of the still-thriving game.
Be warned, it is quite the lengthy read but the piece itself does manage to capture nearly 20 years of history surrounding the conception, development, and ongoing support of World of Warcraft and, in doing so, provides developers with a first-hand look at how the MMORPG mainstay came to be.
One interesting excerpt from the piece explores how Blizzard layered game instances to deal with players that would be experiencing different story moments, many of which altered landscapes, in the same area all at once. As technical director Patrick Dawson explains, first getting that tech in place during the Burning Crusade expansion days (roughly a decade ago) was no simple feat, but was essential if Blizzard wanted to maintain a balance between the single-player and massively multiplayer aspects of the game.
“You can have in one phase there be this tremendous war between the Alliance and the Horde and in another phase it's this peaceful, tranquil area because maybe the war is over,” Dawson tells USgamer. “If you make it go from one war to another war to another war you've now layered three phases worth of very expensive combat on top of each other; that could actually cause server issues.”
Ion Hazzikostas, game director of the most recent expansion Battle for Azeroth, explains that keeping that balance between impactful single-player storytelling and wide-scale online experiences is a line the development team is constantly trying to define throughout the ongoing development of World of Warcraft.
"We're always trying to find a line between robust single-player storytelling and a sense that your actions matter in the world,” Hazzikostas tells USgamer. “And there is a coherent narrative, that is the backbone of this world. But also the inherently MMO nature of the experience. We never want to stray too far away from these shared social multiplayer roots.”