“The news of the first leak of WoW broke at the turn of the year. Someone from the friends-and-family alpha test broke the NDA and had distributed the client package of WoW. Screenshots and movies of people running around the game were available online. This was something we were prepared for, but the time it took to track down the culprit (it was someone in QA) had slightly distracted the programming staff. Since most of the zones of the world had been kept secret, the leak dampened our ability to provide reveals or exclusive screenshots, as well as showed off the world we’d worked on for five years in a very humdrum way.” — “The World of Warcraft Diary” by John Staats
I absolutely loved this book. Finished it in something like 5 days—a couple long flights helped here. I picked it up after reading Jordan Mechner’s development diaries for Karateka and Prince of Persia. There’s something comforting in seeing the ups and downs leading to success.
Some quick lessons that come to mind from “The World of Warcraft Diary”
- Games aren’t exactly fun until near the end of development: The nuance he mentions is that this is specifically when the game involves also building the engine instead of using an existing engine. Because so much of development is really getting the engine in place. For much of World of Warcraft’s development, the only game that you could play was controlling a character and walking around a world. You could swing your weapons but they wouldn’t do damage. Many objects could be walked through. Combat and quest design came a lot later in the process than I would have guessed.
- Leaks suck for the development team: I read this around when news broke about leaks of GTA VI source code and Diablo IV footage. There was a leak for World of Warcraft leading into one of their big announcements with game footage. Trailers and what the teams show are highly produced. Even if it’s actual game footage, a lot of thought is put into how to present and introduce things. When gameplay is leaked, particular for an MMO where there’s plenty of time spent just walking around, it can be really deflating for the development team. Their work is received poorly and they’re often already in crunch time and the goalposts move again.
“Allen Adham had long maintained it was amateurs who felt compelled to be original. These were the guys trying to impress journalists with novelty and who rarely asked themselves if their new approach was better. For years Blizzard had shrugged off accusations that we never invented anything. We treated games seriously, as a business, not as an opportunity to be avant-garde.”
- Best is better than first: Being the first to create something that becomes popular is good. The approach Blizzard took was to create the best of something that is proven to be popular. Too often you end up being the first to create something and that thing is either bad or unpopular.