Interview with World of Warcraft Lead-Designer Tom Chilton

Tom Chilton im Exklusiv-Interview

Find the german version of this interview here.


WorldofWar.de: The most important question first: When will player housing be integrated?

Tom Chilton: (laughs) Haha, no, there are no plans for player housing.

WorldofWar.de: (smiles) Tom, the big success of WoW changed the face of the company Blizzard Entertainment from a pure Games Developer to a customer service company with several thousand employees. Do you still feel like a real game developer or are you in fear to lose that special “gamer attitude”?

Tom Chilton: We are still development focused. 90% of the Dev Team is working on the next content patch, the next expansion or other games that we have in development. World of Warcraft has reached a status where you need a strong service department and other new parts of the company.

WorldofWar.de: Will the new shape of the company affect your new games like Diablo III or SC2? Or even Battle.net? Are you in fear to lose quality over the time?

Tom Chilton: Well, obviously WoW’s success lead to the fact that Blizzard is able to make more projects. The way we are doing these projects is really or nearly identical to how we are creating World of Warcraft. A lot of things are the same, the culture is the same, talking about things is the same, the meeting rooms are the same and talking in the hallways is still the same. So ultimately for me, from a team development standpoint, does it still feel like identical how we work on WoW and how we doing it.

WorldofWar.de: 11 Million subscribers for WoW! What are your goals for the future? The game is getting older and older…

Tom Chilton: To be honest, we never really tried to plan the game in terms of numbers and subscribers and not even from before the game shipped – and is still not the case today. So we’ve really approached the game development in terms of: what do we think we need to do to make the game better. How do we deliver all the things that we want to deliver in a content patch or an expansion and how do we do that over the right frequency so that players feel content is coming often and often. WoW has been successful enough to where we can continue to maintain this approach and not really worry about other things.

WorldofWar.de: When you think back: what was the coolest feature you have ever implemented in World of Warcraft? Was it a feature in which you hadn’t so much confidence in first?

Tom Chilton: Well, what comes into my mind now is the Dungeon Finder! It’s been something we’ve been trying to get ready for five years now. We had other implementations like Meeting Stones, the latest version of the Looking For Group System in Burning Crusade, which still wasn’t really quite there yet for a couple of reasons. Not only it wasn’t capable of getting the critical mass of players. But it also was a compromise between different designs, one of which is the automated match making process and the other was the aspect of letting players see which other players are in the queue to let them create their own groups. This compromise wasn’t working very well, I think.
Then the system did not have the depth to keep up with the speed the games was changing. The system was too simplistic, it had this approach where it thought “oh ok a priest is a healer” but it couldn’t think of a priest as a Damage Dealer. So the system had not really the depth that it needed to keep up with the depth of the game that it had when Burning Crusade came out. I feel we finally came to the point where the system always should have been.

WorldofWar.de: What lifetime do you see for WoW? Jeff Kaplan said in an interview a few weeks ago “WoW will be online until internet is online”. You really have so many ideas left?

Tom Chilton: I think it is going to last a long time. Games like World of Warcraft and other games from the genre also have a tenth year or very long life spans once they created a player base that has that kind of enthusiasm and success.
For the WOW life time – well I don’t think we really know to be honest. Personally I would be surprised if World of Warcraft wasn’t still around another five years from now.

WorldofWar.de: Will PvP arenas continue to exist? Rob Pardo said that he considers them a big mistake…

Tom Chilton: I definitely expect they will continue to exist. I think it is easy to take what Rob said out of the context. What Rob was trying to convey is that something, that is a very powerful feature in the game today, will need continued supporting. If we could go back in time it might not be thing that we worked on for PvP in Burning Crusade. Knowing what I know now I probably would have tried to have rated battlegrounds before we did the arenas. We didn’t expect and we didn’t really anticipate is how much of a focus the arena system took PvP away from everything else. Again: if I could go back in time I would have done rated battlegrounds first and then probably would have approached the arena system differently.
That being said, the arena system I still think is really a fun system.

WorldofWar.de: Let me ask you some questions about Cataclysm, the next expansion that will be out next year hopefully. When did you guys had the idea to release the expansion in this rhythm and to rebuild Azeroth? Is it in idea from former times, years ago, or did you say “We have to do a redesign of the old world, because we are running out of new worlds”?

Tom Chilton: [laughing] The redesign of the old world is something we talked about for a long time now. You know, when Burning Crusade came out there was a lot of talk, if we had the time to go back and make a lot of different zone improvements. But as we continued to move forward, we knew that with Burning Crusade, we made the game a lot better and with Wrath of the Lich King, we even surpassed that. We got to the point where we knew, that we weren’t doing the entire game justice, if we didn’t go back and improve the 1 to 60 experience. You know, it’s kind of weird to see all these players come into the game and have to say “Yeah – this first steps, they’re okay. But when you move on, especially when you get to Northrend, the game gets much better”. It felt really odd to keep telling people that. We continued to develop the game, we developed new techniques, we got new tools, our content developers got better and better – it gets to a point, where have to get back. It does not only have value for new people come into the game, but also for existing players, because over the years, we’ve been amazed how often players create new characters.

WorldofWar.de: When we think back at old classic times, the first thing that comes into our minds are the 40-player raids like Molten Core. Do you think those times are begone forever or is it possible that these 40-player-raids will see their revival?

Tom Chilton: I don’t imagine that we’re going to see 40-player-raids anymore. It was part of the debate, when we developed the first stages of Ulduar. It was clear for us that the raid experience has to be truly epic, because it’s that what players want. But what we realized is: it’s not really the number of players that makes it epic, it’s the quality of the content and what you do with this content and what you do, to make players be part of this content. 10 and 25 players raids still feel epic.

WorldofWar.de: You just revamped Onyxia. Are there plans to do the same for Cataclysm with other old instanced like Blackwing Lair?

Tom Chilton: We have some ideas for revisiting those instances, except with probably much more substantial changes. We had the revamped versions of Naxxramas and Onyxia, but they we’re pretty much the same encounters with the exception of a few changes. But we have future plans for raiding in Cataclysm, for example: we’ll use Blackrock Mountain to create a new raid instance within the Blackrock that’s an extension to Blackwing Lair. This area is a completely new area where players have never been before, with a lot of new bosses. It’s not like bringing Broodlord Lashlayer back. Lorewise, there are a lot of connections between the two instances, but all the encounters are new.

WorldofWar.de: Will this be the case for the 5-player instances as well? All the old dungeons should still exist in Azeroth, for example for all the players who decide to level up a new character.

Tom Chilton: We don’t plan to rebuild the old dungeons but we are going to add and include new ones for Level 80 and 85. There are some exceptions like Shadowfang Keep which will be redesigned for Level 85. There are plenty of places in the world where we can create new dungeons!

WorldofWar.de: Will we see some cool not-yet-seen areas like Old Ironforge in Cataclysm or did you forget that these are even existing?

Tom Chilton: There are a lot of those places, that finally have been mentioned again since we announced Cataclysm earlier this year. You know, places like Grim Batol, Gilneas, stuff like that. So, we are getting these old areas in the world, although we don’t necessarily feel to bring every single corner of Azeroth in the game. You should not expect to see Old Ironforge in the game but we do some changes to Stormwind.

WorldofWar.de: Any chance to see a new hero class in Cataclysm?

Tom Chilton: No, we will not see another Hero Class in Cataclysm. Maybe that’s something for future expansions, but nothing for the next one.

WorldofWar.de: Tom, we are pretty sure that you have always have a close look into the market – when you think of a upcoming game like Star Wars The Old Republic and their idea to voice-over the entire game: do you like this idea? What we saw in Patch 3.3 is, that there is a lot of speech in it. Do you think this is a good idea or do you think this will disrupt game experience in some way?

Tom Chilton: There is a certain element of it, that’s really cool. It’s cool to hear voice-overs, it’s cool to hear what the characters are saying. At the same time, it makes questing a lot harder. It doesn’t allow you to change the quest that you want to make. It also determines a limit of how much content you can create, because you will need voice actors over and over again. So there are definitely some problems coming with it. I think, the decision to get it in the game is very interesting and I’m curious to see, how it plays out in the end.


Darnassus today: First Cataclysm precursors for big world events that are still to come




WorldofWar.de: Will there be another patch before Cataclysm or do you even plan to release a new raid boss?

Tom Chilton: We do expect that there will be a new patch before the new expansion, although we don’t expect it to be like a typical numbered patch like 3.4 or 3.5. This could include balance changes, it could potentially include new features, depending on once the BattleNet-Features come online, maybe it could implement some of these. There’s even the possibility for a new raid boss, but it’s too early to say for sure.

But something we do know is, that there will be world events that lead to the Cataclysm!


Thunder Bluff today: First Cataclysm precursors for big world events that are still to come




WorldofWar.de: Cool! Something like the Ahn Qiray opening ceremony?

Tom Chilton: (hearty laughing) Haha, no not like AQ. More like the Zombie play which was kind of introduction to the Wrath of the Lich King. The new World Events will stay in context to the story of Cataclysm.

WorldofWar.de: Thanks for the interview, Tom.