Blizzard outlines massive effort behind World of Warcraft

Austin GDC 2009: Frank Pearce explains what it takes to craft 7,650 quests, 70,000 spells, 40,000 NPCs, 1.5 million assets, and 5.5 million lines of code; some 4,000 employees, 13,250 server blades, and 75,000 CPU cores keep MMORPG running.

Frank Pearce at BlizzCon 2008.

Who Was There: Blizzard Entertainment cofounder and executive vice president of product development Frank Pearce and production director J. Allen Brack opened Thursday's schedule of panels with a keynote address titled "The Universe of World of Warcraft."

What They Talked About: In the GDC Austin schedule, Pearce and Brack's keynote address is described as offering "an in-depth at the operational complexities of running a large-scale MMO." While there has been no shortage of people to talk about the difficulties of developing and running MMORPGs, few have experience with anything as "large-scale" as World of Warcraft and its 11-million-strong subscriber base.

Just a few of WOW's 11-million-subscriber army.

The biggest recurring theme of the at-times-technical presentation was "large-scale." Brack began by explaining the studio's layout, emphasizing that Blizzard tries to form its structure around the people, and not the other way around.

The programming team is responsible for updating and maintaining 5.5 million lines of code. The team of 51 artists has created 1.5 million unique assets for the game, with a handful of sub-teams dedicated to weapons and armor; environments; animation; props like torches or fence posts; dungeons and large objects like houses; and technical art to polish what everyone else creates. There are 37 designers responsible for creating classes, professions, events, a library of more than 70,000 spells, and a population of nearly 40,000 non-player characters.

Then there's an entire cinematics department of 123 people that does more than just cutscenes. Pearce said the team acts as reference when merchandising partners want to make replicas, or, say, gaudy 12-foot-tall statues like the one sitting outside Blizzard's headquarters.

70,000 spells? That's a whole lot of magic goin' on...

There's also a QA testing team, which employs 218 people. That group's job gets tougher as time goes on, Brack said, because the amount of content in the game expands, but the size of the team does not. The original World of Warcraft contained 2,600 quests, with the Burning Crusade expansion adding another 2,700, and Wrath of the Lich King contributing another 2,350 to the game--a total of 7,650 in all. Also adding to the QA team's woes, Brack said, is that Blizzard promotes from within, taking some of the most talented QA testers out of the pool to work on other parts of the game.

As if there weren't enough to deal with, Pearce said Blizzard handles the localization of the game in-house. It's crucial for the game, since World of Warcraft is played in English by fewer than half the game's players. He added that the team doesn't do any partial localizations, and adding another language to the game is a commitment to provide ongoing support to that for as long as the game is running.

Combined, WOW and its two expansions have 7,650 quests.

Patching is another problem, with many different versions of the game and previous patches out there for which compatibility must be assured. Brack said every time the company releases a patch, it needs to prepare more than 120 versions of it to make sure every player will get one compatible with his or her game.

Pearce talked about Blizzard Online Network Services, a group of 68 people who run data centers where servers are hosted in Washington, California, Texas, Massachusetts, France, Germany, Sweden, South Korea, China, and Taiwan. Between them, there are 13,250 server blades and 75,000 CPU cores keeping the World of Warcraft up and running.

Then there are international offices, which employ about 1,700 people across France, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Ireland dealing with local concerns and customer service. Customer service is one of the biggest chunks of Blizzard, Brack said, with more than 2,500 people worldwide dedicated to the team.

It's unclear if Blizzard's infamous April Fools' gags count as part of WOW's 1.5 million assets.

The numbers don't stop: nearly 150 people on the team are responsible for Battle.net, from maintaining billing and the account system to creating the infrastructure that will let the 12 million active Battle.net players keep persistent friends lists across games when Starcraft II launches. There are also dedicated groups for public relations; a Web team for the game's slate of official Web sites; the community team serving as forum mods and liaison between developers and players; and a corporate applications team responsible for fraud detection and data mining on the World of Warcraft achievement system. Pearce dropped a little bit of info on that, noting that to date, World of Warcraft players have earned collectively about 4.5 billion achievements.

It's not over yet. Pearce talked about the eSports team, which has been involved in more than 1,600 tournaments around the world. They also act as a direct line of communication for feedback between the developers and the highest end of high-end players. Blizzard also needs an events team to put together BlizzCon, which Brack said is operated at a substantial loss for the company. While the company doesn't turn a profit on the annual shindig, Brack said the cost is worth it for marketing purposes.

Speaking of marketing, there's a World of Warcraft-specific team for that as well. They're responsible for TV commercials, promotions, and tie-ins like this summer's World of Warcraft-themed flavors of Mountain Dew. A separate licensing department handles board games, plushies, statues, novels, and anything else with the World of Warcraft logo on it.

The Murloc plush toy is one of the items under the WOW licensing team's supervision.

World of Warcraft didn't start off this large, which means Blizzard has needed to establish a recruiting team as well. Blizzard is essentially always hiring, Brack and Pearce said, with 221 job openings worldwide at the moment.

There's a creative development team responsible for chronicling the lore of the series, working with licensing and novelists to ensure the World of Warcraft story is consistent across products. They don't create the lore, Brack said, but they do maintain it.

Wrapping up the presentation, the pair also gave quick shouts to their human resources, finance, facilities, legal, and information technology teams. In all, Blizzard has more than 4,000 employees and 600 licensed partners helping to keep the World of Warcraft turning.

Quote: "The moral of the story is that operating an online game is about more than just game development."--Frank Pearce

Takeaway: Clearly, running a massively multiplayer online game is a massive task indeed. As Pearce noted partway through the hour-long presentation, despite all the numbers thrown at the audience, the most mind-boggling may have been "one," the number of MMO games Blizzard is making in addition to World of Warcraft.

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182 comments
hirest-gree
hirest-gree

Eventually the mature player base will move on, which will be soon. Sad day, but it's bound to happen.

hirest-gree
hirest-gree

Blizzard is disappointing me, they want more and more money as you can see. Improving a game for casual players, wrecking the game essence. First we saw server transfers for $, then pve to pvp $, gender changes $, race changes yet? Merging pvp to pve with vault of archavon another scheme. It's all about money and not player satisfaction. I must admit quitting was hard as a gladiator from season 1 to 4, but you have to move on. They are becoming lazier, why improve the game when 10 hardcore players quit when you can get 20 casuals?

dom1000
dom1000

If you update the graphic you will need 75000+ more cpu and the game will run like hell with 2 hour lag.The only reason why i dont play this game is the graphic but they wont update it soon since the cost would be astronomical.Ill play AION ONLINE instead ,it has the graphic and gameplay im looking for not you hit me i hit you gameplay that look like nintendo 64 animation.

darzentas
darzentas

the only think for wow to be the best ever ever its update on graphics.....WOW ftw..

freekedoutfish
freekedoutfish

Personally I dont see the issue with making WoW easier and more accessible to new and casual players. One thing I appreciate about wow is how easily you can just jump into it, get the hang of the game, level up to 80 and THEN jump into hard stuff. Other MMOs have a bad habbit of making leveling up too hard, require endless grind and take hours to do... something which scares away casual gamers. The ease of playing wow, casual nature of leveling up and harder end game content is something I love about it. It apeals to both casual and hardcore players because as a casual gamer leveling up is easy, and you have the harder content at the end and pvp for the more hardcore ppl. Its a nice blend for both worlds.

roryk666
roryk666

wow is the best game ive ever played in my whole life

oflow
oflow

the money goes to the shareholders like at any other company.

Blank2k2
Blank2k2

WoW was certainly a good/impressive/enjoyable game, and i dont see why so many people do the WoW-Hating thing, doesnt make sense, WoW was/is a good game, yes it was a freak of nature by how popular it became but comon, its Blizzard! the Pixar of the gaming world it had a million or 2 subscribers before it even launched (Warcraft / Diablo fans would of instant-bought it) but now ive outgrown it & it seems to have dulled its edge over recent times making things easier & easier while im wanting harder & harder. (Also i thought the LK expansion was pretty crappy) Quit 6-7 months ago now, i still admit it was a good game but its not for me anymore, looking forward to see what newer MMO's have in store.

sophospeare
sophospeare

I still don't see where all the money goes. If you have 13,500 servers at $4000 a piece (I'm sure it's lower), that's $54MM. You have 4000 employees at, let's say, $100k a piecs (again, probably high), thats $400MM. Throw in $50MM for overhead (ie, buildings, power, computers, etc.). That a total of $500,000,000 in expenses per year. Blizz has 11,000,000 subscribers at $12 (figuring low for 6 month subscriptions), that's $132,000,000 a month or $1.584 billion per year or 1 billion in profit, not including merchandising and licensing fees they rake in. I know it's a cash cow, but I've said it in the past, as good as WoW is, Blizz could be doing so much more with it.

Wojcha
Wojcha

@ my previous comment: I was saying that it's good that they're making expansions. Don't get me wrong.

teaabags
teaabags

you have to remember that this game has been around ages and when they say how many spells or quests or or armour or weapons, its everything combined from the beginning..of course its going to be a high number considering the amount of years its been going and quite frankly, it had BETTER be a high number. Also there had better be a lot of content etc. considering how much money they make on a monthly basis

Wojcha
Wojcha

If they keep making expansions like this this, we'll end up playing a raid with a Murloc Power Ranger level 115, that is specialized for two-handed lightsabers, made with the new Energy Weapon profession.

bloodyrooster
bloodyrooster

They could hire some programmers to chop off some of the tedious work like making 120 different versions of it when a patch comes out. That's a python script

buehler_evan
buehler_evan

chernnunos: he wasn't talking about ending world hunger. and wow, i never knew it takes that many people to make world of warcraft

lozvil
lozvil

No wonder it's the best MMO in the universe. Keep up the good work Blizzard. We, the gamers, are here to support you. For the Horrrrrddddddeeee.... hehehe... I'm saying that but my toons are Alliance... LOL...

Chernnunos
Chernnunos

Desolation00: Put a sock in it, please? if you want to end world hunger, log off of gamespot and go make a sandwich for a homeless man.

swamptick
swamptick

They put out an amazing product. I love Blizz.

desolation00
desolation00

All the work they're doing. All the investment they've put in. It still takes massive downtime every Tuesday. They still can't pull off a patch without 10% of the subscribers having to go to the forum to see the apology for it breaking something for em. And for some reason my low-pop server has to swap from Pacific to Mountain time going into an instance, and back again when you come out. We piggyback another server's Dungeon server causing dozens of new nuisances dealing with quests that don't update correctly for players already scrambling to find a good group to play with. Little wonder my current server is and always will be bottom 5% of the barrel with the good players (like myself soon) jumping ship daily. The investment just doesn't seem enough to match the demand yet. As good as WoW has been, I think their efforts would be better spent ending world hunger or something. Heck, not just their effort but that of their 11 million subscriber base and you're talking alot of manpower. We could take over Afghanistan just by setting up free gaming computers with top-flight internet access and plenty of salty snacks and energy drinks.

losikar
losikar

SWTOR is going to be linear.... can't do it any other way with a full voiced NPC's. When I mean linear I mean good, and evil choices bioware offers. Not saying it wont be good, just linear story. Now what I'm really interested in is the 2nd MMO blizzard is making

marcoreo
marcoreo

SW the old republique is the future! You guys wait and see

XeonForce
XeonForce

WoW isn't just a game, it's a lifestyle.

melty3219
melty3219

i played WoW for 2 years and it was AWSOME! but i quit recently because i got tired of waiting for ages for new content i will most likely start again when thier next expansion hits. also after playing wow i cant go back to any other MMO its no where as good as WoW

Sins-of-Mosin
Sins-of-Mosin

I'd play WoW again if they offered cheap weekly rates or was free (duh). Thou, I've always wanted a FPS like WoW. Looks like I'll finally be getting that in Borderlands and I don't even have to pay a monthly fee. :D

Excelsior69
Excelsior69

I wasn't talking about graphics, and I wasn't talking about Knights of the Old Republic either. Please come again...

gsrheuser
gsrheuser

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Excelsior69
Excelsior69

WoW set the standard for MMORPG's when it was released, and still is the best one. SW:The Old Republic will set the new standard in a year or so, just wait and see :)

cyborg100000
cyborg100000

I love WoW but I'd be glad if they had some true competition, MMO's haven't really revolutionized much over the past 5 years.

BradFazner
BradFazner

these next games better be amazing or blizzard is throwing away this profit they've made

Sharhan96
Sharhan96

as much as i have to say that WoW is a very impressive game with it's content and all that, i hate it. it can sometimes ruin your life and it will be very hard to regain it after that. i hate WoW and will always hate it

freekedoutfish
freekedoutfish

To be fair, if you base your instant opinion of a game based on its graphics then you can't call yourself a true gamer, because your more bothered about poligons then you are about actual gameplay. There are countless other MMOs on the market which look gorgeous, with nice and lovely graphics and yet they have virtually no content, no re-play value and no fun-factor to them. WoW oozes gameplay and value for money as a result, which is more then can be said for newer and nicer looking games on the market. Also, you seem to miss the fact that because WoW has an older gaming engine, it means older machines can play the game easily. Can you imagine a 5 year old machine being able to handle more graphically demanding MMOs? You instantly cut your potential market by restricting the number of people who can play your game, and becaue WoW can be played on older machines it opens the door for millions more players. WoW wins out everytime because they have a larger community and an MMO wins and looses on how big its community is, otherwise you cant to group content and end up playing an MMO solo, which defeats the point to a degree. That isn't to say WoW is perfect because it isnt, but it does more right then wrong and just has so much content that it keeps you playing for a long time.

Bozanimal
Bozanimal

Love it or hate it, the sheer size of World of Warcraft - it's fan base, virtual world, content, and even culture - is impressive.

BladeTrinity114
BladeTrinity114

I never liked WoW. But I think I played it too late on. I didn't play it until I had a PS3 and a 360. And I was expecting high standards. And to be honest it looks awful. Compared to a PS3 or 360 game.

trastamad03
trastamad03

Only thing that is repulsive of WoW, is its engine... It barely supports newer generation hardware. I was getting far more fps on a lower spec pc than on my higher spec pc... both on Wotlk.

Oni
Oni

I imagine, with what Blizzard has learned from the immense achievement WoW has been, the new MMO they're working on will no doubt be a household name. I'm really curious to find out what the game is, because supposedly it's a new IP.

02sfraser
02sfraser

why is there so much controversy over this game? WoW haters lash out and the game and WoW lovers lash back. it is a game which is the best of its kind. that is why it has 11 million subscribers (i think it is about 9 million active). fair enough some people don't like that genre but no need to hate it. also someone said WoW players are all to cheap to buy good systems. i have a Mac costing over £1000 and it makes WoW look amazing so stop accusing people of being cheap. not everybody needs a powerful laptop/desktop!

2bitSmOkEy
2bitSmOkEy

@ monson21502 you were so close man, the game doesn't really get addicting until max level. From 1-79, the game is horribly boring. At 80, the purple pants syndrome kicks in and you get addicted to making your character more and more powerful. That is the secret to WoW's success, purple pants.

inalusi
inalusi

this is ,,MEDIA MANIPULATION'' is an aspect of public relations in which partisans create an image or argument that favours their particular interests..Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere...AMEN !!! ppl quit this game we need new WOW...yes we need new WOW!!!

inalusi
inalusi

Trading Markets reports from the Xinhua News Agency that The9, the company that handles World of Warcraft in China, is likely to lose their license as agents of the game. Blizzard and The9 have not yet reached an agreement regarding the extension of their contract, although The9 representatives have repeatedly tried to quell these fears...SO CUT FU...ING 6MILONS OR MORE ...

inalusi
inalusi

11 milion? wtf ...dont have more then 3-4 milion...lolz

-Unreal-
-Unreal-

@giedrius1001 11 million because it's a great game.

giedrius1001
giedrius1001

11 millions, because of low game requirements, everybody can play it, of course it cause a lot of troubles for developers, they need powerful servers 75000 cores sound insane :D

WTFitsPauL
WTFitsPauL

@IguanaBob because WoW players are cheap, cant afford a good gaming system.

savageandres
savageandres

Only disagreement with this game is Tuesdays suck. No matter what. And being lvl 80 isn't all that cracked up top be.

monson21502
monson21502

i put in a big effort to get hooked on this game. but after level 73 i just got to bored and thought it wasnt worth the time or money to keep playing.

blackfray
blackfray

MMO Programmers are great artists, MMORPG programmers are excellent artists and of course World of Warcraft programmers are true artists.

SalarianChemist
SalarianChemist

World of Warcraft is such an amazing PC game; it truly represents what PC gaming is all about.

Gamer_JasonX7
Gamer_JasonX7

@ Grampy_Bone i dont mean to be blunt but your an idiot. "why Starcraft 2 will be sold in three pieces or why it has no LAN despite the huge out cry from fans?" they stated this several time. theres a lot of content in the games so they decided to spend them out. they didn't want LAN because of pirating. also its there game so they can do what ever the HELL they want to

Hayabashi
Hayabashi

IguanaBob Basically they are happy with the graphics wow has now. If they update graphics they risk the chance of losing players due to systems becoming obsolete.

DiscGuru101
DiscGuru101

70,000 spells? I saw 50-11 versions of Fireball, but that only counts as one spell...