Gut Reactions: Blizzard Breakdown

GameSpot's editors sound off on the news coming out of the recent Blizzard Invitational event.

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Diablo III is finally here. The thousands of fans on hand at the 2008 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational cheered in ecstasy as Blizzard showed off the long-awaited dungeon-crawling sequel. While Diablo III was clearly the star of the show, Blizzard fans were also treated to hands-on time with Starcraft II and Wrath of the Lich King, the second expansion to the popular massively multiplayer game World of Warcraft. Now that the dust has settled from the show, Blizzard appears poised to reign supreme as one of, if not the top developer of games on the PC platform.

But as competing developers continue to innovate in the action RPG, real-time strategy, and massively multiplayer genres, Blizzard's games seem to be sticking very close to their roots. This is to be expected--after all, why fix what isn't broken? Then again, innovation can breathe new life into an existing genre and make it fresh for a new generation of players. Some might say that Blizzard is resting on its laurels, but if that's truly what's happening, how long can it continue? We posed these questions to our own GameSpot editors. Have thoughts of your own? Leave a comment below.

Andrew Park | Managing Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Andrew Park: I was hoping Blizzard would finally take the wraps off of Diablo III, and it happened. It wasn't exactly the best-kept secret in the game industry, but it's good to finally get that out there.

Diablo III is finally here.
Diablo III is finally here.

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

AP: I have yet to see any challenges leveled at Blizzard's conservative approach ever stick, and I include all remarks I myself have ever made in there, too. The company has been successful for as long as I can remember and has legions of loyal fans. Take Diablo III, for instance--if Blizzard had drastically altered the formula by making the sequel into, oh, I don't know, let's say a massively multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, that could've alienated a huge portion of the fans. Also, in the case of Diablo III, while I like the new art direction, I'm positive the game will scale well to lower-end hardware as pretty much all Blizzard games have, and because I know Blizzard is smart enough to realize that a great part of the Diablo series' longevity is due to laptop gaming.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

AP: Blizzard is a company that used to take the wraps off only one or two games at a time, so I think it's a very interesting development that we're now seeing what looks like an actual product lineup revealed publically--three games out in the open, plus a fourth one waiting in the wings. You could speculate that this change in approach might have something to do with the Activision merger. I hope this might be a sign of things to come--the start of a more candid approach for the traditionally tight-lipped studio to talk about its projects in the future.

Brian Ekberg | Senior Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Brian Ekberg: Deep down, I was born to be a Firebat, so--though I knew it wouldn't happen--I was personally hoping for the announcement of World of Starcraft as the big mystery game at this past weekend's 2008 Blizzard Worldwide Invitational. That said, I can't say I was disappointed (or, for that matter, surprised) by the announcement of Diablo III; the game is looking impressive and certainly had the Blizzard fans on hand in Paris looking forward to slicing and dicing their way through walls of demon flesh.

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

BE: This question was raised many times over the course of last weekend's Invitational, from both the press and fans of the games. In response, Blizzard's producers and developers seem to be perfectly happy with their approach. For example, when asked about the fixed isometric perspective in Diablo III (a technical holdover from the previous games in the series), the producers said that while they have experimented with new camera tricks, moving away from that perspective essentially resulted in a game that didn't "feel" like Diablo. I don't think it's that big a deal for Diablo III, but for Starcraft II I'd like to see more camera flexibility. After playing Supreme Commander, not being able to zoom out in Starcraft II makes the game feel antiquated.

Not quite World of Starcraft.
Not quite World of Starcraft.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

BE: Now that the Activision merger has taken place, the biggest problem Blizzard will have between now and the release of its next three games will be trying to find parking spaces for all the solid-gold-and-diamond Ferraris that the employees probably drive now. In other words, I have no fear for the commercial success of Blizzard's games in the near future, especially in the massively multiplayer space, where WOW continues to dominate. The conservative design approaches to Starcraft II and Diablo III seem like a deliberate appeal to the series' longtime fans, of which there are legions.

It wasn't that long ago that Blizzard more or less dealt with only one project at a time--now they're actively talking about three upcoming games, a sure sign of the company's growth. While Blizzard will surely be raking in the cash for years to come, at some point, they're going to have to mix up their formula, either by taking an established property in a new direction or announcing a new IP altogether. Probably sooner than later, too, before the tinny squeals of the hardcore Blizzard detractors become more of a deafening roar.

Jon Miller | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Jon Miller: A new intellectual property. As much as I like discovering new loot, I find the hack-and-slash gameplay of Diablo too simple for my tastes. I'm excited for co-op play, I'm excited to see how Blizzard will improve upon Diablo II's formula, but I feel that the action RPG is evolving. Diablo was a seminal game, yes. But years later, action RPGs have a lot more diversity. For my money, I prefer Oblivion or the upcoming Fallout 3. I respect the Diablo franchise, but I was hoping that Blizzard would blow me away with something new it hasn't yet tried. Sadly, it didn't.

If you liked Starcraft, you'll probably enjoy Starcraft II
If you liked Starcraft, you'll probably enjoy Starcraft II

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

JM: That's my main criticism. At the same time, Starcraft, WOW, and Diablo are Starcraft, WOW, and Diablo for a reason. Those games are great. It makes sense to stick to your guns. For those looking for something new, it's important to be patient. Instead of changing the core gameplay of its big three, I look forward to a new IP that tackles another genre. It sounds like Blizzard has more projects in the works and I don't think a company that smart is going to rest on Starcraft, Diablo, and WOW alone.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

JM: It will be fine. More than fine. It'll sell a gazillion copies. But critically, Blizzard is going to run into heavy competition in the strategy, massively multiplayer, and action-RPG genres. We're seeing some exciting innovations in each genre with games like Age of Conan and World in Conflict. When you see the immersive combat system in Conan or the all-out war in World in Conflict, it really does make the competition from Blizzard look antiquated. Then again, I expect Blizzard to blow us away with something new. It just hasn't happened yet.

Chris Watters | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Christopher Watters: Considering Blizzard's stable of critically acclaimed and commercially successful intellectual properties, I don't think many folks were seriously expecting something brand-spanking new to come out of Paris. I never played much of the Warcraft/Starcraft games, but I definitely wore out a few mice and touch pads with the click-heavy adventuring of Diablo and Diablo II. Not only was I hoping for Diablo III, but I wanted to see real evidence that Blizzard was bringing its sizable resources to bear on updating every aspect of the game while still remaining true to the general gameplay mechanics that made the first two Diablo games so addicting and satisfying.

World of Warcraft remains popular and successful...but for how long?
World of Warcraft remains popular and successful...but for how long?

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

CW: I think adherence to certain core elements is essential to creating the kind of franchise appeal that will keep people coming back for more. This continuity must be in balance with the need for innovation, otherwise the franchise will stagnate like we've seen so many times before. Fortunately for Diablo, the core appeal is pretty skeletal. You run around visually appealing dungeons slaying nasty foes, increasing your powers and garnering tons of loot along the way. There's plenty of room in there for significant tweaks to the artistic presentation, storyline, environmental and character interaction, and multiplayer functionality. Blizzard has always struck me as a company that's very in tune with what its customers like in a given game, and I think this will enable it to expand Diablo in meaningful ways without getting stuck in a rut.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

CW: With the massive success of Blizzard's three main franchises, it's hard to imagine it won't meet with commercial success in the future. That said, I think the playing field in each of those respective genres has deepened in the past few years, and there are some serious contenders to the throne. Command & Conquer is another venerable RTS that continues to do well on the PC, and has adeptly made the leap to consoles. In fact, the RTS and action RPG genres are flourishing on consoles, and I think Blizzard will have to bring at least one of its big three to current consoles to stay on top (I'm hoping it's Diablo!). As for the massively multiplayer field, it seems for the moment that Blizzard has that one pretty well sewn up, in spite of recent releases like Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures.

Share your thoughts on Blizzard's latest news. Leave us a comment below!

Kevin Van Ord | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Kevin Van Ord: I got exactly what I expected, but I don't know that I am entirely happy about that. The hints were there and the time was right for Diablo III, so while one part of me danced a happy little jig, the other made an unsurprised shrug. Honestly, I held out hope that Blizzard would bring out a new intellectual property, or break into a new genre with some insane, miraculous announcement (Modern-day shooter? Platformer?). Of course I knew better, but I think maybe it's time to drop the security blanket and think outside the box. Blizzard has perfected and reperfected real-time strategy, the action RPG, and, now, the massively multiplayer game. Surely the company would want to shine up another genre. Thrall Kart Racing! Well, OK, maybe not.

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

In terms of sales and accessibility, there's World of Warcraft and everyone else.
In terms of sales and accessibility, there's World of Warcraft and everyone else.

KV: Actually, yes, I do believe the company will be criticized, but I don't think you can discount the bright, shiny coat its products always possess. We can argue about the need to innovate until we're blue in the face, but I think the quality of Blizzard's past products speaks for itself. Honestly, I don't expect anything truly new from any of these games, but I don't want to discount the small additions that could make the experience feel fresh, such as globes in Diablo 3. When we're all glued to our keyboards for a dozen hours at a time, we're probably not going to be noticing or caring about innovation. That said, I am eager to see how Blizzard responds, gameplaywise, to the constantly evolving face of gaming.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

KV: About a zillion and one people, and their mothers, will be playing all three of these games. Frankly, I don't see how they won't be at the top of their respective genres. Yet I have my doubts: They look fun, but they look like games I've already played. That's what will make them successful. Yet there's a nagging voice in my head regarding where Blizzard goes from there. I predict that Starcraft II and Diablo III will push each formula to its limit, in which case Blizzard has some tough choices to make. Do you continue tweaking the recipe and see how far you can take it, or do you take a chance with a new property or a new genre? The last time Blizzard tackled a new genre, we got World of Warcraft. I would rather see some more risks; come on, surprise us! This year I got exactly what I expected. But you know--I prefer the unexpected.

Tom McShea | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Tom McShea: I was hoping for something outside of Blizzard's comfort zone. For a top-end developer, it seems to play things far too safe for my taste. With an expansion for WOW coming out and Starcraft II announced, it was too easy and obvious to simply churn out a sequel to its only other modern franchise. Why not resurrect an old classic like Lost Vikings instead? Or--gasp!--a new property?

With co-op play, more loot, classes, and bigger bosses, Diablo III will surely win over its fan-base. But will it attract new fans?
With co-op play, more loot, classes, and bigger bosses, Diablo III will surely win over its fan-base. But will it attract new fans?

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

TM: Blizzard plays things safe. That's what the company does. It iterates on old concepts and hopes people desperate for another go-round in ancient gameplay mechanics will champ at the bit. Yes, it is satisfying the remaining fans of Diablo by not veering at all off the established path, but anyone craving evolution for the hack-and-slash genre will have to find something else.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

TM: I assume it will have the most balanced massively multiplayer, RTS, and hack-and-slash games on the market, but it certainly won't have the most innovative. I hope Blizzard uses its considerable talents to make new experiences at some point in the future.

Shaun McInnis | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Shaun McInnis: To be perfectly honest, I was hoping to see a brand-new property emerge from this weekend's Blizzard festivities. With the phenomenally successful World of Warcraft, Blizzard has essentially created a license to print money. So with that type of security as a safety net, I was interested to see what would happen if the studio decided to take a creative risk and mix up its stable of beloved classics with a fresh new game. It has both pillars of video game fiction covered with Starcraft's sci-fi and WOW's fantasy settings, so why not take a crack at a game set in the modern day? That may be my woeful underestimation of a video game production budget getting the better of me, but I'd really like to Blizzard throw something new against the wall to see if it sticks.

Still no word on a new Lost Vikings game, sadly.
Still no word on a new Lost Vikings game, sadly.

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

SM: I think Starcraft II faces the toughest competition because of the sheer number of RTS games being released these days. The Starcraft name is going to carry it a long way, but the game really needs to deliver in a way that sets it apart from all the other new games floating around. Diablo III is a slightly different story because the dungeon crawler isn't the most popular genre these days. As long as it delivers a bigger, prettier version of Diablo II, it should be fine. And as for Wrath of the Lich King, well, at this point, the burden of doing something new with the massively multiplayer genre is on the competition--not on WOW.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

SM: These three games are all going to be perfectly fine. I don't think they'll wind up as anything less than a trio of critical and commercial successes. Wrath of the Lich King isn't going to do anything to disrupt that elephant of a franchise, while Diablo III and Starcraft II are both looking good from the relatively brief glimpses we've had of them. I think the next generation of games will be more interesting. For all its success, Blizzard can't ride its big three forever. And as much as it pains me to not suggest a new Rock N' Roll Racing, that means a brand-new property.

Sophia Tong | Associate Editor

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GameSpot: What were you hoping from the Blizzard Invitational?

Sophia Tong: I didn't know what to expect, but because I enjoyed the other Diablo games, I am very excited for Diablo III. From the initial footage, the game looks and sounds amazing. It's been a while since I've had a chance to sit down and play a hack-and-slash cooperative PC game, so I'm really looking forward to it. Sometimes it's fun to just play a mindless game with snazzy effects, and I'm a huge fan of cooperative play.

GS: Do you feel Blizzard will be criticized for its conservative design approach with Starcraft II, Lich King, and Diablo III?

ST: People are going to criticize Blizzard regardless of what it decides to do, but the studio does have a winning formula with its games. Why fix something that isn't broken? It's also difficult and challenging to come up with innovative new ideas--sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably. I'd rather see a game done well with an old formula that people will enjoy than something new that gets executed poorly. It's always a risk to bring something brand-new to the table, and I'm sure Blizzard will when the time comes.

GS: Based on what we learned at the event, how do you feel about Blizzard and its lineup in the future?

ST: At this rate, if Blizzard stopped creating new games, it would still be very successful. As for the new games, coming out on top is going to depend on a lot of factors. I believe that Starcraft is still popular now because of how balanced the game is (among other things), and WOW lets new players and veterans jump in and play without a lot of obstacles at the beginning. If Blizzard can make these games accessible to everyone and keep the gameplay fair and fun, it's bound to draw in more players and keep existing fans hooked. That's what the studio is good at: attracting players of all ages and gaming backgrounds.

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