In the two years since launch, World of Warcraft has has soared to the top of every sales chart and amassed more than 8 million players worldwide, including the likes of Brandon Routh, Vin Diesel, Dave Chapelle and two members of the Empire office. This week sees the launch of expansion pack, The Burning Crusade, to huge fanfare, something that can only increase the potency of this most addictive of pastimes. In recognition fo the fact, Empire quizzed Vice President of Development Itzik Ben Bassat, to discover what makes Warcraft tick.
Role-playing games have never been as mainstream as traditional cross-over game titles that have given us Sonic and Mario, how did World of Warcraft end up making the transition from game to cultural event?
You know, when we started out, all we wanted to do was create a great game. We knew World of Warcraft was good but I don’t think we ever understood the magnitude of what we had on our hands though. I think the key is accessibility. It’s easy to play but difficult to master, so it’s got longevity but anyone can pick it up. Whether you’ve never played an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) before or even if you’ve never played a game before, it’s very accessible and very easy to get into. Also it’s fantasy-based, which has a huge appeal. Fantasy is timeless and also genreless in some respects. Two years on and we now have a card game, a clothing line, huge online forums and even an Episode of South Park.
Did they approach you with that?
Yes. The South Park guys came to us and said “we’planning the first episode of the new season, which is usually an exciting one. Would you like to do something?” We were all geeked out about South Park so we said “of course! Are you kidding?” It’s a very funny episode, I love it. People who didn’t know what Warcraft was but liked South Park all came to check out the game.
It has a surprisingly large female audience as well, which is unusual for any videogame, let alone an RPG.
It does. I think it’s because the game is very social - anything that’s online and social tends to appeal to a female audience. Also I think the fact that in wow you personalise your character, you can express yourself through the game and with the expansion you can do this even farther.
Do you think that MMORPGs are the future of video games?
Online gaming in general is the future. I think that in the near future you won’t see games that don’t have an online component, they’re all going to be based around that kind of group play and community.
There’s a World of Warcraft Movie in the works, do you expect that to enjoy similar success?
We’ve been working on that movie for years! If people only knew how many years we put in to closing this movie deal. We’re very happy with our progress though, it was really difficult for us as a company to find some we trusted to work with. With Legendary, well, they did Batman Returns and the new Superman so we knew that was a company we wanted to work with. Bringing Warcraft to the movies is the next step for us, we want to let people bring World of Warcraft into other aspects of their lives. After all, we’re competing for people’s entertainment time, whether it’s listening to music watching TV or going to the cinema. Our goal is to provide the best entertainment out there.
Any news on when we can expect to see the film?
Hollywood has it’s own pace but we’re working as hard as we can to push it forwards.
How do you imagine you'll be able to top Warcraft in the future?
When we announce our next MMORPG it’s not going to be another WoW - we’re not a company that tends to tread the same ground. It’ll be something innovative and new that really brings entertainment to another level.