In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Blizzard's Chief Operating Officer, Paul Sams, addressed several rumors and offered other intriguing insights of the company's future plans for its gaming juggernaut, World of Warcraft. The popular MMORPG has over 6.5 million paying subscribers, and is "just shy of seven million," Sams said.
On the matter of moving World of Warcraft from its roots on the PC to other game consoles, Sams said: "We've met with Microsoft, we've met with Sony, and we are exploring these things, but the list of challenges is long. One really big challenge is that one of the key features of a massively multiplayer game, especially WoW, is consistent and regular content updates. They require hard drive space, and there's a finite amount of that on each of those platforms."
The issue of certification by each individual platform maker is also a very strict process. "There's no certification process outside of Blizzard's internal process," Sams said. Blizzard normally builds content updates on their own PCs and gives each update a thorough testing on their internal test server before releasing them to the gaming public. "When you introduce Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo, you introduce a whole new certification process. It can [be difficult]. What if we have something that needs to be dealt promptly [sic], a bug that's causing crashes? On PC, we make it, we test it, we deploy it. On console [sic], we could be waiting for days, because you've got to submit and test it. And if they don't like something, we've got to go back to the drawing board."
One of the final hurdles to jump would be the length of time between developing a console version of World of Warcraft and bringing it home to eager gamers. "It isn't as simple as flipping a switch. It would require a couple of years of development realistically, to make it playable on those platforms." While admitting that such an effort would be worth it in the long run, Sams admitted, "[W]e have to ask ourselves if there are enough new customers there to justify all the other issues we'd need to overcome." When asked about any console games outside of World of Warcraft, Blizzard's COO was rather unspecific: "What is more possible is to build something from the ground up. But whether or not it will happen, I'm not sure." Sams admitted that "I think the [Xbox] 360 is the best box" out of all three upcoming next-gen consoles, but he was eager to see what the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii were capable of.
After turning directions towards news of World of Warcraft's first and upcoming expansion, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, Sams said that Blizzard is "fast approaching the beta test period." The company hopes to have the game out within the next four to six months: "We're still quoting winter very confidently. Once we hit beta, you'll know it's coming quite soon." The Burning Crusade will offer more new content for the game, including two new races, and various new zones and dungeons to explore, along with new battlegrounds for player-versus-player action. The expansion is "somewhere between a third and a half" of the original game, Sams said.
The question of maintaining World of Warcraft's huge member base came with a cautious response. "Will we have the same number of subscribers in two years? I don't know. I certainly hope so, but being realistic, that's a tall order. So, starting with The Burning Crusade, every year thereafter we plan on bringing out a new expansion set every 12 months."
There was no other information on such future expansions given during the interview, but Blizzard has considered releasing both a "bundle pack" of the original game with the expansion, or even a collector's edition, although nothing has been confirmed thus far. Also worthy of note is confirmation that the flat fee paid by subscribers will not increase after the expansion's release, although gamers will have to pay for each copy of the expansion they own.