As far as interviewees go, Frank Pearce is a challenge. As co-founder and executive vice president of Blizzard, he's one of the most influential, high ranking people in the video games industry. And as executive producer on World of Warcraft and StarCraft II, he's in charge of two of the biggest PC games on the planet. Marry that with jetlag, overwhelming tiredness and the exhaustion that comes from countless interviews to press, and you have a recipe for interview disaster. Thankfully, we laugh in the face of interview disaster. And, actually, Frank's a really nice bloke.
Q: Apart from doing press stuff like this, what's a typical day in the life of Frank Pearce?
Frank Pearce: [Laughs] I start my day, every day, with a one on one meeting with J Brack, who is the production director on World of Warcraft. I'm the executive producer on StarCraft II, but I'm also the executive producer on World of Warcraft. I'm interacting with the leadership for the World of Warcraft team daily. I'm interacting with the leadership for the StarCraft team daily. I start my afternoon, every afternoon after lunch, with a one on one meeting with Chris Sigaty, the production director on StarCraft II. And then I'm also interacting with the executive leadership for the organisation and working a set strategic direction for the company as a whole. So, I guess you would summarise it as a lot of meetings and a lot of email.
Q: You have direct influence over the development of two of the biggest games on the planet.
FP: Yeah, but I'm not trying to directly influence it too much at all, because realistically we have such awesome and talented developers on these teams, they don't need me telling them what to do. The end result's going to be much better if they're making the decisions and implementing and executing on them. The leadership at the company, we try to make ourselves available as a resource to the teams. But these are great development teams. They're very capable of operating autonomously.
Q: The approach you've taken with the design of StarCraft II is very interesting, at a time when other RTS developers are trying to do different things. Relic, for example, has scrapped resource gathering and base building and shrunk the unit caps. The impression I get from StarCraft II is it's very much stuck to the roots of the series and traditional RTS mechanics. Were you tempted to take a similar approach to other RTS developers, to try to get more people who haven't played RTS games before in on the act?
FP: No. I wouldn't say there was any temptation there for us at all. We really felt like it was critically important that anyone that sits down to play StarCraft II feels a certain familiarity if they've played the original StarCraft. All the components that made StarCraft what it was included resource gathering and base building and managing the balance between all of them.
Q: Why did you feel it was critical to retain those components?
FP: Because the original StarCraft sold over eleven million copies. There are a lot of really devoted fans that love the game. We wanted to make a product that services that commitment to that experience, you know what I mean?
Q: Yeah. The playable races we have this time are the same as we had last time. Was there ever any chance of a new fourth race?
FP: It's something we talked about. You know it's a really difficult challenge to come up with great ideas for units and make them all work together on a race. It was something we were talking about early on. Pretty early on we felt like if we want to make sure that we've got really great units and really great races the best thing we can do is stay focused on the three races that everyone's familiar with.
Q: Was that decision in part to do with StarCraft's famous balance?
FP: I think we could balance it if it was four races or however many races we felt was appropriate. I don't think finding a balance between the races would be the challenge as much as having enough distinction between the units, between the races that they felt unique and really cool.
Q: The new features of Battle.net suggest to me that in bringing all players of all Blizzard games together the service has significantly evolved. Do you now look at your fanbase not like they're StarCraft players, or Warcraft players, or Diablo players, but Blizzard players?
FP: Yeah, definitely. Instead of having a World of Warcraft community and then having a separate and distinct StarCraft II community and then a Diablo III community, we want to have a Blizzard community that's comprised of the players of all of our games, whether they play one or all three.
Q: Some people who play World of Warcraft will stop to play StarCraft II when it comes out. Is it your view that if people are going to stop playing WoW, they may as well stop it for a Blizzard game?
FP: Yeah, definitely. If anyone's going to make a game that cannibalises the player base for one of our games it may as well be us. Even if the business model isn't the same, even if the business model isn't as favourable, still rather have them as our customers than someone else's customer, you know what I mean? It doesn’t go on any of the bullet points on the back of the boxes for our games, but one of the huge features for our games that sort of goes unspoken and unnoticed is that thriving, vibrant community. If you go online onto Battle.net you know you'll be able to find people to play StarCraft II with. You know that you'll be able to find people to play WoW with. You know you'll be able to find people to interact with that are passionate about Blizzard games.