World of Warcraft game director Tom Chilton and art director Chris Robinson have a chat.
Q: A lot of people are making a big deal about the recent drop in subscription holders. Do you think this is being overblown?
TC: To some extent, yes. It is to some degree cyclical, in that we have always experienced as a new expansion comes out, we get a spike in subscribers and then it steadily trails down until the next expansion comes out. And so far with each expansion the spike up has been a little bit higher than the previous spikes up, so, and with Cataclysm, one of the things that made Cataclysm a little bit more dramatic is that I think that the idea of a rejuvenated WoW with all the kind of old-school re-doing got more re-activations than we normally would get when we release an expansion. But at the same time those are players that are the most likely to re-activate, check it out for a little bit, see what was different, and then turn again. So you see a bigger spike and a bigger drop afterwards.
Q: So how do you get these players to stick?
TC: That's really hard to say, if I really knew the answer to that we'd be doing it! [Laughs]. But I think in some cases, when you get to the end game you can definitely make the argument that the end game didn't evolve enough to kind of keep them on. Some people had raided for years and they came back to see how the world changed but at the end game it's still, oh okay, I've raided for a long time and it's still kind of the same.
Q: Do you expect to see even more players coming back in the next expansion, if Cataclysm is anything to model the future on?
TC: We'll see, but it's awfully hard to predict. I think that Cataclysm may be an exception in that it had a powerful hook for people who had tried the game in the past and were looking for a reason to come back, whereas I don't know if the traditional expansion model would get that same sort of re-activation.
Q: Is there pressure to reach out to other markets that wouldn't necessarily reach out to MMOs, like console gamers?
TC: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And that happens almost inevitably. It's not like there's pressure for us to do something different. It's more that, it's one of those things that inevitably happens when the game continues to try to penetrate more people. So the types of players that we get now that are new to the game are very different than the new players we were getting five, six years ago.
And we definitely find with people who are entering the game now, they struggle with even the really basic concepts of moving the camera in 3D or walking with WASD. Because they've never used WASD, they've played console games. Or looting a creature after you kill it, doing a quest, turning in a quest. All those really basic mechanics, they're not familiar with.
Q: Getting to those different markets, would that necessarily mean bringing WoW to a different platform?
TC: No, not necessarily. I mean, if it made sense to do that then we would definitely consider it. We have in the past looked into "well, what would it be like if we tried to put WoW on a console?"
Q: Do you think you could even play WoW without a keyboard?
TC: You can play it on a gamepad, [although] it's not a great experience and especially when it comes to chat. WoW is a very social game there is a lot of chat interaction, and that's really awkward on a console without a keyboard.
Q: Are Pandaren too cutesy to be a playable race?
Chris Robinson: I don't think they're too cutesy to be a playable race, and it certainly depends on the artistic interpretation. I think that if you were to look at, you know how we did our April Fools thing with the Pandaren Express or whatever. I think that particular take on it is too cutesy, but I can see them being cool. [Laughs]
TC: Sure yeah, I think any new race we're going to do is going to need to fit into our current, you know. We're not going to do something that goes completely out of our style. And that goes for anything, if not Pandaren any race we're going to do.