TE: Has the player reaction been positive?
GS: It has been. Some of the negative reaction we really deserved because some things weren't as polished as they should have been, and someone's damage dropped a whole lot more than they - or we - were expecting. I think we've turned around quickly most of the serious problems, and now we're in pretty good shape. People can ride out the rest of level 80 until Cataclysm hits.
TE: As we saw in the Class Q&A, people have very strong attachments to their particular classes.
GS: *Laughs* They do. I say this is a rich man's problem: When people care that passionately about a game, you know you're doing something right. It's when they stop caring that you're in trouble.
TE: Like you said, Cataclysm is very much an expansion oriented around change. It's also a change for the better, you're fixing things that didn't work in WoW. I did an interview with Bill Roper about a year ago when they were launching Champions. And he mentioned that when you're launching a new MMO, you're not competing with WoW at launch, you're competing with WoW at launch, plus 5 years (at the time). Do you think it's possible for a game at launch to compete with you guys and 6 years of developing and running this huge MMO?
GS: I don't actually think it is possible. No developer is going to be able to take six years - the four years it was in development, and the six years afterwards - you can't take 10 years to make a game. I think the only viable strategy is to come out with something really, really well and then, if you can keep the players, expand upon it.
That's exactly what we did. We didn't have Battlegrounds at launch, we added those later. We added a lot of stuff later on and so I think - I don't know why I'm giving advice to our competitors *laughs* - but what I would do is do something really, really well and, assuming players like it and you've got something there, then you can start adding everything else.
TE: Recently, Turbine changed LOTRO and DDO both from subscription-based games to free to play. You'd think that - I've heard suggestions that WoW may not just be the most popular MMO, but the only subscription-based MMO that can exist right now, just because it's so popular. Do you think that's true?
GS: Certainly the business model is something that's working for us and it's not something we're going to mess around with. It's amazing, it's remarkable to me that players still care this much. Going to BlizzCon and going up on those panels and seeing thousands of people that care this much - how can we care this much about a game that's this old? There's so many other games that have come and gone in that time.
I know - I wasn't here - but I know the original WoW wasn't designed for that kind of expandability. They had no idea it would go on this long. And now when we design a system, that system has to be viable for at least five expansions because we may be doing five more expansions. We may be here at BlizzCon talking about expansion number ten where everybody's level 220 because the game is still going. Even if we lost 50 or 60 or 80 percent of our subscribers, we'd still have a really big number of people playing the game.
TE: More than any other MMO.
GS: I think the game's going to be around for awhile. It's hard, every time we talk about a new expansion, "What are we going to do this time? We gotta shock people." You don't want to hear "Well, this is the 'jump the shark' expansion." No one wants to be on watch when that happens.
TE: So do you guys ever think that you've painted yourselves into a corner at all?
GS: Every day. We do that constantly. I had no idea how were going to add three new abilities for level 81, 82, 83 for every class. Now that we've pretty much done it ... most of them are pretty good, but there are some okay ones. Now we're thinking "Okay, if we do 5.0 and we have to add new abilities," we're thinking "Okay, how?" What can we possibly give a warrior or warlock that they don't already have? That's a huge challenge. We've definitely locked ourselves into a corner there.
TE: So you've painted yourselves into a corner just by having too much paint?
GS: Yeah, exactly.