Snow Day

Snow Day
Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard

Russ Pitts | 6 Jun 2006 08:00
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"Even though it was rough and I'd never heard of it," says Hedlund, "I could see the game that [Diablo] could become, and I was very interested in getting in on that ... [it] instantly clicked with me."

It apparently "instantly clicked" with a lot of other people, as well. Released in 1996, Diablo sold more than half a million copies in six months, with more than 2.5 million copies having sold to-date.

Quality Assurance
The partnership between Blizzard and Condor progressed swimmingly. So much so, that in 1996 - mere months before Diablo was ready to ship - Blizzard acquired Condor outright and renamed the company "Blizzard North."

"I wasn't with Blizzard at the time," says Mark Kern, "but I recall that it seemed an exciting acquisition for both parties."

Diablo's development was guided by visiting quality assurance teams called "Strike Teams," explained by Dave Brevik as "a group of developers from the opposite development location that would filter the comments from all of the developers at that location and come up with lists of suggestions and changes. The teams would meet with these strike teams monthly and then more often (even every day) as the project approached completion. This would assure that everyone in each company had a voice and a hand in each game."

"I led a few of these," says Mark Kern, "and the duties are open ended: from helping balance levels and tweak UI to raising red flags that the dev teams might not be able to see because they are so close to the project."

Kern attributes Blizzard's uncanny ability to ensure quality control across an entire organization spanning two separate physical locations to the Strike Team concept. "They help carry that 'Blizzard Vision' through all projects," he says. "It is but a humble instrument of The Will."

Taking It Online
" was an idea that was proposed about 6 months before the end of [Diablo]," says Dave Brevik. "It spawned from the basic idea of taking the open LAN games for Warcraft 2 and giving [the players] a place where everyone could hook up and play together. This idea was so cool we went back and remade [Diablo] to be multi-player, though it was never coded to be. There were a few companies at the time ... where they would do the same thing as, but would charge people $10 a month. We decided to make the same service but for free ... "

Ironically, Blizzard's free service would succeed where every other online gaming service had failed. As of 1999, was "the only profitable online gaming service in existence," according to Greg Costikyan in an article for "How? Advertising. 30+ million ad impressions in one month alone."

"Most people don't realize it," says Mark Kern, "but Blizzard has been running servers in datacenters since Diablo. Diablo 2 was also Blizzard's first true client/server game. We learned a lot of lessons that I was eager to apply to WoW."

Blizzard, having essentially turned the wave of the future into a tsunami, then set about using their momentum to wipe all competition from the face of the map. With a proven online service and no fewer than two successful fantasy franchises under their belts, the company decided that it was time to revisit the idea of subscription-based games.

"We had to build an entire company around [World of Warcraft]," says Kern. "This included tweaking everything from PR and QA to establishing entirely new departments like operations, customer service, GMs and billing - it literally transformed Blizzard."

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