As well as the entire landscape of online gaming. It was the final move in a decade-long coup d'etat by Blizzard, against the entire gaming industry.
To date, WoW boasts more than 6 million total subscribers, bringing in an estimated $75 million dollars per month.
"Creation of a company or a game is a sheer act of will borne from an idea," says Mark Kern, now President of Red 5 Studios, which is currently developing its own online game (with the help of several former members of Blizzard Entertainment). "But then, you add really creative, talented people to the mix and the vision changes, it becomes collective. It has to be to sweep everyone along."
"It was a very cooperative and non- authoritarian relationship," says Dave Brevik of his time at Blizzard North. Brevik is now the Chief Visionary Officer of Flagship Studios, developer of Hellgate: London (and employer of its own small army of former-Blizzard employees). "[Blizzard North] had complete autonomy from Blizzard in Irvine. We had all our own development people, set our own schedules, and made the game we wanted to make. There was and still exists a ton of mutual respect. I think it really worked."
So, how does a maker of B-quality DOS and console games go on to become the single most successful videogame company in the history of the world? Even accounting for good luck and talented employees, there has to be some other key ingredient in Blizzard's larder to account for their seemingly golden touch.
In 1994, Blizzard took the Chaim Klein Witz of RTS gaming, slapped some makeup on him, gave him a few blood capsules and turned him into Gene Simmons, the fire-breathing, spike- encrusted rock star game known as Warcraft. And then they did it again with Diablo.
Blizzard has succeeded largely by consistently identifying what it is that makes gamers want to play a game, and then amplifying that all the way to 11. But there has to be more to it than that. Millions of gamers around the world can point to a game that works and compare it to a game that doesn't, identifying ways to tweak or refine the formula of either along the way. It happens every day, all over the internet.
I asked Mark Kern, one of the men most directly responsible for transforming the company into what it is today, to attempt to define what it is about Blizzard that gives it its "Star Power." His reply? "Ah, now that's the 'Secret Sauce,' isn't it?"
Secret Sauce indeed.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He likes deadlines and long walks on the beach.