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Blizzard's 'Secret Sauce' 330

Posted by Zonk
from the goes-great-with-burgers dept.
hapwned writes "With interviews from David Brevik, Mark Kern, and Steig Hedlund (all of Blizzard Entertainment fame), Russ Pitts creates a most enlightening explanation of Blizzard's success in the latest edition of The Escapist." From the article: "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."
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Blizzard's 'Secret Sauce'

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  • Impossible to Read (Score:5, Informative)

    by neonprimetime (528653) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:36PM (#15482793) Homepage
    full text [escapistmagazine.com] cause that article is impossible to read otherwise!
  • Full Text AC ftw (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:43PM (#15482844)
    Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard
    Russ Pitts
    In 1991, the internet didn't exist.

    That is to say, it did exist (and had for some time), but to the majority of Americans it might as well have been a huffalump until the creation of the World Wide Web in (approximately) 1992, when the internet would begin to become both widely understood, and easy-to-use (therefore "of interest" to most people).

    Yet in 1991, the internet (such as it was) was neither widely understood nor easy-to-use, which is why the prospect of playing games on the internet may have seemed like a good and bad idea simultaneously. On one hand, nobody was doing it yet - it was a virgin market; on the other, nobody was doing it yet - the risks were terrible.

    In 1991, videogame industry leader Sierra launched the Sierra Network (later called the ImagiNation Network). It was geared more-or-less toward children, with cartoon-ish art and themes, but it allowed users to play a variety of games and chat with friends in online chat rooms - all for an hourly fee, of course. It was, in every way, ahead of its time.

    Particularly in terms of what users were willing to pay. At one point, the hourly rate for access to Sierra's network had climbed as high as $6 per hour. This was in addition to the subscription fees users were already paying for dial-up access to the internet itself and (in some extreme cases) long distance telephone charges levied by the telephone company. By contrast, many telephone sex chat services charged less than half that amount.

    The Sierra Network, not surprisingly, failed and was shut down in 1996 by AOL, who had acquired it from AT&T. Ironically, this was not too long after the internet had become both widely understood and easy-to-use, and right around the same time that several other online gaming services had begun to flourish. Among them, an exciting new service offered by a company called Blizzard.

    The Sleeper Has Awakened
    In 1992, a revolutionary videogame was released that captured the imaginations of gamers the world over, almost immediately selling half a million copies. One of the first "real- time strategy" games ever made, it tasked the player with building a virtual army by collecting resources and then constructing buildings that would produce their machines of war - all in "real time." While the player was at it, their "enemy" was doing the same, building up to an eventual showdown between the competing armies, after which one side would claim total victory. Whoever had the most machines or the best strategy would win the day. It was like chess combined with backgammon wrapped up in an erector set, and gamers loved it.

    That game was not Warcraft.

    Westwood Studios' Dune II, predating Warcraft by at least two years, was based on the science fiction books by Frank Herbert, and cast the player as one of three races bent on controlling the spice-infested planet of Arrakis. It has been described as among the best PC games ever made, and many still consider it the best example of its genre ever made. Yet, it was not without its share of problems.

    As with any game based on a license, Dune II relied on the players' familiarity with the premise of the original works. The Dune series had sold millions of copies of books world-wide, and had been made into a feature-length film in 1984, but to many people, the story was simply too dense to get their heads around. Case in point: The resource Dune II players were tasked with mining, the spice "Melange," took Herbert an entire novel to attempt to explain. Called "the spice of spices" in his appendices, the fictional Melange has been attributed with prolonging life, allowing users to foresee the future, astrally project objects through time and space, turn people's eyes blue and make giant worms try to kill you. "Catchy" is not the first word which comes to mind here.

    Still, the game was among the first of its kind, and as such is fondly remembered and universally considered the grandfather of the RTS genre. The cri
  • by MyNymWasTaken (879908) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:43PM (#15482848)
    The direct link doesn't work. It redirects to the paginated "issue" view.

    To view the full text, click the tiny "text" link near the middle of the bottom nav bar.
  • by hibiki_r (649814) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:48PM (#15482888)
    Warcraft, like Dune II, was a RTS game, in which the player mined resources in order to build an army. The difference, however, was in the details. Warcraft was set in the fictional world of Azeroth, a land which borrowed heavily from the fantasy universe created by J.R.R. Tolkien. In Warcraft, a horde of orcs have invaded the world of humans and must be pushed back (by the player) to the world from whence they've come. Or, alternately, the player must guide the invading orcs onward to victory against the hapless, medieval humans.
    And for all this years I thought that Warcraft was borrowing heavily from Games Workshop's Warhammer miniatures game. Orcs that are green and pig-like, bearers of shamanistic magic, Dwarves with gunpowder, steam tanks as siege weapons, a race of demons... I guess that the article reporter/blogger knows better.
  • Re:Nintendo? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Roy van Rijn (919696) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:49PM (#15482896) Homepage
    If you want to read about the rise of Nintendo you should really check out this book:

    The Ultimate History of Video Games [amazon.com]

    I can really recommend it. It describes how everything got started, from pinball machines to arcade machines to the first home entertainment systems. Also very nice to read how all of the Atari developers where smoking drugs all day long, and how their annoyed managers hated that :)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:51PM (#15482909)
    Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard
    Russ Pitts

    In 1991, the internet didn't exist.

    That is to say, it did exist (and had for some time), but to the majority of Americans it might as well have been a huffalump until the creation of the World Wide Web in (approximately) 1992, when the internet would begin to become both widely understood, and easy-to-use (therefore "of interest" to most people).

    Yet in 1991, the internet (such as it was) was neither widely understood nor easy-to-use, which is why the prospect of playing games on the internet may have seemed like a good and bad idea simultaneously. On one hand, nobody was doing it yet - it was a virgin market; on the other, nobody was doing it yet - the risks were terrible.

    In 1991, videogame industry leader Sierra launched the Sierra Network (later called the ImagiNation Network). It was geared more-or-less toward children, with cartoon-ish art and themes, but it allowed users to play a variety of games and chat with friends in online chat rooms - all for an hourly fee, of course. It was, in every way, ahead of its time.

    Particularly in terms of what users were willing to pay. At one point, the hourly rate for access to Sierra's network had climbed as high as $6 per hour. This was in addition to the subscription fees users were already paying for dial-up access to the internet itself and (in some extreme cases) long distance telephone charges levied by the telephone company. By contrast, many telephone sex chat services charged less than half that amount.

    The Sierra Network, not surprisingly, failed and was shut down in 1996 by AOL, who had acquired it from AT&T. Ironically, this was not too long after the internet had become both widely understood and easy-to-use, and right around the same time that several other online gaming services had begun to flourish. Among them, an exciting new service offered by a company called Blizzard.

    The Sleeper Has Awakened
    In 1992, a revolutionary videogame was released that captured the imaginations of gamers the world over, almost immediately selling half a million copies. One of the first "real- time strategy" games ever made, it tasked the player with building a virtual army by collecting resources and then constructing buildings that would produce their machines of war - all in "real time." While the player was at it, their "enemy" was doing the same, building up to an eventual showdown between the competing armies, after which one side would claim total victory. Whoever had the most machines or the best strategy would win the day. It was like chess combined with backgammon wrapped up in an erector set, and gamers loved it.

    That game was not Warcraft.

    Westwood Studios' Dune II, predating Warcraft by at least two years, was based on the science fiction books by Frank Herbert, and cast the player as one of three races bent on controlling the spice-infested planet of Arrakis. It has been described as among the best PC games ever made, and many still consider it the best example of its genre ever made. Yet, it was not without its share of problems.

    As with any game based on a license, Dune II relied on the players' familiarity with the premise of the original works. The Dune series had sold millions of copies of books world-wide, and had been made into a feature-length film in 1984, but to many people, the story was simply too dense to get their heads around. Case in point: The resource Dune II players were tasked with mining, the spice "Melange," took Herbert an entire novel to attempt to explain. Called "the spice of spices" in his appendices, the fictional Melange has been attributed with prolonging life, allowing users to foresee the future, astrally project objects through time and space, turn people's eyes blue and make giant worms try to kill you. "Catchy" is not the first word which comes to mind here.

    Still, the game was among the first of its kind, and as such is fondly remembered and universally considered the grandfather of the RTS genre. The
  • Re:Nintendo? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Surt (22457) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:55PM (#15482951) Homepage Journal
    I'm pretty sure they're categorizing Nintendo as a hardware/platform vendor, even though they make some games too.
    Sony and Microsoft both bring in more money than Blizzard also.
  • by NeMon'ess (160583) * <flinxmid&yahoo,com> on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:59PM (#15482977) Homepage Journal
    In-between Battle Chess and Warcraft, Silicon & Synapse made Rock & Roll Racing [wikipedia.org] and also The Lost Vikings. [wikipedia.org] The first is my favorite racer-with-weapons ever, and the second is a very fun, challenging, and amusing puzzler.
  • Re:Innovation (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @04:05PM (#15483037)
    > Blizzard has always made games that created genres.

    Blizzard has *never* made games that created genres. Their genius
    has always been to come to genres than already exist and perfectly
    distill what has been successful in what came before, and then
    polish with some of the best development processes in the industry.

  • Modem Wars (Score:5, Informative)

    by SirBruce (679714) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @04:46PM (#15483321) Homepage
    You're all wrong. Modem Wars [gamespot.com] was the first RTS.

    Bruce

  • Re:Innovation (Score:3, Informative)

    by TrancePhreak (576593) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @05:00PM (#15483420)
    WarCraft 3 has not only user created units, but it runs in many different resolutions. StarCraft had specific AI's for specific maps as well, as does WarCraft 3.
  • Re:Full Text AC ftw (Score:4, Informative)

    by SashaM (520334) <(msasha) (at) (gmail.com)> on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @05:16PM (#15483507) Homepage

    As of 1999, Battle.net was "the only profitable online gaming service in existence," according to Greg Costikyan in an article for Salon.com. "How? Advertising. 30+ million ad impressions in one month alone."

    The Internet Chess Club [wikipedia.org] was founded in 1995 and (I understand) has been profitable pretty much all the time since then. It also gets its money directly from subscribers and not advertisements, which seems more impressive to me.

    Disclaimer: I'm an ICC admin (although a reasonably recent one).

  • by Arch0nThemis (980317) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @05:33PM (#15483650)
    Out of our deep love for Slashdot readers, we have removed the re-direct. Please enjoy the article in all its pure texty goodness. Alex Macris The Escapist
  • Re:Personally.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tiro (19535) on Wednesday June 07, 2006 @01:32AM (#15485469) Journal
    That's a GREAT point. Until MacQuake came out, war2 was THE game for Mac/PC gaming.

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