Technology Blizzard got big by figuring out how to get...

Blizzard got big by figuring out how to get noticed


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Blizzard is one of the most celebrated game developers in the world, and during a panel at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas last week, Allen Adham shared some of the secrets of the studio’s success.

The lead designer and original co-founder talked about how the company has amassed millions of fans over 30 years of gaming.

“People know Blizzard these days, but if you go back far enough, we were just a small indie developer. We weren’t even called Blizzard.” Thirty-two years ago, the company was called Silicon & Synapse, and “no one knew what it meant or how to spell it.”

Adham remembers that he used to make great games, “but they didn’t break through until Warcraft 1 paved the way for Warcraft 2.”


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To be noticed

The problem is findability. If people don’t know your game, “How do you break through?”

In those days, people bought games from stores, which were a chaotic mass of boxes. “How do you get someone to scan all this product to get your game off the shelf?”

For Blizzard, the answer was big, giant heads on the box. Adham recalls that all the early games had progressively larger heads on the covers – a technique to get shoppers’ attention.

“We wanted to break through quickly.” Blizzard wanted to “connect deeply and emotionally with players”. Players who would understand and love the game offered.

Warcraft was high fantasy. “We didn’t want to pay for an IP,” admits Adham. “We tapped into a common folklore.” He advised the audience at the DICE Summit, when he did the same: “Make it your own.”

“Players get it very quickly. When they like it, they make a deep connection.” And the studio would follow with high science fiction for Starcraft. Adham says Diablo has a biblical tone. Overwatch is their take on superheroes.

When creating worlds, he likes to borrow the rule of thirds from Sid Meier, creator of the Civilization series. “A third on the nose, a third improved and a third new.” The formula has served Blizzard well in building intellectual property over established fictions.

The most important thing is the first look at a game. “If you can make them fall in love with your game right away…” Something the Blizzard co-founder returns to time and time again is making the strongest first impression and getting the audience that likes to respond to it.

Get bigger

Success brings its own challenges. Adham recalls: “We used to have to concentrate. Doing less makes your game better because you focus on doing more.” Today, they face a problem of too many resources. He quotes a quote from Steve Jobs: “Saying no is about focus.”

There are a dozen core design principles that are part of the secret to Blizzard’s success and transcend genres. “Making lots of games, lots of different games is in our DNA. We still think that way. Making great games is part science, but also part art.”

He teases the developer and executive audience with one example, saying it would take too long to cover all twelve.

“Gameplay first” seems simple, but according to Adham, it is very complicated in practice. “We prioritize core gameplay above all else. Make sure the basic gameplay appeals to as many people as possible.”

“Chess is a game you can teach an eight-year-old to play in five minutes.” But the replayability will last a lifetime and the game has been around for ages.

Adham encouraged the audience to think about playing motivations. “Everyone wants to feel heroic. We play games to make you feel good about yourself. Make your players feel great.

Thirty-two years later, Blizzard is playing the long game. Adham says, “Ideally, our games would be played for ten, twenty years.”

“As we think about the IPs we want to make in the future,” he notes, things have changed in 30 years. “We are talking about welcoming everyone. That makes the design of the game more difficult – and the IP.” But Blizzard’s chief design officer is confident that they will continue to make games that the public loves at first glance.

GamesBeat’s credo in covering the gaming industry is “where passion meets business”. What does this mean? We want to tell you how important the news is to you — not only as a decision maker in a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you’re reading our articles, listening to our podcasts, or watching our videos, GamesBeat helps you learn about and have fun with the industry. Discover our Briefings.

Shreya Christina
Shreya has been with for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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