Erin Wilhelm wrote for Bleeding Cool from San Diego Comic-Con,
One sign that a panel was not particularly groundbreaking is that you don’t feel the need to write it up immediately. An extreme case of this is the Building Worlds with Blizzard panel that I attended on Friday afternoon and am just now getting around to writing about. As a long-time World of Warcraft player, I was excited to “go behind the scenes with the artists who help build these worlds to discover how they enhance the greater narrative of Blizzard’s franchises.” However, despite beautiful pictures and knowledgeable panelists, all we really got was a look at what game-related merchandise Blizzard develops.
The panel included George Krstic (head of story), Robert Simpson (lead editor), Christie Golden (New York Times bestselling author), Dominic Qwek (senior sculptor), and Steven Chen (director of animation) and was moderated with Cate Gary (senior editor). With a panel like that, I expected some insight into how Blizzard creates their world and decides what tie-ins and extras to produce.
Robert Simpson and George Krstic discussed a bit about how they choose what stories they want to tell. They start with a common thread that they want their audience to identify with and then spread it across all of the formats and tie ins. Krstic referred to the concept as the “why should I care,” and pointed out that due to their worldwide customer base, they have to make sure their themes are globally relevant. Themes like love, revenge, and honor are some examples.
Regardless of the format, it was emphasized by everyone on the panel that the quality of content that Blizzard is known for must be consistent across all formats. Game development teams are involved in every step of the tie-in development process in order to make sure what they are doing is consistent with where the game team is going. Sometimes, however, tie-in content is completed before game content, leading to a trading back and forth of art, names, and ideas.
One of the most popular tie-in formats for Blizzard has been their online Overwatch and World of Warcraft comics, with more than 25 million read. These comics are developed in tandem with game development teams, making sure the dialogue and plot are consistent. Then they are simultaneously written, drawn, inked, and lettered in 14 different languages before color is added and they are put up online. A three-part series of new Hearthstone comics were just released this past weekend.
As a career tie-in author, Christie Golden discussed how she enjoys being able to further develop the characters she sees in the game, and the joy that she gets when small details she adds to the books are then incorporated into the game. In fact, game developers even developed a non-player character in Panderia named Kris Goldenlight that is a storyteller and inspired by Golden.
One interesting detail to come out of the panel is that Blizzard has now moved their entire premium collectible design process in-house. They say that this is to ensure that Blizzard retains complete creative and quality control over the products. An added bonus to this control is that game designers and sculptors are then directly involved in pose choice and detailing for the collectible tie-in products. They also showed some cool pictures of what they have coming out soon.
To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I guess I thought that a gigantic game development company like Blizzard would have a more systematic and controlled process to deciding what story tie-ins they would use. I envisioned an approach similar to how Disney and Lucasfilm publishing have developed the Star Wars universe. While not necessarily a negative thing, I got the impression that a lot of Blizzard’s tie-in decisions are being made based on what players and fans want and might pay for. Regardless, it seems to be working for them.