It seems everyone has taken note of the community reactions surrounding the burning of Teldrassil and following events, as PC Gamer talked to Game Director Ion Hazzikostas and Production Director John Hight about everything pre-expansion related. The Warbringers: Sylvanas > Old Solider reactions from the community were expected and even planned, as the Horde players were supposed to be thinking to themselves if this act had to define them as well as the Horde leaders, and then Old Solider showed them that it didn’t. The rest of the interview delves into just how much more unknown story there is for beta players, how setting up expansions has changed over time, the problems of the stat squish in the pre-expansion patch, and the BfA launch itself.
You can check out the full interview here and here are some interesting excerpts as well.
You can also check out today’s other interviews on the subject, like the Daily Mail one featuring Principal Exterior Level Designer Gary Platner and In-game Cinematic Project Director Terran Gregory and Chris Metzen’s audio interview on fan toxicity.
PC Gamer: The pre-expansion event has been pretty explosive and divisive. When you first set out to craft The War of the Thorns and its story, did you ever imagine it being as controversial as it was?
Ion Hazzikostas: We had some inkling that it would be. I think the Jaina Warbringers [cinematic], for example, is one of my favorite things our cinematics team has ever done. I was super excited to have the world experience that and that was received as we expected. Once we dug into the actual events around the Burning of Teldrassil—the attack and the response—there’s a lot of emotional investment. It’s one of the things that’s powerful about World of Warcraft. There’s attachment to one’s faction—it matters, and people have different views of what it means to be a member of the Horde.
The Horde in particular is this patchwork collection of different races with very, very different motivations. The Forsaken versus the goblins versus the tauren versus orcs: They are fundamentally different in their ethos, their world outlook, and priorities. But they’ve banded together for strength and camaraderie to claim land for themselves and to eek out a place in this harsh world of Azeroth. And that is what has kept them bound together over the years, but those differences can and will emerge. It was very interesting to see the point and counterpoint unfold as we saw the pragmatic ruthlessness of Sylvanas on display countered by the focus on honor and justice, values embodied by Saurfang most of all. Both of those are still encapsulated within [that question of] “what is the Horde?”
Was it frustrating to have players criticize and take what happened and chalk up to bad writing before they’ve seen the whole picture?
Hazzikostas: It can be a bit frustrating, but it’s also understandable and expected and natural. It’s human. Emotions aren’t rational. When you’re feeling anger—or grief even—you lash out. Some people channeled those emotions in ways that are maybe more constructive in giving feedback than others, but I mean… think back to the internet the evening after the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones aired. How many people were like, “I’m done with this. I’m never watching this show again! I don’t understand how they could do this?” It’s because they just watched something they had an emotional investment in struck down before their eyes. That’s part of good storytelling. Clearly you can’t just alienate people and never let them back in, but there are ups and downs and those complement each other. They combine to make a coherent and effective narrative.
Hight: One of the fun things about WoW is that we really can tell episodic stories. It’s not like we push out the game and people burn through it and the spoilers are available. We can absolutely trick you. If you think that we’re doing something that’s blatantly obvious and repeating itself, just stay tuned because we’re probably setting you up for a surprise.
Speaking of tricks, one thing I noticed is how many people felt like the Burning of Teldrassil was supposed to be this big mystery. People expected a twist and felt like Blizzard set it up that way. Going back and watching some older developer Q&As, though, I couldn’t find much evidence of that. What happened there, from your perspective?
Hazzikostaks: On the internet, as this giant game of telephone to some extent, things can definitely take on a life of their own. At Blizzcon 2017, I remember Alex Afrasiabi teed up the question of who struck first: The Burning of [Teldrassil] or the assault on Lordaeron? But that was before alpha. That was at the very initial announcement of Battle for Azeroth. From the time the game was in alpha, beta, and beyond, the order of events was manifestly clear through the contents within the game.
At the same time, it ties back to a little bit of potential cognitive dissonance. People have an emotional attachment and you don’t want to think the worst. You want to think there might be some other explanation than one that you find personally unappealing because it’s uncomfortable. But sometimes storytelling is uncomfortable.
If we had our druthers, we wouldn’t actually reveal any of the story before the game was launched. Players would experience it all sequentially for the first time with twists and turns and surprises as they go. The reality is that the benefit we get to the overall quality of the experience from having a robust beta testing program and continuing to do that every expansion far outweighs the potential upside of the story being more of a surprise for those who care most. Where possible, we’re trying to safeguard the most impactful moments. Those are often our cinematics and a few other things that we really keep under lock and key throughout the whole beta process. There is more stuff that players will see for the very first time in just a few days—some really big story beats that we cannot wait to share with the world.