Matthew Roszak

In The Press Blog

How World of Warcraft maker keeps the hits coming

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| Dean Takahashi

Who’s responsible for Blizzard Entertainment’s string of money-minting video games? Meet Paul Sams, the chief operating officer of Blizzard, now a division of Activision Blizzard, the gaming powerhouse created from the $18 billion merger in 2007 of Activision and Vivendi Games.

He’s one of the top executives responsible for making sure Blizzard keeps pumping out hits like World of Warcraft, which has 12-million-plus paying subscribers. This year, Blizzard celebrated its 20th anniversary, and 2010 was its biggest financial success in its history, thanks to the launches of World of Warcraft Cataclysm and StarCraft II. By far, World of Warcraft is the most successful game in Blizzard’s history; author Jane McGonigal says gamers have collectively played about 5.93 million years of WoW. WoW players put in about 30 million hours a day.

Blizzard continues to work on ground-breaking titles, including Diablo III, a new StarCraft expansion, and a secret massively multiplayer online game called Project Titan. But the competitive environment around it is changing. Lots of game companies are diving into free-to-play games, where users play for free and pay small amounts of real money for virtual goods. Companies such as Microsoft are diving into this business model foronline games with titles such as Age of Empires Online. Electronic Arts will also challenge Blizzard with a Star Wars MMO this year and Trion Worlds has recently launched its fantasy MMO, Rift, in direct competition with WoW. There isn’t any real danger yet. But at some point, those games could conceivably threaten World of Warcraft’s base of paying subscribers.

Here’s our Q&A with Sams, and read here for our previous Q&A with Sams.

VB: So what are your observations about Blizzard’s 20th anniversary?

PS: Back in the early days, we didn’t think 20 years out into the future. We didn’t think it was possible to have the type of success we have been fortunate enough to have. But when I sit back and I reflect on these two decades, it’s been an incredible ride for us. We’ve maintained our core mission of making the most out of our games. We focus on making the most epic entertainment experiences ever, and I think we’ve really stuck with our values. It drives our decisions and has allowed us to provide a level of consistency in what we’ve been able to deliver. We have been able to make many of the top-selling PC games in the world for many years.

It’s tough to run a successful company for 20 years. We are very proud and humbled by it.

VB: How many people are working for you?

PS: We’ve got around 5,000 globally. We’ve got offices in Irvine, Calif., which is our global headquarters. Our U.S. call center is out in Austin. We’ve got about 800 people there. Then we’ve got our offices just outside of Paris and the European main call center is in Cork, Ireland. And then when you get over to Asia, we’ve got Shanghai, Taipei, Singapore and other places. A lot of good things have come from having a global presence.

One of our company values is to think globally, so we’ve really done that and I think we were truly the first company in the game space that did global launches. And when I say global launches, I don’t mean just U.S. and Europe. I mean Japan. I mean Asia. There is really no other company that’s really done that and there is no other company that has been able to reach top position regardless of company in each of those markets.

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