Monday, August 8, 2011

The Myths and Truth of the Warcraft B-team

Since Jeffrey Kaplan left his role as Game Director of World of Warcraft to work on Blizzard’s upcoming MMO, code-named Titian, there has been a rumor that Blizzard is shifting staff and resources from their World of Warcraft team to Titian and other Blizzard projects.

Now I’m no Blizzard insider, nor do I have any special knowledge of the inner workings of Blizzard, but game designers are people too and like to get credit for their work, so I went into my old World of Warcraft manuals to figure out what has changed since 2004 when World of Warcraft went live.

One thing that should be clear to everyone is there are more people working on World of Warcraft now than there were in 2004. For example, there were 20 programmers on the original World of Warcraft; by Wrath of the Lich King there were 36 programmers. Or take Dungeon/City Artists: in 2004 there were 9, in Wrath there were 13.

Retention is also the other issue people talk about in great detail with World of Warcraft, especially in areas like Level Designers. Between The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, 5 of the 7 Level Designers were still in the same department, showing a fairly high level of retention.

One thing that does need to be noted is that World of Warcraft has had a lot of title bloat and leadership changes since the launch of the game or even since The Burning Crusade. At launch,World of Warcraft had 6 Team Leads; by Wrath of the Lich King that number had tripled to 18, with none of the original people still as team leads. Looking from The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King, we see only three people stayed team leads in World of Warcraft; Tom Chilton as Lead Designer, Cory Stockton as Lead Level Designer, and Alex Afrasiabi as Lead Quest Designer.

So you might be wondering why I am talking about the original World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade, and Wrath of the Lich King so much and not about Cataclysm. The answer to that is simple: Blizzard didn’t publish credits for Cataclysm. In the manual or online, the only credits I can find are for voice actors, which is interesting and doesn’t really help to address the brain drain question.

At this point I think it’s important to say, looking over the history of World of Warcraft, there has always been turnover, but the fact is there was much less turnover between The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King than there was between World of Warcraft’s launch and The Burning Crusade. That to me suggests that as World of Warcraft has become an institution within Blizzard, people have been much happier staying within it.

I leave you with this, looking up the team leads for Wrath of the Lich King I found only one person that I’m sure has left Blizzard completely, two more had left the World of Warcraft team and three I couldn’t find out for sure, one way or another. All in all, that left two thirds of Wrath of the Lich King’s team still working on Cataclysm. So at least on a leadership level, World of Warcraft doesn’t seem to be losing it leadership to Titian or other projects. Now when you start getting into programmers, artists, quest writers, etc, that might be a different story, but right now I think it’s hard to make a case that Blizzard is putting fewer recourses into World of Warcraft. At the very least, they are paying a lot of people who are working on this game, regardless of what people think of the pace of patch releases or the quality of the content.

If you’re wondering, here is the list of the people that worked on Cataclysm that were team leads for Wrath of the Lich King: Tom Chilton, J. Allen Brack, Gary Platner, Wendy Vetter, Thomas Blue, Cory Stockton, Jesse McCree, Ely Cannon, Alex Afrasiabi, Scott Mercer, Dave Maldonado, Patrick Doane, and Patrick Magruder.

Sam Lantinga, Lead Gameplay Programmer, has moved to another position within Blizzard, as has Monte Krol, Lead Tools Programmer.

Steve Aguilar, Lead Animator, is now Compensation Manager at Texas Instruments.

I am unsure of Jason Morris, Lead Prop Artist , Aaron Keller, Level Exterior/Level Designer, Bryan Gibson, Lead Server Programmer, and Tom Thompson, Lead UI Programmer.


World of Warcraft Credits
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Credits
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Credits


  1. I would argue that it's an issue of quality over quantity. I've never put much stock into the rumors of there being a "B Team" or that Blizzard was shifting key people to "Titan" or other games. I don't think it's that simple to diagnose the direction the game has been going towards lately.

    They may have the same number of people, possibly more; but that doesn't mean that those same people are putting what they put into previous expansions into this one. I think that stands out to me more than losing some big names that were responsible for WoW's previous successes.

  2. Warcraft is a job like any other and people come and go. What I took away from writing this article is how remarkably high there retention rate is from expansion to expansion.

    There is no A-Team that has been with Warcraft for 7 years a few people have been with World of Warcrart since the start but its a small number. The reality is Warcraft has more stable leadership, and larger amounts of manpower than arguably anytime in its history.