Like most other video game studios, Blizzard Entertainment has sent its developers home to work remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and this includes the World of Warcraft team. In a new interview with GameSpot, game director Ion Hazzikostas spoke about some of the challenges of working on the ongoing support for WoW and the Shadowlands expansion from a work-from-home setup.
“It’s been an intense few months for the team, adapting to these circumstances,” Hazzikostas said. “It’s also incredibly heartening to be working on something that we see bringing people together in these difficult times. We’ve seen Azeroth really be an escape and a way of connecting with other people in a time when social connection feels so precious and hard to come by.”
Hazzikostas said it’s difficult to quantify, but anecdotally, he’s been encouraged to see so much positivity and an increased sense of community among WoW players during lockdowns.
Regarding the specifics of moving to remote work, Hazzikostas said it’s unquestionably been a “challenging transition” for the team. He shared that Blizzard was monitoring the COVID-19 situation early on, and this preparation helped the team’s shift to remote work happen more fluidly.
“We were incredibly aided by the fact that Blizzard had begun preparing for this possibility a few weeks before. In early March, as we started to hear some of the reports from the west coast of the US, we started to double check as a just-in-case readiness plan for what would it look like if we had to go home for a period of time,” Hazzikostas said. “None of us knew how long a period of time that might be, but it meant that we weren’t completely starting from scratch. We had already tested the ability to connect to our tools remotely, we had some people piloting work-from-home programs just to get that up and running.”
The biggest challenge for the WoW development team, other than physically moving equipment from the office, has been finding a way to retain the collaborative spirit of the office, Hazzikostas said.
“The thing that we lost was a lot of the impromptu discussions which is where creative brainstorming happen. The literal hallways conversations–bouncing an idea off someone. Or swinging by and sketching something out on a whiteboard to get some quick feedback from whoever happened to be at their desk,” Hazzikostas said. “Those aren’t things you can necessarily schedule or capture in a Slack call or what have you. So it’s taken extra effort. But we think we have processes that are beginning to work there, some of that is creating general jam spaces where people can go and hang out and talk to whoever else is there.”
Hazzikostas added that Blizzard’s teams have worked hard to create a new culture around connectivity amongst developers to create a feeling equivalent to dropping by someone’s desk to hash out an idea.
“Just pinging them on our internal software and see how they’re doing and if they have a second to listen to a crazy idea and feeling like that’s not intrusive to do the same way you wouldn’t hesitate to poke your head into someone’s office if you were all there in person,” he said. “It’s been an incredible learning process, and I’m so proud of everything the team has been able to accomplish so far. We are on track to, very likely, and historically, complete and publish this game [Shadowlands] from our homes.”
Hazzikostas went on to say that he’s very interested to see how the workplace might change in the wake of COVID-19. “It’ll be interesting to see the ways when this is all over the lessons learned permanently transform meetings and collaborative culture and people’s pre-conceptions of what was necessary and how you could best share information,” he said.
Shadowlands introduces five new zones, a new dungeon arena, a new raid, and new feature called Covenants that unlocks a new campaign featuring multiple missions and new abilities to unlock. For more on Shadowlands, check out the video above. Players can begin trying out Shadowlands for themselves next week when the beta goes live.
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