This week Tom Chilton revealed that he is leaving the Blizzard World of Warcraft dev team. Apparently he is moving to another dev team within Blizzard and working on an unannounced project.
If you love MMORPGs and WoW his departure is cause for celebration. As Game Director for WoW since the poorly received Cataclysm expansion, he has presided over the decline of this once great MMORPG which once boasted 12.5 million world wide subscribers in it’s heyday after the release of their Wrath of the Lich King, to 5.5 million subscribers well after the release of Warlords of Dreanor. With such an abysmal track record that undeniably lost millions of dollars for Blizzard, he should have been fired or transferred long ago.
Many WoW fans will remember his flippant answers and smug smirks during his many BlizzCon appearances. After years of observation, I have come to believe that Tom never understood nor cared about the deeper aspects of fantasy virtual worlds. He had no real interest in the social aspects of MMOs nor did he care about role-playing despite being in charge of a role-playing virtual world. He never seemed to have a thoughtful vision for virtual worlds and instead seemed to care more about his personal love of PVP. The anti-social, dumbed down, conveyor belt, junk food MMO of today is partially due to the failed stewardship of Tom Chilton. You reap what you sow.
Tom Chilton will forever be known as the Blizzard dev that lead the B team on WoW. The infamous B team — a group of second stringers at Blizzard — managed to almost destroy the WoW franchise as the A team — all their best talent — left WoW to work on their top secret Titan MMO. Millions of dollars and many years later with no MMO like EverQuest to steal ideas from, the A team utterly failed to create a new MMO. And that is a story for another day.
It is interesting that current WoW Creative Director Alex “Furor” Afrasiabi was bypassed for this role of Creative Director. We can only speculate as to why. It may be due to the fact he was working with the A team on Titan and lost his connection to WoW and lost some momentum climbing the corporate ladder in the process.
Replacing Chilton will be Ion Hazzikostas. Ion is a rising star at Blizzard. I have a lot of respect for this man. In a recent interview while discussing the Nostalrius issue, he actually admitted in great detail that WoW leveling experience is “pretty broken” — his exact words.
He could only know this by actually playing the MMO he is working on. I like this guy already. Sadly in the MMO industry most executives and too many devs do not even play their MMOs and nor do they play other MMOs. This is a dirty little secret that they don’t want you to know and probably explains why so many MMO studios are disconnected from their players.
Now that he is in charge of the franchise, what is not yet clear is Ion’s vision for WoW. What does he believe about MMORPGs? Where does he want to take the genre and WoW? Will he continue to exhibit the humility and honestly about the woeful state of WoW made abundantly clear by the Nostalrius legacy issue? Will he stand up for the players instead of taking sides with out of touch executives and the gaming media complex obsessed with social justice? Will he bring WoW back to its roots? Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Now that Ion is essentially in charge of WoW, I have some faith that he can help to reverse some of the bad design decisions that Tom Chilton allowed to creep into WoW. I sincerely hope he will help put this venerable MMO back on the right course and help make the MMORPG genre great again.