BlizzCon, Blizzard’s annual convention, recharges gamers and developers

Aug. 27, 2009 | 8:06 p.m.

Mark Milian sent in this report from the recent BlizzCon in Los Angeles.

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Executives at Blizzard Entertainment, developer of the massively popular online game World of Warcraft, have found that when it comes to game development, time does not necessarily equal money. But the power of the fanboy is hugely valuable.

That’s why Blizzard, whose parent company is Activision Blizzard, holds an annual convention in Anaheim called BlizzCon. Each summer, fans of the company’s computer games convene to meet with developers and other players, compete, interact with incomplete products and show their loyalty by dressing like orcs and sorcerers.

“We run it at a loss every year because we think it’s worth it,” said Blizzard Chief Operating Officer Paul Sams. “It recharges the ‘geek battery’ for the people that work here. We get so much more productivity and so much more enthusiasm out of our development team after BlizzCon.”

Last weekend, Blizzard let fans play three new games it has been working on — StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and Diablo III. Developers on the show floor said feedback was positive and invaluable.

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“It’s fun for us,” Sams said. “It gives us an opportunity to interact with the players. The players are very passionate about these products.”

Interaction with fans is becoming an increasingly larger part of the company’s overall strategy. Next year, it will launch a revamped version of its online multiplayer network called Battle.net, which puts an emphasis on keeping players connected.

For more than a decade, Blizzard has been a game studio notorious for its lax development schedules. The top two entries on the company website’s “frequently asked questions” page deal with that very issue. One says, “Our goal at Blizzard is to not release a game until it’s ready.”

The motto apparently dictates that payoff from building a strong relationship with fans is greater than keeping to a schedule. BlizzCon plays a significant role in that strategy, especially with keeping its developers happy.

“They come back so charged up, so geeked up, so excited about the feedback they got from the players,” Sams said. “They’re like, ‘All right! Let’s go!’”

Updated, August 31, 9:55 p.m.: Clarified that BlizzCon is run and managed by Blizzard Entertainment, not parent company Activision Blizzard.

– Mark Milian

Photo credits: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

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