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World of Warcraft interview - John Staats on early Blizzard, canceled projects, & more

John Staats was the first level designer on World of Warcraft and years later, he's written a book about its development. We caught up to him to chat about WoW, Blizzard, and much more.


In the long history of World of Warcraft and its continued development and evolution, John Staats was considered by many to be a hero among World of Warcraft development. The first 3D level designer on World of Warcraft, Staats had a huge part in some of the most iconic content in WoW. He was an instrumental hand behind the design of multi-level raids like Blackrock Mountain and Molten Core. Years later, Staats is no longer at Blizzard, but his legacy lives on, and in celebration of his journey and that of his colleagues through World of Warcraft’s launch and maintenance, Staats wrote a book on World of Warcraft and its development called The WoW Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development.

We caught up to John to talk about as much of his time in development on World of Warcraft and other Blizzard projects as we could. You can check out the entirety of that lengthy interview in the video below.

Some of the highlights of the meeting with Staats included facing the difficulty of development challenges as a team. Staats brings up very specifically the debate on his team of whether or not to include the snake-like Naga race as playable characters in World of Warcraft and the sheer amount of issues and challenges that prospect brought up for his team, the producers, and more.

Staats gives us a glimpse into just what goes into the major game-impacting decisions for something like a playable race. It’s wild to think that Nagas could have been playable, but it’s just interesting to hear about the debate processes, the logic, the forecasted work, the effort to convince producers of the decision, and so much more. The conversations explore the possibilities inside the game as well as the budgets, debates, and realities outside of the game.

Another interesting topic that comes up is that of the ill-fated and canceled StarCraft: Ghost. Staats briefly takes us inside where Blizzard’s temperament was on the game at the time, as well as the difficulties the game was facing and what the team felt the public wanted to see.

Staats first-hand knowledge of the maelstrom going on inside and outside of StarCraft: Ghost development provides us with a more well-rounded look at what exactly went into Blizzard’s decision to cancel the game.

Throughout the long conversation, Staats shares further insights into his time at Blizzard and the difference between game development then and now. Some other highlights of the interview include discussion of the overall growth of video game development teams and departments as opposed to the relatively small teams in earlier game design.

If you’d like to learn more from John Staats about the challenges, culture, and journey of development and game design on World of Warcraft, be sure to check out his book, The WoW Diary: A Journal of Computer Game Development, available on Amazon. Want more videos? Don’t forget to subscribe to the Shacknews and GamerHubTV YouTube channels for more exclusive interviews and videos as well.

Head of Video

Greg is the head of Video Production for Shacknews. If you've ever enjoyed a video on, it was most likely edited by him. Follow him on Twitter @GregBurke85

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