Shack: You've said recently that the first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, is about 18 months away from being released. It wasn't shown at BlizzCon. What's the status of the project?
Chris Sigaty: I did say 18 months in the past, but I can't say that is true. It was an effort for me to put things in perspective on the long side. We honestly do not have a date. We're trying our best to make sure that we're supporting the community from now until then.
Between Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and The Frozen Throne, we didn't really do anything with Reign of Chaos. No map releases. We were too caught up with recovering from the release to frantically getting The Frozen Throne out. We have better support plans for StarCraft II with customizable hotkeys, chat channels, updated leagues on top of the normal bug and balance fixes.
We're going to look to add content [to Wings of Liberty] any time we can while we get Heart of the Swarm done. We just launched on July 27, literally two months ago, and then BlizzCon is here. Our focus has largely been on making sure problems have been addressed and getting out the first few features.
We are working on Heart of the Swarm, but I can't give you a date. I have no idea really, but we're about to start development in earnest.
Shack: Valve has trademarked "DOTA", but you are calling your Defense of the Ancients map for StarCraft 2 "Blizzard DOTA". Do you foresee any legal issues here?
Chris Sigaty: No issues, but I'm not clear on the behind-the-scenes things going on. We have the utmost respect for Valve. We talk to them a lot and have a good relationship with them. I'm sure things will work themselves out. We're huge fans of the DOTA style gameplay. It's been around a long time and goes back to the original StarCraft.
Obviously, we want to make sure people can continue to develop that type of game and play it in our game. Smarter people than I will have conversations and deal with that issue.
Shack: Since DOTA characters are based upon Warcraft III art assets, are there copyright concerns if Valve's Dota 2 characters are too similar to the originals?
Chris Sigaty: We're aware of this, but I don't have any specifics. We'll see what the future holds.
Shack: StarCraft II's DOTA map definitely doesn't have the depth of DotA-Allstars. Is this intentional and will development continue on the map?
Chris Sigaty: This is a first effort: let's throw something out into the community and see how they react to it. Depending on how they do, we may go way more into it or not.
Obviously, our 10 heroes versus... I don't even know what [DotA Allstars] is up to now. We could certainly go way more in depth, but we aren't done. Out of those four mods you see, in a release order, DOTA is at the end. We're going to do more before we release it. There's things that will release in our coming patches that will add more support that will help things like shops, items, and inventories so it's possible that it will get more in depth even before we release it for free.
The next step is after its released and the community has access, do we go way more in and put a ladder or matchmaking around it, but it remains to be seen. It would depend on community interest.
Shack: So the big content patch with custom hotkeys, chat, etc. Will this be the only patch for the near future or will we get more patches?
Chris Sigaty: It's broken up. We didn't commit to any specific dates. We have a patch that should be in the next week or two that should be to address a few bugs and a minor balance update. That's coming very shortly.
Beyond that, definitely chat channels along with customizable hotkeys. We're targeting this for the near term. Within months, for sure. Those are some big features so the test timeline for that patch creates a bigger time window.
Shack: Do you plan patches around the major tournaments that are going on like the GSL or the MLG events?
Chris Sigaty: We've warned all tournament entities that they should warn players that we will patch when we need to patch. We are looking at some things for potential solutions to help them in cases where they really don't want [a patch], but that's for later. Things like potentially playing on testing realms for a period of time, but we're just talking about that. There's no specific gameplan.
Shack: At the recent MLG DC tournament, there was lag and disconnects during some matches. Have you re-examined LAN play or special tournament features for licensed partners like MLG?
Chris Sigaty: We're definitely paying a lot of attention to that. I don't have any specific announcements, but at a minimum there are some things that I think we want to look at. we're trying to make sure we're communicating with organizers of competitive events so we can find out others tools would help in those situations.
Shack: English-speaking players in the Southeast Asia region now have the option to play on the North American Battle.net server. How is this program going and will it expand to additional regions?
Chris Sigaty: We're talking about it and we're very aware. We've heard from the player community. The truth is it's not an overwhelming number, though the people that can't get where they want are very adamant. We're looking on a case-by-case basis. We're going to do it where and when we can, but I can't give a timeframe.
I think the long-term vision of Battle.net is that everbody can play together, but the realities are it's a different world than WarCraft III. War3 only had the War3 Battle.net account. There weren't accounts in the sense that we have today.
There are challenges like SSN numbers, which are required to play in Korea. There are limitations both in how our accounts work now and business models to overcome, but we'll look into it where it makes sense.
SEA and NA is working well, but I don't have numbers. Even if the numbers are reasonably high for players in SEA playing on NA, it's still a phenomenon there. World of Warcraft players in Australia have been playing on NA servers forever.
Some players would want to log in to Korea to play Korean players and practice, but we're looking at it. Having that unified goal is where we want to be, but there are some challenges. we'll at least do it in some situations.
Shack: Finally, players using third-party hacks and trainers were recently banned or suspended despite claiming to have only used them in singleplayer. Is Blizzard taking a zero tolerance policy toward hacks and trainers, even if players never take them into multiplayer?
Chris Sigaty: No, it's not that we have a zero tolerance policy. The excuse I've heard from people is that if they are using these trainers in singleplayer, they should have a right to do so. What is singleplayer in the game is a perception thing. If you play the campaign, we're not really looking for you.
However, I will warn you that, while we haven't started down this path, it is possible that we can identify people that use some cheat to get 100 achievements in a matter of seconds. We have the ability to go and look at that data and say that person is going to be banned or we'll take away all of their achievements.
We haven't started down that path, but its possible we could. These trainers and cheats being used in campaign, we already have cheats in the campaign. If you use a trainer in there, we are not detecting today and we haven't so far, but if you play multiplayer--even if there's not a human opponent--even against the AI in a multiplayer mode, we will look for that, find it, and could potentially hand out bans or suspensions.
We're not being completely draconian, but at the same time, be wary of these trainers and hacks because it's not just protecting the game, though we are adamant about that. We do whatever we can to get cheating players out of the ladders. It's also to protect players. The people releasing these hacks might be including keyloggers and other sorts of hacks on your system.
My message is: beware of using trainers and how you conduct yourself on Battle.net.
Be sure to check out the rest of the Shacknews BlizzCon 2010 coverage.
Very good stuff, hard questions, great answers.
Agreed, a very informative interview Brian.