While BlizzCon doesn't officially kick off until tomorrow, I had the opportunity to represent ZAM today at a fansite summit that was held at Blizzard Headquarters. Official Blizzard fansites were invited to send one staff member each to the event, and the reasoning behind the attendance limit became quite clear as a large number of journalists packed into a bus for the ride to Blizzard HQ.
Once we passed through the huge gate and walked around the drab buildings that make up the Blizzard campus, we were greeted by a huge statue of Thrall. This is the first visible sign you're about to enter a structure that houses the development teams of some of the most popular games on the planet.
After we handed over our signed non-disclosure agreements and were told not to take photographs during most of the tour, we got the chance to look through the Blizzard museum. This room holds all sorts of memorable items, from original art and awards to a script of the "Make Love, Not Warcraft" South Park episode signed by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. This one one of the few places where pictures were allowed, and you can check out all of my photos from the summit in our BlizzCon gallery.
Then came our private viewing of the Diablo III demo in the theater. Blizzard's Micah Whipple played as both the wizard and witch doctor and discussed some of the changes that have been implemented in the game, from the updated skill tree and inventory system to the fact there are no longer mana orbs. You can read all about the demo we were shown in this article.
Once the lights came on, the fansites were divided into groups for tours of the various franchises. As part of the World of Warcraft group, I walked through art-covered hallways and peeked into the offices of various developers, designers and artists. Most of the rooms were covered in WoW memorabilia, especially action figures. Some staff members could be seen working behind dual monitors with headphones on, while others met in groups around large tables to discuss gameplay. I even saw Guitar Hero drums set up in a large break area filled with couches.
We also got the chance to look around the Blizzard library, which just opened about a month ago so Blizzard employees can check out reference material in an effort to continue to learn and grow while at work. There were sections for classic games, such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, console games, fiction and graphic novels, business and leadership, project management, art design, online technology and operating systems. There's even magazines like Wizard, Fangoria, Heavy Metal and Adbusters. In case you're wondering about the gaming tastes of the employees, I saw copies of Left 4 Dead and The Sims 3 on the librarian's desk.
For lunch, Blizzard provided us with a barbecue meal of chicken, ribs, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, watermelon and chocolate cake. I probably shouldn't be able to remember so much about the meal itself, but it was really good. I sat at the World of Warcraft table and got the chance to chat with developers such as Monte Krol and Greg "Ghostcrawler" Street. I had seen swords and shields hanging from the walls in most of the developers' offices during the tour, and Krol explained those were awards given out to honor years of service at Blizzard. Swords are given to employees on their five-year anniversary, while shields are given at the 10-year mark.
After that, it was back to the theater to pick up our gift of framed BlizzCon art signed by Wei Wang (thanks Blizzard!) and watch some StarCraft II footage. I'm not allowed to tell you anything about it, but let's just say it was awesome. The battle was intense, especially with commentary.
The summit ended with a presentation on Blizzard's three new Twitter feeds for Warcraft, Diablo and StarCraft. The pages just launched, but they already have 10,000 to 15,000 followers each. Each page is currently holding a contest throughout BlizzCon as a way to thank the early adopters who are following the feeds. Blizzard will hold more contests through Twitter in the future and plans to offer chats with developers and spotlight gamers who have given back to their communities. Oh, and the StarCraft Twitter page was just updated with the new StarCraft II logo, so check that out if you're interested.
We were dropped off at the Marriott hotel and walked over to the Anaheim Convention Center to pick up our badges, and a ton of attendees had the same idea. You can check out photos of the massive line in our gallery.
Darryl "Togikagi" Gangloff