Interview: David Craddock (Stay Awhile And Listen) – A History of Blizzard Entertainment

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As most of you may know, I am a huge fan of the Diablo series, developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. I was super excited when I heard that someone was publishing a book about them. Finally, I would know the history behind one of my favorite games.

I absolutely loved the book. So much so, that I wanted to chat with the author David Craddock to learn more about him and his inspiration behind writing this book.

You can buy the book here.

To learn more about the author, see DM Press and his website.

I am publishing an edited excerpt of the interview, which contains about 60-70% of the content. To listen to the full interview and all the anecdotes, do check out the Youtube video below:

 

Interview with David Craddock

Looking at your all the places you have worked at, it seems that you have always wanted to be a writer. What is that made you take this journey and is there something in particular that inspired you?

Its interesting, I can remember when I started playing video games, but can’t really remember when I decided to be a writer. I didn’t really consider writing as a career as I joined college for programming. I remember a paper that was well received by a teacher who pulled me aside and asked me what my major was. When I told her it was Computer Science, she boxed me on the head with this sheaf of paper and told me, “You’re a Writer. You should Write.” That bump on the head was like flipping a switch. I looked at writing in a different way and didn’t really realize I could make money with it. I started doing volunteer writings, worked for Shacknews & IGN and then did freelance articles for the Xbox & Playstation Magazines. I also wrote news for a Green Safety earth website, wrote a book on renewable energy, wrote 6 short stories and also have a book coming out this summer.

Do you think your interest in video games and Computer Science background helped in getting jobs at places such as IGN and Shacknews, as I’m sure there are a lot of gamers out there, who don’t get to write at such top-notch sites?

In school, you work on what the teachers ask you to do. When I got out, I didn’t really know what to write about. But since I knew that I loved games, I wrote about game news and reviews. That really allowed me to work on the craft of writing, which eventually carried over into other avenues such as Fiction and Non Fiction.

Any advice for anyone wanting to write for these sites? Is it just that you keep sending in articles and hope for the best?

I know people don’t want to hear this, but the best thing is just to get up in the morning and write. Write a blog, or write news that you find interesting. And I also incorporated my writing into certain themes.
The problem with Video Game journalism is that there are many ‘writers’ who really don’t care about writing and just want to be involved with games. I was one of those who as much as they loved games, also wanted to be a better writer. Its like those people who send Resumes and say that “You should hire me, because I can beat Super Mario Bros. in 4 mins”. That doesn’t really say anything, because you need to be good at something and provide a service.

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After having worked in the Tech & Gaming industry as a writer, what is it that prompted you to take up writing on your own, full-time, and start DM Press?

After I moved to the Bay Area, one of the first assignments I pitched to the Official Xbox Magazine was an editorial on Stereoscopic Graphics. A few of the artists I interviewed were Eric Sexton and Kelly Johnson, who worked on Diablo 1. Eric and I really hit it off and I originally thought it would be great to get these guys together from some play sessions and document that. Then I thought that it would be even better if Eric and Kelly could help me track down their colleagues and I could possibly ask them about the story behind Diablo!

As far as my DM Press goes, my wife had the idea of starting our own publishing company. She said that rather than print, we could do eBooks. I warmed up to the idea after quite a while and we decided the start DM Press together. She handles the Business side and the Cover art. That lets me concentrate on research, interviews and writing.

I have a certain format and way that I want to tell the story. If you sell a book to a Publisher, they only give you a “Ye” or “Nay” on what you want to do. By being my own publisher and by putting little checks in place to make sure the book is well written and edited, I could make sure that I could tell the story the way I want to tell it.

Did the book come about and snowball after you met with Eric Sexton and Kelly Johnson, especially because you really liked Diablo 1 and Diablo 2? At the time, did you realize the amount of material you would get and how long the process would be?

I definitely had no idea how long it would take. If I would have known, I may have completely bowed out. Its only now that it has started to make money. All the years I spent on Interviews, Research and Transcribing, wasnt bringing in a dime. And I had to work on the book around other jobs, which I used to pay the bills and put food on the table, which usually had to be Taco Bell 🙂 .

What was really inspiring was that not only did I enjoy the games, but everyone who talked to me could tell that I genuinely loved and respected their work, so they felt comfortable opening up. I got such amazing answers and anecdotes about people, that I would come home super charged up and be excited to flush out what they had told me, as part of this story. The work itself was very much an inspiration.

In fact, I would get kind of depressed at times, because there were stretches of weeks or sometimes months where money was very tight. So I would go for a long time without doing any work for the book, because I didn’t have the time and it wasnt bringing in any money. So I couldn’t convince myself to devote any time to something that wasnt bringing in a paycheck.

If you look at Chapter 8, that ends with David Brevik figuring out how to convert Diablo from a turn based game to a real-time game. And him sitting there in the office, alone, late at night, just being in the zone. And then running out with a wild cheer when it worked. He told me that story and I was so amped up, that story knocked around my skull for years and when I finally wrote it, I did the same thing and ran out and told my wife and I was very excited, because that’s what writers live for.
That was inspiration enough.

GeeksMirage_BlizzardFoundersLeft to Right : Frank Pearce, Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham, Patrick Wyatt

We spoke about the inspirations, lets speak a bit about the challenges. I did notice that Michael Morhaime and a lot of other folks who currently are at Blizzard, didn’t officially approve SAAL, because of some creative control issues. Is there something in particular that they wanted, because an official sanction would have made a big difference to Marketing and Sales?

For sure. I actually did approach them 3 or 4 times. And it would have been great to have their official support. Especially since I could have gotten more of their side of the story and issues. I was lucky to work with Patrick Wyatt, who was their 4th employee. Michael Morhaime and Allen Adham founded Blizzard and they hired Frank Pearce as their first employee and after that there was Pat. Pat was there for 10 years and he was their Vice President of Research & Development. So he was making decisions right alongside Mike and Allen. So he was a very good source of information about the management side of the company. I think that if I hadn’t got Pat Wyatt on board, I would have had a very difficult time working Blizzard Entertainment into my story.

From a writing side, there was a 6 month period where I thought I was ready to write the book. But when I read through my notes, I’d see these little holes. So I would patch them up, by tracking people down and filling in the blanks when I could. That’s one thing I fretted about, Its kind of like making your own toys and playing with them. You don’t really care if you trash them. But when you are playing with other peoples toys, you want to take better care of them, because they don’t belong to you.

I did see that you explained why you split the book into 3 parts, especially because of the volume of content. Even though that were certain points in the book that completely captivated me as a reader and even gave me goosepimples “.. And the name was Diablo”. At the end of it, it was such an amazing experience but knowing that one has to wait for a year or two to read the complete story is quite a downer .

This was one originally of my biggest concerns, but trying to cram 22 years (1991 – 2013) worth of stories into one book wouldn’t have done it justice. And if you look at the Side Quests and Bonus Rounds, that content is as long as the book itself. And I wouldn’t have had space for all the content, if I published it as one book, unless I made it one 3000 page block.

My wife saved the day (and my sanity), by suggesting that we split SAAL into several volumes instead of one. It was just a much better idea and it also worked thematically. If you look at the Diablo Trilogy, each game represents the era in which it was made. I also think the story works better when split up into several books, as you get a better idea what the video game culture was, when Diablo 1 (1996), Diablo 2 (2000) and Diablo 3 (2012) were made.

I wanted to chat with you about the Side Quests and Bonus Rounds. I enjoyed this extra material quite a bit. However, trying to keep track of which ones I had read and skipping back and forth on the Kindle took away quite a bit from the great experience I was having. Is there any possibility that with SAAL2, you could release 2 versions? Or if the reader buys one version he gets a second version free, in which all the Side Quests are part of the main book, so that you don’t have to go back and forth?

I’m still playing with the format. When we do the printed book, they will be at the end of the chapter and then you can read it before moving onto the next chapter. That’s the nice part of running your own company. You’re not beholden to anyone elses standards or precedent.

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I’m sure this is the general question people ask you, but when is the next book coming out?

I’m going to pull a Blizzard here and say “When it’s done”. 🙂

We are aiming for Summer 2015. The reason for the delay is that I kind of have wanderlust when it comes to writing. What I love about the process is that I don’t have to do the same thing everyday. The second book is actually written, it just needs some fact checking and cleanup. In the meantime, I’m launching a novel this summer which I sold to a publisher and I’m also working on some smaller books for DM Press.

The next book will cover Diablo, Starcraft & World of Warcraft.There are some pretty interesting stories to tell there. I’m working on other gaming books as well and playing with the format a bit, but people can expect the same level of detail and history.

Out of all the people you have spoken with, is there a particular experience, memory or quote that sticks out in your mind ?

I really liked getting to know Rick Seis. Especially his time at Condor and Blizzard North.
The video game industry was barely an industry at that point. It was just a bunch of guys on a shoestring budget, coming in to work everyday and playing games & making games. They formed very tight bonds as they saw each other more than their families, especially when the crunch period started in 1996.

Rick was very guarded at first and unsure if he wanted to talk to me. However, after he talked to his friends who had spoken with me and the more we met and interviewed, I was able to make him feel more comfortable . At the end of the first interview, he said, “I’m really glad you are doing this book and I really like talking to you”. It was very cool because when you get someone to open up like that, they are more willing to share the kind of details that you as a writer need, to give color to the story and tell it.

Are you currently playing / following Diablo 3? Any thoughts about the Auction House closure and the major Loot 2.0 and Content patch which is coming up with the release of Reaper of Souls?

I am not actively playing Diablo 3. I just keep up with the game every time a new patch comes out. To be honest, I found the Diablo 3 that launched in 2012 pretty disappointing. I liked the skill system and that you can swap it out whenever you wanted to. However, you don’t have much of a RPG if your character is always in flux. You can’t set out on a path and say that THAT is my character. Because your character can change all the time. Also the itemization in the game was so lackluster and very dependent on the Auction House at first. I beat the game once and then I didn’t touch it again for months after that.

This was very disappointing because I still play Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 today. Diablo 2 especially, where there are character builds out there which people are still discovering that I haven’t even tried yet. And Diablo 3 will never have that. Because any time i want to try a new build, I can just rearrange my skills . I don’t have that adventure, of taking my character from point A all the way to Z and forming a connection with that character. As far as closing the Auction House, I think it’s about time. It will definitely help the game. Im looking forward to Reaper of Souls, it will definitely reinvigorate the game.

The industry is do different now and one thing I’ve noticed is that people don’t play just one game. The days of playing one game for 10 years are probably dead and gone. It’s not Diablo 3s or Blizzards fault that not a lot of people are playing it anymore. It certainly wont have the longevity of Diablo 2. Because the games industry is so big, there are so many consoles, indie and PC games that there’s always something new to play.

So I think that Reaper of Souls will reinvigorate Diablo 3. But will it have the longevity of Diablo 2? Probably not. But I will say that Blizzard should not wait 12 years to release Diablo 4. 🙂

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 The current Gaming landscape is completely different when compared to 10 years ago. We used to have a few FPS and RTS games with RPGs like Diablo. Now you have Puzzlers like Candy Crush, Facebook games like Mafia Wars and MOBA games like League of Legends, which didn’t even exist 10 years ago. So what do you think about the gaming landscape right now, given that we have such a wide variety of games?

I think it’s another pro and con scenario.

On the plus side, it’s really cool that gaming is not an underground geek movement where games are only played by some stinky boys in their mom’s basement. Everybody plays something, whether you’re a Secretary in their office playing Solitaire in their lunch break or like me, who is really looking forward to Dark Souls 2 (which will be the best game ever!). There’s something out there to play for everybody.

On the down side, I would consider mobile games, DownLoadable Content (DLC) and how they are structured. I feel a lot of games aren’t designed with fun as the top priority, they are designed to keep milking players for money. Because games are so ephemeral now, they last maybe a week or for a month, and then people are on to the next big thing. And because games cost millions of dollars to make, you have to look for ways to recoup those costs of development. You hear about studios who put out great games. But then they close anyways, because they game didn’t sell 40 billion copies or whatever numbers they have to hit which are completely unrealistic.

I review a fair number of mobile games and like them, but it seems that a vast majority of the ones that are popular are designed not to be fun but to nudge or coerce you into paying money to speed run things, to get to the fun as quickly as possible. And then lo and behold, the fun lasts for 2 seconds and then back to wanting to pay money for something else. So I guess I understand the financial demands on resources in the industry and understand why that has to happen.

For me, my favorite era will always probably be the 16 bit era. Like when I bought Donkey King Country, it was a full game – there weren’t levels missing, I didn’t have to pay to unlock new characters, it was a full experience. Look at how many hours of enjoyment you can get from Diablo 2, especially when there is no Auction House.

I’m still a fan of gaming, but not as much as I probably was 10-15 years ago. I’m more interested in charting the culture and documenting history. I definitely spend more time playing old favorites than playing new games. And more so because of the overwhelming number of new games that are released in the app store.

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If you look at a lot of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) / Constant Online genre of games, such as Star Wars, Need for Speed, Matrix etc, other than World of Warcraft (WoW), for the longest time no one really succeeded in this space. I keep wondering that what is it that Blizzard did right that WoW still exists today?

Michio Okamura told me this story when Allen Adham visited Blizzard North. David Brevik wanted to have Permadeath into Diablo 1. And Allen fought against that. People loved Warcraft was because it was easy to pick up, but difficult to master. And so Allen, in the conversation with Michio said, “Games are like Dougnuts. We don’t design games for that invisible small hole in the center. We design for the doughnut. The doughnut is that mainstream audience whereas in middle is the center of our games, where anyone can pick up them up and play, but you have to put in time and really learn the game, to do well.”

I think that’s what WoW did. Everquest didn’t really have much of a story and was very grindy. Whereas WoW was very colorful, you leveled up quickly, the skills were fun to use, there was a story going on and you always had a quest to do. Blizzard took a formula that already existed and put a shine and color on it, so that it was very pretty & attractive and compelled more people to try it.

If you look at Elder Scrolls Online, I don’t see it existing as a subscription model for more than a year, just because most MMOs are free to play now. I think the reason for that is because people aren’t trying to make MMOs, they are trying to make WoW. They need to stop doing that. You understand the corner they are stuck in. They want to make WoW, because WoW is the formula that makes money. Those who are bold enough to do something different, create new games, but then players dismiss those because it IS something different and NOT WoW. And then you are Darned if you do and Darned in you don’t. Look at the games industry, when a big budget game comes out, like Doom in 1993. Doom started First Person Shooters and then everyone after that wanted to make Doom. The bar was raised. Then came Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Unreal Tournament. Every time you raise the bar, the projects get more expensive. To the point where if you have one flop today, even the most solid studio can just crumble, because games are so expensive.

I think that’s what hurts a lot of developers. They are trying to make WoW. But Wow made Blizzard so much money, that if you don’t have deep pockets, then you can’t compete with that sort of game. So you should really try to make something different, that doesn’t cost like 200 million to make. And then focus on delivering an experience that will recoup your costs easily. Once you have built your fan base, and you have money coming in, then you can slowly start building the MMO. It’s like trying to climb Mount Everest by starting at the top. It’s just not a good idea :).

During my research, I found that you wrote about Indie Game the movie. I really enjoyed the movie and blogged about it as well. Even though the movie details out the struggles and passion one needs to have to create a game, at the end of it, it felt quite dystopian. It felt like it is saying that there are people who really like doing this stuff, but they face SUCH major challenges, that its better if you don’t go this route. As opposed to more of a happy ending, which says that THIS is the amount of effort we spent, but we got something great out of it.

I can agree, that’s definitely true . For some of those guys, selling 100 copies would have been great, but selling 10,000 copies would have been the equivalent of Capcom selling Resident Evil!

I read about the Fez developer Phil Fish, who gave up Fez 2 just because of all the negative media attention. The same thing happened right now to the Flappy Bird developer Dong Nguyen. It’s just that the constant media scrutiny gets to them.

That’s something that’s really under their control. I am certainly not nearly as famous as those guys. It is something like the Matrix. It looks real, it feels real, it sounds real, it seems real but it’s NOT real. The more notorious you become, the more famous, the more people are going to hate that about you. Because that’s just what people do, they tear things down. So you have to unplug from the Matrix and walk away every now and then. And be confident in what you built. And if you can’t hack it, then Games, Writing, Music, Acting ; those probably aren’t the careers for you.

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I noticed you’re a pro wrestling fan as well, so I’ll ask you the age old question we debate : The Rock or Stone Cold?

The Rock is definitely my favorite. Right now, I’m a big Daniel Bryant fan. I’ve subscribed to the WWE network and I’ve been watching it off and on all day. It’s pretty cool that I can watch that all the time.

I got into WWE when Stone Cold was in the twilight of his career, but The Rock was just coming back from The Scorpion King movie and he was red-hot. He is just so entertaining. Certainly, Stone Cold is the bigger superstar of all time, because who doesn’t want to flip their boss off? But The Rock is just that cool guy. The guy that everyone wants to be. And he is so hilarious. And I respect The Rock, not only as a wrestler, but Dwayne Johnson is a very hard worker and very talented. He’s very much an idol for me, because he shows that if you work hard and you’ve got even a modicum of talent, then good things will come to you .

I would really like to thank you for taking out the time to speak with an indie blogger. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. I also wanted to let you know that there is a huge gamer base out there who wonders about the stories of so many amazing companies – Westwood, Sierra and definitely Blizzard.

Any Thoughts? Leave a Comment!

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