Today, we ask Alex Afrasiabi, Creative Director of World of Warcraft, to point to the future of storytelling in the game.
How the team behind the scenes right now works together to tell the story of the world inside, and outside, the game. And how they continue to work to make the storytelling as engaging as possible for players – whether they like to read quest text or not.
In the process, Alex gives us some promises he wants to make to all World of Warcraft players.
Plus his hopes for how players will trust his team with what's happening in the story right now – with the major upheavals taking place in the story as open conflict returns between Horde and Alliance once again.
[Note: we had this conversation before War of Thorns events were taking place, but Alex clearly had a sense of what the fan reaction was going to be.]
Story leadership has changed over the past couple of years at Blizzard, how is that changing what we can expect from the coming years of Warcraft storytelling and new story arcs?
Afrasiabi: Story comes from many places on this team and on other teams. Stating one of our company values, "Every Voice Matters", and in our world of creative content that's doubly and triply true.
It's important to allow content designers and creators to tell their stories. And to bring in emotionality.
The story in WoW originates in certain places, of course. We have discussions at the start of any expansion where we do a high level break down. This is what the expansion is going to be about, these are our primary characters and actors, this is the direction we're heading, these are the tones we want to chase, these are the themes.
There's a couple big hooks that we want to follow, there's a couple of big stories that we want to pay off, and once we've figured that out, it gets distilled out to the team at large. This includes the story and franchise development teams as well, which we work very closely with.
From there all of the different initiatives that we have, whether they're books, novellas, comics, short stories, audio books, all of that stuff again originates from the game team.
We've been doing that for years, by the way, but right now we're in a place where we're just working really, really well together in the group.
All of the different groups that are responsible for different aspects of the story and the world and the media are all on the same page. And helping advance the story in their own way.
There's always players who drive through the story quickly, never stopping to read the quest text. What words of encouragement might you have to encourage those players to slow down and embrace the story work more?
Afrasiabi: It's an interesting question. I actually don't think players are doing anything wrong. That's really what the game is to some degree.
I always tell the designers, do not depend upon quest text to tell your story or tell the story of the world and the characters.
Focus on those moments where you have the player captive, where they're actually able to listen versus hit accept and move on and follow the quest map to check off the things on the list.
So, the words of encouragement I would give are - we're working on it, we're constantly improving our storytelling method, our style.
What we are aware of and what we know is that telling story in WoW is a very different thing than telling stories in anything else, in any other format. We're constantly looking for ways to improve that, to bring the players in closer, to tie them into this world.
Our promise is to continue to try to improve our storytelling, to continue to try to improve the ways in which we deliver these moments and character development so that you aren't bound by WoWpedia or the quest text. That you can play the game and as you play it and you just get it.
That's the best and greatest service I think we can do for players that care about the story. And for those that don't because that's the kind of thing that will bring them in.
We could write the greatest quest text ever but 90 percent of players just won't read it. And again, I do not fault or blame them, that's just the way that the meta game of questing plays out.
So what we need to do as designers and developers of this game is to come up with better ways to tell the story. Again, that's our promise to the players - we're working on it and we're going to do better and we're going to keep improving our storytelling capabilities.
As the story of Battle For Azeroth begins, what would you like to say to players about what they should expect in the story that's starting to unfold?
Afrasiabi: What I would say is… Be patient.
This is a living, breathing world and a living, breathing story that is continuing to progress.
A game, especially WoW, it isn't like a book where you can just devour it and get the satisfaction of learning and understanding the whole of it, right?
Unfortunately for us, we have chapters broken up across an expansion of patches. So as much as we would love to tell you what's going to happen, we'd really rather you find out for yourself.
But in order for that to happen, we have to allow the regular expansion process to unfold. What would be great is... just... take note of that.
We want to make sure that you feel something, that there's some emotionality there for you.
Sometimes it's anger. That's a valid emotion! Sometimes it's happiness, sometimes it's sadness and excitement and so on.
But the story is continuing to evolve and the answers you seek will be there and hopefully they satisfy you.
It's an ongoing story that we're going to continue to support and continue to tell and we hope the players will be right there alongside us.
Battle for Azeroth, World of Warcraft's seventh expansion, is available now for pre-order and goes live August 14.
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