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New platforms make whole new game for Blizzard

As reported in the news of the OC Register, New platforms make whole new game for Blizzard – Video-gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment keeps churning out expansions to “World of Warcraft,” its biggest moneymaker. More people than ever – 185 – are working on the game. But with each new version, passionate fans burn through the game quicker than before, stopping their $15 per month subscriptions and leaving in droves – only to return when the next bit of new content arrives.

To keep pace, the Irvine-based company is branching beyond massively multiplayer online games, and beyond personal computers, and testing new payment models. A team of 15 developers is heading into the final stretch on “Hearthstone,” a free-to-play virtual card game coming first to PCs and Macs, then to iPads and then, sometime late next year, to iPhones and Android phones.

All about ‘Hearthstone’

What it is:  “Hearthstone” is Blizzard’s latest offering, a virtual collectible card battling game that’s like “Magic: The Gathering.” It has a simplified play structure that should appeal to casual gamers – the kind of people who might play games only on Facebook or their phones or tablets.

Why it matters:  “Hearthstone” is Blizzard’s first mobile game and its first free-to-play game. It will allow players to carry a single card collection between platforms and let players compete head-to-head regardless of what system they’re on.

When it arrives:  The game is heading toward open beta in the coming months, which will allow Blizzard to load-test it with millions of people who might want to play at the same time. It will come out first for PCs, then iPads, and then iPhones and Android phones.

Source: Blizzard Entertainment

Interview with Frank Pearce

The Register sat down with company co-founder and Executive Vice President Frank Pearce at BlizzCon, the company’s two-day conference last weekend, to discuss how Orange County’s biggest game company is changing with the times.

Q: What systems are you playing games on?

A:  I still game on the PC, but “Hearthstone” has brought me to the tablet. A couple weekends ago. I sat on my sofa and I watched football all day long and played “Hearthstone” on my iPad. It was (expletive) awesome. It was so much fun. I think “Hearthstone” on the tablet is as good or better than the experience on PCs.

Q: Your head count shrunk significantly from something like 4,700 people in 2012. How many do you have today, and where were those cuts?

A:  We’re about 4,000 right now. The majority of that shift (was in) customer service. We have thousands of people (working in) customer service for “World of Warcraft” around the globe.

Q: How will you find success in the future?

A:  It’s a question of whether or not we can execute on some really awesome ideas. I think “Hearthstone” will be a really good barometer of that. It’s tablet (and) it’s a much more casual experience.

Q: Is there catching up to do in terms of becoming more multiplatform?

A:  We’re probably a little bit behind the curve in terms of the knowledge base because we have spent so much time on the PC. It’s not about being multiplatform, it’s about being where our fans are and delivering experiences that are appropriate for whatever platforms they’re on, whether or not that user experience with the controller can be adapted from the PC experience where we’re relying on the keyboard and mouse.

It’s so difficult to know where things will be five years from now. If you look where we are today compared to five years ago, I don’t know that anyone could predict it. Your phone and tablet are so powerful now. What is the future for the PC? I think there’s a future for it, but it’s not growing at the same rate that sales of tablets and phones are growing.

Q: Are there any other games that might go cross-platform? Your other upcoming free-to-play title, “Heroes of the Storm,” for example?

A:  (“Heroes of the Storm”) might have less complexity than “Diablo.” You’re just controlling that single avatar (but) it’s not a decision we’ve made. It’s on the back burner.

Q: Are you doing anything to introduce people who don’t play games on PC to these worlds you’ve made that have 20 years of history?

A:  Not explicitly and deliberately but, yeah, that’s a really good point. Maybe that’s something we should be talking about. There is a lot of value in our 20-year history and the worlds we’ve invested so much in.

When I think about the “Hearthstone” experience on the tablet – we draw on that 20-year history of that franchise to contribute to that experience. But in terms of introducing brand-new Blizzard players to the lore of “Warcraft” and the 20-year history of “Warcraft,” you’re right, it’s thin, and that might be an opportunity.

Q: You’ve sold 14 million copies of “Diablo III” to date. But at least half of those were in the first few weeks of the game’s release on PC in 2012, so it doesn’t sound like the console version released in September – your first non-PC game in more than a decade – is selling very well.

A:  It’s doing OK. We haven’t been on the console platform for a long time, so it’s hard for us to know how many console gamers are out there that are interested in that experience on that platform. It’s also very difficult for us to know – the 12 million we sold really quickly out the gate – how many of those people were console gamers and, if we had launched the product cross-platform Day One, how many of those 12 million would have elected to buy it on console instead of PC? We’re happy with the results for the console version, but yeah, if you compare it to the PC version, it’s not the same magnitude.

Q: The PS4 and Xbox One have a lot of technical similarities to PCs – is that going to help to put games on consoles quicker after launching on PC?

A:  It’s definitely going to help us close the gap.

Q: “Diablo III” is coming to the PS4 next year, but is there an Xbox One version in the works?

A:  I think we’d like to be on every platform that’s feasible. But we don’t have anything to say about it at this time.

Q: What do you think of virtual reality – is that going to be big for video games? Have you met with the people at Irvine-based virtual-reality-headset startup Oculus VR?

A:  They’ve talked to us. I wasn’t in the room when we met with them. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. It’s really intensive. It’s amazing technology, but then there’s everyone playing games on the iPad, which is a smaller screen.

We want to be where the gamers are. If there’s a lot of gamers doing VR stuff, then it’s definitely something we’ll start evaluating.

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Meet Paul Raymond

Meet Paul Raymond

Mr. Raymond is a sought after speaker in tax controversy law by many attorney, accountant, and business groups and at the request of the Internal Revenue Service, has presented programs at the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum, attended by tax professionals throughout the United States.

Additionally, he continues to be an active member in the Section of Taxation, American Bar Association, where he was the Past Chair of the Employment Taxes Committee.

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