Luca: Where did the idea to found Arena.net come from?
Patrick: There are three founders of Arena.net: Mike O'Brien, Jeff Strain and myself. We worked very closely together for the last four years designing the technology for Blizzard's games and managing the three internal development teams. We developed a high degree of respect for each other's abilities, and shared a common goal of what we wanted to accomplish.
Because we've had such extensive experience not only writing multiplayer games, but also developing Battle.net, it became very obvious to us that online publishing is going to revolutionize the way games are developed. The Internet is radically changing the kinds of games we can make, and gamers are going to get the benefits of those changes.
Starting Arena.net gives us the opportunity to pursue our vision of making Internet-only games, and allows us to get back to a small-company environment. It's exciting to be back to building games like we did for Warcraft and Starcraft without the corporate concerns we faced at Blizzard.
Luca: What are the previous working experiences of the Arena.net founders?
Patrick: Since I was the fourth person aboard at Blizzard, I worked there for almost 9 years, and was the Vice President of Research and Development. In addition to managing the development teams there, I also did a lot of work designing and programming on Starcraft and Warcraft I & II. I also worked quite a bit with Blizzard North during the development of Diablo, and wrote the client-side multiplayer code for Diablo. Before that I worked on console titles that Blizzard published back when it was Silicon & Synapse, like Rock & Roll Racing, Lost Vikings and a bunch of others.
Mike O'Brien worked at Blizzard for about 4½ years. He came up with the idea of building Battle.net and giving it away for free, and then he wrote all the code for it. It's hard to emphasize how much work he's done, because I don't think most people can see how much work had to go into Battle.net to make it a worldwide network. Mike was also the Team Lead and Lead Programmer of Warcraft III, and developed the game's 3D rendering engine. It's an amazing piece of technology, as I think you can see from all the early screen shots.
Our third co-founder is Jeff Strain. Jeff was the Team Lead and Lead Programmer of Blizzard's unannounced game. I'd like to be able to tell you a bit more about it, but we'll leave that up to Blizzard. He was also a senior programmer on both Warcraft III, Starcraft and Diablo. I think Jeff's biggest contribution that gamers have been able to see is the Starcraft Campaign Editor. Gamers have continued to play and extend Starcraft, and I believe that it's because of the astounding things that can be done with the campaign editor's "trigger" system.
Luca: Arena.net aims for the realization of multiplayer games. Which types of games do you intend to make?
Patrick: We're focusing our efforts on designing games that will be played exclusively over the Internet. We're going to take advantage of the Internet connection to regularly update the game with streaming content, and give players a lot of features related to team play and guild support. Although we're not ready to give out any specific details about the game just yet, I think that gamers who have played our previous games are going to enjoy what we're making. We plan to announce more details when the game is closer to release, so keep an eye on our web site (http://www.arena.net) for the latest development news.
Luca: Arena.net will publish games exclusively over the Internet. Why?
Patrick: There a lot of compelling reasons to publish games through the Internet. I think one of the biggest bonuses that your readers will appreciate is that because the game is released online, they won't have to wait until the game finally gets to retail stores in Italy - they'll be able to get the game at the same time as everyone else in the world! Because a game CD isn't required, players won't have any limitations on copying the game. They'll be able to install the game on any number of computers and play anytime and anywhere they want.
Since our games will be specifically designed for the Internet, we'll be designing a wealth of multiplayer features that are not available in games that merely support the Internet. Our games will take full advantage of the large number of players per game that the Internet allows, enabling features such as team play and integrated support for guilds. Also, because our games will be designed to run within the secure Arena.net environment, cheating will never be an issue.
We'll also be able to dynamically add to the game by streaming new content to the computer as gamers are playing. We intend to continue adding new game features and extended scenarios so that players regularly have something to look forward to.
Finally, since we're going to be bypassing retail stores, our games will be less expensive. Since we don't have to pay for boxes or for special placement in retail stores, we're going to be able to pass those savings on to gamers. And most importantly, there won't be any monthly fees. Once you've purchased the game, you'll be able to continue to play it with no monthly charge!
Luca: Do you believe that this new distribution channel can be used in other fields?
Patrick: I think that the Internet enables a number of other forms of online distribution. Stephen King has successfully distributed books electronically to his fans. We're also starting to get access to a much wider variety of music now that number of bands have been putting their music online. We're no longer limited by what the record companies decide to publish, the online community now has a much greater voice in choosing what they want to hear. It's certainly not the norm yet, but I think as more and more fans demand that kind of access, we'll see a big increase, if not a total conversion, to Internet distribution. At Arena.net, we want to be the innovator in the gaming world and publish earlier and more effectively than any one else in the industry.
Luca: Will it be difficult for users to download online games?
Patrick: Because our users will have an Internet connection open when they're playing our games, we're going to be able to stream the game content - artwork, music and sounds - that they need to play at the time they need it. We can create a game that will be easy to download and will play well on today's Internet with a modem. As more users get broadband connections, we'll certainly add additional features to our games to take advantage of the extra bandwidth.
Luca:Which platforms you will support? You will only create games for PC or also for console (X-Box, PlayStation2, etc)?
Patrick: We're building the Arena.net gaming network to be platform independent. This will allow us to release games on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems, as well as on next generation console systems such as the Playstation 2 and X-Box. Our first game is going to be released first for Windows, and we plan to port it to other platforms as rapidly as we can.
Luca: New graphics cards appear every six months. When can a fan that acquires a new GeForce or Voodoo card expect to see the advantages of their power (T&L, etc.)?
Patrick: We are investing an enormous amount of effort to create a state-of-the-art 3d engine. Mike O'Brien built an amazing engine for Warcraft III, and we're using that experience to go well beyond what we've done before. The challenge is to create an engine that can take advantage of the latest high-end features of new video cards, while also working on a wide variety of other cards. Because Mike is one of the members of the DirectX Graphics Advisory Board, he's very focused on ensuring that our graphics engine will take advantage of the new technology that Microsoft is building right now.
Luca: How you have intention to create and distribute a handbook for your games?
Patrick: One of the most compelling things about Internet publishing is the chance to take the traditional approach to games and put a new twist on it. We've got some great ideas about how to build an online manual and incorporate it directly into the game, so that players don't have to shuffle through the manual to find what they're looking for because it will only be one click away. It's that kind of challenge that makes the development process so much fun. At the same time, I expect that we'll see a number of companies write strategy guides for our games that will be available in stores, so I think users will have an even better solution than what games use today.
Luca: When will we be able to play the debut title of Arena.net?
Patrick: Because Arena.net will only release the highest quality games, we expect to spend at least two years developing our first game. We don't have a specific release date for the game yet, because it's more important that we make the game perfect instead of releasing it on time, although we'll do our best to do both! We're working very hard on the game right now, and we're looking forward to sharing more details about our progress in the future, because we're very excited about what we're building.