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Blizzard’s Wizard

Blizzard’s Wizard
Ask any of the Warcraft acolytes who slavishly attended HMV’s Burning Crusade launch for their opinion of Itzik Ben Bassat and they’ll tell tales of the Blizzard boss’s infectious excitability. Those dressed head-to-toe in makeshift Ork-wear that night got a ringside seat as Bassat’s enthusiasm spilled over – including a PR-deflating hint of a new Starcraft release by 2008, which has fuelled frenzied fanboy conjecture ever since.

But as the VP of Business Development of a European division that was, according to experts, ‘doomed from the start’, few in the industry would begrudge Bassat his impulsive moment of glory.
“Analysts didn’t believe there was an MMO market in Europe when we launched three years ago,” he explains. “They projected a total of 230,000 subscribers in the European market in 2005 – now we’re up to 1.5 million. Even Vivendi thought we were insane to launch here. It was our deep belief and Vivendi’s trust that got us to the situation we’re in today.”

That ‘deep belief’ has helped Warcraft magnetise eight million subscribers worldwide. But attracting a mass of gamers as big as the entire population of Moscow has been taken with a pinch of salt by the firm– because Blizzard’s eyes are firmly fixed on double figures.

“Eight million is unbelievable, but people forget that we had over 13 million active users for Battle.net,” says Bassat. “We designed Warcraft to be our most accessible game ever, and we’re starting to reap the benefits. We’ve heard tons of stories of huge fans who didn’t like gaming before friends recommended Warcraft – and we’re expecting that word of mouth appeal to grow with Burning Crusade.”

Blizzard’s steely loyalty to PC gaming has led to rife speculation over the company’s future relationship with home consoles. Despite constant press enquiries on the subject, Bassat remains surprisingly candid – and enthused – on the subject. And one company has caught his attention in particular.
“I love Xbox 360,” he reveals. “What Microsoft has done with Live is really remarkable and should get more credit from both the gaming print and online communities.

“We would absolutely consider working with Microsoft in the future. They’re now at the stage where they understand gaming and they understand online. MMORPG is one genre, but there are many more types of games we could provide.

“Warcraft will remain PC-only but we’re talking with Microsoft, we’re talking with Sony and we’re evaluating whether we want each project to be more than PC or not. As consoles provide something increasingly similar to a PC-style online experience, they become closer to what Blizzard is all about.”

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