The truth about WoW and the ‘B Squad’

Back in July, Eric@Elder Game posted a thought provoking article about how development teams had been organised at Turbine. They had a development team (A Team) and a live team (B Team). He commented that WoW might use a similar structure and based his observations on what he’d seen coming out of their dev team recently.

Joystiq interviewed J Allan Brack (Warcraft’s lead producer) and this was one of the questions that they asked. What he actually said is that they only have one team for WoW. (140 people is a huge development team, incidentally, so presumably they are split into different projects.)

We have one team and it is over 140 people, and it is a World of Warcraft team. We have talked about splitting up into kind of expansion one team or into a live team, a patch team, and then an expansion team. But it is really important to us that we have one vision, one kind of consistent set of everything that we are doing, so it is just one team.

He is also asked to comment on how large Cataclysm will be as an expansion, given that there are 5 extra levels rather than 10. If you aren’t interested in levelling an alt in the next expansion, don’t expect WoW to last you as long as it has previously.

I think this is the … this is the largest expansion we have ever made. So there is a little less level up content for the people who are already at max level and only play one character. But we are going to have more dungeons. We are going to have more in game rating content. There is a huge amount of level up content, it is just not max level up.

And as an added bonus, there’s  a great drawing of a goblin mage girl on page 3 of the interview.

9 thoughts on “The truth about WoW and the ‘B Squad’

  1. The assertion was that the “A Team” is the one that created the game, and have left the game for future projects, while the “B Team” was brought in to maintain the old game.

    Many of the original design team has left. That’s still consistent with the Elder Game article.

  2. Actually, Eric’s original assertion was that the better, more experienced developers (the “A Team”) would be put on the more vital project. It’s becoming obvious that WoW isn’t going to last forever, and a new MMO is what is needed to keep the cash rolling in. It makes sense for Blizzard to put their better, more experienced developers on the newer project because it has a much higher earning potential. But, you can’t just ignore an ongoing cash cow, so you get developers to work on WoW, too. These people aren’t going to be your best and brightest.

    Plus, a lot of times there’s a stigma against people working on the live team. A number of job descriptions for MMO developers ask for “worked on X number of titles” rather than “has worked X years on titles.” Going purely by descriptions, my “one shipped title” is worth less than someone working on two or more titles, even if I have over a decade of experience and the other person may have half the experience or less.

    Not to say the B/Live Team not also exceptional developers, but they’re not necessarily the same caliber that gave the world the original WoW. And, since your experienced developers have moved on to the new, more important project, you’re left with a different team with different ideas than the original team. So, you’re going to see the game change. That was Eric’s point: the game changes and the original steadfast “vision” gets changed. Sometimes not always for the better. What Mr. Brack says in the interview doesn’t contradict Eric’s post in the slightest; in fact, it neatly dodges the question because the true “A Team” isn’t going to be on that 140 person team. They’re going to be working on the “sooper seekrit” project they aren’t talking about.

    I know Eric is not completely wrong because I was the “B Team” (actually, more like “X Team”) on Meridian 59. The best and brightest that had experience on M59 had left 3DO by the time I started, and I was the right combination of young, semi-experienced, and cheap.

  3. Don’t bash the “B” team! 🙂

    Some people feel Eric might be right, as WoW HAS changed a lot, starting with the 3.x patch before WOTLK and then changes happened at a faster rate than before.

    I still think dual speccing was a mistake and reinforced the STRONG “go hybrid” trend that makes the pure DPS classes so unattractive by now. Oh, I just bashed the B-team? Actually, I like the way Ghostcrawler communicates with the community, but I am not happy with the way WOTLK developed. Some of my friends quit WoW and one is wondering if he should not unsubscribe till the next expansion.

    We might get to know in a few years if Jeff Kaplan ever writes his memoirs what he thought about easier and more accessible instances and raids? 🙂
    He is known as a raider and achiever and the quest cruise director of Azeroth.

    Did Jeff Kaplan and Tom Chilton agree to the new more go casual strategy, was it their master plan from the get go for the upcoming Cataclysm? Chilton is still working on WoW as far as I know.

  4. Interesting article (though my interest in WoW at the moment is waning as the Cataclysm hype grows) but the A/B team rebuttal sounds like spin to me. Duck, walks, quack, even if everyone is one big happy family. There’s no way you can manage 140 people without some kind of subdivision.

  5. I don’t think J Allen Brack is asked or answers the B Team question at all.

    I think, as some of the others have said, you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here Spinks.

    To be fair I’ve reassessed the B Team article since I went back to Galaxies to try that again. Galaxies has had lots of very good content added that doesn’t quite fit in with or even outright strangles the preceding game.

    SWG is unfortunately a sad example of what happens when every live team member is a development minded designer with no interest in the current live game.

    In WoW you always feel there is a coherent plan even though you might not like parts of it. SWG is just “hey i’ve done this great new system” and in it goes, breaking what has gone before.

    It’s not just the famous NGE. There have been several more features added since the NGE with equal cavalier contempt for whether they fit in with the current game.

  6. “SWG is unfortunately a sad example of what happens when every live team member is a development minded designer with no interest in the current live game.”

    Ain’t that the sad truth. 😦

  7. To be honest, A-Team, B-team – it really doesn’t matter unless the nuts and bolts work and are maintained in the perception of the players. Player perception is incredibly powerful, crafting opinions of games and especially MMOs that are pervasive even when the facts say otherwise. So as long as the current maintainers of WoW are able to do that, the game will be fine.

    Though despite some people wanting to declare every MMO besides WoW to be a failure, most of them remain in the genre, and each one takes a piece of that WoW pie away. WoW is on the road to be trending downward, given that devs are learning the only thing that will kill WoW is WoW.

    On another note, I keep forgetting to exchange blogroll links! D’oh. We should.

    • Oh, good idea about the blogroll. I don’t usually do reciprocal agreements, I figure people can decide for themselves if they want to link here. So don’t feel obliged.

  8. The big thing I get from this is that there isn’t a separate expansion team for new expansions. (That implies that everyone gets a shot at working on both new and older content, which is probably good for staff retention).

    And also, whatever they are doing, it isn’t stopping the new team from innovating. That’s very good for giving the application (WoW in this case) much longer legs.

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