BlizzCon, an annual fan convention put on by Blizzard Entertainment for players of their World of Warcraft games, took over the Convention Center in Anaheim for the weekend of October 21-22, 2011. If you know that World of Warcraft, or WoW, is the most popular online virtual world for multiplayer gaming in this analog world of earth, you can probably imagine the size and scope of the event.
The big announcement at BlizzCon 2011 was the reveal of the hotly anticipated next expansion of the World of Warcraft universe called Mists of Pandaria. Pandaria is a new continent whose people are, yes, pandas, and whose culture builds on traditional elements of Asian peoples, their architecture and philosophy. Blizzard Entertainment, the makers of World of Warcraft, have wanted to add a panda race ever since Warcraft III which featured a panda boss (a “boss” is an elite adversary). The look of the new region calls to mind the Disney Kung Fu Panda movies, but that may simply be due to the real world Asian environment of the panda.
BlizzCon 2011 was slick and immersive and smart. The interior design of the main convention space created an atmosphere where the costumes and accessories on statues and attendees felt completely normal. Music, giant video displays, mist and light all played together to create an otherworldly feel. Vendors had separate areas that were off to the side.
The main focus was split between the game play areas and the information stages. Banks upon banks of computers were loaded up with the latest expansion of the game for attendees to get a first shot to play the beta test version of Mists of Pandaria and the updates of the other Blizzard games, Diablo and Starcraft. Giant presentation areas were packed with attendees, the biggest and best attended being the Wow area. Enormous cheers erupted when the developers shared their plans for dungeons, for characters, and for game play improvements.
The convention was chock full of game information at all levels of depth and detail. Presentations, demonstrations and moderated discussions with Q&A ran all day both days. One of my favorites hosted three graphic artists working at computer stations whose screens were projected behind them. As folks asked questions of one, the other two continued to work. The effect was mesmerizing and magical, as much so as any spell or potion in game. These guys were amazing and out of the blank page, beings emerged and came to life.
The online chatting after the Mists of Pandaria announcement was a bit disdainful of the “disneyfication” of WoW, but after seeing how well the makers of this game universe know their base, I suspect the final product will once again enthrall the fans with clever and engaging game play for all levels.