Former ‘World of Warcraft’ devs reveal game in tune with Twitch stars

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In the summer of 2005, 21-year-old Chris Kaleiki started a “World of Warcraft” guild called Notorious. While sharing player feedback on the online game, he caught the attention of Blizzard developers, who hired him to work on “WoW”. Sixteen years later, Kaleiki – having left Blizzard in 2020 and still guild master of Notorious in 2021 – hired some of his former colleagues and guildmates into a studio of the same name which he co-founded alongside former Blizzard Gameplay Engineer Doug Frazer.

Kaleiki, 37, and Notorious Studios announced Wednesday that they are creating a fantasy role-playing game, internally named Project Honor, inspired by JRR Tolkien and “Warcraft” that will feature mages and warriors. Popular Twitch streamers including Asmongold, Esfand, and Matthew “Mizkif” Rinaudo will be able to test the game in its initial form as part of an investment deal. There is no set release date.

“It’s a cool note, like ‘Oh these guys really like each other,'” Esfand, who has more than a million followers on Twitch, said of how Notorious was formed by members of the “WoW” guild. Esfand flew to California in May to test an early version of the game.

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Notorious talks about his game early in hopes of attracting more employed candidates and building an pending fan base.

“It’s unprecedented to talk about a game at this stage of development,” Kaleiki said. “Traditionally that might be considered a high risk because other studios might copy your idea as well. You set all these expectations that the player is going to have. If you change them, they’re going to be upset. We’re definitely trying something new here, but it’s driven by our desire to have that connection with the player from the start.

Kaleiki’s studio is anything but traditional. The venture capital-backed game studio has investors like Galaxy Interactive, Riot Games and One True King (OTK), a Texas-based influencer company. OTK has an undisclosed minority investment in Notorious, aside from the $5 million the studio raised in October.

When Notorious debuted in October, it also came under scrutiny for hiring no women. Kotaku, the information point on video games, laughed at the studio to have more dogs than women on the staff page of their website. Kaleiki envisions that the current 13-man team will grow to 40-50 employees as Project Honor develops, and said he hopes to put things right.

“The studio hasn’t hired any women yet, and that’s absolutely fair and true. Even today, we haven’t hired a woman on the team yet,” Kaleiki said. “It’s something we’re working on.

“We’ve had an incredibly competitive market for new hires. One thing I’m happy about is that talent from underrepresented backgrounds is in high demand and the industry recognizes its value.

As part of OTK’s partnership, streamers like Asmongold and Esfand, who have made careers playing and critiquing “WoW”, will try the game and provide their thoughts. Both Asmongold and Esfand own OTK and asked to be identified by their broadcast names due to privacy concerns.

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“As a developer, I have my own vision for the product, but what I don’t have is 40+ hours a week to play games,” said John Liberto, lead designer at Notorious. “[Streamers are] sensitive to certain things that we as developers may not consider, and they are able to pick out often very specific things about game feel and articulate them in a way that can often be difficult to be found elsewhere.

“Having that perspective so readily available is a powerful asset to creativity,” Liberto added.

All OTK owners have had a chance to preview concept art for the game, although not all members have had a chance to play the prototype yet. Those who have played it have offered advice to developers, suggesting, for example, how to tweak abilities to improve the feel of combining multiple skills together. (OTK and Notorious declined to share gameplay details.)

Although OTK is not involved in day-to-day development, the group plans to provide quality assurance testing for the game, give feedback on whether it is entertaining, and then promote the game to fans, according to Tips Out, chief operating officer of OTK, who declined to share his real name due to privacy concerns.

“The reason we invest in them is because we also see them as people who have their finger on the pulse of what people want in games and what they think is the best design decision,” said Asmongold. “At the end of the day, we’re streamers, they’re game designers, that’s what they do. We give our opinion and they get what they want out of it.

“Me and [Asmongold] having an eye to be able to see a game and understand if it will be good content, not only for the chat, but also for the streamer’s entertainment,” Mizkif said. “I play games for 5-year-olds. When it comes to gaming and what’s good for Twitch and streaming, what the cat likes is pretty straightforward. Simplicity is the key. The simpler the game, the wider the audience you can reach. “Mario Kart” is an example of the perfect streaming game. »

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Notorious developers have described Project Honor as a class-focused action-based fighting PC game that can be played in an immersive world with a touch of danger. They were careful to say that the game is not a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), although it has many of the same attributes – player versus player and player versus environment experiences, combat systems and adventures – as a small indie studio would struggle to support a big MMO.

“We want orcs and we want elves and we want big, beefy barbarian warriors. We want magic to be that powerful force in the world,” Liberto said. “We want it to permeate the world. We want the world to feel that its people have lived in this reality, that it is nothing new to them. A mage blowing up a magic missile will surprise no one.

As for the things streamers hope Project Honor will provide, Asmongold said, “I want the fight to feel f—— good. Every time you break a barrel, the pieces fly everywhere.

For some content creators, the direct line to game makers was a welcome change of pace. Rich Campbell, owner of OTK and Twitch streamer with over 500,000 subscribers, recalled streaming “WoW” and talking about it on podcasts with other creators. Campbell studied game design in school and used to host official “WoW” esports tournaments, until he announced in 2020 that the relationship was over.

“You have the weight on your legs when you don’t have that direct line with the developer,” Campbell said, comparing talking about “WoW” to testing and feedback on Project Honor. “By pulling back the veil, it’s a lot easier to make sure that you’re not just shouting into the air, and that you’re actually putting your effort and focusing on things that can really be changed. Working from scratch is a new experience for almost everyone. »

Notorious is one of many game studios, including Second Dinner and Moonshot, founded by former Blizzard employees. Workers at these studios – and across the gaming industry – have reckoned with their former employer, Activision Blizzard, in the face of a deluge of lawsuits for harassment and government investigations.

“One of the things we do differently at Notorious is just that we don’t have a typical hierarchical management style. We encourage self-management,” Kaleiki said of how he would prevent culture and harassment issues. to arise at Notorious. “It’s one way we try to protect ourselves from potential problems that our former employer may have had. The other is to ensure that our values ​​are lived on a daily basis.

Laine Nooney, an assistant professor at New York University and a gaming historian, said “nothing about a flat hierarchy prevents male collusion or a masculinized work environment.”

“It’s noble that a game company wants to avoid the kinds of harassment and labor exploitation that are endemic to Activision Blizzard,” Nooney said. “Only time will tell how sincere these ambitions are.”

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