Ex-‘World of Warcraft’ developers reveal game in deal 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 online player feedback about the game, he caught the attention of Blizzard developers, who hired him to work on “WoW”. Sixteen years later — after leaving Blizzard in 2020 and still serving as Notorious’s guildmaster in 2021 — Kaleiki hired some of his former colleagues and guildmates to work at a studio of the same name that he co-founded with former Blizzard gameplay engineer Doug Frazer. founded.

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

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

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Notorious talks about his game early on in hopes of attracting more applicants and building a fan base.

“It’s unprecedented to talk about a game at this stage of development,” Kaleiki said. “Traditionally, it can be seen as high risk, because other studios could also copy your idea. You set all these expectations that the player will have. If you change them, they will get upset. We’re definitely trying something new here, but it’s driven by the fact that we want to have this connection with the player early on.”

Kaleiki’s studio is anything but traditional. The venture-backed gaming studio has investors such as 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 was also criticized for not hiring women. Kotaku, the video game news site, mocked the studio for having more dogs than women on their website’s staff page. Kaleiki foresees the current team of 13 men will grow to 40 to 50 employees as Project Honor develops, and said he hopes to correct the course.

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

“We have experienced an insanely competitive market for new hires. What I am happy about is that there is a lot of demand for talent from an underrepresented background and that the industry is recognizing the value of that.”

As part of the partnership with OTK, streamers such as Asmongold and Esfand, who have made careers of playing and critiquing “WoW”, will try the game and provide feedback. Asmongold and Esfand are both owners of OTK and for privacy reasons are asked to be identified by their streaming name.

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“As a developer, I have my own take on product, but what I don’t have is more than 40 hours a week just playing games,” said John Liberto, principal designer at Notorious. †[Streamers are] sensitive to some things that we as developers may not consider, and they are able to pick out and express often very specific things about the gameplay feel in ways that are often hard to find elsewhere.

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

All OTK owners have had a chance to view the game’s concept art, although not every member has had the chance to play the prototype yet. Those who have played it have given the developers advice and suggested, for example, how to modify skills to improve the feeling of combining different skills. (OTK and Notorious declined to share gameplay details.)

While OTK won’t be involved in day-to-day development, the group plans to provide quality assurance testing for the game, provide feedback on whether it’s entertaining, and then promote the game to fans, according to Tips Out, OTK’s chief operating officer. 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,” Asmongold says. “Ultimately, we’re streamers, they’re game designers, that’s what they do. We give our insight and they take what they want from it.”

“Me and [Asmongold] definitely have 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 entertainment for the streamer,” said Mizkif. “I play games for 5 year olds. When it comes to gaming and what’s good for Twitch and streaming, what the chat likes is pretty straightforward. Simplicity is key. The simpler the game, the bigger the audience you can reach. Mario Kart is an example of pretty much the perfect streaming game.”

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Notorious developers described Project Honor as an action-based PC battle game focused on classes that can be played in an immersive world with a hint of danger. They were careful to state that the game isn’t a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game, despite sharing many of the same attributes – player-versus-player and player-versus-environmental experiences, combat systems and adventures – as a small indie. studio would struggle to support a major MMO.

“We want orcs and we want elves and we want big, sturdy barbarian warriors. We want magic to become this powerful force in the world,” Liberto said. “We want it to permeate the world. We want the world to feel like the people have lived in it in this reality, that it is not new to them. A magician who fires a magic missile will not surprise anyone.”

As for the things the streamers hope Project Honor will offer, Asmongold said, “I want the fight to feel damn good. Every time you smash a barrel, the pieces fly everywhere.”

For some content creators, the direct line to game creators was a welcome change of pace. Rich Campbell, an OTK owner and Twitch streamer with more than 500,000 followers, remembered streaming “WoW” and talked about it on podcasts with other creators. Campbell studied game design at school and hosted official ‘WoW’ esports tournaments, until announcing in 2020 that the relationship had ended.

“You’ve got the leg weights on if you don’t have that direct line to the developer,” Campbell said, comparing talking about “WoW” to testing and providing feedback on Project Honor. “When you pull back the veil, it’s much easier to make sure that you’re not just screaming into the void, but that you’re making an effort and focusing on things that can really be changed. Working from the ground up is an experience that is new to almost everyone.”

Notorious is one of several game studios, including Second Dinner and Moonshot, founded by former Blizzard employees. Workers in these studios — and in the game industry — have been aware that their former employer, Activision Blizzard, is facing a torrent of harassment lawsuits and government investigations.

“One of the things we do differently at Notorious is 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 from developing at Notorious. “That’s one way we try to bar ourselves from potential problems that our former employer may have had. The other is making sure our values ​​are lived every day.”

Laine Nooney, assistant professor and game historian at New York University, said, “Nothing about a flat hierarchy prevents male collusion or a masculine work environment.”

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

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