PAX Storytime Session with Ion Hazzikostas
Game Director Ion Hazzikostas is the opening keynote speaker for PAX West 2018, hosting PAX Storytime Session.
While we don't expect Ion to drop any Battle for Azeroth news in this speech, it should be an interesting look at the history of Warcraft.
Watch 10:30 AM: PAX Storytime Session with Ion Hazzikostas de PAX em www.twitch.tv
When we pick Storytime speakers for PAX, we try to get devs with important things to say who have worked on projects that have impacted the industry in big ways. I think it’s safe to say that a plucky little indie darling hit called World of Warcraft has done just that.
As game director of World of Warcraft at Blizzard Entertainment, Ion Hazzikostas has been responsible for the overall vision and direction for the team behind the world’s most popular subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
We are extremely excited to have Ion open the 15th PAX West and we are sure that there will be a lot to go over, what with a Battle for Azeroth raging at the moment.
Ion started at Blizzard roughly 10 years ago! Prior to working at Blizzard, his career was in law. He loved the idea of being a lawyer and felt like he had a great life ahead of him. So...how did he end up at Blizzard?
Ion's love from gaming stemmed from his mother, who was an elementary school teacher that received discounts on Apple products. There was a lot of educational software but of course, some games!
Ion didn't prepare to develop games just by playing them for 20 years. When he was young his parents read him many different Greek mythology books, which lead to his love for mythology.
Ion graduated from Law School in 2004 and started to working with it right away, which was fascinating for him at the time.
Three months later this little game had launched... World of Warcraft.
At the start he just thought he'd play casually in a random server until he talked to a friend and his friend invited him to play with a hardcore guild in a horde server.
As time passed he leveled up to max level and got dragged into Molten Core as his guild needed more bodies. The experience was amazing, even tho he spent 90% of the time dead because his group had no healers.
After some days and weeks they started to get more organized and started progressing. Corehounds were one of the most challenging encounters in Molten Core. He noticed that they had a respawn timer of a couple minutes and, since he had a stopwatch laying around irl, he started calling out when it was safe to go forward and whatnot in Ventrilo, becoming the de-facto raid leader.
After that they've cleared Molten Core and progressed through Onyxia and, later on, they found themselves over a wall in AQ40, during Twins.
He didn't want to report the bug on the forums, because it would expose their strategies. For that, he reached out to one of the developers, which his guildies knew because he was a developer in Everquest, his name was Tigole, also known as Jeff Kaplan, or Papa Jeff.
He messaged Jeff about it and, a couple weeks later Jeff replied thanking him for the report and told him to reach him through his email if he had any other reports.
After that his guild kept growing, keeping around top 20 or 30 at the time. At that point his guild created a website and a forum, to grow the feeling of community.
That forum grew quickly and started to become a hub for a lot of discussions and probably the first theorycrafting community that World of Warcraft ever saw.
Later that year, 2007, he went to his first BlizzCon, where he first met his guildies and some Blizzard employees like Jeff Kaplan and Alex Afrasiabi for the first time.
Looking at the other side of his life, his internship had ended and he started to work in the legal industry, but, it wasn't as exciting as his first internship, which led to him starting to lose interest in the law world.
One of his old friends from law school, which was in his guild with him confided with him that he was quitting his law internship to start working as a game developer for Blizzard.
That opened a door to him, because he never thought that was an option, Ion was just a lawyer and a closeted gamer.
He then applied to a Game Designer position at Blizzard, sending the worst cover letter possible saying "I don't know if I want this job." Because he was a lawyer and had no game design experience.
A month later he received a reply, he went through the whole recruitment process and received questions about game design that he had thought about, but never thought about it in that angle, like, how to balance an encounter to be fair to both ranged and melee dps.
A month later he received a reply and was accepted at the job. Ion wasn't sure if he would take it tho.
Will he walk away from his career, all the money spent in law school. His family thought he was crazy, but the more he thought about it, more it felt right. It was the chance of a lifetime, he couldn't throw it away.
All through his life, he lived through certainty, everything was known. All of that didn't apply to his new job, in a creative environment you know nothing for sure. Should this ice dragon encase players in ice? Should players hide behind this ice? Is this a good idea? They don't know and that can be terrifying.
Ion joined the World of Warcraft team right before Wrath of the Lich King expansion launched, helping out with zones at the start and then moving to encounter design.
In Cataclysm, Ion moved to class design. One of his first challenges for that was balancing Unholy and Frost DPS. Back then Frost was behind Unholy DPS wise, so, easy solution, buff Frost a couple percents.
That led to Frost behind further ahead than Unholy, because now simulations showed that Frost was better, so the best players changed from Unholy to Frost, so while simulations showed them closer, logs showed them further apart. Human psychology is complicated.
Fast-forward to Mists of Pandaria, the Lead Encounter Designer option ended up being available and Ion applied to it. For that, his superior asked him "Ion, why do you want to stop creating things to start leading people to create things?". That's something that Ion didn't know how to reply. Because sometimes the best creators aren't the best managers, because the roles have different necessities.
Ion reflected a lot on that question and decided to pursue that role, because, like during raids he wasn't the best DPS or healer, but he was a good raid leader, knowing the strengths and weaknesses from his raid group.
Accepting the role, he talked to his team and told them that he wasn't better than them just because he had "Lead" in his job title now, he was just there to make them better, to find how could he help them to be their best.
His first raid zone was Throne of Thunder, where they tried to increase the number of bosses added in the zone without losing quality in the process.
Fast forward to Legion, Tom Chilton decided to move on from World of Warcraft team, which caused the Game Director position to be open.
Ion then decided to pursue the role and, from day one, he compared himself to Tom. Which made him think about how terrible he was at the job, but that wasn't fair to him, because he was comparing his one day at the job to Tom's eight years in the job.
From that he decided he wasn't the best at the job, but rather he would work to be the best possible self. Because while you might not believe you're the best at what you do, remember that there is a whole process behind you, that put you where you are and a lot of people that trust in this process and thus you.
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