Roper: No one did. I remember meeting at Blizzard where we were hoping we'd be able to sell a million copies of the game. You have to remember that the most successful American MMORPG at that time was EverQuest with about 500,000 players.
It would have been impossible to predict that World of Warcraft would take off as a cultural phenomenon as it did, but those are the kind of surprises that you like to get in life.
As for regrets, I could never regret starting Flagship and Ping0 and building what we have here. The string of games I worked on at Blizzard makes me proud. And while World of Warcraft was perhaps the one that eclipsed them all, its success was also built upon the work we all did over the years on the reputation of Blizzard and Warcraft as a universe. I am glad that the game has done what it has because it is good for the industry as a whole.
Out of interest, if you were in charge of Diablo 3, what would you do with it?
Roper: Use all of the resources available to Blizzard to take absolutely as long as required to make it what the fans and we wanted - although that is always easier said than done.
If we had the ability, we would have taken longer on polishing Hellgate: London, but that is the difficult balance an independent developer has to strike.
Diablo III is going to be tricky because it has to innovate while still being what the core players want. It will be interesting to see if they go for a specific commercialization model (subscriptions, item sales, etc.) or have company subsidized online play (meaning it is free for the players but not to the developer/publisher) and try and crank out expansions.
You have to place a lot of trust in Blizzard in terms of what they do, and I think that the core philosophies would be the same regardless of who was running the project.
We remember interviewing you back in the day about StarCraft: Ghost. Would you have liked to have seen that game released?
Roper: Definitely, but I also respect and support their decision to put it on the indefinite back burner. I still think the concept is very solid, but Blizzard isn't a console company. And as the requirements and demands of console gamers are very different, they realized that the experience they were crafting wasn't quite right.
We killed a lot of projects over the years - some more publicly than others - but they were all the right decisions based on what could and could not be accomplished. I do hope that the idea behind StarCraft: Ghost sees the light of day in some way, though.
Coming on to Flagship Studios, how and why did the company form?
Roper: We didn't plan on leaving Blizzard back in 2003, but sometimes life takes turns you don't expect. Back then, we were looking for a higher level of involvement concerning the potential sale of the Vivendi Universal Games unit.
It seems crazy to think they would have been talking about selling the gaming division, but no one really knew what World of Warcraft would do. Rumours were rampant and it was incredibly disrupting to the team and management.
Things got to the point that we had to go as far as tendering our resignations to try and open a direct line of communication with the decision makers in France to find out what was happening.
In the end, they chose instead to accept our resignations, and Flagship Studios was born more out of a desire to continue making games together as opposed to a grand plan.
The design on Hellgate: London literally began that first day of the company as Dave Brevik, Erich Schaefer, Max Schaefer and I sat in Dave's living room. This was our first official day as a new company, and we started throwing around ideas for a game.
After a while, Dave proposed the central concept for Hellgate: London - to create a completely randomized RPG played from the first-person perspective.