Title : The WoW Diary (A Diary of Computer Development)
Author : John Staats
Publisher : Self-published (Whenitsready LLC)
ISBN : 978-0-9990824-0-9
Price : $49.99
Author: Jon Woodall – Managing Director, Two Patch Pirates
The WoW diary is a book formed from a contemporaneous journal made by a developer working on World of Warcraft. John Staats was one of the level designers for World of Warcraft – and this book is the story of how WoW moved from being little more than a concept to a launched product. The book was self-published via Kickstarter – where more than 8000 copies were pre-ordered. This review is of the Kickstarter edition (which I backed) – but the retail version, due out on Amazon soon, should be pretty much identical.
The book is hard-cover, slightly under A4 in size and 321 pages long. The production quality of the book is excellent – there are copious full-colour illustrations, colour highlights throughout and spot-varnish is used on all non-black elements to make them really stand out. The book has also been very well edited. In reading the whole book I only once noticed something I believed likely to be an error (I thought a word was missing) – but it may well have just been an Americanism.
I found John’s writing style easy to get on with. Don’t expect any literary efforts from him – it’s a factual (albeit slanted to one individual’s viewpoint) account of what was happening. A lot of the book is documentation along the lines of “Person A was doing X whilst Team B was doing Y” but that’s kind of essential to get a good idea of what was going on. I’ve always struggled remembering names so soon gave up on trying to keep track of who was on what team (some sort of team list in an Appendix would have been nice). The real value and interest in the book (for me) comes from the insight you gain into why things were a done a certain way and how different elements of the development process worked together.
The book is entirely about WoW – and hence about work at Blizzard. Although the book was made with the permission of Blizzard (and they were able to review it for factual errors) they had no editorial control over it. The book is thus very much a ‘warts and all’ look at the development of WoW – by turns very positive towards, and very disparaging towards elements of the work culture at Blizzard. John is, however, very careful never to extend significant criticism towards any named individual.
John kept a diary/journal at the time of development (with the knowledge of – and cooperation from – his fellow developers) and, other than minor changes (and editing), that is what the book is. The positive from this is that the book feels genuine. The downside is that the book doesn’t focus on areas that only proved to be important later – the topics for each chapter were chosen at the time, not later with the benefit of hindsight.
My sole real criticism of the book is that on a handful of occasions John has chosen to add spoilers into the book. A typical (but fictional) one would be something like “We aimed to complete the graphics in a month [Spoiler Alert: It actually took 3 months].” I dislike this for a few reasons. Firstly, a Spoiler Alert needs to be such that a reader has a realistic chance of not reading the actual Spoiler. Secondly, all the instances I recall of this should NOT have been made into Spoilers at all. In some cases, the error in judgement (which is what most were) will be perfectly obvious later in the book and there’s no reason to give a spoiler as the information in it isn’t essential to enjoyment in the meantime. In other cases, the thing that is ‘Spoiled’ is never revealed elsewhere in the book (unless I missed it) so it isn’t a spoiler at all – and should just have been added in without any need to call it a Spoiler. This is a pretty mild issue to be my sole real criticism of the book.
Potential readers need to be aware of what this book isn’t as well as what it is. There’s not a whole lot of technical content in the book. The book doesn’t pretend to try to teach you anything nor is it a manual for how to do (or not do) something. The book won’t teach you anything about how to play WoW.
What the WoW Diary will do is give you a good insight into how the development process worked (and at times, didn’t work) inside one of the most successful games development companies in the 2000s. The book is very big on detailing the culture within the company rather than the detailed policies it had. There are no summaries or bullet-points given at the end of each chapter – it’s just not that type of book. But there are plenty of things that can be learned from reading the WoW Diary if you’re working in Games (or any) development yourself – you must figure out the lessons on your own. And if you have any interest in WoW (I played it for less than a year myself) or even other Blizzard games then the book may well be of interest too.