More than five years after its launch, World of Warcraft is still as popular as ever. These days it boasts more than 11.5 million users, many of whom are waiting eagerly for the game's third full expansion, Cataclysm, which is expected later this year.
It's not clear yet if the new version will match the impressive sales of its predecessor, Wrath of the Lich King, which sold 4 million copies in one month, but there's sure to be a rush of excitement when it does launch.
One thing that's clear, though, is that WoW fans love their favored game's lore, and it's because of that knowledge that the games magazine publisher, Future, felt comfortable last year launching the "World of Warcraft Official Magazine,", a subscription quarterly with no advertising--and no single copy sales--and slick, high quality imagery and printing.
Originally, Future hired Dan Amrich as editor in chief. But Amrich left the magazine after the first issue was published. In his place, Future tapped former Wired.com managing editor Marty Cortinas to run the show. Editing a quarterly with no ads and an official relationship with a company like Blizzard--which publishes WoW--is an entirely different kind of journalism than being high on the masthead at a daily technology journalism site like Wired.com, but Cortinas seems to have settled into his new job.
Now, as he and his team prepare for the third issue, Cortinas sat down for a 45 Minutes on IM interview and talked about his transition, and what it's like to be able to play WoW on the job.
Q: Thanks for doing this. Welcome to 45 Minutes on IM. So, we have to start with the most important question: How much time did you spend playing Pac-Man on Google on Friday?
Cortinas: Ha. Would you believe none? It's getting a little busy around here.
I find that hard to believe, but I'll take your word for it. What did you think of Google's Pac-Man project, though?
Cortinas: That it's available in that form is sort of mind-blowing to me. This thing used to be housed in a big stand-up cabinet, and now you need...a Web browser. So many things are happening now that were considered impossible or relegated to the distant future. A friend of mine and I are constantly boggling at the Google translations.
I find it hard to believe that Pac-Man has been around for 30 years. Doesn't that strike you as a little crazy?
Cortinas: Pac-Man 30? It's not crazy. It makes me feel older. I don't know if Pac-Man today could hold my interest for long. Not that it did back then. Probably helps that I sucked at it. Now Defender would be another matter.
So, World of Warcraft magazine. Tell me how that job came about for you, and what attracted you to it?
Cortinas: There's a lot that's attractive. I've been playing the game since it launched in 2004. It was a chance to work with Blizzard. And it lets me edit, which I like. Sometimes. Future posted the job way back when, and hired someone else who has since moved on. I came on in the middle of issue No. 2.
What's the work cycle like on a quarterly magazine?
Cortinas: I'll tell you when I know. It's a little more hectic than I expected, but that's mostly because we do a lot of translation. The magazine is published in English, French, German, and Spanish. I'm still learning how things work here, so there are these lulls punctuated by bursts of intense work. I'm trying to change that to keep it to a continuous dull roar.
That makes sense. You mentioned you've been playing since the beginning. So, Alliance or Horde?
Cortinas: My main is Alliance, though I rolled Horde to start. I went Alliance when I got my best friend to play, and he wouldn't give up his precious night elves.
And despite the hectic schedule of the new job, are you still finding time to play?
Cortinas: That's part of the job, right? I'm not logged in right now, but probably will be sometime today. It doesn't feel like work when I'm playing, but it's an indispensable part of my job, I think. I'd feel silly writing and editing about this stuff if I didn't participate in some way.
After more than five years, WoW remains popular. Why do you think that's true?
Cortinas: I can't say why one particular person or type of person might like the game because there's so many ways you can play it. Which is why it's so popular. Blizzard has spent a lot of time developing the game, and almost every change or addition has been made with the goal of making it more accessible to more people. So the short answer is that almost every gamer can find some part of the game that will grab them. It's a completely different game from when it started in 2004. If things had stayed the same since then, I don't think it would be nearly as popular. I think Blizzard has known this from the beginning and has committed to constantly updating the game.
How excited are you about Cataclysm?
Cortinas: I'm pretty excited. It's something new, and some of the changes will have a big impact on players.
Cortinas: There are some new guild features coming in, Battle.net is getting hooked up, and there are some raiding changes that are interesting. My guild already has been having long conversations about Battle.net and the raids.
If you can sum up those conversations, what's the thinking?
Cortinas: Battle.net is a split. Basically it lets you designate people as real-life friends, which lets you see their online status and shows their real name. There's a feature somewhere in there that lets you see friends of friends, so that has some folks uneasy. It's too soon to tell about the raiding changes. But I'm personally fine with Battle.net. It will be nice to be able to play some Starcraft and not be out of touch with my WoW friends in case we want to run a quick dungeon or something.
You mentioned working with Blizzard as being one of the attractions of the job. I've always found them very hard to get information out of. Can you talk a little about how much interaction you have with them, and what that's like?
Cortinas: We're a licensee with them. So it's not a direct line to everyone we'd like to talk to, but we do have access to a lot of things that I can't really talk about. But basically they review everything we do and we have a back-and-forth about pretty much everything that goes into the magazine.
Do they get to mandate story ideas?
Cortinas: Depends on what you mean by mandate. There will be a few stories an issue that are basically, "We want to talk about this," so we do a story about it. It's more like Blizzard picks a subject and then we figure out how to approach it. Unless it's a very insider-y story, in which case they describe it, give us the information and so on. Like the Cataclysm stories. Only they know what's going on, so we basically work with what they give us.
What's the best thing about this job?
Cortinas: Being able to play and talk about World of Warcraft at work is pretty good!
It must be quite a change for you, as a journalist, to go from having total independence journalistically--at Wired.com--to running an official publication. What's that change been like for you?
Cortinas: It's not as big a change as you might think. It's just a different kind of constraint on the work. Obviously if you're looking for complete editorial freedom, you're going to be pretty frustrated. But if you know what you're getting into, it's fine. Plus I don't have to worry about advertising at all.
That must be nice.
Cortinas: Oh, some days you look at the magazine and think, Boy, wouldn't it be nice to fill those two pages with ads.
We're nearly out of time, so I want to shift gears, and talk poker. I understand you're a poker champion. Tell me about that?
Cortinas: Champion? Ha. Back in 2006 I played in the World Series of Poker. I had won a tournament at Poker Blue, a now-defunct poker site. That got me entry into the main event and some travel money. I wound up finishing in 652nd place and winning $19,000.
Do you still play much poker?
Yes, I still play a lot of poker. Not much hold'em, but pot-limit omaha and badugi. To be brutally honest, I played terrible poker in 2006. I would totally kick my 2006 ass now.
I see the World Series of Poker starts on May 27. I'm guessing you won't be heading to Vegas for that?
Cortinas: No, not unless someone stakes me. Got some spare coin around?
I'm afraid not. And besides the money, what do you like about poker?
Cortinas: It's a huge head game if you're playing good players. You're trying to figure out what level the other guy is playing on so you can play on the next--he knows that I know that he knows...That's incredibly fun. It's a very deep game when played at a high level, so it's challenging as hell. It has this nice side effect of winning money when you do well. At the same time, there's some luck involved, so you have to learn to deal with adversity and focus on making the right decision, not letting results bother you much.
My last question is my standard for 45 Minutes on IM: Instant message is a great medium for interviews, because it gives both people a chance to think about what to say, and be more articulate than would otherwise. But it also allows us to multitask. So tell me: What else have you been doing while we've been chatting?
Cortinas: E-mailing my colleagues about the next issue. Checking editing suggestions from Blizzard. Setting up an interview. Posting on our Wowhead forum. And bitching about our Internet connection.
Well, thanks so much, Marty. I really appreciate it.