Exclusive BlizzCon Interview: Morgan Day and George Velev

This past weekend at BlizzCon, we were honored to sit down with two prolific developers of World of Warcraft: Morgan Day an Associate Game Director, and George Velev, a Game Producer. Amidst the buzz surrounding the announcement of the next 3 WoW expansions, particularly the upcoming The War Within, we were thrilled to explore the burning questions on our mind – such as the effects of third-party addons on the way raid encounters are designed, future consequences for Mythic+ keystone deserters and depleted runs, improving the accuracy of measuring Augmentation Evoker performance, the evolution in philosophy of Mythic+ over the years, and more.

Read on for the transcription to our exclusive interview with Morgan Day and George Velev, or watch Aesyric interview them over on our Raider.IO YouTube Channel!

Table of Contents

Raiding & The Race to World First

Q-1: We know that simultaneously releasing all Raid difficulties was initially intended as an experiment, but as we see it re-occuring again for 10.2, it appears to be the new norm. What are the measures of success being considered when deciding to continue with the Simultaneous Raid Release model?

Morgan Day: Yeah, certainly that has been the trend with Dragonflight. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback along the way; certainly there were some concerns with Vault of the Incarnates and how some of the tuning landed there, but the team has gotten quite a bit better at that over time. We really just love that simultaneous raid releases align so well with the seasonal launch. In previous expansions when we released the raid, we’d have that awkward week where there was a ceiling on your Mythic+ run and concerns about, “Hey, what key level do I need to run this week to get max Vault?” We feel that aligning all raid releases has been a great benefit in removing that weird week.

In terms of what measurements of success look like, we just want to make sure that we’re providing the best experience we can across the board, including the Mythic race. The Race for World First is certainly a big consideration, but there are also a tremendous amount of people that are enjoying the raid on Normal and we want to make sure that they’re having the best experience as well. Ultimately, we just have to look at what our expectation is in terms of what progression might look like for different audiences, versus where we feel like we’re landing. We’ve been happy with the results, but I also think we would definitely look at different timing depending on different launch dates.

It just so happens that every raid that we’ve come up with this expansion has been leading up to some kind of other external thing; I’ve heard comments about Amirdrassil like, “Gosh, I hope we’re done by Thanksgiving!” and I know that’s not an international holiday but it certainly is a holiday for our team. So there are factors that also need to be taken into consideration. “Okay, so we’ve delayed a week…” What does that delay actually look like, and where does that align in terms of the schedule versus expectations for when the raid will be completed? That’s also always taken into consideration as we have a simultaneous launch vs. a staggered launch.

“The interesting choices are not that interesting if the content doesn’t require that you make those changes.” –Morgan Day

Q-2: When speaking to RWF raiders, we’ve heard that many of them would love to go in “blind” to the new tier without any PTR raid testing. Sepulcher had 3 untested bosses, and in Dragonflight the last bosses have remained untested as well. Is there a sweet spot for how much you want players to contribute to the testing and bug-finding process? For Retail, will we see a raid like the new 10-man BFD (Blackfathom Depths) raid, that has no PTR testing for the encounters at all?

Morgan Day: Honestly… Yeah, that’s the goal, we would love for more of our content to be something that can delight and surprise players versus often knowing going into the launch of it that it's already kinda been solved. But ultimately, there is that audience that will go to every PTR test and they will really dive into every specific aspect of the way the boss plays out. Our number one concern is just the quality of the experience: We want to make sure that we release the best raid that we can for everyone. If we could get to the point where we hit that quality bar and be really confident that we can achieve that without doing any PTR testing, I think that would be kind of a dream as it were. And like you mentioned, over time we are building systems and gaining confidence to work in that direction; there are fewer bosses being tested than we might’ve seen in previous expansions. I think we’re working towards that future, though whether or not we’ll achieve that is to be seen! *laughs* But for sure, we would love to be able to hit that goal.

George Velev: One of the things that’s really important for PTR, at least for me, is that it’s always an opportunity to get that feedback and iterate or pivot when necessary. For those of us who focus more on the class and tuning aspect of things, we heavily leverage PTR. We look at people’s damage and what they’re putting on their tier lists and their guides, which really helps us make sure that we’re on track and gives us an opportunity to adjust things when necessary.

Aesyric: So what I’m hearing is that tier lists directly affect how you design the game, that's great to know *laughs*

Morgan Day: *chuckles*

George Velev: *laughs* I think they’re enjoyable, but I can’t speak for the entire team.

Morgan Day: A lot of things directly affect how we develop the game, so that’s not too far off, but there’s also a broad range of things that can impact tuning. We look at feedback from a number of different places and make sure that we’re aligning around what our goals are. Sometimes, comments that we hear from the players are things we very much expect to hear over and over, and we knew this feedback would happen and be okay with that.

I’ve said in the past, and I still think it’s true: The community’s perception of class balance is often very reflective of the content that we’re creating. We could make zero class changes from one raid to the next and those tier lists, as you just mentioned, would look wildly different, because, “Hey, we design our classes to have specific strengths, specific weaknesses and sometimes there’s raids that might not have as much of a specific thing.” I think it was Aberrus where people mentioned single-target as a factor that they called out pretty frequently, and yeah, that’s actually going to have a major impact on class balance.

So, the content is definitely something that we always take into consideration and our encounter and combat team are frequently talking with us to make sure that we’re hitting our goals with those classes. There was a conversation that just happened last week where someone was like, “Hey, what if we don’t do a Patchwerk fight?” (You know, a fight where it's single-target, there are no adds, just punch the boss.) I was like, “Errrrr… they’re pretty important for just the overall balance of the raid and the importance of those single-target talents that the combat team made. Let's make sure they have value and are interesting.” The interesting (talent) choices are not that interesting if the content doesn’t require that you make those changes.

“It’s very much an evolving landscape of game design and making sure that we’re doing our best to ensure that people don't feel like those external tools are literally required versus things that are really just something like accessibility tools.” –Morgan Day

Q-3: How has the development of third-party addons, websites and Weakauras affected the encounter and raid design? Is it considered a bit of an arms-race between designers and developers, or does it offer more freedom to design complex boss mechanics, knowing that the community will figure out a way to deal with them? How do Private Auras fit into that equation?

George Velev: I can’t speak for the encounters team, but personally, as someone who does a lot of Mythic raiding, I think they’re great tools when used properly; I also think that sometimes they go a little bit overboard in terms of actual design and how they’re incorporated into building a fight. Should you be building a fight with WeakAuras in mind? Err… *looks at Morgan and laughs* Morgan?

Morgan Day: Oh, certainly we have to be aware of what the community is going to do based on feedback and based on what the encounter might require. Ultimately, it's our job to make sure that they are never truly required. We hear a lot of feedback on readability, which is something we talk a lot about. Often when you see these WeakAuras that are considered required, a lot of that could be boiled down to, “Hey, we didn’t do a great enough job selling the visual.” Maybe it's not as clear as it should be. Maybe you didn’t have as much time as you would’ve needed to communicate effectively, “Hey, you’ve got this debuff, I’ve got this debuff, what do we do? Oops we’re dead!” *laughs* We need to make sure that we design in that space for those mechanics to really play out in a way that is natural.

As you’ve seen, we’ve also made changes to how some of those mechanics work with the addition of Private Auras in Aberrus. That’s something we’re continuing to leverage in Amirdrassil and there’s actually quite a few more raid encounters and abilities that are leveraging that tech, and we’ve also made changes to the Neltharion “mini-map-tech”, as it were, so that it’s not something that’ll be able to leveraged moving forward. People have actually already noticed that on the PTR and *looks at George* I don’t think we’ve clearly communicated that, which was a mistake. *both laugh*

George Velev: Players will find out!

Morgan Day: They already did! *laughs* And they let us know, and we’re like, “Oops, yep that was intentional, apologies on our part!” So yeah, those are definitely situations where we will make changes as we go. The use of addons in World of Warcraft is a very interesting story. *Laughs* It’s changed A LOT over the years. When I played back in Classic and everyone had the macros that would automatically cancel if the target's health was too high, we eventually made changes to that. It’s very much an evolving landscape of game design and making sure that we’re doing our best to ensure that people don't feel like those external tools are literally required versus things that are really just something like accessibility tools.


“For so long with Mythic+, so much focus was on the affixes but really, philosophically, we’re trying to slowly and gradually shift that focus into the dungeon changes that are happening.” –Morgan Day

Q-4: When Mythic+ released in Legion, Keystones did not go down a level upon depletion – they simply did not award any loot once finished. This system was scrapped in Legion, but depleted keys not giving any meaningful score means that a lot of community toxicity is centered around timing and depleting keys. What are your thoughts with the current consequences for failing a key?

Morgan Day: I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the full story of this, but Mythic+ was very much a feature that, when we added it in Legion, we were like, “Oh, this is an experiment. We’ll see how this goes.” It wasn’t actually built with the intent of being evergreen, but after seeing its success, we realized, “Oh, this is here to stay, okay cool, we should be evolving this more.” Ultimately, it's an area of the game that we’ve really been trying to do a lot more with, especially with Dragonflight; we’re really happy with how the seasonal model of refurbishing some of our legacy dungeons has played out. That’s been really fun to see. But we’re also talking about other things that we might be able to change along the way, especially to make Mythic+ feel more inviting. As we added our own kind of rating system, we wanted to make sure that there was an incentive to bring people who maybe haven’t completed the content on that level before. And I think those social nods are really valuable. I’m not announcing anything here, but something that I’ve talked about a lot is that just the existence of a timer can play a large role in that feeling of pressure, “Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go!” and,“Well, I gotta learn also!” *laughs”. So, the timer is something that we talk a lot about. Is there something that we can look to change or adjust there? Actually with Delves, coming in The War Within, that was something that we talked about very early – no timer in Delves! *everybody laughs* There will be a progression, we want you to be able to move through Delves with progression similar to what you saw with Torghast, but there will be no timer there! And we’re still experimenting with other things that may or may not work to kind of fulfill that same role.

Q-5: Speaking of consequences, we often hear people complain about others leaving keystones mid-run without any consequences – especially in PUGs. They still get the Mythic+ rewards if the group continues the run without them. Just a few days ago, we heard that there might be a change coming to punish key-leavers: can you give us some more info or insight about that or how difficult it would be to mark leavers with a PvE deserter debuff?

Morgan Day / George Velev: *look at each other* I don’t think we have anything specific to answer there at the moment.

Morgan Day: Yeah, I don’t think I have any news on that. A lot of my focus lately has been on The War Within and a lot of the cool updates and developments there, but I know our encounter team has definitely been talking about this subject a lot. That's always something at the front of our minds, so I’ll have to follow up on that one. I’m not exactly sure what the specific plans are, but that ability to make people feel like, “This is an investment, we’re on this journey together,” is something that's on our minds a lot. I know we’ve also been looking at ways that we can add new tools for the players to make sure that expectations match. A major element of making sure that your run goes smoothly is to make sure we’re all aligned on our expectations. If you’re looking to push really hard, and I just want to get my Great Vault progression, we have very misaligned expectations, which can lead to misunderstandings and problems that might pop up in the group. Making sure that we’re providing the tools to connect players who have similar goals is definitely a major thing that we talk about often. We often have other ideas we would love to explore in the game in this regard, as well.

Q-6: Can you talk a little bit more about what’s in store for Mythic+ in the future? Will we be seeing new affixes or rotate current ones out of the rotation?

Morgan Day: I don’t know off the top of my head… I know that affixes are always an ever-evolving element of Mythic+. There has always been this major focus on the individual affixes and the importance of them, and a really big shift that the team is learning and still kind of discussing is, with the dungeon pool changing out every single season, it’s not as much of a focus on those affixes, right?

Philosophically, we want to make sure that we’re spending a lot of time looking at the individual dungeons because that’s something that IS really fun to learn and progress and figure out how to move through this new dungeon, and the individual mechanics that make these dungeons feel so unique. Some of the examples I used were, “Oh there’s a cool new mechanic, and when you are seeing that for the first time, we’d rather you focus on that element of the game instead of so much of the focus being on these affixes, which are really just there to kind of lightly change things up week over week to make sure that there's still something to learn and that is a little bit different. For so long with Mythic+, so much focus was on the affixes but really, philosophically, we’re trying to slowly and gradually shift that focus into the dungeon changes that are happening.

I think that with Season 3 that’s coming out most recently, there are so many cool changes; Throne of the Tides is an entirely new dungeon at this point, *laughs*. I love that we’re using…I think it was a raid boss at one point…is now just a mechanic in the hallway that bites you; that is so cool! It feels like an entirely different space, and that’s really the area that we want to make sure we’re spending a lot of our development time on: Making sure these dungeons feel unique and fun and not spending as much time really laser-focusing on affixes.

Q-7: Okay, great! And any plans for the cosmetic changes, anything similar to PVP?

George Velev: Nothing planned for now that I’m aware of.

Morgan Day: I’ve definitely heard the feedback though, of the desire for more exciting cosmetic things to chase. This is something that I think there’s definitely some space to explore. Right now, when it comes to Mythic+ and a lot of the achievements and rating, it’s all pretty backloaded. There are a lot of cool things that you get when you get to 2,000+ rating, but there’s a whole lot of space before you get to 2,000 that we could be using to try and incentivize people to give this system a try; that would be much more of a lower barrier to entry to earn some of those. I love pointing at the Vicious Mounts in PVP where, if you just gain honor through battlegrounds or something, there’s a really fun mount that you can earn every season. Something like that could be fun to explore. There’s nothing to announce right now, but I definitely agree that there’s space to discuss this on our side.

“We wanted to give ourselves a lot of time to learn the lesson about how this is going to impact Mythic+, how this is going to impact raids, so that we can take a fresh look at a new season after making changes along the way.” –Morgan Day

Q-8: So, the last thing I want to talk about in Mythic+ is balance, so I want to briefly bring up Augmentation Evoker. Currently, Augmentation provides a lot of survivability and healing output to any Mythic+ group, and it’s very very powerful, and a lot of groups may consider it to be mandatory. How do you plan on addressing the inherent advantages of having a support spec in the current state of the game, and how do you feel about the overall health of the game in that regard?

George Velev: Well, I think adding a new spec in the middle of the expansion, one that is a new role for the first time, was a huge endeavor and overall I think we’re really happy with how it turned out. Of course, there are opportunities to make it better, and like you mentioned, looking at how Mythic+ sort of transpired with the initial adding of Augmentation, it was definitely focused more on utility than actual throughput. Thankfully, when we built out the spec in the first place, we gave ourselves the tuning knobs to adjust things up and down. With that being said, we will still be looking at Season 3 Mythic+ and, much like we did halfway through Season 2, we will take measures if necessary.

Morgan Day: There’s a bunch of changes in Guardians of the Dream for Augmentation, right?

George Velev: There’s a few, yeah. We’re definitely hitting some of their throughput potential.

Morgan Day: Like George mentioned, one of the major goals of Augmentation when we added it was to appeal to the player types who just want to help their friends, and they just want to be supporting their allies but don’t really want to be tanking or DPSing things. Often, that desire leads to playing a healing role, but healing can be really hard *laughs*. Sometimes I just want to be able to fulfill that role of helping my allies without needing to be in that healing role.

And, like George mentioned, there are a lot of different knobs that we have for Augmentation, so right now they bring a ton of utility, and ALSO they contribute to a lot of damage. Well, we want to look at the parts of Augmentation that really feel unique and fun to explore. There are definitely things we can do to, maybe, turn the damage down a bit where they still bring some great support since that is something that is unique to that role. There are trade-offs between, “Hey, this role makes it a little bit easier for my healer,” but maybe they’re not contributing as much to damage as they are right now. Certainly, I know we’ve said in the past that it was very much not a coincidence that we released Augmentation when we did *laughs* in the Fractures of Time update. We wanted to give ourselves a lot of time to learn the lesson about how this is going to impact Mythic+, how this is going to impact raids, so that we can take a fresh look at a new season after making changes along the way.

George Velev: And it’s certainly a careful balance because the last thing you want to do is turn it into a non-support spec.

Design and Development

“It’s been really interesting to try and do more frequent updates. As a producer, it’s been a fun puzzle to put together, but it’s also been really rewarding to see players react so positively to it. It’s definitely been a shift in how we produce the game, but based on players’ reactions, it seems like a good shift to make.” –George Velev

Q-9: Moving away from the balance of Augmentation and looking more towards the technical backend of it, you said when Augmentation came out that you wanted to have good support for accurately delivering information on how it performs. We were wondering if you had any feelings on the current state of that, and if there were any intentions to maybe push it towards more accurately portraying how they’re performing both in and out of game (in terms of API)?

George Velev: We’ve made a lot of changes since 10.1.5 to make logging more accurate and I think we have a few more things that we need to iron out. But overall, I think we’re happy with how it logs out of clients. But then, in clients, sort of like seeing it in real time, we don’t really have any plans to make it “look like a full DPS”. Fundamentally, it is a support spec, so we want to make sure that the specs it is supporting are the ones that are shining. But, for players who want to do a more in-depth look at, for example, “How much is my Ebon Might uptime affecting the damage of this Outlaw Rogue?”, they have tools for that as well.

Morgan Day: Really this was something we talked a lot about: How do I know I’m a good Augmentation Evoker? How do I measure my success? And that is something that we talked a lot about, in making sure that we have the ability for players to understand that in-game. For example, the Ebon Might bar is something that went pretty well in the development of Augmentation; we really needed something that we can gauge that, as long as the Ebon Might uptime is good, the player feels good. That’s definitely something that has been a major focus of ours as well.

Q-10: The War Within returns us back to Azeroth, but it is not quite clear how we get there from where we are in the current story. So, we know that Fyrakk will be the final boss of Patch 10.2, but there is still much left undiscovered about the plans and goals of the Primal Incarnates. Can you tell us a little bit more about how the developments of Dragonflight and The War Within tie into each other?

Morgan Day: Um, that is a great question. I’m not sure how much we want to spoil *laughs*.

George Velev: Yeah I mean, we can’t spoil it for our players right.

Morgan Day: There’s certainly, like we’ve said in the past, there’s definitely more story to tell after the Guardians of the Dream update, and a lot of that story is going to be dealing with that bridge between where we are now and what we saw in that cinematic with Thrall and Anduin, as well as what we saw in the features trailer; everyone’s seeing these visions and, what’s the deal with that, and how does that come to be? These story trailers will definitely play a major role in exploring what catapults us into The War Within, but I don’t want to include any spoilers. There are definitely plans to make sure that the cause is clear to players.

Q-11: In The War Within, we are returning to familiar grounds in Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms, and Northrend. Has there been any internal discussion on modernizing some of the previous expansion’s raids and dungeons to become a part of the Worldsoul Saga?

Morgan Day: Something we talk about often is what a strength it is of World of Warcraft to have all this amazing content, right? We’ve got these dungeons that I think are a lot of fun; Cataclysm as we’ve learned is really cool but, everything needs a bit of updating *laughs* as we saw with Throne of the Tides, and some of the other Cata dungeons that we’ve launched. Honestly, I think that’s something that we are planning to continue to explore. There’s this massive library of awesome legacy content that’s still really fun, it’s just a matter of what we can do to make that feel more modern and maybe make it more rewarding to play. We started to dip our toes into the water with Chromie Time, for instance, where you can level through old expansions and make that feel like relevant content again. We’ve been doing a lot of really fun stuff with some of those Timewalking events that pop up and make some of that older content more relevant. That’s definitely a space where we feel there’s a lot of fertile ground to explore and we continue to look into other things that we can leverage there.

Timewalking Raids are something that we’ve explored in the past, but ultimately we feel like right now, those are tuned at a normal raid difficulty, and they don’t have any scaling beyond that; this is an area that we think we could explore in terms of how we make that feel more modern and relevant as we move forward. There’s definitely a LOT that we want to do with those plans and we are making forward progress in baby steps as we go.

“Last night, I read like 3 hours of Reddit, Discord, forums. On Monday morning, I’m going to go talk to the team and see how things shook up, what are we happy with, what are the things we can improve, etc. It’s thanks to the overwhelming amount of player feedback that we’re sure of where we are today.” –George Velev

Q-12: In many ways, Dragonflight has been considered the beginning of a new era for WoW. It is the first time we’ve seen multiple substantive patches, with the introduction of the 0.7 updates each cycle, and you have now announced 3 expansions at once. How has this change in development pace been made possible, and will The War Within, Midnight and The Last Titan be produced by the same development and design teams?

Morgan Day: That’s a great question. Do you want to take it?

George Velev: I think for me, and I’ve been working on this game for a few years now, it started in the middle of Shadowlands; we took some time to reassess and take a lot of community feedback, and use that as the jumping off point for a lot of what we’re doing in The War Within. It’s been really interesting to try and do more frequent updates. As a producer, it’s been a fun puzzle to put together, but it’s also been really rewarding to see players react so positively to it. It’s definitely been a shift in how we produce the game, but based on players’ reactions, it seems like a good shift to make.

Morgan Day: We always try to get content into our players’ hands at a very responsible and rewarding pace, and there are a lot of lessons to be learned. We’ve been making World of Warcraft for 20 years and we hope to be able to be making it for 20 more, but we’re constantly learning new lessons as we’re developing the game and as we move quicker we find things that are like, “Oh, hey, we didn’t do that that time, let’s make sure we put that down and absorb that into our process so that we don’t have some of those changes or misses moving forward.” It’s an ever-evolving thing, which is one of the most amazing things about working on World of Warcraft: The game looks very different today than it did 20 years ago and I imagine, in another 20 years, it will look equally as different. Constantly seeing the game evolving and changing is really an exciting thing to be a part of. This includes the processes on our end; they look very different today than they did 20 years ago, and I imagine that will continue to change over time as well.

George Velev: And so much of it is based on player feedback. Last night, I read like 3 hours of Reddit, Discord, forums. On Monday morning, I’m going to go talk to the team and see how things shook up, what are we happy with, what are the things we can improve, etc. It’s thanks to the overwhelming amount of player feedback that we’re sure of where we are today.

Morgan Day: Even today during the Deep Dive, Ion made sure to caveat the HECK out of Heroic talents *laughs* like, this is early, we want to get this into our players’ hands as quickly as possible to leave us as much time as we can to make changes based on that player feedback. And that’s one of my favorite things about any time we have a new update that we announce; it’s so fun to see what resonates with players versus what we thought was going to be really exciting for people. Maybe the announcement doesn’t quite land, so we always try to be agile and listen to community feedback.

We look at areas where we can continue to double down in some really exciting places, or maybe revisit some decisions that weren’t as popular. As a very recent example with Guardians of the Dream, there was the Pathfinder renown requirement - it’s funny how Pathfinder has changed now to mean, “you could already Dragonride in Dragonflight, but now you can TBC fly.” We very quickly heard feedback from players that such a requirement was a bit unexpected *laughs*, so, making that change as quickly as we did was something that we didn’t take lightly, but was always something that we felt was the right decision based on community feedback and where the game is today versus what it looked like way back in previous expansions where Pathfinder meant a lot more than it does in Dragonflight.