Six months later, Kaplan joined the World of Warcraft crew, serving to design quests for what would ultimately develop into the style-defining MMORPG. A big a part of the rationale behind World of Warcraft’s success was its strategy to questing, one thing Kaplan helped form. Previous MMOs, like EverQuest, had only a few scripted quests and have been largely freeform, participant-directed video games. But Kaplan, alongside together with his design accomplice Pat Nagle, solid World of Warcraft’s questing system as a close to-fixed provide of hand-crafted missions.
Player testing solely strengthened the necessity for quite a few quests. “Our old estimates for how many quests we thought we were going to do versus how many quests we ended up doing were radically off,” Kaplan instructed Edge. And so the world of Azeroth was designed that it could at all times have new tales so that you can discover, even when that was simply killing six rats for a farmer.
This approach helped make World of Warcraft significantly more accessible to MMO newcomers. Unsurprisingly (at least in hindsight), his efforts were part of its colossal success. After several promotions, by 2008 he became World of Warcraft’s Game Director, leading the charge on what is still to this day considered one of the series’ landmark expansions, Wrath of the Lich King. With a focus on story (entwining the player’s story with that of legendary antagonist Arthas), Kaplan ensured that WoW’s second expansion was a vital part of not just Blizzard’s MMO, but the entire Warcraft mythos.
Kaplan left World of Warcraft behind the day after Wrath of the Lich King shipped. His new calling was, naturally, Lead Game Designer on a new MMO that was in the works. He was the guy Blizzard employed for his MMO expertise, afterall. This new project was going to be the most ambitious thing Blizzard ever made, and its working title reflected that: Titan.
But Titan would never see the success that World of Warcraft did. In fact, Titan infamously would never see the light of day. In the desperate struggle to make something – anything – from the ashes of Titan’s design, Kaplan came up with what is, undoubtedly, his greatest achievement at Blizzard: Overwatch.Kaplan was enamoured with the class designs and RPG abilities that fellow designer Geoff Goodman had created for Titan. “I started thinking about a more tightly scoped game using that Geoff Goodman concept of dozens of classes with abilities,” he defined to Edge. Kaplan envisioned a recreation wherein these faceless courses turned playable heroes with names and backstories. But reasonably than an MMO, this might be a PvP shooter.
“Team Fortress 2 was just mega in my mind,” Kaplan instructed Game Informer whereas discussing Overwatch’s genesis. “There was such inspiration from that, so as we were rolling off of Titan and we were coming up with ideas that we as a team were super passionate about, we really chased our hearts more than anything else.”
Kaplan’s imaginative and prescient was embraced by the crew, which led to them pitching it to Activision. “They were super polite and super nice to us, but you could sense this undercurrent of, ‘Oh god, of all things, what are you idiots doing?’” Kaplan recounted to Edge. But whereas maybe one other shooter alongside Call of Duty was not a part of Activision’s authentic plan, Kaplan says the character designs received over CEO Bobby Kotick. “What that bought us was that we had until March to put together a core combat demo of the game,” stated Kaplan.
A profitable demo led to full improvement, and Overwatch would ultimately be revealed at BlizzCon in 2014. Its contemporary new world and progressive rethinking of MMO and MOBA-type class skills as shooter mechanics rapidly received the hearts of followers.
As Overwatch’s Game Director, Jeff Kaplan turned one thing of a neighborhood movie star. Following within the footsteps of Hearthstone’s Game Director, Ben Brode, Kaplan made himself the face of Overwatch. His pleasant, gentle-mannered persona was endearing, and he was quickly lovingly known as ‘Papa Jeff’ by the community. Kaplan has at all times taken this in his stride, ever completely satisfied to affix in on a meme, even going so far as to take a seat by a hearth in close to-silence for an eight-hour festive livestream only for the enjoyable of it.
But it was actually Kaplan’s progressive strategy to communication that made him such an efficient face for Overwatch. His Developer Update videos are, to this present day, the gold commonplace instance of direct transparency with a recreation’s participant base. On a semi-common foundation, Kaplan would clarify in clear element the modifications coming to Overwatch, and why these modifications have been being made. He used easy language, so the updates felt like a buddy speaking with you, reasonably than a advertising and marketing crew speaking at you. All this made it straightforward to know the considering behind Overwatch’s many alterations, and invited gamers to really feel like they have been a part of the choice-making. There’s maybe no higher instance of this than Role Queue, the crew composition system created after years of again-and-forth debate between gamers and the Overwatch crew.
Combined with being ever-current on the Blizzard boards, there was a continuing sense that Kaplan cared about Overwatch’s gamers, or on the very least was actively listening to them. And even in moments when the dialog may develop into exceptionally heated – the Mercy resurrection rework was a particularly rough time – Kaplan could be there answering questions. It at all times felt as if gamers have been a part of Overwatch’s improvement. It’s arduous to think about this might be the case with out Kaplan’s explicit strategy, and Blizzard could be sick-suggested to desert the technique going ahead, particularly with regard to Overwatch 2.No matter what strategy the corporate takes going ahead, although, Blizzard received’t be the identical place with out Jeff Kaplan. But it’s additionally vital to do not forget that Kaplan by no means noticed himself because the ivory tower chief on his initiatives. He was at all times Jeff from the Overwatch crew, by no means Jeffrey Kaplan, Game Director. His Developer Updates would recurrently champion his colleagues, be that the design choices of Aaron Keller, the heroic creations of Geoff Goodman, or the lore drops from Michael Chu. Kaplan was a crew participant, and, not less than so far as outsider perceptions go, appeared to foster that strategy amongst his friends. And as Keller steps up as Game Director, it appears smart to anticipate not less than a few of Kaplan’s spirit to stay.
Over 19 years, Jeff Kaplan has been one in every of Blizzard’s most vital voices. Recruited for his ardour, his work helped form one of many core pillars of not simply World of Warcraft, however fashionable MMO design. His energy of imaginative and prescient helped rescue Blizzard’s most notable catastrophe, and switch it into what’s arguably the developer’s most vital mainstream recreation in Overwatch. And as the top of that venture, he refined communication between builders and gamers in a manner few different studios have been in a position to replicate. He shall be missed. But, similar to Blizzard superstars Mike Morhaime and Chris Metzen, who additionally stepped away from the corporate lately, Jeff Kaplan leaves behind him a legacy of massively profitable creativity and innovation that has impressed not simply these at Blizzard, however studios everywhere in the world.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer.