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Warcraft Rumble devs are ready to learn from their mistakes

Key art for the Alliance in Warcraft Rumble.
Blizzard Entertainment

Before he worked on Warcraft Rumble, its associate game director, Adam Kugler, did not play many mobile games.

Kugler was lead class designer on World of Warcraft, and at one point during Warcraft Rumble’s development, he went to lunch with game director Tom Chilton to get some advice. While Kugler wanted to get guidance on where to take the MMO next, Chilton pitched working on Warcraft Rumble to Kugler and convinced him to check out some mobile games and get a better idea of the space. When he returned on Monday, Kugler had been won over by the idea of a Warcraft mobile game and jumped ship from World of Warcraft to work on a new title shortly after that.

Warcraft Rumble is the latest mobile game from Blizzard, following in the footsteps of titles like Hearthstone and Diablo Immortal. It’s very different from those titles, though, as it’s an action strategy game where players strategically place collectible miniature versions of iconic Warcraft characters and watch them slowly march forward as they capture objectives and eventually take down an enemy boss. It’s a new way to package and expose the Warcraft franchise to even more people on a new platform, including players like Kugler, who might not necessarily play mobile games.

We’ll see if the game can pull that off now that it finally got a wide release across iOS and Android today, which also happens to be during BlizzCon 2023. Ahead of its release, Digital Trends spoke to Kugler, as well as production director Jacquelyn Bacal Head — who joined the project just before it entered beta and has overseen its production through release — to get a better idea of what this Warcraft mobile game’s road to release was like.

The core concepts

Initially titled Warcraft Arclight Rumble, the narrative conceit of Blizzard’s latest mobile game is that it’s a game within the Warcraft universe. A mysterious machine is found that can create mini-figures of iconic Warcraft characters. They come to life when placed on a game board, and that serves as the backbone of what players collect and play in the game. Its gameplay has similarities to titles like Clash Royale, although levels are a bit more expansive, reaching back to Warcraft’s real-time strategy roots.

Gameplay from Warcraft Rumble.
Blizzard Entertainment

This setup gave the developers plenty of opportunities to draw from their favorite Warcraft characters and locations when creating content for Warcraft Rumble. Kugler tells Digital Trends that it’s a “smash your toys together type game,” something that’s clear from its premise and the constant action on-screen. A standard campaign level is meant to last around three-and-a-half minutes, a match length the development team spent a lot of time getting just right.

“It’s something that we felt out through the duration of the project in terms of feel,” Kugler said. “We landed at that three-and-a-half minute, four-and-a-half minute max mark because it just felt correct to us.” The developers also aimed to ensure there was a lot of content to experience outside of the 75-level campaign. Dungeons and Arclight Surges provide recurring content, while Heroic Campaigns will recontextualize those already-completed missions to make them even more challenging.

Heroic campaigns started as a Conquest mode that could be played alongside all the other ones, but Kugler didn’t think it provided a distinct enough challenge to help it stand out. Now, every Heroic Campaign mission has some unique twist on the mechanics to make the idle strategy gameplay a bit more challenging. On top of that, there’s PvP that will let players pit their minis against each other.

Some microtransactions can speed up progression during gameplay, but Head tells Digital Trends that Blizzard wants to ensure that anything players can buy “feels worth it.” All in all, though, the team at Blizzard felt confident in having crafted an action-strategy game that’s widely appealing with lots of mode variety, the kind of game that would appeal to even people like Kugler who aren’t that invested in mobile games. Over the past year, the game’s name was shortened to Warcraft Rumble, and it entered the beta and soft launch phases of development.

The benefits of a soft launch

This beta and soft launch process exposed the game to a multitude of players. Head explained that although this process did prove that Warcraft Rumble was an approachable game, there was a desire for a breadth of different features, so Blizzard expanded the number of solo and PvE modes on offer. Blizzard also tweaked specific modes like Arclight Surge to make them less overwhelming to new players. “Finding ways to continue to make the game super engaging, but also super approachable is one of the biggest takeaways we had,” Kugler said of the soft launch process.

A gameplay screenshot from Warcraft Rumble
Blizzard Entertainment

Doing a wide release of a mobile game can be a fickle task, and Blizzard has seen mixed results in the past with previous mobile games. As such, I asked if the team had learned anything from prior Blizzard mobile game launches like those for Hearthstone and Diablo Immortal. Head stressed that different teams within the company worked on each mobile game and that Warcraft Rumble’s time in beta brought the game to a state where Blizzard is happy to do a wide release. Still, Head pointed out how the collaborative nature of Blizzard did help.

“We are a separate team from all those other teams, but we also work closely with them, which is also a really nice benefit of working at Blizzard,” Head says. “All the teams operate individually, but we also have a lot of connection points, and I talked with my peers over on different teams to understand what they went through, challenges they faced, what kind of learnings they can bring to us, and vice versa. It has been a really nice experience in that way. Blizzard is a large company; everybody’s in individual teams that still come together and work together. And we have our central teams, so there’s a lot of support and partnership between the teams.”

Warcraft Rumble’s future

Now that Warcraft Rumble is out in all regions, what’s next? Kugler tells us that in terms of evolving PvP post-launch, Blizzard will “prefer to change the board you play on” instead of focusing on constantly tuning and balancing minis. So, it’s more likely that you’ll see levels change or new match parameters to spice gameplay up rather than specific units getting buffed and nerfed as Heroes would in Overwatch 2.

As for non-competitive content, Blizzard is also working on bringing Raids — where players work together to take down eight bosses in a row, getting rewards for every two wins — to Warcraft Rumble. “Raids is an advanced feature,” Head tells Digital Trends. “Once you build up your army and get to a super-high level, you’ll have something to aspire to that’s going to be super challenging, but come with additional awards and create fun moments that you can play with other people.”

Warcraft Rumble’s developers tell me that these raids will be designed to be more difficult, as players will have to adeptly strategize and pick the correct units to take on whatever particular challenges the game throws their way. Post-launch updates are also expected to add more levels to the campaign modes andto  refresh Dungeons and Arclight Surge events.

Dungeon gameplay in Warcraft Rumble.
Blizzard Entertainment

Of course, Warcraft Rumble will also have to adapt to what the players want now that it has seen a wide release. In response to my question about what was learned from the launches of divisive mobile games like Diablo Immortal, Kugler made it clear that the Warcraft Rumble team knows it needs to learn from its mistakes and constantly adapt, just like he did going from MMO to mobile game developer.

“I think we’ll always learn from our mistakes as much as possible and continue to make more because that’s what game development is,” Kugler said. “And I think that as much as we can learn both from other projects and from ourselves, that’s what makes great games, and I think my favorite part about working at Blizzard is that we continually support our games well after launch. And so any mistakes we do make, hopefully, we can rectify them as soon as possible.”

Warcraft Rumble is available now for iOS and Android.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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