After a decade of overseeing one of the biggest games ever made, World of Warcraft director Tom Chilton is leaving. The designer announced in a blog today that he is stepping down from the lead role on Blizzard’s massively multiplayer online role-playing game now that Legion, the latest (and greatest) expansion has launched. But Chilton isn’t done at Blizzard. He revealed that he is sticking with the company and is now working on something new. The director worked on Warcraft since 2004, and he was key to turning it into one of the most popular and lucrative hits in the history of the $99.6 billion gaming industry.
“It’s with a mix of excitement, sadness, and gratitude that I’m saying farewell to the WOW team and moving on to a new adventure within Blizzard,” Chilton wrote in a message on the Blizzard forums. “My personal journey working on WOW as Game Director is at an end, but my journey with Blizzard isn’t. I’ll still be here, but will be focusing on another project within the company.”
Chilton also announced that Ion Hazzikostas, lead game designer on World of Warcraft, will take over as director. Hazzikostas has worked on WOW for eight years, and he is responsible for many of the raid bosses and other major encounters.
“I know that WOW will be in great hands with Ion at the helm,” wrote Chilton. “He’s been an integral part of the team for more than eight years and has contributed to so many aspects of the game’s development — from class design to encounter design and nearly everything in between. He also has an amazing team at his side — the same epic crew that brought you all the content you’re enjoying in Legion.”
World of Warcraft was long Blizzard’s crown jewel, but it is entering the twilight of its life. It peaked in 2010 with 12 million subscribers, and it has since dwindled to less than half of that — although the publisher no longer releases the figures for how many people pay for a monthly membership. WOW still generates millions of dollars in revenue every month, but fans have still wondered whether Blizzard would replace it with something new. The studio was working on a new MMO called Titan, but it eventually canceled that project and repurposed many of the assets and ideas for the popular Overwatch shooter that launched in April.
The publisher now has several active, profitable games in WOW, the card battler Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Diablo III, StarCraft II, and Overwatch. And it doesn’t seem like it wants to try to do another MMO. At the same time, Chilton is working on something new, so we’ll get to see how that manifests over the next few years.
You can check out below the heart-melting message of Tom Chilton to World of Warcraft fans:
Greetings fellow WoW players,
It’s been a little over a month since we launched Legion, and it’s been awesome to see players enjoying so many different aspects of the expansion—leveling up their characters and Artifacts, diving into World Quests, taking on the Emerald Nightmare. Legion PvP Season 1 is going strong, and some of the best Arena teams from around the world are competing for a chance to battle on the big stage at BlizzCon.
Soon we’ll be releasing our first new content update for the expansion—Patch 7.1: Return to Karazhan—which opens up the Mythic 5-player Karazhan dungeon, continues the story of Suramar, introduces a new raid, and adds even more World Quests and other content. But that’s just the start of it, as we have what we believe to be an extremely exciting patch plan for the rest of the expansion.
For me, Legion has been more than just another expansion, though—it’s the culmination of more than a decade of work with one of the best development teams I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. And it’s with a mix of excitement, sadness, and gratitude that I’m saying farewell to the WoW team and moving on to a new adventure within Blizzard.
In 2004, before I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve as game director, I started on the World of Warcraft team as a senior game designer. As you can imagine, World of Warcraft was quite a bit different in 2004. Early that year, there were just 60 of us on the team. Around that time in the Friends and Family Alpha, questing was only available up to level 25—for the Alliance only—and the Horde wasn’t playable at all. Some players were even using dial-up modem connections to access the test.
Many on the team still debated on whether the Horde and Alliance should be separated into factions. (We know how that one turned out.) Several other core features of the game didn’t even exist, including raids and PvP. We’ve come a long way since then, with six expansions under our belts to go along with countless raids, dungeons, Battlegrounds, features, and more.
My personal journey working on WoW as Game Director is at an end, but my journey with Blizzard isn’t. I’ll still be here, but will be focusing on another project within the company. However, it’s with great pleasure that I announce Ion Hazzikostas will be taking my place as Game Director for World of Warcraft.
I know that WoW will be in great hands with Ion at the helm. He’s been an integral part of the team for more than eight years and has contributed to so many aspects of the game’s development—from class design to encounter design and nearly everything in between. He also has an amazing team at his side—the same epic crew that brought you all the content you’re enjoying in Legion.
As a member of the WoW team, I can assure you that the future for World of Warcraft continues to be bright—and as a player, I’m excited to discover what’s in store next alongside all of you. World of Warcraft is the product of the passion of both the team and all of its players, so I’d also like to thank each of you for the wonderful journey that working on the WoW development team has been.
Thank you, and may you have many more epic adventures!