GamesBeat: World of Warcraft quickly became a big hit. That must have been a race to expand the company.
Milker: Oh, yeah. For all of us. Everybody, everywhere. WoW was this transformative thing for us as a group of people and as an organization. Everything changed when WoW launched and at that moment when WoW just exploded. We were all reeling from that. We spent the next 12 years reeling from that, really, making sure we’re equipped to deal with things at that scale. It was a super exciting time. Such a cool experience to be a part of that, that rapid expansion of growth.
All the while we’re all working incredibly hard to maintain that Blizzard DNA, this very small company feel of a bunch of passionate people working together to make cool stuff. The challenge was always to keep that mindset and keep hiring people who shared the same values as we were growing. It was an amazing time. Such a cool thing to be a part of back then.
GamesBeat: I imagine you were on WoW until StarCraft II was in development?
Milker: The way that happened, I kept doing the staffing and facilities role, built up all these teams along the way. Then there was — at the time I took a role that was called associate producer of creative development. Creative development was Chris Metzen. Just one guy. It was basically being the producer to work with Metzen and help him shepherd along all the projects he had going on, everything from our ancillary stuff like novels and strategy guides to the games that he was leading creatively.
That role was so exciting. So many of these worlds are Metzen’s brain children. To work closely with him and see how he had his fingers in all these things, and even today still does, was another amazing opportunity. I came in at the perfect time. Blizzard was big enough that, as a gamer, it had already captured my imagination, but small enough that as a company and a group of people, we were just at the cusp of the next big thing. It was such a cool era to be able to jump in and tag along.
That role ended up being only about eight months. At that point the Warcraft III team was coming off Frozen Throne. They were starting to ramp up the exploration of what StarCraft II was going to be. Metzen and I were sitting in the same space as team one, the StarCraft and Warcraft III team. The same team did the original Warcraft, Warcraft II, StarCraft, Warcraft III, StarCraft II. It was only about 30 people on the team at the time. But as they started doing very early explorations, they needed a producer for that team. Chris Sigaty, who today is the executive producer of StarCraft II and Heroes of the Storm, he was the lone producer on the project. They started hiring for the producer then, and after those years of hiring for the company and looking at all the various pieces and seeing where I fit in, my project management background combined with how I’d made my way through the company — production seemed like the perfect place for me.
I would love to be a designer, but I was very clear on — the things I was excelling at were organizing things around creative people rather than me being the creative person. That sounded like a really nice fantasy, but my reality was just not aligned to that. Which is perfectly fine. As that project started coming together, Metzen looked at me and said, you should work on StarCraft II. I’m like, we have stuff to do, I should stay in this office. He says, “No, go do StarCraft II. This is awesome.” So I said, okay, I’ll apply for that. And I got the associate producer position on StarCraft II.
What was cool about that, I ended up not even needing to move. I was already sitting right there. What we were doing, basically, we were making StarCraft I in Warcraft III. We were making a mod, a proving ground for what the very early versions of StarCraft II were going to be. I’d come in and we called it a production role, but in those days everybody — they looked at you and said, hey kid, what can you do? I can do this stuff. Cool, go do that stuff. Regardless of what your role was, it was kind of all hands on deck.
I did a lot of data implementation. Our games were very data driven. Then and now we have custom toolsets and stuff we use. I had a lot of experience with web development. I knew HTML, and our data structure was very similar with its markup language. I ended up doing tons of data implementation to build these early prototypes of StarCraft II in Warcraft III, while also coordinating the early versions of our team structure as a producer. That was the beginning of being a producer at Blizzard. That was 11 years ago. That journey has just continued since, with multiple projects. My position morphed all along the way.
I still sit here today, almost 15 years later, looking at this process, and I’m in complete awe of the entire journey. I’m often in meetings where I look around and in my mind I’m still the guy who quit my job to come here and do something. I was almost thinking, I’ll unclog the toilets for you, and little did I know that two years later I really would be unclogging the toilets. But that process is just kind of insane, the way all that stuff goes down now. The journey into production was so crazy. From that early stuff to — I headed up art production for StarCraft II for almost eight years. Did engineering production for StarCraft II on Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. Then we started working on Heroes of the Storm, which originally just started off as a mod map for StarCraft II.
GamesBeat: Yeah. It was just called Blizzard DOTA for a while, right? It was named after the mod for Warcraft III that created the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre.
Milker: Yep. Originally we just made it to show off what the editor could do for StarCraft II. The original DOTA [Defense Against the Ancients, a mod that fans made] came out of Warcraft III. Our toolset and our community could build it. We wanted to show you could still make those kinds of game in our latest RTS. We did that just as a proof of concept. People loved it at Blizzcon. We brought it back and they loved it again. So we said, we have to make this its own game.
The point in time when we made a decision on that was right around when Heart of the Swarm wrapped. Then I transitioned over to Heroes and spent the last three years building that from a three-person team to 150-plus person team, making this crazy living breathing game that is Heroes. Releasing patches almost every week and heroes every three or four weeks. It’s just this crazy train of amazing content creation now. It goes on and on in a really fun way.