It was about 5 years in that I started feeling tired. 5 years of telling stories, crafting little adventures, and mucking about in the far corners of WoWEdit. I still loved the work, but the weariness was starting to set in... something more than the usual backlash of crunch.
So I begun to reach around for new inspiration. I wrote "Categories of Fun" in WoW on a whiteboard in my office, using it as a catalyst to try to find the new thing I might offer the game that still fit comfortably alongside its other systems. It was here that I embraced my love for exploration and discovery, and begun planning and discussing the systems that would later be known as Vignettes and Treasures.
Shortly after that, in a whirlwind of chaotic events, I stepped up as Lead Quest Designer, and was set with some of the most back-breaking set of challenges I've faced in my life. Keeping ahead of a huge team, establishing lines of communication with very different disciplines, enduring a constant deluge of questions and requests. To survive, I had to teach my brain to organize itself differently. I had to find ways to brush off the constant small stresses and keep myself aimed methodically at one practical solution after another, and at times encourage those around me to do the same. I taught myself to leave behind the organic processes that had come naturally to me in the past, and instead began to lean heavily on lists, prioritization, and on placing more trust in others. The change was exciting, but the constant needs of the team were draining. I was proud of the leveling experience we crafted for Warlord of Draenor, and at the same time, I was now exhausted in entirely new ways.
It was around then that I received my shield, a reward from Blizzard for 10-years of service. It was a great honor that I'd been looking forward to for some time. I felt pride. I thought back all of the jobs and challenges I'd faced before Blizzard in my life, and about how frequently I'd stepped away from one and on to another, never satisfied to stand still, always eagerly seeking something new. In Blizzard I'd found a place filled to the brim with talented and passionate people that could challenge me daily. It's the only place I know that could have possibly held me for 10 years. More than 10 years.
But at the same time... 10 years... that number hit me like a sandbag to the chest. If I live a long and healthy life, I would now be looking back to see that I gave maybe 1/8th of it to this single game. A worthy thing, surely, but I was uncertain if it was really something to which I could give more. There's so much more world I want to take in and so much more creativity I want to exhale out. I decided I was done making quests. It was time to look towards new challenges.
As these thoughts formed and I pondered where my future should take me, an opportunity arose. Artifacts. A key feature of the new expansion. A chance for me to take a step outside of content and work on systems and reward structures. A chance to work more closely with artists and engineers to create something largely new. A chance to lead a new team, half-full of people I'd never worked with closely before. And a chance for me to offer WoW one last enduring contribution before I stepped away seeking new adventure. I took on the challenge, in the process stating clearly that it once it was done, I would leave, though I had yet to know where.
And we did it. We made Artifacts. Challenging, satisfying. Never perfect, but I'm proud of what we achieved. I owe it's success almost entirely to the brilliant minds I was fortunate enough to work with. And still, on the other side of this effort, I was more sure than ever that it was time to depart WoW and find a new road.
Blizzard has been great to me. They've supported me through every struggle and decision I've faced, and they've made me feel valued and appreciated like no other group of people. They've challenged me and made me grow. They've made me learn things about myself that I never knew, and gave me the chance to repeatedly redefine who I am for the better. And within the walls of Blizzard, I've met more beautiful human-beings than anywhere else in my life, by a wide margin. As I look around the fickle, volatile whirlwind that is the games industry, there's no part of me that can pretend for a second like there's another company out there waiting for me that will satisfy me more. Blizzard is made up of humans that sometimes make human mistakes, but it's as good as it gets as far as I'm concerned. And it's home.
But you can't stay at home forever.
I gave World of Warcraft 12 of the best years of my life. I like to think that I left many marks upon Azeroth, and upon the players who've experienced it. Among such a large talented team, most who've played in this world we've created will never know my name - they'll only know of Blizzard. I'm okay with that. I never did this for pride. I'm happy with what I was able to give, and with what it gave me in return.
I made up my mind to leave World of Warcraft years ago, waiting for the right opportunity to step away cleanly. It was deliberate, and it took time, but it was not hard. Leaving this group of wonderful teammates and friends though... that was hard. I cried several times in those final days. I'm still on the verge of tears sometimes now.
I tried not to make a big deal of it, as I usually do. I mentioned it ahead of time so people would know, but I didn't plan any goodbye events. The day I had planned as my final day turned out to be a holiday, and so my final day ended up being the day of the Legion champagne toast... the day the entire WoW team celebrated the success of this thing we'd made. It was as good a day to depart on as any I could ask for. Celebrating. Telling stories. Hugs, laughs, and smiles. Surrounded by people I'm proud to have spent the last several years of my life alongside.
They were good to me. They surprised me with this signed canvas, which I love, and have proudly hung alongside my desk at home:
They gave me a chest full of pictures to remember them by, with messages that I'm sure will still make me laugh and smile and cry when I'm old and reminiscing:
They got me this custom sendoff cookie with Ashbringer on it. Kind of impressive of the bakery honestly:
And fucking Ben. Cheesy bastard Ben. He pulls out a guitar and sings Good Riddance (Time of your life) while everyone is gathered around, as if I wasn't struggling with not crying well enough already.
I have a hard time being social. And I have a hard time taking compliments. I'm an introvert through and through, sometimes more than is healthy. But I stayed through all the awkwardness that night to be with these people I love working with just a little bit longer. I stayed until everyone left, I packed up my desk in the quiet, and I walked around the campus one last time in the dark. Past the room where I'd interviewed for the associate quest design position 9 years ago, and where I'd interviewed hundreds of people since. Past the orc statue in the quad surrounded by the Blizzard core values I'd come to know and love. Past the table where I'd gathered with the quest designers on break nearly every day for the past few years. I put the boxes of things I'd collected throughout my years into my jeep, drove out the front gate, on to a new life on my own.
I don't think I'm leaving Blizzard behind for good. I couldn't make a better company and I'd be a fool to try. I suspect I'll try to come back someday, once I've explored a few unfamiliar roads. But my time on WoW has come to a close, and I know how things work when you don't see people everyday anymore... they're never quite the same. No matter how much you love them, people slip away. Tenfold for a social recluse like me.
I'm lucky to have found Blizzard, lucky to have had the opportunity to design quests, and lucky to have met so many wonderful souls in my time working on WoW. I'm still lucky, to have so many people from such a respected and impressive company express such eagerness to welcome me back when I'm ready. And I'm lucky to have this beautiful family of mine supporting me through all of this, making any claim of 'alone' kind of a blatant lie:
For now, I know that I need to walk the unwalked road for a while to see where it goes. I need to take on those unfamiliar challenges. I need to meet other brave and motivated people out there wandering their own roads and hopefully make some new friends. I need to test what I'm capable of and force myself to grow. I'd be disappointed with myself if I did anything less.
To all of you lovely people on Team 2 who've made me the designer and the person I am today: Thank you. Truly. Deeply. Thank you. I'll miss you.