Blizzard explains what’s going on with controller support in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands

Technology

Blizzard is making a push with World of Warcraft controller support for upcoming expansion Shadowlands. But, as executive producer John Hight explained to me, this isn’t about fitting the game on a PlayStation or Xbox pad. It’s about broadening input options for players with disabilities.

“So what we’re doing,” John Hight told me, “is enabling a lot of the things required for our add-on community to build add-ons for controller support. And it isn’t just controllers: we’re looking at a number of different devices. But our focus was not to try and make WoW feel like a console game but rather for players with disabilities to have more accessible input devices.

“The first step for us was, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of signals these controllers – or these devices – use that people can’t get at easily so let’s first enable that,’ and we’re trying to work closely with some add-on builders to let them know it’s coming. We feel like what will happen is, as these devices come out – hopefully we’re going to see even more innovative devices so everybody can participate, not just in WoW but in the online community in general – that we’ve provided the sufficient hooks for them to be able to integrate with the game.”

Among the devices being looked at are the wonderful Xbox Adaptive Controller, WoW community manager Kaivax mentioned in April. “We always want to make WoW more widely accessible,” Kaivax said, “so in Shadowlands, we’re attempting to add some support for keybinds, camera, and turning a character on controllers such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller.”

It’s an admirable move which cannot help beg the question: Will we ever see the 16-year-old PC game on consoles?

“It’s a great question,” said Hight. “It’s a question I ask our team from time to time. My background actually is from console. I was responsible for Diablo 3 console and I worked for Sony for many years before that. I love that platform. There’s part of me that would love to be able to play WoW from my couch and kick back. But the important thing is if we were ever to do something like that, it feels right.

“In the case of Diablo 3, I felt pretty confident we had a good plan for making that gameplay work well on console. So if we were ever to do something like that [with WoW], I’d want to see a good, solid prototype that showed me we could all play our characters and feel we had good command over them, and could experience the world smoothly and things could be visually as enticing as they are on PC.”

Could the rapidly-approaching next generation of consoles – PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – offer a solution? Consider Activision Blizzard successfully runs online games Destiny and Overwatch on console, and there’s always a glimmer of hope. WoW, however, was designed for PC and is a much bigger beast.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, the game’s eighth expansion, is due before the end of the year. Among fairly standard-by-now expansion features like a whole new area, which takes place in a kind of afterlife, excitingly, it will do a few unusual things like reduce the game’s level cap. It will actually cut the level-cap in half. It’s an effort by Blizzard to make the numbers more manageable again.