After 12 years at Blizzard, Warcraft general manager John Hight announces departure: ‘I’ve been so honored to serve all of the heroes of Azeroth’

John Hight, leader of the Warcraft universe at Blizzard Entertainment, announced on his personal X account this week he was leaving the company for “a new quest.”

I had the opportunity to do an extended interview with Hight last fall at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California. The conversation ranged over much of what he had done and seen over 12 years of shepherding Warcraft in various forms (especially World of Warcraft), and included what he thought his legacy at the company would be.

Hight has been around the industry for decades, an old school game executive. He came to Blizzard from Sony, where had worked on God of War 3 and the launch of the PlayStation Network. Before that, he was an executive producer at Atari and Electronic Arts, where he managed teams at Westwood Studios, often in direct competition with Blizzard’s real-time strategy releases.

Looking back, he said last fall that he hoped his biggest legacy at Blizzard and in general would be the people that he encouraged. “I get to work with all these people, and these people are going to do great things,” he said then. “So my legacy is that they’re going to remember me, in some shape or form. This goofy little guy saw my potential and gave me a shot.”

He mentioned three examples in particular. The first was Xinghan “Jenova” Chen, who he met when Chen was a grad student at the University of Southern California and Hight was an adjunct professor. “I saw that spark in his eye and that desire, and he had a really novel, kind of weird approach to what he wanted to do in a game,” Hight said. “Boy, I could see that passion. I’m like, ‘I want to sign you up. We’re going to make stuff.’ “

Chen and friend Kellee Santiago won $20,000 to develop Cloud, a story focusing on the inner life of a hospital patient. Hight saw the game at a student showcase at the Game Developers Conference. Chen and Santiago would go on to cofound Thatgamecompany, and their games Flow, Flower, and Journey debuted on PlayStation Network under Hight’s oversight. Flow was the most-downloaded game on PSN in 2007.

“Being able to do that…” Hight said, shaking his head as he remembered. “I see that now.”

The second story was about Chris Metzen, narrative father of the Warcraft universe, wanting to return to World of Warcraft. “When Chris was considering coming back to Blizzard, he called me, because he and I played Warhammer together, and he trusts me,” Hight said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my god, that’d be fantastic.'”

Metzen’s return was a roaring success, and resulted in the announcement at BlizzCon last fall of a three-expansion trilogy of stories that was celebrated by fans. “I could feel the team wanted that sort of spiritual leader, especially on the story side,” Hight said.

His final example was Holly Longdale, who joined the World of Warcraft team to lead WoW Classic. “I got to see Holly Longdale. She interviewed from EverQuest, and she was such a big fan, and so happy. I’m like, OK, come over and do Classic. And she kicked ass.”

Longdale eventually took Hight’s old job as WoW’s executive producer. It was a surprising move, as she did not hold the position that had traditionally been next in line for consideration, Hight said. “She said, ‘Should I even apply for this? Do I even have a chance?’ ” he said of her current position. “And I said, ‘You kicked ass. You did great. Yes, apply.’ She freaking earned it.”

Longdale may now be the person best-positioned within Blizzard to take Hight’s job as the general manager of Warcraft when he departs.

During his last BlizzCon with the company in November, he had the opportunity to give an impromptu pep talk to some students and returning students. “I said, don’t ask for anyone else’s permission to be confident. Find it within yourself,” he said then. “I get to see the potential in people. I was able to work with people that were great and that carried the torch.”

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