In the gaming industry, it’s not uncommon for certain individual developers or creative heads to rise in popularity when a hit game releases. Some people like Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto have become almost, if not as popular as the various video game character they’ve created. However, one of the most intriguing people to rise to a near iconic status is Blizzard’s, Jeff Kaplan. The current Game Director for Overwatch, Kaplan has been the face of this hit FPS title since it launched and has been in touch with fans since the game released last year.
Here’s everything you need to know about Jeff Kaplan:
1. Kaplan Attended the University of Southern California for Creative Writing
While Kaplan currently works in the video game industry, he actually started out as someone who wanted to write fiction for a living. He attended the University of Southern California for Creative Writing, where he landed a writing internship for Universal Pictures. However, Jeff left this position sometime after and then attended graduate school at New York University. Kaplan’s goal was to get his short stories published and find an agent, yet this didn’t pan out as expected in the long run.
Instead, Kaplan began working at an executive recruiting firm that was run by his father where he would write in the morning starting at 5 a.m. and then work the rest of the day. However, his luck never picked up as he was rejected 172 in a single year from various magazines and was forced to throw out two different novels. Jeff was never published and in 2000 he stopped pursuing trying to be a writer. However, during this time Kaplan was messing around with a variety of different level editors in popular video games like Duke Nukem 3D and Half-Life.
2. He Was Big into EverQuest and It Landed Him a Job a Blizzard
During the early 2000s, Kaplan became highly interested in the fantasy MMO EverQuest and joined a guild called Legacy of Steel. Unknown to Kaplan, the guild was actually run by Rob Pardo who was the lead designer for Blizzard’s Warcraft III and many of the members were also employees of Blizzard. Kaplan would often speak to Pardo on the various level designs he had created, which eventually led to Kaplan getting invited down to Irvine, California. After several lunches, Pardo informed Kaplan of a job opening for World of Warcraft’s Quest Designer which seemed tailor-made for him. Kaplan got the job and got heavily involved in the PvE (Player vs Environment) side of the game. In an interview with Game Informer, Kaplan stated:
When it came to dungeons, I helped formulate the vision along with some of the other guys as to what our dungeon experience and raid experience might be like. I worked very closely with our creative director, Chris Metzen, who was sort of the keeper of the flame when it came to the lore of Warcraft. I tried to apply his vision in a game design sense to world design and world building.
Eventually, Kaplan worked his way up and became the Game Director for World of Warcraft until he left the team.
3. He Met His Wife Angela on EverQuest
EverQuest also helped Kaplan meet his wife Angela, who at the time was a guild member of Legacy of Steel. However, at the time Kaplan thought his wife was a man since voice communication was still in its infancy. In his interview with Glixel, Kaplan stated:
I assumed that anyone with a female name was a man. “You didn’t ask. After EQ, we kept pinging each other. She was one of my best friends. I thought she was a dude.
Eventually, Kaplan found out and asked her out to lunch, despite not knowing what she looked like or how she acted in person. The duo quickly became friends and over time grew closer to one another. In 2006, Kaplan and Angela married and still remain and game together to this day.
4. Kaplan Left the World of Warcraft Team in 2009
After working on World of Warcraft since its release in 2004, Jeff Kaplan decided to leave the team working on the game. In a post on the Blizzard forums, Jeff explained that he was leaving for an announced project. This came as a rather big surprise because there was no indication that Kaplan was planning to leave WoW. However, before he left, Jeff decided to directly address the fans and thank them for sticking with him and his team.
I wanted to take a moment to let the community know that I’ve switched roles here at Blizzard to work on our upcoming, unannounced MMO. World of Warcraft has been such a central part of my life these past six and a half years, and it’s success would not have been possible without the tremendous community around it, so I wanted to say thank you to all our players who’ve shared this amazing experience with us so far. Also, while I have served as the spokesperson and Game Director for World of Warcraft on Wrath of the Lich King, by no means would WoW be where it is today without the dedicated team that we have in place. The WoW development team is comprised of some of the most talented and experienced game developers in the world, and it was an absolute honor to serve amongst them, and they will continue to make WoW better than ever. I still plan to be very involved with the future course of World of Warcraft, but will leave the day to day operations of World of Warcraft to my partners in crime, Tom Chilton and J. Allen Brack.
When all is said and done, WoW is still my favorite game. I play it every day. None of that passion is gone. If anything, it fuels the challenge of making our next MMO even better. We know we have some big shoes to fill. So thank you to everyone who has been so supportive over the years, and likewise, thanks to those who have given us pointed feedback on all areas of the game. Without all of the feedback and participation, WoW would not be the game that it has grown to be. Azeroth truly belongs to you and we’re lucky to have shared in your journey. And as always, I’ll still be lurking on the forums and in the game.
Mostly, I just wanted to say thanks. It has been an absolute honor.
The game in question was an MMO called Titan, which would eventually fail and get morphed into the class based shooter known as Overwatch. Upon its release in 2016, Overwatch was a smash hit with both fans and critics alike to the point where it won multiple Game of the Year awards.
5. Jeff Has Become Synonymous With Overwatch
Despite being full of colorful characters and various heroes, Kaplan quickly became the face of Overwatch amongst its fans. While the title had a large development team, Kaplan often addressed the users directly on both the forums or in video form. He is highly respected with the user base, mainly because he is constantly interacting with them and discussing their concerns regardless of how big or small they are.
However, that hasn’t stopped the players from poking a bit of fun at Kaplan from time to time. Youtubers like Dinoflask have cut all of his developer updates together to perform amusing satires of Overwatch’s changes. There have also been a number of memes and jokes created around Kaplan and his work on Overwatch. Thankfully, Jeff has embraced this and has had fun with many of the jokes and snarky remarks fan make. He has answered questions (no matter how ridiculous) from players on WIRED, gave coaching advice to an IGN team, and participated in an Overwatch themed game show. Jeff Kaplan has embraced his near-iconic status within the Blizzard community and remains one of the most intriguing figures in the gaming industry.