During an interview last month with Paul Sams, Blizzard’s chief operations officer, I couldn’t help but notice his extensive collection of Blizzard toys, merchandise and art. From the trio of Blizzard-branded skate decks to the 18-pound Frostmourne Sword hanging on the wall (and the second one of is kind ever made), Sams’ collection rivals that of any professional collector.
Sams was kind enough to let me drop by for another interview last week (a few days later, he left for the European launch of “Lich King”). He’s a friendly guy who seems to genuinely love to be at Blizzard. And in his position, who wouldn’t be? Early on, he was in charge of licensing and had to sign off on every product that bore the Blizzard name — from action figures to trading cards to sculptures to the games themselves. Hence, his huge collection. But exactly what does that include? Read on and view the slide show …
By TAMARA CHUANG
The Orange County Register
The collection started in August 1996 with the German and French edition of “Warcraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal.” Over the years, Paul Sams has added every product that crossed his desk to his private stash, making it one of the most expansive, if not rarest, assortment of Blizzard Entertainment products in the world.
It includes an untouched Spectral Tiger card, which sells for $1,000 on eBay. It features three Blizzard skateboards from a licensing deal that never made it to stores. There’s a sculpture of orcs warchief Thrall made for an E3 game convention. There is a complete 60-piece miniatures set, unreleased action figures and a gleaming 4-foot Frostmourne sword of the Lich King (the second one made, for those who care).
Sams, obviously, is not just any ordinary fan of the world-famous Irvine game company, which is on the eve of launching its next big update to the “World of Warcraft.” Sams, 37, is Blizzard’s chief operating officer. He’s held a variety of titles, including head of business operations and licensing, which meant he signed off on every product.
“I used to have one of everything but in the last three years, there’s been so much stuff that I’d need an office three times the size,” Sams said. Much of the collection is now in storage, sans the rarest and oldest pieces. “I’ll just box it up as soon as I get it. This year, we had Halloween masks. How can I display those? I can’t keep mannequins in my office.”
Blizzard’s trio of games – “StarCraft,” “Warcraft” and “Diablo” – has sold millions of copies. “World of Warcraft,” a game that came out four years ago, still has 11 million players. The new “Wrath of the Lich King,” on sale at midnight tonight11/13, is hoping to outsell the last update, “The Burning Crusade,” which sold 2.4 million copies in the 24 hours.
With millions of fans around the world, merchandise from Blizzard does well, especially in secondary markets like eBay. On eBay on Tuesday, the unlock code for a polar bear mount given to people who paid to watch DirecTV’s 2008 BlizzCon broadcast event sold for $240. A ‘Lich King’ poster signed by 100 Blizzard employees was going for $153. A “World of Warcraft” collector’s edition laptop from Dell went for $3,827. And the rare Spectral Tiger sold most recently on Halloween for $1,049.99.
Sams didn’t collect much as a kid. He was a skateboarder and rode his BMX bike. His other collections were inspired later in life. After learning about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his mid-teens, Sams began saving every speech, poster and book he could find. (“I just thought he was one of the greatest Americans of all time. He was a game changer of sorts,” Sams said). He also has a large collection of sports memorabilia, featuring his favorite teams, the Lakers, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Texas Longhorns.
And then there’s his rare book collection. His most treasured item is the first edition of “The Count of Monte Cristo,” which took seven years to find. He stumbled upon the book in a random bookstore in York, England, 10 years ago.
“I’m looking through the stuff and saw the book in French. I was like ‘Oh my God,’” Sams recalled. “I was practically hyperventilating. … I love to go into old bookstores to see if I will have that magical find.”
But lately, Blizzard has been the major influence in his life. He joined the company in 1996 after two years with Davidson & Associates. Davidson had acquired Silicon & Synapse, which later named itself Blizzard Entertainment.
Sams met his wife at Blizzard. He’s gone on vacation with colleagues. Since the two years at Davidson count toward his years of service with the company, Sams celebrates his 15th year at the 17-year-old game company.
“If I left Blizzard, I would probably keep some of the things that are most special to me and I’d probably give some to the (Blizzard) museum,” he said. “I have a tremendous love for the company … (but) I don’t think I would dedicate a wing of the house to it.”
What remains on display in his office are mostly rare items and older pieces. Like the skateboard decks. A few years ago, Blizzard was working with Variflex Inc. on a line of “Warcraft” and “StarCraft” skateboards.
Sams admits that this venture got started “probably because I had a passion for skateboarding when I was younger and thought that’d be cool.” But while the prototypes were made, Blizzard skateboards never made it to market because of management changes at the skateboard company, Sams said.
There were other items that never got released, such as a line of action figures prior to the ones made today by DC Comics. And yes, Sams has all of them. Unreleased products are a disappointment, he said.
“If we were going to put the time and energy to develop these, we were expecting them to be produced,” he said.
His favorite items are three drawings from the mid-1990s by artist Chris Metzen, Blizzard’s senior vice president of creative development. Two pieces are from “StarCraft,” his favorite game.
“(Chris) is the lead guy in creating the lore of our games,” Sams said. “I just love all the little details. Like the ‘Your ass here’ on the bottom of [the character's] boot.”
Sams can’t imagine life without Blizzard. But he realizes there is a day when he will leave the company. He assumes that will be the day he retires.
“I’d like to have my entire career at Blizzard,” he said. “I cannot fathom working at another game company.”
View the slideshow HERE.
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