Dave Kosak ’96: From Allegheny Student to Game Designer with Blizzard Entertainment

Dave Kosak
Dave Kosak ’96
(Photo by Jay P. Morgan)

For National Video Games Day on September 12, Dave Kosak ’96 told us about his path from Allegheny student to game designer with Blizzard Entertainment. Dave’s resume includes roles as the lead quest designer and lead narrative designer for the massively multiplayer game World of Warcraft and the lead mission designer for the strategy card game Hearthstone.

What were your major(s) and minor(s) at Allegheny?
I packed as much as I could into my four years, completing a double major in English and theater, with a minor in computer science. It was the perfect combination of degrees for my future job as a videogame writer/designer.

How did Allegheny prepare you for your career?
I built up a lot of skills at Allegheny that I use all the time. Obviously I do a lot of writing, but as a videogame designer, you spend a lot of time writing computer code and basic scripting as well. My degrees also helped me in ways I wouldn’t expect. I direct a lot of voice actors for our games, so my experience with Allegheny theater was invaluable. I lead small creative teams, and the time I spent directing or producing plays for the Student Experimental Theater was probably the best possible practice for that.

What jobs have you held and with what companies?
After school I was an advertising copywriter at Grey Interactive in New York City, where we helped usher in the first wave of Internet commerce — I landed the job directly as a result of Allegheny’s Nancy Lee Sutton internship program.

Always on the lookout for opportunities, I had the chance to move to southern California to help found an Internet startup in the gaming space called GameSpy. GameSpy was an early pioneer in online gaming technology and communities, and I was there for 12 years, seeing the company through from startup through multiple acquisitions.

Then 10 years ago, I decided to turn my attention to developing games full time, and I moved over to Blizzard Entertainment, where I was the lead quest designer (and later lead narrative designer) for the massively multiplayer game World of Warcraft. I was one of the creative leads for several WoW expansions before moving over to the Hearthstone team in 2017, where I’m currently the lead mission designer leading the team that creates Hearthstone’s single-player content.

Dave Kosak '96 in a promotional video for the Hearthstone strategy card game
Dave Kosak ’96 in a promotional video for the Hearthstone digital card game

What would you recommend for current students wanting to pursue a career in game design or a similar field?
It’s a great time to get started in game development because all of the tools you need to build your own game are available essentially for free, and they’re far more powerful than anything we had before! I encourage people to download the Unity or Unreal game engines, follow along with some online tutorials, and start creating something awesome. At Allegheny you have access to lots of engineers and artists, so it’s the perfect place to collaborate on something cool. This will help you understand what it takes to make a playable game (it’s a LOT of work!), as well as giving you something on your portfolio that will help you get a job in the industry if you’re looking.

Anyone can be a game developer … if you make the time and start building games! There’s no substitute for the experience of getting in there, wrestling with the tools, and building something fun.

What’s one fun/significant memory from your time at Allegheny?
Back in the 90s, Allegheny almost exclusively used NeXT workstations, which were immensely powerful for their time and a lot of fun to tinker with. An open-source version of the board game Risk was available on the school’s network, and while it was fun to play with friends, it didn’t have any AI if you wanted to play against the computer. That looked like a fun project, so I spent some of my free time coding computer opponents for the game that would play various different strategies. I uploaded my new version to the network and nothing came of it for a few weeks. But that next semester, when I looked around the computer lab, I started to see lots of people playing Risk — my version! It was really fun to play against the computer! Hopefully, nobody failed their comp because of me.

There’s a real thrill to seeing strangers playing a game you made and enjoying themselves. It’s been over 20 years and that feeling never gets old.