2018 has been a tough year for fans of World of Warcraft, Diablo, Heroes of the Storm and Blizzard games in general.
A company that used to be synonymous with quality and games by gamers has slowly but surely been transforming into the next Electronic Arts, and it seems that the departure of founder Michael Morhaime earlier this year was the last nail in the coffin.
I write this article with a heavy heart, as a fan of Blizzard games since the days of Warcraft 2, until a few months ago I was a certified Blizzard fanboy. I have played every single game in Blizzard’s arsenal and World of Warcraft, in particular, has been by far my most played game of all time.
I know this article isn’t going to win me any friends in the industry, but I feel like it needs to be said as I believe millions of Blizzard fans feel exactly like I do today.
Old Blizzard Quote:
”We only really built games to please ourselves. I wanted to work on World of Warcraft because I wanted to play in a World like World of Warcraft.”
-Chris Metzen, Looking for Group Documentary
Modern Blizzard Quote:
”Don’t you guys have phones?”
-Wyatt Cheng, Blizzcon 2018
Let’s rewind the clock 10 years
Around this time Activision merged with Vivendi Games and thus merged with Blizzard Entertainment, becoming Activision Blizzard. Thus uniting two companies that had very different core values and visions for their games. One of the two company philosophies was inevitably going to triumph and bleed into the other company, and today there is no doubt which that was.
I think it is important to look back at what was arguably one of the best times in Blizzard Entertainment’s history to truly grasp how unexpected and unprecedented Blizzard’s fall from grace is.
World of Warcraft: Then & Now
At this time we found ourselves in the frozen heart of Northrend in what is widely considered the best World of Warcraft Expansion of all time, Wrath of the Lich King. However, more importantly, we found ourselves at a time where World of Warcraft as a whole (and rightfully so) was considered one of the best games ever made. A game so successful and well crafted that it drastically changed the entire gaming industry and its effects can still be seen today.
At this time World of Warcraft was a game that you could feel that the very developers themselves were excited to play.
Then: World of Warcraft had over 10 million subscribers and was still steadily rising. It would eventually reach 12 million at the end of Wrath of the Lich King.
Now: World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth is the most negatively received expansion to date filled with broken systems, pointless new content, and bugs. A LOT of bugs. Leading to what feels like the most significant subscriber decline in Wow’s history but there is no way to know since Blizzard won’t share subscriber numbers.
Diablo: Then & Now
After seven long years, we finally got the long-awaited sequel to Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction with the reveal of Diablo 3 to incredible excitement from the crowd.
Almost as important as what they announced is how they announced it. A guy came onstage and played the incredible theme of the Diablo franchise, followed by a tremendous cinematic that finished off with the chilling sight of the Diablo 3 logo to a roaring crowd. You can say what you will of Diablo 3 and how it turned out, but it’s clear from Blizzcon 2008 that the company was still run by gamers that understood their audience at a fundamental level.
Then: Just try to have a look at the reveal of Diablo 3 in 2008.
Now: Watch the reveal for Diablo Immortal earlier this year.
2008 Blizzard Entertainment was unstoppable
At this point, Blizzard had almost 20 years of knockout hits, and it seemed that they could do no wrong. They respected and loved their game franchises as well as the people who played them which is why Blizzard’s legacy and reputation seemed so untouchable.
With World of Warcraft doing better than ever, Starcraft 2 on the way and Diablo 3 recently revealed, 2008 was a great time to be a Blizzard fan, it seemed as though the good times would never end.
Blizzard Entertainment was still one of the most beloved major gaming companies on the planet at the start of 2018 with no real sign of slowing down.
While their reputation was not as imposing as 10 years prior, it was still a company that gamers held in incredibly high regard, and it stood synonymous with great games and quality.
2018: From Hero to Villain in a few months
You’ve just crossed a terrible threshold Blizzard
So, let us have a look at how you turn a seemingly indestructible legacy of incredible games and ethics into dust in just a few months.
Much like when young Prince Arthas purged Stratholme back in Warcraft 3, Blizzard too crossed a terrible threshold this year. The difference being that Arthas had better intentions.
Strike 1: Blizzard release Battle for Azeroth, arguably the most unfinished expansion set for World of Warcraft to date.
The Battle for Azeroth expansion set for World of Warcraft was released back in August. Coming out from a much shorter testing period than prior expansions and certainly felt like the most unfinished expansion release to date. With several classes being borderline dysfunctional, new features such as Island expeditions and Azerite armor both requiring several reworks before feeling like complete features. Not to mention the unprecedented amount of bugs Battle for Azeroth had the first couple of months.
Blizzard used to be famous for their dedication to quality and taking their time to finish products, which even went on to spawn the ”Soon” meme. Referring to how they took forever to finish their games to achieve the famous ”Blizzard polish”. Now they push a release they fully well know isn’t ready to make sure it comes out in the right quarter to please shareholders.
Strike 2: The Diablo Immortal debacle.
Honestly, Blizzard made too many mistakes in too short of a period for me to list them all surrounding the reveal of their new mobile game, Diablo Immortal. However, these are the major ones in question.
Diablo Immortal primary screw-up counter:
- Giving the Diablo community and fanbase false hope by stating that ”They have a lot of exciting updates to share about Diablo’s future”.
- Choosing to reveal a pay-to-win mobile game made for the Chinese market to their almost purely PC fanbase at Blizzcon. Their so-called ”fan celebratory event”.
- Placing the reveal as the main event of the entire opening ceremony and having no news about anything remotely PC Diablo related. Showing a complete failure to understand and respect their current audience at the most basic level.
- Removes dislikes and negative comments from the official Diablo Immortal Trailer, a trailer that despite their efforts and reuploads remain the most heavily disliked game trailer of all time regarding the like-to-dislike ratio percentage.
- Allan Adham, an Executive Producer at Blizzard Entertainment, states that ”Many of us over the last few years have shifted from playing primarily desktop to playing many hours on mobile, and we have many of our best developers now working on new mobile titles across all of our IPs”. Mind you; this statement is but a few hours after they had just been ”booed” by attendees at their panel for that exact reason.
- Wyatt Cheng states at a Blizzcon panel they have not considered the monetization model for Diablo Immortal as they are too focused on making a great game. A few days later an image is released of Netease ”schooling” the Diablo team on aggressive monetization methods.
There are many more mistakes surrounding the Diablo Immortal reveal, but these are the major ones the caused the most outrage.
The Diablo franchise went from being one of the most beloved gaming IP’s of all time to a meme overnight.
Strike 3: Blizzard Employees Say it’s Far Worse
This part is a little less factual as employee contracts keep current and former Blizzard employees from stepping forward themselves, but I think the evidence is sufficient enough to put it on this list.
After the Diablo Immortal failure and all the subsequent ill-received press messages, a bunch of employees at Blizzard contacted a lot of prominent websites and content creators to let them in on the situation at Blizzard. Most famously is the video by the content creator ‘The Quartering‘ titled: ”Blizzard Employees Say it’s Far Worse” which goes into detail about the internal issues at Activision Blizzard. Of which the headlines are as following:
- The departure of Mike Morhaime and how it is hurting the morale, as Mike was seen as the ”anti-CEO” and just wanted to make good games.
- How Blizzard takes advantage of their brand and uses it to get away with much lower pay than the industry standard which makes it hard to make a proper living as an average employee.
- How ”cutting cost” is the new motto at Activision Blizzard and that Activision is overall affecting a much larger part of the decision making at Blizzard than before.
- Less success across almost all IP’s mean that Blizzard is being incorporated more into Activision.
Note that this information is neither fact nor false.
It is taken from multiple different employees that have reached out and isn’t just one unsatisfied employee. I would highly recommend watching the video above if you want more details on the issue.
Strike 4: The Heroes of the Storm Debacle.
Now, if you were on the fence about Blizzard’s treatment of their employees and players before, this will likely push you over the edge.
Last week a statement was released from J. Allen Brack and Ray Gresko, stating that all support for the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship and Heroes of the Dorm has been cut and that a lot of developers is being shifted over to other projects. In other words, Heroes of the Storm has been put in maintenance mode together with games such as Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3.
False promises at Blizzcon
At Blizzcon, only a little more than a month prior, the Heroes of the Storm developer team teased a bunch of things coming to the game in 2019, and the Heroes Global Championship was among those things.
This left the entire Heroes of the Storm community to feel cheated and lied to as they were promised a ton of exciting stuff for 2019 and it’s hard to overstate how vital an active competitive scene is for a MOBA game.
So the removal of the professional scene for Heroes of the Storm was a massive blow to the player base, but that is not even the biggest issue with this announcement.
Even the Developers didn’t know
After the announcement several professional players, content creators and Blizzard staff have stated that none of them had any idea what was going to happen. With some professional players even reporting that they were promised at Blizzcon just a few weeks before that ‘HGC’ would certainly come back in 2019. MFPallytime, a prominent Heroes Youtuber even stated that his ”contacts” at Blizzard told him that ‘HGC’ would happen just a few days before the announcement.
Leaving not only the players but also the developers and ‘HGC’ employees utterly stunned by the news.
How the HGC Cancellation affected people
- Hundreds of people stand without a job overnight 2 weeks before Christmas.
- Professional players who were promised a future in 2019 and had poured their sweat and tears into ‘HGC’ is forced to quit the scene.
- Players who advanced from the HGC Crucible and was looking forward to finally becoming professional gamers in 2019 had their dream crushed overnight.
- Players who spend money on the latest update arriving a few days prior had no idea that the game was going into ”maintenance mode” and Blizzard even put a 365-day experience booster on sale before the announcement. All items bought in the faith that Heroes of the Storm would keep going as shown at Blizzcon.
A company that is willing to shaft this many people and players overnight is making it exceptionally hard to trust them, no matter what Blizzard game you are currently playing.
It would seem that Blizzards own mission statement ”Play nice, play fair” doesn’t apply to Blizzard themselves.
Heroes Global Championship Stands as a Warning to Other Blizzard Esports
Heroes of the Storm might have been their least profitable Esport right now, and you might feel safe as an Overwatch or World of Warcraft player. However, this situation proves that if your favorite Esports scene begins to show a decline and fail to perform, Blizzard has no issue in disowning you too, regardless of prior promises.
The Future of Blizzard Entertainment – ”No king rules forever”
We are at a point now where we have to accept that the Blizzard Entertainment that crafted the worlds of Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo is no longer in business.
While it might have been so for years, 2018 stands as the year that Blizzard Entertainment proved themselves no better than the Electronic Art’s and Activision’s of the industry. And yes, I know Activision Blizzard is one company, but they didn’t use to function as such. Now, the merger is complete, and the two companies stand as one and the same.
Blizzard used to evaluate success by the number of happy consumers that enjoyed their games, not with a quarterly report of microtransactions for the investors.
While this is how most major gaming companies function today, you Blizzard, you used to be better.
So what does the future of Blizzard Entertainment Hold?
Blizzard has stated a thousand times now that they have more projects in work than ever before. So, let us have a look at what Blizzard fans have to look forward to:
Diablo Immortal: Close to being the most disliked and hated video game of all time before even coming out.
Unannounced Mobile Projects: By this point, it is all but confirmed that Blizzard has a mobile game in the works for all their primary IP’s. Hardly something people are looking forward to.
Unannounced Diablo Project: While Blizzard did not reveal anything at Blizzcon, it is pretty safe to say that Diablo 4 is on its way. Something that is very exciting if they don’t manage to obliterate the Diablo IP even further before the reveal.
Warcraft 3: Reforged: A very promising remaster for one of the best games Blizzard ever made and the highlight of the Blizzcon 2018 announcements.
World of Warcraft Classic: Blizzard is bringing back the original World of Warcraft experience from 2004, another release that millions of dedicated fans are anticipating. See the pattern?
Blizzard used to make the best games on the market with very few companies who could match them in both quality and success. However, the fact that the most exciting upcoming Blizzard games right now are both remasters of their old games is quite revealing.
It is almost as if Blizzard struggle to make a brand new game of equal quality.
We need to talk about Blizzard’s ”mission statements.”
I want to wrap this article up by taking a look at Blizzard Entertainments own core values and mission statements and see how well they live up to them.
- Gameplay First: Yet you insist on bringing in anti-consumer systems such as Azerite Power in World of Warcraft that is designed only to force people to play more, regardless of their enjoyment in doing so.
- Commit to Quality: Yet you chose to release World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth many months too early with the shortest testing period of any expansion before it despite the implementation of several new systems. Now that’s ”Blizzard Polish” for you right there.
- Play nice, play fair: Yet you choose to cancel the ‘HGC’ and leave hundreds without a job 2 weeks before Christmas despite promising them and your consumers the exact opposite.
- Embrace your inner geek: Yet you, and most of your core developers have apparently stopped gaming and now only play games on your mobile devices.
- Every voice matters: If that voice is willing to spend money on micro-transactiosn at least.
- Think Globally: Especially if your region spends a TON of money on mobile microtransaction.
- Lead responsibly: Hats off to you Blizzard, your leadership have shown the industry how you can turn a beloved IP into a meme overnight, how little you have to care about your employees and most importantly, how greed is a virtue.
- Learn & Grow: You grew from a passionate company with a focus on quality and game design to another industry titan that would rather add a new item to the in-game shop than a new piece of content.
It would appear that you are no longer in line with your very own mission statements and are in need of new ones to better aline with the philosophy of the company.
I genuinely hope that the community outrage and massive drop in the Activision Blizzard stock these past months serves as a warning that the path you are on is not only unethical but not as good of an investment as you would like it to be.
A great way to make money in the gaming industry is to make great games that can speak for themselves.
It is sad that you have to be reminded of something you once knew better than anyone but here we are.