This was a tough week for anyone who works for Blizzard Entertainment or anyone who is a fan of the games. The Blizzard community has grown and fostered over many years now. Always heightened at BlizzCon the company was preaching unity, equality, and passion for their games worldwide. This message rung true to millions, and it showed. However, all that began to take a turn for the worse these past few months when the company had an unfortunate line of expansions underperform among their fans. Then BlizzCon happened, and we all thought the worst of it, that is until the earnings call this week. Now Blizzard faces a huge identity crisis among their community, how do they solve it?
How Did We Get Here
Success can test anyone. It is human nature to become more compliant when life gets easy. When you are struggling, well, you have more to lose and fight for a better plan, idea, or game. Blizzard is coming into almost 15 years of massive success with World of Warcraft. It vaulted the company from a well-respected hardcore PC gaming studio, into the millions and eventually billion dollar business.
In 2014 when Overwatch was first announced there was still a fiery passion at the company. Yes, Overwatch is a five-year-old game. We were at the show when it was announced and talked heavily with the teams afterward. Hearthstone was doing well. Warcraft was still maintaining a large player base within their expansions, and all was right in the world.
Over the past five years, we have seen a change in Blizzard’s dynamic. Top designers and artists have all left the company to work on their own projects. Even recently, executives have been leaving as well. Some are just retiring, others are forging new ground. Teams are replaced with people who have a passion for Blizzard games but are joining an already rich and safe environment. There is no struggle, no room to grow, everyone plays it safe.
Management becomes cautious and game developers rest on their laurels of huge success. Imagine Blizzard as a family. You have kind parents who always defend their children’s choices being followed up by spoiled children who are not forced to adapt to a changing world. Think about that for a minute and look at World of Warcraft’s expansions in the past few years. No new formulas, no new ideas, more of the same.
Activision has been around for a while. However, they left Blizzard alone for the most part as the studio kept making a lot of money for the company. It was only until recently that we saw Activision start to play its hand. Destiny landed on Battle.net, the first non-Blizzard title to be there. Soon business choices were being made surrounding the Overwatch League. Bobby Kotick was front and center to promote a brand and game that he had nothing to do with its creation. Go back and watch the early interviews on CNBC, they will annoy you as a player.
Kotick is known for his profits, and quite honestly flat out greed mentality. This was backed up by his comments on the earnings call this past week: Record sales, was his words, throwing out huge numbers and then quickly ending his remarks when it came time for the real bombs to hit. Layoffs, an increase in stock dividends, and a sheer lack of empathy toward staff, players, and the community everyone had come to love. This spelled the end of people’s hopes for their beloved IPs. It is hard to love Warcraft and Diablo when you know the people getting the money from those titles are firing staff and collecting bigger paychecks. Plain and simple, it is not what Blizzard was built upon.
How to Fix It
Blizzard tried to rebound from the bad news by saying they are hiring more developers to build games faster. This is a good thing, right? The game industry will be better for it. Gone are the days that Blizzard can now rest on their laurels and say things like: “It will be ready when it’s ready.” You have to drive development in the current game market or you will lose. Younger players are faster and have a better understanding of games than anyone before. Good luck pleasing them with years of waiting, it will not work.
More developers are good, however, with core executive leaving the company and others now starting to pull the reigns, Activision specifically, you see the impact. Blizzard followed their more developers rallying cry with this statement: “No new games in 2019.”
This was just the first 2019 call for the company, so here is my question: If you have no new titles at all coming out for a year, how will next quarter go?
Media today are built to take down the greed and executives in companies who push poor messaging too far. Kotick has been hounded in the games media for his comments this week. Similar to how politics is now watched every second for missteps and poor representation. If anything his comments gave fuel to a fire of unionizing the game industry and helping developers get more protection from executive choices.
When the Activision Blizzard payment sheets were shown after people lost their jobs, well, it was a call to action for everyone. Stop these executives from controlling the money and ruining lives. The articles will not stop, and with three more quarters to go, Blizzard is going to have a long year.