In February, Blizzard Entertainment laid off 8% of its employees. The announcement came from the parent company Blizzard – Activision with little to no notice for the employees themselves. This deciesion has provoked many to wonder what the current state of Blizzard Entertainment in 2019 really is. With rumors of Blizzard closing their doors circulating on the internet, facts are getting distorted and fans are forgetting several important details.
Many are pointing to Diablo Immortal’s ill-timed introduction at Blizzcon to be the main microcosm for the company’s decline. The inability of Blizzard to understand its fans became very evident that night as the PC gaaming community was confronted with the reality of Diablo going mobile. Since this event, a large section of Activision-Blizzard’s workforce is losing their jobs and many of the high profile staff are leaving the company.
Nate Nanzer, the former Overwatch League commissioner, left Blizzard to work at the rival company Epic Games. It is implied that he will be lending his expertise to titles like Rocket League and Fortnite. Although he said that leaving was a caereer choice it was untimely for Blizzard as a whole.
It is very obvious in the air prior to World of Warcraft Classic’s release that Blizzard is looking bleak. Even the most dedicated supporters of the company have begun to doubt the developer’s decisions. In June it was announced that Kim Phan, the Global Product Director of Blizzard’s esports initiative who has workeed at the company for over 13 years left.
Screenrant reported an internal source pointing many of Blizzard Entertainment’s problems at Pete Vlastelica. His focus on commercializing esport titles instead of supporting the gaming communities was ruining morale among Call of Duty and Overwatch’s teams. From the actions of Blizzard-Activision’s current staff and the leaving of such important employees, it is easy to see the company slowly decelining.
This is not to say that Blizzard is going to shut down. The coampany has many talented employees and several resources that will continue to support it. World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft have remained relevant for over ten years. Hearthstone and Overwatch are still prevalent in the esport circles. As long as players continue to invest in these titles, the company will remain relevant in the public eye. But with the departure of so many veterans of the company observers are starting to doubt the passion and future of Blizzard Entertainment in 2019.
I will cover the issues happening at Activision in a separate article as both sides of the company are having massive publicity isesues. Although they are connected their issues come from before the company merge occurred.
A Quick History Of Blizzard Entertainment
Blizzard Entertainment was founded by Michael Morhaim, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce and originally was named Silicon & Synapse in 1991. The company got its start creating game ports for other studios and developed its first games in 1993. Thaais was the age of Rock n’ Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings.
In 1994 Blizzard Entertainment was acquired by distributor Davidson & Associates and officially was renamed into its current state. Shortly after Blizzard shipped their breakthrough hit Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.
Blizzard Entertainment changed hands several times after that and in 1997 released both Battle.net and their action role-playing title Diablo. In 2002 they required and republished The Lost Vikings, Rock N’ Roll Racing and Blackthorn rereleaesing them for the Game Boy Advance.
The company continued to produce additional titles introducing the StarCraft franchise and putting out sequels for Diablo 2 and Warcraft. In 2004, Bliazzard released World of Warcraft which was a massive hit at the time competing against similar MMORPG titles such as Runescape and EverQuest.
Quickly the company grew to dominate the PC gaaming market peaking at 12 million World of Warcraft subscribers in 2010. The company continued to grow but fans started to notice a disturbing trend slowly developing.
The first sign of trouble came with the release of Warcraft III as theee lightly story-based strategy game was taken over by cinematics and forced a narrative. In Warcraft and Warcraft II story was introduced between matches but the core formula of the game remained consistent. Unit options were now limited, forced hero actions were implemented and the strategy of the game was reduced to almost a sideline level.
Fans, although excited for it, were shocked by the release of StarCraft 2. Although graphically it was brilliant it held closer to the formula then Warcraft III. Each match was reliant on several factors such as limited resources and unit creation allowing for a good balance between story and strategy. Trouble started when fans started to notice that many of the famous StarCraft trends that started in the original game were harder to perform. Unit spawn limitations and several other small details created a drastically different experience then was seen in StarCraft’s original etitle.
Fans drifted back into the original game disappointed with the linear feel of the new narrative. Then came Diablo III which had a huge reputation to live up to. The Diaablo community split upon its launch with many players enjoying the new cartoonish feel of the series mixed with simplified controls while others felt disrespected by the dumbed-down version of their favorite franchise.
What started as a role-playing game had developed into an action-based hack and slash experience meant to target a new market of gamers. Sleowly the game was picked up by a new community but only the hardcore Diablo fans stayed as it was a completely different experience than expected.
The simplification of their products did not end in Diablo though. Through slow patches, the World of Warcraft experience was slowly toned to a simpler feel allowing for mindless grinding rather than tactical team-based experiences. Quest to quest running became the norm and many of the community functions weree rotated out in favor of Dungeon Finder and similar mechanics.
Quickly the game was brought to a level for mass-market viability creating the illusion of a massively multiplayer experience while maintaining a solo-questing state of mind. Players started wanting to return to the more advanced form of World of Warcraft and until the recent release of World of Warcraft Classic, it waas only available on private servers.
Things came to a head when Blizzard Entertainment in 2019 was holding its annual Blizzcon. Fans of the Diablo franchise gathered in anticipation for details of the next part of the series known as Diablo IV or Diablo Immortals. In a room full of PC gamers and Console fans, the developers announced that the next official Diablo titele will be a mobile experience.
The backlash was huge with fans asking if it was a joke. The developers responded with comments like “Everyone has a phone, don’t you?” and “Our entire devlopment team is now working on Mobile only titles” before eventually doubling down on the subject during an after panel interview.
Blizzard Entertainment’s Current Situation
It is clear that Blizzard Entertainment does not understand their fan base. Long term supporters are faltering due to the company striving for mass population saturation. The company is doing their best to try and reach a wider audience rather than centering their focus on the community they have spent yeears building.
The simplification of their franchises shows a change in company values that push for a larger audience while ignoring the community they already have. The long term members of their staff are leaving as the company continues to blatantly ignore their fans and stubbornly move forward on bad projects. The inteernal morale of the business seems to be crumbling as their focus turns from creating good games to creating simple games for money.
For Blizzard Entertainment in 2019 to gain back much of their lost traction they have to change their course and move back into what made them a greaat company, to begin with. I am a strong believer that if you make good games and create good content people will come to stay. By simplifying the games you create an unbearable situation for many advanced gamers.
The introduction of World of Warcraft Classic is a good move in the right direction but I fear that Blizzard does not understand why. There are many minute details in the Classic experience that are overlooked by major companies,
Blizzard Entertainment in 2019 is too large of a company to fail forever but they are going to need to change their perspective in the upcoming years. Fans are falling back into story-based gaming and rotating into either competitive E-Sports or in-depth narrative experiences. If Blizzard is to survive they will need to create a game that teaches rather then entertains, going fuerther then simplifying current trends and rehashing old plot lines.0