The past few months have been rough on Blizzard Entertainment. The company is a behemoth in the video game industry, best known for creating such beloved franchises as Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo, and most recently, Overwatch. But a slew of recent developments have given fans cause for concern about Blizzard's future.
In November during BlizzCon 2018, as Diablo loyalists awaited a new entry in the franchise, Blizzard announced Diablo Immortal - a mobile game - as their big reveal to hardcore fans who paid and traveled for the event. The ensuing backlash was loud and furious, the media got into it, and reports emerged from internal sources and ex-employees of how the company has lost touch with the fans. Then, last month, Blizzard suddenly cancelled its 2019 eSports events for Heroes of the Storm, the company's MOBA, without any proper lead-up or communication. Developers on the title are being redirected to other projects, a move that effectively signals the end of the game's continued development. Although HotS failed to truly compete with the likes of Dota 2 and League of Legends, Blizzard's gradual abandonment of the game, and the reveal of Diablo Immortal, have fans asking: What's going on at Blizzard?
A possible explanation of Blizzard's current state is becoming increasingly clear: the company is struggling under the corporate influence of Activision, which it merged with in 2008. A Kotaku report published last Friday details the proliferation of cost-cutting measures throughout Blizzard as Activision's grasp is felt. One former employee said that "Over the course of the last year, Blizzard has been trying very actively to find creative ways to cut costs that won’t draw negative press attention." Blizzard has reportedly expanded its buyout program, ostensibly to make it easier for employees to the leave the company and therefore reduce costs. Also last Friday, Eurogamer reported that more than 100 employees of Blizzard's primary European customer service center - in Cork, Ireland - have accepted buyouts. When viewed alongside Blizzard's decisions regarding Diablo Immortal and HotS, these reports suggest that Blizzard is in dire straits. The company appears to be feeling the pressure of its bottom line - it is flushing out its ranks and prioritizing profit over what fans want.
Of course, Activision Blizzard's pursuit of profit is nothing new. Overwatch, for instance, was among the games that helped make loot boxes ubiquitous. But now, the problem seems more acute than ever. And it's not just the Diablo franchise that stands to stray from its core audience - after the reveal of Diablo Immortal, Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham said in an interview that the studio "[has] big plans for the mobile space," and that players should "expect to see more mobile titles from us spanning all of our IPs at some point in the future."
So where does that leave current and old school players?
For one thing, there aren't only disappointments in the works. Consider Warcraft III: Reforged, the remake of Blizzard's iconic 2002 strategy title, which is set to release in 2019. The remake has long been much-requested, and its existence should be taken as a sign that Blizzard is, in fact, listening to its players.
But ultimately, the frustration that many video game players feel toward Blizzard can serve as a reminder that the company is, at the end of the day, precisely that: a company. It is a corporation whose foremost interest is to generate profit. That is not to say that the legendary games it has created, and the connections that players have developed to those games, are meaningless. Rather, it is to say that fans must be conscious of what they want from Blizzard, and of what Blizzard wants from them. There's absolutely a way for each party to satisfy the other: Blizzard can return to form and renew its periodic revolutions of the video-game space, and players can gobble up the latest Warcraft or Starcraft or other offering.
There may be no Diablo 3 expansions in the work, and after some revisions, Blizzard may reportedly be gun shy about revealing Diablo 4, but there's certainly more to come for the "core" audience.
Here's to hoping that Blizzard realizes that potential.