Great civilizations rise and fall. Nothing made by man lasts forever. Such is the way of things. The same is true of successful video game studios.
Success is a double-edged sword. Ask any restauranteur that has attained the highly coveted 3-star Michelin rating about how hard it is dealing with the unrelenting pressure to keep those precious stars.
But how do we define success?
In the world of video games, executives and shareholders measure success in earnings and stock prices. Others measure success in obtaining high ratings from critics. And some even dare to measure success by the appreciation of their fans. Finally, there is the artist who creates a work of art for himself.
Serious video game enthusiasts care about one thing: that the video game they play is the very best it can be.
Blizzard Entertainment was once such a company that measured success by the loyalty of their fans, their own love of games and their devotion to excellence and artistic integrity. Back in those days — before Blizzard was a large corporation bloated with bureaucracy and plagued by corporate wokeness — Blizzard was a small boutique studio of passionate, hard-working, sleep-deprived gamers creating games for themselves that had the happy by-product that other gamers loved them too. This was a winning formula that set them above all other video game studios.
Video game development is a zero-sum game. Every video game studio has a fixed set of resources with which to create a video game. Every dollar spent on things that have nothing to do with video games is a dollar that could have been spent making the game better.
Today, Blizzard is a company that has run out of steam and in the process lost its Midas touch. Years of insular leadership has taken its toll and created a company rife with deadwood and bureaucracy. Blizzard reminds me of a geriatric 1970s rock band with grey hair and beer bellies playing their old hits at a local casino desperately gasping and grasping for approval from fellow aging baby boomers.
Since Blizzard is their own publisher and can release what they want, when they want, they have no excuse for their current predicament.
Blizzard can still salvage itself if it has the courage to do some soul searching, admit their mistakes and embrace solutions. At the very least Blizzard needs to eliminate as many distractions as possible and once again start to focus on making great games.
Here are 5 things that Blizzard has engaged in that have distracted them from making great PC video games:
Mistake #1: Mobile Games
One of Blizzard’s core weaknesses that have plagued them over the years is their susceptibility to embrace fads. Blizzard believes in making games that their devs like to play. At the time they started creating WoW, MMOs were a popular fad as EverQuest was all the rage.
Today, due to the popularity of Fortnite, battle royale games are the latest fad. The rise of smartphones and the success of mobile games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush has created a gold rush hysteria where many video game studios like Blizzard are eager to take advantage of.
But there’s a big problem. Blizzard’s core audience are PC gamers who have spent millions of dollars over the years investing in Blizzard’s PC games. They expect commensurate reciprocity and loyalty.
Another reality to consider is that MMORPG’s like WoW are only viable on PCs because they have large video screens compared to the tiny screens on tablets and smartphones where MMOs don’t make sense. Typical Blizzard games are not practical on mobile. So putting your focus on mobile is going to cause problems with your fans.
While the Diablo Immortals mobile fiasco was in progress, Blizzard executive Allen Adham — in a moment of unexpected candor — revealed that Blizzard’s best designers are now working on mobile titles. If this is true then this will be disastrous for their PC games because of a deficit of top talent. You always send your very best team to the Olympics and you keep the second stringers at home.
We’ve seen evidence of this in the past when Blizzard shifted it’s “A” talent from one PC game to another project — the quality invariably suffered. Blizzard transferred their “A” team from WoW to the Titan MMO project and the results were catastrophic with a slew of horrible WoW expansions created by the less talented “B” team. Since then WoW has been hemorrhaging subscribers.
Not only did this bad decision sabotage WoW, it also cost the company a purported $50 million dollar price tag to develop the canceled Titan MMO. This is precious money that could have been better spent on WoW and other PC titles in development.
PC games have always been Blizzard’s forte. Successful companies play to their strengths. Blizzard has been making video games for PC owners for decades and has been handsomely rewarded by their fans in the process. Even though mobile games are becoming more popular, Blizzard needs to resist this temptation toward making trendy games and focus on reciprocating the loyalty of their devoted fans and stay in their PC niche.
Recommendation: Get out of mobile games completely and focus solely on PC games. Stop trying to be all things to all people. Own your niche and be proud of it Blizzard.
Mistake #2: Focusing on Profits Instead of Gameplay
From the beginning of WoW’s development, the designers at Blizzard such as Allen Adham and Rob Pardo wanted to broaden the base of the existing MMORPG demographic — defined by EverQuest at the time — by creating easier content in WoW to attract lesser skilled casual gamers. By creating “accessible” content that allowed players to solo to the level cap, they eroded the fundamental value proposition of MMORPGs which is: players adventuring in a virtual world with each other and interacting/cooperating in groups of distinct interdependent classes.
In 2004, the same year that WoW was released, Richard Bartle wrote one of the best articles ever written about MMORPGs entitled: Why Virtual Worlds are Designed By Newbies – No, Really!
Bartle explained that because of the churn rate factor, MMOs need to attract a steady stream of newbies to maintain the subscriber demographic in order to remain profitable. Since most newbies unfamiliar with MMOs would not initially have the skillset to play a MMO, designers would need to make the MMO easier and easier in order to entice them to play.
Here are prophetic words of wisdom from the article:
Virtual worlds are being designed by know-nothing newbies, and there’s not a damned thing anyone can do about it. I don’t mean newbie designers, I mean newbie players – first timers. They’re dictating design through a twisted “survival of the not-quite-fittest” form of natural selection that will lead to a long-term decay in quality, guaranteed. If you think some of today’s offerings are garbage, just you wait…
Garbage indeed. Bartle accurately predicted the dumbing down of MMOs like WoW and 14 years later we can see that he was spot on with his apocalyptic predictions. Other established MMOs such as EverQuest followed Blizzard’s lead and have undergone a similar dumbification process. The result is that most MMOs today are essentially single-player video games played simultaneously with other players in a persistent virtual world where no social contact is required.
Over the years Blizzard has purposely and willfully sacrificed good design and instead made bad design decisions (easy soloing, flying mounts, group finder, raid finder, cross server realms, hero classes, and character boosts) in order to expand their demographic to increase profits.
A profits first philosophy is now the order of the day. It is clear that Blizzard ensures that precious art resources are always prioritized to create mounts and pets to be sold in their cash shop to make even more money to placate their shareholders.
The moral of the story is that bad game design will negatively impact your long-term bottom line. Since the release of their Cataclysm expansion, WoW subscribers reached their zenith at 12 million. But in 2015, Blizzard reported that WoW subscribers had reached a 10 year low of 5.5 million and according to Google Trends, fewer people are searching for WoW. Both are on the same negative trajectory.
The numbers do not lie. WoW has been declining for years and becoming less profitable because of short-sighted bad design decisions.
Recommendations: After 15 years of terrible decision decisions and general malaise in the WoW community, WoW in its current form is unsalvageable going forward. With WoW Classic, Blizzard has a chance to redeem itself and avoid their past mistakes and use existing assets to take WoW on a more healthy, sustainable and properly designed trajectory. Blizzard should start shifting more resources from WoW to WoW classic.
Mistake #3: Wasteful Vanity Projects
In recent years, Blizzard sees themselves as the Disney of video games and has involved themselves in vanity projects that have absolutely nothing to do with making great PC games.
So not only did Blizzard lose money in the process, they lost even more money because of the opportunity cost where their top creative people such as Chris Metzen and others were busy focusing on the film instead of their stable of PC games.
In 2014, Blizzard wasted even more money by creating an extravagant YouTube video series called Azeroth Choppers where Blizzard devs visited a custom motorcycle shop to make custom motorcycles that would also be included in WoW as purchasable mounts.
The vanity and egos of Blizzard employees are legendary as various devs have included many references to themselves within WoW. Blizzard even decided to create a statue of Chris Metzen that is a homage to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney and Chris Metzen are light years apart in talent and stature.
As a kid, I watched Walt Disney appear on his TV show on Saturdays with my family. Chris Metzen, you’re certainly talented, but you’re no Walt Disney.
THEY GAVE CHRIS METZEN A STATUE OF HIM HOLDING BABY WINSTON'S HAND LIKE WALT DISNEY I'M LOSING MY MIND pic.twitter.com/QfljfRbDot
— Li Zard (@Shockodile) September 21, 2016
Recommendations: Stop trying to be the Disney of gaming and cease all non-PC game endeavors such as films and other frivolous non-gaming projects. Stop with the self-worship and check your egos outside the door and start making great video games again.
Mistake #4: Esports
I’ve watched esports on Overwatch League on TV. Unlike real sports, that has clearly laid out objectives, scores, and rules — it’s a mess. Esports is an unwatchable bombardment of sensory overload, spastic mayhem and utter confusion overlayed with histrionic color commentary from announcers that can easily induce a bad case of motion sickness for the viewer.
Blizzard’s esports is initiative is a preposterous waste of money that has no appreciable positive effect on the quality of their PC games. PC gamers would rather be playing games than watching them. Spectators don’t buy games.
Despite all the hoopla about esports, there is still no actual data about return on investment and revenues.
Blizzard’s esports fetish is all about Blizzard’s executive team experiencing delusions of grandeur by LARPing as ESPN tycoons.
What worries me the most about Blizzard’s esports distraction is that they will start to make their existing games and new games more esports friendly.
As an MMORPG player, I enjoy slower paced gameplay which involves socialization and strategy versus the twitch action-orientated anti-social PC video games that are currently in vogue. Games developed with esports in mind will certainly include more fast-paced action-oriented elements and will further alienate typical MMORPG players like myself.
Blizzard also has a problem with cognitive dissonance, as Blizzard sees both mobile and esports as the future. But there is a deep contradiction here as esports games on mobile smartphones is impractical. Esports can only really work on a personal computer as it has a large computer screen.
If mobile is the future then esports with personal computers is not the future. If esports with personal computers is the future then mobile is not the future. You can’t have it both ways.
Which future do you want to focus on Blizzard? Esports or mobile?
Recommendation: Stop spending millions on Esports. Blizzard’s greatest games such as Warcraft RTS, Diablo 1, Diablo 2 and of course World of Warcraft were all produced and promoted without the existence of esports.
Distraction 4: Blizzcon and Other Trade Shows
Blizzard spends a tremendous amount of time and resources on promotional trade shows such as BlizzCon. No figures exist but I imagine it must cost millions of dollars and countless months to produce BlizzCon and other trade shows. Not to mention the cost of all of the time it takes for their staff to prepare for these massive events and the opportunity cost where employees could be working on video games instead.
Blizzard existed for 14 years before they hosted their first BlizzCon in 2005. Somehow they managed to make great video games just fine without BlizzCon.
In this time of financial difficulty at Blizzard, BlizzCon and all other promotional trade shows are an extravagance that they can no longer afford.
Blizzard needs to find some humility to buckle down and get back to the business of making games instead of indulging in dubious self-promotion and using tradeshows to gratify their egos. A few years of monastic game development with no public events would do Blizzard some serious good.
Recommendation: Blizzard needs to cancel BlizzCon and all other trade shows until further notice.
Distraction #5: Identity politics
Nothing is more aggravating and depressing than a company that decides to shove a political ideology down the throats of its customers. These corporations that play this game, hide behind the euphemistic term values but what they are really doing is proselytizing their own pseudo-morality. And in this case, their morality is rooted in the ugly ideologies of cultural Marxism and post-modernism. Today it’s morphed into the term: identity politics.
Here’s some valuable insight on this dangerous ideology from Professor Jordan Peterson:
In America today, there is a being waged war on fun and escapism by the virtue signaling disciples of this new identity politics religion. Sophia Narwiz from Red State laments:
Each day a new deluge of stupidity spreads across the web and weakens the structure of fun that keeps most hobbies supported. Surfing the waves as they lash out at everything in their path are hordes of outraged leftists, hellbent on achieving the new-age Puritanism they so seek. Because in the era of the new fringe left, everything is problematic and nothing is allowed to simply be enjoyable.
Since 2014, when Blizzard Chief Creative Director of Design Rob Pardo was ambushed by a virtue signaling Polygon writer/activist named Todd Harber about the lack of diversity in their games, the virtue signaling leadership at Blizzard has been cowering and pandering to identity politics activists. I have spoken out about this alarming trend on my website in various essays.
Diversity, inclusion, and their newest scam called representation is a shakedown con game being run by professional identity politics hustlers like GLAAD and their accomplices in corrupt leftist controlled media and feminist malcontents on Twitter. These people intimidate cowardly video game studios with the specter of bad press and will not hesitate to unleash outraged mobs with digital pitchforks on Twitter if they don’t acquiesce to their divisive political ideology.
Trembling in fear and afraid of bad publicity, these executives suddenly get woke and become diversity and inclusion proponents overnight. They purchase absolution for their sins by doling out thousands of dollars to LGBTQ causes and promises to be more sensitive to minorities.
There is no evidence that the concepts of diversity, inclusion, and representation create better video games. Having obligatory LGBTQ characters and token minorities cheapens a video game when it is done solely for the purposes of social and political indoctrination — not good storytelling or good drama. Of course, minorities and LGBTQ are always portrayed in the most positive light possible and are almost never depicted as villains which is a role reserved exclusively for white males — the slinking thieves you see in security monitoring TV commercials.
There is also no evidence that promoting identity politics ideology will make video games reach a wider demographic. The exact opposite may be true because by choosing a side in the culture wars, diversity and inclusion propaganda is potentially alienating 50% of your audience who refuse to be indoctrinated.
Since most video games Blizzard produces are RPGs — role-playing games — players are free to, yes, you heard it: role-play whatever identity they wish. They can wear practically whatever armor they wish and choose their gender and various skin colors when they create their character. By nature, RPGs are the most inherently inclusive form of participatory entertainment in existence because they let the player — not the game designer — decide their role and identity in the gaming world.
The diversity industry has metastasized into Blizzard’s hiring practices. According to Kotaku, an internal leaked memo shows that Blizzard has instituted a global diversity and inclusion initiative. Blizzard now has a Diversity and Inclusion officer to implement this nonsense. So instead of hiring the very best talent based on merit, it seems Blizzard will be giving applicants preferential treatment if they are minorities or members of the LGBTQ community.
When you hire by merit alone the color of a person’s skin, their gender or sexual preferences should have nothing to do with your decision.
Recommendation: Blizzard should adopt a studio culture that is ideologically neutral that hires on merit alone. Blizzard should eliminate all diversity and inclusion positions and hiring initiatives. All women, minority and LGBTQ advisory councils should be disbanded immediately. Blizzard should cease all initiatives to spread diversity, inclusion and representation propaganda in their video games.
As I was writing this article, it was reported that Blizzard has laid off hundreds of employees. Thankfully, no developers were laid off. This is a good sign that Blizzard is starting to take their financial predicament seriously and return to focusing on making great video games.
The problems at Blizzard didn’t happen overnight. They are not the fault of the rank and file employees; they are mainly due to a failure of leadership. Former CEO and President Mike Morhaime is finally gone which is a good thing. Every one of these distractions that I’ve outlined was done with his approval and imprimatur. The buck stops with him because it was he that led the company all these years. There can be no doubt that decisions made by Morhaime will impact the company for years to come.
I am very concerned about J. Allen Brack leading Blizzard into the future. In a recent article, he seems to be following in Morhaime’s footsteps and is also planning to double-down with more diversity and inclusion proselytizing at Blizzard. Perhaps the catastrophe that Blizzard so richly deserved at BlizzCon will be a wake-up call for him and his colleagues.
If Blizzard fails to clean up their act then Blizzard as we know it will cease to exist in a few years and Activision will take over completely and proceed to milk the Blizzard name for all it’s worth. Do it at your own peril, because you can’t fool the fans anymore.
Without the fans, Blizzard would not have made untold billions over the years. There are millions of loyal Blizzard fans who will be left out in the cold once Blizzard is gone or assimilated into the Activision hive mind. I count myself among them. We’ve been warning Blizzard for well over a decade only to be ignored and dismissed.
What Blizzard really needs to do is to show they care about the fans.
But it has to be more than showing, they have to actually care. Caring about the fans means you care enough to make the very best video games and worry about the profits after. That is how Blizzard used to operate and the sole reason why they earned the undying loyalty of millions of fans worldwide.
As I have said before, BlizzCon should be canceled until further notice. Instead, the entire executive team at Blizzard should hold a live, no-frills press conference and make a public apology to their fans for allowing Blizzard’s reputation to be run into the ground and debased by their own mismanagement.
Blizzard needs to demonstrate sincere contrition and humility. They need to stop with the corporate posturing and politically correct doublespeak and make a strong unified statement that they are once again serious about making amazing video games again.
Man up Blizzard. You owe it to your fans.