In all my years of covering Blizzard and World of Warcraft, I have never seen Blizzard fans so exasperated and disheartened than now. Gamers who emotionally invested themselves in their games over the years feel betrayed by Blizzard. Much like the bond Mac users have with Apple, there was always a sense of unwavering loyalty between Blizzard and their fans. The formerly unapologetic Blizzard created exceptional games to the beat of their own drum and timeline — and the fans rewarded them for it with undying devotion and adulation.
Blizzard is in serious trouble. The overwhelmingly negative votes in a YouTube video for a new mount in World of Warcraft is an accurate barometer of the fans mood. Even the stock price of Activision/Blizzard has fallen by approximately 44% from its high in October 2018.
The utter disgust that gamers have toward the new Blizzard and their tone-deaf avarice is staggering. One YouTube commenter has nailed the sentiment with a humorous parody of the death of Arthas:
Blizzard: Father! Is it… over?
Activision: At long last. No king rules forever, my son.
Blizzard: I see… only dollar signs… before me…
* Blizzard dies *
After years of putting profits ahead of good game design — just to placate Activision/Blizzard shareholders — reality has finally caught up to them and their fans. It’s like a marriage where both spouses have gone in different directions who one day wake up realize they have grown far apart and have little in common.
But how could this happen?
Less than a week before the ill-fated Diablogate debacle of BlizzCon 2018, VentureBeat published an interview with the newly appointed president of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack. In the days that followed the BlizzCon catastrophe, like rubberneckers on a freeway passing a serious motor accident, Blizzard fans and industry experts have been looking for clues trying to make sense of the carnage.
The VentureBeat interview with Brack has largely gone under the radar but within it are a treasure trove of important clues that explain the pathology that is currently eating away at Blizzard.
Introducing J. Allen Brack
So who is Brack and why should you care?
To most WoW players, J. Allen Brack became infamous when he dismissed a BlizzCon attendee’s question about official vanilla WoW servers with the snarky “you think you do, but you don’t” reply. To his credit, years later, after Blizzard came to their senses, it was he that ate crow by taking the stage to announce WoW Classic at BlizzCon 2017.
President Brack joined Blizzard in 2006 as a producer and has been an executive producer of WoW since 2010 when the Cataclysm expansion was released and despite WoW’s declining subscribers was promoted to Vice President in 2014.
Despite the fact that virtual world pioneer Raph Koster who worked with him on the now-defunct Star Wars Galaxies MMORPG dubbed Brack as “incredibly important to the history of World of Warcraft,” not much is known about him or what his actual contribution to WoW was or is. While Brack has appeared numerous times on stage at BlizzCon, his role at Blizzard and his development and production philosophy remains a mystery.
In the VentureBeat interview, he helps to solve that mystery by explaining that a big part of his job is to manage talent at Blizzard by ensuring that the right people get promoted commiserate with their aptitudes. Producers are the unsung heroes of video game development as they work behind the scenes and primarily focus on the vital task of project management.
Blizzard’s Infatuation with Identity Politics
The ascension of Brack comes at a time when Blizzard survived an existential crisis after abysmal $50+ million failure of the Titan MMO, the departure of many key developers and a spontaneous Diablo fan revolt that resulted in Activision stock plunging in value. As I have chronicled on this blog for many years, the bold and independent ethos of Blizzard of ten years ago is long gone and been replaced with a cookie-cutter, politically correct corporate ethos. The old Blizzard has been dying a slow death of a thousand cuts if not already dead.
One such cut is more like a self-inflicted festering wound — their embrace of identity politics and all of the obligatory trappings that come with it. Like the rest of Silicon Valley and most of corporate America, they are bending over backward celebrating the pseudo-virtues of diversity, inclusion, safe spaces and anything else that gets the seal of approval from the doctrinaire gender studies departments in America’s expensive and increasingly irrelevant institutions of over-education.
The interview with Dean Takahashi is one big safe space for Brack and Blizzard. Takahashi’s track record of positive Blizzard articles has the effect of making Brack feel at ease and in return, he reveals much and maybe that’s the point.
The interview commences with the usual corporate boilerplate talk about culture and values. As was evidenced by his opening ceremony speech at BlizzCon 2018, Brack gives an admirable performance and says all the right things and recites the “values & community” marketing flim-flam injected by into the Silicon Valley bloodstream years ago by Apple’s Steve Jobs.
The Representation Con Game
It’s not surprising that the interviewer, who seems not to be a big fan of gamers — it’s fashionable to rail against the populism of fans and gamers these days — prefaces one of his paragraphs with: “In the crazy world of angry gamers…” to want to talk about horrors of “sexism” in the industry. This gives Brack the opportunity to virtue signal about representation. Racial and gender identity representation in all forms of business, academia, government, and entertainment is the latest moral crusade for the left in America. Here’s a snippet from Brack:
The tech industry does not have a stellar reputation in certain areas where you’re representing the underrepresented. We’re trying to take steps forward with the underrepresented. Personally that’s a very important mission for my team, and an important mission for me going forward as well.
How important? More important than making great games? Does he mean more representation for conservatives, Republicans, Christians, freethinkers or libertarians? Of course not. It seems the only diversity that is not welcome at Blizzard 2.0 is the only diversity that matters: viewpoint diversity.
There’s an underlying assumption that hiring based on representation is a just remedy for past systemic discrimination waged against minorities in the video game industry. This alleged discrimination is an unproven assumption. Just because women, LGBT people and other minorities are not exactly proportionately reflected in the video game industry versus their percentage of the general population does not prove that they were discriminated against by the industry. Males, females, LGBT people and minorities have different aptitudes and consequently gravitate to fields of endeavor that interest them. The various initiatives to get women to “close the gap” in STEM fields is also a by-product of this fallacious assumption about systemic discrimination.
The truth is that representation is an innocuous-sounding euphemism for hiring more female and LGBT workers at the expense of heterosexual white males. Preferential hiring based on race, gender and sexual preference is a discriminatory practice and should not be tolerated at Blizzard or anywhere else for that matter. Hiring should be based solely on merit and not on the color of your skin or other immutable characteristics.
According to a 2017 Linkedin article, Blizzard has increased their female interns by 166% in just one year. It is clear that the push for diversity and inclusion is in full swing at Blizzard.
Earlier this year, I predicted that Blizzard’s diversity initiatives to hire more female developers would eventually manifest itself into the actual content of Blizzard games. It’s already happening. Recently, Forbes published an article entitled How Women Came to Rule the World of Warcraft. It explains how a woman named Lydia Bottegoni (who is now the Senior VP of Story and Franchise Development and filled the void created by Chris Metzen’s retirement) spearheaded a move to introduce strong female characters to the main WoW storyline and accompanying cinematics.
There is not one shred of evidence that hiring more women and LGBT developers creates better video games. But of course, that was never the point all along. You would think that making the very best video games in the world would be the most important thing for Brack and Blizzard. You would think that that was their mission. But this is 2018 and all that matters is identity politics virtue signaling.
Safe Spaces Coming to BlizzCon 2019
For the past two years, Blizzard has set aside a special place at BlizzCon to showcase their diversity initiatives. Brack goes on to reveal that at BlizzCon 2019 they plan to expand it and have a Diversity Nexus safe space area for various LGBT and women’s groups. A safe space? Are you kidding me? Will the non-safe parts of BlizzCon be unsafe or dangerous? This is the nerdfest of BlizzCon, not the violent south side of Chicago or the anarchy of Tombstone, Arizona back in the Wild West.
I am a gamer. I know gamers. I’ve played video games since the days of the Atari 2600, the Apple IIe and the Amiga. I was a Senior Guide for EverQuest for many years, spending thousands of hours of my free time helping players and resolving disagreements between players and writing/running live quests and events. I led a large WoW guild. I’ve been an online gamer for over 20 years and although our community is not perfect — no community is — we are pretty decent to each other. After watching videos of the audience at BlizzCon, I can’t think of a more accepting and tolerant community of people. Segregating people at a gaming convention based on their sexual preference and their gender is fundamentally wrong, infantile and insulting.
Jonathan Haidt warns us about the troubling safe spaces phenomenon in America in his new book “The Coddling of the American Mind”. He calls it safetyism:
I have to believe that Blizzard is engaging in this pandering because they’ve been told that it’s acceptable by some expensive diversity consultant. Blizzard is not a trailblazer here as PAX already has something like this called a Diversity Lounge at their yearly gaming events. Regardless, this type of segregation and pandering is a blight upon our hobby and our community and it should be strenuously condemned.
The idea of safe spaces is gaining traction with the modern left in America. Now there are vacations for blacks only as reported by VICE News. It is advertised as a place where black people can get away from white people.
The blatant pandering and hypocrisy of the diversity and inclusion loving left has no bounds.
The Diversity Delusion
Diversity and inclusion are dangerous ideas because they create and reward a culture of victimology where various identities clamor to become the most oppressed on the victim totem pole. Being oppressed grants you instant power in today’s topsy-turvy world. Siding with the oppressed via virtue signaling makes you an ally and gains you immunity from the wrath of the social justice witch-hunters and their enforcers on Twitter.
Hiring based on diversity instead of merit also incurs a tremendous opportunity cost because when merit is no longer the criteria, the very best people are not being hired and products and services invariably suffer. Ask yourself this: if you were about to have surgery to fix a life-threatening medical condition, would you want the very best surgeon or a surgeon hired because they were from an underrepresented minority or sexual identity?
In an opinion piece, Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald lamented that Albert Einstein would probably have not been hired today because of diversity quotas.
She warns about this growing problem in her new book “The Diversity Delusion”. Here’s a quote from her promotional video:
The biggest problem faced by students today is the encouragement of victimology. Students are taught to look around their environment which is one of opportunity and see only hatred and bigotry. Students are taught today that if I’m a female I should not be expected to read male writers. If I’m black I should not be expected to read white writers. This color coding and gender coding is extraordinarily narrow. There is an entire bureaucracy that is dedicated to the preposterous idea that to be an American student on a college campus is to be the subject of life-threatening oppression.
The censorship that is pervasive on campus has reached into the real world. The thinking that the color of one’s skin or one’s gender is the most important qualification, is now transforming the world.
Transforming the world it has, and the leadership at Blizzard is merrily dancing to the tune of the diversity pied piper.
What do Gloria Steinem and Blizzard Entertainment have in Common?
As the interview progresses, Takahashi seems determined to talk about diversity — not video games. Brack obliges and reveals the following:
I grew up in a household where Gloria Steinem was one of the patron saints of the Brack family. Not only are we going to continue to talk about the things that Mike has done up to this point, but we’re going to push even more going forward.
I respect and appreciate that people have personal heroes in their life that they look up to. But what does Gloria Steinem have to do with video games? Gloria Steinem is a feminist and a progressive icon. Gloria Steinem is not a video game pioneer.
Imagine if a president of a video game company who was a conservative, mentioned in an interview that conservative icons such as William F. Buckley, Pat Buchanan or Rush Limbaugh were like patron saints of his family and that he was going to do all he could to push their values in the company? The press and the fans would be outraged.
One conclusion is that Blizzard has become nose blind to their own biases. That’s because progressive politics is a mandatory belief system in California these days and it seems the leadership of Blizzard are its willing adherents. So there you have it from the current leader of Blizzard who admits that he and Blizzard will be doubling down on identity politics in the future.
After the disaster that was BlizzCon 2018, the VentureBeat interview gives us a glimpse into the mindset of Blizzard’s leadership culture. We see a leadership that is woefully out of touch with its fans and eager to waste money on corporate posturing and frivolous virtue signaling projects that have zero impact on the quality of their games.
Part of the problem is that after the explosive success of World of Warcraft, Blizzard grew too fast and corporatism took over. In a recent candid interview conducted by Jeremy Hambly of The Quartering with ex-Blizzard WoW dev lead Mark Kern, it’s revealed that after WoW became a massive hit, Blizzard executives were no longer accessible to the rank and file and had their own private floor protected by security passcodes. This ivory tower of isolation and inaccessibility — purposely created by Blizzard’s executive team — probably explains how the identity politics virus infected Blizzard. The fans never asked for diversity and inclusion agenda and I’m sure that Blizzard employees never wanted any of this madness either.
Here’s a snippet of Mark Kern talking about how Blizzard changed and became unapproachable after the success of WoW:
Jeremy Hambly: So when it became a success, how would you describe the corporate culturing changing as an employee?
Kern is right. When leaders lose touch with both your fans and your developers, dysfunction is the eventual outcome. The blind can not lead the sighted.
The Blizzard LGBT Rainbow Pin
Probably the strangest thing about the interview was when Brack talked about wearing a particular pin at BlizzCon in 2017. Although he didn’t mention it specifically, the pin is a rainbow LGBTQ pride flag embossed on the Blizzard logo. Brack wore the very same pin at the opening ceremony at BlizzCon 2018.
This is pure identity politics virtue signaling and like every good virtue signaler, he wants everyone to know it.
How would fans and employees feel if the president of Blizzard came on stage wearing a Make America Great Hat or a National Rifle Association lapel pin? I think most reasonable people would think that’s inappropriate for a president of a company to be showing support for a political candidate/party/organization/cause at a company sanctioned event for the fans. How is wearing a LGBTQ rainbow pin any different?
The Cost of the Diversity and Inclusion Agenda at Blizzard
Diversity and inclusion virtue signaling is a wasteful and unnecessary sideshow. At a time when, according to Kotaku article, new Blizzard chief financial officer Amrita Ahuja wants Blizzard employees to start saving money it’s financially irresponsible for Blizzard to be hiring diversity experts and spending money on it. According to Jeremy Hambly from The Quartering, when Blizzard employees are being paid less than industry standards and some are forced to live in commune-like conditions, how can Blizzard justify spending one penny on this self-indulgent nonsense?
Diversity and inclusion are divisive extravagances that Blizzard cannot afford.
More Examples of Blizzard Supporting Other Identity Politics
Blizzard is now hard at work spreading their diversity and inclusion cash around. Blizzard has hired a Diversity and Inclusion Leader and Blizzard supports many diversity causes and events such as Girls Who Code with an apparent donation of between $250k and $499k and a Pride Night at the L.A. Clippers game.
One admirable thing that Blizzard is doing is their Blizzard Veterans Group which is a program that seeks to hire military veterans. Military veterans are a remarkable group of people who have served our country and put their lives on the line. America has a long and proud tradition of thanking veterans and giving them special benefits for their service. This and other kinds ideologically neutral initiatives and charities are things that Blizzard should be doing more of.
Blizzard and Communist China
Despite all of the sanctimonious speeches about values, diversity and inclusion, Blizzard has no problems doing business in the totalitarian regime of communist China that routinely violates the rights of its own citizens, harvests organs from prisoners and to this day has mass internment camps that imprison political prisoners. Regrettably, many big American corporations and tech giants do business in China.
Blizzard also capitulates to the Chinese government and censors the artwork within both Diablo and World of Warcraft. More changes to Blizzard products offered in China are imminent as the Chinese regime is cracking down on video games with the creation of their new censorship board called the Online Games Ethics Committee.
Let us also not forget that it’s been estimated that since the rise of communist China, 65 million of its own people have been killed due to executions, starvation, and work camps and to this day China persecutes its own citizens including those of Tibet and religious minorities of Christian and Muslims. Why would Blizzard want to do business with a despotic regime like China?
Answer: increased profits. Follow the money. Like carbon credits for industrial polluters, virtue signaling and diversity initiatives are the clever sleight of hand distraction that buys immunity for big tech companies to escape the wrath of the diversity and inclusion shakedown artists here in America.
Nihilism: The Diversity Endgame
Last week it was reported that the Boy Scouts of America is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. The Boy Scouts of America was a worthwhile and wholesome organization for boys and male teens. Nihilism is what happens when you capitulate to the social justice activists:
The fight to live out your beliefs can be an exhausting one. Until 2000, the Scouts had spent years in court just for the freedom to stick to its moral code. They won, but — to the organization’s dismay — the battle didn’t end. Waves of LGBT activists kept coming, and the pressure built until 2013, when BSA leaders gave into the lie that compromise would be their salvation. Five years later, we all can see: there’s almost nothing left to save.
The Boy Scouts of America are pretty much finished. Diversity and inclusion are on the march and these cultural Marxist fanatics responsible won’t stop until every single organization both public and private and Western civilization itself has been fundamentally transformed by this destructive belief system.
Game Development is a Zero Sum Game
My lasting impression from the Brack interview is that Blizzard is a company that has lost touch with its fans and is more interested in corporate posturing than it is in making great video games. Why? Because making great video games is hard and throwing around money to virtue signal is easy.
Game development is a zero-sum game. You only have so many resources at your disposal, so you need to focus those resources on what’s important: making a great video game. Diversity and inclusion do not make for better video games, it has no appreciable return on investment and incurs an opportunity cost. Besides, choosing sides in a political and cultural battle can potentially alienate half of your customers which makes no sense from a business perspective.
As I finished this article more bad news came out that Blizzard has given up on their Heroes of the Storm franchise and it’s going into maintenance mode. It’s time for Blizzard to get real. Identity politics virtue signaling are a reckless distraction that Blizzard cannot afford.
All we gamers ever wanted was to be able to play our favorite video games without someone hassling us. For years, society at large seemed to disapprove of video games and saw them as a waste of time and an idle pursuit. But for me and others, video games were worlds of wonder and adventure where we could escape the drudgery of everyday life if just for a few minutes.
Many years ago before the culture wars of today, video gaming was like having a treehouse fort for guys — a secret man cave where guys could get together, pretend we were heroes and not have to apologize for enjoying our nerdy escapist hobby. It’s not that girls were not welcome, it’s just that most of them just weren’t interested in video games as guys did guy stuff and girls did girl stuff. To each his and her own. Live and let live.
As consoles grew in popularity and the demographic grew with help from the internet, marketing departments and dumbed-down game design, video games became a multi-billion dollar industry and part of modern culture. The radical feminists, cultural busybodies, and carpetbagging dilettantes took notice and saw the industry as ripe for ideological pillage. They arrived in form of charlatans, journalists, and even developers and they demanded that our sanctuary be neutered, feminized, and sanitized. Suddenly anyone could call themselves a gamer and make ridiculous demands of video game companies.
We gamers thought that video game companies would defend and support their fans who pay their salaries. We were wrong. The various populist fandom revolts in the past few years such as Gamergate, Comicsgate, the Star Wars Last Jedi revolt and the recent Diablogate uprising have shown us that these elitist companies are only too happy to throw us under the bus when we have the temerity band together to defend our beloved hobby. Their accomplices in the corrupt media told us all that gamers are over; what they really meant was that video games as a mostly male sanctuary created by other males was over. The genesis of identity politics assault on the video game industry comes directly from the anti-male ideology of third-wave feminism courtesy of tenured academia. This is the infernal cauldron of civilizational nihilism where specious terms like “rape culture” and “toxic masculinity” are concocted to browbeat males.
When the Coca-Cola Company screwed up with the introduction of New Coke in 1985, consumers revolted en masse. Eventually, the company apologized and brought back the original Coke. That would never happen today because modern corporate America is drunk with the fundamentalism of identity politics.
Identity politics, like Marxism, is an ideological con game that cloaks itself in the halo of equality. Equality is a lie that has been peddled to humanity from day one. It’s a snake oil remedy that promises a fair and just society but ends up producing the opposite. Heather Mac Donald tells us that identity politics teaches people to hate each other. She’s right.
Its pernicious influence has infected the modern left so much so that J.R.R. Tolkien’s universally beloved fantasy world of Middle-earth is now considered a prototype for Donald Trump’s evil, racist, white supremacist America. Orange man bad!
In an article on this controversy, author Brandon Morse makes a great point:
Identity politics is like a highly addictive drug in that once you hook yourself on it, it becomes the filter through which you experience your reality.
Real virtue is incompatible with the pridefulness and boastful behavior that constitutes virtue signaling. It’s truly sad to see how Blizzard are so utterly out of touch with their fans and have succumbed to this ideological vice and in the process forced the entire company to burrow down deeper into the rabbit hole of identity politics.
Two years ago while playing EverQuest on a progression server, I managed to strike up a conversation with a player while in a group adventuring in the Old Sebilis dungeon. We got to talking about the MMO industry. I revealed to him that I used to be a game designer. He told me that he worked at Blizzard. I asked him what he thought about their new diversity initiatives. He paused for a moment and curtly replied: “We need to do better…” I was hoping for a more nuanced and non-canned response but then I remembered that WoW Creative Alex Afrasiabi expressed similar sentiments in a video interview in 2014. I suspect Blizzard employees have been told in no uncertain terms that they must support Blizzard’s diversity programs in public.
The days of honest and unscripted remarks from game devs are over. Thanks to the perpetually outraged activists on social media, employees must only repeat Blizzard approved corporate mantras when speaking to the public. I don’t blame rank and file Blizzard employees for going along with this groupthink because they have bills to pay and families to support. I lay the blame for Blizzard’s descent into identity politics directly at the feet of Morhaime. He is the leader who single-handedly decided to take his company on a mad detour by pandering to LGBT and feminist causes.
Is it too much to ask that companies should strive for ideological neutrality?
No workplace should ever force a political ideology on their employees. Companies should not take sides in politics, nor should they burden their fans and customers with the yoke of ideological and social activism. It’s called Blizzard Entertainment for a reason. We play your games and inhabit your virtual worlds to be entertained, not indoctrinated and lectured to. Gaming worlds should be an oasis of escape free from the politics that too often consumes precious bandwidth in our daily lives. When we go to a theme park, we go to escape and be transported to a different world– not to be immersed in politics.
If the leadership of Blizzard wants to save the world and support various identity politics causes, they should do so on their own time and on their own dime. Leave your politics and your social activism at home. That’s how America has always worked at least up until 20 minutes ago. Mike Morhaime who has purported net worth of $1.8 billion dollars certainly has the resources to do so.
The leaders of Blizzard who aspire to emulate the lasting legacy of Walt Disney should know better. Disney would be horrified at the current politicization of entertainment in America. But the common sense and small-town American values that forged a man like Disney are nowhere to be found in today’s amoral California based entertainment industry.
If the all-white male leadership at Blizzard really cares about diversity and inclusion, I have some advice: please lead by example and resign your positions immediately in favor of LGBT, females and minorities. Until you do, your words are meaningless and hollow. Do as I say, but not as I do. Diversity for thee, but not for me.
I am under no illusion that Blizzard will ever revert back to its former self but I keep hoping nonetheless. Western civilization is now under the suicidal yoke of a repressive identity politics theocracy. Every aspect of our lives is now subject to obedience and conformity demanded by the never sleeping, lidless, all-seeing eye of diversity and inclusion. The simple and innocent pleasure of playing a mere video game is no longer possible without the suffocating intrusion of identity politics.
In researching this article, I went back and watched many older BlizzCon videos. I was dumbfounded to see a completely different attitude from Blizzard. It made me long for the days when video games were all about video games and unapologetic fun. During BlizzCon WoW Q&A’s 8 years ago, the Blizzard devs would walk on stage like rock stars brimming with confidence, bravado and swagger with triumphant metal music playing in the background. At times, they were like obnoxious frat boys but they were our obnoxious frat boys. They were guys dedicated to making uncompromising kick-ass video games mainly for other guys and they didn’t give a damn if you didn’t like it.
Contrast the old Blizzard with the new Blizzard of today. At BlizzCon and in various press interviews the Blizzard 2.0 crew is a well-behaved, group of freshly transmogrified hipsters that walk on non-GMO eggshells fearing that they might offend a LGBT scold on Twitter. They say all the right things and dutifully repeat all of the politically correct, corporate scripted platitudes. And who can blame them? We all now live in a climate of palpable fear where one wrong word can end your career. To be fair, this is not just a Blizzard problem, this is a societal problem. What has happened to modern society, the video game industry and our world that emasculates the men who work in it?
“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” —C.S. Lewis
I’ll never forget the chilling scene in the 2nd Lord of the Rings film The Two Towers where the wizard Gandalf frees King Theoden from the control of Saruman. A similar insidious malevolence is at work here. Blizzard, you have forgotten who you are. You are not a human rights advocacy organization. Stop with the virtue signaling and start listening to your fans. You are a video game studio. It’s about time you started acting like one again.