I’ll start by saying that Blizzard was one of the first game companies I came to know. Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft were one of the earliest games I really was invested in. I’ve been playing WoW on and off since the beginning and I have a Diablo character tattooed on my shoulder. I used to watch the Global StarCraft II League when I came home from work at dawn.
Blizzard used to be the only game company which’s games I could preorder. I knew they would deliver. They had gained my trust.
I’ve been following Blizzard closely because I admired their company culture and their popularity amongst fans. I wanted to learn how they did it and I wanted to replicate that success myself as a games entrepreneur. They were the company to look up to.
But only when Blizzard started to show signs of worry was the story starting to get interesting. Senior employees started leaving the company. Founders of the company left to do other things. This is where the chain of events started that in my eyes brought down one of the greatest game companies that ever was.
For me, it became a whole other lesson. Not what to do, but instead what not to do as a company.
Blizzard used to have a running joke and they would answer “soon™” when they were asked about the release date of their game. It was a sign of quality and trust for me. The game would be published when it is good enough. Not any sooner than that.
They were one of the only game companies in the world who could afford to say that. Try to imagine EA not giving a release date for their new Battlefield game and just say it will be released when it’s ready. They just can’t because they rely much more heavily on paid user acquisition because they don’t have their customers’ loyalty.
The past couple of years have been disastrous for Blizzard in this regard
First, there was Blizzcon and the announcement of Diablo Immortal
Then the cancellation of Heroes of the Storm esports league and scaling down the development team for the game.
After having a record year, they laid off 800 employees
While the people who were shown the door were still looking for new jobs, Blizzard started recruiting new people for the positions they had just fired people from.
Blizzard censored a Chinese Hearthstone player who showed support for Hong Kong.
They deceived WoW played with their arena tournament prize pool, which was supposed to consist of a fixed amount from Blizzard + revenue from in-game pet sales. In the end, they never put in any money other than just the revenue from the sales.
Blizzard president J.Allen Brack apologized during Blizzcon 2019. To me, the apology felt sincere, but at the same time, it felt like they were too afraid to take a stand because they were too afraid to lose the Chinese market.
During 2019 Blizzcon, they announced Overwatch 2. Which, to be blunt sounds like a single-player DLC for Overwatch.
Warcraft 3 reforged was a disaster in every possible way.
Blizzard allegedly started banning people on their forums when they tried to help others get their Warcraft 3 reforged refunded.
All these things combined with the most horrible PR and damage control has led to the distrust of Blizzard’s players and customers.
Everyone probably remembers the famous “Don’t you guys have phones”, which to a passionate pc gamer and a fan is equal to “Fuck you, we don’t value your opinion”.
So where did they go wrong?
We will have to go back in time. All the way to 2008, when Activision merged with Blizzard Entertainment to create Activision Blizzard. One of the key factors of this merger was that Vivendi, the owner of Blizzard Entertainment would still own the majority of the new company, as they had one of the biggest hits ever in their hands, World of Warcraft.
During the early days of new Activision Blizzard, the company was at it’s best from the consumer standpoint. Many people remember 2007–2010 to be the “golden years” of World of Warcraft. WoW peaked at 12 million monthly subscribers in 2010. WoW still has the Guinness world record for the most successful MMORPG of all time.
During 2013–2014 Activision Blizzard purchased the majority ownership of its shares from Vivendi.
To afford the purchase, long term investor and CEO of Activision, Robert Kotick raised money with outside investors.
Remember, Vivendi used to be the owner of Blizzard before the merger in 2008. And one of the conditions for the merger was that Vivendi would remain the majority shareholder and do the decisions for the company. Now the control of the company was in Bobby Kotick’s and his investor's hands.
Activision Blizzard was aware of the potential in mobile games and purchased King in 2015. In my mind, this was an important strategic decision to focus more on the highly profitable mobile games market.
As a business decision, it is smart to focus on the highly scaling mobile market. Even more so, because the company had long tried to penetrate the difficult Chinese market.
But at the same time, they ignored the legacy of Blizzard Entertainment and what the company is all about.
Another warning sign was the addition of Activision games to the Battle.net client. While adding a game to Blizzard’s client is not a big deal on its own, it’s a strategic decision that will affect the future and autonomy of Blizzard’s own brands.
Back in 2017 the president and founder of Blizzard, Mike Morhaime, who had for years been enjoying the trust of Blizzard fans said there are no long term plans to bring any more Activision products to the Blizzard client.
Blizzard also made an official release saying the following:
“Our focus in terms of supporting non-Blizzard games is solely around Destiny 2. Aside from potentially evaluating needs or opportunities for future Activision games, we don’t have any short- or long-term plans to support third-party games with Battle.net. It’s important to us to maintain our quality standards for any experience or service we’re putting in front of our players, which represents a big investment of time and effort on our part, so this is not something we’re jumping into lightly.”
Nowadays every new Call of Duty game uses Battle.net
Disagreements within the company leadership
I genuinely think the founders and long time employees of Blizzard have the best of their customers in mind. Some of the Blizzard brands are their life’s work. They feel ownership and pride in creating the brands.
But as a public company, Activision Blizzard’s job is to create more wealth to its shareowners. I believe this led to disagreements within the company as the original founders could no longer fulfill their duties to their customers and the brands they had created.
Lo and behold, in 2018 the founder and president of Blizzard Entertainment, Mike Morhaime left the company. From this point on Blizzard has been going from one disaster to another.
I feel like Mike Morhaime was the last line of defense between the evil mega-corporation and the valued customers Blizzard once had and the employees they cherished.
Now they’re willing to bend over backward to increase their profits from the Chinese market.
I’m sure they are making awesome new things. But here’s the thing. With these recent events, I have lost my trust in Blizzard as a company. Before I would’ve been excited about the new titles to come. But by breaking old promises I start to question whether the new titles they’re working on are worth my time or will they be just a big disappointment.