Blizzard’s recent announcement that it is ending World of Warcraft has sent shockwaves throughout the gaming community. Many have been left perplexed as to why Blizzard has chosen to hold onto the game in the face of dwindling numbers and a stagnant player base. The company has focused on bringing in new players with various expansion packs for the game, and recently Blizzard has been focusing on its mobile gaming projects. In addition, Activision is now taking over the publishing of Blizzard’s titles, which includes the World of Warcraft franchise. While some see this as an attempt to bring the franchise back to its former glory, others are not so sure.
The name Blizzard will forever be tied to the most successful PC game company in history. In 2017, the company may just be its last gasp. After a few years of controversy, mismanagement, and what some call corruption, the legacy of Blizzard is now under a cloud of suspicion.
When J. Allen Brack stepped down yesterday, you got a very good data point if you want to trace the moment when Blizzard ceased being Blizzard. His successors aren’t “Blizzard people.” These aren’t individuals who have worked for the business for years and have become a part of the structure and culture over the course of the year. They’re basically Activision appointments, and they make it obvious that Blizzard’s once-cherished autonomy is now a thing of the past.
This isn’t intended to be a funeral for Brack, who has obviously been a poor leader at Blizzard and has overseen numerous front-page controversies during his three years in leadership. And that’s without taking into account his previous tenure at the studio, when the complaint claims he completely failed to address sexual harassment that was well-known inside the company for years. So I won’t be missing Brack. But I think it’s fascinating that the company behind World of Warcraft is crumbling right before our eyes, and I believe it’s worth thinking about what that implies for the industry as a whole.
I want to make a point of clarifying the words and making it plain that I’m not attempting to be hyperbolic, as I have with so many aspects of this specific series of events that have been raging for a couple of weeks now. (Which, by the way, is a genuine thing; I do like my exaggeration.) For the foreseeable future, Blizzard will most likely continue to make up half of Activision-moniker. Blizzard’s It seems doubtful that the studio will shut. It’s even too early to predict what WoW’s design principles will be in the future, though I have my ideas; that’ll be the subject of a future column.
When I say it’ll never be Blizzard again, I’m referring to two distinct but intertwined clauses that imply that, although the name will live on, the studio’s image and the emotions it evoked will be lost forever. For one thing, it no longer has any kind of autonomy; for another, Blizzard’s illusion of polish and cool has been irrevocably shattered.
Blizzard has always had a unique identity as a gaming company, one that has faded somewhat in recent years but is still there. It was never a studio that produced a lot of games or broke new ground in terms of design. Instead, it released goods that were late to market but well-polished, well-coordinated, and designed to have a lengthy aftermarket of support. Purchasing a new Blizzard game meant purchasing something you fully intended to enjoy for years, alone or with others, and you expected the business to back you up.
This was, in fact, a useful myth to develop. It was an image that the studio worked hard to create, and I believe that the entire point of BlizzCon was to promote what amounted to a consumer identity. It was a ruse, using your location as a marketing demographic as if it gave you a distinct identity, but then… that was Blizzard. They were enjoyable to be around. They presented broad fantasy tales while also making pop culture gags. They seemed to be scrappy underdogs and independent artists, the last of a dying breed of artists.
That’s what the publicist said, at least.
The Blizzard, in fact, was never as hip or counter-cultural as it wanted people to think. That’s fine on certain levels. It’s a time-honored technique to make people feel like they’re rooting for an underdog, and it seemed that Blizzard’s use of this specific gimmick was innocuous. It’s only now, as we look back on the ashes of years and years and years of harassment and abuse, that it’s obvious that this was not just a lie, but a big one. It was a complete and total falsehood.
It’s all over now. Because the one thing Blizzard had managed to keep throughout the years wasn’t actually about the characters. Despite the significance of the IPs that games like Heroes of the Storm are based on, Blizzard’s true powerful weapon was another myth: that the company never altered after Activision became involved. Sure, it had more cash to toss about, but the impression it sought to project was that nothing at Blizzard really truly changed.
This is just part of the truth. Certainly, the studio remained more autonomous than you would have assumed, but there were many subtle changes throughout the years that you might see if you looked closely. Even HOTS seems to be a part of it. Sure, multiplayer has always been a part of Blizzard’s games, but there seemed to be a growing trend away from games with any kind of narrative or single-player elements to enjoy.
But that’s no longer the case. The folks in charge of the studio currently aren’t very devoted to Blizzard; they’re Activision employees who were brought in to take over from Brack. Blizzard is, at the end of the day, a sick studio that needs to be taken care of by a professional. What do you believe that will mean for the studio on all levels?
It’s going to alter everything.
Of course, given the really egregiously awful nonsense that has been going on behind the scenes, you may be quick to point out that altering Blizzard’s culture is a positive thing. This isn’t simply a business that can change; it’s a company that must. Is it necessary for me to refresh your mind on all of the nonsense we’ve been discussing about this business for the last two weeks? It’s a disaster. It’s a wonderful thing to change this, and it’s obvious that there’s a disease that has to be cured.
Of course, there’s more illness that hasn’t been cleansed at the top, but the point is that Brack had to go. Not only because he was presiding at the time, but because it was, at least in part, his poor leadership that led to the more recent abuses, and his errors that helped us get to this position. He, like the leaders before him, bears responsibility.
However, this is a death in two senses. Blizzard will undoubtedly change since it no longer has the semblance of independence it once had. Given what we now know about what was going on behind the scenes, it’s obvious that this independence was not a good thing. This kind of stuff happens in the MMO world all the time, but this is WoW’s studio collapsing in a manner it doesn’t usually. It’s not like it’s Daybreak or something. Blizzard has issues, but it doesn’t seem to be collapsing, does it?
In that sense, it’s still not collapsing. The name will be remembered. WoW is not going away. It’s absurd to contemplate such a thing. There are also potential advantages for the game that need a separate section. However, it will no longer be under Blizzard. The Blizzard name will continue to exist, but we’ve discovered that the name never signified what we thought it did, and that the people in control currently don’t care.
It’s no longer there. And it is… awe-inspiring.
So far, the story has gone like this:
• Vague Patch Notes: Blizzard may live on, but it will never be Blizzard again • Activision-Blizzard Day 14: Brack and Meschuk exits, fraud lawsuit, proto-union, and Q2 financials • Q2 2021: Activision revenues are up, Blizzard MAUs are down amid sexism scandal • The gamer in the infamous BlizzCon video says she ‘dodged a bullet’ by not working at Blizzard • Blizzard’s J. Allen Brack is stepping down ahead of today’s investor call • Former ArenaNet co-founder Jeff Strain calls for game dev unionization • An Activision-Blizzard worker was arrested for bathroom peeping in 2018 • Massively Overthinking: Has Blizzard’s sexism lawsuit changed your gaming plans? • WoW Factor: Why does this latest Blizzard scandal feel so different? • Blizzard Day 9: Ubisoft stands in solidarity, Ashes of Creation buys Blizzard workers lunch • Activision-Blizzard walkout organizers respond to Kotick, Kotaku exposes ‘Cosby suite’ attendees • Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick: ‘The leadership team has heard you loud and clear’ • Massively OP Podcast Episode 332: Does every voice really matter at Blizzard? • Blizzard workers plan walkout over sexism scandal, WoW team addresses playerbase • Casually Classic: Making the call to quit WoW or not • Blizzard’s sexism scandal continues, 2500 devs sign letter condemning Acti-Blizz response • MMO Week in Review: RIP to the Blizzard you thought you knew • Chris Metzen offers apology for Blizzard’s culture of ‘harassment, inequality, and indifference’ • Mike Morhaime to female Blizzard workers: ‘I am extremely sorry that I failed you’ • WoW Factor: No king rules forever • J Allen Brack addresses Blizzard staff over sexism scandal, Activision doubles down on deflection • ‘We do not serve Activision Blizzard’: Furious WoW players stage protest against Blizzard • California sues Activision-Blizzard over discrimination and sexist, toxic work culture
Sometimes you know precisely what’s going on in the MMO world, and other times you just have Vague Patch Notes telling you that something, somewhere, has most likely changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre likes delving into these kinds of comments, as well as broader aspects of the genre. Under some situations, the potency of this analysis may be modified.
This article broadly covered the following related topics:
- blizzard news
- wcs sc2
- blizzard maintenance
- next blizzard game
- blizzard sales