There was a time I used to call Blizzard my favorite developer. Those times are long past. A series of community-hostile decisions, poor-quality games, and a chilling change in the company’s direction has seen the historic studio lose much of its fanbase. What’s worse, Activision Blizzard is currently under investigation for sexism in the workplace, which include some truly shocking and incredibly serious allegations.
There wasn’t one specific event that can pinpoint Blizzard’s freefall decline. Despite stable revenues, the company’s games reportedly lost almost 30 percent of its monthly active players in a single quarter. Games like Diablo Immortal, Diablo II: Resurrected, Overwatch 2, and Diablo IV could help reverse the company’s fortunes in the player department, but the damage to the company’s reputation in recent years may be impossible to recover from.
One big event that hurt some of the studio’s longest-term, most passionate fans is Warcraft III: Reforged, which languishes at a depressing 59/100 on Metacritic. Blizzard promised Warcraft III: Reforged would be a comprehensive remaster of the classic strategy game, but it delivered a sub-par, buggy experience, which even removed competitive features that existed in the classic client — which has been made inaccessible. We’re almost two years since launch, and the game is still effectively abandoned, still missing the promised updates.
A new report from Bloomberg details some of the mismanagement that led to the game’s downfall.
The report alleges that Blizzard lied to the community over the lack of cinematic upgrades, noting that the offered excuse was false. Blizzard claimed that the new cutscenes were “too far from the original,” but Bloomberg’s sourcing, combined with documentation, suggests that they were removed due to budget cuts.
The report says that the previous culture at Blizzard, which was notorious for lengthy development cycles to focus on polish and quality, has been effectively eliminated by Activision, imposing “financial pressure” on the division. Bloomberg has read an internal post-mortem on the game, which is effectively a studio’s own review of what went right, or in this case, what went extremely wrong with a game launch.
“We have developers who have dealt with exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and more for a year now. […] Many have lost trust in the team and this company. Many players have also lost trust, and the launch certainly didn’t help an already rough year for Blizzard’s image.”
It’s hard to be shocked by this report. It’s just another example of Activision’s meddling and lack of faith hollowing out what was once a great developer, in pursuit of better margins. I wrote literally years ago about the possibility of Activision devouring Blizzard, and it certainly seems increasingly like that’s the case.
It doesn’t seem likely Warcraft III: Reforged will ever get the updates and work it needs to be great, as Blizzard battles to ship Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV. World of Warcraft has seen a mass exodus of players to competing MMO FFXIV, and a big question mark hangs over Diablo II: Resurrected, given how badly Activision botched Warcraft III.
Blizzard is a shadow of its former self. And it’s not for lack of skill, talent, and passion at the developer level. I believe it’s for lack of managerial vision, exec-level accountability, and insatiable greed from the top down. For the sake of those who actually make the games, I hope Activision’s CEO takes a long hard look in the mirror and asks himself what kind of company he wants Activision to be known as.