The technological advancement following the Industrial Revolution had a huge impact and led to a massive decline in manual labor. Many average craftsmen resided in their village or town for almost their entire lives. Although they couldn’t make many items at once, they still understood what their customers needed and desired, and crafted products aimed to satisfy them.
This has changed since the advancement of industrial technology. They stopped producing goods designed to meet their customers’ specific likes; they standardized the products and adopted mass production, allowing them to sell at a larger scale and maximize profits. These goods were of fair quality and easy to come by, so producers and suppliers made a fortune. However, traditional craftsmen had to either adapt to the new system or become part of history. Only a few of them have remained and are carrying on the legacy of their craft; these days, people refer to those few craftsmen as ‘artisans’.
I suddenly thought about this subject while exploring some recent news about the gaming industry. In my head, I recalled my professor talking about that historical movement and realized that it parallels the current trend surrounding Blizzard.
Recent news such as the creation of Diablo Immortal, suspension of Heroes of the Storm (HotS) esports including HGC, and reduction in the development team imply that the company is changing. This isn’t a typical change, however; it’s not change based on new projects or political quarrels - it is a shift in the core values of Blizzard Entertainment itself.
Are they turning from the path of gaming artisans in favor of becoming strictly a gaming company?
Diablo Immortal - a mobile game introduced to PC gamers
On November 3rd, the mobile game Diablo Immortal was announced at the final moment of the opening ceremony of BlizzCon, a sanctuary for Blizzard and PC gamers.
This announcement threw the whole crowd into utter confusion. This wasn’t anything like the first announcements for HotS and Overwatch.
The expression on Wyatt Cheng’s face as the crowd responded was quite a notable one; it seemed that he did not expect such an apathetic reaction.
Blizzard grew and succeeded through PC games and many of Blizzard’s dedicated fans on-site were anticipating PC game-related news.
It must’ve been astonishing to hear that the next Diablo project would be on mobile, especially since it was announced as the climax of the opening ceremony. Most people were disappointed, to say the least.
Cheng’s expression indicated that the crew didn’t expect that sort of reception from the crowd. This expression itself was unlike Blizzard; they reacted differently to such issues in the past. The only time when the audience applauded for an announcement regarding mobile games was when Hearthstone was announced for mobile and this worked because the title was already on PC. During my 7 years as a gaming journalist, this was the first BlizzCon opening ceremony that didn’t end in enthusiastic applause.
To be honest, Blizzard making their games for mobile was inevitable. However, that announcement didn’t have to be made at that place, and at that time.
For almost all gamers, Blizzard Entertainment has always been a company that knows what they are doing when it comes to development and making new projects. They understand and aim to satisfy the cravings of their fans, who in turn trust that Blizzard will make good games. This was always a solid relationship, but Blizzard’s recent actions have rocked the boat.
Diablo Immortal’s development illustrates a failed understanding of what Blizzard gamers want. The title was even co-produced with an external company. Given how gamers trusted in Blizzard’s self-development capabilities, this decision brought on quite a bit of doubt. The new cinematics and in-game footage of Diablo Immortal at the ceremony seemed to be aiming for the big Chinese market.
It is clear that Blizzard didn’t understand what their fans really wanted, or they did, but simply decided to disregard it. Either way, it was not true to form for Blizzard.
The new Blizzard’s strange announcement - manpower reduction of HotS and revocation of the HGC
On December 14th, Blizzard’s second announcement made many fear that this “unfamiliar Blizzard” will soon become the norm.
The announcement involved two main points; a manpower reduction of HotS and revocation of the HGC. This had a massive impact on HotS gamers, particularly those who are involved in the HGC such as pro gamers and employees of pro teams; for those individuals, Blizzard’s announcement was also a sudden notice telling them they will soon lose their jobs.
Many teams officially disbanded after the announcement, and even Gen.G, the best HotS team in the world, announced their farewell on December 21st.
Although there have been a couple of games that Blizzard was negligent with and would not update, they were never the type of company to officially announced a game’s resignation.
Diablo 3 is the most representative example. The game didn’t really receive a proper update for the whole 2018. Even so, gamers have still remained patient with minor seasonal updates because it was about time for a new Diablo title. As the game lingered in the same state, players continued to wait, placing all their bets on this year’s Blizzcon. However, when the event finally arrived, the news they were delivered was far from what they were expecting.
The gamers had faith that Blizzard would continue evolving their games, not throw them away.
Regardless of profits, Blizzard would always maintain their developer spirit by prolonging the services for those who are still enjoying their games. Diablo 2 is a good example; even after 18 years of service, the title still has gone through a couple of patches even until now.
The recent announcement about the development team’s reduction and the end of the HGC made many gamers feel betrayed.
HotS is the least successful game out of all Blizzard titles listed on the Blizzard app, so the profits are relatively lower.
Although we have little to no information on what is going on internally, players hypothesize that Blizzard is reducing the size of the most unprofitable game because the company is becoming financially weaker. This would be the proper procedure for a corporation - to either reduce or abolish a project if it’s not worth what they put into it, but players still felt disappointed as this was not how Blizzard took care of matters in the past.
Even though this decision had to be made from the corporate perspective, this sudden abolishment of HGC was lacking in dignity.
This may also seem like the company abandoning its corporate ethics. As a corporation involved with many working people, Blizzard should have given an appropriate explanation to related parties and provide some time for them to transition out.
Instead, the company rendered an entire community jobless with one announcement and is not taking responsibility for it. Some players still expressed hope that the HGC will not disappear permanently, but it’s unrealistic to believe that a tournament of an unpopular game with a reduced development team will be returning.
Blizzard’s decisions regarding HotS are likely even more significant than Diablo Immortal. After all, this may set a precedent that the company can either reduce or abandon a title if the performance doesn’t meet their expectations.
This means that Blizzard may put games like Overwatch, Hearthstone, and even World of Warcraft on the chopping block if their performance drops too low, just like other typical corporations would do.
In particular, Overwatch League, one of the most successful esports leagues created by Blizzard, cannot rest easy after seeing the HGC fall. Thousands of related parties are now likely concerned that their market could also close down if Blizzard decides its fate in favor of the company. As the next probable target, those involved in StarCraft 2 are undoubtedly nervous.
Blizzard’s actions don’t just affect their games though. The sudden end of an entire league definitely has not helped the community’s efforts to solidify the reputation of esports as a legitimate competition.
Many have expressed their concerns regarding games and/or leagues being closed down by developers in the past. It has been a controversial issue in the esports industry for a while, but it was never of dire importance since there were no real impactful instances.
Blizzard Entertainment changed that; a company loved and trusted by many gamers betrayed its own player-base. The announcement will be a long-remembered and powerful validation for those who are against making esports into a legitimate sport, and for those that dream of the day esports is accepted across the world, that dream has been struck by a fatal blow. Blizzard is responsible for these people as well.
New Blizzard and their choices
All these decisions - Diablo Immortal, HotS, and HGC - are nothing like the former Blizzard.
This may all be a sign that a new Blizzard is about to be launched. Key executives and developers have been leaving the company since late 2016 - with even Michael Morhaime’s resignation just this last October - and that was probably a preview of Blizzard Season 2.
Of course, there are many older fans who say that it should technically be Season 3 or 4 in the chronicle of Blizzard. Regardless, what we are trying to emphasize here is the change of their mentality towards their games and players.
Blizzard Season 2’s new projects have already begun.
Although it didn’t receive much attention because of Diablo Immortal, the 3Q 2019 report states that they are preparing many of their franchises for mobile. If this is true, then we’ll probably see an opening stage with more mobile game announcements at upcoming BlizzCons, whether we like it or not.
This does not mean that we are skeptical about the quality or the development process. It was inevitable that Blizzard would transfer their games to mobile. Moreover, reporters and streamers who played Diablo Immortal at BlizzCon actually praised the quality of the game and also said they actually felt like playing Diablo.
However, this still doesn’t mitigate the fact that the company had a lacking understanding of their players’ desires, which then led to the disaster at BlizzCon this year.
A wish for Blizzard to remember its former self
Diablo Immortal may become the most profit-earning gaming app in both the App Store and Google Play and become the biggest cash cow of all titles in the history of Blizzard. That is the power of popular mobile games and is one of the reasons why many game companies are turning into mobile game companies.
And this is also what gamers are concerned about; the wealth and comfort delivered by mobile games may very well taint their originality and slowly deteriorate Blizzard’s value. Blizzard may begin to increasingly favor “strategic movements” that abandon unprofitable games and ignore gamers’ interests and needs.
Blizzard used to annoy gamers with their own philosophy - developers themselves must have fun playing their game - but they did what they were really good at and took good care of their creations. They also knew how to meet the expectations of gamers who love their games. That’s why Blizzard gamers were so loyal and the company would receive thunderous applause from the crowd at BlizzCon every year.
Blizzard had been known as “one of us” and an “artisan” by gamers. Starting in 2019, it seems they will likely transform into a full-fledged gaming corporation. However, gamers still hope that the company will not forget their strengths and the artisan spirit that brought them where they are today.