This morning I am going to apologize to anyone who actively reads either my Twitter feed or my Fediverse feed. Those tend to be the platform where I make extemporaneous commentary and in the moment reactions to whatever happens to be on my mind. Often time those statements end up getting distilled down into a blog post once more time and distance has passed. Yesterday I spouted off in thread form on Twitter about the Activision/Blizzard layoffs and this morning I still feel the need to talk about it so I am cobbling together something in blog post form. For those who have not been following this story it has been something looming on the horizon for awhile as Blizzard had gone into cost cutting measures and offered a number of employees buyout packages to voluntarily leave the company. So these actions are something we had all been fearing would be happening, especially after the massive stock hit that came with the announcement of Bungie’s departure from the agreement with the publisher.
For those who have not been following this… it was not a great year for Activision Blizzard as a whole in the public opinion area, however this did not stop them from making record profits this past year. In 2017 they had a net profit of $273 million and in 2018 they realized a record $1.8 billion dollars in profit. This is what makes the 800 layoffs feel all the more like “Snidely Whiplash tying Nell to the railroad tracks” evil. I’ve not been able to verify as of yet who is and is not effected from the folks that I knew who were still working for Blizzard. However among my circle of friends a good number of those friends of friends got the axe. This whole sequence has been extremely frustrating and depressing to see play out on social media as so many people are scrambling to find a home in another studio. Based on a few examples told to me in confidence, it appears that a good chunk will be trying to make their exit from games development in general for sake of stability.
There is a medium article that came out yesterday from Patrick Beja that is worth reading that goes over his thoughts about the whole situation and summarizes some statements that he had made earlier in the lead up. There are a couple of specific sections that struck a chord with me, but I call one out in particular.
The other thing I often hear is “they’re only developing F2P mobile games that SUCK”. First, we don’t know they’ll suck. And second, I don’t know why they’d stop developing PC games that make money. Did you not enjoy Overwatch or Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm? If you didn’t, you haven’t liked Blizzard for a long time… But if you did, maybe you’ll think the next PC games they release will be good too.
This was something that was hard to hear because since the release of Starcraft Blizzard has been a company that I held up on a pedestal as being quite possibly the ultimate end goal of what working in the games industry could be like. I have obsessed over so many over their games and loved the artistry and craftsmanship that went into them. However seeing that statement in print made a point ring true. I love the Blizzard of the past and not necessarily the Blizzard of the here and now. Now we are not talking about expansion content here… but the last new game that they released that I have really enjoyed on a large level was Diablo 3 from 2012. That means that for the last seven years they have not produced something that really interested me. While I have rabidly eaten up every bit of expansion content for Diablo 3… World of Warcraft and I have a much spottier record with liking some expansions like Legion and largely loathing some expansions like Cataclysm. Effectively though… I didn’t so much love Blizzard but instead loved those two games.
To preface some of what I have said in thread form… Overwatch is a universe that I really like but with a game attached to it that I have no real interest in playing. Hearthstone was a game I was interested in and dabbled with occasionally… but all of that interest died the moment I got my hands on MTG Arena and got what I had wanted all along. Heroes of the Storm academically is a better game for me than League of Legends… but I don’t really like either enough to play them on a regular basis and I have no interest at all in solo queuing. Battle for Azeroth was probably the thing that caused Blizzard the most damage in my eyes because it went in the opposite direction that I wanted the franchise to go. Legion gave me hope of us moving towards a class based narrative and away from the big dumb red versus blue crap we have had forced upon us for years. However the narrative felt hollow and the gameplay was not really interesting enough to keep me attached to it as everything felt like rehashed versions of things we had already seen in one form or another before.
Diablo is the franchise that Blizzard created that I probably care the most about, and the handling of the Immortal announcement stung. I am actually looking forward to that game, because I think it will be something fun to play from bed while I drift off much like I do currently with Dragalia Lost. However we are hungry for more core Diablo gameplay and every year I have waited with so much built up hope for the eventual announcement of Diablo 4 that never quite comes. Now I am more or less tired of waiting and have redoubled my efforts to explore the various alternatives like Torchlight Frontiers, Pagan Online and games I already have access to like Grim Dawn. I fully support the Diablo team because they caught a bullet that was not necessarily intended for them. However that does not mean my personal goodwill and hopefulness did not take a hit.
The layoffs have really driven home how disconnected I have become from Blizzard games in general. Right now the only thing in the Blizzard launcher that sees much in the way of playtime is Destiny 2, and it is one of those games in limbo since Bungie left the fold. I made an attempt to start this season of Diablo 3 but for various reason I never really latched onto it and didn’t even make it a quarter of the way to the level cap. I’ve not really played World of Warcraft since October, in spite of logging in one or twice in November… and effectively logging right back out again. Blizzard currently is not producing anything that is really exciting me, and I am finding that excitement in other places which is nothing terribly new to be honest. I have always been a WoW Tourist over the years… where I would disappear for a few months but return eventually to keep playing. That said however the longest that I have gone without playing the game since 2012 is a couple of four month long breaks.
Unless there is a drastic change in direction that makes significant effort to bury the hatchet of the dumb faction conflict storyline… I am not sure if I will be back. Battle for Azeroth is the first World of Warcraft expansion not to make the AggroChat Games of the Year show, and quite honestly it is the first expansion I regret pre-0ordering and playing. The future of me and Blizzard largely hinges upon if they make good on giving me a Diablo game that I want, which is a sorta depressing thing to say. One thing that I want to talk about at the end however is that I don’t blame anyone other than myself for this. I think the workers at Blizzard need our support desperately right now, because it has to be a very scary time for those who survived this round of cuts. For those who didn’t… we need to do whatever we can to help them out during this transition.
That is a point that I have always made throughout the years is that even if I am struggling to like a company… it has nothing to do with how I feel about its employees. Everyone works their asses off to make the best damned game they can. When we talk badly about their work, it often feels like a kick in the gut after they probably gave up so much of their own life to crunch through the release of that product. I see you all out there and appreciate what you try your level best to provide me a fun entertainment experience. I am always reluctant when I start criticizing something because I don’t want it to feel like I am kicking the poor folks who helped to build it. Lets be honest… many of us had daydreams of working in the games industry. However I saw early on that it was not exactly a path of stability and I went down a path that would give me that security blanket that I craved. That does not however mean that I don’t respect the fuck out of everyone that is making these games for me… and for people who are not my specific arrangement of tastes.
The take away from this post is not that Blizzard is bad because we have grown apart. I just find it weird that I can say something like that and actually mean it. I am however frustrated with the hell that is being unleashed upon the good people that make up the company. If you ever need someone to talk to my DMs are open.