Special Report: The Inside Story of Blizzard’s Departures and a Company at a Crossroads
The information got here as a shock, however it additionally wasn’t precisely a shock.
One month in the past, Jeff Kaplan introduced that he would be leaving Blizzard. His departure ended a 19 12 months profession at Blizzard through which he helped develop two of crucial video games ever made — World of Warcraft and Overwatch. A beloved determine at Blizzard, Kaplan’s departure sparked an outpouring of emotion from fans and developers alike.
“He was sincere when he bid the team farewell and let them know how proud he was of everything that we were all able to accomplish together and how confident he was in what a lot of us consider to be one of the greatest development teams in the industry,” stated Aaron Keller – who succeeded Kaplan as Overwatch 2 director — in an interview with IGN. “It was an emotional moment to hear that from someone who you knew meant it and believed it.”
But beneath the emotion of Kaplan’s departure was a extra troubling narrative that had been brewing since not less than 2018. If you’ve been following Blizzard for any period of time, it’s laborious to not discover the outflow of expertise from each a part of the enterprise. While Blizzard says its voluntary turnover is considerably below business common and that departures amongst builders who’ve been with the corporate for longer than 10 years are in actual fact lowering, a number of high-profile departures have contributed to the sense amongst followers, media, and lots of throughout the firm that Blizzard is experiencing an exodus.
“[Kaplan] was the last person that we would have conversations about, ‘How long is he gonna last?’ Because he’s the last big blow,” says a supply inside Blizzard who agreed to talk at size with IGN in regards to the state of the corporate (and requested to be stored nameless for this report). “So to some degree, now that he’s gone, I don’t even know who else could make that big of a wave. I don’t even think you’ll hear about anybody else of that magnitude.”
In an effort to know what’s been taking place at Blizzard, I spoke to a number of present and former Blizzard workers, some on the situation of anonymity. I used to be additionally capable of communicate on the file with three veteran Blizzard administrators, all of whom have been with the corporate for greater than 10 years now, in addition to analysts and traders aware of the corporate’s present circumstances. The image that emerges is difficult. Many of the builders I spoke to are nonetheless loyal to what Blizzard represents of their thoughts, even when they’re extra blended on a few of the modifications to it over the previous few years.
But even when they’re keen on Blizzard’s historical past and tradition, many are nonetheless selecting to depart. Some of the departures are a pure consequence of the burnout that comes with engaged on the identical sport for greater than a decade, others are as a result of they sense a chance to chase their dream undertaking in an business at present awash in enterprise capital. And some are as a result of they really feel Blizzard has been on the decline over the previous three or 4 years amid layoffs, funds cuts, and a scarcity of main releases, and that it’s time to maneuver on.
This has left Blizzard at a crossroads, and it’s unclear what this may imply for the beloved writer because it tries to chart a return to the glory that outlined its finest years.
The Dry Period
Five years in the past this month, Blizzard launched Overwatch. It was hailed as a redemption story after the struggles of Project Titan, which had languished in development for years. Keller, who labored on each Titan and Overwatch, remembers the “elevating” feeling the crew had as the corporate celebrated Overwatch’s success. “You almost feel like you’re really not broken anymore in a certain sense,” Keller says, laughing. “It’s always amazing to ship a project that people love. But to do it right after Titan, I think that made it even more special.”
Blizzard collectively exhaled when Overwatch was launched. It was a badly-needed win after a interval through which main releases together with Diablo 3, StarCraft 2, and Heroes of the Storm all struggled to at least one diploma or one other between 2012 and 2016. After struggling so laborious for thus lengthy to determine what was “next” after World of Warcraft, Blizzard lastly appeared to have a solution.
One supply described what adopted as “a little renaissance.” With Overwatch changing into the corporate’s quickest sport to succeed in 25 million registered gamers, and Hearthstone defining a billion-dollar game category virtually overnight, Blizzard reportedly doubled its variety of inner groups from six to round 13 whereas increase an incubation initiative supposed to experiment with new sport ideas. The Overwatch League was based in 2017 and kicked off its inaugural season in 2018. New initiatives have been spinning up “left and right,” a supply says, with cash seemingly no object.
By video games business requirements, Blizzard has at all times led a charmed existence. Its historical past has encompassed a string of genre-defining hits starting with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and persevering with on via Diablo, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft. Its success created a novel tradition through which workers would typically keep for years or many years — a rarity within the fast-moving, unpredictable video games business.
In a 2016 documentary, veteran developer Chris Metzen, contemporary off the launch of Overwatch, articulated Blizzard’s worldview. “What are we really doing? Are we just selling product for a corporation? I guess that’s a part of it, but we’re artists and craftsmen and technologists and writers and poets and all these other things coming together to build something greater than any of us could have ever achieved on our own. That has always been the story of Blizzard. […] What are we prepared to spend the next five years of our lives on, together?”
This strong sense of pride informs a lot of the culture at Blizzard, and its development teams have tended to be tight-knit and very stable over the years. Many of its employees are also fans. World of Warcraft director Ion Hazzikostas was a self-described hardcore World of WarCraft guild leader who ran a community site and corresponded with Blizzard developers. Diablo Immortal director Wyatt Cheng grew up playing Lost Vikings, and tells IGN he applied to Blizzard four times in six years before finally being accepted to Blizzard North. Its history gives it a pull equaled by few other companies.
“It was a dream come true when I was able to walk through the gates of Blizzard and turn my hobby into a career, into a vocation,” Hazzikostas says.
It can certainly be a really enjoyable place to work. For vacation events, Blizzard will hire out Disney California Adventure for a night for its workers. Walk across the campus, and there are reminders in all places of Blizzard’s historical past, from statues of its best-known characters to the commemorative swords and shields issued to workers who spend 5 and 10 years on the firm. When issues are going properly, engaged on a Blizzard sport could be each difficult and satisfying, with builders always pushing each other to fulfill the corporate’s excessive bar for high quality. Blizzard veterans specifically are very protecting of this tradition.
It has accomplished its share to maintain Blizzard workers rooted in place for years, making it a comparative bastion of stability within the usually turbulent video games business. But occasions in recent times have eroded that tradition, pushing many inside Blizzard to start searching for jobs elsewhere.
By 2018, the “little renaissance” was giving method to the rising understanding that Blizzard was a good distance from releasing any new video games. Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 weren’t able to be introduced, and the incubation initiative had but to bear any fruit. It was this realization that despatched Blizzard scrambling when it got here time to make its customary spherical of bulletins at BlizzCon 2018. It cobbled collectively a slate that includes WarCraft 3 Reforged and updates to its established video games, and it was left to Cheng to guide BlizzCon with Diablo Immortal, a cell sport that famously prompted one fan to ask, “Is this a joke?”
Looking again on BlizzCon 2018, Cheng says “hindsight is 20/20” on the subject of the choice to open BlizzCon with Diablo Immortal. “[W]e all thought that no one was really making mobile games at the quality that we wanted to see. I think that we had not yet announced Diablo 4. We had not yet announced Diablo 2: Resurrected from our vantage point,” Cheng instructed IGN.
Diablo Immortal sparked controversy not simply because followers have been upset by the dearth of Diablo 4, however as a result of it was developed primarily by NetEase, a Chinese cell developer, with assist from Blizzard. Privately, some inside Blizzard seek advice from it as “the outsourced game.” Cheng argues that his crew needs to “elevate standards” on cell, however concedes that Blizzard didn’t do an excellent job of speaking that.
“In retrospect, that is not a perspective that was easily seen, nor did we do a good job communicating. It’s not the audience’s job to take all that in, it’s our job to communicate that better and to bring them along with us,” Cheng stated. “And we didn’t do a good job of that. I think fast-forward three years and people do know about Diablo 2 and it clearly was in development for quite some time. People do see Diablo 2: Resurrected, again, clearly in development for quite some time.” Diablo 2: Resurrected was reportedly set to launch in June 2020, however was pushed again for extra improvement time as WarCraft 3: Reforged’s development team was dissolved and Vicarious Visions was merged into Blizzard.
Chastened, Blizzard sought to reverse the narrative by going large on BlizzCon 2019 and saying Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2. Blizzard was certainly capable of give its followers causes to be excited once more, lifting spirits throughout the firm in flip, however their launch was nonetheless years away. While Blizzard hosted a significant Overwatch 2 livestream simply yesterday, it won’t be out until 2022 at the earliest. Speaking with IGN over the telephone, analyst Andrew Uerkwitz, a managing director on the monetary providers agency Jefferies, speculated that it might be as late as 2023 earlier than Blizzard releases Overwatch 2, presumably to align with the fifth anniversary of the Overwatch League.
Outwardly, Blizzard remains to be principally doing superb. World of Warcraft: Shadowlands was a relatively profitable growth, serving to result in an overall revenue boost of around 7 percent according to its most recent earnings report. But Blizzard additionally shed one other 2 million Monthly Active Users [MAU], which Uerkwitz partly attributes to the decline of Overwatch. “Blizzard’s been going through a pretty long, I think, internal transition, obviously changing over some management across the board and repositioning their IP. We’re towards the tail end of that transition, I think, and next year will be the first kind of launch of what the revamped Blizzard will look like. So typically when you’re at the tail end of a transition, you’re losing a lot of players,” Uerkwitz says, noting that Jefferies isn’t “too concerned” in regards to the MAU drop.
But in the meantime, workers inside Blizzard have felt the influence of diminished profit-sharing, a twice annual payout tied to Blizzard’s revenue targets and particular person worker efficiency. “Every year they’d be like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just a down time. We’re not shipping anything. But like, it’ll probably get better next year.’ And I was like, uh … but I can do the math. Like, we were years away from shipping anything [in 2018],” a supply inside Blizzard says.
Keller acknowledges the massive gaps between releases. “I understand that it’s hard for players to wait. I get that, and I think it’s really important for Overwatch 2 to come out as soon as it can. But when we launch the next installment of our games, people come back to it, and I think the reason why they do is because they know that we’re taking the time to make the game as good as it can possibly be,” he says. “You can view it as pressure, but internally our team doesn’t view the pressure of making Overwatch 2 so much as how do we bring all these players back to our game, or how do we grow the audience?”
The incubation project was supposed to help in this regard. Conceived as a sort of safe haven for experimentation on new ideas that could become full-blown games, incubation is described as a “black box” by a separate supply inside Blizzard. Comparatively little has emerged from the method up to now, although IGN is conscious of not less than two video games which were canceled. One was a StarCraft FPS, as first reported by Kotaku and corroborated by the sources we spoke to inside Blizzard. The different was a extra experimental cell sport.
Varying experiences, together with sources inside Blizzard who spoke with IGN, recommend that the StarCraft FPS crew was stunned by this determination. Many, together with longtime Blizzard designer and director Dustin Browder, subsequently departed to begin Moonshot Games below the umbrella of Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime’s new venture, Dreamhaven. It’s one in every of a number of unbiased studios now stocked with Blizzard veterans. We reached out to Dreamhaven, however it declined to take part on this story.
Ultimately, Blizzard isn’t the one status developer to face multi-year gaps between releases. Many big-budget studios put out at most one tentpole launch each couple years. To put it extra merely: sport improvement is troublesome, and that’s earlier than making an allowance for the havoc wreaked by COVID, which has hit Blizzard as laborious as anybody.
Nevertheless, Blizzard devs are conscious that their firm makes the least cash out of the three components of Activision Blizzard’s enterprise. For all its success with Hearthstone and Overwatch, Blizzard was by no means actually capable of finding The Next Big Thing after World of Warcraft, and its subsequent spherical of main releases could be more than a year away.
The Indie Effect
Not lengthy after Blizzard’s triumphant Overwatch documentary, Chris Metzen resigned. He had been with the corporate for the reason that early 90s, engaged on WarCraft II, serving as lead designer on StarCraft, and taking the reins as inventive director on Warcraft 3. A few months later, he went on The Instance podcast to speak about his causes for leaving. He stated it was genuinely laborious to depart, however that the calls for of sport improvement had taken their toll on him. “I think during those years I burned out really hard,” Metzen stated on the time. “I think in my heart, I needed a change in my life. I wanted to slow down, I wanted to just not carry the weight of it all.”
Burnout is common in tech, particularly in games, which is a notorious grind even when not taking into account practices like crunch. At Blizzard, where it’s possible to spend a decade or more working on one game, it’s natural to want a change of scenery. That’s what happened with Cheng, who spent 10 years on Diablo 3 before moving over to Diablo Immortal. “I missed the feeling of being on a smaller project. And I knew Diablo Immortal could not be small forever, but I love being there at the birth of a project and riding out that small team feel for as long as you can. We’re not small anymore, but it’s a nice cultural thing. I think I just needed a break after 10 years from the big team stuff.”
Metzen remained close to Blizzard, reprising his role as Thrall in WoW’s Battle for Azeroth expansion along with other cameos. He co-founded Warchief Gaming in 2018, a studio dedicated to tabletop role-playing that launched a Kickstarter last month. The Kickstarter was funded in 11 minutes, currently sitting at more than $1 million. We asked Metzen if he wanted to talk about his experiences, but he did not return our email.
More and more Blizzard employees are following in Metzen’s footsteps. Whether because of burnout or because of a general sense that the company is trending in the wrong direction, many longtime employees are moving into the indie space. At least five studios stocked with former Blizzard developers have launched within the past couple of years. They include Second Dinner, which was founded by Ben Brode following his departure in 2018; Frost Giant, a studio made up of ex-StarCraft 2 developers seeking to launch the next great RTS; Lightforge Games, which was opened by former Blizzard and Epic engineer Matt Schembari; Secret Door, led by Chris Sigaty, Alan Dabiri, and Eric Dodds, and the aforementioned Moonshot.
“I really feel like I get a going away electronic mail every single day from folks I do know. Like, it appears like individuals are leaving always now,” a source says. “Numerous my pals have left, you understand? And there have been crew closures over time.”
Blizzard downplays these departures, arguing that a development team is more than just a Ben Brode or a Jeff Kaplan, and of course they’re right in that regard. But sources within Blizzard say that the departures have had a ripple effect on teams used to long-term stability. Aaron Keller talks about how Kaplan was a mentor figure and a friend for him over the course of almost 14 years. “I feel like I’ve learned so much about game design, about project management, about how to communicate with the team, and how to direct people from him. Not just that but [Kaplan] looks out for everybody, not just on his own team, but even other people at Blizzard. […] I can’t really express that gratitude fully in words. It’s a terrible loss for me to not be able to work with him anymore.”
In the meantime, the sudden proliferation of independent studios filled with Blizzard veterans has drawn attention from fans and media alike. Like Metzen, many appear to still be close to their former company. The ex-Blizzard devs we spoke to who went independent were reluctant to damage their relationships with their former comrades.
It helps that the games industry is currently awash in venture capital. Within just the last couple years, the number of game-oriented venture funds has grown from around “maybe 10 or 20” to “about 80,” says Ed Fries. Fries is a partner at 1up Ventures, an investment firm that describes itself as “a community of independent game developers.” 1up’s portfolio includes both Frost Giant and Lightforge, among several other studios. Fries attributes the increased interest to the growth of the games industry both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and an increased willingness to invest in content developers over technology.
Fries’ recollection is that Frost Giant CEO Tim Morten, a former StarCraft 2 production director, decided to start a new company around the same time that Blizzard put StarCraft 2 in maintenance mode. “Tim and a number of other different of the important thing folks on that franchise determined to depart and begin a brand new firm to maneuver ahead with form of the religious successor to that sport. And my understanding is that they actually did it with the blessing of the corporate,” Fries says. “In reality, if you happen to look, the day that they introduced the studio was really the identical day that Blizzard introduced they weren’t going to do a sequel. And so I imagine that was a coordinated effort between Blizzard and Tim’s crew to sort of say, you understand, yep, these are the blokes who’re gonna take this ahead.”
Blizzard responded in a statement, “Tim Morten stored Blizzard management knowledgeable of his plans to open his personal studio and we parted on good phrases. We want him and his crew the most effective, and are wanting ahead to enjoying what they create, whereas we at Blizzard proceed fascinated by what’s subsequent for StarCraft.” The spokesperson additionally pointed towards a weblog submit explaining the company’s future plans for StarCraft.
Lead designer Kevin Dong is among the developers who departed Blizzard to form Frost Giant. He talks about the differences between his new indie studio and Blizzard, such as the lack of a dedicated social media department. Instead of handing off responsibilities, he does his best to help run Frost Giant’s social media channels while also focusing on his core design duties. “[O]ne benefit of being in a smaller company is that there’s a limited number of people involved in any decision being made, and all of these people are easily reachable. No longer do we have long email chains that involve ten people from five different departments, so decision-making is a lot more streamlined.”
Dong says Frost Giant is currently composed of around 80 percent Blizzard veterans. One challenge is finding experienced RTS developers. “It just so happens that Blizzard has one of the largest concentrations of those in the country, so it follows that we would have a higher percentage of ex-Blizzard employees.”
While Dong says he was aware that support for StarCraft 2 was waning, not the least because his team was getting progressively smaller, he says he wasn’t aware of the October announcement that StarCraft 2 would enter maintenance mode when he departed the company in September 2020. He is complimentary of Blizzard. “I know everyone at Frost Giant struggled with his or her personal decision to leave Blizzard, and at least for me, only a special project with a special team could have pulled me away.”
As with anything, the decision to go independent varies from developer to developer. Plenty leave because their game has been canceled or put into maintenance mode. One common factor seems to be a desire to return to a smaller, more intimate environment. A separate source within Blizzard observed that former Blizzard developers typically haven’t left to lead big-budget games like Assassin’s Creed — they’ve gone to smaller studios, perhaps to search for what one current Blizzard source terms “that ‘family’ feeling” again. While that feeling is purportedly still present at Blizzard, shifting team sizes can cause a developer to go looking for that feeling elsewhere.
Investors, meanwhile, are looking for experienced developers who can quickly start up a successful studio, and Blizzard developers are more available than they used to be, says a source. “I almost think a lot of the things that made it harder to poach Blizzard people stopped. So it’s become very easy to poach, and a lot of the senior people can just take people with them. Because it doesn’t matter what the actual situation is, people believe in narrative. And when the narrative is like, this place is going downhill, it’s really easy to talk people into leaving it.”
The Pressure Grows
In the meantime, Blizzard has been going through a host of internal changes. In 2018, co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime announced his departure from the company, making way for then-World of Warcraft director J. Allen Brack, who stepped in as the studio’s new president. Ray Gresko, who had been with Blizzard since 2004, was elevated to Chief Development Officer, but departed barely a year into his new job. Co-founder Frank Pearce left Blizzard in 2019. Major leaders like Chris Metzen, Chris Sigaty, and Ben Brode all stepped away in the period between 2016 and 2020.
In late 2018, Blizzard announced that it was spinning down Heroes of the Storm, its erstwhile competitor to League of Legends and Dota 2, moving developers to other projects and canceling its Heroes of the Dorm tournament and the Heroes Global Championship. It was around this time, our source tells us, that Blizzard also became much more conscious about spending. This is corroborated by similar reports from Kotaku. “The company went from, ‘No, don’t even think about money. Spend whatever you want,’ to, ‘Oh, shit. We need to cut costs.’ And that happened around the time of [Mike Morhaime] leaving and [J. Allen Brack] taking over.”
Matters didn’t improve in 2019. Activision Blizzard was roiled by greater than 800 layoffs in February, with the reason that “staffing levels on some teams are out of proportion with our current release slate,” according to a leaked memo to staff from Brack. Many of those layoffs came from the esports and community sections of the business. Controversy also erupted when a professional Hearthstone player named Blitzchung was punished for speaking out on behalf of Hong Kong on an official stream, the backlash growing in scope until Brack was eventually forced to apologize on stage. Toward the end of the year, Blizzard realized that Warcraft 3 Reforged — which had been hastily announced the year before to cover the gap in its release schedule — was in deep trouble. Developers across multiple teams were pulled in to try and save it, crunching to try and get the remaster at least into a condition where it could be shipped, multiple sources say. The backlash that followed was severe, and the team responsible for its development was reportedly dismantled later that year.
A narrative emerged around this time among fans and media that Activision was clamping down and exerting more and more influence over Blizzard — a narrative that many within Blizzard believe. But Blizzard also continues to cherish what could be called its editorial independence, to the point that even talking about money is actively discouraged in some areas. A firewall of sorts has been constructed around the core game development teams, with every effort being made to protect Blizzard’s internal development culture. When the layoffs hit in 2019, game development escaped relatively unscathed.
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The reported firewall around game dev may be one reason that Keller is so vehement in pushing against this narrative when speaking with IGN. “I can’t think of one time where Activision has… or sorry, like management, has come in and asked us to change a creative decision about any of our games. They have so much faith and trust that these talented developers that they’ve hired are making the right choices for their games. They give us free rein to do that.”
The flipside of this wall of safety for core sport improvement is that stress has fallen extra on different components of Blizzard, significantly the assist providers, as Activision Blizzard has steadily consolidated the bigger enterprise. It was round 2018 that Blizzard’s inner evaluation course of was totally revamped, sources say, adopting a stricter, one-size-fits-all method that put the corporate on the trail towards being beholden to stricter efficiency curves as Blizzard HR was consolidated into the corporate at giant. Blizzard responded in a press release, “We are constantly exploring ways to better serve the needs of our player community while simultaneously supporting our people. Right now, we’re intensely focused on developing and releasing more games and content and hiring more than 500 developers across announced, and unannounced, projects. In a rapidly changing and competitive industry, this requires a shared commitment and requires us to make decisions that enable us to be effective and adapt while preserving the quality expected of us from our player community.”
Esports proceed to take the brunt of the influence of Blizzard’s funds cuts and layoffs because the COVID-19 pandemic bites deep into stay occasions. A separate supply we spoke with opted to depart in 2020 when Blizzard refused to improve them from contract to full-time, realizing that they have been apt to be swept up within the subsequent spherical of layoffs. Sure sufficient, Blizzard laid off around 50 employees from its esports division in March 2021, citing difficulties from the pandemic.
Despite the makes an attempt to shelter core sport improvement, builders have felt the influence. With much less assist from Blizzard’s esports and neighborhood sections, IGN has heard tales of Blizzard devs having to select up the slack by serving to out with occasions or writing patch notes. One means or one other, everybody has felt the cuts round Blizzard.
Then there’s the schism with Activision’s corporate side, which has left some within Blizzard feeling powerless and out of control of their own destiny. In March, Activision Blizzard’s announced that it was hiring Brian Bulatao as its Chief Administrative Officer. In an internal memo sent to Activision Blizzard employees that was obtained by IGN, Activision CEO Bobby Kotick praised Bulatao for his experience in government and his military service, saying he represented Activision Blizzard’s commitment to hiring veterans. But conversations on Blizzard’s internal Slack channel and elsewhere reveal that Bulatao’s hiring generated considerable controversy, as employees questioned the wisdom of hiring a former Trump administration official once described as a bully.
Some employees were feeling “speechless” and questioning how he represented the values of Activision Blizzard. A couple of instructed sending a “Hey J” — an inner message system designed to attach workers with president J Allen Brack — to boost their issues. Blizzard responded to IGN in a press release, “Like every new leader at Activision Blizzard, Brian is continuing to meet with our employees and engage in listening sessions across the organization. He is looking forward to meeting with more Blizzard employees and is invested in them, and all of [Activision Blizzard’s] employees’ success.”
Ultimately, the livid inner debate carried with it the tacit acknowledgment that Blizzard didn’t have a lot say over who the corporate employed to run Corporate Social Responsibility, which is a part of Bulatao’s portfolio. As the corporate that makes the least amount of cash alongside King and Activision, a couple of worker expressed that Blizzard was mainly alongside for the experience.
“Realistically, the way big companies work is ‘if you make them money, you set the culture.’ And Blizzard doesn’t make them money. Call of Duty does, and they set the culture,” a supply inside Blizzard says. “So, if anything, unless Blizzard actually starts delivering more money, I think it will continue to trend in that direction.”
Just Around the Corner
When 2021 started, the temper round Blizzard lifted considerably. The finish of 2020 had been troublesome, with Blizzard pressured to shift builders from Overwatch 2 as a way to get Shadowlands out the door. But regardless of the last-minute scramble, World of Warcraft’s newest growth had been profitable. Employees have been hopeful its success could be mirrored in Blizzard’s profit-sharing program, which was as a consequence of pay out in March.
When March 5 rolled round, although, Blizzard introduced that workers could be receiving about 50 % of their anticipated goal relying on their efficiency. In an electronic mail to workers obtained by IGN, Brack attributed the quantity to decreased second-half income for 2020. Brack promised that higher occasions have been forward, pointing to Diablo 4, Overwatch 2, and extra, unannounced initiatives as causes to be optimistic.
“If we deliver on our slate of plans, we expect 2021 and 2022 to be great years for Blizzard,” Brack wrote a month and a half earlier than Kaplan’s departure.
Blizzard responded with the next assertion: “We believe in a pay-for-performance philosophy that encourages us to make content that resonates with our players. Like many other compensation programs, Blizzard’s profit-sharing program is directly tied to our business performance — the details have not changed for a number of years. Last year, we had successful releases, but we also heavily invested in our future. We’re looking forward to sharing what we’re working on with players, and ultimately rewarding our teams for their contributions.”
A Blizzard spokesperson instructed IGN that it “recently awarded equity to almost every single employee, adding over $100 million to the Blizzard equity grant pool.” A supply inside Blizzard says that “recently awarded” is a robust time period since virtually all workers do not know what they’re getting but, however that workers have been instructed “you are getting something.”
Salaries and bonuses have been a delicate topic at Blizzard of late. In December 2018, Blizzard ended its holiday bonus program, integrating the payouts into salaries as an alternative. Last August, Bloomberg reported that Blizzard workers started sharing wage info, with many reportedly annoyed by what they perceived to be low pay. One supply inside Blizzard was sanguine about it, saying that there was solely a lot slack that World of Warcraft and Hearthstone might decide up. Others expressed frustration throughout conversations in Blizzard’s inner Slack channel and elsewhere.
Add within the regular drumbeat of high-level departures, layoffs, the massive hole between main releases, and the chance to go unbiased, and it’s no surprise that many longstanding Blizzard workers are beginning to consider what’s subsequent. After all, 5 years is a very long time to be at any firm within the trendy age, not to mention 15 or 20, and out of doors of the shock success of WoW Classic, there’s been valuable little in the way in which of wholeheartedly excellent news for the corporate of late.
“It feels like the company is just bleeding and taking punches, and realistically, the only thing that is gonna stop that is shipping Diablo 4 or Overwatch 2,” says a Blizzard source. “We talk all the time about like, ‘We really kinda messed up long-term planning, you know? Our release slates and things like that.’ If you look at how long the games take to make, and Diablo 4 and Overwatch are probably shaping up to ship roughly around the same time or in successive years, it is hard to imagine this not happening again to Blizzard.”
For now, at least, better times may indeed be ahead. Analyst Andrew Uerkwitz is bullish on Diablo Immortal, and thinks that Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2 will give Blizzard the success it craves within the next couple years. He goes as far as to argue that Diablo Immortal has the chance to be bigger than Call of Duty Mobile, pointing to its earnings potential in Asia, where games like Diablo tend to be more popular than shooters and Blizzard has an established foothold.
“Most of the top titles in that space were natively built in Asia, either by NetEase or Tencent. And none of them have the IP cachet that Diablo has,” Uerkwitz says of Blizzard’s upcoming free-to-play mobile game, which is still set to go into full release in 2021. “I think Diablo has been a sneaky success on PC for years in Asia, and so I think putting them together with NetEase – with their expertise of this style of game – positions it well to kind of be the leader of that space similar to how [PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds] became the leader of the shooter genre on mobile over there.”
Over the past five years, Blizzard has been stuck in a holding pattern as it has juggled setbacks, key departures, and internal reorganization. Jeff Kaplan’s departure was in some ways the culmination of this grinding transition period. The past three years have taken their toll on Blizzard, and it’s unclear what long-term effects Activision’s reorganization will have on its internal culture, or whether it will be able to avoid another dry period like the one it is currently suffering. In the near-term, Blizzard is doubling down on its established characters, hopeful that the likes of Thrall, Tracer, and Lilith (but not Kerrigan) will be enough to carry it forward.
“We are about to turn the corner into a really exciting time,” Ion Hazzikostas says optimistically. “I think Blizzard has long development cycles. The games that we make are not games that are produced and turned around quickly in a year or two. People have seen what’s in the works with Diablo 4, with Overwatch 2, and are incredibly excited about both of those games. […] [W]e have other projects that are in the works, and I think, you know, folks across the world will be seeing before too long what we’re up to, and I can’t wait to share that with them.”
For Blizzard, better times are perpetually just around the corner. It’s just a question of how many existing staff will wait for them.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN. Got a news tip? Send her a DM on Twitter or Signal.
Additional reporting by Taylor Lyles.