Sometime around 25 years ago, I first picked up a CD-ROM that contained Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. At the time, I was a little too young to be particularly good at it, but I slowly made progress. Eventually, I beat the human campaign and felt like a hero having made my way through my first real-time strategy. In the years after that pivotal moment, I picked up Warcraft 2, Diablo, StarCraft, Diablo 2, Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, StarCraft 2, Diablo 3, Overwatch, and was even hooked on Heroes of the Storm for a good bit. Blizzard could do no wrong in my eyes. However, things were beginning to change.
Not long after Overwatch released in 2016, Chris Metzen stepped down from his role in Blizzard. While he had not been a founder, he had become a core component in the foundation of the company. He created many character designs and animations, provided many story concepts for their main franchises, and even voiced several important characters within those stories. His exit, along with other long-time leaders in the company, seemed to be a turning point in how Blizzard would function.
Blizzard’s desire to join in on the throngs of games reaching for always-online “games as a service” platform came to the surface with the launch of Diablo 3. A game franchise that previously had been just as viable to play completely offline since online now required a constant internet connection even when solo. This fell apart at launch as players installed the game and tried to log on only to see errors and failures to connect. The game was unplayable by some people for days.
On top of this, Diablo 3 featured an auction house where players could spend real money (with Blizzard taking a cut) to buy in-game weapons, armor, and other items. This worked off of a design where players would receive loads of gear not relevant to their character so they would have to dump it on the market and purchase loot that would actually help them. These issues were ultimately addressed, but clearly, Blizzard had started down a path of poor decisions based on profit.
Blizzard’s use of “loot boxes” in Overwatch is often cited as the starting point for the normalization of the practice in mainstream full-priced games. While the company denies any negative attributes of this practice, it has undoubtedly left a lasting negative impact on the gaming community. Again, the profitability of the company was prioritized over the quality of the game.
Last year at Blizzcon, the announcement of a mobile Diablo game shocked and angered many longtime fans of the franchise. Diablo Immortal would be developed in conjunction with a Chinese developer and shared many similarities with an existing game they had created, Endless of God. This whole process was Blizzard’s attempt to tap into the massive Chinese mobile gaming market, which has for years been the largest in the world. With this newfound pile of money to chase after, Blizzard was more than willing to capitulate to the Chinese government in recent events.
Blitzchung, a professional Hearthstone gamer, recently shouted on a Blizzard Taiwan stream “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age.” This, of course, referencing ongoing protests in Hong Kong that are vehemently opposed by the Chinese government. In response, Blizzard stripped the player of his winnings, banned him from tournaments for a year, and fired the hosts of the stream despite them only being adjacent to the announcement.
It is to be expected that they would at least remove the VOD (video on demand) of the event from Twitch, but the fact that they took such egregious measures to punish someone for standing up for freedom is just simply sad. These are the actions of a company so desperate to drive their stock price back up that they’re willing to dish out unjust punishment based on ambiguous policy. It is the cherry on top of the frozen shell that Blizzard has become. A company that once exemplified the best parts of gaming has seemingly lost everything that once made it so great.
While some may trace Blizzard’s downfall back to their merge with Activision, it has become more obvious in recent years that the vision of the company isn’t what it used to be. I expect in the coming years, they’ll continue to cash in on the nostalgia of their fans by continuing to release things like a remastered StarCraft and Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft Classic. Meanwhile, I believe the franchises going forward will keep trending toward monetization-heavy experiences that lack the quality of previous games. It would take nothing short of a miracle to turn them around at this point.
For me, Blizzard is a lost cause. I can’t see myself being invested in any of their games in the future given current circumstances. Will you still be interested in future titles like Diablo Immortal? Do you plan on continuing to play games like Overwatch and Hearthstone? Has any of this changed your perspective on Blizzard?