Blizzard Entertainment is the Canary in the Coalmine

At the beginning of this year, I wrote an article where I stated I would be boycotting Blizzard Entertainment. After years of writing about World of Warcraft from a design perspective, I had finally had enough of Blizzard and their descent into identity politics. After the Diablogate debacle this week at BlizzCon 2018 in Anaheim, I have decided to rescind my boycott and from today onwards I’m going to start writing about Blizzard and their games.

The Diablo Immortal catastrophe is a massive and unprecedented failure on so many levels that it has outraged, electrified and unified many PC gamers. This fiasco has unearthed many troubling things about what is going on at Blizzard that affect all of us who love PC games and MMORPGs.

For years Blizzard was the crown jewel of the PC video game world. They produced some of the most beloved video games of all time such a Diablo, Diablo 2, the Warcraft and Starcraft RTS games and of course World of Warcraft. What Blizzard achieved over the years was no accident. Their video games and MMOs were masterpieces of design, art, and production that stood miles above their competition. Those days are gone.

I believe that Blizzard is the canary in the coal mine for the entire PC video game industry.

In the olden days, canaries were brought into mines by miners because of their sensitivity to noxious chemicals in the air. If a canary died the miners knew that the air was poisonous, so they would watch them closely to prevent themselves from being poisoned. Today, the canary in the coal mine is often used as a metaphor for impending danger.

If Blizzard goes down, the entire realm of PC gaming will go down as well or perhaps it will die a slow death of neglect. I love PC games too much to sit idly by to watch that happening without speaking out.

It’s not that Blizzard is going out of business, rather it is the fact that Blizzard is fundamentally transforming itself into something unrecognizable. Blizzard has decided that their fans are expendable and with that their design and production ethos that made them famous is collateral damage as they foolishly move toward their new goal of pleasing Activision shareholders.

Blizzard is all about the benjamins now as their new business model is all about chasing the financially lucrative genre of mobile games. Recently returned Blizzard co-founder Allen Adham who left Blizzard in 2004, proudly revealed in a BlizzCon 2018 press conference that most of Blizzard’s top talent is now working on upcoming mobile games.

If this keeps up, PC games will be relegated to the sidelines at Blizzard and eventually phased out. WoW’s yearly declining subscription numbers and the fans unhappiness with the most recent WoW expansion Battle for Azeroth is evidence that A-list talent at Blizzard is not focusing on PC games. True WoW fans have known this for years as the infamous B team was assigned to WoW giving us some of the worst expansions in WoW history.

Transferring your top talent to mobile is madness. If you really care about making amazing PC video games, then this makes about as much sense as removing the top scientists from the Manhattan Project and putting them to work making a better toaster.

The undeniable truth is staring everyone in the face: Blizzard is now making games for shareholders, not their fans.

In many ways, what happened at BlizzCon 2018 was a blessing in disguise because it awakened a sleeping giant: the Diablo fanbase. Instead of being boiled slowly in a pot of water, the fans were scorched by the preposterous announcement of Diablo Immortals. The passion and tenacity of the Diablo fans on forums like Reddit (where threads are free to exist without being deleted by overzealous Blizzard moderators) has exposed much of the truth about what is really going on in Irvine. Diablo fans are doing real reporting and analysis, unlike some alleged video game journalists who are white knighting for Blizzard and accusing Diablo fans of being entitled.

In a world where entertainment creators are increasingly more concerned about virtue signaling and promoting identity politics than they are pleasing their fans, the revolt of the Diablo fans will go down as one of the most important moments in video game history. If Blizzard is smart, they will have learned an important lesson this week:

Live by the fans, die by the fans.

Fans are not the problem; fans are the solution. Given Blizzard’s tone-deaf leadership and legendary arrogance, it is very doubtful that they will learn any lessons and instead double down on this fool’s errand. It’s a real shame because what can take a lifetime to build can be destroyed overnight. It didn’t have to be this way. In the future, I hope to do my part and share what I believe are the reasons why the Blizzard ship has gotten so off course. While it may be too late to save Blizzard, perhaps what happened will be a cautionary tale so that others may avoid a similar fate.


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