Is Activision finally devouring Blizzard Entertainment?

Blizzard recently put out a video dubbed "Worlds Unite," showcasing the various franchises that have spawned one of gaming's most dedicated, most passionate fanbases. I count myself among those fans, with literally over a year's worth of World of Warcraft playtime and hundreds of hours across Diablo, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. But, after a year of plunging quality, the departure of Cofounder Mike Morhaime, and some dubious Activision-style moves, fans are concerned.

The "Worlds Unite" video on YouTube, at the time of posting, has a 2:1 like-to-dislike ratio, with a stream of comments ranging from "thanks but no thanks," to expletive-filled rants about Activision, which isn't exactly known for being consumer-friendly. The same is true across Blizzard's Instagram and Twitter feeds, where fans of all Blizzard's worlds have indeed united — against what they see as a hostile corporate encroachment of what made Blizzard so great.

How did we get here? What will the future hold? Is this the end of Blizzard as we know it?

A year of missteps

Many will argue that we started to see uncharacteristic greed on Blizzard's behalf long before 2018, with manipulative, gambling loot crates in Overwatch and overpriced micropayments in the World of Warcraft store. But it really feels like things came to a head this year.

Somehow, Blizzard has managed to upset not one but several of its core fanbases this year, and I'm sure there are numerous other grievances core fans are aware of. For me, it all started with this summer's Battle for Azeroth expansion for World of Warcraft. What is arguably the least-stable, least-balanced, and possibly, least fun expansion in recent memory, Battle for Azeroth launched in an exceptionally bad state. Poor features in the form of Warfronts and Island Expeditions, combined with ever-increasingly frustrating loot and progression systems, and a litany of other issues, continue to make Battle for Azeroth a controversy that won't seem to go away. It's all the more painful when you consider the previous expansion, Legion, could be considered the best ever.

The dreaded Azerite progression systems that made WoW boring.

The dreaded Azerite progression systems that made WoW boring.

Not long after Battle for Azeroth soured Warcraft fans' opinions of Blizzard's apparent dismissal of its long-held "ship when it's ready" mantra, Blizzard angered Diablo fans with one of the biggest PR disasters of recent memory. At Blizzcon 2018, Blizzard revealed the latest Diablo project to the franchise's most passionate, hardcore PC loyalists — a reskinned NetEase Diablo clone specifically for mobile devices. When asked if the game would ever come to PC, Blizzard's reply was "don't you guys have phones?" which has become a meme-worthy analogy for corporate tone deafness.

Most recently, Blizzard revealed it was shutting down Heroes of the Storm's esports programs, putting dozens of people out of work right before Christmas. Additionally, Blizzard warned fans not to expect as much support as the game had enjoyed in previous years, although a smaller development crew would remain to maintain the free-to-play MOBA.

Blizzard had been criticized before 2018 for the way it has handled things. Diablo III's launch was mired in controversy for its "colourful" tone, weak connectivity, and real money auction house, and previous WoW expansions like Warlord's of Draenor disappointed fans too. But somehow, it feels a little different in 2018. And things are a little different.

Putting the Activision in Activision-Blizzard

Activision

Activision (Image credit: Windows Central)

Kotaku has done a ton of reporting on the situation at Blizzard, speaking to past and present employees. The common narrative is that Activision is exerting more influence over Blizzard's creative direction in recent years, pushing the company to cut costs and release more games.

Activision's most notable core franchise, Call of Duty, releases on an annual cadence with fairly minimal changes. Black Ops 4 launched this year, setting records despite having cut its campaign mode, and shipping with a range of remastered maps rather than, you know, new ones. Call of Duty is also notorious for its poor networking infrastructure that has never really seen any serious bumps in quality. By cutting corners, Call of Duty maximizes its margins in a way I worry Activision hopes Blizzard can emulate, in what has proven to be a modest year for the corporation financially.

Up until recently, it felt very much like Blizzard was a separate entity with completely different standards of quality, where fans of all franchises came together and celebrated everything Blizzard, with a ton of cross-over between those core properties. Now, Destiny 2 and Call of Duty feature prominently in Blizzard's marketing and PC launcher, which is not something many fans want to see. Will there be Call of Duty booths at Blizzcon next year? Destiny skins in Overwatch? The fears may be unfounded, but with Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime stepping down, he was seen by many as the last line of defense against Activision's encroachment.

The future?

It's easy to point the finger at Activision for the recent cavalcade of missteps at Blizzard. Activision, as an entity, really doesn't seem to care what its customers think, nor does it seem even slightly bothered about its image as an unfeeling, greedy megacorp. That is perhaps in part because millions of players are more than happy to pick up Call of Duty every year, and more than happy to soldier on in Destiny 2, which has also endured its fair share of criticism. For what Activision core franchises seem to lack in effort, they generally deliver in terms of pure casual fun. Simply put, while there is a lot of noise on social media about Activision's influences on Blizzard, there may be even more people who simply don't care.

Perhaps the core fans who hold Blizzard to that level of quality we've come to expect will move on and be replaced by a new generation of less discerning gamers Activision might see as more profitable. Perhaps Blizzard will right itself in 2019 and beyond, and we can write off this year as an anomaly. A reportedly much-darker Diablo 4 is apparently on the way, despite its no-show at Blizzcon 2018.

As an Overwatch player, a Diablo faithful, a Warcraft devotee, and a Heroes of the Storm fan, I can't help but be disappointed in Blizzard as of late. I don't want to succumb to negativity, but the company has done little to reassure me recently, and I get the feeling plenty of other Blizzard fans feel the same way. We can only really watch and wait to see where the future takes the company, and whether it's time to simply accept that no monarch rules forever.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

24 Comments
  • Or could it be a teaser for the comming clan feature in the b.net?
  • I personally enjoy BfA a lot, it's possibly #4 in my list of favorite expansions. Everything else in the article is spot on though, the Blizzard we all loved is gone, at this point I'm just wondering when BlizzCon will be renamed ActiCon.
  • Or possibly: GreedCon. Or... CorpCon
    The trouble is Activision numbers are up, so shareholders won't care.
    ActiBliz, are now basically EA. Living on brand. Quality down the toilet.
    Ubisoft ironically are looking after many of its franchises/games really well.
    Worlds turned upside down :/
  • Blizzard died the day Activision took over, maybe even before thay. This article is insane. This didn't just happen this year or last year or the year before that. I remember playing WoW with star wars and Indiana Jones references and it was pretty much fully over for me after that. It's world of WARCRAFT not world of let's jerk off Steven Spielberg. Atrocious.
  • What are you even rambling about? There's always been pop culture Easter Eggs in wow. I remember the Indiana Jones egg (Harrison Jones) from BC.
  • Yeah... TBC was rammed with pop culture lol, that's hardly an Activision thing.
  • You must be a WoW newbie, or a Wrathbaby, because there has been Indiana Jones references in WoW since Vanilla WoW. I’ve been around and had my account with Blizzard since 2001 when it was Warcraft 2 on Battle.net. I do agree about Activision F_ing up Blizzard though, with all their stupid CoD idiots.
  • I started playing WoW during the Beta Phase and thus became a Day One Player when it launched.
    Not only did I play it almost for 10 years with every class possible, most of which have been levelled during The Burning Crusade when leveling was still hardcore, I even went as far to become a EU-Gamemaster for 2½ years requiring a VAST amount of knowledge where to find what without relying on either Thottbot or Curse.
    If there's one thing I can tell then that there have been a LOT of Pop Culture references in the game like that Indiana Jones one ever since it was initially released.
  • The level scaling ruined WoW for me. I applaud them for trying to make all the content relevant, but they should have just scaled the mobs to your player level. Their implementation around item level makes the game feel like a never-ending hamster wheel with no progression or reward for acquiring better gear. It also doesn't help that Azerite gear frequently has very poorly optimized traits for your character spec. That was supposed to be the centerpiece of gear progression.
  • Logged into wow today for a minute and the was a call of duty ad on the launcher. What does that tell you?
  • Activision can afford Blizzard? Last Blizzard game I enjoyed was Warcraft 3... So I don't really care what happens to them personally, but I do genuinely feel sorry for the people who love their games. I know the feeling all too well, chiefly from EA eating BioWare, but there are many other sad examples.
  • So another favorite franchise of mine will be destroyed. First EA kills Command & Conquer and now Activision will kill Starcraft. Maybe they will wait 20 years after killing it and then decide to remake it like EA is doing with C&C. Can't wait.
  • Blizzard began going downhill for me when Diablo 3 was confirmed to require an internet connection. I did ultimately enjoy playing through the game once but haven't gone back. It was an 7 or 8/10 game that I was happy to play through one time. I haven't enjoyed anything blizzard has released since then and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. I'm guessing the Warcraft 3 re-release is going to have some sort of microtransactions or loot boxes associated with it somehow but we'll see. And LOL to the mobile games. They can keep those. I'm glad I got to enjoy Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo as they released them through the years. Too bad that Blizzard is long gone to corporate greed.
  • I still don't understand why blizzard agreed to merge with Activision. They were printing money with WoW and i don't see what Activision brought to the table. Same with Bungie. MS let them go and they "partnered" with Activision. Didn't they have enough clout through Halo to stand on their own?
  • Marekt77 here’s the thing, it wasn’t Blizzard’s decision.
    Blizzard at that time was distributed by Vivendi Games. Vivendi decided to Merge with Activision and hand over all it’s titles to Activision with one exception, it’s cash cow flagship customer. Blizzard.
    At the time of the merger it was decided that Vivendi would bow out of the name and the two titans would share the new company name Activision/Blizzard. So no, Blizz had no choice but to come along for the ride.
  • Excellent article. Easy to read, succinct, and simply well-written. Thank you.
  • Thanks for this comment :) ty for reading.
  • Business's running games = profit today , bankruptcy tomorrow. And the Businesses know this, because they've already sold the game to various investors before it crashed. Bye Bye Wow, hello millions in the pockets of the current owners as they sneak out the door before the inevitable crash.
  • Jez, Thanks for putting a question mark in the title (or the editor for keeping it). It gives it more of a humble approach instead of stating it as hard fact. I only disagree on the NetEase reskin as fact. Several sources, among them @Rhykker and @Kripparrian, suggests this is not true, but simply a result of "best UX design" so I only ask that you reflect that doubt in your article instead of stating it as fact 🙂 I found the Rhykker one for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKFgpkKEK14 I agree on the rest of the article and we share all the same concerns. The remasters are really nice though and I don't think that they are of poor quality. Quite the contrary. The fact that they redid the entire soundtrack for Starcraft speaks to this "long gone" Blizzard stamp of quality and polish - New games though … ? Let me put it this way: I no longer dare pre-order Blizzard games, just because it reads "Blizzard" "on the box".
  • Thanks for that. You're right about the reskin stuff, I should've put a note, strayed into hyperbole out of irritation lol. Even still, I worry about heavy amounts of copy and paste and asset flipping, cuz Activision is all about margins and corner cutting. Hope I'm wrong, but that's the troubling image Activision casts with its brand. Thanks for reading. :)
  • I think Blizzard at the Current time has Correct me if I'm Wrong has had an influx at the top of Former Activision management there lies the problem not the main problem but A contributing problem Another problem, especially in WoW, is the patches like 8.1 that instead of releasing it as A whole patch its time-gated it shows that 8.1 has very little to Offer apart from a new raid and A warfront and 2 new islands and A rehash of Legion invasions it seems to me Blizzards new Philosophy is less is more
  • OK, I'll correct you.
    It's "current time", "I'm wrong" and "former Activision". No need for random capitalization. :/
  • I stopped supporting Blizzard after Wrath of the lich King.. This is why. When they wanted to charge me the same price for a digital download as getting, the box, manual, and physical media in the mail, from that point I knew greed took over at Blizzard, now we know that greed has a name.. Activision..
  • Black Ops 4 launched with absolute no networking hiccups. You pointed out a kotaku article in one instance, but glossed over kotaku's praise of B04 releasing without any networking issues.