Activision Blizzard’s name has become synonymous with industry issues, fan disgruntlement, scandals, and drama. The once-beloved game developer has managed to alienate a significant number of its former fanbase. But how did it come to this? Here’s a little rundown on Blizzard’s chain of unfortunate decisions.
The Heyday of Blizzard
If you are a gamer and you were born in the ’90s, chances are you have played at least one of Blizzard’s games as a kid. Back in the days, the Diablo and Warcraft franchises offered a unique atmosphere that no other game quite emulated. Both titles offered vast fictional universes waiting to be explored by players. Long before Dark Souls, Diablo was one of the first globally acclaimed dark fantasy titles with a gritty aesthetic, music, and overall vibe. Similarly, Warcraft was one of the first epic fantasy franchises that made it big.
From then on Blizzard grew even further with the release of World of Warcraft in 2004. Back in the day, WoW was a game, unlike any other game. While MMORPGs did exist before it, none had quite the same scale as WoW did. The universe of WoW has since become synonymous with Blizzard as it allowed fans to experience Azeroth in a much more personal way than in Warcraft. Millions of people worldwide have cherished childhood memories of exploring the vast world, telling each other about interesting quests they’ve done, arguing about whether the Alliance or the Horde are the “good guys”, etc.
Millions of players played World of Warcraft. At the game’s peak, an estimate of over 12 million people explored Azeroth and Outland and fought against the Burning Legion and the Lich King and against players of the opposing faction. Yet, it’s all downhill from there.
The Slow Languish of World of Warcraft
If WoW was so successful and if the Warcraft and Diablo franchises were so beloved, how come Blizzard started losing steam? For many people the turning point is the merger between Blizzard and Activision, leading to today’s Activision Blizzard. Regardless if it’s just a coincidence or not the numbers definitely began plummeting around that period.
The first damage began with WoW’s expansion Cataclysm. Although Cataclysm wasn’t really “hated”, its central point villain didn’t have quite the same build-up and presence as the previous antagonists in the franchise. Cataclysm saw some numbers dropping but it was a decent addition as it ushered in a lot of graphical overhauls and paved the way to “modern WoW.”
Cataclysm was followed by the controversial Mists of Pandaria. MoP is arguably one of the most beautiful expansions in the whole of WoW. For some, the picturesque imagery of the Valley of Four Winds, Kun Lai Summit, and Jade Forest was a nice breather from the “save the world” narrative. However, this didn’t meet a lot of fans’ expectations as they were used to the more “epic” side of things. Some even accused MoP of being Blizzard’s way to cater to the Chinese audience.
Then came Blizzard’s first desperate attempt to appeal to fans’ nostalgia. Seeing the numbers drop, the company tried to return fans to the Golden Age by reintroducing old narratives, such as using time travel to get fans to the Outland of old, or Draenor as it was called back then. Warlords of Draenor had some hype moments but was largely the least eventful expansion to date.
The next expansion, Legion, did quite the same thing by bringing back Illidan to the fray. While those moves caused some short-term spikes in the game’s population, the tendency of people dropping out continued.
How Appealing to Nostalgia Became Blizzard’s Misguided Focus
Around the same time the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth, came along, Blizzard announced what would become one of their greatest mistakes – Warcraft 3: Reforged. Warcraft 3: Reforged was to bring back the old ages of Warcraft's real-time strategy. It was a remake of the beloved Warcraft 3 title that once set the groundwork for WoW’s coming.
The Reforged version promised everything that fans wanted: new and improved cutscenes, more content, better graphics, new voice lines and overall campaign overhaul. Only it delivered on almost none of it.
Warcraft 3: Reforged, or Warcraft 3: Refunded, as it came to be called, is to date one of the biggest examples of a fan let down by a big company. Not only was the game released in a sorry state but it also had some questionable additions like appropriating any piece of fan maps that users make. This was obviously a move on Blizzard’s side to prevent giving birth to yet another competitor, as they once did with Dota. Needless to say, fans weren’t amused.
To top it, Blizzard refused to refund players at first which was the last straw in the fan outrage. Admittedly, the company realized its own mistake and eventually did start issuing refunds.
Warcraft 3: Reforged’s botched release not only hurt Blizzard but also fans’ hopes of one day seeing the fourth edition in the RTS franchise, as the company will now be much less likely to make another title.
Years forward and Blizzard just released Diablo 2: Resurrected. While the game is far from being as bad as Warcraft 3’s remake, it certainly has some major issues. The game has been excessively censored and although some redesigns do make sense, most of the censorship seems out of place, especially for a purposefully “edgy” franchise such as Diablo.
Blizzard once again proved its capability of making questionable decisions as it decided not to implement the competitive leaderboard on release. To further fuel fan anger, the game had a fatal flaw in its code that constantly crashed servers and prevented people from having a fulfilling online experience. Fans feared this is a Warcraft 3: Reforged situation once again. Refund demands started pouring in.
Blizzard’s Unfortunate Downfall
A YouTube commenter once compared Blizzard to a sinking ship whose sailors desperately drill holes in the hull, hoping that the water leaks out. And seeing that is very sad, especially to longtime fans of the company’s games, such as me.
In recent times it seems that every decision Blizzard makes is faulty. Even outside of game development, Blizzard constantly manages to mess something up. The “frat boy” culture lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing is only one of numerous industry scandals the company has been involved in.
Blizzard has produced some great things. As an artist myself, I personally enjoyed Shadowlands a lot because of its high artistic value (at least until I ran out of content). Admittedly, Blizzard has some great artists and developers behind its games and is still capable to make some things right. Yet, it seems that there is a lack of cohesion and understanding between the company’s corporate part and the artists and developers that work for it.
Hopefully, Blizzard will someday be able to learn from its numerous mistakes and once again make great games as it did in the past.