Former Blizzard staff speak out: ‘Something deep within the company’s culture may be changing’

Blizzard staff are reportedly concerned about the direction of the company since its high-profile partnership with Activision in 2007.

According to a report by Kotaku, Blizzard staff increasingly believe Activision is building its power and influence over the Diablo developer. Talking to 11 current and former Blizzard employees – all of whom spoke anonymously because they were not authorised to speak to press – Kotaku reports "a cancelled second expansion for Diablo III" and confirmed that Diablo IV – "which is indeed in development" – was rebooted in 2016. Kotaku purports Diablo’s huge popularity in China is one of the main reasons for Diablo Immortal’s existence, and that "the spectre of the cancelled game Titan hangs over many of Blizzard’s decisions".

"Blizzard employees say that one of the biggest ongoing conversations has been cutting costs," Kotaku reports. "To fans, and even to some people who work or have worked at Blizzard, there’s a concern that something deep within the company’s culture may be changing.

During Blizzard’s annual company-wide “Battle Plan” meeting earlier this year, new chief financial officer Amrita Ahuja spoke to all of the staff and told Blizzard that one of the company’s goals for the coming year was to save money. "This is the first year we’ve heard a priority being cutting costs and trying not to spend as much," said one attendee of the meeting. "It was presented as, ‘Don’t spend money where it isn’t necessary.’"

"You would’ve thought Blizzard was going under and we had no money," another former Blizzard employee told Kotaku. "The way every little thing was being scrutinised from a spend perspective. That’s obviously not the case. But this was the very first time I ever heard, ‘We need to show growth.’ That was just so incredibly disheartening for me."

It’s thought "the stagnancy of Blizzard’s MAUs (monthly active users) – which are seen as a pivotal metric for service games like Hearthstone and Overwatch" – combined with a lack of new IPs is prompting Activision’s executives "to intervene".

“We are being told to spend less at every corner because we have no new IP,” said one former staff member. “Because Overwatch set this bar of how much we could earn in a single year, there’s a ton of pressure from Activision to get shit moving. They want something to show shareholders.”

Blizzard faced an unprecedented backlash – and a share price tumble – when it closed BlizzCon with the news that Diablo was coming to mobile. Thousands of fans added their names to a petition calling on Blizzard to cancel the project and flooded social media and r/diablo with criticism of both the announcement and the game itself. One fan stood up in BlizzCon’s Q&A session and asked if the announcement was "an out of season April Fools’ joke", while on YouTube, Blizzard’s official cinematic trailer for Diablo Immortal has (at the time of writing) been "disliked" 676,000 times, compared with just 25,000 likes.

Even one of Diablo’s original creators, David Brevik, accused Blizzard of caring about profits more than its staff in a livestream dating back to the beginning of October.

"Blizzard has been and continues to be a developer-driven company," Activision Blizzard said in a statement to Kotaku. "All of the games we create represent ideas our game developers themselves are passionate about. This is as true for Diablo Immortal as it was for Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, or Overwatch, or any game we’ve ever made. We believe that the best games to make are ones that our developers believe in."

To read the full report, head on over to Kotaku.

About Vikki Blake

It took 15 years of civil service monotony for Vikki to crack and switch to writing about games. She has since become an experienced reporter and critic working with a number of specialist and mainstream outlets in both the UK and beyond, including Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, IGN, MTV, and Variety.

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