Activision and Blizzard’s merger in 2008 was a big deal for the industry. But Blizzard’s games have mostly stayed away from the less-than-stellar reputation that Activision had. However, that separation has recently been a little harder to notice, according to some fans and critics. They’re not alone though, as a recent report has pointed out, the company’s ex-employees have also noticed the follies of Activision’s involvement from the inside.
Kotaku’s recent report on Diablo raised some of these issues. In it, some ex-Blizzard staff discussed how Activision Blizzard senior VP of investor relations Amrita Ahuja spoke about how Blizzard was trying to save money. That statement was in direct opposition to what Blizzard had been used to hearing internally. When a team was looking to hire on more people, they were told that they had to save money in another area to compensate. One former employee spoke out and left the studio because of Activision’s alleged creeping influence.
“You would’ve thought Blizzard was going under and we had no money,” they said. “The way every little thing was being scrutinized 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.”
Overwatch is partly to “blame” for this attitude. The game was and continues to be wildly successful, boasting over 40 million players as of May 2018; a number that has assuredly grown in the six months since. Its loot boxes have not only had a controversial rippling effect over the industry but it has also raked in a ton of money for Activision and Blizzard.
This helps subsidize free new heroes and also set the expectations quite high. For example, Activision’s first earnings call after Overwatch revealed that the game had made the company a billion dollars. A former employee discussed how it hurt some of Blizzard’s freedom.
“We are being told to spend less at every corner because we have no new IP,” they said. “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.”
This drive to show shareholders better sales could explain some of the alleged overreach. This has manifested in some of Activision’s games appearing on the Battle.net launcher but also Diablo Immortal, which has not pleased fans. While the game isn’t out yet, the optics of having a studio known for exploitative payment methods making a Diablo game has made some uneasy. And these reports of insiders expressing worries only exacerbates the fan concerns that have already been growing.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Blizzard ex-CEO Mike Morhaime, who was beloved at the studio, left earlier this year but was replaced by World of Warcraft producer J. Allen Brack. Chief Development Officer Ray Gresko also jumped on the executive management team, which can be seen as a way to fill Blizzard with people know and love their games as creative efforts, not soulless money-making opportunities. Judging by reports, that sentiment might not be the same over at Activision.
“There’s a perception within Blizzard that finance is making more calls than they ever did in the past,” said an ex-Blizzard developer. “You never heard that three or four years ago.”