Blizzard is tightening its belt. Employees are being offered buyouts, department budgets are being reduced, and the development cadence is being increased with a company directive to make more money. The freewheeling Blizzard is done. According to independent sources speaking to Kotaku and Eurogamer, the cost-cutting comes as Activision increases its influence via leadership changes at Blizzard.
For much of its existence, the Activision-Blizzard relationship has been fairly benign. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and Blizzard President and co-founder Mike Morhaime seemed to have an understanding that each company’s culture was best left as-is. While Activision made bank with annual Call of Duty releases, Blizzard followed an irregular, but no less lucrative, schedule based on growing a loyal ecosystem of fans. That all changed at the beginning of the year. New leadership at Blizzard, mostly folks coming in from Activision, brought strategies focused on profitability and oversight. Key components of the new direction is an increase in the pace of product creation while reducing company spend. The recent announcement of Heroes of the Storm staff being moved to other projects being an example of Blizzard looking more critically at its resource allocations. According to ex-employees, Morhaime’s retirement from Blizzard in October capped an end to the old way of doing business.
“A lot of people are worried about the future of Blizzard – if the Activision method seeps in more, what that’s going to become.”
An optimistic view on the issue would be to celebrate the idea of more Blizzard games. It remains to be seen if changing the company’s operations gives us more games without killing the goose.
In September, Blizzard announced that they would stop referring to Battle.net in favor of generically branding each part of the system with the company name. We’d get Blizzard Voice or the Blizzard App to call out various components of the client. The studio cited “occasional confusion and inefficiencies” when it came to everyone writing or speaking about their products. At the time, people grumbled that it seemed like a change for change’s sake and they were disappointed that Blizzard was giving up the Battle.net name which they’d come to associate with titles like Diablo, StarCraft, and World of Warcraft.
Almost a year later, Blizzard is admitting defeat. Battle.net will stick around. The compromise is that the company will officially refer to their systems as “Blizzard Battle.net” which will hopefully cut down on any confusion and inefficiencies.
WoW Tokens, introduced in April 2015, can now be spent in other Blizzard games besides World of Warcraft. Blizzard announced that going forward, players will be able to convert their WoW Tokens into 30 days of game time for World of Warcraft, or redeem them for $15 each deposited directly into their accounts as Battle.net Balance. These funds can be used for purchasing a variety of items Blizzard offers for sale, such as Overwatch loot crates or Hearthstone card packs. Previously, the WoW Token was only useful as a way for speculators to legitimately exchange real money for in-game gold or game time, and only in the MMO. With the change to WoW Tokens, market fluctuations reflect the enhanced uses.
WoW Tokens cost $20 real money when purchased in the World of Warcraft in-game shop, so savvy traders will need to take advantage of the gold exchange rates to make a profit on the virtual coins. Careful players should note that the already brisk business for stolen Battle.net accounts will likely rise due to the WoW Token’s newly increased value.
Blizzard has shelved Titan. Blizzard’s CEO, Mike Morhaime, admitted to Polygon that the long-rumored MMO project has been canceled and the company has moved on after seven years of work. The next-gen follow-up to World of Warcraft was first reported to have development issues last year when Blizzard “reset” the team and started over on the core systems. According to senior vice president Chris Metzen, part of the decision to cancel Titan came from the success of Blizzard’s recent smaller projects like Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm.
“Maybe we can be what we want to be and inspire groups around the company to experiment, get creative, think outside the box and take chances on things that just might thrill people. Maybe they don’t have to be these colossal, summer blockbuster-type products.”
Both Morhaime and Metzen expressed that while the decision to stop development of Titan was painful, they’d rather do that as a company than put out an inferior game and damage their relationship with fans.