Tag Archives: Blizzard

‘A thin blanket against the cold reality’

Michael Futter, Polygon:

The sad truth is that the die was cast at Activision Blizzard months, if not years, before these layoffs were first hinted. What makes this so exceptionally painful is that there is an understandable mental link between layoffs and poor financial performance. It’s nigh impossible to rationalize or justify 800 people being shown the door as a company reports record sales.

And yet, here we are. Poor planning, a failure to adapt to current market conditions and consumer desires, and too much investment in trends (like toys to life games) has left Activision Blizzard in a place where it needs to make drastic cuts. That’s a thin blanket against the cold reality that executive pay is broken and now hundreds of people are out of work.

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Activision Blizzard cuts hundreds of jobs despite ‘record revenue’ year

Allegra Frank, reporting for Polygon:

Before announcing the layoffs, Activision Blizzard noted that it posted record revenues for the 2018 fiscal year. According to its fourth-quarter earnings report, the company made $7.26B in physical and digital sales, compared to $7.16B in 2017. But CEO Bobby Kotick explained that the numbers failed to meet expectations.

“While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential,” Kotick said in the report. During the Q&A portion of the investor call, he described the layoffs as a “top-five career-difficult moment for me personally.”

Despite the self-proclaimed underwhelming revenues and the layoffs, Activision Blizzard said that it plans to expand its development teams on key, internally owned games (like Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and Overwatch) by 20 percent. Funding this will come through “de-prioritizing initiatives that are not meeting expectations and reducing certain non-development and administrative-related costs across the business,” according to its fourth-quarter fiscal earnings release. Other non-core positions will be eliminated to rededicate resources toward beefing up its development slate, the team said on the call.

This news is awful. No way around it. Record revenue and cutting 800 jobs. Sure, increasing margins, non-core development, loss of Bungie, blah blah. But 800 jobs?! Banking on a single IP (Destiny) and not anticipating what CEO Bobby Kotick called a “top-five career-difficult moment for me personally” is insane. And how is the loss of 800 jobs not number one?

Per Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier, Kotick took home 28+ million in 2017. I get the reasoning behind highly paid executives; I wouldn’t want their jobs. But to say the loss of 800 jobs is “top-five” is an insult. It should be number one, with a bullet.

I feel for the employees. I feel for fans. I don’t see a great outlook for core Blizzard properties outside of World of Warcraft — a recurring revenue behemoth. And that’s sad. I would have loved to see the A/B 800 reallocated to other Blizzard franchises. If the focus is entirely on a Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Candy Crush, I fear the end of Blizzard as we know it.

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Activision-Blizzard Employees Brace For Massive Layoffs

Jason Schreier, reporting for Kotaku:

This news comes after a tumultuous year for the publisher, which consists of two entities, Activision and Blizzard. Both Activision and Blizzard operate autonomously but are governed by the same C-suite of executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick (whose salary in 2017 was roughly $28.6 million). 

At Blizzard, 2018 was a year full of cost-cutting, under chief operating officer Armin Zerza, whose mandate has been to reduce spending and produce more games. (Other than expansions and remasters, Blizzard has not released a new game since Overwatch in May 2016.) Employees all across Blizzard have been told to cut their budgets and spend less money, and there’s general concern about Activision’s creeping influence as the company looks to make more financially-driven decisions. In October, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime stepped down, to be replaced by Blizzard veteran J. Allen Brack—not as CEO, but, notably, as president. In December, Blizzard abruptly killed the Heroes of the Storm esports program and cut down the development team for that game, its least successful.

People who work or have worked at Blizzard told me that they expect Tuesday’s layoffs to be primarily in non-game-development departments, such as publishing, marketing, and sales. Some of those jobs and roles may then fall to Activision proper, further reducing Blizzard’s autonomy.

My recent piece Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms amounted to what I’d consider a nothing-burger. I’d considered the question “what now for Activision?” after they ended their partnership with Bungie, and sought an answer. After laying everything out, short of spelling doom, I didn’t really net out with much other than an allusion of the company leveraging Blizzard’s IP to build a paid platform:

This is certainly a “let’s spend Activision Blizzard’s money” post, but short of spelling doom for Activision Blizzard with the rise of Fortnite, departure of Bungie, and Microsoft’s “Netflix of gaming”, Activision Blizzard needs a model that will continue to drive revenue in a PC world without the friction of a hardware platform. If the battle is lost, Activision Blizzard titles join the ranks of third-party titles vying for the top-spot on other launchers and platforms.

This news of layoffs is what I was afraid of, and I think it will extend passed Activision employees.

At this rate, I see the brand “Activision” as an albatross around Blizzard’s neck. Sadly, at the expense of the employees, they should shed the name Activision, divert resources to Blizzard, and focus on Blizzard’s colorful core and new IP.

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20 Years of StarCraft

Kosta Andreadis, writing for IGN:

In the mid-to-late 1990s, the real-time strategy (RTS) genre was not only popular but ubiquitous. RTS games of various styles and settings were everywhere, and a company named Blizzard Entertainment was at the forefront. The studio had become a household name with gamers thanks – primarily – to three titles: 1994’s Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, 1995’s Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and an action role-playing game released on the final day of 1996 (and developed by Blizzard North), Diablo. These games cemented Blizzard as a company that made high quality cinematic story-driven experiences that were fun, accessible, and infinitely repayable.

With StarCraft, its third real-time strategy game, Blizzard would leave behind the fantasy world of the breakout Warcraft franchise and set its sights on the distant future. It would take players to a science-fiction setting where humans and strange alien races engaged in isometric high-tech warfare. And the studio would go on a journey of its own; in the time between Warcraft II and StarCraft’s launch in 1998 the look and feel of the game would change drastically – alongside its story, characters, vehicles and other player-controlled units. This is the story of that evolution… and the success beyond.

I remember seeing the original StarCraft trailer for the first time. If memory serves, the trailer was included in the WarCraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal expansion set CD-ROM. At the time, the trailer felt like something out of a Ridley Scott film, only grander. Comedic space goons alarmed and destroyed by a large, brooding, mysterious craft. I was bewildered.

Andreadis has put together a tight, well-written retrospective of StarCraft. If you enjoyed the original in the late ‘90s, there are lots of great bits of development insight in here.

The following might be my favorite bit:

Compared to the advances made in digital recording technology available today, to create the sounds and music for StarCraft the team made use of a suite of external synthesizers and outboard hardware, utilising more traditional recording techniques. “Early versions of some of the sounds were pretty cringeworthy,” Glenn admits. “Certain units required more experimentation to get something really unique and special. The first version of the Hydralisk was just plain silly until we figured out how to make them ‘talk’ without words.” This experimentation led to some interesting sources for what many consider to be some of the best sound effects for an RTS of any era.

“Lots of units in the game started with voice as the origin; our voices,” Glenn reveals. “Though most are tweaked beyond recognition. We also used voice for sound effects, such as the Marines’ walkie talkie static. Voice and mouth sounds, like whispers, hisses, and breathing were a big contributor to creating source material to be processed into various strange effects, sweeteners, ambiences and even in the music. One of the chittering Zergling sounds is just me grabbing my cheeks and flapping them open and closed quickly. Processed with pitch and other effects afterwards.”

Unfortunately, no details on the Nintendo 64 port.

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On Strike Teams, Design Councils, and Braintrusts

Philip Kollar, Polygon:

Though Blizzard had split into multiple teams working on different games, part of Metzen’s approach to keep the culture together was to ensure that those teams still worked together in some ways. To accomplish this, the developer came up with the idea of “strike teams.”

“A bunch of people who are specifically not on the team for a game, who don’t have any sort of connection to the game, come in and look at your game,” says StarCraft 2 director Dustin Browder. “They go, ‘Wow, that’s dumb! I hate it!’ They’re not nice. We don’t want them to be nice. At some point, these games are going to go into the wild, and you’re going to ask people for real money for them. Strike teams are supposed to come in and go, ‘This is really good! This is really bad! I’m not going to tell you how to fix it, but you’ve got to do something.’ And then they walk off.”

In addition to strike teams, games frequently appear before Blizzard’s “design council,” a gathering of all of the game directors and lead designers throughout the company. Between strike teams and appearances before the design council, one thing regarding Titan became clear: It wasn’t shaping up.

If Blizzard’s cancellation of Titan reminded me of how Pixar handles things, “strike teams” and the “design council” certainly sound like a Pixar Braintrust.

Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace, Creativity, Inc.:

The Braintrust, which meets every few months or so to assess each movie we’re making, is our primary delivery system for straight talk. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another. People who would feel obligated to be honest somehow feel freer when asked for their candor; they have a choice about whether to give it, and thus, when they do give it, it tends to be genuine. The Braintrust is one of the most important traditions at Pixar. It’s not foolproof—sometimes its interactions only serve to highlight the difficulties of achieving candor—but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal. The Braintrust sets the tone for everything we do.

In many ways, it is no different than any other group of creative people—within it, you will find humility and ego, openness and generosity. It varies in size and purpose, depending on what it has been called upon to examine. But always, its most essential element is candor. This isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky idea—without the critical ingredient that is candor, there can be no trust. And without trust, creative collaboration is not possible.

I’m sure most successful companies have strike teams/design councils/Braintrusts of their own. It’s just not every day you get to hear about it from the best of the best.

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Sacrifice in the name of quality: Blizzard cancels Titan

Blizzard co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime, as quoted by Polygon:

It’s always really, really hard to make those kind of decisions. It was hard when we canceled Warcraft Adventures. It was hard when we canceled StarCraft Ghost. But it has always resulted in better-quality work.

I have a new found appreciation for calling it quits on high-stakes, heavily invested projects. Apple, Nintendo, Pixar — companies I deeply admire — share a singular characteristic: Sacrifice in the name of quality. The iPod OS came from Pixo, a company founded by two ex-Apple Newton developers. The history of the Animal Crossing franchise is rooted in the short-lived Nintendo 64DD. Even Pixar knows a thing or two about canceling huge investments.

Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc., on the cancellation of Newt:

There are some who will read this and conclude that putting this film into production in the first place was a mistake. An untested director, an unfinished script—it’s easy to look back, after the shutdown, and say that those factors alone should have dissuaded us at the outset. But I disagree. While it cost us time and money to pursue, to my mind it was worth the investment. We learned better how to balance new ideas with old ideas, and we learned that we had made a mistake in not getting very explicit buy-in from all of Pixar’s leaders about the nature of what we were trying to do. These are lessons that would serve us very well later as we adopted new software and changed some of our technical processes. While experimentation is scary to many, I would argue that we should be far more terrified of the opposite approach. Being too risk-averse causes many companies to stop innovating and to reject new ideas, which is the first step on the path to irrelevance. Probably more companies hit the skids for this reason than because they dared to push boundaries and take risks—and, yes, to fail.

To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.

While Titan is (sadly) added to the list of cancelled Blizzard projects (it still pains me to think of StarCraft: Ghost), I commend the company for sacrificing in the name of quality. I have always deeply admired Blizzard.

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Braving Blizzard and inclusion in games

Todd Harper writing for Polygon:

Meanwhile, the mere presence of prominent and respectfully portrayed women characters, characters of color, and queer characters is viewed as inherently political and thus anti-fun. It’s another subtle, vicious knife in the side of us marginalized people who play games that says: you’re second class. You’re less valuable. If you show up, somehow you’re removing the fun for everyone else.

This construction where it’s impossible to have “fun” and “inclusion” side-by-side by reflecting diversity in your games is a total illusion, a mirage thrown up to distract us from the simple fact that they just don’t want to make that effort.

Harper quoting Rob Pardo of Blizzard Entertainment earlier in the opinion piece:

“We’re not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that,” he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.

Pardo notes that “because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books,” Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that “is offensive to, I think, some women.”

I find Pardo’s comments about Blizzard’s portrayal of women interesting when looking at the Hearthstone tutorial, granted the HS team may be far removed from Pardo’s view.

A very brave piece. Well done.

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Welcoming to new players

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

In most games of this genre you earn currency which is used to buy items, potions and buffs that make your character more powerful. Picking the right items at the right time for your character is a huge part of both League of Legends and Dota 2.

They were discussing the idea of removing the item shop altogether, and one of the game’s designers was becoming, as Browder put it “emotionally distressed” at the idea of removing an aspect of the game that’s a key part of the genre.

There were people on the team against the idea of an item shop and a gold system, as they just allowed those in the lead to remain in the lead and crush the other side. It added a layer of complexity that may not be welcoming to new players.

Worked well for Hearthstone.

I’ve been dreaming of a cross-over title since the original Warcraft III teaser, initially mistaking the rain of the Burning Legion as Zerg.

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Humanity in Hearthstone

Humanity in Hearthstone

How Blizzard is changing the diversity game.


 It is an understatement to say that diversity in gaming has become a hot topic as of late. Themes of sexuality, racial prominence, and gender depiction are now a hotbed for passionate discussion across developer, journalist, and player communities.

From 2012 to 2013, the number of games showcased at E3 featuring a playable female protagonist rose from 2% to 6%. Reluctance to include the theme of sexuality is being countered more frequently by games such as Gone HomeThe Last of Us, and Mass Effect. This is clear evidence that players are yearning for character dynamic and identity in their games. Video games are a medium that exudes immersion more than any other, and in turn becomes the perfect platform for sympathetic and relatable storytelling.

On April 16, 2014, Blizzard Entertainment released their latest foray Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to the iPad. As a free-to-play (F2P) digital collectible card game (CCG) built by a AAA developer that prides itself on the promise of polish with a highly reputable back-catalog, it is an extremely inviting and sure to be incredibly popular download. From testing with a PC/Mac open-bata to trickling the iOS version out to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada prior to world-wide launch, Blizzard was sure this game would be a massive hit.

At the news of Hearthstone for iPad’s launch, I was extremely excited to see what the buzz was about. After rave reviews across the industry, I could not wait to invest in this new Blizzard title that seemed perfectly suited for the tablet platform. Upon launching the game, I assumed I would be given the opportunity to select/create a character and possibly build a deck. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Ultimately, Hearthstone does not include a single protagonist. From Orcs to Elves, Druids to Barbarians, players are eventually offered the chance to unlock a collection of Heroes to chose from. Many veteran CCG players will understand this at the onset. What they may not realize is that they will be forced to begin their Hearthstone experience in a tutorial as Human Mage, Jaina Proudmoore. A female.

This tutorial consists of six ‘missions,’ each introducing details about the game’s mechanics and subtleties. Each ‘mission’ sets the protagonist Jaina against an eccentric opponent, throwing out comical comments that unfold their caricature against a backdrop of the colorful and cartoony tones of the Warcraft universe. Jaina faces her six opponents in the following order:

Six males versus one female. This alone is a powerful statement that will likely slip into the unconscious if not willingly observed.

Sex aside, characters banter back and forth throughout matches. Each foe’s optimistic attitude is met with Jaina’s cautious yet powerful tone. The addition of voice-acting helps build a bond between player and protagonist. Like reading through Katniss Everdeen’s struggles in The Hunger Games, it is nearly impossible not to build a trusting connection with Jaina, rooting for her to defeat each of the tutorial’s quirky baddies.

The initial tutorial took me roughly one hour to complete. Once finished, I felt an attachment to Jaina. Not only had we defeated six opposing (male) Heroes without fail together, we had conquered the powerhouse that is Illidan Stormrage even though the game told us we couldn’t. (A comical, clever and original design choice)

While Jaina and I must spend more time together in order to unlock additional playable Heroes and decks, I am not racing to change protagonists. This tutorial has certainly bonded me to Jaina and is likely to do the same for most players: young and old, male and female.

As subtle and simple as it may appear, Blizzard has made a bold move as a AAA developer in building a tutorial showcasing a powerful female protagonist against six male rivals. Forcing hardcore veterans and casual novices to learn from, protect, and assist a female protagonist in what has the potential to become the largest cross-platform game is a great leap for the cause of diversity in gaming; however, the job is far from done.

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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is currently available for PC, Mac and iPad.


Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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