The storm at Blizzard

There’s a wonderful moment in the 2011 movie Margin Call, when Jeremy Iron’s character states:

I’m here for one reason and one reason alone. I’m here to guess what the music might do a week, a month, a year from now. That’s it. Nothing more. And standing here tonight, I’m afraid that I don’t hear – a – thing. Just… silence.

The line is in reference to the global downturn. It’s a moment that springs to mind off some of the recent Blizzard news simply because it feels like not only are times a changing for them, but there is probably more pain on the horizon for this studio.

This post is of course a reaction to the news that Heroes of the Storm (HotS) is effectively being put into maintenance mode and developers being moved onto other projects. Whilst the official announcement confirms new content was still coming but that the pace would change, in reality this probably means they are simply releasing what they have developed already before making the game stable over its last few years.

Obviously for many fans of the game this news has been met with disappointment. It makes sense to halt development of something if it’s not financially viable. Although without transparency of visibility of the financials one has to trust this wasn’t a case of ‘unrealistic targets’ being set.

This news comes off the back of the recent report from Jason Schreier at Kotaku which had already referenced cost cutting and pressure from the parent company; Activision, to produce new games and increase revenue off the back of the falling engagement numbers. And that after the PR disaster that was Blizzcon 2018.

Whilst Blizzard triumphed mobile phone games after the public outcry to Diablo Immortal, the reality is I suspect it is choosing an easier platform to develop for in the hope of generating revenue sooner. The partnership or outsourcing of the Diablo mobile game to NetEase seems to fit in with this as well. As well as porting existing games to the Nintendo Switch. As much as it is common sense porting Diablo 3 to Nintendo Switch, it will have been a relatively easy and quick venture for Blizzard. Ultimately all of these projects are much easier than bringing a new game, like Diablo 4, to market.

HotS was only 3 years old. Once upon a time you could probably regard it as risk free committing time and money to any Blizzard game. However now there will be people that have spent hundreds on HotS with no real recourse for refunds or any purchase. Even if it was recent spending in-game. I can’t help but feel that with no new games since Overwatch in 2016, World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth coming under criticism, that in many ways Blizzard games are all trending downwards. Certainly there will be other nervous Blizzard communities off the back of this news.

With their co-founder leaving two months ago and the challenges Blizzard faces it feels like a new studio might emerge and it’s games be ones that I don’t care for as much.

Whilst the big western publishers have enjoyed record revenues in recent years, therein lies the problem. And that is the unrealistic year-on-year growth that is expected. I can’t help but feel the pressure Blizzard are coming under is going to similarly affect other studios if the publishers revenues streams start to stall in the next few years.

An exile again

I’ve decided to start playing Path of Exile. Properly.  And no I’m not playing because of that announcement in some sort of defiance of Activision Blizzard. Like many just over a week ago I sat down to digest the news from Blizzcon 2018 and saw the mess over Diablo Immortal although I was more enthralled with the news of a Warcraft 3 remaster than disappointment with the latest Diablo news. I do think a mobile version of Diablo could be good but unfortunately Diablo players on PC and console have been starved of content for a long time which I think reflects in some of the reactions to Diablo Immortal.

However seeing the footage of the new Diablo made me want to play a new ARPG. And it seems like no better time than to give Path of Exile a proper go. The bit that helped seal it was the Stash Tab (extra storage) sale over this past weekend and I’ve since invested in one of Grinding Gear Games (GGG) supporter packs.

It is a game I’ve toyed with before (about 16 hours) but always tried to resist the urge to get into it as I had lots of other games on the go. However I go through phases with ARPG games where I want to play them for a bit but only for a while. Although Path of Exile’s endgame can be the pure definition of ‘grind’ I think there is enough to see even as a more casual player.

I used to enjoy picking up Marvel Heroes Online every so often but unfortunately that has now gone. And whilst I really enjoy Diablo 3 I’m loathed to invest too much into a game that is clearly in maintenance mode (I’ve already got around 400 hours between the PC and PS4 versions). Support of an online game matters and in this sense GGG seems to have delivered a very compelling and fair business model. The game is the very definition of what a GaaS should be in my mind. And I think rewarding that with some of my time and money seems a fair exchange.