Activision Blizzard is just outright being weird. It started many years ago when Activision bought Blizzard. At that point everyone declared Blizzard dead and that profits will rule the kingdom. That wasn’t… true you could say? Blizzard, under Mike Morhaime one of the co-founders of Blizzard, continued to prosper and be the one game launcher (Blizzard App, previously Battle.net) that no one complained about,
Then 2018 hit and like many things, Activision Blizzard got weird. Mike Morhaime left the company, the CFO was poached twice and they basically began mothballing their very popular game Heroes of the Storm. All the while they spent most of the year being besieged by positive press about their profits. Then, there was BlizzCon where they announced the Diablo: Immortal game to basically people pausing and going what.
Why did this happen? There is a lot to it, with many moving parts. If I had to make a guess this began in 2015 with the acquisition of King, followed by the development of Legend of Solgard to perfect leaning on outside studio development (Legend of Solgard being the only King game I’m aware of developed with a third party developer) and then moving to production of Diablo: Immortals with NetEase being the third party developer, totally transitioning their primary market from glorious PC gaming to mobile.
Let me paint that story for you.
This story starts in 2015 when Activision Blizzard purchased King, the makers of Candy Crush Saga. That was just only three years after the release of Candy Crush Saga, which back then swept the Internet and even to this day is a major money maker for King. So much so that King pulls in more than a third of Activision Blizzard’s revenue. It wasn’t a huge deal back then, a few news sites and a couple of jokes and then it basically was lost to time.
King was an online flash game titan who pivoted to mobile in 2011 with Bubble Witch Saga. BWS was a game very similar to Puzzle Bobble for the Arcade/Neo Geo and had a very addictive replay loop that was one of the few reasons for the Neo Geo’s relevancy. In 2013 they moved into the match 3 arena with Candy Crush Saga and history was made.
In 2015, the year of their acquisition, they released Paradise Bay which was developed by a studio they had acquired. Around this time, they also began developing Legends of Solgard, a RPG match 3 which was fully developed by a third party known as Snowprint. The game was more or less Puzzle Dragons and other similar games, just without the gatcha component.
What does this have to do with the weirdness that happened last year? Well let’s go back to BlizzCon in 2018. Blizzard announced that they were developing Diablo: Immortal, a mobile version of Diablo developed by the third-party studio NetEase. NetEase is basically like Tencent but without Fortnight and a fourth of their revenue. NetEase makes its own games and licenses other popular games like Minecraft, Eve Online and of course all of Blizzard’s games.
At this point people began accusing Blizzard of just reskinning an already existing game engine, comparing the gameplay to Crusaders of Light or Endless of God which are two games by NetEase with eerily similar gameplay and controls. Blizzard made note that the control scheme is so good, it’s used by many games and a counter argument came from some fans saying that the NetEase games are Diablo clones and Diablo clones are going to look and play like Diablo.
Of course I’m of the opinion that if their game engine is solid then they’re likely going to import the textures, build out the new game world and reuse what works. It’s just, sort of a thing that is likely going to happen and it’s likely going to happen a lot more moving forward, which brings us to tying all of this together.
Activision Blizzard is pivoting to mobile only. They bought King to have a powerhouse that knows how to monetize games and leveraged them to begin exploring how third-party development would work for a company that has only developed their games for first party. Activision has only had a few mobile games and they were the publisher, not developer. Blizzard has a janky mobile app for their Blizzard App (previously Battle.net) but that’s that. Hearthstone, while highly successful, isn’t mobile exclusive.
They began this process in 2015 and in 2018 they began their plans to pivot. The CFO, who likely holds the heaviest burden, likely isn’t excited about the pressure of basically retooling a factory that by all accounts is highly successful in the path it’s currently going. Heroes of the Storm was descoped likely because it will not transition to mobile cleanly, while Overwatch, World of Warcraft and Diablo will.
This explains Mike Morhaime’s departure, he wouldn’t be needed in the future they’re heading for. Two CFOs leaving is likely from the pressure of asking way too much, retooling a factory as big as Blizzard to mobile is likely something no one wants to take on. The BlizzCon story is likely one where a company has become so profits focused it’s lost sight of the players and what they care about.
If you look at it via profits only, mobile is where to go. More people have smart phones than they do gaming PCs. Mobile has a great payment system and lots of stickiness. They even said it themselves, “Do you guys not have phones?” The outlash that came with Diablo: Immortal, rightfully so since the expectation was Diablo IV and not a mobile game, was quickly censored by Activision Blizzard and it kind of makes sense why.
Blizzard fans aren’t who they’re really interested in right now. Sure, they’re great, they’re buying WoW subs that they likely rarely use and spending $150 on Hearthstone cards every release like clockwork, but they’re not the new audience. The audience that powered King’s 1.59 Billion (2016) revenue, but now with even more knowledge to power their massive hand in battle.
That is why they don’t care that you’re not getting Diablo IV. That’s why they don’t care that you’re mad that Heroes of the Storm and it’s successful esports life went down the tubes. It’s why they don’t care about much of what people think they should care about. They’re going for mobile now and the PC space is to them worth as much as it is to Tencent’s Fortnight, a margin of the total players and their games need to run on potatoes to get as many people in the door as possible.
This, of course, is all conjecture and facts, which could be right or wrong but time will tell. I forecast that Blizzard will announce Overwatch mobile sooner than later. WoW will likely get its own version on mobile (a mobile only WoW if you will) or will actually get ported to mobile, considering many mobile MMORPGs are very advanced.
Blizzard fans are going to keep being sad and upset in the meantime. Look at posts like this, just from the other day (archive). People have emotions, but if you ask yourself – are these the future customers of the company and if that answer is no, then it makes sense why things look weird for everyone right now.
Titans come and go and we might either see a great transformation or the fall, time will tell. What do you think? Blizzard is going to come out and be super awesome or do you think that they’re just randomly throwing darts at the “probably good ideas” board? Let us know in the comments below.