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There have been many high-profile departures from Blizzard over the past years, with a couple happening just in the past month or so, and talk surrounding them and Blizzard's decline/change/fate have also been increasing consistently. This lead to IGN's Kat Bailey putting together a special report focusing on all of the departures and the current situation at Blizzard, talking to various developers both still working at the company and that have left it, to get a clear picture. The piece is very in-depth and takes a broader look at what's been happening, outside of the regularly heard doom and gloom attributed to the recent departures. We'll get into some of the highlights of the article, but if you're even a little interested in the topic you should absolutely take some time and read the full article over on IGN.
Using the most recent Blizzard departure, Jeff Kaplan, as a starting point, Bailey dives into the topic with both anonymous developers still working at Blizzard and on the record game directors that worked at the company for over 10 years. The reasons for some of the departures vary greatly, from simple fatigue from working on a single game/franchise for a long time, to big opportunities in the market today and, yes, those that left because they felt Blizzard was/has been declining for a while now.
Here are the big topics covered in the very in-depth article, each affecting the current situation and departures:
The dry period after the success of Overwatch and Hearthstone and following renaissance. 2018 BlizzCon as a (bad) turning point. Lowered developer profit-sharing as there are no new releases. The loss of many millions of monthly active users. The "incubation projects" that were supposed to come up with new ideas had 2 games cancelled and none announced so far. High profile developers leaving to found their own indie studios (Second Dinner, Frost Giant, Lightforge Games, Secret Door, Moonshot) or just other projects like Metzen's Warchief Gaming. Big influx of venture capital and the major increase in game-related venture funds impacted the creation of the above studios. The ease of poaching developers from Blizzard/them leaving has increased significantly because of a presumed "decline" narrative.
Bigger focus on controlling spending after Mike Morhaime's departure, including layoffs. Blizzard are still very much defending "editorial independence" and separating their developers from financial talk, a "firewall" is there to preserve the development culture. Support service and esports under bigger pressure with less funding, as a result of Blizzard Human Resources getting consolidated into Activision's. Developers sometimes have to chip in on the support and esports side, helping with events and even writing patch notes. Better times are ahead with Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 launcher, but Diablo Immortal has the potential to be even bigger, possibly rivaling Call of Duty Mobile.
The article goes into MUCH more detail on each point above and many more beside them, and it's pretty much a must-read for anyone interested in the goings on at Blizzard in the past years, so head on over to IGN and give it a read!
Blizzard held its first earnings call of 2021 yesterday and here are the highlights.
Activision Blizzard significantly exceeded its prior outlook for the first quarter, delivering very strong growth across their largest franchises. The company wants to hire more than 2,000 developers over the next 2 years, including tripling the size of certain franchise teams by the end of next year as compared to 2019. The Warcraft franchise maintained its strong momentum, while Blizzard's team continued to make good progress on a rich pipeline and extending key franchises to mobile. Blizzard had 27 million monthly active users (MAUs). Shadowlands continued to drive strong results following its record-setting release in November, with first-quarter franchise net bookings growing sharply year-over-year (Y/Y). The Shadowlands expansion has built on the substantial increase in WoW's scale since the launch of Classic in 2019. WoW saw strong reach, engagement, and participation in value-added services, along with a particularly high number of new players joining the community for the first time, boosted by initiatives to enhance the onboarding experience. Blizzard is building on this momentum with further content for the modern game and the upcoming introduction of The Burning Crusade Classic. Hearthstone's Forged in the Barrens expansion is on track to deliver expansion-over-expansion net bookings growth for the second consecutive release. Ahead of the launch later this year, Diablo 2: Resurrected saw very positive feedback during early testing in April and online viewership of the alpha test was the highest ever for a Blizzard game test. Diablo Immortal entered its second phase of testing and is on track for global release later this year. According to President and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Alegre, Diablo IV will advance the art of the action RPG genre. Source
Jeff Kaplan today announced he's leaving Blizzard after 19 years. Overwatch leadership has been passed on to Aaron Keller, a Blizzard veteran and founding member of the Overwatch team, who is the new Game Director.
We want to let you know that Jeff Kaplan has decided to leave the company after a long and storied career here, and that Aaron Keller, a Blizzard veteran and founding member of the Overwatch team, will be stepping in as game director.
Aaron has been a critical part of the Overwatch team and a key driver in creating the vision for the game. He helped create Overwatch as an original member of the team, and as an 18-year veteran at Blizzard, he has worked side-by-side with Jeff for a long time, not only in building Overwatch but previously in helping to build WoW as well. A few words from Aaron:
Greetings, Overwatch Community,
Jeff’s been a great leader, mentor, and friend, and he knows how much we’re going to miss him. I’ve been lucky to work alongside him and the rest of the Overwatch team for many years in building something that continues to inspire people all around the world, and I’m honored to carry the torch forward.
I love Overwatch. From our first pieces of concept art, to the first maps we built, to the first time I was able to run around as Tracer (who at that early point shot laser beams out of her eyes), this game has just clicked with me. I love its inspiring, hopeful, beautiful world worth fighting for. I love its characters—larger than life, colorful, powerful, and global. And most of all, I love the fast, fluid gameplay requiring teamwork, situational awareness, and quick decision making.
I also recognize that making games at Blizzard has always been a group effort and never about just one point of view. Together with the rest of the team I feel fortunate that we have a deep bench of development and creative leaders, numerous veteran Blizzard artists and designers, and some extremely talented new blood as well—along with tons of support throughout the company for the live game and for Overwatch 2.
Speaking of Overwatch 2, development is continuing at a good pace. We have an exceptional vision we’re executing on, the reaction from many of you to the updates we shared at BlizzConline thrilled us, and we have exciting reveals planned for this year and beyond as we ramp to launch. We’ll be sharing more frequent updates about Overwatch 2 progress and new features in the live game with you all very soon.
While I have no pretenses about filling Jeff’s shoes, I’m excited to step into the game director role and continue to be part of a team that’s putting all of its heart, talent, and focus into the next iteration of Overwatch, and I’m honored to continue serving this incredible community.
We’re also tremendously grateful for Jeff’s contributions over the years. Please see a personal note from Jeff below:
i am leaving Blizzard Entertainment after 19 amazing years.
it was truly the honor of a lifetime to have the opportunity to create worlds and heroes for such a passionate audience. i want to express my deep appreciation to everyone at blizzard who supported our games, our game teams and our players. but i want to say a special thanks to the wonderful game developers that shared in the journey of creation with me.
never accept the world as it appears to be. always dare to see it for what it could be. i hope you do the same.
You’ll hear more from Aaron and the rest of the Overwatch team soon. In the meantime, please join us in thanking Jeff, and in welcoming Aaron into his new role.
In a somewhat surprising announcement, it seems David Kim has left Blizzard Entertainment earlier today, as spotted by WRHeronkill. After heading up the Diablo 4 systems team since 2017, Kim moved on to the Principal Game Designer role for World of Warcraft in the latter half of 2020, and has now announced he is leaving the company:
In the comments of the post we can see many employees saying goodbye and wishing Kim luck in his future endeavors.
It seems the WoW job either didn't quite work out or, more likely, was just temporary to help ship Shadowlands and get it through the launch period. Kim has been with Blizzard since 2007 and was one of the main architects behind StarCraft 2, in particular the balancing side of the game. After that he moved on to Heroes of the Storm for a while, went back to SC2, and then Diablo 4 where he spend 3 years. It seems he wasn't quite ready to work on Hearthstone and Overwatch, just to get his "worked on all major Blizzard franchises" ticket.
We wish him well in any future endeavors, and will be checking the roster over at Dreamhaven for any new additions periodically.
It seems David Kim is the Jack of all trades in Blizzard, as he's once again moved to a new franchise within the company! The Diablo 4 Lead Systems Designer, who was very front and center at the BlizzCon D4 announcement, has moved to the position of Principal Game Designer for World of Warcraft:
Kim has been moving around a lot, with his longest stint coming from StarCraft 2, where he started at Blizzard back in 2007, jumping in to Heroes of the Storm, back to SC2 and then Diablo 4 most recently.
On the D4 side of things, we're not quite sure what this means, as it seems unlikely the job was "done" and so Kim could move on, and it's a lot more likely he was needed in WoW due to Shadowlands crunch (as he started the job back in September), since it was all hands on deck to get the expansion out the door. It seems likely that Kim will stay in WoW for a while at least, and it's unclear if he'll be returning to Diablo, which doesn't seem like a good thing for the 4th installment, but as it's still a long way away, it might not be that big of an issue. As spotted by Rhykker, his replacement on the D4 team seems to be Joe Piepiora, who was promoted from within the D4 team.
On the WoW side of things, some players have been complaining about the game having moved towards Diablo systems in the past, with World Quests and especially the RNG nature of loot, so they might not be too happy with this particular move, but Kim has been very good at balance, coming from a very heavy StarCraft background. The Principal Game Designer job title itself means working on the core systems, and if we had to hazard a guess, we'd say classes and their balancing, whether via gear or other systems, might be one of Kim's focuses.