The Queue: The Business of Blizzard
Today I’m going to opine on some of the more business-related discussions that have been going on around the Blizzard community lately. And before we get started, insert the general statement here that while this site is obviously a fansite and wouldn’t be here without Blizzard, we don’t have any direct financial ties or obligations to them, and are by no means privy to inside financial information we can’t share, etc…
Will WoW be played differently by my kids/their generation than it is by me/my generation?
What’s odd about WoW is that this is already happening — there are people who started playing in 2004 and had a kid, and they’re now 15 and able to understand basic raiding and some of the more complex mechanics (insert people saying 12-year-olds understand it, but I’m speaking broadly of the social complexities here as well, including standard developmental milestones and not just optimization towards fight mechanics). WoW has, already, become a generational game. One generation played it, and now the other is.
Consider that for a moment. Just actually stop what you’re doing, take 30 seconds, and think about what it means that a computer game where you fight internet dragons is being played at this very moment across multiple generations, including ones that were not even in existence when the game was first released.
It’s a mind [email protected]#, isn’t it?
There is a ton to explore here, and honestly an entire book could and should be written on the subject; but to give a broad overview, there’s a few key ways that this game is going to be played by the next generation of players (including ways we’re already seeing manifest themselves):
- More mobile and less desktop. While true for all age groups, I seriously doubt a home desktop computer will be a common thing in 10 years. I fully expect tablets and integrated computing to continue growing at the rapid pace it already is. People will play WoW on their 8k TVs they picked up from Walmart for $50. I already am doing this (but it cost a lot more than $50).
- More expectation of quick endorphin release. However those good feelings come, future generations are going to expect WoW to deliver them at a faster pace than they came 15 years ago when it launched. Does it mean faster leveling? That’s part of the equation, surely; but it also means achieving more via bite-sized chunks. “Kids these days” is a common excuse, but what is really meant is “they expect different things.” WoW will need to change with that expectation.
- Strong social connection. WoW’s social tools, compared to that of social networking platforms, are somewhat of a joke. While there has been an evolution of them over the last 15 years, and they were certainly ahead of the curve when they were released (in that the guild was the primary social unit), today’s already seen a generational change towards SnapChat, Instagram, and the like. These platforms are successful because they build connections; WoW has this ability, but it doesn’t have nearly the sophistication (which doesn’t necessarily mean more complex, sophistication is best when it comes from simple UI/UX) of the platforms that the next generation already are interacting with. WoW will evolve into a more social platform than it is today, and people will consume this socialization just as they do Twitter. Consider if there was a feed of major achievements in game, and you could like when someone on your server got the Ashes of Al’ar? Some games have implemented this very very (my god terribly) poorly, but the concept of playing together and socially connected while being alone has a ton of space to grow, and will be the main thing that future players differentiate themselves on in the overall game’s experience.
With the above said, I think there’s also the general trends that will change — continual move towards cut scenes are story driven content, the eventual resting spot of PVP and finding a sweet spot in terms of particiaption vs annoyance (and ending the PVP vs PVE debate forever), and better graphics, etc… All those are things that are bound to happen and will differ for future generations. But they’re not the most interesting things, I think.
Having writen this I’m really pondering some more thoughts now. Perhaps more later.
Is Activision really bullying Blizzard into its current business practice, or is it just Blizzard trying to be more greedy?
So when you asked this last night on Twitter you called it a silly question, but I don’t think it’s silly at all. There’s been a lot of talk about this since BlizzCon, and I think it deserves some attention. I’m not sure I’ll do it justice here, but let’s give it a try.
In general, Blizzard has not been taken over by Activision. They have been one corporation for a very long time now — things don’t change overnight in any company as large as Blizzard. Blizzard itself has fundamentally different views on long-term sustainability of games and its publishing/development philosophy than Activision. These things are not just stuff that execs put up on walls; they lead directly to having two very different business and cultures.
Does Activsion have an influence over Blizzard? Of course. There are things they can do together that make each other stronger. There’s ideas, models, resources, and information that helps everyone make better informed decisions and thus better games. A lot of people look at Diablo Immortal (and god knows, yes I am weighing in here again, I’ll just shut off my Twitter feed again if I need to) and say that it’s clearly Activision’s influence and fault.
I don’t buy that for a second. While movement towards mobile gaming could very well be influenced by discussions that took place with other from different Activision projects in the room, if anyone thinks that Blizzard employees are pushovers enough to just take what they’re saying and run with it, you don’t know their hiring process or the kind of people they have (I’ve heard this particular charge leveled against them before, and not from Wylesco who ask the original good question).
Another common refrain I hear is that with Morhaime gone now, Activision is taking over. People saying that need to understand more how large corporations work, or any successful business works really. The number 2 through 10 spots on the totem pole are likely completely aligned in the trajectory of the company. There may be differences in some small spots, but you can more or less substitute any one of them in for another and no one outside the business would notice. I have been mainly absent from Blizzard Watch for two months since my Kiddo came five weeks early; anyone notice the site go to hell? Nope, it’s because folks here are aligned. And we’re 1/1000th the size of Blizzard.
So to conclude, I don’t think that Activision has influenced Blizzard in some of their recent moves. I do think that Blizzard is trying some different monetization models and is looking to grow the sphere of its influence more. With this comes necessary changes, including those that would be (correctly? incorrectly? it depends on your perspective) greedy. I’m still along for the ride. It’ll be fun.
What is on Adam’s list of business book must reads?
Matt asked this on LinkedIn the other day, and I gave him a bit of a quick answer, but last night he posed it again because Queue folk might be interested too. So here’s my list, in no particular order (and I’m sure I’m missing out on some, too):
- The Lean Startup
- Radical Candor
- Good to Great
- The Manager’s Path
- HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Emotional Intelligence
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
Q4Q: Do you think Blizzard will ever release another single player game?
Yes, I do.
A game publisher cannot ignore the massive success of games that have open worlds and integrate various storytelling, action, RPG, and strategic gameplay components. The answer is just that simple, I think.
And I’ll put money down on the fact that it’ll be a Overwatch-based game.
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