Massively Overthinking: Are you boycotting Blizzard?


Tyler’s piece this week about the Blizzard he loved being dead actually brought tears to my eyes. It hurts to lose a game and a studio you loved, but it hurts even more when it’s your own conscience making the call to step away. After all, a boycott of Blizzard, even a mild one, isn’t some petty thing for an MMORPG gamer. It’s something my family has been grappling with the last week or so as we try to reorient our relationship with a company that isn’t what we thought it was. It’s even something we’ve discussed on the site – how do we handle coverage of problematic companies? Is how we’ve handled it the last decade sufficient, or do we need a new approach? Heck, how many non-problematic games companies are left?

Let’s address it in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Are you boycotting Blizzard? And what exactly are your terms? What does Blizzard need to do to change your mind?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Let me preface this with a few things: I am/was set to do a piece on Overwatch for the Switch release. I have a lot of friends/peers from countries mainland China has been aggressive with. And I know people who work at the company and had spoken to the direct relative of an employee the day before we got this prompt, just in passing.

All this being said, despite my disappointment, I hadn’t considered a boycott of Blizzard. Not covering Overwatch at release was in the back of my mind, as between this and some work issues made it feel like covering the game in the current climate would make it hard for me to focus on the game alone and might feel odd on our site if I tried to ignore what was going on. The plan was, if it seemed feasible, that I might comment on how much the playerbase and Switch community was discussing the issue during release.

Blizzard’s response to its rather harsh first reaction is better. The reminder that Blitzchung had agreed to rules that stated politics should remain outside the gaming scene does make his punishment legit, except that Blizzard hadn’t applied this rule to everyone (it since has, retroactively). That’s disheartening, though I applaud the American University team for bowing out after recognizing that Blizzard wasn’t going to actually enforce its rules.

Like many of you, I have a lot of other things going on in my life aside from video games: personal issues, family issues, social drama, work drama, making sense of our current political issues and actually trying to do something about it (US citizens, never forget that your elected officials get their job because of you), just figuring out what I want to do for lunch… I don’t want to deal with this kind of stuff in my hobby. I’m at work nine hours and my commute is at least three hours round trip (often closer to four). I am tired when I get off, and between prepping for the next day and trying to maintain my health, my gaming time is often reduces to fits and starts. Being able to just sit down and play something on my computer or TV without feeling like I should be studying Japanese or doing more weight training is rare.

But I still try to engage. I hate constantly fighting for things that may seem unimportant, but sometimes it pays off. We see companies simplifying basic controls and offering their games across multiple platforms. We see companies starting to curb certain pay-to-win mechanics get dialed down by certain companies. We see companies embracing diversity and toning down stereotypes. Blizzard has been this company to me, multiple times, even if I’m not always wholly won over by its mechanics. If anything, Blizzard has shown it’s able to make good things more acceptable to gamers and non-gamers alike, and I want to reward it for that.

But this current Hong Kong issue really muddies the waters, and I’m still watching from the sidelines and making up my mind as I get more information. That being said, I don’t currently have a review copy of the game and I won’t pre-order it. I’m hoping for just a little more from Blizzard to make things right, but I feel like enough action’s been taken that it may get there.

Andy McAdams: I am, in fact, boycotting. I was playing WoW, having a lot of fun just screwing around without any real goal and am really excited for the Vulpera allied race. When all of this broke, I didn’t knee-jerk cancel; I waited until we had discussed and digested the rest of the situation. Ultimately, I decided I need to cancel my account and listed the handling of the blitzchung situation as the reason. The days of silence followed by the corporate-bullshit-please-don’t-ban-us-China “response” only served to reaffirm for me that Blizzard didn’t care about the larger moral and ethical repercussions of its actions. That response wasn’t intended for anyone but China to show Blizz was willing to walk to the CCP line no matter the moral, ethical or goodwill cost.

It makes my blood boil when I consider the implications of that response.

What would it take for me to lift the boycott? I’ll be honest in that I don’t really know. Blizzard has shown its true colors and pulled back the curtain on its moral and ethical decay. Undoing the bans isn’t enough. I want to see a plan to shows me how the studio is going to do better, how I’m still important to it as a player and customer. I want to see a plan that shows that it can live the values and morals it so easily espouses in its games. Hell, maybe I just want to see that Blizzard still has a heart hidden in there somewhere.

Because right now, all I see is greed and greed and greed and greed and greed.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I tend to think of my consumer boycotts as being more for my conscience than anything else. There are quite a lot of companies I won’t patronize, some much easier than others. It saddens me to say it but Blizzard has become one of them now, and it’s painful, not so much for WoW anymore but for Diablo and Overwatch, as those games are staples in my household. My husband is crushed to walk away from Overwatch, even temporarily. I would’ve happily bought anything with the words “Diablo” stamped on it – yes, even Immortal. It’ll hurt having to cover these things for MOP but not being able to play or put my heart into it.

But as I said before – and have argued rather recently – I’m not into canceling people/whatever forever. I give second chances. When the situation and information changes, my opinion and actions will too. Companies change – for the better and the worse. Blizzard can turn this around. And we’ll be watching for that.

Right now, though? I haven’t seen any actual empathy or regret from Blizzard, just doubling down. It hasn’t said sorry. It’s not even asking for forgiveness. It’s got a long way to go to get back my loyalty as a player or my respect as a journalist.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX): I am not boycotting Blizzard. But before anyone accuses me of being the counter-cultural edgy-boi of the staff, it’s because I haven’t been playing Blizzard games since last November. I stopped playing Blizzard games after BlizzCon 2018. The Diablo Immortal announcement was the signal for me to take a long hard look at my relationship with the company and its games and put it where it belongs: my past.

Starcraft, Diablo, and Warcraft 2 were super fun games, but they were from my middle school days – days when the company was smaller and more humble. I looked up to the people. But those folks are gone now; the vision’s changed.

I did not stop playing Blizzard games from hatred; I realized that it wasn’t the company that made it special for me but rather the people. When big names like Metzen, Brode, and many of the other OG left the company, the original vision went with them. To me, if they left, then it’s my signal to head out too.

Blizzard will always churn out some high-quality games. But behind the CG, polish, and mass appeal, do these games still have the same soul as its early games? Without the original people, I argue that they do not, and I doubt any of their games ever will again.

To be the hipster, “I stopped playing Blizzard games before it was cool.”

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): This whole thing has brought a jolt of sudden awareness to a whole lot of places I get my tech and entertainment, and more importantly, it has forced me to parse how deep the China hooks go for a lot of things. It’s been a wakeup call.

So, with that said, I have been very much scorched earth: Blizzard account deleted, Battlenet launcher expunged, and seeking a suitable charity to donate towards the Hong Kong protests movement as well as other things I can do, no matter how meager, to send a fiscal message or impress upon companies and elected officials to sever the threads. In that same vein, no less than a full removal of all Chinese business connections will see me even look at purchasing Blizzard anything.

I realize this is far easier for me to do, seeing as how I have nowhere near the emotional connection to Blizzard games that others have, but I also cannot personally reconcile taking any less action than burning the cancer out.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): This is a really complex question for me, because… well, covering World of Warcraft is part of my job. Not in the abstract sense, but in the sense that this is literally one of my columns here on the site. Which means that the ethics aren’t just about my personal point of view but also about doing that job.

On the one hand, cancelling my subscription now wouldn’t do much of anything. It’s on a six-month cycle, and my current time doesn’t run out until after BlizzCon. It’d be a point of protest, but the timing would be weak. And again, there’s my job to consider. If it weren’t a professional part of my life, there’d be no question there; I would be completely on board with the boycott… except that again, it wouldn’t actually matter because I would have unsubscribed months ago because Battle for Azeroth is awful and I can think of better things to do with my time. Code Vein ain’t playing itself.

It’s also a complex situation because one of the things that I’ve talked about in work chat is the fact that at least for me, this doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere. I think that some of the savagery of the response is that for a lot of people, Blizzard was on some level different than… well, pick your bugbear and go with it. This wasn’t some faceless corporation; this was Blizzard. This is a company that’s fundamentally about art and making great games and trying to be cool and we like them. Sure, they might be clueless and make bad design decisions, but they’re not… well, this.

Speaking purely for myself, on the other hand… this is who Blizzard is. This is what the company has been for a long time. This was not a change that happened suddenly or unexpectedly so much as one that finally reached a flashpoint and was put on display, something that feels less tragic and more inevitable. And I’m sad for the people who had more faith in the studio than this having that faith discarded rather crudely by the people in charge of it, even if I’m not surprised that it happened. Just because the act was always an act doesn’t make the people who believed in it somehow wrong for believing, and having faith that this company was better than it is just shows how badly Blizzard has managed to let everyone down.

At this point, my status is purely one of wait-and-see. I’ve long figured out that there are going to be companies I don’t like bankrolling games I do, and deciding on a case-by-case basis where to invest my money and what to keep at arm’s length. That’s no different here. I don’t know what’s going to be announced on November 1st beyond the broadest strokes, and I’ve made the decision to defer decisions until that actually happens, since nothing I do now is going to make much of an impact otherwise. (There’s a reason I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics here… well, all right, there are several reasons, but there are self-motivated reasons on top of that.) It adds an extra layer of cynicism to what I’m already viewing through a critical lens.

But if you’re going to ask what Blizzard could do to make it up to me… well, that ship sailed a long time ago, and it has subsequently docked at the new port and been scuttled to serve as a luxurious hatchery for cod. Like I said, this is already who Blizzard has been for some time. There’s no point at which I can stop seeing it this way because this isn’t the point when I started seeing it this way. The bed has been made and the studio will continue to lie in it. Maybe if BlizzCon is a nonstop festival of contrition and apology for decisions made over years and years, but I’m not holding my breath.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): For me, it was an easy decision to walk away from World of Warcraft over Blizzard’s recent actions. You have to pick your battles, especially with faulty MMO studios, but this seems like a pretty important one that needs to be heard and responded to correctly by the studio. Blizzard’s hubris and misplaced priorities were on full display with the Hearthstone decision (and the non-apology response), and I think that a boycott is an effective way to show Blizzard and its parent company that it can’t operate like this without consequences.

How long will I stay away? For a while, at least. This isn’t a “forever” thing with me, but a moment of personal discipline that I hope will prod Blizzard into doing the right thing and changing its course. I’ll be watching very closely at BlizzCon to see if the studio will cling to its pride and arrogance… or show that it truly listens to and cares about its community above the profit line.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): This is a really rough one for me. First, I’ve not ever been a fan of Blizzard games. It’s not that I thought that Blizzard ever made bad games; it just never made games for me. Second, Blizzard is a corporation. Its job is to make money, and in this case, make as much money as it can for its shareholders. I expect corporations to do terrible things because their goals have nothing to do with the welfare of humans. I’m not excusing it, mind you. I think the welfare of human beings should be written in the bylaws of all corporations, but I don’t make the rules. Therefore, when I hear that Blizzard is siding with an oppressive regime, I’m not at all surprised because it stands to lose a lot of money if it sides with humanity.

Here’s my conflict: Where is the line? So, Blizzard sides with China regarding activism in support of Hong Kong. It’s a terrible thing, so I boycott that. However, was created in a country that is a strong ally with Russia. Russia violently suppresses LGBTQ+ rights and speech. I guess I can’t play World of Tanks now. And don’t even get me started on the US. In the end, we might only be left with Canadian game developers, and right now, BioWare’s social currency is tanking.

It’s highly disappointing when you find out that the community that you’ve loved for over a decade is actually a money-hungry monster, and I support anyone who wants to boycott its games. But personally, I’ve just come to accept that all my favorite games are made by evil overlords. I support a company on the merit of the game and less on its politics mostly because there is very little that I can actually do about it.

That all said, it was super ballsy for Blizzard employees to stage that walkout, and I wish more corporate employees, in general, would voice their disagreement in the same way.

Mia DeSanzo (@neschria): I had been on the fence about whether or not to let my WoW subscription lapse, and this situation pushed me over the edge. I am not sure that counts as a boycott, since I haven’t made any declarations and I am not trying to persuade anyone else to join me. I have just chosen to spend my money elsewhere. And that’s a bit of a shame, as I had been enjoying it and the Vulpera almost tipped me over toward letting it renew and continuing to play.

I was dismayed but not surprised by recent events. Blizzard has shown an astounding inability to predict how its fans and the general public will react. It is pretty clear that it has nobody with the talent and/or skills to avoid these disasters or manage the aftermath of them. How long did it take it to respond to this controversy at all? And then when it did, it just threw gasoline on the fire.

What, do you guys not have a PR department?

If you don’t care about Hong Kong and you don’t want to hear people’s opinions, that’s OK. I do get that the bottom line with all these games is that the company owns everything and whatever you think is yours can be snatched away at any time because it’s their playground, their rules. I also understand that corporations have an obligation to their shareholders to maximize profit.

On the other hand, I think that it does matter if we defend liberty and democratic values against the rising tide of authoritarianism around the world. And I am about sick of corporations being shady or downright immoral, no matter what the reasoning behind their actions. I may not specifically be boycotting Blizzard, but that doesn’t mean I want to give it my money if it is going to continue to be an utter clambag.

Support independent developers.

Samon Kashani (@thesamkash): You could say I’ve been boycotting Blizzard since 2008. At the time I couldn’t afford a sub game, but I did play some Warcraft 3 (and the mods). Guild Wars was my home, and I was quite the zealot in the crusade of anything else versus WoW. Which eventually ran through and led me to stop playing Warcraft 3. Silly and childish, yes. What can I say, I was young(ish).

There were times on and off when I considered Blizzard titles, but they always looked bland to me, or they looked worthwhile but weren’t from a genre I care for. Nothing looked like it would be sticky. I know that is almost sacrilegious, but that’s how I feel. Blizzard was constantly making games that were aiming for the most common denominator.

So, it isn’t so much a boycott for me as it is simply a further reason to avoid the studio. It hasn’t made a game that caught my attention since Warcraft 3. And now, even if it did, there’s no way my conscience would allow me to give it even a fleeting thought.

Tyler Edwards: First of all, I want to say a game company has to screw up pretty bad to get me to boycott. Bad decisions in the realm of game design — like an awful monetization strategy — aren’t likely to do it. It might drive me away from a specific game, but only if it’s hampering my enjoyment enough that the experience is no longer fun, and it probably won’t make me avoid everything the company does. Generally speaking, I play games that seem fun to me, regardless of who made them.

Where I tend to draw the line is when real world morals are violated in a way with significant consequences. Even then, it has to be pretty bad. I grant that BioWare is pretty crappy to its employees sometimes, but so far that hasn’t been enough to make me want to stop supporting it, though I do have mixed feelings on the matter. Given how much democracy is under fire globally right now with the rise of autocrats worldwide, Blizzard choosing to help the Chinese government censor dissent represented a red line for me. I couldn’t support it after that.

As for what it what it would take to win me back, that gets pretty philosophical, so bear with me. I have a hyper-critical mindset, and I tend to see the world in very harsh shades of black and white, right or wrong. It makes me very unforgiving. That’s gotten me in trouble before. There have been points in my life when I just gave up on everyone and ended up totally alone and friendless because no one was good enough to meet my exacting standards. I wasn’t able to forgive any flaws, and since everyone has flaws, I just wound up resenting everyone. Obviously, that was not good for me in the long term, so I had to soften. But again being a creature of extremes, I of course went to the opposite extreme. There have also been times in my life when I was too willing to forgive, and let people keep hurting me because they weren’t all bad, right?

It’s still a hard balance for me to strike, but how I’m managing it these days is I’m boiling it down to two factors: self-awareness and the desire to improve. Are you aware of your faults, and are you making the effort to address them? If yes, I’m generally willing to forgive and accept you, provided what you did isn’t too horrible or unfixable. You don’t always have to be perfect, but you do always have to try.

How this applies to Blizzard is that right now it’s failing those criteria. It has refused to admit wrong-doing, and it is not making an effort to be better. The lessened penalties for Blitzchung and the casters were clearly a token effort made to deflect negative PR. There was no real admission of fault there. I want to say again that I really want to forgive Blizzard here; it has been my favorite video game developer for literally my entire life. It doesn’t need to do a lot to appease me. Admit that it screwed up, and make more than a token effort to fixing things. Commit to being better. That’s all I ask. So far, even that seems a bridge too far.

Are you boycotting Blizzard?

  • Yes, I am now. (38%, 331 Votes)
  • No, I am not. (23%, 202 Votes)
  • I was already not playing Blizzard games. (30%, 258 Votes)
  • I can't decide. (4%, 34 Votes)
  • Something else. (3%, 24 Votes)
  • No response / view tally. (2%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 864

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Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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