Not So Massively: Reflections on Blizzard, one year after the Hong Kong fiasco

    
26
Not So Massively: Reflections on Blizzard, one year after the Hong Kong fiasco

Almost exactly a year ago, I declared that the Blizzard I loved is dead, in reaction to the Blitzchung/Hearthstone/Hong Kong fiasco.

Twelve months later, that story has largely faded into the mists of history, recollected only by the occasional angry comment from those still holding a grudge over it. Now seems like a good time to revisit my own feelings on the matter. Am I still on the boycott Blizzard bandwagon, or is all forgiven?

Well, neither.

Let’s back up a bit and talk about last year’s BlizzCon. Remember when large indoor gatherings weren’t a suicidally stupid idea? Yeah, those were good times.

BlizzCon 2019 saw J. Allen Brack give a public address for Blizzard’s shenanigans. To me, it seemed like a sincere act of contrition, but I know others strongly disagreed. Ultimately, the sincerity of an action doesn’t actually matter that much in the greater scheme of things. The actions are more important than the intent.

Therefore what made more of an impact to me is that Blizzard did allow pro-Hong Kong independence protests, costumes, and messages not just in the area but on the convention floor itself. That, I think, shows an intention to walk the walk on doing better. It is basically the bare minimum they could have done… but by definition, the bare minimum is good enough.

For me, that’s enough to drop the boycott.

And yet, the stain can’t entirely be washed away. Even in the best case where we assume Blizzard has learned its lesson and nothing like this will happen again — which I’m not taking as a certainty — that we wound up in this situation in the first place is a serious red flag about the judgment and ethics of Blizzard’s leadership, whose decisions even Blizzard developers and execs spoke out against.

Blizzard games used to feel like home to me, but it’s hard to get the same warm fuzzies after such disturbing choices have been made.

At the same time, it also needs to be acknowledged that most gaming companies have engaged in some kind of shady behavior or another, be it crunch or sexual harassment. If I boycotted every game company that did something unethical, I’d not have many games left to play

I say this not to promote apathy but rather to reflect the reality. These are all things we should continue to be upset about. It’s not a few companies being bad apples. It’s systemic flaws in a corporate culture that favors profit over humanity, among other issues. You should absolutely boycott things if your conscience demands it, but what’s more likely to make a difference is systemic change brought by things like regulation, unionization, and shifts in our cultural values.

In the meantime, something that helps to maintain sanity is to remember that corporations aren’t monolithic entities. They’re made up of many different people with different values and ideals.

For example, Ubisoft executives have done some pretty awful things, but one of my closest friends also works for Ubisoft, and she’s one of the best people I know. Supporting her work means supporting a corrupt executive culture, but boycotting them would also mean boycotting her work. How do you reconcile that?

By the same token, I may be upset with what the upper management at Blizzard has done, but I still think their writers and artists do good work, and I have no reason not to believe those are largely decent people.

At the end of the day it comes down to a personal decision of how to spend your time and money. No matter what games you buy, odds are you’re supporting both good and bad people. There’s no objective formula for how to balance both sides of things. Do you feel passionate enough about something to accept its dark sides?

So this is how I can justify being willing to continue supporting Blizzard’s games, at least to myself, at least for now.

And yet, it’s also worth noting that I have not done so in the past year. I have not resubbed to World of Warcraft, which used to be an event as regular as the tides, nor have I given Blizzard any money for anything else. The closest I’ve come is spending some Blizzard Balance I already had from a ways back on StarCraft II co-op.

It seems I don’t have passion enough to overlook the dark sides of Blizzard right now… or maybe it’s just that I don’t have passion enough, period.

In my last column on this, I said I felt like Blizzard was already moving away from the kind of games I wanted. I feel that even more strongly now, and putting aside all ethical concerns, I find it hard not to feel as if the magic is gone on some level.

As I’ve said before, it feels like Blizzard games have largely lost that spark of passion that used to make them special. This seems to have coincided with Chris Metzen’s departure. Look at Battle for Azeroth. Most seem to agree its story and general premise are a mess. That in and of itself is not so shocking — I’ll be the first to defend Blizzard’s story-telling, but even I admit it does have a tendency to faceplant with a certain degree of regularity — but the way in which it’s a mess is alarming.

BFA just feels so tired. Oh, the faction war again. Oh, a crazy warchief again. It feels like such a cynical path to take. “Well, this worked before, so let’s do it again.” It feels like an expansion written by a marketing department rather than people with serious passion for the Warcraft universe.

Say what you will about Blizzard’s stories in the past, but they never felt cynical, and they never lacked for passion.

Let’s look at another disastrous expansion: Warlords of Draenor. That was a calamitous lorestrocity of an expansion; it’s entire story was a mistake. But it was clearly a mistake born of passion. You could see the enthusiasm Metzen and the rest of the team had for how badass it would be to bring back all the old Horde leaders for another rumble. That was the whole problem; they thought the story was so “awesome” that they didn’t stop to think it through and realize what a dumb idea it was. It was a big mistake, but it was a mistake resulting from an excess of passion and enthusiasm, not a lack of it.

That’s what’s made it so easy to forgive Blizzard for its mistakes. The people behind the games were having so much fun you couldn’t help but be caught up in the wave, even when it dashed against the rocks.

But I don’t see that in Blizzard’s games anymore.

Take Diablo IV. Rather than a proper sequel to Diablo III or a new evolution of the franchise, it seems to be an attempt to just be Diablo II but with modern graphics and MMO aesthetics. While some people might find that appealing, it’s an artistically lazy choice. Again, it feels tired; it feels like a game designed by market forces rather than love for the franchise.

Passion is what made Blizzard special. This was the company that always reached higher, that always made its worlds and games as bombastic and larger than life as humanly possible. As that passion bleeds away, so too does Blizzard’s soul.

The only place where this doesn’t feel true — and the only upcoming title that still strongly interests me — is Overwatch 2, which feels like it may still have a spark of that old Blizzard passion. Perhaps because it is a newer franchise. Even then, I have my doubts about whether the end product will live up to expectations, but at least it doesn’t feel like the reheated leftovers of yesteryear’s greatness, like BFA or D4.

So I’m not boycotting, but at the same time, Blizzard is no longer offering much that I would want to buy anyway. Shadowlands does have some cool ideas, and in another time, I might have been willing to give it a shot, but between the Blitzchung incident and the flagging creativity, I’m much less inclined to give Blizzard games the benefit of the doubt than I once was. Instead of being a virtually automatic buy, Blizzard games now have to work to win me over the same as most other developers.

And that, perhaps more than anything, shows that the Blizzard I once loved is indeed dead.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.

No posts to display

26
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Kickstarter Donor
elenie

I really appreciated your article!
While I also feel that Blizz is no longer making games that are aimed at what I want, I AM still boycotting them and will keep doing so even if they miraculously change course and start releasing stuff I would enjoy. I don’t feel at all that Blizz management care a whit about Hong Kong, minorities or even their own developers (see also: layoffs and pay so meagre that employees struggle to get by), they just have to pay lip service occasionally when their customers push back too hard.
Yes, all big companies are similarly soulless and profit-driven, but to me Blizz has still gone too far. I do still play otherMMOS (SSO, ESO and FFXIV), but outside of that I try to buy games made by smaller studios and I’ve spent a lot more of my money and time on itch.io games, especially queer ones.

Reader
Kickstarter Donor
mysecretid

As I said when the whole Blitzchung thing occurred, my first girlfriend was from Hong Kong, so I have strong connections to the fate of the place, and some of the people who lived there (she is, thankfully, living elsewhere now with her husband and children, beyond the easy reach of the CCP).

So, for me personally, the Hong Kong situation is less “theoretical” or “something happening over there” than it might be for some others.

And that “Crackdown Law” which silenced the protests still puts a chill through my heart, make no mistake.

I read recently that, prior to the crackdown, a group of protesters broke into HK city hall and left graffiti slogans on the walls as a kind of last chance to speak.

One slogan read: “You are the ones who taught us that peaceful protest doesn’t work”.

As for Blizzard in relation to Hong Kong, well, as others here have said here, Blizzard hasn’t really put out anything I’ve particularly cared about since World of Warcraft‘s Legion expansion, so not buying from the company is not a difficult choice for me.

As you say, Tyler, everything Blizzard does of late feels tired and cynically calculated. It’s hard for me to get genuinely excited about what Blizzard is offering, when Blizzard management can’t seem to muster any genuine excitement themselves.

So, yeah, I haven’t forgotten how Blizzard management utterly caved, and put money over principles when it mattered, and might have consequences.

This is why I sort of rolled my eyes when Blizz made it’s more-recent pro LGBTQ+ press statement — not because I don’t support LGBTQ+ recognition, representation, and inclusion; I definitely do — but because Blizzard management still seems to be desperate to improve its “social reputation” in the wake of the Hong Kong fiasco, yet they only make such gestures when they’re completely “safe” in terms of not significantly threatening potential profits.

I’m sure that it wasn’t lost on someone in the board meeting that appealing directly to LBGTQ+ gamers as a group might actually boost sales of Blizzard products.

In other words, I haven’t forgotten — but Blizzard hasn’t given me much to be interested in anyway.

Sorry for the length here, Tyler. Thanks for the article!

Oh, and Free Hong Kong. The sooner, the better. :-)

flagofhongkong.jpg
Reader
Rodrigo Dias Costa

I’ve bough D3 thrice(one on console because local co-op, 2 for PC since my physical copy would delay a bit, later I’ve sold that copy’s key to a friend), I was highly anticipating Reforged, and frankly I was interested on Immortal since I usually spend 2~3 hours commuting in a work day. Then Blitzchung happened…

I could say that this still is a boycott, but actually I don’t care anymore. There’s no hope of them delivering another amazing game ever again. As the WC3R launch showed, their passion of making games is lost, as is my interest on using their products.

Reader
Loyal Patron
Patreon Donor
Ysayle was right

Boycotts suck for the decent people working at a company, sure, but you could use the money you didn’t spend on stuff like supporting independent creators more directly rather than making the likes of Bobby Kotick and Yves Guillemont more absurdly rich without materially affecting your friends’ incomes.

MilitiaMasterV
Reader
MilitiaMasterV

My boycott was going long before this fiasco, and will continue long after. -shrugs-

Reader
Sorenthaz

Blizzard is yet another company that’s falling apart internally due to corporate greed, too many of the older creative/passion-fueled visionaries leaving, and deciding to save face by jumping in on the corporate wokeness train to dodge criticism and continue their downward spiral.

I guess it was bound to happen, but once Mike Morhaime stepped down it was incredibly clear that was the road Blizzard was going and is continuing to go down. Maybe they’ll change, but it looks pretty bleak right now for anyone who used to love Blizzard or still is holding on in the hopes that things improve.

Reader
StonkAnime

After Blizzard responded to record profits by firing a bunch of staff it was pretty clear that they weren’t really intent on creating quality products anymore, and that’s been more or less borne out by their output. Outside of lukewarm attempts to milk existing Blizzard franchises, it’s pretty clear that the development money isn’t actually there for Blizzard.

The decision to essentially mothball development on HoTS in particular was when you could kind of tell that the company had more or less given up the ghost; the idea that they didn’t want to compete in either the MOBA space or the BR space in lieu of collecting a market rent on Hearthstone is sufficient to tell you anything you might ever need to know about another Blizzard product.

Reader
traja

Good article and I also agree with most of it. For me it is difficult to justify the self sacrifice required to boycott when I know that it will achieve nothing statistically significant. Now that doesn’t mean that I would start actively defending the company or avoiding criticizing them.

Now two bits I disagree with a lot. First is that Blizzard has or ever had good writers. They can create iconic characters in the comic book sense of iconic but the stories are difficult to follow and even more difficult to care about.

Second is about Diablo 4. The last thing I would wish to see is a “proper” sequel to Diablo 3. That game is thoroughly mediocre in every way imaginable and very little of it should be brought forward to any game of any genre. Diablo 2 on the other hand was a masterpiece for its time so taking inspiration from there makes sense.

Reader
Utakata

I never did get on the boycott “bandwagon” over this. But I certainly think much less of Blizz over this. I’ve also still respected those who have taken actions to call Blizz into account. And I still feel censorship by proxy is very bad thing…

…ask me to reflect on this in another year, I’ll probably still say the same thing. Unless Blizz fully retracts on this. But I am not holding my breath, lol.

Reader
Oleg Chebeneev

Good read. I dont agree about Diablo 4 tho. Its actually great that they go back to dark gothic roots.

But yeah, I remember times when any Blizzard game was instant must buy. Now the last new game that they made and really excited me was Starcraft 2