Massively Overthinking: What’s next for Blizzard under Microsoft?

    
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Prepare for bear.

So the Microsoft acquisition of Activision-Blizzard is basically a done deal. Oh, sure, the FTC is still fumbling around with hapless appeals, but look, there’s a trailer now. It’s happening. It’s happened. It’s unlikely to be undone. Two years of wondering and now here we are. Only… what does “here” actually mean now?

For this week’s Massively Overthinking, let’s talk about what’s next for Activision-Blizzard. A lot of our writers and readers have been in limbo as ABK’s management has toyed with workers’ lives and livelihoods all these many months of layoffs and unionbusting and papering over the accusations and lawsuits. What do you think will happen next? What will the next year of Blizzard specifically look like? Who’s likely out beyond Kotick and his C-suite? What will happen to the games? Has what’s left of the studio finally turned its last corner? Will you return to Blizzard games, if you ever left? Can Microsoft turn it around?

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): Honestly, I can’t imagine any changes in the near future due to this. Kotick being asked to stay on at all, even for just two more months to help with the “transition,” makes it feel like if they truly get rid of him, it’s Kotick the person, not his business tactics. It’s like changing masks while trick or treating: You change the outside so you can fool everyone into giving you more.

Best case scenario I can imagine is that, yeah, that’s all that happens. Mostly a change of faces but nothing more. I mean, has Bethesda really changed? Maybe we’ll get some re-released old-school Blizzard stuff for Xbox, but I can’t imagine much else beyond maybe someone at Microsoft poking Blizzard to take on League of Legends’ position and make some smaller, single-player games, which I think would be good for gamers but I can’t see it happening any time soon. As for me, Overwatch 2’s PvE was a way I thought I could get some friends into that game – so much for that. But honestly, I’d love to be wrong.

Andy McAdams: I think we’ll see a fairly steady cadence of announcements of so-and-so leaving Blizzard over the next few months. Everyone will freak out about how could they possibly continue to function with the loss of these people when in reality, for the most part everything just keeps going as it has been. Ybarra is a loose cannon who’s way too flippant about everything, and I don’t see him last long at MSFT.

Everything we’ve heard indicates that Ion Hazzikostas is a well-liked leader and insulated the WoW team from a lot of the insanity and stupidity, even if his strategic direction for the game is, by all counts, a losing proposition. I don’t expect him to exit Blizzard or WoW, but maybe moved into a different role to make use of his leadership while downplaying his creative, strategic direction for the game. WoW and its next expansion will continue largely unaffected unless it’s so far off the mark that MSFT feels like it has to intervene, which would likely cause a delay in launch date. We’ll start to see more customer-facing changes around the 6-to-9-month mark for whatever the new design vision and strategy is.

Diablo will limp along not really knowing what it is beyond a really awesome leveling experience and wet noodle of any kind of endgame. I don’t think MSFT will know what to do with it anymore than Blizzard does. I think we’ll see more investment in Hearthstone because it seems to be doing well, even as the team is cut back, so MSFT will probably want to push more there. With Overwatch 2, that game is a trainwreck and a huge lost opportunity on multiple occasions. I can see that entire leadership team being gutted and replaced.

Ben Griggs (@braxwolf): Well, we already have a pattern of what happens when Microsoft purchases a major games studio (Bethesda), and the answer is… basically nothing. I mean, I guess we can look forward to more Xbox/Windows exclusives on big, highly anticipated titles. They seem to love those.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I honestly think it’ll take two years or so for Blizzard to become fully Microsofted, and it’s hard for me to mourn it since as the saying goes, the Blizzard we loved was already dead or never even existed, so there’s nothing lost here. But even so, I don’t think the corporate purge at the top of ABK is going to go far enough, as a lot of the rot – both in terms of leadership and in terms of toxicity – went down much deeper into the roots of the company.

For example, the person who literally runs Blizzard right now is a handpicked Activision lackey who engaged in toxic boosting behavior in his own WoW play, presided over the public firing of a beloved developer who took a moral stand for the WoW team, and held a meeting where he told his own QA workers they were unskilled labor who may as well quit. This is not just “oh the WoW dev leadership are nice but a bit daft at steering WoW,” and it won’t be solved when the door hits Kotick on his way out. This is Blizzard now. Microsoft needs to fix much more than the ABK C-suite. It would be extra nice if there’s any Overwatch left alive to play by the time they clean up the mess, but I wouldn’t count on it.

So put me down for being at least a year and probably a lot more before the “Blizzard redemption arc” starts up, and only when a few more problem execs are ousted.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I’m taking a chaotic neutral stance on this thing. As long as this merge can meet my own selfish needs as a gamer, than I’m a happy camper. Monopoly and whatnot be damned! That’s not my problem! I’d love to see what Microsoft can do with the Hexen and Heretic IPs. Speaking of comebacks, are we finally going to see a Starcraft 3 and Warcraft 4!? I don’t know, but Microsoft’s got chops when it comes to RTS games. It would be nice to go back to seeing an RTS game from Blizzard. Phil Spencer seems like he knows how to control his image well enough to keep himself on gamers’ good side too. That’s always a plus when there’s a smidgen of harmony between the gamers, the devs, and the C-suite in my opinion.

I can’t believe this thing went on for two whole years too, time flies! Always thought the fear of Microsoft having a monopoly on the games industry as a bunch of malarcky. Way I see it, if government entities worry about monopoly in gaming, it’s the game industry’s fault for being so mediocre and not coming out with new and interesting IPs to rocket other companies. The thing I’m probably most excited and hopeful about is Microsoft repairing Blizzard’s image. Hopefully Microsoft can also support any efforts to make the workplace more inclusive where everyone feels safe to work in. And hopefully Microsoft’s deep pockets can ensure that the devs are paid fairly and get a voice in what to do with the projects they do.

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): The only difference between Ol’ Spencyboi and Bobby the Tick is that Phil has handlers or the most basic of sense to at least try and say the right things, but until those blasts of noxious hot air transform into action, it’s still lip service from a CEO and should hold about as much water as that implies. So my first and immediate hope for Blizzard is that this means life can reach a semblance of professional normalcy for the developers within the game’s studios.

Beyond that I don’t really expect too much else to change beyond the stated ActiBlizz games landing on Game Pass next year. There’s no expectation that anything new will come forth unless that survival title that was mentioned a while back begins to take a shape beyond concept artwork, and most of the newest launches from the company appear to need to focus on repairing bridges and goodwill, and I don’t anticipate that will happen until sometime much later – certainly not in time enough for BlizzCon.

On that subject, this doesn’t change my decision to avoid games from Blizzard like the plague. Every once in a while I do get the random urge to revisit Diablo III, but that’s a fleeting urge to put it mildly, and none of the other games out now or previously have captured my interest at all. It would frankly take a miracle – something on the level of turning Overwatch 2 into a pure PvE-only experience full of story and fun – to make me want to get near any of those games.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog):

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): Well I’m always rubbish in the prognosticating department, especially with so many unknown variables as what’s happening with Microsoft and Blizzard right now. I’m cautiously optimistic — my default state toward the industry — and am hoping that Microsoft encourages Blizzard to reform and focus up somewhat. I’m happy Kotick is on his way out, of course, and am encouraged to see Metzen return to WoW. At this point, the bar is so low for Blizzard to clear that almost any strong vision will be met with relief.

I know we can’t get back to the glory days of World of Warcraft, but I would love to see a renaissance of sorts, a new era where it’s mostly heading in the right direction and building back up a good reputation as a fun MMO that is the place to be

Sam Kash (@thesamkash): I haven’t played Blizzard games in quite some time, but I’m hopeful for the future. Obviously cleaning out some of the executives who brought about or ignored the issues would be a boon. I bet that Microsoft doesn’t do a massive layoff round, though. I didn’t follow the Bethesda acquisition with laser focus, but it appears that the studio is still putting out solid titles even if they haven’t fallen into my field of vision. So I should hope that the Blizzard future is similar.

I was fairly put out with Blizzard since the Blitzchung issue. Not many things got better from there. And WoW has always been a blind spot for me.

So I want to see a new MMO from them. I can’t imagine it sucking all air out of the room again, but perhaps it can get more gamer attention back on the genre. I’m pretty narrowly focused on games these days, so there’s no telling if I might play, but high tides and all that.

Tyler Edwards (blog): I think the people who are expecting a seismic shift are going to be disappointed, especially if you expect it to happen quickly. In the near term, this is likely only to result in behind the scenes organizational changes, which will have little immediate impact on us gamers. Hopefully this does mean that working conditions for Blizzard’s employees will begin to improve, but that’s not likely to affect the quality of the games that much, at least not for a while, the game design pipeline being what it is.

I think if anything’s going to make a noticeable difference in the quality of releases in the immediate future, it’s Metzen’s return. Warcraft just hasn’t felt the same without him. But even then, I would hardly call it a guarantee. WoW is far past its prime, and as much as I admire Metzen’s work, he has also made many noteworthy blunders.

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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