Activision’s takeover of Blizzard was “like a frog in a boiling pot of water”, Diablo 3’s former lead designer has said.
Jay Wilson, who no longer works for Blizzard, spoke at a Diablo retrospective panel discussion at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo on 15th October, alongside producer Matt Householder and sound designer Matt Uelmen (spotted by TheGamer).
An audience member asked Wilson about the impact of Activision’s 2008 Blizzard buyout.
“Activision’s effect on Blizzard was like a frog in a boiling pot of water. Early on, it felt like nothing,” said Wilson.
“Later on, as business models progressed for products, it became more and more… the products that were newer, the products that were making money, had enormous amounts of pressure on them.”
Those newer products included the embattled MOBA Heroes of the Storm. “They were just crushed in meetings with Activision where they were always talking about the bottom line, how to pull more out of that. Diablo 3 wasn’t affected too much because we were very solidly a premium boxed model,” said Wilson.
Diablo Immortal, the free-to-play mobile game released in June this year, was much-discussed internally before Wilson left in 2016. “They were talking about Immortal, but it hadn’t actually started, that was all Activision Blizzard. They wanted a free-to-play Diablo really badly, and I didn’t. Now, granted, by then I was off Diablo,” he said.
After its release, Diablo Immortal was criticised for its monetisation, with some players paying extortionate amounts in-game.
Activision had a “big effect on all those business models and in my opinion, a lot of the higher-up people who left did because they got frustrated with all of that. I don’t think they made those products better,” said Wilson.
He continued: “There’s a lot of bad things about Blizzard, there’s a lot of great things, but I think the best thing when I was there, Blizzard had this saying ‘we always want to be the guys in the white hats’ which means we always want to be the good guys. So we always want to be doing something we think is right for our players.”
Bloomberg journalist Jason Schreier reported last year on Blizzard’s Warcraft 3: Reforged flopping when it launched in 2020 as the result of mismanagement and financial pressures from Activision, which Wilson’s comments align with.
Activision Blizzard merged back in 2008 to become, at the time, the world’s largest video game publisher. Then, in 2013, it split from owner Vivendi to go independent.
Of course, last year Activision Blizzard was criticised for its workplace culture, with a number of sexual harassment lawsuits filed – the most recent being earlier this month.
Microsoft is currently trying to buy Activision Blizzard – its president Brad Smith said earlier this year that workplace culture and safety will be a “top priority”.