Is Blizzard leaving its 1990s PC gaming roots behind?

An article on Ars Technica this week called “From Warcraft to Hearthstone: How Blizzard is leaving its 1990s PC gaming roots behind” discusses how this year’s BlizzCon felt different from previous years and how the company appears to be moving on from what made it such a success.

Diablo players will probably be more aware of the how the company has changed than perhaps other fans who have been playing World of Warcraft or StarCraft. This year at BlizzCon the Diablo franchise received a small amount of attention, certainly a lot less than previous years. The enthusiasm for World of Warcraft looked to have also waned, the crowd didn’t sound as excited with the announcements compared to previous BlizzCon events.

This is not a bad thing, it’s just different. Blizzard has become a little more adventurous with the success of Hearthstone, their Heroes of the Storm MOBA and the announcement of their first shooter Overwatch. Blizzard are moving into new areas which is exciting but there’s no doubt the core audience is changing.

This snip from the article might sum up how some of the Diablo community feel about the new direction.

That’s a pretty massive shift for Blizzard, which has spent the last two decades being the “Warcraft, StarCraft, and sometimes Diablo” company. It also reflects a broader change. While Blizzard always cultivated a reputation for excellence, that excellence was also tied to a degree of conservatism. Blizzard games were polished, perfected versions of good things that either existed elsewhere, or that Blizzard had made before. For a long time, the most daring thing Blizzard did was create an in-game auction house for Diablo III… and its eventual removal was the greatest moment in franchise history since Diablo II.

World of Warcraft is waning, the subscriber numbers show that, and I think we can agree that the Diablo 3 launch was a bit of a disaster and it’s taken some time to fix the game. So how to you feel about this apparent shift? Has Blizzard lost it’s 90s roots?


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  1. Of course Blizzard has changed from it's 90s roots. Gaming, and entertainment consumption in general, has changed massively in the last two decades. Adapt or die.

    • Blizzard is still the only developer with the financial background that would allow 'adapt or die' not being the necessary conclusion. Most other AAA developers have already lost the opportunity, to redefine the market by swimming against the currents for a bigger profit in the long run. (There's Valve, perhaps, but they are less involved in game development, than they once were …)

    • This. Capitalism, ho.

  2. I believe Blizzard should stick to its roots, while exploring new areas such as Overwatch, Heartstone, HoTS etc.

    Blizzard should never let go of the established franchises ever.

    The industry has changed yes, but there is a growing dislike for what games are today. Shooters are simply revamps of what we saw before. They become more and more \realistic\. But gaming has always been about escaping \reality\ to some extend, and playing in a fictional world where impossible things become possible. Adventures are to be lived here, adventures that are arguably not possible in real-life.

    I believe that if Blizzard sticks to its roots, and brings out new games from established franchises such as Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo, they will always retain the core players which in turn will attract all the casuals and newcomers to the world of gaming.

    They must be careful to not change those established franchises too much, but just enough to keep it fresh while heavily appealing to the crowd that made the franchise a success to begin with. This is accomplished by keeping what worked great in the past and adding new things on top of it, rather than replacing what is fundamental to its success with new things.

    Blizzard can be the big winner in the foreseeable future and beyond, when gaming has become boring and mundane by re-inventing the wheel and games that replace things that made them great to begin with.

    I believe that Warcraft 4, Diablo 4, Starcraft 3 can all be absolute blockbusters, with \game of the decade\ awards, if they go with a \back to the roots\ mentality while adding new things on top of what worked before.

    • Not 'adding new things on top' , but evolving the [and from the] original game designs. (With the primary gameplay conservated and polished up to the standards of the time – something, Blizz haven't lost their edge in yet.) Else 100% agreement to your contribution.

  3. At least they're not Konami yet.

  4. Way before it was excellence that brought players and money to Blizzard. Now they are puting money over excellence, and that is becoming Blizzard fall down.

    Blizzard in its roots used to be Excellent-polished video games oriented for adults; now its Mediocre-Kinda-fun-games oriented for kids to reach broader audiences with the only objective of making money.

    If you compare Diablo 3 to its predecesors, is not even close to what it used to be a real Diablo game. Same with Starcraft, and all the Wow expansions right after Burning Crusade. But Diablo is the clear-as-water example.

    • Nicely put. Somewhere in there I think the words lowest common denominator belong. The whole RMAH shocked the Diablo community in a pretty big way not so much for the impact it had on the game but as an expression by blizzard about how they feel about its fans. The game itself feels like something that just had to be done, like poster or an ad. It hasn't got it at all. When Matt Uelman left I feared something like this was happening, I think a lot of us did.

  5. “While Blizzard always cultivated a reputation for excellence”

    Well, am I the only one who remember the hate for W3 and vanilla D2? Especially for D2, the gamers called it “orange Diablo”, because it wasn’t as dark as the first episode. And there were other problems ofc.

    Blizzard was always one of my favorite, but they are excellent at polish stuff after they released it, not before.

  6. they must stick to their roots
    imho hearthstone and overwatch are big fails
    i got beta for overwatch , played it once and uninstalled it , but maybe its due to that i’m not an fps / pvp fan in general
    hearthstone is also not installed on my system , why do you have to choose cards when you get them in random order and not at the right time … stupid shit

    bring on warcraft 4 , D3 expansion and the wow expansion … perhaps a few revamp old games like lost vikings.

    but maybe i’m to old for this shit 🙂

    • LOL, what ? — "why do you have to choose cards when you get them in random order and not at the right time"   — how does that question make any sense at all ?   So you're saying you should get the cards you want when you want them ?  Well, that would certainly make the game easier wouldn't it ?  Come to think of it, it would make EVERY card game easier. — and your logic is wonderful — you're not a fan of fps games so Blizzard's fps game is a big fail LOL — I think hearthstone is a stupid game, but there's no denying that Kripp has more viewers with it than he ever did with D3  — in fact you can go on twitch and see Hearthstone has a hundred people playing and THOUSANDS of people watching ALL the time — — I bet every company wished their games failed like that

  7. HOTS succes. Hahaha… no. It has a few positives but it is mediocre enough not to be a big succes for sure.

  8. They increased their audience.

    Simple as that. The company grew and they added more.

    Blizzard still makes Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo games.

    • And are the current developments in the Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo franchises still true to their respective core roots? Or has increasing the audience brought Blizzard to the point, where they've decided on throwing these out? (: Be it bit by bit, or in one big step.)

    • I mean, it's good that you understood Rushsters article to a degree, to sum it up into three sentences, but …Follow-Up-Questions: Were any of the previous audiences thrown out in the process?

  9. I thought Blizzard were pretty clear about this in recent past. What they said was basically, that they are no longer as willing to take the fiscal risk of developing enormous innovations – like 'Titan' – when focusing on tiny re-re-re-re-re-re-re-recycling projects – like Hearthstone – can yield relatively(!) similar benefits for them. Apparently, they needed the money for catching up on mobile gaming instead, a concept that somehow must have gotten ahead of them when they were busy re-re-re-…cycling their stuff from the past century.In that knowledge, maybe the whole 'Titan' failure was what it took for them to resort to ultimately desperate measures like attemtping some real innovation for once. You don't have to be appealed by Overwatch as a first, hesitant step towards new audiences to recognize that it's at least a start.If only they were not invoking "the rapidly changing demands of the players" while trying to conceil their lack of long-term vision. Especially when they are one of the few major companies left, that actually can define the supply side of the market.

    • There's nothing wrong with some quick-cash projects. But stopping to reach for the stars completely? Because of one failure? That'd mean, in relation to the topic, that Blizzard had lost its own roots first, then the franchises have simply followed the "shown" direction.

      • There is, indeed, no knowing what the company is up to in distant future. And that's exactly the point. Because whenever Blizzard had a major announcement in the past, their 'soon' label more often than not referred to exactly that rather distant, unforseeable future *cough*release dates*cough*. So, if I'm understanding correctly, which shiny "stars" do you currently see them reaching for, in terms of their traditional franchises? Did I miss an announcement for Warcraft IV? Diablo IV? At least Diablo III-X2? StarCraft #? Even the latest WoW X(37?) seems rather middle-ish on a scale from budget to premium to me … That 'one failure' is assumed to be a 50 million+ failure concerning the future of a post-WoW Blizzard, by the way. They have shareholders, remember?

        • Yeah, they got shareholders. [At least Activision Blizzard does…]And they got customers. Some of them longterm. [At least Blizzard does…] Do you really want to ask from me, as a longterm customer of the franchise Diablo, to be empathetic to the shareholders point of view? Should I sugarcoat my opinion, not to hurt their feelings, if my viewpoint ain't represented by the development route taken with D3 and refrain from presenting my requirements for turning the next installment (, however far away it may be)? The reality of shareholders are a reason. The expectations of fans are too. Neither alone answers Blizzard the questions of how to proceed from here on out. (Wanna add other perspectives, the further discussion might benefit from?)

          • The topic isn't empathy for shareholders. It's about Blizzard focusing on smaller projects rather than on big, risky productions. Blizz' president himself publicly declared that to be the plan, which is in fact supported by the lack of announcements for their traditional major developments. — That doesn't have to mean they are completely abandoning their franchises. I'm just guessing there will be Diablo 'spin-offs' before we hear anything about another major entry into the series again. Like a D-themed card/puzzle/simulation/… game; something that requires a minimum of expensive ressources (3D characters, vast game worlds, cinematics, sophisticated system programming, hours of orchestral music etc.) and processing power (-> mobile gaming) at its core and can always be expanded through micro-transactions post-launch after a minimum development time. 'Minimum' being the key word.

  10. If the communities continue to lighten, maybe we'll discover Azeroth is in fact part of Sanctuary…

    • My thoughts exactly. But first, the imbalance of Sanktuario forces descendants of a tribe of demons, of the surviving angels and a group of humans/nephalems into leaving Sanktuario in different directions to colonize other worlds instead.

    • Diablo 5 – World of Diablocraft then tells us, how in the mending process the good and evil races came to pass, that'll turn Sanktuario into the Azeroth we know today. With HC telling the stories of the evil races, while SC tells of the birthings of the good ones. (Both storylines merging more and more with every expansion. Similar to D4, where they'll be drifting apart into Angels and Nephalim surviving [: SC] and Demons and Nephalim surviving [: HC).)

    • LOL, tbh I’ve always thought Diablo would be part of the Starcraft universe. And Azeroth would come after Diablo.

  11. I'm pretty much done with Blizzard. I think they suffered the same fate as Squaresoft did way back when they became Squarenix. ActiBlizz has been nothing but a continuous stream of fail in my book. Look at legacy of the Void… Wait nearly 2 decades for the Protoss/Zerg war and instead the whole thing gets hijacked by the whole Amon piss poor subplot that was brewing in all 3 SC2 games. Imagine if Games Workshop finally have the Imperium invade the eye of Chaos and the whole thing gets upstaged by some invasion by the 'creators of the Tyranids' or some other just made up BS.Look at D3. It literally has no campaign mode. Log in and run rifts into infinity. No story, no customization, nothing. It's like the planned PvP arena, where you pick from a prebuilt character, except without the PvP, and you have to take the time to get the stuff to make the character work the way Blizzard wants it to. Hell, now they're even going to be giving guaranteed sets in seasons, so you can "play their way". Old Blizzard was good at crafting worlds, stories, gameplay, and most importantly of all, they weren't obsessed with control. ActiBlizz are a bunch of control freaks where they have to stick their nose in every aspect of your gameplay session. The most fun I had with StarCraft and Diablo was with 3rd party software and mods installed. Blizzard knew you can't please everyone, so they were willing to let you put in the work to change stuff. ActiBlizz thinks they can please everyone and instead end up pleasing almost no one.

  12. I have a hard time remembering D2 being less of grinding for gear than D3 is. After you play through the game (which I don’t think the story line was any longer than D3’s is… well maybe the fact that they made you play the game 3 times in a row) all you did was cow runs or end bosses for gear. It was just a big loot fest.

    Seriously, how many sets for each class were viable at end game in D2? There were so few uniques/sets that were used. There are plenty more options for gear and making different types of builds in D3, they really are doing a good job of encouraging the players to use a variety of skills and not pigeon hole them into using the \best\ skills that they think we should be using.

    It sucks that you obviously don’t see it that way, but I don’t see them as a company being control freaks. I think they’ve been doing a great job of listening to the players and adding/changing things. But hopefully you can find a game out there that better suits what you’re looking for… I just picked up Fallout 4 this weekend, seriously loving that game right now.

  13. It could be worse, they could be EA. Wanna ID that legendary? 3 days real time to do it. But for just $1.99 per item you can accelerate it!

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