It’s no big secret that Blizzard ends up killing about half its games before they ever see the light of day. That amounts to 14 titles to date, most of which fans never hear about. Former Blizzard Entertainment head and co-founder Mike Morhaime opens up about the high cut rate along with the company’s highs and lows while speaking at the Gamelab conference in Barcelona, where is being honored.
The talk was hosted by Dean Takahashi from GamesBeat and covered by Eurogamer. It mostly involved Blizzard’s ups and downs and the legacy that Morhaime helped establish before he stepped down as the company’s president last April. While discussing the past, Morhaime explained why the company ended up axing 50 percent of the projects it has in development.
“I’ve gone back every few years and checked the math on that, and it’s pretty consistent,” said Morhaime. “It’s like half the titles we work on never make it.”
Reasons for cutting a game vary according to the title. They include being too expensive or not appealing to a large enough audience size. But things ultimately came down to preserving Blizzard’s reputation for making high-quality games.
Morhaime said, “There’s a saying that ‘perfect is the enemy of great’ because if you strive for perfection you’ll never ship. But I do think that there’s so much competition out there.”
This philosophy applies to games that are ready to launch, with the original Diablo as a prime example. It was delayed past Thanksgiving, which is “the most important retail weekend” of the year and even missed Christmas. The game hit store shelves on December 31, 1996, and went on to become one of the bestselling games of 1997.
“The lesson that we took from that is that it’s way more important that the game is great – it’s way less important that you hit the date,” said Morhaime.
Axing the Auction House
Blizzard had to struggle with successful launches too. This was demonstrated by the introduction and eventual closer of the Diablo 3 auction house.
Morhaime described Diablo 3 as “a really tough launch for us.” Fans gave Blizzard plenty of feedback about the game and how the auction house impacted it. However, it was developed as a way to help regulate item trading seen in other games, particularly Diablo II.
“People are going to do this anyway – why don’t we provide them a safe and secure way to trade items?” Morhaime said. “But the problem was that we didn’t design the loot model with that in mind. We designed it without an auction house initially, and when you have an auction house in a game that’s dropping tons and tons of loot, it’s way cheaper and easier to get second-hand items from the auction house.”
As a result, the reward loop “completely destroyed” the game, and its players ended up getting their loot from the auction house instead of playing.
Morhaime recalled asking the development team, “If you could do what you wanted and snap your fingers to make it happen, would you remove the auction house?” They replied yes, and they did it despite it being a tough move to justify on paper. But looking back, Morhaime believes it was the right call.
Dealing with Diablo Immortal
The conversation later switched to Diablo Immortal’s icy reception at last year’s BlizzCon. Fans who were expecting to learn more about Diablo 4’s development did not take kindly to the announcement of a mobile game spin-off.
“It’s sort of like when you have a group that’s really passionate about a franchise like Diablo, really excited about a project that hasn’t been announced – Blizzard tried to manage expectations that they weren’t going to announce Diablo 4 at BlizzCon, but I’m not sure that got through,” said Morhaime.
He added, “Most of the audience did not get that memo. Maybe there should have been more discussion around: ‘Blizzard is not abandoning the PC.’”