Blizzcon 2021 Sucked!

Blizzcon 2021 Sucked!

The absolute state of Blizzard

Why did they even have a Blizzcon event?  

They could have gotten away with pulling the plug completely this year.  All of the virtual conventions have been busts.  Sure, it was their thirtieth anniversary but frankly, that’s not an important number.  Twenty and Twenty-five, sure those are milestones.  Thirty years is just something that happens along the way to your fiftieth anniversary.

Also, Blizzard doesn’t have a hope in hell of making it to their fiftieth anniversary. 

The company strongly appears to have crossed over the tipping point into a Convergence of Grasshopper-People. Blizzard can only perform its core-functions with great difficulty.

Now it’s quite understandable that there won’t be a new game announced every year.  I get that. Today’s games are multi-million-dollar development projects that take years. You can’t announce a big new game annually. Some years Blizzcon just needs to be a low-key fan relations get-together.  “Come to Fort Blizzard and play Hearthstone with the guy who does the voice of Illidan.  It will be an easy win since he doesn’t play Hearthstone. And don’t forget your swag-bag for showing up in person. Flex on your nerd friends with unique pets and skins that they will never have because they didn’t think it was remotely worth paying for airfare, a hotel room, plus our own stupidly priced admission fee to possess them! You the man!”

For a long time, Blizzcon made sense, at least from that perspective.  They were the biggest name in gaming, and Blizzcon let them flex on the other studios.  In terms of importance, it was right behind E3.  But more importantly, it effectively let Blizzard say, “Screw E3! We. Are. Blizzard. We don’t need to share the spotlight with anyone!”

Then things started to change.

Blizzcon, in recent years began to change from being, a chance for Blizzard to strut it’s stuff, into an annual voyage of self-humiliation. 

There were a series of minor missteps in the years leading up to Blizzcon 2018.  Just a bunch of minor things that they were getting wrong.  The sort of stuff that happens when basic competence at your job is no longer the primary reason you were hired.

“You guys all have phones right?”

Blizzcon 2019 was a parade of unforced errors.  There had been plenty of bad sentiment building up for a while.  Most of it having to do with Blizzard’s shift from just making games to making pay-to-win games.  There had been some positive feelings recovered when Overwatch was launched.  Upgrades in that game were all cosmetic, you didn’t need to buy any of them to win.  Fine, that was an improvement.  

But in the run-up to Blizzcon that year, Blizzard made a big deal about there being a mega-announcement of Earth-shattering magnitude.  What could it be? An expansion of Overwatch? A little soon but, maybe.  A Starcraft open-world game? Some kind of fortress building mechanic for WoW?  It’s been eight years since the last Diablo game.  Is it Diablo 4?  It’s Diablo 4, isn’t it! Isn’t it?!?!

K-i-n-n-d of

Diablo Immortal was the big announcement.  A freaking phone game.  First of all, Blizzard has the reputation of being a PC gaming company.  That gave them some major cred with the hardcore gaming crowd in bygone years, because they were still making those when nobody else was. But phone games are notorious grift sponges. They have to be because the iPhone app store STRONGLY ENCOURAGES that apps be free.  Diablo Immortal instantly revived a lot of bad feelings from Diablo III.

And the utter cluelessness was made manifest when one of the executives answered the boos with, “You guys all have phones, right?” A Gamma reply if ever there was one. Don’t you know you are required to love all Blizzard games?

The backlash was immense.  Blizzard was a company that thought it could do no wrong.  And they were acting like it, despite the fact that they were getting it wrong.

Next was the Hearthstone scandal where Blizzard not only blackballed a winner that had made one pro-Hong Kong comment but also fired the commentators that were covering it for Blizzard. I mean what the hell were they supposed to do? It wasn’t scripted. The kid just shot off his mouth during a live event. Were they supposed to beat him up on camera? The backpedaling actually managed to make things worse. They would have been better off just to have said, “we’re sorry but China is too big for us.” The string of lies Blizzard told, threw gasoline on a raging fire of backlash.

Then came Warcraft III Reforged. This was supposed to be an easy dunk for Blizzard. Just an update of a twenty-year-old classic.

Now I admit it’s not as easy as it sounds. You can’t just weld new graphics onto the old engine. Technology has moved, forward, 64-bit wasn’t really a thing yet when Warcraft III first dropped. They were having to build a new game. But that said, they had had decent success rebuilding StarCraft I. It was a project that should have been possible with off-the-shelf parts. They weren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here. It didn’t need to be groundbreaking. It just needed to be a decent remaster of a twenty-year-old game.

And Blizzard couldn’t do it. They actually made the original game worse.

Part of it was that they got ambitious when they didn’t need to be.

“’Let’s push it,’ said Blizzard’s Pete Stillwell to Polygon in an interview at the time. “Let’s get it to be as perfectly balanced as StarCraft. Let’s add more to the editor, because it’s already powerful. And like a good Blizzard game, it’s easy to learn, difficult to master, [but let’s] also make it even deeper.”

Blizzard wasn’t just going to tweak the game balance and make things a bit prettier, it was going to add voiceover and remake in-engine cutscenes to modernize them and bring them in line with the lore of the MMO.”

They promised more of everything and in the end, delivered a disaster.

From Polygon:

“Customers are complaining about connectivity issues. They can’t reliably connect to custom matches. They can’t access custom campaigns that worked just fine previously. There’s no support for a competitive ladder. Making matters worse is the fact that there’s simply no going back; even if you install the original Warcraft 3, you’re still going to end up with the same issues once you connect to Blizzard’s online services because the infrastructure is now the same for both the old and the new versions of the game.

What it’s added up to so far is bedlam on Blizzard’s Warcraft 3 message boards and on the game’s subreddit. “I don’t want your new sh*t I want my old client and custom campaigns,” wrote one customer.“

Blizzard had managed the near impossible by pissing off non-customer, Warcraft III players. It was like, instead of the steady, reliable old Ford Escorts they’d been driving for years, now whether they wanted it or not, they got new Fiestas with a driver’s side ejection seat that fires them out of the car at random intervals. But there’s more!

“There’s yet another wrinkle to the story, as well. As USgamer points out, Blizzard has also updated some of its terms and conditions as it relates to custom game modes. It appears to be a defensive move to protect the company from losing out on the revenue generated by adaptations based on its work.”

Apparently, Blizzard is determined to not miss out on any of that sweet, sweet DOTA III money. 

This last is little short of incompetence. Just rewriting a EULA doesn’t change thirty years of standing court precedents.

How did none of their lawyers spot these pitfalls? How was it that none of Blizzard’s middle managers couldn’t spot the problems that were developing and just pull the plug on the whole project rather than give Blizzard yet another black eye?

Blizzcon 2020 was clearly an act of desperation. They had two huge major announcements with trailers and everything.  Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4. Lots and lots of we’re back baby! Megahype.

But by now everyone’s reaction was, anybody, can make a trailer these days.  I see you have no launch dates to go with them.

Blizzcon 2021 was a tired sad little affair.  No new Overwatch or Hearthstone shorts.  No launch dates for Overwatch 2 or Diablo 4. But oh, goody we are getting two remasters this year.  A collection of Blizzards very first three games and Diablo 2. 

Oh, and they still don’t have a release date for Diablo Immortal. 

What are Blizzard’s priorities these days?

Well, that last one I can that answer. And in doing so, answer all the other questions.

“Our esports content opening ceremony is free, so accessibility there and inclusion there has to do with language, first and foremost. So we have closed caption, and this year, we invested in seven languages that we’re localizing in with live audio dubbing, which we’ve learned from the community was preferred. We’ll hear their feedback this year, as well. But that’s been a big area for us. We base a lot of this on feedback. We want to hear from the community and what they want.”

In terms of facilities management directly onsite at BlizzCon, Smith reminded me that they’ve always had sign language interpreters that help the staff to communicate with attendees. “We try to have a lot of facilities and, like, a VIP experience in certain areas for anyone with ADA stickers, making sure they have access into the halls, into the panels that they’d like to participate in, into the demo lines, to give them an easier experience throughout the show.”

“This year we’re really excited,” Stevens exclaimed. “We have gender-neutral bathrooms.”

Well at least they managed that.

Okay, I’m done here.

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