Activision-Blizzard Layoffs Thoughts

The big industry news for gaming recently was a large layoff over at Activision-Blizzard. Around 700 people were cut, despite supposed record revenue for the company. On social media, I’ve seen multiple posts both inside and out of the company on the subject. People such as community managers often reached out or try to help their fellow former colleagues in finding new work. But I think we need to examine the bigger picture from this.

I don’t really think it’s surprising to hear this type of news, even with the quarterly revenue increase. While the layoff affected the all areas of the conglomerate, I really read this as Activision’s (not Activision-Blizzard mind you) way (or perhaps better yet Bobby Kotick’s way) of laying down the hammer in asserting its dominance over the company by targeting supposedly underperforming areas.

The three main areas I’ve seen affected were QA, IT and esports. I can definitely see IT since having less people implies the lack of a need to support a corresponding group. QA is more of a mystery because I believe that it shows an internal fallacy of what QA ought to be doing. Considering the various problems in software in general, I would say that you never can have too little people in QA. And if people aren’t doing a good job, then you either hired incorrectly or your QA department is setup improperly.

Now, the real interesting area is esports. The big reveal was how Mike Morhaime’s wife was in charge of that over at Blizzard but her departure (along with Morhaime’s) probably left a huge vacuum in terms of protection for the division. While esports might seem like a cool idea for insiders and nerds wanting to believe they belong on espn2, the truth is that I think esports hurts the focus of game design and has been a sore spot for Blizzard for some time now.

If you look at the emphasis on esports from a Blizzard point of view, I think it has done a very negative impact on their products. Boogie2968, on one of his videos, felt different but I disagree. I think games like HoTS, Hearthstone and Overwatch have suffered tremendously because of either too much balancing or too little. Also, none of those games are really casual friendly and require team efforts to be successful. They may create some level of viewership on Twitch.tv but I don’t think viewership equates to real returns for a company like Blizzard.

Alkaizer, in one of his rants, remarked how Diablo 3 has suffered because of the leaderboards and the developers’ unwillingness to patch the game within the season (except for game breaking bugs). He isn’t incorrect and that the game has only made attempts to create parity between “builds” rather than focus on stimulating new features.

And WoW just is in a rubbish state. I find it offensive that Blizzard calls skill adjustment “content” deemed worthy for a major patch. How is changing the percentage of an ability true “content?” It’s not content. It’s just fucking with numbers just to fix an unfixable arena for again the sake of esports.

If anything the drive towards esports has put Blizzard in a very bad state because the development is too focused on maintaining a non-existent state of balance. Hence, they’re forced to move into a micro-transaction driven economy, which sucks because these games don’t really reflect worthy micro-transactions that are worth buying.

But before you point out Hearthstone cards, let me say that the game is beyond bad. The fact that to even do anything beyond playing against the boring starter AI you need to purchase cards in the hopes of getting meta ones is just a terrible business model. There is no satisfaction in a game built almost entirely around RNG.

So I don’t think it’s unjustified to have a good chunk of the esports division cut off. In fact, that might be a good thing if the real vision is to get back to the basics and focus on good games.

However, let’s be real. We have Activision and Bobby Kotick. Neither can really be associated with good games in the modern age. Even if I disagreed with Mike Morhaime’s vision for esports, his leaving pretty much killed whatever soul Blizzard had left. I suspect over time, the name Blizzard will be erased too just like Solomon Smith Barney was erased by Citigroup.

My real problem with all of this isn’t the layoffs themselves but by what Activision is. It’s just a simple greedy, multi-billion dollar company looking to suck whatever is left from the brands they managed to create. Blizzard pretty much officially died the day Mike Morhaime left the helm. However, it was given aidz-ebola-cancer-diabeetus back when they allowed the merger with Activision.

It’s sad really because at one point Blizzard’s standards for games were the highest around. I remember my friend, who was a passionate developer, telling me about their grueling interview process. You could tell when a company really cares about their talent in how they interview candidates. They simply wanted the best of the best along with those who really believed in their games.

These days their games are a joke of themselves. They seem to exist to satisfy memes. While the polish, art and execution are still top notch, they lack the creative spirit and near flawless ability to perform the way they used to. I feel that World of Warcraft might’ve killed the internal spirit of the company, especially when the subscription model caused the company to become a victim of its own success.

After that, the company probably just became too bloated and self-important in a different way than before. It’s one thing to demand high standards for oneself. But it’s another when you demand that people view you as the standard.

However, this isn’t an anomaly in history. It’s simply a tale of human’s inability to avoid decadence after success. Perhaps, internally this will be a wake up call to re-evaluate itself. Instead, it’s probably just going to be a demoralizing scare tactic to force worse industry practices on the employees.

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