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.

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600 Let Go Over at Blizzard

My friend pointed out how 600 employees were let go by Blizzard. Most were not developers but sections that were over staffed. Without question, part of the decision most likely was due to the massive subscription loss in the past year (around 1.8 million). While the finger pointing has occurred, you cannot deny that at the end of the day, someone has to pay for the loss.

Ironically, I wrote up on the message board in response to how Cataclysm’s “hard mode” dungeons had failed (and probably were a huge cause in the decrease of subscriptions) that most people probably never developed a product on the message board and were the same ones complaining that the game needed to be aimed at the “hardcores.” My statement was that content like Sunwell, which apparently had 1% of the population in WoW experience it, can be considered a massive failure because the resources developing the content were practically wasted. As a result, I argued that if I were the boss, I would fire the people responsible for making those decisions.

When I told my friend that I wrote my statement, he remarked that Blizzard probably thought my suggestion was a great idea. Of course, those employees probably hate me to death. But at the end of the day you need accountability. As a public company, Blizzard/Activision must respond to their shareholders. So if you lose a good chunk of change, those people who made such poor decisions should be let go. It’s just reality.

The other way I looked at this situation was a massive warning to the employees at Blizzard. With Diablo 3, the next expansion for Starcraft 2  and Mists of Panderia still in the queue, the only pure guaranteed money maker is World of Warcraft. If you’re bleeding this badly, you have to stop it with something. Also, you’re saying that you cannot let your guard down, which I think Blizzard has been doing, especially as new RPGs and MMORPGs emerge like Star Wars: The Old Republic, Rift and Skyrim.

Internally, Blizzard employees have been telling the media that Cataclysm was a financial success. But that was more towards the beginning of the expansion. The drop off I believe occurred 1-2 months into the expansion. My feeling is that the hard cores would be able to complete the content and not really complain as they felt loyal to the game. However, the casuals coming from Wrath of the Lich King would take at least a month or so to get a toon to level 85. Since there is no great reason to backtrack and do re-made Vanilla content, the only thing left for these people were to PVP, run Heroics or raid.

In talking with my friends that quit, most of them just felt frustrated with the game. A few were good players but lacked the time to do endless PUG wipes and couldn’t deal with the immature players, the idiots or the general frustration. In other words, they hit a big wall and felt it wasn’t fun anymore. And that was just in the first patch.

For some reason though, maybe the numbers weren’t fully published yet, but Blizzard continued on this route until 4.3. 4.1 was a horrible patch. They could’ve made amends to 4.0.3 but seemed more focused on just getting something out, hence revising two raids but sticking with the annoyance factors of 4.0.3.

For me, I think that Blizzard shouldn’t try to re-invent their own wheel each expansion. It’s about setting expectations. Too much keeps changing and it doesn’t feel thought out thoroughly. Perhaps part of that might be a result of this excess 600 that were let go. Either way, I think the remaining employees will have to take their jobs more seriously because they can’t let themselves be fooled into thinking that WoW can sustain their jobs forever.