Dylan Astrom

Author

Blizzard Entertainment: A Bleak Prognosis

Blizzard, Blizzard, Blizzard… You have the most loyal fans in all of PC gaming! They’ve been by your side for decades!  Not to mention that smash hit you made with the new game back in 2016, remember? There’s no way your condition has deteriorated this quickly. I mean, you would have to blunder so many decisions, alienate so many faithful players with such asinine, unprecedented mediocrity, manipulation, and mismanagement—there’s just no way.

Well, I’ll be damned. What the hell happened? How did this all come crashing down?

Diabloclasia:

For those unaware, Blizzard Entertainment is a multi-billion dollar gaming developer and publisher. They are the creators of such titles as Warcraft, StarcraftWorld of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Heroes of the StormDiablo, and Overwatch. Take note, because those last two titles are gonna be mentioned A LOT over the next 2,000 words, but let’s not rush to hasty conclusions just yet. Let me paint a picture:

BlizzCon: 2018 in Anaheim. It’s Blizzard’s annual gaming conference, and many devoted fans make a point to come out and see the latest and greatest cooking at Blizzard HQ for the coming year. Diablo lovers are certainly in attendance. They’re desperate for a bone after a six year drought since the last major content launch, which was Diablo III in 2012. BlizzCon 2017 was a sore affair at best, without so much as a sniffle about Diablo through the whole weekend. The time is ripe for a Diablo IV announcement trailer, or at the very least a remastered version of Diablo II. The two-day conference is at its closing panel—Blizzard always saves the best reveal up their sleeve for last. Surely, this is the year.

Just kidding! It’s time to play Diablo Go! AHAHAHAHAHAHA! No wait, I got a better one: Diablo: Pop! Diablo-Up! 

It doesn’t matter what title I give Diablo Immortal, it all falls into the same, simple problem: It’s a mobile game! Did you seriously use your closing panel to show off to some of the biggest geeks of computer gaming culture a mobile game of their long-neglected franchise and then, when met with an undesirable response, ask them, “Do you guys not have phones?” How utterly divorced from a franchise and its fan base do you have to be to not see the backlash coming a mile away? 

These people paid $200 just to get through the doors of your conference, Blizzard! Now you want to show them your shill mobile game, outsourced to a Chinese company, and re-skinned from said Chinese company’s other game Endless of God

This has all been orchestrated as a naive way to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore gamers—some misplaced conception that mobile games are ready to host PC games on their platform.

Hint: they’re fucking not. Mobile games are the scourge of the earth to us. Hardcore gamers want nothing to do with them, and let’s be honest, why should we? We’ve invested hundreds, if not thousands of dollars into custom, performance-grade desktops, with solid state hard drives containing upwards of a terabyte in digital storage, 4K Ultra HD monitors, state of the art subwoofer speakers and/or noise-cancelling headsets, mechanical keyboards, hypersensitive mouses… What the hell do smartphones have to offer us? Now, let’s take a look at what smartphones have to offer you:

Ah, yes, that’s right. The already dubious and borderline-criminal business practices of loot boxes and other forms of micro-transactions present in video games are ‘roided up by fivescore in phone apps for a sliver of the budget and content. Mobile gaming is a cash machine right now, and its developers are smitten with greed to keep the good times rolling. Mobile gaming is limited in every sense of the word, from the control inputs a player has, to the laughable storage capacity, screen size, graphic rendering of the device. Mobile gaming has next to no game play and complexity in comparison to the juggernauts of console and PC gaming.

And before anyone so much as mentions the word Hearthstone, do remember Hearthstone is a glorified digital card game. The only reason that venture was successful in mobile porting was because of the minimal technical requirements that could be met by smartphones without losing a great deal of the experience.

Yes, phones are getting better and better each year, as game journalists keep shouting about ad nauseam, but take a moment and realize that a phone is literally just a tiny computer. And for every computational leap a phone takes, a desktop takes five, maybe even ten.

Blizzard simply got a whiff of the unbridled success of the mobilization of Hearthstone and just couldn’t resist giving the cellular treatment to other, more prodigious games. Just look at how well this news was received on YouTube:

I mean, how do you take one look at this like/dislike ratio for the first trailer of your brand spanking new game and not reevaluate your direction as a company? Apparently, this is just another day at Blizzard HQ, because this wasn’t enough of a PR nightmare. How about we decide to stoke the fire even more by combing through the comments sections and deleting negative comments from the trailer en masse? No, no don’t worry! That won’t make us look like we’re a bunch of petty, emotional five-year-olds, acting out in a temper tantrum or anything. Why would you think that?

The worst part about all this is Diablo IV is still coming out—everybody knows it—, but Blizzard still wont do the honors of admitting it publicly yet for some reason. They think they should hold the big reveal until “the time is right”. Well, I’ve got bad news. The right time was November 3rd, 2018 in Anaheim. Now everyday you sit on it is just hurting your name more. Stop acting like you know better than your customers and make the damn announcement already.

Overwatchoma:

Oh, you thought I was content just to cover the recent kerfuffle with Diablo, didn’t you? Bitch, you don’t even know how long I’ve been waiting to unload on the buffoonery and spinelessness that has transpired in Diablo’s sister franchise. Let me introduce you to the two-year-old game whose hair has already begun to gray.

Overwatch: A brilliant PvP, class-based first-person shooter game, one I played a ton after its launch. At the time, it had everything for virtually anyone. It was a fresh, promising game that looked to hold a crowd for years to come. However, the developing team couldn’t get out of its own way with two main problems:

1. Stale Content

Yes, I’m aware Overwatch is meant to be first and foremost a player versus player experience. But something that really spiked up the community’s prowess for the game over the first year and a half was the seasonal events. They were fresh at the time, but we are now cycling on year three, and only one new event has been added to the game since the first year (Retribution). The ironic thing is I missed out on that event because I didn’t know about it until it had already passed. Then there has been pleading for a player or co-op story/campaign mode to be made in the future after we got teased a bit about the possibility of that with the Uprising event. At this point, it’s safe to say it ain’t gonna happen. Blizzard is too busy with other shit, such as OWL and screwing the game up à la patch notes.

2. Balancing

If I was granted one wish for Overwatch, and only one, it would be to make better balancing decisions. I can suffer repetitive holiday event after repetitive holiday event, but when you fuck the game up in some novel way every single patch, well, that’s why I’ve quit playing altogether. First off, let’s talk about your horrendous reworks.

Mercy

Mercy is probably the most abused hero in the entire roster of Overwatch. She was largely untouched in the first year, but then Blizzard had the grand idea to make her more “fun” to play. They took away her multi-resurrect, slapped a single, melee-range one on as her second ability, and reserved her ultimate to be a Duck Hunt simulator for the enemy team. Initially for Mercy 2.0, this was actually a huge buff to her character, but I knew as soon as it dropped, there would be hell to pay. Low and behold, her rez ability being moved away from her ultimate slot presented problems. Lots of them.

Now, put opinions aside for a second. If you see that Mercy 1.0 was nerfed a total of 0 times (even getting a few small buffs to make her stronger), and Mercy 2.0 has been nerfed 14 times and counting, is it yet safe enough to say that the rework has been detrimental and deserves to be reverted, if not overhauled with something different for the sake of being different? No? How about when the forums for Overwatch is flooded so vigorously about the negative effects of the Mercy rework that Blizzard had to create a “Megathread” to consolidate the mess. That megathread has since had to be regularly replaced because it keeps capping out at 20,000 posts. Now any post related to Mercy gets categorically sucked into the latest of these megathreads, never to be seen again.

I tried to dig up all the past ones, but they’re either very well hidden or deleted altogether by now. Nevertheless, most active members on the forums agree that there has been at least 11 megathreads for Mercy alone, and that the total number of responses amassed on the subject has easily exceeded 100,000 posts by this point. And let me remind you, that this change was implemented over a year ago. Players are still making posts all about Mercy. And if you spend even a minute reading half of them, most of it isn’t just whining and crying about all the problems Blizzard has left them with. Most of it is active, fan-generated solutions—tips, suggestions, and recommendations for a change that benefits the Overwatch community as a whole.

Look for yourself, these aren’t cherry-picked. Hell, some guy by the name of Slyther0829 even recently did a thorough survey on the forums about the player’s opinions of the Mercy changes, where 61.9% of all participants didn’t find Mercy enjoyable to play. Yet through it all, the Overwatch team remained largely silent, only once in a blue moon making any public response to the feedback like this time in April:

“Mercy is the 3rd most played hero in the current competitive season and in the game for the past month. Her win rate hovers very close to 50%. We don’t feel like Mercy needs changes right now.”

-Jeff Kaplan (Overwatch Designer & Vice President)

Ironically enough, the very next patch after this post, Mercy was nerfed. Again.

Jeff, buddy, what fucking bubble are you living in? From the very beginning, it was all about Mercy becoming a heal-bot. It was about how the enjoyment and satisfaction a player gets when playing Mercy has been diminished substantially. No one was asking for her stats to be buffed, they wanted her kit to be fixed. Time and time again, we’ve explained to you how her new ultimate, Valkyrie, is worse than useless. She has not a single strategic mechanic left in her current, mangled design. Face the facts, man up, and accept that you, and the Overwatch team have fucked up royally. I know you’re not oblivious to the outcry on the forums; you’re simply too proud to go back on your balancing decisions and choose to stick to your guns with this misshapen vision of a support hero to the end.

The sad part is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Other heroes, such as Bastion, Hanzo, Sombra, Roadhog, and Symmetra have sustained similar crippling issues after their reworks, but as a Mercy player, hers strikes me as the most egregious. She has such a loyal following (not unlike the Diablo fan base), and yet Blizzard doesn’t give a shit. They think the key to popularity is keeping the game in a constant state of flux, shaking up the meta, and the heroes to keep them fresh and interesting. Even though, they’re 100% wrong, they target ban those who want real change on the forums, ignore every bout of criticism, feedback, and suggestions they had promised to take above all else, and worst of all, they shove it away in a closet and refuse to admit it exists. Overwatch has been in a constant downward spiral in popularity since the advent of the “rework” saga became popular, and that age began first and foremost with Mercy on the chopping block.

The Final Verdict:

Blizzard is sick—in more ways than one. The only remedy for such a problem is for them to tune their ears back onto their loyal customers and life-long fans. As a fellow creator, complaints are good, not bad. Complaints mean that there’s work to be done for the betterment of the experience, that people actively want to see your titles succeed. Diablo has no place in the mobile gaming arena, just as Overwatch has no place to be balanced purely around the Overwatch League competitive scene (roughly 0.00000125% of the player base!). A problem is still a problem, and by ignoring it, it only festers in the hearts and minds of those whom love what you make. We’re still here, Blizzard. We’re still paying attention. We want to see you do better, because you have done better in the past. And because you and the games you make hold a special place in our hearts.

Please, stop burning bridges at the first sign of opposition to your choices. Please, re-establish the trust and professionalism we expect from your brand.

Please, listen to us.

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