Last year was one of the most exciting in the memory of Blizzard Entertainment's PC gaming model. Diablo: Immortal's defamatory announcement at BlizzCon 2018 was just the beginning of a tumultuous year of news as Blizzard slashing hundreds of jobs, despite record profits, rumors of Activision's growing influence and huge international controversy when two launchers of Taiwan and a professional Hearthstone player were banned when the player used his post-match interview to call for Hong Kong's independence from China.
At the Path of Exile fan convention at ExileCon in New Zealand this weekend, I had a chance to chat with Blizzard North founders and Diablo creators David Brevik, Erich Schaefer and Max Schaefer to get their opinion on the recent ones. Blizzard controversies. This interview, which includes his views on Diablo 4's announcement, Blizzard's past and present and China's turbulent gaming industry, will be published in full on PC Gamer later this week.
During our conversation, I asked Brevik, Erich and Max Schaefer, if it was hard to watch a company they helped build get involved in controversy last year and if it seemed that Blizzard "sort of" changed.
"It hasn't changed," it has completely changed, "said Brevik, noting that the only original Blizzard developers who remain are senior art director Samwise Didier and president J. Allen Brack, with whom Brevik still regularly talks.
"Old Blizzard is gone," added Max Schaefer. "When we stopped, there were about 180 employees in total. There are thousands now. The whole empire is different, and Activision had no influence. At that time, it was just Blizzard and then some anonymous corporate owner, Vivendi or who whatever it was that was it and now [Blizzard is] a video game empire that needs to appease shareholders and all that kind of stuff. "
This change in Blizzard Entertainment's values and culture is nothing new. It's something that "happens to companies all the time," Brevik said, and is a natural part of any company that grows into a large company.
Brevik and the Schaefer brothers stated that even during the development of Diablo 2, there was a constant battle over their bloody satanic aesthetic between Blizzard North and Blizzard Entertainment, the main branch of the company that was originally founded by Mike Morhaime, Allen Adham. and Frank Pearce. But as Blizzard continued to grow after the success of Diablo, Warcraft and StarCraft, it became more difficult for the trio to focus on creative design and avoid corporate bureaucracy.
"I think the important thing is that we don't talk about shareholder value," said Erich Schaefer. "We didn't talk about the Chinese government and what they might want. The only thing we talked about was what we wanted to do and what the fans would like. It's obviously no longer the case, for better or for worse. I don't know " Do not blame them. They are a giant corporation. "
"You can't be as big and as free as we were, and one of the reasons we left was to be more self-determined and not worthy of a monstrous organization," said Max Schaefer. "Nothing remains the same. We would not have survived [Blizzard’s] growth anyway, staying there. It would drive us crazy because all we want to do is have a team and make the games we want to do. This is possible in the small group like Blizzard used to be and not possible in a conglomerate media empire they now have. "
Although Brevik, Max and Erich Schaefer left Blizzard back in 2003 and never had to deal with the modern challenges of Blizzard's huge global presence, especially in sports, I was curious how they felt about the whole Blizzard controversy. ban Hearthstone's professional player, Chung & # 39; Blitzchung Ng Wai – especially since the three have experience publishing games in China and working with Chinese partners. Brevik served as a consultant for the Chinese release of Path of Exile, and the two Schaefers worked with Chinese investors and publishers on their various games.
"First of all, sometimes you wake up in the morning and you're just in a no win situation," said Max Schaefer. "And I think, to some extent, that's what happened to [Blizzard]. There was no clean exit. And I think they kind of messed up, obviously, but there was no way to get through it without some controversy. "
Concerning rumors and fear that Blizzard was giving in under pressure from the Chinese government or NetEase's publishing partner, NetEase, Brevik said this seemed "a conspiracy theory."
"Due to Blizzard's structure, they now think first with their wallets," speculated Max Schaefer. "I think this led decision making more than anything, and maybe they underestimated people's perceptions."
"Again, Blizzard was in a no win situation," said Brevik. "If they don't punish, then what? Will they just become that free speech platform for any kind of political movement anyone wants to adopt? They had to do something, but it was perfectly handled? Probably not." I mean, that's why they apologized. "
My full interview with David Brevik, Max and Erich Schaefer and more Path of Exile coverage, including his new campaign called Path of Exile 2, will be published later this week.