This week’s Green Dragon Inn article
The recent revelation that Blizzard Entertainment is hiring console developers to work on a game that will be part of the Diablo franchise was surprising. Blizzard Entertainment has been adamantly focused on developing games exclusively for the PC, even after Vivendi, Blizzard’s parent company, was bought by/merged with industry-leader Activision. MTV’s videogame blog has the following quote from the merger announcement, back in 2007:
“We don’t have any plans on the console side,” Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said. “Blizzard’s focus is on the PC side. If we were to release anything on the console side it would be managed on the Blizzard side of the business.”
People following the Activision-Blizzard merger wondered how Bobby Kotick’s leadership would affect World of Warcraft’s acclaimed developer, if at all. After some restructuring that occurred in March of this year (2010), it seemed like Activision would have a greater influence on how Blizzard does business, having remained largely independent until then. Bobby Kotick is a controversial figure, as you can see from this Ars Technica article. The litigation over Tim Schafer’s Brütal Legend and Infinity Ward’s revolt after releasing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has made him the focus of criticism by others in the videogame industry, but Mr. Kotick has made several appeals to dispel that image. Any influence he might’ve had with Blizzard’s choices is speculative, but that doesn’t stop the posts and comments accusing him for any number of things, such as the changes recently implemented to the battle.net service. With this latest development regarding Diablo, fingers will certainly be pointed his way.
Nevertheless, Joystiq reports that Blizzard’s COO Paul Sams had the following to say in Blizzcon 2009, two years after Mike Morhaime’s comments:
“We’ve met with the major manufacturers, and they’ve made some pretty compelling arguments,” Sams said. We can safely assume he means Sony and Microsoft, because it’s nearly impossible to imagine this game running on the Wii
He goes on to say that Blizzard making games for consoles isn’t a matter of if but when. This makes Blizzard’s hiring of a console-focused team a further step towards that inevitability. From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense for Blizzard to seek expanding its reach out to folks who game on consoles exclusively. Keep in mind that the above comments come a year before the restructuring that took place in March, in which Thomas Tippl was named as Activision Blizzard’s COO, with oversight on Mike Morhaime and Blizzard as a whole.
Blizzard has been focused on making computer games exclusively for most of its history, and it has had downright scandalous success doing so. The Warcraft and Starcraft franchises are known the world over, and they’re amongst the biggest names in videogame history. Some say that it’s those games from this company that have kept PC gaming alive, in a sense. That is something Blizzard doesn’t wish to take credit for, as mentioned in this article over at Massively.com.
Blizzard’s culture is best summarized by comments Paul Sams made back in January this year (2010), over at Gameindustry.biz (You need a free account in order to read the whole article):
We will not pull the rug out from under them and ship it before it’s done, so people feel that when they out their heart and soul into a game, they’ll be able to deliver the game they envisioned.”
In other words, they won’t ship a game until they feel it’s done, and that standard hasn’t change with the corporate shell-game that’s taken place over the last few years. This applies to their projects now as well as any project they might consider for the future. Blizzard, after all, is not like other developers in how long they take to release their games. If they were, we’d be on Diablo 10 and Starcraft 12 – this is including most of the studios under the Activision umbrella already.
If we take a step back and consider that, right now, the Blizzard jobs website lists a total of 3 open positions for console development doesn’t mark a major upheaval in Blizzard’s culture. At best, they’re exploring the idea of developing something for the Xbox 360 and the PS3 years from now, rather than trying to throw something quickly out the door. If you take into account the type of games Diablo I and II were, consoles might be a good fit for the franchise anyway; the control scheme for Action-RPGs is far more appropriate for a handheld controller than that of a Real-time strategy or a Massive Multiplayer Online game.
Finally, at this time no announcements have been made regarding any title that may or may not be in development for consoles as well as the PC; Blizzard’s lineup hasn’t changed to include any other titles than those we already know about on the one platform they’ve always worked on. So, so far, what we know is what had already been said before, and in a way, foretold: Blizzard will develop console versions of their games in the future, and it’s going to be sooner rather than later. They’re getting a team together, they have a plan, they’ll let us know about their dastardly deeds as soon as they’re ready to, and since this is Blizzard we’re talking about, we’ll probably wait for a good long while.