Former Blizzard director Jay Wilson has said that Activision’s effect on the company was “like a frog in a boiling pot of water”.
Wilson, who worked on Diablo 3 and the Warhammer series, was speaking at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo recently about the closure of Blizzard North in 2005.
The video game studio, originally founded as an independent firm by Diablo creator David Brevik, was one of very few studios that was able to effectively work with Blizzard at a time when most external projects got shelved.
Composer and sound engineer Matt Uelmen denied that “Vivendi [Blizzard Entertainment’s owner] or the French made a decision” to close down Blizzard North, as is reported on Wikipedia and beyond.
“Don’t believe the business history you read online, business history is always stupid and wrong,” he said. “You spend five minutes looking at who owns what and realise what the reality is in most of these situations.”
Uelmen continued: “The French didn’t shut the studio down in 2005, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. WoW was making more money than like the CIA selling crack in 1988 [laughs].
“And so [Blizzard co-founder and president] Mike Morhaime, who I liked, had all the money and all the leverage in that situation. And it maybe wasn’t an inappropriate move no matter how it was handled. It may have been the right call at the time.”
Wilson, who was at the company at the time, remembered: “Activision’s effect on Blizzard was like a frog in a boiling pot of water. Early on it felt like nothing. Later, as business models progressed for products, it became more and more… the products that were newer, that were making money, had enormous amounts of pressure on them to produce…
“Like Heroes of the Storm: they were just crushed in meetings with Activision where they were always talking about the bottom line, how to pull more out of that… Diablo 3 wasn’t affected too much because we were very solidly a premium boxed model.”
Per PCGamer, Wilson was ready to move on from Blizzard at that point, but he was present in those early stages of integration.
“A lot of talk of Immortal before I left,” he said. “They were talking about Immortal, but it hadn’t actually started, that was all Activision-Blizzard. They wanted a free-to-play Diablo really badly… and I didn’t [laughs]. Now granted, by then I was off Diablo…”
Wilson said that many senior leads at Blizzard then began to quit as a result of Activision’s change of approach. “A lot of the higher-up people who left did because they got frustrated with all of that,” he said.
“I don’t think they made those products better. There’s a lot of bad things about Blizzard, there’s a lot of great things, but I think the best thing… when I was there Blizzard had this saying ‘We always want to be the guys in the white hats’, which means we always want to be the good guys.
“So if we charge our players for something, and of course we’re going to charge them, we’re a business… But we always wanted to charge them what we thought was reasonable. So that came in direct conflict with a lot of [Activision’s ideas].”
You can watch the full panel discussion in the video above.
Last month the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) voiced concerns that Microsoft‘s ongoing acquisition of Activision Blizzard may “harm rivals” and “damage competition”.
Meanwhile, Diablo 4 is currently slated for a 2023 release.