Last year has become one of the most rocky in memory for the PC game paragon Blizzard Entertainment. Announcement of defamation of Diablo: Immortal at BlizzCon 2018 is only the beginning of a tumultuous year of news such as Blizzard cutting hundreds of jobs despite posting profit records, rumors of the effect of increased costs driven by Activision, and enormous international controversy when two Taiwan casters and players Hearthstone pro was banned when players said they used post-match interviews to call for Hong Kong's independence from China.
At the Path of Exile's ExileCon fan convention in New Zealand this weekend I had the opportunity to talk with Blizzard North's founders and creators Diablo David Brevik, Erich Schaefer, and Max Schaefer to get their opinions on Blizzard's latest controversy. The interview, which includes their opinions on the announcement of Diablo 4, Blizzard's past and present, and China's turbulent gaming industry, will be posted in full on PC Gamers this weekend.
During our chat, I asked Brevik, Erich, and Max Schaefer, whether it was difficult to oversee the company they helped build themselves in controversy over the past year, and if it felt like Blizzard had "sort of" changed.
"This isn't 'a kind of' change, it has completely changed," Brevik denied, noting that the only original Blizzard developers left were senior art director Samwise Didier and president J. Allen Brack, whom Brevik is still chatting with regular.
"The old Blizzard is gone," Max Schaefer added. "When we stopped, there were a total of 180 employees. Now there were thousands. The whole kingdom was different, and Activision had no influence. At that time it was only Blizzard and then some anonymous company owners, Vivendi or whoever. That was what it was and now. [Blizzard is] an imperial video game that has to calm shareholders and all that sort of thing. "
Changes in Blizzard Entertainment's values and culture are nothing new. That is something that "happens with companies all the time," Brevik said, and is a natural part of any company that grows into a big company.
The Brevik and Schaefer brothers all state that even during the development of Diablo 2, there was a constant battle over the bloody aesthetic of 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 increasingly difficult for the three to focus on creative design and avoid corporate bureaucracy.
"I think the biggest thing is we are not talking about shareholder value," Erich Schaefer said. "We are not talking about the Chinese government and what they want. The only thing we have ever talked about is what we want to do and what the fans want. Obviously that's not the case anymore, good or bad. I don't know." I don't blame them. They are a giant company. "
"You can't be that big and be as free as we are, and one of the reasons we go is to be more self-determined and not be attached to a horrible organization," Max Schaefer said. "Nothing stays the same. We will not be saved [Blizzard’s] growth in any form by staying there. It will only drive us crazy because all we want to do is have a team and make the game we want to make. It might be in a small group like Blizzard then and it might not be in the empire of the media conglomerates that they have today. "
Although Brevik, Max and Erich Schaefer left Blizzard in 2003 and have never had to face the modern challenges of Blizzard's enormous global presence, especially in sports, I want to know how they feel about the whole controversy about Blizzard that banned Hearthstone Chung players. 39; Blitzchung 'Ng Wai – mainly because all three have experience in publishing games in China and working with Chinese partners. Brevik acted as an advisor for the release of Path of Exile in China, and both Schaefers have worked with Chinese investors and publishers in their various games.
"First of all, sometimes you wake up in the morning and you just don't win," Max Schaefer said. "And I think, to some extent, that's what happened with [Blizzard]. There is no clean exit. And I think they are rather careless, of course, but there is no way they would have passed it without controversy. "
Regarding rumors and fears that Blizzard is being pressured under pressure from the Chinese government or Blizzard's publishing partner, NetEase, Brevik said that it sounds "like a conspiracy theory."
"Because of the structure of Blizzard now they think with their wallets," Max Schaefer speculated. "I think such decisions lead more than anything else, and they might underestimate people's perceptions about that."
"Once again, Blizzard is in an unfortunate situation," Brevik said. "If they don't punish, then what? They will only become platforms of free speech for any kind of political movement that anyone wants to take? They have to do something, but is it handled perfectly? Maybe not. I mean, that's why they apologize . "
My full interview with David Brevik, Max and Erich Schaefer, and more coverage on Path of Exile, including his new campaign called Road of Exile 2, will be published this week.