What Activision Can And Can't Change About Blizzard

Illustration for article titled What Activision Can And Can't Change About Blizzard

The development talent at Blizzard now has a new publisher and parent in Activision Blizzard. If you ask the developers, they're enthusiastic about the change. "All game development is still completely within our Irvine headquarters," World of Warcraft game director Jeffrey Kaplan told Kotaku during our sit-down today. "There's no outside influence at all in the development of Diablo 3, StarCraft 2 or WoW." In fact, Blizzard sees an upside to being hitched to the Activision star. "They have a lot of expertise in the console area, where we're very-headed in addition to PC and online," Kaplan said. "Activision's point of view is, there's a lot of trust in Blizzard and what we do. Activision's just trying to figure out how we work and try to learn from us." But Activision's an ambitious company. CEO Bobby Kotick has talked in the past about monetizing massively multiplayer environments, competing with iTunes, even evolving pricing models for consoles. Does Activision have the power to change the way Blizzard monetizes WoW, if it wants to?"Theoretically they could, if they wanted to," Kaplan said. Blizzard has always staunchly bucked the trend in online games that seems to be considering microtransactions, ad-supported freebies, and other alternate revenue streams as opposed to the subscription model, which many people theorize is going the way of the dinosaur. Blizzard has always said it favors balanced gameplay as opposed to alternate biz models, and according to Kaplan, this is still the case. "We would always do whatever's coolest for the game," he said. "A great example of this is our paid character transfer service, which in its own way is sort of a microtransaction within WoW. The reason we introduced that service was because we thought it was a benefit that wow players needed, and the pricing model was put there as a barrier to entry, not a source of revenue." Free transfers for everybody, Kaplan said, would do bad things to the community and realm populations, but Blizzard still wanted to provide the service as an option for legitimate cases where players do need to transfer realms. "We would look towards other microtransactions, or services we would charge for, but not with the intention of 'oh, here's this great source of revenue,'" he said. Jay Wilson, lead designer on Diablo III, summed up the developer's policy on the microtransactions issue: "I think we always look to make the game we want to make, and then figure out the kind of financial model that works with that game." But business-savvy Activision, aiming for top-tier publisher, does have the power to change that financial model. So is Blizzard worried? "I'm not concerned at this point at all," said Kaplan. "What's important to note about Blizzard is that we've had many owners over the years. Our executive staff, sort of the first thing they do whenever we get bought by somebody else, is to go through this big training process of, 'this is what makes us successful. If you mess with this, you're going to mess with your own revenue at this point.' Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime and COO Paul Sams are "extremely talented," Kaplan said, at working with publishers to communicate Blizzard's philosophy. "Our track record has been pretty golden over the years," said Kaplan. "With Burning Crusade, we could have put it out in the Fall and gotten all of the Christmas revenue — who wouldn't have wanted that? But everyone agreed that if we worked on it for two more months... it was a better long term decision." "And short term decision," added Blizzard associate PR manager Bob Colayco, pointing out that the expansion helped keep WoW at the top of the charts since it launched. Kaplan said, as someone who's "very much a gamer, and into games first and foremost," he was excited by the Activision news. "I'm excited because of the games they're making right now," he said. "I thought Call of Duty 4 kicked ass. I had that in my top five games of last year. I thought it was brilliant — the way Infinity Ward executed on CoD4 reminded me of what Blizzard values." "It wasn't about innovation... it was all about execution, and how well they executed on every single idea, and the level of polish was just awesome. Knowing we're partnered with people who have some of the same values... that's really exciting."


Activision Blizzard sounds like a great marriage so far. If they do decide to port Blizzard titles to consoles I hope they maintain those same values in executing well in the forefront.