You know what I love? A good dumpster fire. Not literally, of course. Those smell bad and aren’t nice to look at, but just watching something beautiful burn in their own hubris is so fucking beautiful to watch. We’ve seen it happen over and over. There was the fire every step of the way during the development of Mighty No. 9. There was the Yooka-Laylee voice acting fiasco. Don’t even get me started on the beautiful destruction of games journalism during #GamerGate. Now, we have the saga of Blizzard and their mobile gaming.
For those who didn’t know, all of this started a week or so ago at Blizzcon when they announced a new Diablo game. Now, this is an event for PC gamers, because that is their core audience. They hinted at a new Diablo game announcement before this event, but tried to walk that back because some part of them must have realized this could blow up in their face. If only they had that foresight when they ended the big press conference event by showing off that the new Diablo game was for mobile platforms. The way the room suddenly went silent was deafening. Even the announcer could feel it, and you can tell that he was sweating pinballs.
Things got worse at a Q&A panel where one person asked if this whole thing was a “late April Fools Joke” and when asked if there was any way any of this was coming to PC, they got booed when they said no and then subsequently attacking their audience. But it didn’t stop there! The company who makes this has already made games that are basically Diablo knock-offs, and people were noticing how this new game looked like a reskin of the old one. To which Blizzard doubled down on it not only being a good idea and the future of gaming, but not a reskin.
Following this, Activision’s stocks took a nose-dive. They lost billions in stock value in a day. Which leads me to today. Seeming seeing the writing on the wall, and not wanting to lose more money, Blizzard decided to triple-down on mobile gaming being the future by saying that not only are they going mobile with Diablo, but they are going that way with ALL of their IPs. Everything is gonna be mobile now. They said that because of this, they have more projects going than ever before and they are going to make a huge profit. This kind of speak sound kinda funny to you? Like it isn’t gamers they are talking to? Yeah, sounded that way for me too.
Because it isn’t gamers they are talking to. It’s investors. Activision Blizzard saw the massive decline in their stock and have run to assure investors that everything is great and that this backlash is nothing to be concerned about. In doing this, they showed that not only are they focusing all their IPs on mobile titles, but they are putting their best talent to work doing this. Needless to say, the backlash has been deafening.
How a company can be this out of touch with their audience just blows my fucking mind. It really does. Any corporate venture knows that investors are great, but if there is no demand for your product, their stocks are worth just as little. But then, perhaps there is some logic to this. After all, they are probably right that these products are going to make a shit-ton of money. Mobile gaming is big, especially over in Asia. China has become not only a mecca for Hollywood to make money, but also mobile gaming companies, as people will sink hundreds of millions into microtransactions. This market has mass appeal in Asia. Which makes the setting for this announcement for more fitting.
So perhaps Blizzard isn’t out of touch with their audience. They have just written off that if they ignore western audience and focus on eastern, they lose nothing. Perhaps there was financial calculus being done by the company at how much they could destroy with this dumpster fire and still coming out clean on the other side. These games will make a fuck-ton of money. They know that before they even do it. It will be microtransaction heaven, which will make even more. In these countries, people will pay. So what does Blizzard stand to lose?
Still, it is nice to see Blizzard do more of a scorched-earth response to audience backlash than Konami. I mean wow. It’s more than a little impressive. To give your PC audience the finger not once, not twice, but three times! They could have come out and made a video to assuage their PC gaming community who was made them big. At a time when they are making new characters for Overwatch while the game is filled with bugs that need fixing desperately, they continually show more and more tone-deafness to their core audience. It blows my mind.
The PR lesson is this – if you are going to take this kind of tactic with your audience, the consumers who buy your products, you better know for certain that you are going to get a return for your investment in the long run, because not only is customer loyalty a huge part of corporate success, but so is brand recognition. If people know your company as one thing, and you are selling that thing up the river to be a different thing to pander to a different community, you better know that this is going to work before you get started. Otherwise, it will be event after event where games journalism (the bane of all gaming) will kiss your ass, while the audience dries up more and more.
Good luck, Blizzard,
Until next time, a quote,
“Forgive me, I don’t know the local custom, but where I come from, when you hear a prayer, you say ‘Amen.’ Because that’s what you just heard – a prayer.” – Lawrence Garfield, Other People’s Money