Sunday, April 02, 2006
The Decline of Blizzard Entertainment
Some of you reading this might be immediately asking, "Decline? What the fuck is he talking about?" While true, World of Warcraft is a huge success and Blizzard Entertainment's sales have never been stronger, a decline is not always measured in terms of overall success, as success can be about cattering to the masses. No, decline can be seen only from ones own eyes, from what one expects to see, or knows what one should see, yet what lies before them is something different and in the opposite direction.
Basically, people tend to like game companies for different reasons. Some love the companies that put out great new game engines, others like a specific series, some like strong stories, etc. Back in the mid to late '90's, Blizzard Entertainment was a company about substance. They had excellent quality titles that redefined and/or paved the way for certain genres, and they had strong stories to engross them. That's what I always loved about Blizzard Entertainment, their stories and characters. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness has a great backstory for its day, and Starcraft has an exceptional sci-fi concept with great characters. Who didn't immediately like the honourable Tassadar, or the smooth talking Mengsk, the scheming Kerrigan? Their titles were also of such strong quality that bugs were rare to be found, and the quality of the gameplay was so high, other titles from other companies were trash in comparison. Well, I find that all that's changed now.
I haven't purchased a Blizzard Entertainment product since Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, seeing as how MMOs aren't my thing and the World of Warcraft Beta didn't want to work for me. However, today I was reading over the web site for the upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft, The Burning Crusade, and I gotta say what a load of crap the story's become.
The Warcraft universe was very thorough, it had focus, but now, Blizzard can't seem to make up its mind as to what direction the world of Azeroth should take. How many times can shattered kingdoms quickly rebuild themselves? How many times can entire factions switch allegences? How many times can you justify the shifting hatred and alliance of the Horde and Alliance, how many times can demons keep invading, new sub-factions emerge to conviently go against the grain, dead heroes come back to life, etc? How much more inconsistent and simply dragged out can the Warcraft universe become. Instead of evolving the Warcraft universe as Blizzard began to do in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Blizzard seems to want to keep things in a fixed mind-set, something that doesn't make sense to all that's happened in the world.
Interestingly enough, this also is a nice little mirror of the company itself. Ever since the days of Diablo II, Blizzard has been less interested in listening to the opinions of their hardcore fans and more focused on the masses and on what they themselves want to do. They seem to have let their success go to their head and have, in a sense, become pretentious. Not to the extent that Valve Software has, but still up there. And now that StarCraft: Ghost has been essentially cancelled after being stuck in development for three and a half years, it really makes you wonder about the future for Blizzard. For better or worse, depending on the kind of gamer you are, the company has changed from what they were in the late '90's.
For me, the Blizzard I loved through my teens and beyond is gone. They've taken their worlds I liked so much and thrust them down a path that is just plan cheap to me, that takes away from the strength and cohesion they once had. I'm not saying I'll never buy another Blizzard product again, but I won't rush into them, and I'll be checking carefully to make sure future titles aren't just over-hyped, hollow cash grabs.
Edit: Another train of thought is that perhaps Blizzard hasn't changed a huge lot, but perhaps my tastes in gaming have grown and expanded beyond Blizzard's target audience. I was a huge fan of Blizzard Entertainment as a teen and very young adult, however my gaming tastes have gravetated to a more mature themed level, more complex stories, worlds, and interactivity. I mean, playing The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind - Game of the Year Edition and taking a look at some of the content presented there (such as that of a sexual nature), its simply something you would not find in Blizzard's more cartoonish worlds. I find I'm looking more at M rated games instead of T rated ones, and I suppose that tells me something about myself. Perhaps, in the end, the stories and worlds Blizzard wants to convey just aren't my style anymore, and perhaps its better that a new generation of gamer enjoys them.