Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 10, 2009

The Destruction of Blizzard

Hi! I’ve been reading both your articles and your blog for quite some time and in the recent blog entry, you said that Bob Kotick is the one behind all of the strange desicions that Blizzard have made lately.
I was just wondering if there is any way to verify this. Can the information be found on a certain internet page, or is the information in some kind of magazine?

I’m probably one of the biggest Blizzard fans there is and as you said, it seems Blizzard isn’t acting all that Blizzard-like. This would be a great explanation as to why they are acting so strange, but then again i Kotick really is behind all of this I’m getting even more worried about the quality of the final product when it comes out. This is, because even if Blizzard is acting weird, I still trust them, and will continue to do so until the game actually comes out. My worries is that if Blizzard wants to split the game into three games, then maybe, just maybe it is because their vision for the game really is too big for one game, and that there will be enough content to justify buying the three games (games are in the content business, and Blizzard is one of the few companies that knows this, right?). And perhaps they cut out LAN because they really think they can compensate with Bnet2.0. I will continue to believe in Blizzard up until the game launches. But if Kotick is behind all of this, then I really have have reasons to fear for the quality of the game. That’s why I really would like to know why you said that Kotick is behind these decisions.

On this site, Bobby Kotick shall henceforth be known as King Kotick. It is because I’ve never seen so much arrogance composed in a game executive, and I have never seen so many game journalists, acting like court jesters, carry his water for him.


Above: King Kotick

Why is he called King Kotick? He certainly talks as if he is King of Video-Game Land. The King can adopt double standards. “Sony, you need to cut the price of PlayStation 3 or else we will make no more games for you!” “Modern Warfare 2 will have a price increase.” When he says he wishes he could raise the price more, the ‘game journalists’ treat us like we are idiots by saying, “Oh, no, he was just joking. Ho ho ho!” If he was just joking, why doesn’t Kotick come out and clarify his comment? Iwata would do this. Heck, he’d probably even apologize even if he didn’t need to apologize. But Kotick doesn’t because he is King. As you know, Kings do not clarify comments to their subjects (which is us, the underlings, the walking wallets).

Here, King Kotick declares he is influencing future console design.

“Now that we have the weight of being the largest payer of royalties to the first-parties of any third-party company, I definitely see us as starting to influence hardware design, and they’re thinking about the evolution of the next generation of hardware,” he said.

There is a reason why third-parties are called THIRD-parties. It is because they don’t design consoles. King Kotick believes he is helping design the future of game consoles forgetting his place as a third-party company.

“The good news is that when it does come it’s going to have a powerful impact on our ability to capture a lot of that part of the marketplace today that feature films, television or music [inhabit].”

King Kotick decrees that the Top Box Console, the Media Hub, which has so far proven a failure this generation, will somehow work next generation.

King Kotick has made an announcement that World of Warcraft is practically invincible:

Activision CEO Bobby Kotick sees MMOs as an “insurmountable product category,” and says that if they were competing with WoW, they’d have to toss at least half a billion to a billion dollars into the deal, and even then they wouldn’t be guaranteed success. Which means that at this time, in this market, Kotick says that companies entering into the MMO market are basically throwing money away.

This passage tells us much about King Kotick’s business sense: he is the typical business drone. The entire basis of Christensen’s disruption and even the Blue Ocean Strategy is that the typical business strategies taught at business schools end up destroying businesses and industries.

King Kotick calls World of Warcraft ‘insurmountable’ only because he views that it can only be killed directly by ‘better’ competition. Most likely, what will kill World of Warcraft will be a ‘crappy’ MMORPG no one really pays much attention to but does things WoW doesn’t. It grows, and grows, and eventually pulls the rug from WoW. I expect a MMORPG from the East to do such a thing.

If I was an investor, I’d be terrified that King Kotick isn’t the slightest paranoid that WoW cannot be killed. Only the paranoid survive.

Now that I have given examples showing why he is King Kotick, can I prove that King Kotick was responsible for the unpopular changes in Starcraft 2?

No. But there are indications that certainly point to it. But let’s keep in mind that Blizzard, before the merger, had become a shell of what it once was. When World of Warcraft came out, many of the core Blizzard guys left. An interview in 2004 had a manager for Ultima Online asked what he thought the success of World of Warcraft meant. Directly, he said, “I believe it will destroy Blizzard as a company.” And what he is referring is that the company has to become service centric rather than product centric, and how the internal changes just completely change the company. Since World of Warcraft, Blizzard has been expanding too fast.

In some time after the merger with Activision, many games were needlessly dropped. King Kotick explains why:

Kotick responded not by addressing any of the games by name, but by talking about Activision’s publishing philosophy. The games Activision Blizzard didn’t pick up, he said, “don’t have the potential to be exploited every year on every platform with clear sequel potential and have the potential to become $100 million dollar franchises. … I think, generally, our strategy has been to focus… on the products that have those attributes and characteristics, the products that we know [that] if we release them today, we’ll be working on them 10 years from now.”

That is King Kotick’s admitted publishing philosophy: exploitation to get every last cent. Note to game journalists: you can’t say he was ‘joking’. He even used the exact word of ‘exploitation’.

As HotHardware notices…

In less than a year, we’ve seen Blizzard introduce paid character customization to WoW ($15), announce paid faction changes (not yet implemented, presumedly at least $15), and declare that Starcraft 2 will be released as a series of three episodes rather than as a unified whole. How fair of a deal this turns out to be depends on what price tag Blizzard attaches to each episode, but it’d be surprising if the company came in below $39.99 and $49.99 is my personal bet.

In the new, Activision-powered future, it appears that you can customize a character, switch factions, or buy Starcraft 2 one slice at a time—provided, of course, that you don’t want to play the former over a LAN. Does anyone else find it ironic that four years after the company launched its license to print money, it’s removing functionality end-users have come to expect? I’m all for stopping pirates and ensuring that artists/content creators receive their due, but attempting to jam a feature rip down the throats of gamers and cloaking it in blatant half-truth regarding the multiplayer experience smacks of a company that doesn’t have the guts to admit its newfound greed.

Of course, this has nothing to do with piracy. Starcraft, with its LAN and multiple installs for multiplayer, is still selling despite all these years. Warcraft 3, which has LAN, is still sold in stores. Piracy is no excuse. And Blizzard certainly isn’t hurting for any money.

This is what pisses people off. King Kotick is not happy with billions. No, he wants to have gaziillions. But, like most business managers, he is forgetting that he needs to get more customers instead of getting more revenue from the same customer base. The latter will just lead to an ramp up in revenue which is acceleration before it hits the wall. When customers start to drop out (which they will), the drop will be sudden and deep.

King Kotick has specifically become very excited about in-game ads in Starcraft 2.

Blizzard has denied that StarCraft II will have in-game advertising, despite what Activision CEO Bobby Kotick said at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference.

Kotick had been talking about things he’d learned from Blizzard ahead of Activision’s merger with Vivendi, and said that, “because it is a short-session experience, [StarCraft II] can actually be the model for in-game advertising and sponsorship and tournament play and ladder play for the future.

But it sounds like he misspoke, with the game’s community manager writing on the US WOW forums, “We have no plans to have in-game advertising in StarCraft II. We believe Bobby was actually referring to Battle.net, which has always included ads.”

As everyone knows, these ‘Community Managers’ that occassionally grace threads at the Blizzard forums with their blue text are the last people in the company to know anything. But King Kotick is on record in expressing what he wants.

The big key that explains what Starcraft 2 about is Battle.Net 2.0. We have been given very few details except for it to be described as ‘awesome’ and ‘amazing experience’. It has been said that Battle.Net 2.0 was what delayed Starcraft 2 into 2010.

So why is Battle Net 2.0 “so awesome”?

From Gamasutra:

The company’s vision for Battle.net is a “true online destination platform,” and Kotick expects it to “become the foundation for connecting tens of millions [of players] in the Blizzard community in a social gaming network across all Blizzard’s future games.”

Oh God, there is that word again, “platform”. This is how Microsoft describes Xbox Live as a “platform”. “Platform” is a way of saying “microtransactions and subscription fees”.

“This will begin with World of Warcraft and StarCraft II,” Kotick added, calling the planned service, built by the Blizzard team, “similar to Xbox Live.” It’s primarily Battle.net, not StarCraft II — subtitled “Wings of Liberty” that needs this additional prep time, according to Activision.

King Kotick wants Battle Net 2.0 to be a “platform” so the game has to be delayed.

I was an avid player on Kali back in the day (those were cool times). Kali was just Jay Cotton tricking computer games to play LAN but over the Internet. Warcraft 2, which did not have Internet, did have LAN (but it also had modem! You have not lived until you have played Warcraft 2 over the modem!). But you could play Warcraft 2 over the Internet with Kali. Small Blizzard, not at all pissed of what Kali was doing, shipped with a trial version of Kali in the Warcraft 2 CD. It was Kali, the tricking of LAN over the Internet, that was the philosophical basis when Battle Net 1.0 was designed for Diablo and then Starcraft and Warcraft 3.

Battle Net was never supposed to be a ‘platform’ hence the name “battle network”, a network where you battle over.

Also on the call, Morhaime explained that in addition to tournaments, rankings and multiplayer matching, the new Battle.net will “add social networking features, cross-game communications, unified log-in and account management and more.”

Oh God no. I bet this is going to cost the customer additional money.

“Eventually, it will allow [players] to connect, communicate and share experiences with each other through the service regardless of which blizzard games they are playing,” Morhaime added.

At least you don’t have to idle in WoW to chat with your friends anymore. You can just bypass WoW altogether and just sit on Starcraft 2 lobby to talk to them! However, I suspect this isn’t what King Kotick wants.

Given that Battle.net will be “integrated with StarCraft II more tightly than any previous Blizzard game,” it’s essential to spend enough time preparing it, said Morhaime. “We recognize that we only get one chance to make a first impression.”

Integrated is a nice way of saying “You will never own this game, you will only be renting it!”

“There is no better opportunity to launch this strategic initiative than through the launch of StarCraft II,” said Kotick on the call. “The Battle.net platform is an investment in the future of gaming, and an opportunity that we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on.”

There is that word again: platform! Battle Net 2.0 is “so important” according to King Kotick. Why? Why is this ‘platform’ so important? Obviously, it is because King Kotick wants to create new revenue streams through Battle Net 2.0, i.e., milk the customer.

Morhaime also said that following StarCraft II‘s launch, the Blizzard team will move “immediately” onto the first of two expansions, and “continue developing and implementing advanced Battle.net features.”

And what are these ‘advanced’ Battle.net features? Stuff you are going to pay for.

A commentator of the name Steve Roger quotes Blizzard execs that indicate that LAN is not included because they want customers to pay for stuff over Battle.net 2.0:

http://www.incgamers.com/Interviews/190/StarCraftIIDevelopersInterviewed:

“Will StarCraft II be available on consoles, or over LAN?
We got quite different answers about local area networking (LAN), where both Dustin or Sigaty said they were still discussing it, however, Pardo knew immediately: “we don’t have any plans to support LAN,” he said and clarified “we will not support it.” The only multiplayer available will be on Battle.net.”

http://www.incgamers.com/News/17129/NoLANInStarCraftIIConfirmed
“StarCraft II will not have a local area networking (LAN) game mode.
Rob Pardo, senior VP of game design at Blizzard Entertainment confirmed in an interview with IncGamers that the StarCraft II development team “don’t have any plans to support LAN,” and clarified saying “we will not support it.” The only multiplayer available will be on Battle.net.
IncGamers also got a clarification from Blizzard, shortly after the interview, saying the choice of excluding a LAN feature “is because of the planned technology to be incorporated into Battle.net,” a topic they will reveal more about at a later date.

The original StarCraft gained popularity largely because of the easy LAN mode, used on massive LANs like Dreamhack or small personal networks between friends, so this is a surprising move by Blizzard.”

http://www.incgamers.com/Interviews/190/StarCraftIIDevelopersInterviewed:
So what’s Battle.net all about and how is it different?
“The new Battle.net will completely revolutionise the current version, but Blizzard is still looking to making this experience free for anyone buying StarCraft II or future games that use Battle.net. One idea which has been discussed in different iterations is microtransactions, meaning the service is free, but added value services like starting a custom tournament, league, or the like would cost a small amount of money.”

Still looking? That doesn’t sound comforting. How about adding LAN back and putting the service back toward its basic model with removing all this ‘microtransactions’ and ‘added value services’? This is what people want. People don’t want this crap in Battle.net 2.0. The current model, built underneath the Kali philosophy, works well enough. WTF is with this Xbox Live platform BS? People want to play a game, they don’t want to get entangled in a “platform”.

When you go to Blizzard’s jobs page, we find this list of help wanted under Battle.Net:

Still think Starcraft 2 is delayed because Blizzard needs to ‘polish a little tad more’? It is more like King Kotick demands Battle.Net 2.0 to be Blizzard Live where, very likely, there will be fees involved either in subscription or microtransactions or ‘value services’.

And you get to buy Starcraft 2 three times… at a price most likely above $50 because King Kotick laughs, “If I could, I’d raise the price even higher!!!!”

Farewell Blizzard. I’ll give my money to someone else.


Above: A logo of a company that used to be about the customer experience.

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