What Hurt Blizzard Most in 2021?

In our little corner of the internet it is broadly assumed that 2021 has been a very bad year for Blizzard, perhaps their worst year ever.  How can it not be?  Look at the scandals!  Look at the headlines!  Look at the stock price!  Look at the employees leaving… pushed or otherwise!  Look at all those influencers jumping ship for FFXIV or whatever!

Blizzard execs in 2021

But, as I have to remind myself from time to time, our little corner of the internet is kind of a weirdo fringe of video game consumers overall.  We are the connoisseurs in our little internet box when it comes to MMORPGs and the companies that make them.  So, for many of us, the scandal at Blizzard, the tales of abuse and institutionally condoned harassment, must be what is hurting the company.  We want to believe that when people do bad things that they eventually pay a price.

[Eliot at Massively OP linked another XKCD cartoon pertinent to our situation, which again boils down to the assumption that people outsize the fringe know or care about the things we fret over.]

Alas, even a headline in the Wall Street Journal doesn’t seem to have done much to Blizzard.

In fact, so far there isn’t much direct evidence that the scandal has hurt the company at all.  Sure, Blizzard hasn’t seen a quarter as big as Q4 2020 in all of 2021, but that was a WoW expansion launch quarter, which traditionally stands out as a high point.  Shadowlands, whatever you think about it now, sold well a year ago, recognizing revenue on 3.7 million copies on launch day.

So Q1 2021 carried over from that launch, logging $483 million in revenue.  Then there is Q2 2021, which saw a dip in revenue, down to $433 million.  But the scandal only broke in June, so it is hard to believe that it was a bigger hit that dissatisfaction with Shadowlands at that point.

And then there was Q3 2021, when revenue went up to $493 million.  The numbers were buoyed by the launch of Diablo II Resurrected, but the scandal was headline news with weekly revelations in Q3.   The argument that D2R sold well in South Korea and they don’t care about the scandal doesn’t hold a lot of water.  South Korea didn’t buy that many copies of the game, not enough to offset the rest of the world walking away because bad people run Blizzard.

Even the stock price, which jumped up past 100 early in the, could have fallen down to the mid-50s based on the game pipeline as much as anything else.  And the stock has started to creep up from its low at the start of the month.

ATVI stock price graph for 2021 so far

So while the righteous outrage at the behavior of the company and the people is totally justified, I have the impression that it is just us weirdos in the box that are doing anything about it, unsubscribing or whatever.  The reason Blizzard is off its game is because it cannot ship anything new, and the one new thing they shipped in the last year, the Shadowlands expansion, has fallen flat.  People unaware of the company’s troubles will leave if they are not having fun.

The Blizzard 2021 catalog has mostly been retreads… Burning Crusade Classic, WoW Classic Season of Mastery, and Diablo II Resurrected… along with the usual new Hearthstone variations and expansions.  And unless things change this quarter, Blizzard is still going to be a billion dollar division in the greater Activision corporate structure.

Now, the reasons they cannot seem to ship a new title may very well be tied up in the problems with how the company is being run, and we have a ways to go to see how Q4 2021 will fare.  Q4 is traditionally a strong quarter for video games… if you ship something new.  If Q4 tanks for Blizzard’s share of the revenue pie, maybe it will be a sign that something else is in play.

So far as 2022 goes, there isn’t much on the agenda aside from Diablo Immortal finally seeing the light of day.  There ought to be a new WoW expansion on the horizon.  We’ll see if their internal struggles allow that to move forward in time.

11 thoughts on “What Hurt Blizzard Most in 2021?

  1. bhagpuss

    Scandals wrecking companies is a weird one. My intuitive take is that for any company even very, very bad scandals don’t make much difference. Think of the environmental disasters involvoing oil companies that made global headlines for multiple news cycles and then look at the logos over your local filling stations. Then I remember the UK jewellers, Ratners, once a fixture on every high street and shopping mall in the land. Where are they now? Vanished almost at a stroke after one crazy speech by the owner and CEO.

    It’s not really an analogous situation but it does prove that it’s possible to rile your customerbase up sufficiently to make most of them walk away. Blizzard haven’t done that, yet, but they could.

    Curiously, a lot of the recent negative headlines I’ve seen have been about the other side of ActiBlizz, the part that never gets reported in the mmo gaming press for the very good reason it doesn’t have any mmos. There’s been a string of news items in my NME feed about some major issue with the latest Call of Duty release, which apparently has been going down about as well as Shadowlands. I have no interest or understanding of CoD so I haven’t been following it but I do know that WoW and CoD between them bring in most of the money that doesn’t come from Candy Crush. If ActiBlizz gets into a situation where people broadly stop trusting them to make fun games, that’s going to be a much bigger problem than any internal scandals.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Azuriel

    Yeah, anyone hoping that the world is a just and righteous place… should have probably been disabused of the notion by taking a glance outside, let alone Blizzard revenue numbers.

    That said, I do think 2022 is going to be a different animal for the reasons you mentioned. Shadowlands has been terrible and whoever is still around designing the game is clearly over their head. Expansions are designed years in advance, so it’s very possible that the disruptions in staffing and morale leave a long trail of destruction into the future. Additionally, Q42021 numbers will be buoyed by Hearthstone’s expansion in early December, but there is going to be a whole lot of nothing ahead.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – The odd part of this scandal is that it pits a chunk of the employees against executive management, so even if people outside of the company brush it off, there is still the internal impact that is very possibly what is hamstringing their product development queue.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. PCRedbeard

    I have to think that the scandal won’t do much because –to very many gamers– there is no face to Actiblizz. Sure, Bobby Kotick is out there and is very much a drag on things, but if you asked the average COD player they have no concept of who runs the show over there. And even if they did, they simply wouldn’t care. Actiblizz is like this because it isn’t one person’s vanity project where a singular person dominates the company, like how Elon Musk is Tesla. Elon could destroy Tesla quite easily if he wanted to, but Bobby would find it much harder to destroy Actiblizz.

    To put it another way, people don’t stop buying Tide en masse because of what the P&G CEO says and does, and good luck if you even think you know who the P&G CEO is. In a way, Bobby is as anonymous as the P&G CEO to the average person –which must drive Bobby crazy because he so so SO craves adulation (but money even more)– and that means that Actiblizz will keep running even after Bobby is gone.

    I truly dislike my analysis, because I like to think that eventually karma will catch up to Bobby, but from what I’ve seen so far it hasn’t yet. One can only hope…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. potshot

    I’m thinking it will take some time before the impact is obvious– delayed/terminated projects, loss of continuity, etc. There’s got to be a whole lot of internal distraction going on that will only become evident as we notice fewer/delayed announcements about upcoming projects. I can’t imagine its a happy place at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PCRedbeard

    /sigh

    If I knew what I typed that pushed my responses into the spam bucket, I’d avoid it. (Maybe it was my reference to Elon Musk as an example of a company dominated by a singular person.)

    Anyhoo, Wilhelm, you’ll find my response in your spam bucket, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Bmyers

    The old saying, May you live in interesting times, is certainly in play. While 2020-2021 may have seen the big exodus of employees re-evaluating their careers, remote work, companies scrambling to appease those that were on the fence about changing jobs, I think we are poised to see a major shift. When I was picking up a salad for Christmas dinner on the 24th it was utter insanity at the restaurant at noon. One poor girl was taking phone orders, there were at least 40 taped to the wall, several customers were waiting, one woman and her two kids had been there an hour. They were told 15 minutes when they ordered by phone. The manager talked to her, apologized for the delay, and said she was going to comp the order. It was $118 and change. She comped 3 others. I was standing near the kitchen door when she was yelling at those in back.

    “It is ridiculous that orders are not going out, if you don’t want to be here, if you feel you don’t need your job, let me know and I will shit the restaurant down, and you all can tell your co-workers that need a paycheck that they won’t get paid for the day”

    And she came back out. Another hostess walked in right after, the manager told her to not bother taking off her jacket, you’re fired, you’re two hours late.

    There is only so far a business can be pushed before it pushes back. Blizzard has long had a reputation of being a poor company to work for as far as salary etc. you try to get a job there for the experience and the notoriety of working for Blizz. Those employees walking out, making demands, may be facing a new career if corporate finally has enough, and there are thousands looking to get a foot in the door.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bmyers – I’ve worked for managers like the one in your story before and I’ve always left because, even though I was a good employee, it is difficult to be shitty to just some of your staff without inflicting it on the rest. The manager in your story, yelling at the kitchen staff, like that is accomplishing something, is a prime example of somebody who shouldn’t be left in charge. He’s the boss, the situation is his to run. He should be telling people “two hours” for new orders (or telling the poor hostess to say that) or taking the phone off the hook until they catch up. But his job is probably crappy and low paying as well, so the restaurant gets what it gets.

    Blizzard is not analogous because the basic employee complaint is essentially “stop breaking the law,” and they have had to ask the state to step in to help them. I think we just had a good indicator as to how that will turn out with Riot.

    Otherwise they have a staff that is generally motivated to be there, having chosen to take lower pay and work longer hours because this is their dream career. They’re already the kitchen staff that has stepped up for the busy day of the year because they love to cook. Blizzard getting pissed and yelling at them isn’t going to help the company because the best and the brightest will look elsewhere. If you can do SQL queries for WoW you can at least double your pay by doing them for an insurance company.

    The union thing though… that is never going to happen. Activision will burn the buildings down and outsource all jobs to Russia before they let that get root in the company. But they won’t have to do that. There are too many candidates looking for a job in their dream career, willing to take the low pay and long hours. Any unionizing effort depends on there being some form of labor scarcity due to skills or lack of willing candidates. Video games studios never lack for the latter and they know to coddle the key people who have the former.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Bmyers

    As to the restaurant, I’ve been there many times in the past. They are normally fast and efficient. They start taking orders for take out at 11am, and I’ve been told 15 minutes in the past to show up 15 minutes later and it’s there piping hot. For what ever reason nothing was cooked for over an hour. It could have been a missing person that runs the kitchen, I don’t know. But I can understand the managers frustration. She had to comp over $300 in sales, and I’m sure she is going to have to answer why to someone above her.

    I’ve had friends over the years that have done what some are doing now, don’t feel like working? Get laid off or fired and collect unemployment. Not happy with your boss? Same. No clue what he’s doing now, I know he lost his home years ago and moved across the country.

    I do agree, they will nuke the company from orbit rather than unionize. Kotick? Yeah, I suspect he will be at the helm as long as he wants, how he runs things may not be ideal, but a lot of things go back decades to a working culture vastly different than today. But as long as shareholders are showing a profit, things get overlooked. I’ve seen the opposite effect to where companies have 0 tolerance and that can become a retaliatory weapon too. Don’t get along with the manager that’s a little too personal? Just go to HR, a guy my wife worked with gave a woman in the office a hug when he heard her dog had died. She complained, he was escorted from the building. 35 years with the company. The problem with 0 tolerance is that the workplace becomes cold and people are afraid of saying anything even a joke. What was going on at Blizz, was over the line for a lot of instances. That said, I’ve seen the stories told about Blizzcon going back years from people attending, so employees acting inappropriately and who knows what more, does not surprise me. I grew up in a time where high school girls would try to get into concerts for free backstage. And tickets back then were no where near what they are now. The culture of those born in the 60’s and early 70’s is not the same today.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Zanfers

    As an older gamer I really really miss the times when Bioware and Blizzard were my heroes.

    I guess the quote was correct.

    “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

    Like

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