Friday, January 27, 2012

And My City Was Gone

With the announcements that there will be no Blizzcon this year and that there will be a Battle.Net World Championships event to be held in Asia in 2012, it seems that Blizz is suffering from not enough personnel all around.

Okay, that's the face of it, but here's some other theories.

  1. Focusing on Asia when an Asian themed WoW expac is released is a smart way to revive the WoW franchise.  Well, maybe.  Part of this depends on how the Asian population will feel seeing a culture that is an echo of their own in MoP.  If WoW sets a patronizing tone with the Pandaren culture, this whole thing could backfire and be a big release disaster.  The assumption that the pop culture references and snark found in WoW will play the same in Mists of Pandaria can be a very bad one.
  2. Blizzard's focus is now on the Asian market.  Similar to #1, but in this case Blizz is going to develop and market with the Asian market in mind first.  Considering the worldwide appeal of their games, I'm not sure I quite believe this, but I do realize that the Chinese market will eventually dwarf all others.  Still, I'm sure that there are plenty of large overseas markets (hellllooo, Brazil) that don't like being passed over.  We don't know whether the Battle.Net Asian event is going to be located strictly in Asia or whether it is going to move to different cities each year.  Of course, it could be a one-off gimmick, too, but we'll have to wait and see.
  3. Blizzard needs to realign staff to get their releases out the door.  Well, yeah.  They said so themselves in their post on the WoW website.  Still, for people who are wondering why they aren't hiring staff, consider this:  anyone who works in IT/software development will tell you that it takes at least six months before a new hire gets up to speed, and often that can stretch up to a year.  Contractors can fill in a pinch, but unless they are former employees even they will take some time integrating into your business environment.  Therefore, the best method of dealing with this situation is to peel personnel from other, lower priority projects and delay what you can.  Blizzcon, as the lowest priority among the staff, got the axe.
  4. The three releases Blizz wants to work on are in significant trouble.  Although similar to point #3, this is more of a technical issue than a personnel one.  We haven't heard a peep out of Blizz since D3 was delayed, and as time goes on, this silence becomes more and more damning.  From being a week or two away from release to what seems an indefinite hold, the "tweaks" that D3 needed seem to be more major than realized.  If Blizz realigns staff (see #3 above), to deal with these major issues, this will have a ripple effect on the rest of the Blizz development projects.  In that case, Blizzcon as just the lowest priority item got chucked onto the woodpile.  Since Blizz keeps their development timeline so close to their vest, we won't know if there are other slippages in the release schedule at all until you wake up one day and say "hey, what happened to Heart of the Swarm?"
  5. Activision/Blizzard is getting hit hard by SWTOR defections.  It's hard to tell right now given the lack of direct data out there, but judging by my personal experience I believe this is more a factor than some people would care to admit.  I never discuss guild material on the blog, so I'll only say that TOR has had an impact among the WoW players I know, and I'm sure it will have an impact with their quarterly subscription numbers.  If Blizz is feeling some pressure from TOR, then they may be shifting personnel around to accelerate development among all of their projects, not just the ones officially acknowledged. Like oh, say, Titan?
  6. Activision/Blizzard is going to move development overseas.  I mean, really?  Come on, man.  You're going to read that into this move?  Get a grip.  If Activision/Blizzard decides to move development staff overseas, I'm sure there will be other signs than the movement of a con to Asia.
  7. Activision/Blizzard is going to kill Blizzcon.  That's entirely possible.  The corporate world works in Byzantine fashion a lot of the time, but one truism often remains:  the money will go to the cheaper alternative.  If Activision, as the parent company, decides that Blizzard is flushing too much money down the drain by hosting a separate event when they could be better served integrating into PAX, that'll be the end of Blizzcon.  Given the history of some game companies to have less than stellar customer relations, it wouldn't shock me if this was merely the beginning of the end of Blizzcon.  That said, I'll believe it when I see it.  Of course, I said the same thing about Pandaren in the upcoming expansion, so maybe I ought to be careful what I wish for.
Overall, I expect that the next quarterly investor call from Activision/Blizzard to be very interesting, and will shed some light on the direction of WoW in the near future.

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