Acti-Blizz quarterly reports are out and there’s a relatively minor drop (7%). Sure, there’s a larger drop since last quarter… but Q4 is always overly strong due to the sales in Nov/Dec.
There are two interesting bits here:
- One pillar is about mobile growth, specifically expanding franchises to the mobile space
- The focus on existing IP, rather than new IP
The first point is interesting as it involves everything in Acti-Blizz… still sitting on the sidelines watching Epic & EA beat each other silly with bags of money in the Battle Royale genre. Most feedback I’ve seen on BF5’s version of BR is that it’s not very good (aside from the fact that BF launched in a beta state on par with Anthem in the fall).
Still, I don’t think this means that we’re going to see mobile ports of games (e.g. cross-play) but more things like Diablo Immortal, targeted at a specific audience, and different mechanics. It’s hard to argue with SuperData numbers that show mobile is blowing console/PC numbers out of the water. Thar be gold in them hills!
Great for investors. Great for people who like mobile. Great for pet collectors in WoW (seriously, that’s a friggin’ bucket o’ cash that Blizz is just leaving on the table). But I don’t see Overwatch or WoW, in the traditional sense, going to mobile. HotS… that may work. Starcraft would not… and would alienate the base crowd more than Diablo Immortal. Not exactly a pile of options here.
While again generic, this makes me wonder what exactly is going on over at Blizz. Lots of job cuts in non-dev work, lots of investment in developers. It’s not a linear relationship to # of devs / time to deliver. Larger teams typically require longer dev cycles since you’re herding cats – and the project manager has to be an ace to get things out on time.
I will infer that Blizzard is doubling down on their existing IP – Overwatch, WoW, Diablo, Starcraft, as well as their meta IP – Hearthstone & Heroes of the Storm.
- Overwatch – It is fighting for eyeball space against Fortnite/Apex. More heroes helps, as do new maps. But each one takes time to balance properly.
- WoW – They need a mobile pet battle simulator STAT! Aside from that, I’d expect expansion news at Blizzcon. BfA, while having serious positive progress since launch, is tainted with exceptionally poor initial reception. Classic servers won’t have much effect past a single quarter, and the Warcraft 3 remake isn’t much more than a niche.
- Diablo – Diablo Immortal should have already launched, curious as to the wait. Guessing it’s related to the monetization model. Diablo 4 should be announced this year. I am extra curious on this.
- Starcraft – Starcraft 4? I doubt it. The RTS genre is all but dead outside of Korea.
- Heartstone – The continued expansions every 6 months.
- HotS – The red-headed step child. It’s certainly serviceable, but in terms of “accessible F2P games”… there are much better options. Maybe a mobile tweak can get some eastern sales.
All of this is conjecture. Blizz is keeping things extremely close to the chest, and aside from some niche products (Warcraft 3 and Classic) there’s only 1 known product on their roadmap – Diablo Immortal. And that sucker needs to be golden / perfect to keep eyeballs past a months’ time. Hundreds of mobile looters have tried… nearly all have failed.
I’d be willing to make a fairly bold bet – given all of this pressure, we are going to see a new IP from Blizzard at some point in around 3-4 years. It’s likely just barely started, but the motivation, in addition to business response, is the same as what Frank Pearce (I believe it was) said in response to the Diablo Immortal backlash last year – a lot of developers in Blizzard have worked on their major projects for most of their careers and want new challenges. I think many, but not all, of those challenges are mobile and new ways to play, but after the whirlwind success of Overwatch, they almost certainly have to be making something new – there is likely both a creative desire and a business desire to do so. I don’t envy whomever has to undertake that odyssey though.
While I’d like to believe in this, with the changes in Blizz management and their content delivery of the past few years…it would be hard to say that they have a creative urge to do anything as compared to financial. Love to be proven wrong though!
While 3-4 years is a reasonable timeframe for things to chop and change, I think I’m more of a mind with Asmiroth on this one. The power creep of the bean counter type suits in Blizz would run counter to investment in a new IP, when they’re is relatively low hanging fruit available in remasters.
For all the backlash of the core audience re: Diablo: Immortal I have almost no doubt it’ll still be a commercial success for them and ultimately that’s all that matters in dictating whether this sort of development continues or not.
For all that… I’m actually somewhat looking forward to the Warcraft 3 Remaster (but I guess that sort of proves the point, as I’m definitely not alone there). I would be all over a Diablo 2 remaster, but I see that as less likely to occur. Granted that view is largely based on the widespread story (and I have no idea if it has been substantiated or not) that all or large parts of the Diablo 2 code base was ‘lost’.