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Blizzard Entertainment has acquired Spellbreak maker Proletariat to bolster the staff of its massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft.
Under the deal, Boston-based Proletariat will become part of Blizzard, and its 100-person team will begin work on World of Warcraft, including the Dragonflight expansion due later this year. Spellbreak, a battle royale game where wizards and witches cast spells on each other, will be sunset. (The company Announced this news yesterday.)
The move is the biggest acquisition Blizzard has made, at least in the last decade, to expand its studios. In this case, the mission is to bolster World of Warcraft’s staffing so that it can meet quality and time goals for expansions. Terms of this transaction were not disclosed.
Activision Blizzard, the parent company of Blizzard, also closed vicarious visionsa longtime Activision studio, at Blizzard to work on the Diablo franchise in January 2021. But Blizzard hasn’t been particularly greedy, as one of the few we can remember was its acquisition of Swinging Ape in 2005. Rather Blizzard itself was thrown around a bit in its early days before landing with Activision Blizzard in 2008. Proletariat has been working with Blizzard since May.
“We’re putting players at the forefront of everything we do, and we’re working hard to meet and
exceed your expectations,” Mike Ybarra, president of Blizzard Entertainment, said in a statement. “A big part of caring for our teams is making sure we have the resources to produce experiences our communities will love while giving our teams room to explore even more creative opportunities within their projects. Proletariat is a perfect fit to support Blizzard’s mission to bring high-quality content to our players more often.”
It’s an awkward time for Blizzard to do this, as their parent Activision Blizzard is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft for $68.5 billion. And Blizzard Entertainment has been the top division investigated by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a large sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard.
Dealing with the challenges of the past
John Hight, general manager of World of Warcraft at Blizzard, said in an interview with GamesBeat that it was a challenge to support Shadowlands last year and acknowledged that there were considerable gaps between WoW content updates. The fans always wanted more, and while the team has continued to grow in size, it has been difficult to hire him.
I asked Seth Sivak, CEO of Proletariat, if the company was hesitant about the deal due to Blizzard’s weakening reputation, which has taken a hit in recent years. I mentioned the sex discrimination investigation, the criticism of the Shadowlands expansion, the departure of numerous well-known developers, and other losses of talent.
“We had a very open and transparent conversation about this,” Sivak said. “And I think the Blizzard team recognized some of the challenges that they’ve had. In some of the early conversations, we discussed how they were looking to continue to improve the culture and continue to make a great place for developers to work.”
He added: “That was encouraging. Obviously there is a lot of work to be done to continue to make an amazing place for developers to work. But we were quite happy and satisfied with the direction the teams are going.”
Hight said it was “devastating” for him to go through the turmoil of last year and hear the things that happened. But he noted that the company is changing its culture and that “is not a given.”
He said, “You have to change your culture. You have to make sure that it is now more inclusive in our workplace. You have to make sure that the people who make WoW and the people who play WoW are well supported.”
As for the Microsoft deal, Sivak said he didn’t know what change would come as a result, but he’s excited about the direction the company is taking. When asked if the company would be working on new games, Sivak said the focus for now is helping build WoW. Hight said the goal was to gain access not only to the talented team, but also to a highly experienced senior leadership team.
How the deal was put together
“As you probably know, the people of World of Warcraft have a voracious appetite for content,” Hight said. “And what we’ve seen over the last year is that we need to increase the amount of content that we can create and the frequency with which we put it in the hands of our players.”
Towards the end of last year, the company began looking for other opportunities besides hiring more people at its internal studio. He looked for outside partners and Proletariat was on the short list as it was a well known game studio.
“My first conversation with Seth was in December,” Hight said. “I was really impressed with him. And then the team felt like they had a lot of shared values and had a lot of knowledge of World of Warcraft. The team had the ability to do stylized art, which we do, and work within medieval fantasy, which we love. And they had a lot of fans. So from their discussions it came about.”
Sivak said the company was also looking at what to do next. He said the team saw an opportunity to evolve as a studio and working on World of Warcraft would fulfill the mission of delivering great multiplayer games. They began to talk more seriously in recent months.
“We were very excited about the opportunity to expand the world of Azeroth for players,” said Sivak.
Hight said consolidation in the industry is giving Blizzard some exciting opportunities, as it now has studios working on WoW on both coasts, with the potential to tap into new sources of talent. Of course, the pandemic has made hiring people difficult in some ways, and Proletariat isn’t working out of the Boston office yet. Blizzard has options that include working in the office at times.
Hight noted that the company has shipped multiple expansions with a remote workforce and that the company has options for a hybrid environment.
“That’s one of the things that made it easy for us to start working with the proletariat, as they have a large remote workforce,” Hight said.
Sivak said: “While we were looking at what the next chapter would be for Proletariat, this opportunity only meant that we could accelerate what we wanted to do. Being able to work for the public of World of Warcraft is really amazing. And the level of ambition for where I think both teams want to take World of Warcraft is incredibly exciting for us.”
Hight said that some of Proletariat’s work will appear in the Dragonflight expansion. And Proletariat will join his staff in Boston.
Proletariat was founded in 2012 by industry veterans from Insomniac, Harmonix and Turbine. The team has experience creating MMORPGs and includes, but is not limited to, former lead designers of Asheron’s Call, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons & Dragons Online. At Proletariat, the team has operated live games for nearly a decade, most recently releasing the cross-platform spellcasting action battle royale game, Spellbreak, in fall 2020.
But Sivak acknowledged that the game, while receiving good reviews, never quite reached “escape velocity” in terms of increasing user numbers to justify its continued existence. The company had made relatively few updates to the game recently.
“Spellbreak was a critical success and we feel like we really delivered something new to the battle royale genre,” said Sivak. “There’s a lot of competition in that area, where you’re competing with some of the biggest games in the world. We just couldn’t get the necessary escape velocity to continue expanding it.”
Proletariat began working with the World of Warcraft development team in May and will be fully
integrated into Blizzard Entertainment in the coming months.
“The really exciting part is what we’re going to build in the future,” Sivak said. “That was the real selling point for us, the level of ambition of what we want to do with World of Warcraft.”
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