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The Great And Powerful Blizzard

Blizzard.

Does the name send chills down your spine? It most certainly does mine. Console games have taken over the market in the last 15 years, of that there is no doubt. But there was a time when Blizzard was a titan in the world of video games. Everything they released turned to gold. They were the studio that pretty much all others wished they could be.

Let's back up and take a quick look at their history. Back in 1994, a little company called Silicon & Synapse (after a brief period of calling themselves Chaos Studios) was renamed to Blizzard Entertainment. Their first release was a critically-acclaimed title called Blackthorne for the SNES, followed by arguably the only good Superman game ever released, The Death and Return of Superman. After that came Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, the first of their flagship titles, and the genesis of one of the biggest video game franchises of all time.

Since then, only two games have been released by Blizzard that have not had Warcraft, Starcraft, or Diablo in their titles: Justice League Task Force (a forgettable fighting game) and The Lost Vikings II, the sequel to one of their most successful games as Silicon & Synapse. Not counting expansions, there have been three core Warcraft games and one "spinoff" MMORPG, two Starcraft games, and two (soon to add a third) Diablo titles.  That's eight full games in the last 18 years. Not exactly prolific.

And yet, they are one of the most successful and respected game studios in the world.

This is how you build an empire

How successful, exactly? Well, here's a trivia question. How many PC games have sold over 10 million copies? The answer may surprise you, since there are plenty of high-profile console games that have broken that mark. And that answer is four. Two of them are The Sims and The Sims 2, which also happened to appeal to a much broader audience than any of Blizzard's games. But the other two belong to Blizzard: Starcraft and World of Warcraft. And if you look at the list of the 50 best-selling PC games of all time, Blizzard has 8, which is almost 20% of the total. That's amazing, no matter how you look at it. Couple that with the fact that over 10 million people still pay upwards of $12 per month to play World of Warcraft over 7 years after its release, and you start to get a sense of just how much of a powerhouse Blizzard really is in the gaming world.

Blizzard also boasts the distinction of spawning some of the most successful professional video gaming tournaments in the world with its Starcraft franchise. Starcraft has been called the "national pastime of Korea", and there is an abundance of professional Starcraft players in that country, complete with corporate sponsorships. Some Starcraft tournaments have prize pools in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Korea even has two television channels dedicated to playing professional Starcraft matches. No other game has ever come close to this level of popularity.

Think getting pwned at home is embarassing? Try it in front of 2 million viewers.

All of this success has put Blizzard in a rather unique position in the gaming industry. Their publishing partner, Activision, is one of the more notorious companies when it comes to the level of control they exhibit over their studios. Thanks to their meddling Guitar Hero is dead, and tons of fans are less than thrilled with the way their beloved Call of Duty franchise is being handled. But what about how they handle Blizzard?

The answer is they don't handle Blizzard at all. The studio is left entirely to their own devices, calling the shots about what they develop and how long they take to do it. I don't know of any other studio who is given total leeway with their release dates. Blizzard's mantra, whenever they are asked when a game is being released, is "when it's done". They typically don't announce an official release date until a few weeks before their game hits store shelves. That's been true since at lease 2000 when Diablo II came out, and it still holds true today. In a culture where "get it out the door" dominates the mentality of investors who are ruled by the bottom line, Blizzard operates without interference from their publisher. And in this era of video game development, that is power.

Because of this, Blizzard games are known for releasing with a high degree of polish. Expectations for Blizzard titles are universally high, and for the most part they meet or exceed them every time. I know Metacritic is not exactly the most scientific gauge of a game's quality, but it's close enough for government work. And the lowest score I could find for any game in Blizzard's core franchises was an 87. It's hard to imagine a studio with a better pedigree.

It's no coincidence that my last computer was bought in 2005, not long after the release of World of Warcraft. And it won't be coincidence that my next computer will probably be bought sometime in the next few months, not long after the release of Diablo III. I'm hoping like hell (no pun intended) that Blizzard commits to releasing it for consoles before I lay that money on the counter, because I would prefer to play it there. But if they don't...well, I have no illusions. I am basically Blizzard's slave.

The 200 hours I've put into Skyrim will seem like a one-night stand after this hits

It's remarkable what Blizzard has accomplished without ever releasing a new game on any console. There have been a couple of ports, but neither of them made much of a splash. Blizzard games have always been heavily catered towards PC gaming. The one title they ever developed specifically for a console release was the ill-fated Starcraft: Ghost, which never saw the light of day. That game was fairly close to release, and it looked better than most console games on the market at the time. But for whatever reason, Blizzard decided it wasn't good enough to live up to their lofty expectations and killed it, having already poured millions of dollars into it. Such is the freedom a company that makes over a billion dollars a year in subscription fees alone has, even when a company like Activision is looking over their shoulder.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. With the resources Blizzard has at its disposal, surely they can find a way to make Diablo III just as great an experience on consoles as they undoubtedly will on PC. And what would the sales be like if they do? Can this be the game that soars past the mighty Call of Duty franchise? It certainly has the capability. I almost wish Blizzard couldn't afford to hold itself to the most high of standards, if only so the majority of gamers could join in on what us old school PC gamers have known for two decades: Blizzard is the best of the best.

Please don't make me buy a new computer, Blizzard. You hold the power.

Your humble servant,

ShadowDragyn

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