If the title wasn’t a giveaway, I’m not going into this article to make friends.
I’m looking to start a fight with one of the most successful and beloved game developers in modern history.
I’m not doing this to court controversy or to annoy a devoted fanbase. But to remind people that outside of their fan conventions and great games, Blizzard Entertainment has a long history of creatively bankrupt and ethically dubious business decisions.
Let’s just jump right in.
Make Love and Warhammer, not Warcraft
Blizzard owes a lot to its Warcraft franchise. The original RTS games propelled the small developer from the relative obscurity they had languished in after they had switched their names from Silicon & Synapse.
And that was before the mega-hit that was World of Warcraft. Holding over 100 million accounts during the game’s lifetime, peaking at 12 million active subscriptions 2010 and still managing to be the most popular MMO today, World of Warcraft was and still remains, Blizzard’s most successful title.
It would be a shame if it was all built on lies.
Let’s jump to 1994. The first game in the franchise was well into production. Allen Adham (co-founder of Blizzard) had approached Warhammer to obtain the license to use their IP in their upcoming game.
For a host of reasons, the deal never went through. Nevertheless, in November that year, Blizzard released Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.
Now, keen-eyed readers might notice a few similarities between the two IPs. Firstly, the freaking name is almost exactly the freaking the same!
Sorry, sorry. I’ll try to keep my temper under control.
Secondly, they also ripped off the races, villains and even the god damn art style. For example, you’ve got the Orcs from Warcraft, a green-skinned, savage, warlike race. And you’ve got the Orks from Warhammer, a green-skinned, savage, warlike race.
Notice the difference. It’s the freaking K.
Patrick Wyatt, a former Blizzard executive, even told a delightful anecdote in a feature about the making of Warcraft in which his dad returned from a trip to Asia with a Warhammer model. The story goes that he showed his son the model and informed him that his legal department might want to get in contact with the makers because they are obviously ripping him off.
So, why should you care?
And now this is where I hit the wall.
Even the most delusional Warcraft fan will agree that there was a lot of give and take (minus the give) by Blizzard. But, getting them to care about it is another story.
The defence is simple. So what if Blizzard ripped of Warhammer? Mechanically speaking, they made a great game and eventually developed the lore into something unique.
This is true. Despite all my bitterness towards them, I have to admit that Blizzard knows how to make a good game. And while the two worlds used to resemble each other, Azeroth has since grown and developed into a unique entity.
But here’s why that argument is still completely morally bankrupted.
Firstly, it legitimises intellectual property theft. Despite what it turned into, Blizzard took a lot of what made Warhammer unique away from it. If fans can justify that because at least they got a good game out of it, they’re completely missing the point of why these laws exist.
Creators should be able to own their creations. Any argument that tries to back Blizzard has to first square itself with that statement. You can’t be pro-Blizzard and pro-creator rights. Their track record just doesn’t line up.
And on that note, I still haven’t been convinced that anything original in Warcraft comes close to matching the tide of awesomeness that Warhammer has in one image.
Secondly, with that sort of reasoning, what is going to stop Blizzard from ripping off another franchise? Or the same franchise, again?
The answer is nothing because that’s exactly what Blizzard did to Warhammer 40K with StarCraft. The Zerg are the Tyranids, the Protoss are the Eldar and the Space Marines are the Space Marines.
Damn, they’re not even trying to hide it anymore.
So, as long as there are people rushing to defend Blizzard, we’re going to continue to get pale imitations of the lore of better worlds. But that is still ok as long as we get original games with original mechanics, right?
Oh, I’m so glad we’re going there.
Overwatch is Blizzard’s biggest heist
You see the problem with relying on others for your ideas is eventually you get bad at coming up with your own. Until Overwatch, Blizzard had gotten pretty good at only sampling the art, the characters, and lore from other creators. Pretty much anything not related to the actual game mechanics.
However, with Overwatch, they flipped the script.
As their first new IP in over 17 years, they wanted to distance themselves from their old copy-paste theory of game design. Even a caustic old grump like myself had to admit the art direction and aesthetic of Overwatch was fantastic.
Each character was instantly iconic. So much personality was crammed into every pixel that you didn’t need to read their bios to understand who they were and what they stood for. It’s part of the reason why there was so much porn made of them.
But as soon as my hands touched the controller, whatever goodwill Blizzard had earned disappeared. Replaced by the familiar hatred.
You see, I had played Overwatch before. Back then it went by Team Fortress 2, but it was the same game nonetheless.
The characters play the same, the game modes are the same. Heck, Blizzard is even marketing it the same, what with each Overwatch character getting a stylish introduction trailer.
And if you think that maybe I’m overacting, I’d like to draw your attention to Junkenstein’s Revenge. It was one of Overwatch’s first new game modes and switched the usual team-based combat to a co-operative brawl in which players gun down hordes of mechanical monstrosities. Those skilled in pattern recognition could probably guess what I’m building up to is the revelation that TF2 did the exact same thing but earlier.
What’s next for Blizzard
I would honestly love nothing more than Blizzard to get a good double scope of karmic retribution for all the shady tactics over the years.
But realistically, that’s probably not going to happen.
People love Warcraft and, judging for all the “fanart”, they really love Overwatch. And as long as Blizzard continues to make great games, people are going to let them get away with it.
But that’s really it, isn’t it? As long as they continue to make good games.
The only reason that makes sense for why Blizzard has been able to avoid nearly any controversy about their games is that all of them have been gems. Both critically and financially. However, as good as their run has been, greatness can’t be courted forever. Eventually, they’ll make a stinker and then…
Well, the gaming community is a capricious mistress. It doesn’t take much to turn them against a developer. Just look how they all turned against Campo Santo after its founder dared to criticise Pewdiepie for using the N-word.
If they can get themselves so riled up over nothing, I would hate to be the target when they actually have something to stand up for.
All good things come to an end. And maybe a scummy developer as well, once in a while.