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Diablo Retrospective – Morhaime had “all the power and leverage” and closed Blizzard North

Diablo retrospective

A new Diablo retrospective video has been released from the Portland Retro Gaming Expo and it features some great names from the franchise.

Diablo Retrospective Panel

Matt Householder (producer), Matt Uelmen (music/sound), and Jay Wilson (lead designer Diablo 3). The panel, as you would expect, discuss everything Diablo and their work on the franchise over the years.

Matt explains how he got involved with Diablo and the industry, Matt talks about a period between 2005-2007 when he moved to Irvine to work at Blizzard South, Jay talks about how he started in games with Blood, Company of Heroes and then eventually being hired at Blizzard.

Blizzard North Closing

Jay’s section is interesting because it was the period just after Blizzard North closed down and development on Diablo 3 moved to Blizzard South. According to Jay and Matt, there was a power struggle between Blizzard North and South and it wasn’t the “French” (Vivendi) as had been widely reported. They are adamant it was Mike Morhaime that called the shots and he was a decision-maker in closing down Blizzard North.

Around 10 Blizzard North employees moved to Blizzard South to work on Diablo 3 and Jay came on to the project and was there for eight years until it shipped.

Auction House

Jay talked about tradable skill runes being removed from Diablo 3 and also the auction house. Jay says Blizzard was obsessed with perfect game design at that point. Jay said he liked the D2 skill system and would have probably gone with something like that but other game directors and his “boss” wanted to do different things. They thought the inventory system was “unweildy to manage inventory-wise”. It was rejected because of that. He wished they had done something more akin to Path of Exile at the time.

Regarding the auction house, Jay says the reason they wanted to have the Real Money Auction house was, “security and no other reason. It was not to make money. Diablo 2 item duping hacks, gold sellers, and all those things”. Jay goes on to say that there was no way to fix that problem without controlling the trading market. Security was also a reason Diablo 3 was online only.

So did the auction house make any money? Diablo players often thought they must be raking it in, but according to Jay, it may have only made about 10-15 million which was nothing compared to what WoW was making at that time.

It also sounds like Blizzard was wanting to get rid of the auction house right away but they didn’t think they could because it was advertised on the boxes. They looked at all the legal issues and then decided to just get rid of it, and if they got sued, they would have to handle it if it happened.

It was interesting to read this because around that same time Elly and I had a meeting at Blizzard South to discuss the state of the community. At that meeting, we raised the issue of gold selling and how it was impacting not only the community but the games themselves. It was something they needed to look at. However, this concern was obviously dismissed following that meeting as little was being done to stop it. They seemed powerless and there was just not the will to tackle it head-on

RMT was really taking off following the release of WoW, so much in fact that our own network of Blizzard sites was seen as a target for acquisition by RMT companies, including one operated by Steve Bannon (yes, that Steve Bannon) who requested a meeting at E3. We didn’t know what Bannon and his team wanted to discuss when we met at the time, but an offer was made and we declined. We have always been against being involved with RMT companies so we felt we had to turn it down.

Activision Acquisition

The Activision acquisition of Blizzard was also discussed and Jay described it as a slowly boiling a frog. It was later on that there was more pressure where Activision were “always talking about the bottom line”. Jay said that Diablo3 wasn’t really affected by that. Activision wanted a free-to-play Diablo really badly which lead to Immortal.

This Diablo retrospective turned up some great quotes and it’s always worth watching these if you’ve been following Diablo for all these years.

Source: Youtube

1 thought on “Diablo Retrospective – Morhaime had “all the power and leverage” and closed Blizzard North”

  1. It sounds like they really didn’t like the idea of the Auction House from the start but couldn’t think of anything else that would solve the RMT issue.

    There were a few popular Diablo and WoW sites whose parent companies were in the business of RMT and Blizzard knew and was happy to carry on working with them which contradicted their public position on RMT which was of zero tolerance. I believe they just didn’t know how to handle it.

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