Former Blizzard employee Michael Sacco has posted an informative guide about Activision-Blizzard, what the company does and how it has, and hasn't, affected the day-to-day operations at Blizzard.
It's been over a year since the merger between Activision and Vivendi Games resulted in the creation of Activision Blizzard, which immediately surpassed Electronic Arts to become the world's largest independent videogame publisher. Yet even after all that time, there is still a significant amount of confusion over just what Activision-Blizzard is and, just as importantly, is not. Michael Sacco, who worked at Blizzard as an in-game support rep for three years, recently posted a very informative write-up about the company on WoW Insider, in which he explains that "Activision-Blizzard is not Blizzard."
"Blizzard is a game development studio. They create video games from start to finish and prepare them for distribution," Sacco wrote. "Activision-Blizzard is a publisher. It is the publishing company formerly known as Vivendi Games, which published studios like Blizzard and Sierra. Vivendi Games shares were converted into Activision shares, thus forming a new company of which Vivendi Universal immediately purchased 52 percent."
He acknowledged that publishers generally have some degree of control over developers, including the projects they undertake, release dates and game content, but noted that Blizzard has a far greater degree of freedom than most other studios. "There are obviously certain considerations, such as funding, that a developer must be aware of when making their game, but Blizzard is in a unique situation in that they (and WoW) are such a cash cow that any Activision-Blizzard interference would likely result in an inferior product - and, subsequently, lower sales," he continued. "They know that Blizzard does things right."
And while recent Blizzard decisions to push out Wrath of the Lich King in time for Christmas and to split StarCraft II into three games have resulted in some criticism from gamers who suggest that such moves are evidence of Activision interference and money-grubbing, Sacco claims the opposite: That Blizzard is trying to maximize the player's experience, not cash in. "Devs explained to me that they had three choices once they realized the depth of the Terran campaign," he said. "Shorten and pare down each campaign, resulting in campaigns about as long as Warcraft III, and release it as one game; make the campaigns as robust as possible and release the Protoss and Zerg campaigns in expansions; or put everything in one game exactly how they want it and have Starcraft II come out in 2014. They said the choice was obvious and I agree. It's about delivering the best playing experience."
Still, he admits that Activision isn't above "stupid cross-promotions" to maximize its new relationship with Blizzard, saying the company "desperately tried to equate our flagship properties with their licensed crap." Activision also sent Blizzard a pile of Guitar Hero Aerosmith copies "that none of us really cared about - but hey, extra Rock Band guitar, right?"