A new investigation into Diablo 4’s development paints a picture of chaos and mismanagement at Activision Blizzard, leading to a dash to meet a release date — reportedly June 6 next year — that staff believe is “unlikely” to be met without “many hours of overtime.” or cutting profiles.
In a new report from The Washington Post, compiled after speaking with 15 current and former Blizzard employees, it is alleged that the development of Diablo 4 was turbulent from the start, with the leadership at the time instilling the project with a “sense of inertia” as large parts of it had been revamped. The game is constantly being canceled – including a planned battle royale mode.
Speaking to The Washington Post, team members placed much of the early blame on director Luis Pareja and lead designer Jesse McCree, both of whom left the studio in 2021, amid serious allegations of institutional discrimination and harassment at Activision Blizzard. His teammates claim, for example, that Macri “will grow fascinated by different aspects of the game and then lose interest and hand it over to other people without finishing what he started”.
“You could tell they weren’t very confident,” a former Blizzard employee told the newspaper. “There wasn’t a lot of vision for the game. They’d change their minds a lot, sometimes without even giving things a fair chance, like over the weekend. This really slowly started to burn people out.”
Creative director Sebastian Stępień — who previously served as director on The Witcher 3 and lead writer on Cyberpunk 2077 — has also been cited as a “troublemaker” within the team, with staff discussing some of Stępień’s “particularly disturbing revisions” to the script upon joining the project.
One version of his revised script, written in 2019, is said to have “repeatedly mentioned the rape of a love interest and referred to this female character as the raped woman as its primary description”. Two employees recall a line in the script saying, “Then I was brutally raped.” Interviewees say the inclusion of sexual abuse was only added to make “Diablo” sadder and darker, rather than dealing with the subject matter in a sensitive way.”
After the staff pleaded with the leaders to revise this version of the story, it was eventually fixed, with the female character cut out of the story entirely. Activision did not deny the allegations reported to The Washington Post, instead saying, “The story in question was floated more than three years ago under different leadership as character background, not game content.”
Stępień’s insistence on “taking the entire game and rewriting it himself” is said to have delayed the development of the story by several months, exacerbating issues caused by Diablo 4’s indecisive early development. These, in turn, are said to have been greatly affected by staff departures as Key employees have gone elsewhere for “more competitive wages and better working conditions”.
Activision eventually moved to bring Vicarious Visions, now known as Blizzard Albany, into the project, but the process of merging the teams was reportedly “bumpy”, due to the latter’s relative inexperience with Diablo and the “few plans” in place to merge the two.
“At a certain point, dumping bodies on the problem doesn’t solve the problem,” one current employee of Blizzard Albany told The Washington Post. “If you add them late enough in the project, it doesn’t matter that you rent an entire studio, because they won’t be up to date in time to help the shipping game.”
As a result of developmental turmoil, Diablo 4 has reportedly seen several unannounced internal release dates over the years, with Activision at one point putting up 2021 as a release target. That reportedly shifted to December 2022 after the game’s reveal at BlizzCon 2019, but the developers have reportedly “claimed for more time to avoid massive cuts to the game.” This led to a revised release target of April 2023, but the team “felt it still needed more time”, at which point the launch was moved to June 6 of the next year.
“We’re at the point where they don’t want to delay the game anymore,” one current employee at Blizzard Albany told the newspaper. “So we all have to move forward and see how much we’re willing to hurt ourselves to make sure the game launches in a good enough state.”
In order to achieve the goal of the latest release, Activision Blizzard is said to incentivize longer working hours among employees by promising perks some describe as “frivolous,” including profit sharing to cover meals. For its part, Activision Blizzard told the newspaper, “The extra work is voluntary and limited to specific teams.”
Not surprisingly, employees the publication spoke to said that the tense development process for Diablo 4 could take a toll on the quality of the game — some think it would be “fun” while others describe it as “modest but passable” — and on employee health.
Concerns about working conditions continued to plague Activision Blizzard after a lawsuit in California that called the company a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women” last July. Since then, Activision has faced several new allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as unionization efforts by employees seeking better and fairer working conditions.
In response, Activision continued its attempts to thwart the union’s efforts, albeit without success, and made public the results of its own internal investigation, claiming that it had not found “widespread harassment” at the company. Today, she also announced that she is suing the Department of Justice, which she says has “deliberately unleashed a tornado of hostile media coverage.”
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