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Blizzard Entertainment

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Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
Formerly
  • Silicon & Synapse, Inc.
  • (1991–1993)
  • Chaos Studios, Inc.
  • (1993–1994)
Subsidiary
IndustryVideo game industry
FoundedFebruary 1991; 28 years ago (1991-02)
Founders
Headquarters,
U.S.
Number of locations
9 studios and offices
Key people
Products
Number of employees
Increase 4,700[1] (2012)
Parent
Websiteblizzard.com

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. is an American video game developer and publisher based in Irvine, California, and is a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard. The company was founded on February 8, 1991, under the name Silicon & Synapse, Inc. by three graduates of the University of California, Los Angeles:[2] Michael Morhaime, Frank Pearce and Allen Adham. The company originally concentrated on the creation of game ports for other studios' games before beginning development of their own software in 1993 with games like Rock n' Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings. In 1994, the company became Chaos Studios, Inc., then Blizzard Entertainment after being acquired by distributor Davidson & Associates.

Shortly thereafter, Blizzard released Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. Blizzard created several other video games, including Warcraft sequels, the Diablo series, the StarCraft series, and in 2004, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Their most recent projects include the first expansion for Diablo III, Reaper of Souls, the online collectible card game Hearthstone, the seventh expansion for World of Warcraft, Battle for Azeroth, the multiplayer online battle arena Heroes of the Storm, the third and final expansion for StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Legacy of the Void, and the multiplayer first-person hero shooter Overwatch.

On July 9, 2008, Activision merged with Vivendi Games, culminating in the inclusion of the Blizzard brand name in the title of the resulting holding company.[3] On July 25, 2013, Activision Blizzard announced the purchase of 429 million shares from majority owner Vivendi. As a result, Activision Blizzard became a completely independent company.[4]

Blizzard Entertainment hosts conventions for fans to meet and to promote their games: the BlizzCon in California, United States, and the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational in other countries, including South Korea and France.

History

Blizzard Entertainment was founded by Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce as Silicon & Synapse in February 1991, after all three had earned their bachelor's degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, the year prior.[5][2] The name "Silicon & Synapse" was a high concept from the three founders, with a logo created by Stu Rose.[5] To fund the company, each of them contributed about $10,000, Morhaime borrowing the sum interest-free from his grandmother.[6] During the first two years, the company focused on creating game ports for other studios. Ports include titles such as J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I and Battle Chess II: Chinese Chess.[7][8] In 1993, the company developed games such as Rock n' Roll Racing and The Lost Vikings (published by Interplay Productions).

In early 1994, they were acquired by distributor Davidson & Associates for $6.75 million ($11.4 million today).[9] In May that year, Chaos Studios was renamed Blizzard Entertainment, citing that they could not pay the rights to use the name, as it was owned by New York-based Chaos Technologies.[10] Shortly thereafter, Blizzard shipped their breakthrough hit Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.

Blizzard has changed hands several times since then. Davidson was acquired along with Sierra On-Line by a company called CUC International in 1996. CUC then merged with a hotel, real-estate, and car-rental franchiser called HFS Corporation to form Cendant in 1997. In 1998 it became apparent that CUC had engaged in accounting fraud for years before the merger. Cendant's stock lost 80% of its value over the next six months in the ensuing widely discussed accounting scandal. The company sold its consumer software operations, Sierra On-line (which included Blizzard) to French publisher Havas in 1998, the same year Havas was purchased by Vivendi. Blizzard was part of the Vivendi Games group of Vivendi. In July 2008 Vivendi Games merged with Activision, using Blizzard's name in the resulting company, Activision Blizzard.

In 1996, Blizzard acquired Condor Games, which had been working on the game Diablo for Blizzard at the time. Condor was renamed Blizzard North, and has since developed the games Diablo, Diablo II, and its expansion pack Lord of Destruction. Blizzard North was located in San Mateo, California. The company originated in Redwood City, California.

Blizzard launched their online gaming service Battle.net in January 1997 with the release of their action role-playing game Diablo. In 2002, Blizzard was able to reacquire rights for three of its earlier Silicon & Synapse titles, The Lost Vikings, Rock n' Roll Racing and Blackthorne, from Interplay Entertainment and re-release them for Game Boy Advance, a handheld console.[11] In 2004, Blizzard opened European offices in the Paris suburb of Vélizy, Yvelines, France. On May 16, 2005, Blizzard announced the acquisition of Swingin' Ape Studios, a video game developer which had been developing StarCraft: Ghost. The company was then merged into Blizzard's other teams after StarCraft: Ghost was "postponed indefinitely". On August 1, 2005, Blizzard announced the consolidation of Blizzard North into the headquarters at 131 Theory in UC Irvine's University Research Park in Irvine, California. In 2007, Blizzard moved their headquarters to 16215 Alton Parkway in Irvine, California.

On November 23, 2004, Blizzard released World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. World of Warcraft is the fourth released game set in the fantasy Warcraft universe, which was first introduced by Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994.[12] Blizzard announced World of Warcraft on September 2, 2001.[13] The game was released on November 23, 2004, on the 10th anniversary of the Warcraft franchise.

Having peaked at 12 million monthly subscriptions in 2010, World of Warcraft subscriptions sunk to 6.8 million in 2014, the lowest number since the end of 2006, prior to The Burning Crusade expansion.[14][15][16] However, World of Warcraft is still the world's most-subscribed MMORPG,[17][18][19] and holds the Guinness World Record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers.[20][21][22][23] In April 2008, World of Warcraft was estimated to hold 62 percent of the MMORPG subscription market.[24] In 2008, Blizzard was honored at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for the creation of World of Warcraft. Mike Morhaime accepted the award.[25][26]

In 2012, Blizzard had 4,700 employees,[1] with offices across 11 cities including Austin, Texas, and countries around the globe. As of June 2015, the company's headquarters in Irvine, California had 2,622 employees.[27]

Blizzard announced in September 2017 that it had acquired a studio at The Burbank Studios in Burbank, California, that will convert into the Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, featuring multiple sound stages, control rooms, practice facilities, a merchandise store, and seating for up to 450 spectators. Blizzard will use the venue to support its various eSports, starting with the Overwatch Contenders Season One in October 2017. Blizzard presently plans to use this only for their events but may allow other eSports leagues to use it in the future.[28]

On October 3, 2018, Mike Morhaime announced he was stepping down as the company president and CEO, but will still remain an advisor to the company. Morhaime was replaced by J. Allen Brack, the executive producer on World of Warcraft.[29] In January 2019 it was announced that Morhaime would leave the company on April 7, 2019.[30]

Frank Pearce announced he would be stepping down as Blizzard's Chief Development Officer on July 19, 2019, though will remain in an advisory role similar to Morhaime.[31]

Games

Blizzard Entertainment has developed 19 games since 1991, in addition to developing 8 ports between 1992 and 1993; 11 of those games are in the Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft series. Since the release of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (1994), Diablo (1996), and StarCraft (1998), Blizzard has focused almost exclusively on those three series. The sole exception has been the company's latest title, Overwatch (2016).

Main franchises

Currently, Blizzard has four main franchises: Warcraft, Diablo, StarCraft, and Overwatch. Each franchise is supported by other media based around its intellectual property such as novels, collectible card games, comics and video shorts. Blizzard Entertainment announced in 2006 that they would be producing a Warcraft live-action movie. The movie was directed by Duncan Jones, financed and produced by Legendary Pictures, Atlas Entertainment, and others, and distributed by Universal Pictures.[32] It was released in June 2016.

Unreleased games

Notable unreleased titles include Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans, which was canceled on May 22, 1998, Shattered Nations, and StarCraft: Ghost, which was "Postponed indefinitely" on March 24, 2006 after being in development hell for much of its lifespan. After seven years of development, Blizzard revealed the cancellation of an unannounced MMO codenamed "Titan" on September 23, 2014.[33] The company also has a history of declining to set release dates, choosing to instead take as much time as needed, generally saying a given product is "done when it's done."[34]

Pax Imperia II was originally announced as a title to be published by Blizzard. Blizzard eventually dropped Pax Imperia II, though, when it decided it might be in conflict with their other space strategy project, which became known as StarCraft. THQ eventually contracted with Heliotrope and released the game in 1997 as Pax Imperia: Eminent Domain.

Technology

Warden client

Blizzard has made use of a special form of software known as the 'Warden Client'. The Warden client is known to be used with Blizzard's online games such as Diablo and World of Warcraft, and the Terms of Service contain a clause consenting to the Warden software's RAM scans while a Blizzard game is running.[35]

The Warden client scans a small portion of the code segment of running processes in order to determine whether any third-party programs are running. The goal of this is to detect and address players who may be attempting to run unsigned code or third party programs in the game. This determination of third party programs is made by hashing the scanned strings and comparing the hashed value to a list of hashes assumed to correspond to banned third party programs.[36] The Warden's reliability in correctly discerning legitimate versus illegitimate actions was called into question when a large scale incident happened. This incident banned many Linux users after an update to Warden caused it to incorrectly detect Cedega as a cheat program.[37] Blizzard issued a statement claiming they had correctly identified and restored all accounts and credited them with 20 days play.[38] Warden scans all processes running on a computer, not just the game, and could possibly run across what would be considered private information and other personally identifiable information. It is because of these peripheral scans that Warden has been accused of being spyware and has run afoul of controversy among privacy advocates.[39][40][41]

Battle.net 2.0

Blizzard released its revamped Battle.net service in 2009. This service allows people who have purchased Blizzard products (StarCraft, StarCraft II, Diablo II, and Warcraft III, as well as their expansions) to download digital copies of games they have purchased, without needing any physical media.

On November 11, 2009, Blizzard required all World of Warcraft accounts to switch over to Battle.net accounts. This transition means that all current Blizzard titles can be accessed, downloaded, and played with a singular Battle.net login.[42]

Battle.net 2.0 is the platform for matchmaking service for Blizzard games, which offers players a host of additional features. Players are able to track their friend's achievements, view match history, avatars, etc. Players are able to unlock a wide range of achievements (rewards for completing game content) for Blizzard games.

The service allows players to chat simultaneously with players from other Blizzard games. For example, players no longer need to create multiple user names or accounts for most Blizzard products. To enable cross game communication, players need to become either Battletag or Real ID friends.[citation needed]

Controversies

Privacy controversy and Real ID

On July 6, 2010, Blizzard announced that they were changing the way their forums worked to require that users identify themselves with their real name.[43][44] The reaction from the community was overwhelmingly negative with multiple game magazines calling the change "foolhardy"[45] and an "epic fail".[46] It resulted in a significant user response on the Blizzard forums, including one thread on the issue reaching over 11,000 replies.[47][48][49][50][51] This included personal details of a Blizzard employee who gave his real name "to show it wasn't a big deal".[52] Shortly after revealing his real name, forum users posted personal information including his phone number, picture, age, and home address.[47]

Some technology media outlets suggested that displaying real names through Real ID is a good idea and would benefit both Battle.net and the Blizzard community.[53] But others were worried that Blizzard was opening their fans up to real-life dangers such as stalking, harassment, and employment issues, since a simple Internet search by someone's employer can reveal their online activities.[47][54][55][56]

Blizzard initially responded to some of the concerns by saying that the changes would not be retroactive to previous posts, that parents could set up the system so that minors cannot post, and that posting to the forums is optional.[49] However, due to the huge negative response, Blizzard President Michael Morhaime issued a statement rescinding the plan to use real names on Blizzard's forums for the time being.[57] The idea behind this plan was to allow players who had a relationship outside of the games to find each other easier across all the Blizzard game titles. They also planned to add several other features designed to make reading the forums more enjoyable and to empower players with tools to improve the quality of forum discussions.[47][58]

Apart from the negative side effects of Real ID relating to privacy, the addition boasts features for current Blizzard titles. For instance, real names for friends, cross-realm and cross-game chat, rich presence and broadcasts are included with the Real ID system.[59]

Hearthstone ban and Hong Kong protests

On October 6, 2019, during the Hearthstone Grandmasters streaming event in Taiwan, Ng Wai Chung, a professional Hearthstone player and resident of Hong Kong professionally known as "Blitzchung", was being interviewed following his match, during which he donned a mask similar to those worn by protesters in the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and uttered the phrase "Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times", leading to the stream being cut off shortly after. The following day, on October 7, Blizzard announced that Blitzchung had been banned from the current tournament, forfeiting any prize money (approximately US$4,000 by that point), and was banned for any further Grandmaster tournaments for one year, citing a rule for Grandmasters that players cannot do anything that "brings [themselves] into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages [Blizzard's] image".[60][61][62] Blizzard later said that while they respect the freedom of speech for its players, players are still bound by competition rules. Blitzchung stated in an interview afterwards that he had done the act of protest as "I put so much effort in that social movement in the past few months, that I sometimes couldn't focus on preparing my Grandmaster match".[60] In addition, Blizzard terminated the contract with the two stream casters that had been conducting the interview, "Virtual" and "Mr. Yee"; viewers believed the two had been encouraging Blitzchung to express his message, and thus also ran afoul of the rule.[60] Virtual stated to PC Gamer that he and Mr. Yee only knew moments before the interview that Blitzchung would be wearing a mask, and when Blitzchung started his statement related to the protest, the casters ducked their heads under their desk, so that it was evident that Blitzchung was only speaking for himself. Virtual stated that he had yet to be told why he had been fired from Blizzard's Taiwan offices.[63]

Many felt that Blizzard was cautious of potential repercussions from China's government, which has been censoring any support for the Hong Kong protests, including recent actions directed towards the National Basketball Association following a pro-Hong Kong tweet by Daryl Morey, and South Park after the premiere of the episode "Band in China" the same week.[60] Further, Blizzard is partially owned by the Chinese technology giant Tencent through Activision Blizzard, and thus there were concerns that that business relationship was also at stake.[64] Others spoke out that Blizzard's actions were unacceptable, as it appears to make them an agent for the Chinese government.[65][66] This was further fueled by an October 8, 2019 post to Weibo by the official Hearthstone account run Blizzard's Chinese publishing partner NetEase, expressing strong condemnation of Blitzchung's action and that they will protect China's national dignity, which some fans took to be representative of Blizzard's stance on the matter.[67]

Criticism was made of the weight and impact of the ban on Blitzchung compared to lesser penalties that Blizzard had placed on players from the Overwatch League for making vulgar statements and gestures on camera, believing this was an indication of unfair treatment towards Blitzchung.[68] Some United States lawmakers spoke out against the ban. Senator Ron Wyden said "No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck", while Senator Marco Rubio said "China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally."[69]

Several long-term players of Blizzard's games discussed a boycott of Blizzard to encourage Blizzard to revoke the ban on Blitzchung.[70][71][61] On Twitter, the hashtag #BoycottBlizzard trended worldwide, with notable participation of former Blizzard employee and World of Warcraft team lead Mark Kern,[72][73][74] who showed he was canceling his subscription to his own game.[75][76] Some of Blizzard's employees in protest papered over the "Every Voice Matters" and "Think Globally" placards on the company's Orc statue on their Irvine campus, while another group staged a walkout using umbrellas as had been done in the 2014 Hong Kong protests.[77][78][79] One longtime Blizzard employee stated: "The action Blizzard took against the player was pretty appalling but not surprising."[80] Both Brian Kibler and Nathan Zamora, casters for Hearthstone, stated they have dropped out of announcing for the Hearthstone Grandmasters at the November 2019 BlizzCon due to the incident.[81][82][83] Kibler stated in his resignation: "I will not be a smiling face on camera that tacitly endorses this decision. Unless something changes, I will have no involvement in Grandmasters moving forward."[84]

Supporters of the Hong Kong protest began to post fan art of Blizzard's own Overwatch character Mei, a Chinese native, as a sign of support for Blitzchung and the protests following the ban.[85] On October 9, at the end of a Hearthstone Collegiate Champs match following Blitzchung's ban, players of the losing team, American University, held up a sign that said "Free Hong Kong, Boycott Blizz" on their player camera; the broadcast rapidly transitioned to a fullscreen shot of the victorious team. Following the incident, player cameras were removed from the event's coverage and replaced by images of the game's leading characters. Additionally, player interviews were said to be discontinued for the rest of the competition.[86][87][88] The subreddit r/Blizzard went private amidst all other subreddits dedicated to Blizzard properties showing anger toward the company's actions.[71][77][89] Concerned gamers and activists, led by Fight for the Future, plan to arrange an "umbrella protest" at the November 2019 Blizzcon to demonstrate their disapproval of Blizzard's actions.[90] AccessNow.org, a human rights advocacy group, also urged Blizzard to reverse the ban.[91]

Joint letter from U.S. Senators and Representatives to Activision-Blizzard regarding the ban

On October 11, 2019, Blizzard president J. Allen Brack wrote that, after reviewing the situation, Blizzard felt the penalties applied were not appropriate, though they were still concerned about how Blitzchung and the casters took the discussion away from the game and into political discourse. Brack stated they will re-instate Blitzchung's winnings and reduce his ban from Grandmasters to six months, and similarly will reduce the casters' bans to six months. Brack asserted that "our relationships in China had no influence on our decision".[92] Blizzard also formally banned the American University team for 6 months, applying the same reasoning as with Blitzchung's reduced ban.[93]

By October 18, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Rubio, and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski sent a co-signed letter to Kotick requesting that Blizzard fully reverse the ban on Blitzchung. The letter stated that "Because your company is such a pillar of the gaming industry, your disappointing decision could have a chilling effect on gamers who seek to use their platform to promote human rights and basic freedoms. Indeed, many gamers around the world have taken notice of your company's actions, understandably calling for boycotts of Activision Blizzard gaming sites."[94]

The incident around Blizzard spread to other companies. The Australian developer Immutable, who runs the online digital card game Gods Unchained, offered to cover the winnings lost by Blitzchung as well as offering him a spot in their upcoming tourney; co-founder Robbie Ferguson had said "we don’t think your financial assets should be taken away from you for expressing a belief". Within hours of making this offer, there was a denial-of-service attack on the Gods Unchained server, which they later were able to stop.[95] Riot Games, which is wholly owned by Tencent,[96] had been accused of censoring the words "Hong Kong" in the team name Hong Kong Attitude during the League of Legends World Championship in the week following Blizzard's ban, otherwise using the initialism HKA instead, but Riot identified from other broadcasts from the same event they have gone back and forth between the full name and initialism and do not have any restrictions on saying "Hong Kong" in place.[97] Riot has asked casters and players to avoid discussing politics on streams in light of the situation.[98] In contrast, Epic Games, which is 40% owned by Tencent, said through a spokeperson that "Epic supports everyone's right to express their views on politics and human rights, we wouldn't ban or punish a Fortnite player or content creator for speaking on these topics," a message also shared by its CEO Tim Sweeney on Twitter.[99][100] Lee Shi Tian, a Hong Kong professional Magic: The Gathering player, expressed support for the protests at a major championship a few weeks later, and was not penalized by Wizards of the Coast.[101]

Legal disputes

StarCraft privacy lawsuit

In 1998, Donald P. Driscoll, an Albany, California attorney filed a suit on behalf of Intervention, Inc., a California consumer group, against Blizzard Entertainment for "unlawful business practices" for the action of collecting data from a user's computer without their permission.[102][103]

FreeCraft

On June 20, 2003, Blizzard issued a cease and desist letter to the developers of an open-source clone of the Warcraft engine called FreeCraft, claiming trademark infringement. This hobby project had the same gameplay and characters as Warcraft II, but came with different graphics and music.

As well as a similar name, FreeCraft enabled gamers to use Warcraft II graphics, provided they had the Warcraft II CD. The programmers of the clone shut down their site without challenge. Soon after that the developers regrouped to continue the work by the name of Stratagus.[104]

Founder Electronics infringement lawsuit

On August 14, 2007, Beijing University Founder Electronics Co., Ltd. sued Blizzard Entertainment Limited for copyright infringement claiming 100 million yuan in damages. The lawsuit alleged the Chinese edition of World of Warcraft reproduced a number of Chinese typefaces made by Founder Electronics without permission.[105]

MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

On July 14, 2008, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled on the case MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.. The Court found that MDY was liable for copyright infringement since users of its Glider bot program were breaking the End User License Agreement and Terms of Use for World of Warcraft. MDY Industries appealed the judgment of the district court, and a judgment was delivered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 14, 2010, in which the summary judgment against MDY for contributory copyright infringement was reversed.[106][107] Nevertheless, they ruled that the bot violated the DMCA and the case was sent back to the district court for review in light of this decision.[108][109]

World of Warcraft private server complications

On December 5, 2008, Blizzard issued a cease and desist letter to many administrators of high population World of Warcraft private servers (essentially slightly altered hosting servers of the actual World of Warcraft game, that players do not have to pay for). Blizzard used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to influence many private servers to fully shut down and cease to exist.[110]

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. v. Valve Corporation

Shortly after Valve Corporation filed its trademark for "Dota" to secure the franchising rights for Dota 2, DotA-Allstars, LLC, run by former contributors to the games's predecessor, Defense of the Ancients, filed an opposing trademark in August 2010.[111] DotA All-Stars, LLC was sold to Blizzard Entertainment in 2011. After the opposition was over-ruled in Valve's favor, Blizzard filed an opposition against Valve in November 2011, citing their license agreement with developers, as well as their ownership of DotA-Allstars, LLC.[112] Blizzard conceded their case in May 2012, however, giving Valve undisputed commercial rights to Dota, while Blizzard would rename their StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm mod "Blizzard All-Stars", which would become the stand-alone game, Heroes of the Storm.[113]

Related companies

Over the years, some former Blizzard employees have moved on and established gaming companies of their own:

See also

References

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