It isn’t every day that a company based around our favourite pastime, that of video games, manages to reach the ripe old age of 30. Blizzard Entertainment, best known these days as the developers of World of Warcraft, have reached that milestone, and I’d like to present here a look back over their history, skewed towards my own personal history with the developers.
Now, I will say right at the top that I am possibly the only person in the world who has never played World of Warcraft, so while I won’t be able to avoid mentioning the game, it will be in broad brushstrokes, rather than personal, forensic detail. So, with that caveat in place, let’s head back into the past and have a look at Blizzard’s journey, shall we?
The company was first founded way back in February 1991, and was known in those days as Silicon & Synapse. The founding members – Michael Morhaine, Frank Pearce and Allen Adham – focused mainly on converting other peoples games to the burgeoning PC platform. However, it wasn’t long before their creative talents began to shine through, and in 1992 they began to make their own titles for the home console market. And it’s here that my relationship, for want of a better word, with what was to become Blizzard Entertainment began.
You see, in 1993 I was a fresh-faced 19-year-old student at the University of Derby, and with a grant from my local council burning a hole in my pocket, the best thing to do was to buy video games for the SNES that I had brought to our student house. Many drunken nights were spent playing Mario Kart, but the one game that was quite unlike anything else that I had purchased was The Lost Vikings. Taking control of the titular Vikings – Erik the Swift, Baleog the Fierce and Olaf the Stout – the game was as much a workout for the brain as it was for the old hand-eye coordination. Each Viking had different abilities, and we had to work out the best way to use these abilities to allow the Vikings to traverse the level and reach the exit. Until this time, the majority of my gaming had been focused on out-and-out action, and The Lost Vikings was a complete change to this routine, requiring experimentation and thought to succeed, rather than just quick reflexes. Ah, I miss the days when I had quick reflexes.
The next game I played of theirs was a bit of a change, going from time traveling Vikings to a vehicular combat game. Rock n’ Roll Racing launched on the SNES in 1994, and brought something to the table that I don’t remember in a game before (I’m relying on my fading memory here, so please don’t write and correct me!); licenced music. Screaming around a racetrack, battling other cars while Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf blared out was great fun at the time. One of the things that I remember was the password system that was used to “save” your progress in the game, and it was possible to cheat by getting a password from elsewhere, like the video game magazines of the time. Looking back now, time hasn’t been kind to Rock n’ Roll Racing, but at the time it was a good driving game.
After this, in 1994 the company was renamed to that of the Blizzard Entertainment that we know nowadays. And it also signalled the start of the Warcraft saga with a real-time strategy game – Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. However, Blizzard Entertainment has been through a lot of mergers and acquisitions in their long history, starting in 1994 when they were acquired by Davidson & Associates. After this Blizzard, in 1996, merged with another studio called Condor, which was developing a little known game known as Diablo… Condor were renamed to Blizzard North, and they stayed a separate entity until they closed in 2005. After this, the company then became part of Vivendi Games, and then they, Vivendi, merged with Activision, becoming known as Activision Blizzard.
They’ve done alright for themselves though and the games that Blizzard have made the most money out of were in place with the release in 1998 of StarCraft. And the figures that the games have raked in are truly eye-watering. Since 1998, the holy trinity of Diablo, StarCraft and Warcraft have brought in a staggering $9 billion as of 2017, and I’m sure that in the time between then and now the money has continued to accrue. World of Warcraft is probably the biggest part of this, with over 100 million lifetime accounts created, going on to be one of the highest grossing video games of all time. Just as an indication of how much time and effort Blizzard has poured into these three franchises, the company has released 19 games since 1991, and 11 of them are in the StarCraft, Diablo and Warcraft series of games.
I have to declare an interest in the Diablo series of games, as the release of Diablo III on the Xbox 360 was a great day for my relationship with Blizzard Entertainment. I had never played a Diablo game before, and so Diablo III was my entry into the series; I loved every second of it. The gameplay was fast and tight, the graphics brilliant, and the multiplayer gameplay sublime. So much so, that when Diablo III with extra content was released on the Xbox One, I happily paid again to play on the new generation of Xbox, and have bought all of the DLC ever since. And when I see footage or hear rumours about Diablo IV, well I have to go and have a little lie down in a darkened room until the excitement leaves me.
Of course, we couldn’t have a Blizzard piece without talking about the 2016 release of Overwatch. This was another type of game that I hadn’t previously been interested in playing, that of a team-based multiplayer first person shooter. I do like an FPS, don’t get me wrong, but the six versus six, fantasy gunplay with such wildly different heroes just didn’t gel with me. My son, however, loves it. There’s something satisfying about watching the exploits of a nine year old being immortalised as the “Play of the Game”, and he is so proud when he pulls it off that it makes me very happy just to see the smile on his face. Overwatch has continued to receive updates – much like the other three main franchises of the company’s – and I am very much in favour of developers continuing to support their products. This is something Blizzard seem fairly good at.
Blizzard have also insinuated themselves into the real world, with their BlizzCon events. These started in 2005, and with the exception of last year (thanks Covid!) has been held every year since. These events are held to promote their main games – Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch – and as an indication of how important these events are, you have to look no further than the closing concerts that are held on the final day. Bands of the calibre of Metallica, Foo Fighters and The Offspring all played there, and that is a musical line-up that is very relevant to my interests. These events cover news about the games, and quite often an eSports arena, such as in 2019 when the Overwatch World Cup was won by the USA.
So, these are my thoughts about the last 30 years of Blizzard Entertainment, and while I may have missed some of their biggest games, the ones I have played I have enjoyed immensely. But how about you guys? Does Blizzard mean anything to you, do you play the company’s titles, and what do you think of them? Let us know in the comments.
Here’s to another 30 years of Warcraft!