January 2020 saw the arrival of Blizzard's highly anticipated Warcraft 3 remake, Reforged, but the celebratory mood quickly soured once fans realised the game failed to deliver much of what was initially promised and took away even more. Now, a report from Bloomberg has shed new light on the behind-the-scenes decision-making that lead to such a disastrous outing for one of Blizzard's most beloved games.
When Reforged was originally announced at BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard sold it as a significant overhaul of its classic real-time strategy game. However, the final version was plagued by bugs, brought broken online play, and was absent of expected features promised in its initial reveal, including improved cutscenes and re-recorded voice overs. It even stripped out elements from the original Warcraft 3, such as leaderboards and clans.
So significant was the negative response to Reforged, Blizzard eventually implemented an on-request refund policy, but the question remained why the company thought it was even remotely acceptable to ship a product in such an shoddy state to begin with.
The answer, says Bloomberg, is "mismanagement and financial pressures", with Activision reportedly pushing Blizzard to cut costs and prioritise bigger titles throughout Reforged's development - a move said to be indicative of cultural changes within the company.
According to Bloomberg, the project, handled by Blizzard's Classic Games department, began ambitiously, with the developer reworking the original script and re-recording all dialogue between 2017 and 2018. However, the small size of the team and disorganised production meant it took months to revamp a single Warcraft 3 level.
"Leadership seemed totally out of touch with the velocity and scope of the project until extremely late in development," Blizzard's internal post-mortem of Reforged, as seen by Bloomberg, states. "Senior voices in the department warned leadership about the impending disaster of Warcraft on several occasions over the last year or so, but were ignored."
Ultimately, as Activision began slashing budgets, Reforged began losing features. Management rescoped the project, jettisoning the revised scripts and re-recordings the Reforged team had been working on, and it became necessary to rope in help from all across Blizzard to get the game into a shippable state in time for its launch.
Of course, many players would reasonably argue the version of the game that did eventually ship wasn't at all fit for release. That Blizzard didn't appear to have a problem with this, says Bloomberg, ultimately comes down to the fact the developer was worried it would have to send out refunds if it delayed Reforged's launch too much, and that fans wouldn't buy the game again - something of an irony given the no-questions-asked refund policy the company was ultimately forced to adopt as extremely vocal criticism of the final product increased.
There's a lot more in Bloomberg's full report, which is well worth a read, but the less-than-stellar picture it paints of Blizzard comes at a time when the company is already in the spotlight, following disturbing accusations from California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing that Activision has repeatedly turned a blind eye to a culture said to be "a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women".