As politics and gaming merge, gamers have to think hard about where they spend their money.
Back in the early days of the gaming industry, the games were developed by passionate developers who focused on the product. They wanted to make the best game possible, which often resulted in long working hours, physical and emotional exhaustion, and financial catastrophes.
Today, that have changed. Those small game developers have turned into multi-billion companies with thousands of employees. The primary driver is no longer make the greatest game ever, but rather how to squeeze as much money as possible out of their customers as possible.
Blizzard Entertainment is a great example of such a company. Founded in early 1991, the company had their breakout release with the genre-defining real time strategy game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994. The game was the first game in Blizzard’s popular Warcraft series. The company went on to create several other hugely successful gaming franchises as well, like Diablo and StarCraft.
The Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft games brought in a lot of money, but the company’s first real money press was the World of Warcraft MMORPG. Launched in 2004, WoW became the most popular MMORPG to date, and by 2017, the game had grossed over $9.23 billion in revenue.
Blizzard used to be a down-to-Earth company that focused on their games, and their customers. But now the company find itself at a crossroad where corporate greed and human ethics meet.
Another successful game developed by Blizzard is Hearthstone, a free-to-play online digital collectible card game set within the Warcraft universe. But there’s no such thing as free (as in “it costs no money”) in the corporate world, of course. A game developer needs money to pay their employees, and if they don’t earn anything from distributing their games, the money has to come from somewhere else.
In the case of Hearthstone, and many other games that use the free-to-play model, the money comes from in-game purchases. In Hearthstone, players can buy packs of new cards to customize and improve their decks. The cards are purchased with in-game gold, or with real money through microtransactions. As of August 2017, Blizzard raked in $40 million per month on Hearthstone in-game purchases alone.
This kind of digital in-game economy is great for the corporate world, but absolutely terrible for consumers. You don’t actually own any of the Hearthstone cards you’ve purchased, you pay for a license to use them in the game. The moment Blizzard decides to close down Hearthstone, everything disappears and all the money you spent are effectively gone.
Hong Kong & Hearthstone.
But that the free-to-play and microtransactions model have to be removed from the face of the Earth is a long topic for another post. Hearthstone is a very popular esports game, and I set out to write this post because of something that happened last weekend.
In a Hearthstone post-match interview, professional esports player Ng “blitzchung” Wai Chung, appeared wearing a ski mask and a gas mask. During the interview, Blitzchung shouted, in Chinese, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!”. The slogan is used in the current social movements in Hong Kong, and this suddenly left Blizzard in quite the pickle.
Hearthstone brings in a lot of cash in China. Angering the Chinese government is a very bad idea for any foreign company that wants to make money in the country, and Hong Kong is a somewhat touchy topic right now. Blizzard’s knee-jerk reaction to Blitzchung sudden political statement was to remove the recording of the interview, ban Blitzchung for one year, and rescind his earnings from competing in Grandmasters Season 2.
This caused an outrage among many gamers, and hashtags like #BoycottBlizzard soon trended on Twitter. Some Blizzard employees even staged a walk out to protest the way their employer had handled the incident.
A Statement from the Higher Uppers.
Blizzard has since backtracked on their initial decision, and has reduced the Blitzchung ban to 6 months. In a statement filled with corporate non-speak, Blizzard’s president J. Allen Barck tries to explain why the company acted as they did.
Two paragraphs in particular stand out:
The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.
We have these rules to keep the focus on the game and on the tournament to the benefit of a global audience, and that was the only consideration in the actions we took.Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack
What Brack is saying here is that Blitzchung was not banned for his statement and Blizzard’s fear of getting on the Chinese government’s bad side. According to Brack, Blitzchung was banned because he steered the conversation away from Hearthstone and the tournament.
It’s fair to assume that that’s just a load of bullshit. I’d love to see player’s getting banned for half a year for saying “recycle!”, “don’t do drugs!”, and similar things in post-match interviews. Because that’s what will happen according to Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack.
Delete Your Blizzard Account.
Blizzard is just the last of a long, long row of companies that have bent the knee to China. Making shitloads of money is more important than, well, pretty much everything, and as a result companies like Google, Apple, and Blizzard do whatever it takes to get a foothold in China.
As consumers, there is only one thing we can do to show that we don’t accept this kind of behavior. The only language corporations understand is the language of money, so that’s where we have to hit them. We have to stop supporting these companies. Stop giving them your money.
In Blizzard’s case, you can do that by deleting your Blizzard account. When doing that, you’ll suffer the permanent loss of any purchased games, and in-game items. So if you’ve put a lot of money in Blizzard products, I can understand that you’re a bit reluctant. The next best thing you can do is to not throw any more money at Blizzard. I hope you make it. If you do, pat yourself on your shoulder.
The saga of Blizzard Entertainment, China and Blitzchung is not over yet1. In a couple of weeks, BlizzCon 2019 kicks off, and it will be interesting to see how that turns out. Will everything have calmed down by then, or will we see more protests and perhaps some Winnie the Pooh costumes?
- If you want to stay on top of this story, I recommend you follow Rob Breslau on Twitter.