Time for change?

This is one of those articles that challenges one to complete it, as things keep changing and I keep having to rearrange or adjust things. So, if something appears a little off, please keep that in mind. But I’ve determined to finish it today before it becomes part of somebody’s “history content” features.

This article started out as a focus on the departure of Ron Pardo from Blizzard, but a recent set of blog posts featuring Mike Morhaime threw some new light on the situation.  And, finally, some commentary on the beta brought more fuel to the fire just today.

Really, if this article grows any more, I may have to buy a new domain to house it.  Which is why I really need to either post or get off the poster, if you take my meaning.

This all started a few weeks ago when Rob Pardo announced he was leaving Blizzard. Now, followers of his Twitter account may have noticed a lot of activity, but none of it game-related over the past few months – more or less right after he had said some fairly sketchy things on the topic of diversity ((Namely, that it wasn’t Blizz’s responsibility to police how video games were made. Which was totally not the question, but the beauty of a straw man is that you get to pick the one you set up prior to knocking it down, isn’t it?)).

Anyway, all of the activity on that twitter feed post-sketchiness was, with one exception (E3), about vacationing. Cabo. Vegas. That sort of thing.  Which is a rather interesting factoid if you happen to be the lead of the next major expansion to your company’s cash cow.

Even more interesting was, in the middle of all that hard vacationing, that he posted shock and surprise on his twitter feed that something he’d said had caused a stir. He hadn’t even looked at Twitter – an app originally designed to be used on a cell phone – during all that time? Really? I mean, who even does that?

Once noting the shocking news of the stir he’d created, he attempted some basic damage control ((Never a good idea.)), including the always popular “That’s not what I said!”  ((Note: It WAS what he said.))

After that, and an intense vacation in Venice ((I am not making that up.)), we saw the announcement, along with this little gem.

pardo indy 4 tweet

I’m not exactly sure that’s the tweet of a man that left altogether willingly.

What I wouldn’t give for ValleyWag to be on this ((Even if Blizz is technically in Anaheim, not the Valley.)) ((Well, sister site Kotaku got on it, and the brodawgs didest flow. So much for that.)).

So, a week later, almost to the day, we see this article on WoW Insider, which was titled and presented in an fairly deceptive way which was wrong in every significant way except for the name of the exec involved.  But it did include a link to the origin of the letter, and *it* included a link to the impassioned original post on Tumblr.

A few points of interest.

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns about your experiences with our games. I appreciated the points you made, so I shared your letter with others on our teams here and included it as part of the ongoing discussions we’ve been having on the subject.

This is encouraging on the face of it, in that my perception up to now is that Blizz has been rather dismissive of critiques the casual sexism in their games.

[…] we want everyone to feel welcome, safe, and included in our games and communities. We have made some mistakes in how we’ve communicated about this and how we’ve reflected it in other ways, but we are working to improve.

Not entirely sure what to make of that. Are they working to improve on communication of what they want, or improving the actual thing? It’s a bit vague.

We are very conscious of the issues you raise and are discussing them more than ever, at every level of the company, in an effort to make sure our games and stories are as epic and inclusive as possible. And we know that actions speak louder than words, so we are challenging ourselves to draw from more diverse voices within and outside of the company and create more diverse heroes and content.  […] There is no reason why inclusivity should come at the expense of an amazing game experience.

But this seems to be fairly straightforward, and I welcome what he has to say on that.

Note, however: no actual apology.

But here is the comment that I find most interesting in the Rob Pardo context.

There have been times when we’ve been seen or painted as being uninterested in hearing feedback or making changes. I want to be clear that this goes against the philosophies and core values on which Blizzard has been built and continues to operate. We will always listen, and we will always work hard to make games that appeal to as many people as possible.

I am certain that Morhaime chose his words very careful, so the phrase “seen or painted as” may bear some significance. Is this a rebuke of Pardo and Browder’s earlier statements about not being in the business of, well, leading by example?  It’s very difficult to tell, as it’s been fairly well crafted to leave a LOT of wiggle room, but it is possibly indicative of an internal conflict at Blizzard. One which Pardo, possibly, didn’t win.

Well, that’s one theory.

The final piece came to light by way of this post on Massively. The final piece is not in this particular post ((How refreshing to see an AoL property not wince away from posting something incredibly critical of a Blizzard property.  Mind you, I do think it’s an incredibly bad idea to apply Production Software filters to a Beta product, but I presume that Eliot Lefebvre is experienced in game writing and has chosen deliberately to pretend he doesn’t know the difference.)), but it brought a series of conversations to light on Twitter.

These discussions focused around how a lot of people were seeing Blizz as the bad guys in light of the Massively articles, seeing as they had “changed the rules” on what Garrisons were supposed to be, and things like that.  There were proponents on both side of that argument, and understandably so.

While it is true that even entire zones have been torn down and redesigned during beta ((Hello, Jade Forest)), there was a general feeling ((One I share to some extent.)) that the ball had been dropped, dropped hard, and dropped repeatedly during alpha, beta, and prior to that.

One of the lead designers of this expansion, and in fact the lead designer of WoW in general, was Rob Pardo

That’s background.

There are several possibilities, here, and office politics at Blizz are pretty much as opaque as any company’s, so anything proposed now is going to be based on conjecture.

Never stopped me from baseless speculation before, though.

After the Morhaime letter, one possible scenario is one in which Blizz, deciding to move actively in a direction of greater diversity in-game, and there were those that were probably not actively against diversity, but felt that giving in to the pressure sent the “wrong message” on the topic. In this scenario, Pardo is one of the resistance; Emperor Mike won this one easily, probably gave Pardo an ultimatum (“Go on sabbatical and think it over”), and eventually Pardo realized that “it wasn’t fun anymore” ((Often a euphemism for “wouldn’t pay me to be a douchebag anymore.”)).

Option 2 is a lot more simple: WoD’s production was a disaster, and it was management that was to blame.  Possibly the bean counters needed a head for their pike.  Wouldn’t be the first time. It’s important to know that Pardo, Morhaime, and most of the other names you are familiar with are only on the creative management team. The real power resides in the hand of the financial management team, and even they’re not safe from infighting.

Option 3 is: there’s no here here.  Everything is exactly as it appears. Pardo just got tired, went on vacation and decided never to come back. Morhaime is concerned about his company’s corporate culture as a logical consequence of what he’s seeing on the internet, and is taking perfectly reasonable and logical actions to correct and mitigate this.  WoD was botched, yes, but Blizz has always been capable of recovering from this sort of thing, have done in the past, and while this is not pleasant, they’re not about to go hunting scalps at the expense of “getting things done.”

A lot of people will say (and have said) that it’s not really any of our business, that it’s his personal business and the company’s internal affair.

Except …

… it’s relevant to our interests.

Option 3 is the least encouraging of all the scenarios because it implies that things will continue as they have, with no change in corporate culture and no improvements in the product that gets delivered.  The other two options, while a bit tawdry, do offer the possibility that someone has been drawn into doing something about it.

As a player and not yet decided on whether to even *buy* Warlords, I find this *incredibly* relevant to my interests, to the tune of approximately sixty clams.

What comes next is going to be watched with great interest here at casa de Grimmtooth.

My views on Pardo’s departure are mixed. A lot of people have tweeted to him ((Which he has graciously re-tweeted, draw your own conclusions.)) how his work at Blizzard has made a difference to them, and this is true. And if he’s not the bad egg there, I’m sorry to see him go, too. If he is the bad egg, I have no reason to weep.  The attitude at Blizzard, especially among its upper creative management, has sucked and needs changing.

No matter what, though, I won’t be crying for Pardo.  His early arrival at Blizzard and his lofty position means he has a pretty good nest egg, assuming he didn’t invest it all at Aereo. Any man that can take three months sabbatical ((“Vacation.”)) is probably swimming in gp. I have no doubt he’ll land on his feet, as long as “conspicuously lead team that felt it had no reason to speak out on the place of women in gaming and took great efforts to conspicuously avoid doing so even when team members were conspicuously pulling the rope in the other direction” doesn’t impact future hiring opportunities.  Given what I’ve read of Silicon Valley culture ((Take that any way you want.)), I’m sure he’ll have no end of suitors.

And I *conspicuously* hope that this marks the beginning if significant change for the better at Blizzard. And not the other thing.


Posted on July 21, 2014, in Blizzard, The future is scary. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. /tinfoilhat

    The time between Pardo’s Twitter ‘bio’ changing from Blizzard employee to ex-Blizzard employee was about an hour after the Press Release broke. The string of tweets after praising him were pretty much all from notable people inside the Industry. I am but a prole in the 1984 that is Twitter, but even I thought this looked stage-managed.

    All this will only ever be speculation, we will probably never know what happened, but considering the ‘stance’ from other members of Blizzard on diversity and their place in permanent employment at present, I think we’re looking at a person to blame rather than a cause that’s won.

    Am watching this space.



    • I’m not sure the stream of supportive tweets were as much stage managed as just held under a virtual NDA. It’s entirely possible that they knew ahead of time and had prepared a few things to say. I really hadn’t noticed it until you pointed it out, and I imagine my conclusions will change as the day passes.

      The one big flaw in the scapegoat theory – which I failed to bring up in the first place, my bad – is that there really isn’t a lot of talk of him being scaped. Goated. Whatever. Generally you want to point at the head on the pike and say, “Don’t let this happen to you.” We haven’t even heard buzz of internal discussions around this, and that makes it less of a possibility. Though I do suppose that if you’re at that level, you have the leverage to stipulate a quiet exit without any finger pointing, especially if one has dirty laundry of one’s own gathering to air.

      Of my three pet theories, that one is my second-least-favorite. But at least there’s possibility that it presages a turnaround of some sort.


  2. Excellent post, Grimm…a LOT of food for thought here.


    • Thanks. I do apologize for making you wait nearly three weeks, I know I implied I’d be more faster quick on that 🙂


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