Reports suggest that Activision-Blizzard is going to lay off hundreds of people on Tuesday, the 12th.
Industry pundits have for years quietly prophesied the downfall of the triple-A games industry. Like edicts of doom fortelling a vicious return of the 1983 North American crash which nearly destroyed the medium before it could get off the ground, gamers and market analysts alike have blamed corporate giants like Activision and Electronic Arts for polluting the space with bloated, disappointing titles which put monetization far ahead of playability.
While it’s still too early to decipher what may be ahead for an industry which has seen nearly exponential growth over the past two decades, faults in the monolithic structure are becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore. Electronic Arts has had to cope with disgruntled investors and a steep decline in market value, and, as of Tuesday, Activision will announce plans to lay off hundreds of employees.
First and foremost, Activision’s troubles seem to stem from the shoddy performance of many of its partner Blizzard’s titles in recent months. The player bases for games like Overwatch and Hearthstone have been steadily declining, and the backlash surrounding the announcement of the mobile-only Diablo: Immortal hasn’t done much to boost fan interest.
Yet, Activision isn’t blameless in this matter; Destiny 2 and its recent expansions have all failed to perform up to expectations according to the publisher, and it isn’t difficult to understand why that may be. While the player-first models of free-to-play titles like Fortnite Battle Royale and Warframe have received a massive amount of praise from players, Activision continues to charge exorbitant premiums for out-of-date, out-of-favor products likes season passes and loot crates.
Of course, Activision reps were quick to label these purported layoffs as a case of corporate restructuring rather than an outright downsizing. Though there may be at least some truth to this, the potential $400 million dollar loss of the Destiny IP and predicted two percent annual earnings decrease from last year isn’t a good look for the game publisher, and it seems like even the industry-leading Call of Duty franchise may start to wither away under the organization’s vice grip.
None of these events spell outright disaster for the triple-A video game market, but they should serve as a wake-up signal for publishers too money-hungry to see the forest for the trees. With fans growing increasingly tired of aggressive microtransaction schemes and lawmakers cracking down on certain in-game gambling mechanics, Activision will need to make steps to right the ship before their currency-centric policies put them under entirely.
This circumstance is, in some sense, a bit ironic; Activision was formed by underappreciated video game devs who were upset that they hardly received any credit for their work back in the early days of the industry. Today, they have become the very thing they sought to undo, and we can only hope that such a Socratic blow is not lost on them.