It’s OK Not To Trust Blizzard (Or Any Other Company)

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How long before Activision Blizzard Facebook Google?

Here’s A Story

I start a company with the intent of making the most perfect-amazing-high-quality games/toys/movies/tampons/electric hedgehogs. I work my ass off day and night, with no weekends and few holidays, slowly establishing a presence as the premium creator of games/toys/movies/tampons/electric hedgehogs. I sell the best items you can get and pride myself on the integrity that drives my company and all of my employees. Life is good for everyone. For a while.

Eventually another company takes note of my success with said high quality games/toys/movies/tampons/electric hedgehogs and ponders how my business could add value to their business. They come knocking at my door with offers of mergers and buy outs. They offer a lot of money and money is good. It would change my life, my family’s lives, my children’s lives and everyone’s lives directly around us. So I take the cash because it’s the best thing to do. Don’t complain, you’d do it too.

Slowly my company, which I no longer have a controlling stake in but still work for, starts making changes to my products. The games become slightly less fun, the toys less safe, the movies less thoughtful and interesting, the tampons less smooth to apply and the electric hedgehogs less electric (in fact they are simply now just dead hedgehogs). I would complain but I can’t because I no longer have the right to. I sold my control and thus my say.

After a while the integrity and motivation behind my products is gone completely. It’s natural, I suppose, because the people who now own it didn’t create it, they didn’t give birth to it or nurture it with the same vision as I had. To them, the act of purchase was just a business deal. They spent money and now they want it back along with something for their efforts. That’s normal. They also continue their search for new opportunities, for other companies to absorb, all in the name of growth and profit.

Sound Familiar?

If the story above sounds familiar then that’s because it happens a lot in real life. Companies, no matter the industry, buy and sell other companies all in an attempt to make more profit. You can’t expect a company that buys another to truly believe in the vision and mission of them because, ultimately, they didn’t pour the same love and attention into it as the founders did. In most cases, acquisitions are fueled by the potential to make more money otherwise they wouldn’t occur. Company A sees an opportunity in Company B that they can exploit and thus offers to buy them over. Company A then needs to either make changes in Company B or somehow further develop them in an attempt to get their cash back. That’s just normal business practice.

It would be naive to think that anyone would sell a company without the understanding that something would have to fundamentally change after the purchase. That might be staff layoffs, alterations to the product or relocation of factories or development centers. It’s perfectly logical and something we shouln’t be surprised at. If a company sells, changes are going to happen. It’s natural and part of the freedom of our economies.

Why OK It’s Not To Trust Blizzard Or Anyone Else

I read a great article by Larisa today in which she ponders her trust of Blizzard. I wanted to say in response to her post simply that it’s perfectly OK not to trust them. I mean this of course on an entity level and not on the individual one. Like her, I do trust and admire the developers, designers and other employees but on a company level we have to recognise that their primary motivations are always going to be growth and profit.

The history of Blizzard is a pretty murky one but when Vivendi, their owner at the time, merged with Activision in 2008, wheels were set in motion that would change the face of the business model driving the games produced by Blizzard. Perhaps unlike in the early days, the goals behind our beloved video games were no longer the ones of high quality, gaming pleasure and value for money but instead of profit and gain.

As is described in Larisa’s article, it seems as if the developers in Blizzard no longer have any say in the direction or future of their products beyond the basic gameplay level. Sad? Yes. Shocking? No. It’s just business after all and we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover that the motivations behind our games aren’t all that altruistic or pleasant. The guys who are actually producing the goods may want to make the best, most enjoyable and quality product they can but the the guys holding the reigns won’t be so interested.

We shouldn’t feel malice or spite or anger towards this situation though because, as I illustrated in my fictional example, it’s just a fact of life and I defy anyone to say that they wouldn’t be willing to sell out their own company, no matter how much they believed in it, if the price was right.

The Scary Future

Capitalism swings both ways though and we, the consumer, have the power to make or break companies by voting with our wallets. This bond of money acts as the principle concept behind capitalism and the free market, the belief that sub-quality products will lose favour with the consumer and thus result in loss of money. The idea essentially is that’s all a giant sew-saw with consumers on one end and companies on the other with both parties always trying to find the right balance.

That’s all fine and dandy on paper but there is something that really, truly, deeply scares me more than anything else: when we do things without realising the consequences, when we act before we’re even defined as consumers, when we’re beguiled by companies who masquerade as free and fair.

I’m, of course, talking about companies like Facebook and what they might have in store in the future for us. For instance, Blizzard has now just struck a deal with them and the whole thing just plain unnerves me. Between them both, Blizzard and Facebook have access to a huge amount of information about us all, everything from our credit card information to where we went to school. I know, I know, time for me to start wearing a tinfoil hat and hiding from the CIA in my basement but we have to consider the possibility that Facebook/Activision Blizzard may decide to sell out to someone else, another company who doesn’t have issue abusing all the private information gathered about us all. That’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

I guess what I’m saying is that we should enjoy our games and enjoy our social networking and enjoy everything that’s there but we shouldn’t feel guilty about mistrusting the intentions of these suppliers. After all, we owe them nothing and they don’t always have our best intentions at heart.

-Gordon

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Related Posts

  1. The Company, The People Or The IP?
  2. Will BioWare Be To Blizzard What Blizzard Was To SOE?
  3. So, I Started My Own Company
  4. When Money Is The Biggest Motivator
  5. Blizzard vs MMORPGs

20 Comments

  1. Tesh says:

    I have similar fears and wariness when it comes to government. There’s good reason not to trust *any* institution with power, size and influence.

    The notion of a “free market” is what typically manages to keep these things in check, like a voting system. There are good reasons why the phrase is “vote with your wallet”. At some level, both governmental abuse and corporate abuse are about the same thing: The Organization vs. the individual.

    Power, once ceded to the Organization, is very hard to get back. That’s why you *must* be wary and realize that it’s OK to be stingy with your trust. It’s not tinfoil nuttery, it’s healthy skepticism and the action behind the realization that you really are the best suited to watching out for you… and that the Big Brothers really aren’t either equipped or inclined to care.

  2. Guybrush the Mighty says:

    Gordy, have to say I loved the article. I can’t wait to see how the comments pan out on this one, surely most of your role-playing audience are seasoned with a little bit of conspiracy-powder. Tesh, for example, says “I have similar fears and wariness when it comes to government”. Be careful. It’s not that I don’t agree with making people to gain your trust as opposed to giving it out willy nilly – but there’s a lot of people out there who fight for causes not based on fact or research, but on “hunches” and mistrust.

    Having a pragmatic approach to the gaming industry (and, I suspect, the world), like Gordon, is sound and intelligent. But often people base their conspiracy-theories on bad research and rumors spread by other conspiracy-theorists. There’s some great literature out there (check out “Voodoo histories” for example) with sound reasoning of what’s going on around us, and in my opinion the current surge of “intellectual skeptics” is no less frightening than the “Big Brothers” among us.

    A healthy bit of skepticism never hurt anyone – but people, be careful of wearing the tin-foil hat a little too tight. Sometimes, things actually are what they seem – in fact, I would wager that is the main point of Gordon’s article.

    • Tesh says:

      You don’t need to be a conspiracy theory wingnut to have a healthy distrust of big organizations. By their nature, they aren’t going to be as interested in your welfare as you are. Sure, wingnuttery might start from the same point of defensive wariness, but it’s not the inevitable result of sensible pragmatism.

    • Gordon says:

      I don’t think people should be mistrustful or too cynical, just that they need to be aware of what’s going on and not too naive when it comes to either corporations or the government. They will do whatever’s in their best interest and we can only hope that they need us enough – either through money or votes – to make use they try and keep us happy.

  3. Scopique says:

    It gets worse when you realize that Activision used to be more then just a cash-fueled steamroller. I remember when their greatest achievement was Pitfall. The games industry as a whole became more corporate, and it was only a matter of time before SOMEONE became the forerunner in the greed department. Remember EA Spouse? EA looks like a choirboy now compared to the Activision.

    But then again, look at the freedom that Bioware is given. Without intimate knowledge of the daily goings-on, it seems from the outside that EA realizes that the best way to get the quality content from their star players is to let them do things their way. It is, after all, what brought them to your attention in the first place.

    But like Bioware (and Apple), Blizzard has a “cult following”. To some, Blizzard is as much a victim in this whole fiasco as the players. Maybe they don’t have as much say in how they operate the games any more, but we also didn’t see Infinity Ward-type principles on display here. To my knowledge, no one within Blizzard took a stand WITH the community over this. Instead, their staff displayed their solidarity by posting their personal info on their own forums. There could have been legal ramifications, sure, but how many other studios would love to pick up a newly-out-of-work ex-Blizzard employee for their trophy shelf?

    But I am 100% on board with the post. People forget that these are games, not life-support. We can (and should!) love them and be passionate about them, but we should also know that it is OK to put them down, to turn away, and send them to the Time Out Corner for unacceptable behavior. Voting with the wallet only works A) when enough people do it and B) when those who threaten to do it actually DO IT, and if the transgression is bad enough, even if the offense is rescinded. If people who threatened to quit fall back into Activision-Blizzard’s arms, it’ll be carte blance for A-B to push the envelope in new and creative ways until something sticks.

  4. spinks says:

    The reason Facebook makes me so nervous is that the users are not their customers. They have no obligation at all to keep users happy other than that it provides eyeballs and sales to their real customers.

  5. Spazz says:

    I dont think its crazy in the least to be concerned when the most hacked game in the world wants to make your personal info MORE accessable!!!! I dont think a day goes by that i dont hear of someone in guild or out that has been hacked. Wonder what a gold farmer would do with my personal info….nothing nefarious im sure? The authenticators are helping but even this seems to be too little too late. This has just begun and im sure right now blizz devs are working hard on a patch that will allow them to bring facebook into wow in one way or another.

  6. Epiny says:

    Power corrupts… and absolute power corrupts absolutly.

    The nice thing with Captialism is that someone else can always come along and still our loyalty away, until they get so big and repeat the cycle.

    To me the entire Facebook game, Zynga thing, feels more like the dot com era. I just don’t see it lasting much longer. The dot com businesses were advertising on TV and in 7/11 just like Zynga is doing but they all nearly fizzeled out. I personally don’t feel that Zynga’s business model is sustainable.

    • Gordon says:

      I think Facebook and Twitter etc are just starting to warm up and are actually going to change our lives dramatically. For instance, every night when I walk home from work I take a peek into all of the flats and houses I go past and I consistently see lots of people using Facebook on their laptops. I think it’s an indication of the a future we’re going to be faced with.

  7. rowan says:

    This suddenly reminds me of Professional Sports. Semi-blind fans following Teams/Developers out of some weird loyalty, despite misteps along the way. As long as they’re not too egregious, people will stick with the Team/Game. But too many scandals or unethical behavior and the former fans leave in droves. Look at the blows to Major League Baseball because of strikes and steroid use. Many fans just got fed up. Individuals and teams get the same treatment if they piss off the fans.

    So we may be hitting Peak WoW. Soon something else will come along, and WOW will be the next Ultima Online or EQ2, still with a small player base, but not nearly the glory of the early years.

    • Gordon says:

      Yeah it’s human nature I guess. I see it with people who argue over Windows vs Mac vs Linux. There is no ‘best’ solution, it’s just that people like to fall into camps and then blindly stick to them.

  8. Seth says:

    I trust companies completely… to (almost) always choose the most profitable path within the legal framework of their business environment. That is the heart and soul of capitalism. In fact, if someone does come knocking at the door of a publicly traded company offering oodles of cash, stock options, and wealth unimaginable, the managers and board of directors can be sued by the shareholders if they turn down the offer if it is more profitable than turning it down.

    Greed in itself is not necessarily evil. Greed leads to some very wonderful things. Greed is the major driver behind most research and development. Greed begets innovation. Greed results in people coming up with more efficient ways to do things. If there was no hope for making more money than I spend to develop the next new thing, most folks wouldn’t bother. Greed drives everything from the search for the cure to cancer to the development of your next mobile phone. Unfortunately, there are some people that push the limits of ethics and legality, and those incidents stand out in our collective consciousness. Fortunately, the vast majority of managers recognize that it is just good business to stay well within the bounds of what is legally, morally, and ethically right.

    I think conceptually, when we apply greed to a corporation it becomes evil but then ask yourself why you go to work every day if not to come home tonight with more money in your pocket than you had this morning, is it really that different? If it cost you more to go to work than they paid you, you’d quit in a heartbeat.

    Corporations aren’t the big faceless entities that you see on the surface. A huge chunk of the shareholders are pension funds, mutual funds, and so on. In reality, Acme Corp is your neighbor who is saving for retirement. He’s entrusted his hard earned money under the hope that he’ll get more back someday. Would you deposit cash in a savings account if you got a negative return? Would you be pissed off if you trusted someone with your money and they turned down a good offer because they wanted to stay in charge? As long as that choice was legal, moral, ethical, and the most profitable option in the long run, I’d be at the gates with pitchfork and torches if the management was acting in their own best interests instead of mine.

    Many times I’ve been a fan of the thing that’s on the losing end of that business decision, but I get it. Granted, when it involves things like medicine and the social responsibility therein, or the arts and the dilemma imposed by financial compensation influencing the creative process, it starts to get more complicated. As consumers, we often feel jilted when our favorite band accepts a new recording contract on the terms that they play a different musical style, or when our favorite game starts to morph into something different than the thing we fell in love with. It sucks when that happens and we come to face with the realization that as a professional recording artist, he’s just trying to make a living (or perhaps his musical tastes evolved and we still like his old sound) and it sucks to be reminded that Blizzard is a business that exists to serve its owners, not a charity to serve its users. Thankfully, in this case we’re talking about an entertainment industry and not debating a pharmaceutical company profiting off of the pain and suffering of humanity. :)

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