As Diablo 4 developers prepare a final push to the game's planned release date next year, a number of current and former Blizzard employees who worked on the project described a troubled development process to The Washington Post.
The Post published an article today based on discussions with 15 current or former Blizzard employees. While the current plan is for the game to release June 6, they said it has already been pushed back multiple times, and even meeting this date is likely to require significant crunching.
While Activision Blizzard is not mandating crunch, it is incentivizing it with perks some developers described as "paltry."
Those perks range from $25 in DoorDash credit for people working more than 10 hours a day to a stock bonus plan where developers who finish the game and stay with the company for at least a year after can get anywhere from $5,000 (for entry-level employees) to $50,000 (for senior-level developers) in stock if performance targets are met.
Employees blamed poor management for the crunch and the repeatedly shifting release date.
Original director Luis Barriga and lead designer Jesse McCree – both of whom were fired last August in the wake of state and federal gender discrimination lawsuits against Activision Blizzard – were blamed for not following through on decisions, abandoning features and throwing away the work already done on them, micromanaging, pursuing certain elements of the game and then losing interest and delegating them for others to finish, a process that was said to begin burning people out.
Former Epic Games and Irrational Games veteran Rod Fergusson was also cited as a problem. Having parachuted into Irrational Games late in BioShock Infinite's development, Fergusson had some reputation for getting troubled games across the finish line. However, Blizzard employees said when he joined the team in February of 2020, his big contribution seemed to be launching a "Rodcast" weekly Zoom meeting where several hundred people would listen to him mix addressing legitimate development issues with talk of movies or celebrities he knew.
"People got frustrated because we all thought he was gonna come in and fix the game," one former employee said. "And when nothing happened, that's when you started to see this massive turnover."
Other factors that developers said exacerbated the loss of experienced developers and institutional knowledge were poor pay, unsatisfactory working conditions, and morale. After the company's gender discrimination lawsuits landed, senior leadership changed at both Blizzard and on the project itself, and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick blamed the publisher's falling stock price not on the mounting scandals it was facing but on the delays of Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4, which one developer said did not go over well.
For those at Blizzard Albany, seeing their former studio head Jen Oneal promoted to co-leader of Blizzard and then resign months later saying Activision Blizzard refused to pay her the same as co-leader Mike Ybarra was a further blow.
"You're like, 'Man, I feel like I'm working for the bad guys," one women who formerly worked at Blizzard Albany said. "I feel like any work I do is tainted by this name."
A Blizzard spokesperson told the Post, "As you may know, game development in general, and Diablo 4 specifically, follows an iterative process where the scope evolves over time. Production on the game is going extremely well. Overtime is voluntary and limited to specific teams. We regularly survey the team on their professional well-being, and the latest results are the most positive they've been in years.