Blizzard Is Undergoing An Indie Exodus Right Now-Report

Numerous indie studios made up of a wealth of former Blizzard employees have sprung up in recent years, leaving Blizzard at a crossroads.

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Chris Metzen. Mike Morhaime. Jeff Kaplan. Blizzard has seen numerous big name-departures from the studio in recent years, and as a new report on the acclaimed studio details, many of those who leave Blizzard are going indie.

IGN recently spoke with numerous sources both inside and out of Blizzard for a new report that describes the prestigious developer as a company at a crossroads. Of particular note is just how many former Blizzard developers are either forming or joining new indie game studios.

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Helping to spark that change is none other than former Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime, who retired from Blizzard in 2019 after more than two decades. In 2020, he founded Dreamhaven, a video game company with the goal of empowering "agile studios to focus on their craft and bring their ideas to life," while "providing support and resources over the long term." Three development studios are currently under the Dreamhaven banner: Moonshot Games, Secret Door, and Lightforge Games. Each studio has attracted a wealth of former Blizzard talent.

Chris Metzen, who worked as the lead designer for Starcraft and who served as creative director on some of Blizzard's biggest games, including Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft, was one of Blizzard's first high-profile-departures when he left the company in 2016. In 2018, Metzen co-founded Warchief Gaming, a tabletop RPG company which has found huge success on Kickstarter. His fantasy campaign setting, Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent, hit its Kickstarter fundraising goal in 11 minutes, and is currently at more than $1.2 million raised.

Ben Brode, the former game director for Hearthstone who left Blizzard in 2018 after 15 years with the studio, went on to form Second Dinner, an indie studio composed of mostly ex-Blizzard developers who are currently working on a Marvel game.

Tim Morton and Tim Campbell, two developers with extensive experience on games like Starcraft and Warcraft 3, formed Frost Giant in 2020 with the goal of making the next great RTS, with much of the studio's talent, around 80% according to IGN, coming from Blizzard. Kevin Dong, former lead co-op designer for Starcraft 2, told IGN the main reason for such a high percentage of former Blizzard employees is Frost Giant's need for developers with RTS experience.

"It just so happens that Blizzard has one of the largest concentrations of those in the country, so it follows that we would have a higher percentage of ex-Blizzard employees," Dong said.

Many of these former devs still have close relationships with Blizzard. Metzen still provides voicework as former Horde Warchief, Thrall, for example, and many still speak highly of Blizzard. As IGN notes in its report, many of the ex-Blizzard employees who went independent seemed reluctant to damage their relationship with their former employer.

But that doesn't mean Blizzard's many departures have gone unnoticed. Reports about Blizzard's changing culture, dissatisfaction with pay, and layoffs have helped to paint a picture of a company that might not be as great a place to work as it once seemed. Even if that's not entirely true, it creates a narrative that may actually make it even easier for Blizzard talent to go elsewhere, according to a source quoted in IGN's report.

"I almost think a lot of the things that made it harder to poach Blizzard people stopped," the source said. "So it's become very easy to poach, and a lot of the senior people can just take people with them. Because it doesn't matter what the actual situation is, people believe in narrative. And when the narrative is like, this place is going downhill, it's really easy to talk people into leaving it."

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