Breaking news everyone: sci-fi shooter titans Bungie, creator of the Halo and Destiny franchises, has officially divorced from its eight-year partnership with Activision-Blizzard. In a public statement released Thursday, Bungie stated:
Looking ahead, we’re excited to announce plans for Activision to transfer publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie. With our remarkable Destiny community, we are ready to publish on our own, while Activision will increase their focus on owned IP projects.
In the gaming community at large, this is a pretty big deal. Activision Blizzard is often measured as the biggest third-party developer in the United States, ahead of EA, and yes, monetarily valued larger than even the entirety of Nintendo. And it’s no surprise why, with Activision Blizzard claiming the best-selling game year after year with the Call of Duty franchise, its acquisition of Candy Crush developer King, and the entire stable of Blizzard franchises such as World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo – plus their heavily invested-in esports arm, all raking in money hand over fist.
But over ten years removed from their headline merger, things aren’t going so cheery at Activision Blizzard these days. Over on the Activision side, having already greatly reduced the scope of the Skylanders brand, losing/firing CFO Spencer Neumann to Netflix, and with Forbes reporting stocks literally halving in value in just a couple months, the loss of Bungie (and Destiny) leaves Call of Duty as Activision’s sole heavy-hitting franchise in 2019.
So with this opening, are we suggesting that Destiny is now freed up to somehow travel onto Nintendo’s hotcake portable console? Um, no.
The loss of Bungie changes things for Activision Blizzard long term in a way that is difficult to couch-quarterback. Corporations are big, lumbering creatures, and it’ll take time before that Destiny sized-hole starts to make sense again to both fans and investors (although hardcore fans of Destiny will probably rejoice).
Instead, we think it’s possible that Nintendo, of all companies, may actually symbolize one short-term, lucrative answer for this new version of Activision Blizzard. Specifically, from the developers over on the Blizzard side – and even more specifically, in the form of what they might refer to as “low hanging fruit” in the marketing world.
Recent reporting by Jason Schreier over at Kotaku paints a grim picture of corporate cost-cutting on the Blizzard side of things. Most of that culture shift is reportedly internal, with the major exception being the multiplayer online battle arena title Heroes of the Storm announcing unfortunate development cuts. This possibly may have been due to the title never quite catching fire, or possibly to help alleviate the books after the now-announced Bungie departure. It’s impossible to say for sure. Activision and Blizzard do not exactly operate 1:1, but like all big companies, huge splashes in one area make waves that are felt everywhere.
If those aforementioned cost-cutting measures and the loss of Bungie mean an overall smaller output from Blizzard than in years previous, theoretically that is one way Nintendo may be impacted; smaller projects could have been quietly capsized by the ripples stemming from the departure of Bungie. This is, of course, pure speculation on our part.
But that’s not the story recent events might suggest. Specifically, by the implied success of Diablo III: Eternal Collection, Blizzard’s very first Nintendo release since 2000. In August of last year, Nintendo surprised announced Diablo III via a weird-as-hell (pardon the pun) video on its YouTube channel.
As is the over-used trope for third-party developers dipping their toes into the Nintendo ecosystem after a long departure, older ports like Diablo III are a great litmus test to see how things might scale demographic-wise. It’s low-risk, high-reward.
This approach has had varying degrees of success. In the case of Rockstar, it’s none too certain we’re about to see a wave of content from any of their studios after meagre support which consists solely of the re-release of L.A. Noire. But, say, Bethesda? DOOM, Wolfenstein 2 and (maybe) even Fallout Shelter have performed well enough that DOOM's sequel is already on its way to Nintendo Switch, simultaneously with the other versions, no less.
What does that imply for the Blizzard and Nintendo relationship? Well, here we have Blizzard, which just lost its CFO Amrita Ahuja to Square, as well as its longtime head of Hearthstone and cool guy Ben Brode (alongside various developers) to their own ventures. It also just cut down Heroes of the Storm development, and its parent company just announced a gaping hole in the form of Destiny. That’s a lot of holes which need plugging.
Meanwhile, Diablo III has mostly remained on Nintendo’s top 25 selling eShop titles since it launched in November. It’s perpetually featured and got its own limited edition console. It also got pretty dang good reviews. Not to mention, Nintendo made a show of it all by sending its social media team to their very first ever Blizzcon. To top it all off, Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan has weirdly reiterated against all odds that his team is “very open-minded” to Overwatch on Switch.
And, no, we will never forget this tweet.
It is very likely that with minimum resources, Hearthstone, Diablo, Warcraft, Starcraft, and Overwatch could see small to mid-scale projects coming to the Switch sooner rather than later – probably in that order of likelihood. It’s also very possible potential projects have been in planning with or without the departure of Bungie (that’s the power of having the fastest selling hardware on the market); in that respect, you could argue that the divorce means absolutely nothing as Blizzard may already have bold plans in place for Switch. However, you could equally argue that the people within the walls of the company that are pushing for such Nintendo-related projects to happen will find their position modestly enhanced by the recent news.
In our opinion, it’s not a stretch at all that these headline events, downturns and the hanging uncertainty have actually heightened the probability that Diablo amiibo aren’t the only thing Blizzard and Nintendo are going to be collaborating on in order to manufacture some win-win projects – and fast. This combination of a hot console and a down-but-definitely-not-out company is the strange way this shift over at Activision Blizzard may actually have some impact on, yes, Nintendo, of all companies. If you need a boost, it makes sense to hop on board with the hottest console on the block, right? Given that the break-up with Bungie is unlikely to have been a last-minute thing, could the wheels have been set in motion already? Time will tell.
Do you think Blizzard is ramping up production on Switch projects? Do you think it’s just wishful thinking? Tell us below!