This isn’t an admonishment, as the statement comes from an addict. I don’t even play World of Warcraft and I realized the other day that I’m deeply entrenched in 3 different Blizzard games. Currently, I’ve been playing a lot of Hearthstone, Diablo 3, and Warcraft 3. All from different eras, all with different styles of gameplay, but all highly addictive. It’s like Blizzard has tapped into gamer psychology. Hearthstone appeals to the gambler in me, Diablo hits me with waves of dopamine every time I get a new legendary item that is better than the item before it, and Warcraft 3 is my favorite competitive game to date.
It’s impossible to deny the impact they’ve had from a gameplay perspective based merely on the amount of copycat games (all the MMO WoW clones) and the genres that they have spawned. Not only did they help pioneer the RTS genre, but they also created the MOBA genre. With DotA, League of Legends and all of its clones, its player base, etc, etc. Blizzard has created casual PC gaming. It is built into the very fabric of gaming. The largest populations in gaming have been created or inspired directly by Blizzard games. Whether you like World of Warcraft or not, it has made the MMO genre what it is today. I still remember when WoW was dethroned by League of Legends. It's ironic that a game famous for ripping off the DotA mod from Starcraft and Warcraft 3 became more popular than the flagship game of the company that created the genre, but that's life. Blizzard is at the heart of gaming from its early days, and they represent inovation and success at the highest level of their field.
Why haven't more companies tapped into the goldmine that Blizzard seems to be? What makes them stand out in a market saturated by knockoffs and competitors?
Firstly, their design. Blizzard games are well designed. They always have a memorable UI/UX, and they are typically exeptionally easy to navigate. Intuitive menu layout and fun designs go a long way in my book, but they aren’t even the most important factor. Compared to games like Halo and Call of Duty, where the menu feels like an afterthought, Blizzard menus are exciting and get you hyped for whatever epic quest or battle you’re about to engage in. Even the Blizzard packaging appeals to the 13-year-old in me.
I recently found a Warcraft 3 Battle Chest at a Target of all places, having never actually owned a physical copy of the game I bought it, and I was immediately drawn in to the packaging of Warcraft 3. I’m not surprised it sold so well back in the day (and continues to sell) because the mere packaging made me want to play it again, even though I’ve beat the campaign many times.
Secondly, the creature design and game world aesthetic. I love the feel of Blizzard games. From Starcraft to Hearthstone, each game has a unique design philosophy when it comes to the creatures, weapons, and world that the game takes place in. Starcraft is unique among sci-fi games because of the alien design and world building, and Hearthstone is unique among TCGs because of its inviting tone, and the meta-level idea that you're playing a game inside of a game universe.
They aren’t afraid to indulge the child within. A good portion of the Warcraft universe is very fae and cartoony. It almost doesn’t work sometimes when put up against the dramatic portions, but somehow they pull it off. In a way, the Warcraft universe is a reminder that you can still have fun in fantasy. It doesn't all have to have the weight and heaviness of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium. Fantasy video-games have forgotten what it’s like to have fun. Even for all the things that Skyrim gets right, they don’t grasp this one concept: You don’t have to take yourself so seriously. And that’s what Warcraft is. Warcraft is easy and accessible on the surface, with depth and complexity where it counts, and that’s what makes it so popular.
Diablo is definitely the most mature and dark of the Blizzard games, having an almost horror game atmosphere, full of gore and violence. The mature subject matters you encounter and endless demonic forces you battle are a constant reminder that this isn’t the world of Hearthstone. It’s a world of unforgiving death and destruction. Instead of opting for subtlety, Blizzard bumps it up to 11 and really wallows in the spectacle of what it does best: Fantasy. Not a single trick is missed when it comes to Diablo. From the look of the enemies, to the look of your character as you upgrade your gear. I realized that little boys and little girls aren’t so different, even in a hertonormative society/upbringing. I’m basically just picking out clothing for my barbarian warrior, and I’m (currently) a 22 year old male. And even with that in my mind, I love it. I can’t stop looking for the next piece of gear to boost my stats and change my look.
Thirdly and finally, the gameplay. Blizzard games excel when it comes to satisfying gameplay. They make you feel powerful and yet balance the difficulty in such a way that you never feel like you have it easy. Diablo 3 excels are difficulty levels and slowly ramping up the difficulty all the while giving you more and more tools to defeat your foes. However, in terms of pure gameplay, Starcraft and Warcraft 3 are their crowning achievements. When you think about the fact that Warcraft 3 shipped 4.5 million units, it's no wonder that they singlehandedly popularized and maintained some of the first early professional gaming scenes to ever exist. To this day, the first Starcraft game is insanely popular in South Korea, and remains one of the most popuar games to ever be released. This speaks to the creativity and power of Blizzard gameplay, when a game that has very little story and is outdated graphically can still be played and enjoyed almost 10 years later by a wide audience.
A friend of mine described leveling up in World of Warcraft as a drug, and that you need that next high. For some people, chasing that high can be a problem, and it’s important to keep in mind that video games (like anything) can be truly debilitating.
However, while I’m a functioning adult, I’ll indulge my vices, and currently, my vice of choice is Blizzard.