Blizzard a No-Show at E3 Again: Snub or Strategy?

One of the companies that failed to have a presence at E3 this year is one you wouldn't expect: Blizzard Entertainment. Is this a result of poor planning or is it strategy?

Within the first three months of this year, Activision Blizzard raked in nearly a billion dollars. The company's first-quarter revenues in 2009 netted $981 million, more than it expected. Retailers sold 2.8 million copies of Wrath of the Lich King within 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling PC game in history. While the U.S. economy is frantically trying to claw its way out of a recession, consumers keep shelling out hard-earned cash on video games. Almost paradoxically, they continue fueling one of the most cunningly-crafted business machines the gaming industry has ever known; the MMOG market. Perhaps it's just a creature comfort that consumers aren't willing to part with. Or maybe $15 per month is a pittance in exchange for the ability to escape the real-life, econo-political "monsters" stalking us at every turn, if only for a couple hours. Whatever the case, the numbers don't lie…it's a good time to be Blizzard.

And just beyond the horizon, the highly-anticipated Starcraft II and Diablo III are nearing the final and post-production phases, respectively. Fans obediently surrender to the rabid, mouth-foaming frenzy of the hype machine, hunting rumors down like prey and eagerly devouring even the smallest scrap of news tossed from the table. So today, during the final hours of the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, as publishers tear down their elaborate displays and send their scantily-clad "gamer-girls" back to their modeling agencies, the question of both journalists and fans alike still hangs in the air: "Where the hell was Blizzard?"

Technically, Activision Blizzard is a registered publisher at this year's E3 in Los Angeles. It's just the "Blizzard" half that's missing. More accurately, Blizzard Entertainment; developers of all things Warcraft, as well as other properties like Starcraft, Diablo and Rock N' Roll Racing (gold star if you remember that gem). Blizzard's absence this year didn't actually catch the media and fans by surprise—its PR responded to media inquiry in February with the following message: "Blizzard Entertainment will not be attending or participating in E3 2009." A short—but not exactly sweet—reply. The release contained a brief statement, which more or less explains that Blizzard isn't too fond of the "new" E3, which has been toned down from years past.

The announcement was met with mixed reaction. Because the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) closed E3's doors from the general public a couple years ago (limiting admission to media and industry only), the impact wasn't too significant in the eyes of many fans, since they wouldn't get the chance to experience it first-hand anyway. To that end, there's always BlizzCon; Blizzard's annual convention known for its open-to-the-public ($125 per ticket) and fan-friendly atmosphere.

Still, E3 is a powerful industry expo. It's also a highly-regarded one, despite the sharp drop in attendance after the change to private admission. It's not too far of a stretch to interpret it as a snub on Blizzard's part, especially since its headquarters is pretty much only an hour's drive away from the expo. Is Blizzard so content in its hold over the market that it's just resting on its laurels, confident that customers will keep lining up, with cash-in-hand? There's no doubt Big Blue holds the lion's share of the MMO market (62 percent, actually). But are these subscriptions—these customers—still valued as the foundation that helped build the Blizzard empire? Customers have voiced a feeling of indifference from Blizzard throughout the last year, increasingly prevalent in forums and blogs across the digital landscape. Look hard enough and you'll see it, scattered between all the "QQ."

Blizzard is approaching a significant precipice. Its marketing team will tweet and yammer all day long about "11.5 million subscribers" and "most anticipated sequel," or hint about some "top-secret next-gen MMO." But today's MMO gamers are offered a hell of a lot more choices than they were just a few years ago. Free-to-play models are finally showing signs of getting it right, allowing casual gamers and younger demographics a cheaper—if not completely free—alternative. The insanely-fast emergence of MMO-modeled first-person-shooters being released is poised to capture what was previously considered a totally separate audience. Anyone and everyone is throwing out a trawl net these days, hoping to make the next big catch in the golden seas of the MMO industry.

Yes, we're getting content patches in WoW faster than ever before, but that's a vital necessity for its longevity, and Blizzard knows it. The company also knows that when it comes to info-starved fans, just a little bit can go a long way. That's why it's surprising that Blizzard didn't make an appearance at E3 this year, offering playable demos of Starcraft II and Diablo III, which we all know they've got in some form or another. Or maybe a quick press conference? A cinematic or in-game trailer? Anything is better than nothing.

It's said that patience is a virtue, and that all good things will come in time. It's pretty well-known that Blizzard itself promotes that philosophy. But when fans have spent hundreds of dollars on your games and merchandise—while continuing to throw down cash for a subscription month after month—it begs the question: just how long do they need to wait?

Josh "WaxPaper" Bashara
Editor
ZAM.com

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hmm
# Jun 05 2009 at 5:03 PM Rating: Decent
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Maybe blizzard is just anti social?
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Let's Be Honest
# Jun 05 2009 at 10:27 AM Rating: Decent
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I have to agree with the comments so far. E3 is simply nothing in which Blizzard has any obligation to take part. Blizzcon is already everything a Blizzard fan could ever want and honestly, probably only a very small portion of the fanbase would want Blizzard to take its time and money and make a cute little booth at E3. We just want them to finish what they are doing so we can play it to death. This is not to mention the fact that E3 is nearly completely devoid of any PC gaming presence. If you want any more credible articles detailing this move to this mere console fest check out either http://www.gamespot.com/news/6207773.html?sid=6207773 or http://venturebeat.com/2008/06/26/dont-expect-to-see-many-pc-games-at-upcoming-e3-game-show/.

It is also honestly ridiculous to think that the MMO community is going to create something that will dethrone WoW. So many games have tried and everything has failed. Even games with already large fanbases, such as Warhammer, crashed and burned after a month or two, especially when Blizzard brought out its next expansion. The only thing that will ever give WoW any competition is the new MMO to come from Blizzard itself. It is just like Starcraft and Warcraft. Despite the fact that Starcraft is now over 11 years old, it is still the biggest RTS on the market. Warcraft may have had a chance at changing that, but they kept it different enough to make each a hit without there being any competition between the two. I can only assume the new MMO will be the same.

I honestly would have been surprised if Blizzard had been at E3. What would have been the point?
A wise choice
# Jun 05 2009 at 6:06 AM Rating: Good
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People can try to downplay the importance of E3, but it's wasted time. Even though having E3 is a trade showm having fans there was very important. You make the industry contacts at the show and then you can get in touch with them after the fan base has demonstrated enough interest to suggest that your project is economically viable. E3 was a hugely important tool for getting the fan base fired up, but that's now gone. Blizzard isn't the only major player to acknowledge that while they aren't directly hard hit by the new E3, they recognize that the smaller companies that needed the fans at E3 are. Those are the 'farm teams" that supply the talent to the big dogs, and without them the entire industry is diminished.

So, Blizzard protested they best way they knew how. They leveraged their massive reputation to make certain people ask the right questions. The hope is that either the move gets the E3 planning committee's attention or that it motivates enough other companies to avoid E3 that it creates enough economic pressure that the E3 planning committee has no choice but to go back to the old format.

-Jackmc
A wise choice
# Jun 06 2009 at 11:22 PM Rating: Excellent
Hence the "Snub or Strategy" in the articles title. ;)
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A wise choice
# Jun 07 2009 at 7:31 PM Rating: Decent
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If Blizzard is boycotting E3 because E3 boycotted the fanbase then I say GOOD FOR BLIZZARD.

Its like having an auto show but only open to dealers and the media.
No E3 does not equate to nost listening to its players
# Jun 05 2009 at 5:50 AM Rating: Decent
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Blizzard doesn't need E3 to create a buzz for their half produced games to get funding and create interest

Other companies do


Blizzard is very open with their players on all their forums, you might not always get answered or like the answers but they are around doing stuff
o rly?
# Jun 04 2009 at 7:02 PM Rating: Excellent
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I think the stance here is in the wrong direction.

Blizzard is known for being very guarded about its developments, and wanting to release the information it wants to release when it wants to release it. The announcement of Starcraft 2 was very carefully measured out to be released at a particular major tournament in Korea, where Starcraft 1 is huge. Other details and announcements have coincided with key events according to Blizzard, of which I don't believe E3 has ever been.

Quite honestly, E3 is supposed to be a hype machine. You go there if you need press, and industry insiders will spill the details to the general public about your product. Blizzard doesn't need any press. You can argue what you like about arrogance, but it is what it is -- if Blizzard still hasn't released more than 3 classes on their website for Diablo 3, and hundreds of thousands of players check back each day to see if they've added another one, do you really think they need to whore themselves out at a huge expo center?

I'd say they're just being their usual mysterious selves.
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o rly?
# Jun 06 2009 at 2:42 PM Rating: Good
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I'd agree. Blizzard has enough clout that they don't need to make an appearance at E3, besides they got blizzcon coming up in a couple months where the bulk of their major annoucements will be made. In the past blizz just took advantage of E3 to let their fans get their hands on what is in development and with the new format there isn't even the opportunity for that.

I don't think I've ever seen blizz promote anything for just the media and industry insiders. Everything has always been done open to the public. Without that direct contact to their fanbase, it's not suprising they took the opportunity to snub E3 and express their dissatisfaction of the new direction it's going.
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No E3 does not equate to nost listening to its players
# Jun 04 2009 at 5:39 PM Rating: Excellent
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Does going to E3 equate to listening to its player base? I think Not.

In fact, I think we should not make such assumptions. Going to E3 or not is just a business decision IMO.
Those who need the marketing hype and muscle attends such conventions. Those who don't or can afford to stand alone need not.

When there is Blizzcon, which is open to everybody, most importantly THE PLAYERS and not just the media, why do blizzard still need to go to E3? Just to make E3's organizers happy?

If we want to see Diablo3 or Starcraft2, I'm sure we'll get it at Blizzcon.
No E3 does not equate to nost listening to its players
# Jun 04 2009 at 6:16 PM Rating: Good
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You have a good point. I kind of went off on a soap box. I would think that NOT going could be considered actually listening. "If you're not going to let the fans in...well we're not going to go. Take that."

In which case I'm all for it.
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No E3 does not equate to nost listening to its players
# Jun 04 2009 at 6:02 PM Rating: Excellent
If you were lucky enough to get a ticket. :)
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# Jun 04 2009 at 4:21 PM Rating: Excellent
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Quote:
But are these subscriptions—these customers—still valued as the foundation that helped build the Blizzard empire? Customers have voiced a feeling of indifference from Blizzard throughout the last year, increasingly prevalent in forums and blogs across the digital landscape. Look hard enough and you'll see it, scattered between all the "QQ."



This about sums it up. Blizzard's skin has become a bit too thick. Their ability to effectively communicate WITH (not simply "to") the community seems to slowly be slipping. They tell us what's wrong...instead of listening to what we feel is wrong. They work on the details of things that the greater population couldn't really care about, only to ignore or indefinitely delay things that have been demanded since almost day one (like druid models for example).

I will not refute, Blizzard has a great product. But this great product rests heavily on a concept: community. If you alienate the community and ignore the community after awhile, no matter how great your next expansion is you will start losing membership.

Although Blizzard is picking up new subscribers I'd like to know how many they are actually retaining. WoW is a great game at first. But you'll quickly find that any and all content sub 70 is under populated and almost worthless. Leaving 70 levels of quest grinding with absolutely no real challenge, no real interest beyond the addiction of getting to the next level. The captivation is slowly fading and competition is heating up.

If Blizzard doesn't stop, listen, and actually pay attention to the majority of its fan base (preferably beyond their own forums which are more or less a joke). They will eventually start losing subscribers. You can only piss off a person so much before they start realizing "Wait, I'm the customer...I can leave."


Blizzard has become akin to your average big time fast food restaraunt. So popular that they no longer need to hold onto basic ideas of business like pleasing the customer or caring when the customer is upset. They have enough income that they can afford to piss them off. There will be a point, and indeed for many players it has already come, where they realize that there are indeed other entertainment options that are on par with WoW and that offer an alternative approach, who respect traditional business practices.
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