World of Warcraft boss says Microsoft is happy to 'let Blizzard be Blizzard,' but I'm not sure that's entirely true

 Garrosh Hellscream sits atop his throne in World of Warcraft, looking jacked as all get-out.
Garrosh Hellscream sits atop his throne in World of Warcraft, looking jacked as all get-out.

Six months after its 2023 acquisition by Microsoft, it sounds like its business as usual at Blizzard. In an interview with VGC, World of Warcraft executive producer and vice president Holly Longdale said being a part of Microsoft has "just been helpful," and that so far the new owners are taking a light touch.

"We got time with Helen Chang from Mojang, and we were sharing information, so it's almost as if we have access to what worked for them," Longdale said. "We got to speak to the Elder Scrolls Online team and share what we're up to and what's been working, it's almost like we get a benefit.

"There's no one asking us to do anything. World of Warcraft is doing very well and they're very proud of what it’s been able to accomplish, so it's almost like just let it be, and let it keep being awesome. They've been tremendously supportive and it's like, 'let Blizzard be Blizzard'."

Longdale's statement bears echoes of Microsoft's hands-off approach to Bethesda Softworks, which it acquired in 2021—and which seemingly came to an end a few years later when an Xbox studios reorganization put ZeniMax and its subsidiary studios, including Bethesda, under the direct control of Xbox president of game content and studios Matt Booty. The shift was believed to be driven at least in part by the infamous flop of the co-op shooter Redfall, which Microsoft let slide even though developers at Arkane were reportedly hoping it would either reboot or cancel the project.

A similar scene may be playing out at Destiny studio Bungie, which was acquired by Sony in 2022. Bungie was initially left to operate as "an independent subsidiary," but Destiny 2's recent struggles have put the pressure on: PlayStation chairman Hiroki Totoki said in February that he wants to see more "accountability" for development budgets and schedules from Bungie leadership, and there's a feeling that Bungie could find its operational independence ended if things don't turn around.

While the proverbial Sword of Damocles may or may not be hanging over Blizzard's head at this moment, there's no overlooking the fact that Microsoft has already made some big changes at Blizzard. Activision Blizzard was hammered by layoffs across Microsoft's gaming division, and even more notably the survival game Blizzard announced with much fanfare in 2022—"a journey to a whole new universe," Blizzard said at the time, "a place full of heroes we have yet to meet, stories yet to be told, and adventures yet to be lived"—was unceremoniously cancelled, despite having been in development for six years and by all reports had some exciting potential.

Of course, "let Blizzard be Blizzard" is also a statement that could open to different interpretations. As an old-timer I have fond memories of the scrappy studio that had an amazing mid-'90s run with Warcraft, Diablo, and StarCraft, but the bloom fell off the rose in a big way in more recent years thanks to questionable decisions and allegations of widespread workplace misconduct at the company that led to the departure of several high-profile developers. The ABK Workers Alliance, an organization of employees formed in the wake of a civil rights lawsuit filed against the company, actually thanked Microsoft for not letting Blizzard be Blizzard after it entered into a "labor neutrality agreement" with the Communications Workers of America union in 2022.

Ultimately, Blizzard is Blizzard to the extent that it has a number of big, valuable games to its name, and I have no doubt that Microsoft will be happy to let them keep ticking as long as they're printing money—as Phil Spencer himself said earlier this year, after all, it's his job to ensure Xbox is "a profitable growing business." I don't know if it was a Microsoft decision or Bethesda's call, or if maybe Dinga Bakaba is just a big fan, but as I think about Arkane—the studio responsible for Dark Messiah, Dishonored, Prey, and so much more—working on a licensed Blade game, I strongly suspect that in the end, Blizzard will be whatever Microsoft wants it to be.