Highly anticipated: As expected, Blizzard took time at The Game Awards 2022 to announce a Diablo IV release date and begin pre-orders. The eagerly anticipated title is slated to launch in June. However, some Blizzard employees think the release window might be too optimistic.
On Thursday, several anonymous Activision Blizzard employees told The Washington Post that Diablo IV's June release date seems unlikely unless they cut parts of the game or there is a massive crunch period. The sources say that the title has already faced several unannounced delays. This claim bears some weight considering that leaks in November indicated the game would arrive in April 2023.
A two-month delay on a game already in its beta phase seems reasonable --- the extra time should give developers a chance to put the finishing touches and final polish on the title. Still, WaPo's sources paint a bleaker picture, complaining of mismanagement, high turnover, and the possibility of some heavy crunch for "paltry" rewards.
Crunch is generally voluntary overtime work consisting of extended hours and weekend work for higher pay, usually 1.5x an employee's standard wage. Game companies also incentivize crunch time by offering other rewards on top of the higher pay rate. The incentives can include bonuses for getting the game out on time, stock options, and even a cut of the initial sales.
While crunch has almost always been a part of game development, it has gotten a bad rap in recent years because of some companies making it mandatory or not offering "fair" compensation. A couple of years ago, CD Projekt Red received some flak for requiring its Cyberpunk 2077 developers to work six-day work weeks during crunch time when it had promised no mandatory overtime.
The anonymous employees say Diablo IV might be too far behind for a June release to be reasonable. They pointed to an example of a team for a specific, but unnamed, portion of the project of about 20 developers losing nearly half of its members within one year. The insiders said the employees left to find "more competitive wages and better work conditions" at other companies but failed to mention whether Blizzard replaced the missing staff.
Blizzard would not comment on attrition, but a spokesman indicated that production was on schedule and going smoothly.
"As you may know, game development in general, and 'Diablo IV' specifically, follows an iterative process where the scope evolves over time," Blizzard Spokesman Andrew Reynolds stated. "Production on the game is going extremely well. Overtime is voluntary and limited to specific teams. We regularly survey the team on their professional well-being, and the latest results are the most positive they've been in years."
Blizzard's stance is that overtime is strictly voluntary. It has offered various incentives to entice employees to put in extra hours that go beyond overtime pay. For example, any employee who puts in a 10-hour workday or more receives a $25 DoorDash voucher to cover some take out while working. The company also offered profit-sharing bonuses, including doubling employee stock shares after the game releases and stock payouts ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 based on position and seniority. Some employees think these incentives are "unnecessary and destructive."
"They incentivize leadership to cut corners, compromise, and ship products that are not ready to be released instead of doing what is best for long-term value creation," said one of the insiders. "It's really just a way for the company to, without mandating crunch, make people want to work much, much longer hours, and stress themselves out, and burn themselves out to save the company money and get it out quicker."
Regardless of what the insiders think, Blizzard is now on record with a June 6, 2023, release date. Crunch or no crunch, if Diablo IV misses that deadline, fans might be forgiving, but investors won't.