Warcraft 3 was hailed as a smashing success when it launched way back in 2002. It was one of the first truly modern real-time strategy titles, and it made meaningful improvements over Warcraft 1 and 2. It was also easy to mod and play online — the entire MOBA genre grew out of modded Warcraft 3. Even with all that going for it, the game was looking old and busted when Blizzard announced a remastered version in 2018. Fans were hyped, but the launch did not live up to expectations. According to a newly leaked document, Blizzard knew the game was a mess, but it released it anyway.
According to a report from Bloomberg, Warcraft 3 was doomed by mismanagement and financial pressure from Blizzard’s parent company, Activision. Warcraft 3: Reforged launched in January 2020, and it was clear out of the gate that so much of the promised content was missing — the updated cutscenes were nowhere to be seen, and Blizzard dropped its plans to record new dialog. Even the online ranking ladder was gone. Fans started demanding refunds with such frequency that Blizzard started offering instant refunds. There are a lot of parallels to the Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco, but this was a remake that was never expected to make a boatload of money. That, as it turns out, was part of the reason the project was so hobbled.
The leaked documents from an internal “postmortem” of the launch called out Blizzard’s decision to keep accepting pre-orders as the project unraveled. “We took pre-orders when we knew the game wasn’t ready yet,” they said. The files also recommend that Blizzard should resist the urge to ship games before they are done in the future. Gee, you think?
Apparently, a big part of the push to get Warcraft 3: Reforged out the door was coming from Activision management. They didn’t see Warcraft 3 as something that would become a billion-dollar product, which is probably true. However, Activision pressured Blizzard to focus on its flagship franchises that were making tons of money like Overwatch and Diablo IV. The Warcraft project reportedly never got the funding it needed, leading developers to cope with “exhaustion, anxiety, depression and more for a year now.” Again, this is a direct quote from Blizzard’s analysis of the project.
Years back, this all would have come as a surprise. Blizzard was seen as one of the most reliable and customer-focused developers. However, times change and Blizzard has been accused of more than making bad games. It’s currently the target of a lawsuit in California that accuses the company of fostering a “frat boy” culture in which female employees are harassed and underpaid. The Classic Games team that worked on Warcraft 3: Reforged has since been disbanded, but Blizzard promises ongoing support. It’s hard to trust that Blizzard will get it right this time, though.