Activision Blizzard has now fully merged Vicarious Visions into the main body of Blizzard. The team at Vicarious Visions includes more than 200 industry professionals across various disciplines, and they’re all Blizzard employees now.
The team was previously lead developer on various projects, including the recent revival of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. Going forward, they will be “fully dedicated to existing Blizzard games and initiatives,” and lose the autonomy that was previously theirs on other projects. It’s still unclear what games they have been moved onto though.
There has been a shuffling of top-tier management as well. Vicarious Visions studio head Jen Oneal has been promoted to Blizzard executive vice president of development. She and other members of the leadership team at Blizzard will report directly to Blizzard president J. Allen Brack. The studio has also seen some internal shakeups as Simon Ebejer has returned to take over Oneal’s post, Ebejer previously served in the CEO role when the studio was independent.
“After collaborating with Vicarious Visions for some time and developing a great relationship, Blizzard realized there was an opportunity for [Vicarious Visions] to provide long-term support,” a representative told Gamesindustry.biz when the news broke,
The reactions to this news are varied and skew to the negative side of things. Various insiders and veterans view this as snatching away of autonomy from both Blizzard and Vicarious Visions. As Activision further vertically integrates, it becomes harder to figure out where the distinction between teams and team members lies. There are existing social dynamics and expectations that always get muddled when these mergers happen, and it will take time to readjust for those involved.
And when you’re talking about a team with a proven pedigree, it becomes harder to retain the magic that made the studio work. As teams grow and lines of communication get longer and more complex, it becomes harder to ensure quality and clarity in game design. This is the same team that successfully revived the Crash Bandicoot IP among others, and there seems to be this assumption among many in the industry that those kinds of success stories are much rarer in homogenized corporate environments.
And when it comes to casual reactions to the merger, a lot of people are worried that this will just lead to these successful IPs getting mined for shallow nostalgia-fueled cash grabs. As one user pointed out they, “can’t wait to do a 900 with one of the Overwatch characters that I definitely remember the names of.” Of course, that expectation is pretty pessimistic, so it’s helpful to at least give the merger time to mature, be patient.
Although to indulge the suspicions a bit, there is some truth to the idea that folks don’t want to work under content mill conditions, for good reason. Those kinds of environments are pretty toxic and riddled with crunch culture. Though there’s no direct evidence that’s happening here, it’s worth keeping an eye out for. If we see a mass exodus from Vicarious Visions in the coming months, that could be a bad sign.