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Report: Diablo IV development waylaid by talent attrition and mismanagement

Sources claim Blizzard's dark fantasy RPG has struggled during its development due in part to shifting priorities and losing (and adding) developers.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

December 8, 2022

3 Min Read
Lilith in promo art for Blizzard's Diablo IV.

A new report from the Washington Post reveals the troubled production of Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo IV. Though the game is expected to release on June 6, 2023, anonymous developers speaking to the Post have indicated that getting the game ready for primetime won't be an easy process for the Diablo team. 

Diablo IV is the first numbered entry in the series since 2012, and some who've worked on the title at Blizzard have disclosed they are not fully pleased with the final product. Beyond the many lawsuits and firings that have emerged at Activision Blizzard over the past year over its purported "frat boy culture", the biggest blow to development has been the loss of talent. 

One department working on Diablo IV reportedly lost half its employees within a year, and a number of employees across the development team departed within that timeframe. Several of them were longtime veterans with the studio and franchise, and according to an ex-team lead, it wasn't something "leadership paid enough attention to and was very flat-footed about. They weren’t very proactive about it.”

Beyond that, team leaders in various departments allegedly had trouble making and standing by their decisions, resulting in a "siloed culture" where it was difficult for employees to know who was experiencing what.

Unstable leadership and staff additions have cursed Diablo IV 

Leadership on Diablo IV has shifted multiple times during development., which has in turn made working on the title a struggle for non-lead staff. 

After original director Luis Barriga and lead designer Jesse McCree were both fired following allegations of misconduct, creative director Sebastian Stępień (previously from The Witcher 3) took control. His clashes with Blizzard staff allegedly included "disturbing script changes" that other developers repeatedly pushed back against. 

In 2020, The Coalition's Rod Fergusson was brought on to help get the game ready for release. Fergusson previously adopted a similar role for 2K's Bioshock Infinitebut one former employee told the Post his arrival to the studio didn't really benefit development. 

"People got frustrated because we all thought he was gonna come in and fix the game," they said. "And when nothing happened, that’s when you started to see this massive turnover.”

Similarly, adding developer Vicarious Visions (now the recently unionized Blizzard Albany) and its staff to Blizzard in 2021 was said to not be a smooth transition. Since Vicarious previously lacked experience with the franchise (at least until Diablo II: Resurrected that same year), there were few plans that successfully integrated the two teams. 

A current Blizzard Albany employee candidly said, "At a certain point, throwing bodies at the problem does not solve the problem." They added that hiring a studio later in a project's lifecycle further complicates things, as "they’ll never be up to date in time to help on the shipping game. So all you’ve done is hire people who are going to work on the expansion.”

Ultimately, Blizzard employees are said to be uncertain about Diablo IV's release and reception, particularly since getting there will require staff to crunch. A former employee admitted that regardless of the game's date, crunch was going to be a part of hitting it.

"We’re at the point where they’re not willing to delay the game anymore," said another current Blizzard Albany employee. "So we all just have to go along and figure out how much we’re willing to hurt ourselves to make sure the game gets released in a good enough state.”

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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