Sponsored By

Diablo IV's development was set back by Blizzard's developer shuffles

Blizzard Entertainment's newest title was hit hard during development by the toxic behavior of its key staff.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

June 12, 2023

3 Min Read
Screenshot of Inarius in Blizzard's Diablo IV.

Blizzard Entertainment's Diablo IV had a rocky development, and part of that stems from its original key staff, Luis Barriga and Jesse McCree. A new piece from Esquire reveals how bringing over the two World of Warcraft alums resulted in numerous ongoing issues for the action-RPG. 

While some of the history behind the issues of Diablo IV have been known for months, Esquire gives extra context on some events. It also shows how hard development was hit by the arrival of those two developers, and that just moving bad actors around (similar to what happened with Ubisoft in 2020) only goes so far.

Both Barriga and McCree were taken off Diablo IV and fired from Blizzard in 2021 after allegations of misconduct. Prior to their firing, Barriga reportedly clashed with creative director Sebastian Stępień, who was brought on by Barriga himself and previously worked on The Witcher 3

During the three men's time on the project, women on the team reportedly protested elements of their writing, which was said to regularly denigrate women or put them in oversexualized situations."

One ex-staffer told the outlet that "wars were fought" over the wardrobe of Taissa, one of the game's characters. 

"It was very important to [Stępień] that she only wore a single piece of white cloth — no bra, no underwear," she claimed. The character's wardrobe change finally happened late in development after one staffer on the project fought an "exhausting battle" to make it happen. 

Progress on Diablo IV turned around after an essential leadership change

Even before those issues with Diablo IV's writing, the project was already suffering due to indecisive direction from McCree and Barriga, one of many factors that drove talent attrition. Things really seemed to turn around when Joe Shely was brought on to direct the game after Barriga's firing. 

Rod Fergusson, Diablo's franchise head and someone brought on to help with development, said Shely "did not bring an ego with him. [...] He came in with a strength of vision and a confidence that allowed [the team] to continue moving forward."

Shely attributed Diablo IV's turnaround in part to anonymous employee surveys that were used to gauge feedback from team members. Those surveys were said to have "atrocious" scores back in 2020, but those scores have changed under his leadership. 

Staffers in 2020 included concerns about cliques forming, poor communication, and unclear approval process as their friction points. After making those surveys a quarterly event, Shely, Fergusson, and other staff said those responses have "significantly improved."

Speaking to the improved transparency, Fergusson said that "as long as I can trust that my team won’t instantly tweet when I’m talking to them, I’ll pretty much tell them as much as I can.”

That being said, employees didn't want to solely credit Shely with being the cause of the team's progress. They pointed out that their own ongoing efforts to change Blizzard's culture, and Activision Blizzard at large, for why the culture is gradually improving. 

Employees told Esquire they felt the culture at Blizzard was genuinely improving, with one developer saying he'd tell stories about Diablo IV "for the rest of my life. [...] Really, honestly, wonderful stories."

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.

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like