Rumor has it that Diablo 4 will release next year on June 6, but according to The Washington Post (opens in new tab), which interviewed 15 current and former Activision Blizzard employees, hitting that date will be a challenge that could require "many hours of overtime or cut features."
Diablo 4 has been delayed once that we heard about, when its release year was shifted from 2022 to 2023, but the internal release date has reportedly moved a few times during what The Washington Post calls a "beleaguered" development process. Blizzard has "not explicitly required employees to work overtime in most cases," according to the paper, but some employees are "unwilling to publish an unfinished product" and feel pressured to work unhealthy amounts of overtime to hit the summer 2023 release date, which they say is unlikely to change again.
Reached for comment by The Post, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said that Diablo 4's production is "going extremely well" and that "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," the company said.
One source of pressure for employees are stock incentives tied to Diablo 4, some of which they won't receive unless they remain with the company for a year after its release date. Those financial incentives, which are said to be favored by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, arguably encourage developers to crunch and cut corners to hit unrealistic release dates. The Washington Post heard that criticism from a source with knowledge of the company's incentive plans, and PC Gamer has heard similar criticism in the course of its reporting on Activision Blizzard.
The stock incentives are "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," a Blizzard employee told The Washington Post.
Another reason employees feel overtime is necessary, according to the report, is loss of talent over the past year. As one example, a team of approximately 20 developers was roughly cut in half by attrition as employees left the company for better pay or work environments, two of the paper's sources said.
The Diablo 4 team also had to adapt to sudden leadership changes last year. Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga and lead designer Jesse McCree both departed Blizzard in the summer of 2021 shortly after California's sexual harassment lawsuit rocked the company. Numerous other terminations and resignations followed in the wake of that suit, both among employees implicated by it and not. According to sources at Blizzard who spoke to PC Gamer last year, the departure of former Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal, who took half of former president J Allen Brack's role after he stepped down, was a significant blow to employee morale, as she had been seen as someone who could right the ship.
Retaining talent was a problem for Blizzard even before the lawsuit: One ex-Blizzard employee who spoke to PC Gamer in 2021 said that they noticed serious attrition starting in 2019. Alongside major layoffs, "waves" of employees began leaving at that time, they said.
Other Diablo 4 development challenges, according to The Post's sources, included a lack of "vision" from Barriga and McCree—apparently a battle royale mode was planned at one point and then scrapped—and a loathed script by creative director Sebastian Stępień, which "repeatedly mentioned the rape of a love interest," and was ultimately revised.
"The story in question was floated more than three years ago under different leadership as character backstory, not game content," Activision Blizzard told The Washington Post regarding the script. "At that time, it was deemed inappropriate, and we went in a different direction. We remain confident in the team—they're building something incredible, and have received a lot of positive feedback from players."
The current and former Blizzard staff interviewed by The Washington Post have mixed predictions for Diablo 4's reception. "Some said it would be fun, while others suggested that review scores for the game would come out to be mediocre but passable," the paper wrote. The full report goes into much more detail on Diablo 4's development and employee opinions on the project, and can be read here (opens in new tab).
We recently had the opportunity to play Diablo 4, and found it instantly satisfying, though we only played a small portion of the full game.