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Diablo IV developers allege mismanagement, crunch and disturbing creative decisions in new report

Internal June 6th 2023 release date unlikely without overtime

Current and former Blizzard employees have shared details of alleged mismanagement and crunch during the ongoing development of Diablo 4. Speaking to the Washington Post under the condition of anonymity, the employees say that impossible deadlines, managerial indecision, and disturbing script revisions have led to employee dissatisfaction and high turnover.

According to the detailed report by the Post, Blizzard have "not explicitly required employees to work overtime in most cases," but are incentivising it in different ways including profit-sharing and offers to cover meals.

Staff said that Diablo IV has an unannounced release date of June 6th 2023. Although this internal date has allegedly slipped several times already, one staff member at Blizzard Albany said that, "We’re at the point where they’re not willing to delay the game anymore, 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."

Blizzard Entertainment spokesperson Andrew Reynolds told The Post that, "As you may know, game development in general, and ‘Diablo IV’ specifically, follows an iterative process where the scope evolves over time. Production on the game is going extremely well. 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 article charts the development of the game under several different leaders, from alleged indecision and scrapped work under director Luis Barriga and lead designer Jesse McCree, who both left Blizzard in 2021, to a lack of significant improvement under the current head of the Diablo franchise, Rod Fergusson.

Employees also spoke about the "disturbing" creative decisions by Sebastian Stępień, the former creative director on The Witcher 3 and head writer on Cyberpunk 2077, who became creative director on Diablo 4 in 2019. Stępień allegedly undertook a rewrite of Diablo 4's entire script, creating what multiple employees called the "rape version" due to repeated references in the script to the rape of a love interest, and to the script referring "to this female character as the raped woman as her primary description," according to the Washington Post.

Two employees also told The Post of a line in the script which read, "And then she was raped, brutally", and that employees would repeat the punctuation out loud to each other, "comma, period - alarmed by the direction Stępień had gone with the script."

The script was ultimately overhauled the same year and the character cut from the story. Stępień did not respond to a request by The Post for comment, but Blizzard spokesperson Reynolds said that "the story in question was floated more than three years ago under different leadership as character backstory, not game content. 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."

Some employees who spoke to The Post were from Blizzard Albany. The studio formerly known as Vicarious Visions was re-branded and began contributing to development on Diablo projects in 2021. Last week, quality assurance staff at Blizzard Albany voted in favour of forming a union.

Publisher Activision Blizzard are currently the subject of a number of legal actions, labour disputes and allegations of workplace harassment. Some of these disputes relate specifically to alleged conditions within Activision Blizzard subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment.

Earlier this evening, the US Federal Trade Commission opted to file suit to block Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard for $69 billion.

Sources two days ago claimed that Diablo IV's release date would be revealed during tonight's The Game Awards. We're covering the show in a liveblog, if you want to find out if that's true.

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