When I wrote about the top free-to-play gaming news stories of 2019, I put the Hearthstone Blitzchung controversy at #1. In doing so, however, I suspected that “I don’t think this will really have an effect, not on Blizzard or the rest of the gaming industry.” I did concede that it was possible that “Activision-Blizzard might have a slight downturn in revenue for Q4, thanks to various boycotts and whatever.”
Depending on how you analyze the numbers (found here), you could say I was right about that second part. But here’s the rare case where I’m more inclined not to take credit for one of my predictions.
The Blitzchung controversy happened just as Q4 was kicking off and some are pointing to that as the reason why Q4 2019’s revenues ($562 million) were much worse than Q4 2018’s ($647 million). But Activision-Blizzard(-King) was down across the board in 2019, with net revenues falling from $6.8 billion to $5.9 billion. If we focus just on the Blizzard part of things, those numbers are similar: $2.2 billion in 2018 versus $1.7 billion in 2019.
Breaking it down quarter by quarter also doesn’t seem to indicate that things went particularly poorly in Q4. 2019 saw less revenue than 2018 for Blizzard in every quarter: Q1 ($339m to $479m), Q2 ($381m to $485m), Q3 ($392m to $627m), and Q4 ($562m to $647m). So I don’t think you can say that the Blitzchung controversy had any significant impact on earnings. Maybe the launch of Overwatch on Switch in October helped soften things a bit, but I don’t think it helped that much.
(Speaking of launches, World of Warcraft Classic made its debut on Aug. 26, about two months into Q3, and that didn’t seem to move the needle in that quarter at all. Curious.)
Blizzard doesn’t break down its revenue by game, so we won’t know for sure exactly which of its titles brought in the bucks in Q4, but anyone expecting a huge “Blizzard boycott” to tank the company’s profits for Q4 2019 has to be disappointed. Maybe the Warcraft III: Reforged debacle will do that in Q1 2020, but if it does, it will only show that the quality of the game, and not the quality of the company, is still the deciding factor for whether most people will spend.