A Community of Art: Blizzard Entertainment and Art Worlds

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Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard, is a well-known game developer and publisher. In 1991, the company was under the name Silicon and Synapse founded by Allen Adham, Michael Morhaime, the current president and CEO, as well as chief development officer Frank Pearce. Silicon and Synapse later became Chaos Studios in 1993. Chaos Studios was soon bought by Davidson and Associates, whom rename the company Blizzard Entertainment in 1994. This is where the saga of Blizzard Entertainment begins.

Blizzard Entertainment, also referred to as Blizzard, is well known for its many multiplayer games bringing in a mass following of players. Through video games, like World of Warcraft, Diablo, or Overwatch, Blizzard has become one of the most successful and influential gaming companies. Its massive following has created a united community like no other, an active participatory community. Blizzard Entertainment clearly promotes and encourages this community to engage with the games they love through promotions, fan communication, and fan creations.  Through this engagement, an art world is created with the community being the centerpiece.

“Art worlds consist of all the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which that world, and perhaps others as well, define as art.” – (Howard S. Becker p.37)

Just as Becker suggests, the Blizzard art world consists of the many employees that produced the games and support gamers, as well as the millions of players that play their games and create something out of those games. In some ways, this community can be considered part of the gamer culture. A culture is defined as “music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre, and film” (Williams 80). Each of these are forms of art, so this gamer culture, which incorporates the following forms, and in turn the Blizzard community are considered art. While video games is missing from the following forms, scholars are now leaning towards the idea of video games as art meant to create personal experiences (Maeda). The pursuits of the two groups: company and gamers create the art that is the Blizzard community. Obviously within this larger community there are smaller niches, but typically gamers move fluidly through since they play more than one Blizzard game. Becker describes this process as a “network of cooperative links among participants” (Becker 35). These cooperative links are established through the niche communities and are even encouraged by the company itself. Blizzard Entertainment’s eight core values are:

  1. Gameplay First: “The goal of each discipline within the company — be it art, programming or customer support — is to make our games as fun as possible for as many people as we can reach.”

  2. Commit to Quality: “ ‘Blizzard Polish’-We approach each task carefully and seriously. We seek honest feedback and use it to improve the quality of our work. At the end of the day, most players won’t remember whether the game was late — only whether it was great.”

  3. Play Nice; Play Fair: “We strive to maintain a high level of respect and integrity in all interactions with our players, colleagues, and business partners.”

  4. Embrace your Inner Geek: “Everyone here is a geek at heart…Whatever it is they’re passionate about, it matters that each employee embraces it! Their unique enthusiasm helps to shape the fun, creative culture that is Blizzard Entertainment.”

  5. Every Voice Matters: “Great ideas can come from anywhere. Blizzard Entertainment is what it is today because of the voices of our players and of each member of the company.”

  6. Think Globally: “Everywhere on the planet there are people who play Blizzard Entertainment games. While respecting the cultural diversity that makes people unique, we strive to grow and support our global gaming community.”

  7. Lead Responsibly: “Our products and practices can affect not only our employees and players — but the industry at large. As one of the world’s leading game companies, we’re committed to making ethical decisions, always keeping our players in mind, and setting a strong example of professionalism and excellence at all times.”

  8. Learn and Grow: “Since the founding of Blizzard Entertainment, we’ve worked to improve through experience, teaching one another and cultivating the desire to be the best at what we do. We see this as an individual responsibility as well as a company one.”- Blizzard’s Mission Statement

These eight core values are the reason why Blizzard has such a large following. Their values stand as a testament to their commitment towards their community and, essentially, their art world.

Promotions:

Blizzard Entertainment encourages its community to play their games through promotions that provide incentives to players. One such promotion currently underway is the Heroes of the Storm (HotS) Nexus Challenge. This challenge offers players awards for Overwatch and Heroes of the Storm. The challenge was set up as a quest each week for a total of four weeks. Each quest consisted of playing five games with a friend in ranked, unranked, quick match, and versus AI. Completing quest one rewarded a Genji mount, spray, portrait, and war banner in Heroes of the Storm as well as a Genji skin, icon, and spray in Overwatch. Genji is a playable ninja cyborg character in Overwatch.  Skins are basically different clothing or appearance to the character. Sprays are a type of art signature in the game. They can be placed throughout different areas in the game, but do not serve any purpose damage wise. Portraits are different icons that can be used for your overall account, again they serve no purpose damage wise. The second and third quests consist of similar rewards except for a different Overwatch Character, D.Va. D.Va is a playable tank character in Overwatch. The last quest offers ten loot boxes/chest in Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch. These loot boxes/chests randomly award skins, emotes, intro highlights (Overwatch), sprays, voice lines (HotS), and more. They serve as incentives for reaching levels in both games. This Nexus Challenge promotion served as a way for Blizzard Entertainment to promote Heroes of the Storm to the Overwatch players. Heroes of the Storm recently dropped patch 2.0 which completely restructured the game, so to get more players interested, Blizzard promotes to the active game base for Overwatch. This is one way that the company promotes their games to the active community. These Nexus Challenge quests, also, involve playing with another player. We see this throughout Blizzard games, as they strive to make content that players must connect with other people in order to play. Whether that may be raids in World of Warcraft, matches in Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm games, or promotions like the Nexus Challenge. This strategy strengthens the Blizzard community, and persuades players to play with others, especially the games that they would not normally play. This can best be seen through HotS in that all the characters are from all the other Blizzard games. For example, Lucio the freedom fighting dj, a playable Overwatch character, is found in the nexus that is Heroes of the Storm.

Lucio in Overwatch

Diablo characters such as Valla, the demon hunter, and World of Warcraft Characters such as Sylvanas Windrunner, the Banshee Queen and leader of the Undead, are seen as well. The familiarity of these characters allows the player to connect to HotS, making it more likely for them to want to play, and in turn play with others. This type of strategy is an important tool for Blizzard Entertainment to push players to create that familiar relationship with their newer games. Players then want to continue to be active participants in the Blizzard art world.

Fan Communication:

Further connections to experience the community as art is seen through the ways that Blizzard Entertainment communicates with their fanbase. As seen in value number five, every voice matters to Blizzard and gaining feedback on the games that are played allow the Blizzard art world/ community to transmit ideas. Players are then given a chance to be heard which is an important part of community for gamers and game developers. This quality is defined as participatory culture, which is when media producers and consumers are no longer separate but both are participants interacting with each other (Jenkins 3). This participatory culture is exactly what we see in the Blizzard art world. Game developers of Blizzard are interacting with their fanbase of gamers in order to create games that the players want to play. Communication is most popularly seen through game forums, the public testing realms, or subreddits. For example, AMAs (Ask Me Anything) on game subreddits, such as Heroes of the Storm, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch are popular and semi-frequent. This shows Blizzard developers making an effort to be involved in the community that they promote. Scholar Roland Barthes describes in his work, Death of an Author, that the writer is not the one that unites the ideas and creates meaning. It is through the reader that text can be understood. (Barthes 6) The same can be said with the Blizzard art world. Blizzard entertainment can create games, but the true meaning and true experience is gathered by the player. Without the player, the games do not matter. They both need each other in order to create the experience, the art. Art worlds are further created by large-scale events, such as Blizzcon. Blizzcon serves as the convention for all things Blizzard Entertainment. This is where previews and announcements for games are made. Cosplay contests, championship games, and Q&A panels are held. Even the alpha or beta versions of games are able to be played by the lucky people that attend. Blizzcon is the ultimate way that players can have their voices heard. It’s a special event where players can interact and create meaningful experiences.

Fan Creations:

Cosplay is a popular attraction to the Blizzcon convention. The cosplayers are all fans of Blizzard games. Many cosplayers look forward to Blizzcon, and even spend most of their year creating their outfit with anticipation. For participants, cosplay is more than dressing up it is embodying the characters they have grown to love.

While cosplay is essential to Blizzard’s art world, many other art forms are utilized in fan creations, such as machinima. Machinima is incredibly popular in the Blizzard community. According to Eddo Stern, machinima, specifically for World of Warcraft (WoW), is produced under three categories: In-house machinima, fan fiction machinima, and nonfiction machinima (Stern 42). Fan-fiction and nonfiction machinima are created by fans, while in-house machinima is created by developers. The most popular machinimas are fan fiction machinima, they use World of Warcraft as a platform to tell stories, make jokes, or create relatable content. One of my favorite machinima creators is Carbot Animations. He creates animations based on different Blizzard games, such as Starcraft, WoW, and Overwatch. Each of his videos make fun of situations that players ultimately find themselves. For example, one video made fun of the events that happen in PvP battlegrounds (player vs player).

These animations serve as a way for players to connect with each other. They become symbols that are only able to be understood by the Blizzard community, or in some situations the specific game’s community. Carbot’s animations became so popular in the community that his interpretation of a Zergling from Starcraft became an actual plushie sold by Blizzard. This further shows that as an art world, Blizzard and its gamers are interacting to create the experience of art that is the community.

Blizzard Community and Art Worlds:

“Works of art, from this point of view, are not the products of individual makers, “artists” who possess a rare and special gift. They are, rather, joint products of all the people who cooperate via an art world’s characteristic conventions to bring works like that into existence.” – Howard S. Becker 35.

Art worlds require people to cooperate and communicate in order to create art. This is seen throughout the Blizzard community by promotions, feedback at events like Blizzcon, and fan machinima. One last example that provides proof of the community in action is that of women in gaming.  As described in “The Hegemony of Play,” games are typically created for white or Asian male teenagers to young adults (Janine Fron et al 309). Very little representation is given to female gamers and its become a problem for many women. Some women gamers were annoyed that some character’s armor was very skimpy and created unrealistic standards. Female warriors would not wear a bikini to fight in, as one fan-made comic poked fun at. gendered-armour-in-WoWWomen players and employees wanted strong female characters that didn’t wear skimpy outfits just because they were female. They wanted some type semi-realism in what the playable and non-playable female characters were wearing. Chris Metzen and Jeff Kaplan, story developer and game director for Overwatch respectively, took this to heart and spoke to fans about creating characters that represented different races, nationalities, sexes, and body types. In this aspect, there is a win for female gamers to be better represented in Blizzard games. By interacting with each other, Blizzard and gamers are creating a community where voices are heard and feedback is utilized. These two groups play off each other’s ideas to create an art world that is swirling with different opinions, attitudes, and meaningful experiences that lead to a rich community.

References:

“Mission Statement.” Blizzard Entertainment. [http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/mission.html]

Roland Barthes. (1977 [1967]). “The Death of the Author.” In Image, Music, Text. New York: Hill and Wang.

Howard Becker. (1982). “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” in Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press: pp. 1-39.

Janine Fron, Tracy Fullerton, Jacquelyn Ford Morie, and Celia Pearce. (2007). “The Hegemony of Play.” In Digital Gaming Research Association: Situated Play. Tokyo.

Henry Jenkins. (2006). “Introduction” in Covergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

John Maeda. (2012). “Videogames Do Belong in the Museum of Modern Art.” Wired Online. December 4. [http://www.wired.com/2012/12/why-videogames-do-belong-in-the-museum-of-modern-art/]

Eddo Stern. 2011. “Massively Multiplayer Machinima Mikusuto.” Journal of Visual Culture 10: pp. 42-50.

Raymond Williams. (1985 [1976]). “Aesthetic,” “Art,” “Culture,” and “Dialectic.” In Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Revised Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

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