On Wednesday, Blizzard confirmed reports about three major staffers on its game-design teams no longer working for the company. This is yet another example of the tumult that has recently overtaken the lawsuit-plagued game publisher and creator.
In a statement provided by Blizzard to Ars Technica, the studio confirmed that the following staffers are no longer working for the company: Luis Barriga, who’d served as director of the upcoming sequel Diablo IV; Jesse McCree, a Diablo IV designer who is also the namesake of an Overwatch character; and Jonathan LeCraft, a designer on the World of Warcraft team. Blizzard’s exact statement says that the three men in question are “no longer with the company,” without clarifying the nature of the change in employment (layoff, termination, resignation, etc.) or whether all three staffers parted ways at the same time.
McCree and LeCraft entered the limelight in the wake of last month’s widespread lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard by a California state agency. Their faces appeared prominently in a series of photos, originally revealed and reported on by Kotaku, about the contentious “Cosby Suite,” a makeshift shrine to Bill Cosby that appeared in the July lawsuit. The lawsuit suggested that the “Suite,” adorned with a painting of Bill Cosby, was part of extracurricular parties connected to Blizzard’s 2013 BlizzCon fan expo. The suite’s name is arguably a reference to Cosby’s notorious public reputation at the time.
Kotaku’s report included a text conversation in which one staffer suggested “gathering hot chixx” for the suite, likely selected from the event’s crowd of female fans. This request was followed by a text from McCree suggesting that former World of Warcraft designer Alex Afrasiabi should have sex with women invited to said suite. While Afrasiabi was named prominently in the lawsuit’s allegations about sexual harassment and abuse, neither McCree nor LeCraft were named in the lawsuit. Neither was Barriga, who has not been publicly connected to the aforementioned parties or text messages. Kotaku’s Ethan Gach speculates that at least one staffer pictured in the Kotaku report remains employed at the company, albeit “on leave” as of press time.
This news follows other high-profile Blizzard departures, including President J. Allen Brack, and assurances from Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick that haven’t necessarily quelled investors’ combined outcry.
Turns out, one D2R sales pitch was spoofed
Wednesday’s employment shakeup follows bad news for the publisher’s upcoming Diablo II: Resurrected, a remake of the 2001 hit, as Blizzard confirmed an unfortunate walkback of one of the remake’s previously promised features: direct connection support for online players via the TCP/IP protocol.
In promotional interviews about the remake, recent Blizzard hire Rod Fergusson (previously of The Coalition and Gears of War) explained that the game’s original online makeup would remain intact, telling Eurogamer:
We’re really focused on having an authentic experience. You can still connect locally through TCP/IP if you want to! That was there in D2. It’ll be there in D2R. We’ve really focused on making sure that if there’s something about the core experience you loved, we’re bringing that over.
However, an update to the game’s official site, meant to announce an upcoming “open beta” test, confirmed that this specific part of the D2R sales pitch has been removed and will no longer appear in the game’s final PC version. The blog post, whose author isn’t named, cites “potential security risks” with TCP/IP connections and tells fans that the development team is “committed to safeguarding the player experience.” Yet this doesn’t clarify how easy it is for users to combine third-party connection services, which typically lean on TCP/IP, with firewalls and other simple protective measures—and also doesn’t acknowledge how the removal of such a core online component dampens the promise of truly faithful online Diablo II play, item-spoofing and all.
A top-level “protected” D2R online service, followed by a buried-in-menus TCP/IP option, would arguably offer the best of both worlds, and Fergusson and co were surely aware of this when TCP/IP support was originally announced. Instead, Blizzard has now guaranteed that D2R can no longer deliver a truly faithful version of the original game, and my original endorsement of the game on a technical and faithful-code level, helped by the masterful steering of new Blizzard Classic support studio Vicarious Visions, is now in question.