Blizzard Entertainment has acquired Boston-based Proletariat, the studio behind the magic-heavy battle royale game Spellbreak. Spellbreak will shut down by early 2023 as the workers at the 100-person studio transition to work on World of Warcraft and its upcoming “Dragonflight” expansion.
VentureBeat reports that Proletariat and Blizzard have been in acquisition talks since last December and that the companies have been working together since last month. That’s well before Tuesday’s public announcement that the studio would be ending development on Spellbreak after more than four years:
Our vision was to create a fresh, multiplayer action-spellcasting game with exceptional movement and class customization that would give players the chance to unleash their inner battlemage. We are grateful to everyone in the game’s community for exploring the magical worlds and experiences we created together. Spellbreak was an ambitious project that saw our team push new boundaries in design and development and we are excited to continue to innovate as we create new titles in the future.
After an impressive beta in early 2020, Proletariat bragged that it had over 5 million Spellbreak players in the weeks after the game’s late 2020 launch. That player base seems to have declined substantially over time, though; data from SteamDB shows Spellbreak‘s concurrent player numbers on Steam sitting at well under a thousand and consistently declining over the last 12 months (though those numbers don’t reflect players on consoles or the Epic Games Store, where the game had PC exclusivity for a year).
Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak told VentureBeat that success with critics wasn’t enough for Spellbreak to stand out from the crowded battle royale field and that the game “just couldn’t get the escape velocity necessary for us to continue to expand it.”
More grist for WoW’s content mills
Blizzard doesn’t often look to outside studio purchases to supplement its workforce; its largest acquisition in the past two decades seems to be the 40-person Swinging Ape studios in 2005. In a statement to VentureBeat, Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra hinted that the acquisition would provide much-needed staffing to spread out the work required for a massive undertaking like World of Warcraft:
We are putting players at the forefront of everything we do, and we are working hard to both meet and exceed their expectations. A big part of caring for our teams is making sure we have the resources to produce experiences our communities will love while giving our teams space to explore even more creative opportunities within their projects. Proletariat is a perfect fit for supporting Blizzard’s mission in bringing high-quality content to our players more often.
World of Warcraft General Manager John Hight also told VentureBeat that it has sometimes been hard to hire enough people to keep up with what he called “a voracious appetite for content” among WoW‘s fan base. “You have to make sure that the people who make WoW and the people who play WoW are well supported,” he said.
The Proletariat purchase also comes as Activision Blizzard itself is finalizing its record-setting sale to Microsoft. Then there are the harassment scandals at the company that have contributed to executive departures and game delays at Blizzard, not to mention the cancellation of this year’s Blizzcon.
While the WoW player base has been on a decline since peaking at 46 million monthly active users in 2017, the game still enjoyed 26 million monthly active users as of mid-2021.