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Ever since Blizzard merged with Activision, the World of WarCraft and StarCraft studio has often been accused of kow-towing to Activision's demands. However, WoW game director Tom Chilton says that Blizzard has more freedom than everyone thinks.
"I'll come out and say it. Activision gets an unfair reputation among our players for this, as does [Activision-Blizzard CEO] Bobby Kotick," Chilton said during a Reddit Q&A. "We do demos for the Activision executive team about twice per year (sometimes only once)."
Chilton adds that Activision asks "intelligent questions" about WoW's development. That's as far as the influence goes, though. They've never made any mandates, or mandates-disguised-as-suggestions, regarding the game.
Is Blizzard completely autonomous? No, they're a subsidiary of Activision-Blizzard at the end of the day. However, I think that a lot of Activision-Blizzard criticism is of the tinfoil hat territory. Bobby Kotick has gotten blamed for WoW expansions being released too quickly, Diablo 3's real-money auction house, StarCraft 2's DRM and so forth. He can apparently micromanage each of these games while also "milking" Call of Duty and Guitar Hero.
The reason the whole "Activision-Blizzard/Bobby Kotick is the devil" argument persists is that it's easy. It's much cleaner to just dump all responsibilities onto Kotick or "the evil suits." The truth of the matter, though, is that there are many, many people involved in making a game. Activision-Blizzard has several thousand employees across all of its divisions. You really think that only one guy or one shadowy room of executives is responsible for every fuck-up? Really?
That's the thing with evaluating games as a critic or player, though. You don't really get to peek inside at the process that produces the game. You can't tell whether this manager is a jerk-off or that QA tester is lazy or whatever. Our criticism ought to be focused on the final game that they produce. That seems like a better use of our time than pretending we know the exact chain of ev that led a company to produce bad DRM.