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Today, Activision announced that it is merging Vicarious Visions with Blizzard Entertainment. Vicarious, a studio that had found a niche creating superb remake compilations like Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, will no longer work on its projects. Instead, it will be a support studio dedicated to helping Blizzard.
Vicarious Visions was doing great work these past few years. After Skylanders fizzled (along with the entire toys-to-life trend that it helped to popularize), Vicarious Visions made some of the best remakes of all time with 2017’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. That package brought the whole Crash franchise back into relevance, leading up to last year’s release of Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time (which fellow Skylanders developer Toys for Bob made).
The studio then flexed again with last year’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, one of my favorite games of 2020. Both remake compilations have sold millions of dollars. It was fun to speculate which classic series Vicarious Visions would revive next.
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Well, not anymore.
It would be one thing if Activsion was merging Vicarious Visions with Blizzard so that the former could work on remakes of classic Blizzard games. Blizzard has proven itself unsuited to this task, releasing Warcraft III: Reforged around this time last year. This muddled, buggy, and ugly new take on the classic real-time strategy game was — and still is — a disaster.
Reforged’s failure is a big part of why Activision felt pressured to sacrifice one of its best studios to give Blizzard aid. Reforged was a flop, but at least it was a relatively inconsequential project for Activision. It had no major recurrent revenue streams. But Blizzard is working on huge projects, like Diablo IV and Overwatch 2, that will be important for Activision’s bottom line for years. It can’t afford for these games to be anything but giant hits.
So that’s what Vicarious Visions will be doing. The studio and its team of 200 will no longer be the lead for any games. Instead, it will support existing Blizzard projects, which could also include ongoing games like World of Warcraft and Hearthstone.
Vicarious Visions has done this sort of support work before, helping Bungie with development on Destiny 2 back when Activision had a publishing deal with that studio. But it’s sad to know that Vicarious Visions will no longer be working on its own projects.
This move does have a few bright spots. This could mean Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV, which may be in rough shape if Activision took this drastic step, will launch as great games thanks to all of this new support. Vicarious Visions studio head Jen Oneal has been promoted to Blizzard executive vice president of development. She may be able to bring some new leadership that can help Blizzard become a premier and beloved developer again.
But this whole thing feels like a bummer. Vicarious Visions did amazing work these past few years and created some great games. Now, the studio will be more of invisible hand, and I have to wonder if I’m ever going to get that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 remake that I crave.
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