Blizzard's unnamed survival game had already been in development for over four years when it was announced in early 2022. Its team doubled in size that year with plans to grow even more in 2023. Now, after over six years of total development time and positive responses to the project from current and former Blizzard employees, the game has been canceled by Microsoft and its developers are out of jobs.
"I've been let go from Blizzard, along with many many others on the Survival team," wrote Matt London, the game's former associate narrative director, on X today.
Other Blizzard survival game developers who announced their departures include senior concept artist Marby Kwong, designer Ates Bayrak, senior software engineer Renato Iwashima, gameplay programmer Michael Dale, character technical artist Matheus Lima, VFX artist Rachel Quitevis, and producer Megan Embree, who had worked at Blizzard for 13 years.
The survival game's director, Craig Amai, was also laid off, and says he's now focused on helping the rest of the former survival game team land on their feet. "If you're looking for talent, the crew coming out of the Unannounced Survival Game are abnormally high quality—I cannot recommend them enough," Amai wrote in a post on LinkedIn.
Blizzard's survival game was announced as a new world "different from any Blizzard has created." Two pieces of concept art, the only material that was ever released, showed modern-day humans in a fantasy realm with a floating castle visible through overgrown forests, as well as a hooded forest ranger who wouldn't be out of place on League of Legends' roster. The crossover of this imagery suggested a premise like The Chronicles of Narnia, where ordinary children are drafted into another world inhabited by fantasy creatures.
The game was well liked within Blizzard. When it was announced in January 2022, current and former Blizzard employees publicly praised the survival game team and project—and this was at the height of mistrust and anger over allegations of sexism at the company.
"This team is nuts and nice and the project is like... UGH. SO COOL," said Blizzard artist Melissa Kelly at the time.
"All I can say is it's gonna absolutely rock," said novelist and Blizzard writer Christie Golden. "Hella beautiful too. I cannot wait!"
"This is a project that will have a big impact on the industry," said Geoffrey Virtue, executive producer of Teamfight Tactics at Riot, who had formerly co-led the survival game project at Blizzard.
Former Blizzard president Mike Ybarra, who also exited the company this week, said after the 2022 announcement that he'd "played many hours" of the game and was "incredibly excited about the team's vision and the brand-new world it presents for players to immerse themselves in together."
Praise for the project on social media was so enthusiastic after the announcement that some wondered if Blizzard had encouraged its employees to talk it up online. We asked, and Blizzard told us that it had not: "We have a talented team creating this game, and we're happy to see their genuine enthusiasm for their work, and others' excitement to share it," a spokesperson said at the time.
The survival game's cancellation and layoffs are part of 1,900 job cuts across Activision Blizzard and other Microsoft gaming companies.
According to a report from Bloomberg, development of the survival game was slow in part because the team switched from Unreal Engine to an internal engine called Synapse.
"As difficult as making these decisions are, experimentation and risk taking are part of Blizzard's history and the creative process," Blizzard spokesperson Andrew Reynolds told the publication. "Ideas make their way into other games or in some cases become games of their own. Starting something completely new is among the hardest things to do in gaming, and we're immensely grateful to all of the talented people who supported the project."
The former Blizzard survival game developers now face an aspect of working in games that I've heard a number of developers lament before: On top of the threat of being laid off, they face the threat of being laid off before they've been able to release anything.
A requirement often found in game development job listings is some number of "shipped games," meaning games that have been released. A current Blizzard job listing for a lead gameplay engineer requires "at least one shipped title," for example. Not only do the Blizzard survival game developers who've been let go this week get no shipped game for their resumes, they can't even talk openly about what it was they were making.
If you worked on or have knowledge of Blizzard's survival game and want to share details anonymously, you can email our tips line: firstname.lastname@example.org.