Blizzard boss vows to ‘rebuild trust’ ahead of Microsoft takeover

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 21, 2022
Updated 2022/01/21 at 10:40 AM

Blizzard Entertainment boss Mike Ybarra promised in a blog post to “rebuild your confidence” in the studio, marking his first comments since Microsoft’s proposed $68.7 billion takeover of Blizzard Activision. The developer of successful titles like world of warcraft and overwatch has been under pressure since being sued by the state of California, which accused him of being a “breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women”.

Ybarra promised further steps to improve the company’s culture, starting with linking executive and manager compensation to “our overall success in creating a safe, inclusive and creative work environment at Blizzard,” he said. It also outlined new roles designed to address discrimination and other issues, including:

“A culture leader who will help us maintain the best aspects of what we have today, and change and evolve where necessary to ensure everyone brings their best selves to Blizzard; a new organizational leader in Human Resources who will build trust, empower our teams, and help promote a safe and positive work environment for all; [and] a leader in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) focused solely on our progress in various efforts in this area.”

He said the company tripled the size of its compliance and investigation teams, shared representation data internally, and created a “bottom-up feedback program” to help employees rate managers. He hasn’t shared representation data on the blog, but Activision Blizzard’s workforce is about 80% male.

Microsoft announced the acquisition while Blizzard Activision was at a point of weakness due to the misconduct scandal, as Bloomberg noticed. Microsoft CEO Phil Spencer acknowledged the issues with the studio, saying “we look forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams at Activision Blizzard.” Microsoft also recently released a third-party review of its own harassment and discrimination policies.

There are other unresolved issues with Blizzard, most notably leadership. It remains unclear whether embattled CEO Bobbie Kotick will remain at the studio or for how long. He addressed employees yesterday after the takeover, but many were unimpressed, noting that he did not acknowledge culture issues or potential layoffs, according to The Washington Post.

Ybarra, who only left Microsoft for Blizzard in 2019, was originally installed as co-leader of Blizzard along with Jen Oneal to replace former president J. Allan Brack – who was named in the California lawsuit. However, Oneal stepped down soon after and reportedly said in an email to the company’s legal team that “it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way,” according to Wall Street Journal.

Ybarra also apparently acknowledged recent delays to Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV. “We also know that we need to deliver content to our players more regularly and innovate both within and beyond our existing games,” he said. “We have some exciting things to announce, and I’ll share more next week.” Microsoft’s acquisition of Blizzard is still pending regulatory approval.

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