Blizzard Entertainment boss Mike Ybarra has promised in a blog post to "rebuild your trust" in the studio, marking his first comments since Microsoft's proposed $68.7 billion acquisition of Blizzard Activision. The developer of blockbuster titles like World of Warcraft and Overwatch has been under pressure since it was sued by the state of California, which accused it of being a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women."
Ybarra promised new measures to improve the company's culture, starting with tying executive and management compensation to "our overall success in creating a safe, inclusive and creative work environment at Blizzard," he said. He 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 needed to ensure everyone brings their best self to Blizzard; a new organizational leader for Human Resources who will build trust, empower our teams, and help foster a safe, positive work environment for everyone; [and] a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) leader solely focused on our progress across multiple efforts in this area."
We're committed to more open dialog directly with the amazing player communities - not just from me but from all of our incredible teams. https://t.co/5MUILlUCnS
— Mike Ybarra (@Qwik) January 20, 2022
He said the company has tripled the size of its compliance and investigation teams, shared representation data internally, and created an "upward feedback program" to help employees evaluate managers. He didn't share representation data in the blog, but Activision Blizzard's workforce is reportedly around 80 percent male.
Microsoft announced the acquisition while Blizzard Activision was at a point of weakness due to the misconduct scandal, as Bloomberg noted. Microsoft CEO Phil Spencer acknowledged the issues with the studio, saying "we’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard." Microsoft also recently launched a third-party review over its own harassment and discrimination policies.
There are other unresolved issues with Blizzard, particularly around leadership. It's still not clear if embattled CEO Bobbie Kotick will remain with the studio, or for how long. He addressed employees yesterday following the acquisition, but many weren't impressed, noting that he didn't acknowledge culture issues or potential layoffs, according to The Washington Post.
Ybarra, who only left Microsoft for Blizzard in 2019, was originally installed as Blizzard co-lead along with Jen Oneal to replace former president J. Allan Brack — who was named in California's lawsuit. However, Oneal stepped down shortly afterward 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 The Wall Street Journal.
Ybarra also seemingly acknowledged recent delays to Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV. "We also know we need to deliver content to our players on a more regular basis and innovate both in and beyond our existing games," he said. "We have some exciting things to announce, and I’ll be sharing more next week." Microsoft's acquisition of Blizzard is still pending approval by regulators.