Blizzard boss details what the studio is doing to “rebuild your confidence”
Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of massive franchises like Diablo and Monitoring, has come under intense scrutiny since California sued parent company Activision Blizzard last summer for allegedly fostering a culture of harassment and discrimination. In an effort to assure employees and fans that the company is making positive changes, Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra has released a blog post detailing what he is doing to “rebuild your confidence”.
At the top of the list, leadership and management teams will be measured “directly against improved culture”, meaning their compensation “will depend on our overall success in creating a safe work environment. , inclusive and creative at Blizzard,” Ybarra said.
He also described new full-time roles that have been created to help improve the culture, including:
a cultural leader who will help us retain the best aspects of what we have today, and change and evolve as needed to ensure everyone brings their best to Blizzard
a new organizational leader for human resources who will build trust, empower our teams and help foster a safe and positive work environment for all
a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) leader solely focused on our progress through multiple efforts in this area
Blizzard also “tripled” the size of its compliance and investigation teams, shared representation data internally (which was not included in the blog post), set goals to improve these metrics (also not shared ) and created an “upward feedback program” for employees to rate managers, Ybarra said.
We’re committing to a more open dialogue directly with the amazing communities of players – not just me but all of our amazing teams. https://t.co/5MUILlUCnS
—Mike Ybarra (@Qwik) January 20, 2022
Ybarra’s blog on these initiatives comes in the shadow of Microsoft’s massive deal to acquire Activision Blizzard. Microsoft appears to have entered into the deal with eyes wide open over recent Activision Blizzard scandals, and Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer even gave a nod to the upcoming culture changes in an email to staff :
We also believe that creative success and empowerment go hand in hand with treating each person with dignity and respect. We hold all the teams, and all the managers, to this commitment. We look forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to larger Activision Blizzard teams.
It’s also worth noting that Ybarra was a nearly 20-year veteran of Microsoft before joining Blizzard in 2019.
However, there could still be a lot of work to do to address the concerns of Activision Blizzard employees. Ybarra was originally set up as co-head of Blizzard alongside Jen Oneal after former chairman J. Allen Brack left shortly after the lawsuit, but Oneal stepped down just three months after he took the role. During her time as co-manager, Oneal “sent an email to a member of Activision’s legal team in which she professed a lack of confidence in Activision’s leadership to change the culture”, according to a the wall street journal November report.
Additionally, several dozen workers have been on strike for weeks to protest the surprise layoffs of QA staff at Raven Software. And like Kotaku journalist Ethan Gach pointed outYbarra’s blog does not respond to requests from ABK Workers’ Alliance, an employee advocacy group. That said, some Activision Blizzard employees are optimistic about the Microsoft acquisition, according to Bloomberg.
Ybarra also tacitly acknowledged Blizzard’s lack of recent major releases, a problem that was exacerbated after Monitor 2 and Diablo IV have been delayed to November with no release date in sight, but it looks like we might hear more about the studio’s games next week. “We also know that we need to deliver content to our players on a more consistent basis and innovate both within and beyond our existing games,” Ybarra said. “We have some exciting things to announce, and I’ll be sharing more next week.”
Disclosure: Casey Wasserman is a member of the board of directors of Activision Blizzard as well as the board of directors of Vox Media, the parent company of The Verge.