Blizzard Entertainment, the developer of huge franchises like Diablo and Overwatch, has been under intense scrutiny since California sued parent company Activision Blizzard last summer over allegedly fostering a culture of harassment and discrimination. In an attempt to assure employees and fans that the company is making positive changes, Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra published a blog post detailing what it is doing to “rebuild your trust.”
At the top of the list is that executive and management teams will be measured “directly against culture improvement,” which means that their compensation will “depend on our overall success in creating a safe, inclusive, and creative work environment at Blizzard,” Ybarra says.
He also outlined new full-time roles that have been created to help improve culture, 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
a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) leader solely focused on our progress across multiple efforts in this area
Blizzard has also “tripled” the size of its compliance and investigation teams, shared representation data internally (which was not included with the blog post), set goals for improving those metrics (also not shared), and created an “upward feedback program” for employees to evaluate managers, Ybarra said.
Ybarra’s blog about these initiatives arrives under the shadow of Microsoft’s massive deal to acquire Activision Blizzard. Microsoft appears to have gone into the deal with eyes wide open about Activision Blizzard’s recent scandals, and Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer even nodded to culture changes to come in an email to staff:
We also believe that creative success and autonomy go hand-in-hand with treating every person with dignity and respect. We hold all teams, and all leaders, to this commitment. We’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard.
It’s also worth noting that Ybarra was a nearly 20-year veteran of Microsoft before he joined Blizzard in 2019.
However, there could still be a lot of work to do to address concerns from Activision Blizzard employees. Ybarra was originally put in place as a co-lead of Blizzard alongside Jen Oneal after former president J. Allen Brack left shortly following the lawsuit, but Oneal stepped down just three months after taking the role. During her time as co-lead, Oneal “sent an email to a member of Activision’s legal team in which she professed a lack of faith in Activision’s leadership to turn the culture around,” according to a Wall Street Journal report from November.
Additionally, several dozen workers have been on strike for weeks to protest surprise layoffs of QA staffers at Raven Software. And as Kotaku reporter Ethan Gach pointed out, Ybarra’s blog doesn’t address demands from the 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 big releases, a problem that was exacerbated after Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV were delayed in November with no release dates in sight, but it sounds as if we could learn more about the studio’s games sometime next week. “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,” Ybarra said. “We have some exciting things to announce, and I’ll be sharing more next week.”
Disclosure: Casey Wasserman is on the board of directors for Activision Blizzard as well as the board of directors of Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company.