Blizzard president talks about the studio’s ‘new era’ under Xbox

The dust is finally starting to settle following Microsoft’s massive acquisition of Activision Blizzard, but even Blizzard president Mike Ybarra still isn’t quite sure how things will turn around for the company. “I literally didn’t sit down with [Microsoft Gaming CEO] elephant [Spencer] “So what does all this mean?” Ybarra says the edge In an interview.

However, Ybarra does not appear to be concerned. As part of his opening remarks at the BlizzCon 2023 keynote on Friday, Ybarra said the show was the beginning of a “new era” for the company.

“I think the way [Spencer] “The approaches to building teams, focusing on culture, and enabling creative freedom will give Blizzard a lot more of that feeling of being an independent studio than ever before,” says Ybarra. “This is what I really mean when I talk about a new era of possibility, empowerment and serving players better than ever before.” (It also probably helped that Ybarra worked for Spencer for eight years before joining Blizzard.)

For now, things are “pretty much business as usual,” Ybarra says. Spencer and his team visited Blizzard recently, but “it was just about meeting people,” Ybarra says. “They didn’t want to talk business.” This seems to mean that any changes adopted by Microsoft may be a long way off; Spencer has already said that he doesn’t expect any Activision Blizzard games to appear on Xbox Game Pass until 2024, for example.

During our conversation, Ybarra reflected on Blizzard’s history, which he divided into three phases: pre-World of Warcraft (Games like the first three Cans titles, Diablo And Diablo IIAnd starcraft); World of Warcraft (released in 2004); And now “this next chapter” is under Microsoft ownership.

Presented by Blizzard’s Chris Metzen World of WarcraftThe upcoming expansion for BlizzCon 2023.
Photography by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

There are a lot of ways the next chapter could go. Blizzard is juggling a lot of big live service games right now, including… Diablo IV, Monitoring 2Classic and modern versions of World of Warcraftand even recently launched Cans Mobile address. Diablo IV He seems to be in a good place again After a post-launch stumble, while Monitoring 2 Fans are still dealing with the canceled Aspiring Hero mode and some potential big changes to it Observation and control E-sports. The company announced at BlizzCon three brand new World of Warcraft The expansions are under the “Worldsoul Saga” banner, but the announcement felt like Disney’s pitch for a new Marvel phase – which isn’t exactly a compliment at a time when Marvel isn’t exactly hot at the moment.

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Activision Blizzard, as a company, has had a tumultuous few years as it has been reckoned with in a lawsuit over an alleged culture of harassment (which outgoing CEO Bobby Kotick has denied) and unionization efforts. Ybarra, in 2022, detailed what the company would do to rebuild players’ trust — including that executives and management would be measured “directly against improving the culture.” Blizzard also recently announced that it has hired Pamela Burga as the lead actress Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer.

Ybarra is confident Blizzard can handle whatever it’s working on. At Friday’s keynote, there was “nothing we felt we had to show.” [then] “We’ll see in 10 years when it comes out,” he says. “That’s all that’s happening now.” Webara knows the players have high expectations. “Players don’t have the patience,” he says. “They want new things every day, every hour. We’re trying to respond that way while setting Blizzard’s quality bar high.

Blizzard is known for making huge games that are updated frequently over the years, but this model is no longer as popular as it once was; fortnite Epic game maker and Destiny 2 Developer Bungie recently laid off employees amid business challenges. I asked how Blizzard is thinking about the live service model.

“We know that players want new content literally almost every day. At the same time, it takes great teams to be able to make that happen. So you have to monetize it in the right ways. At the same time, I always tell teams: ‘When someone spends a dollar or a cent One with Blizzard, I want him to feel good after he does that.” How do we get to a world where we know this will always be the foundation of what we do?

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He says the team is wrestling with the idea of ​​releasing a standalone game without live components. “We want to serve players with more content in our worlds. At the same time, we want to make sure we’re being accountable and meeting their expectations. I think we’re still fine-tuning a lot of these things as we move forward. But it’s something that’s top of mind for me as we move forward.”

We’re not afraid to turn models upside down

I pushed him into it – it seems like it would be a big deal if Blizzard released a game that wasn’t a live service. “We are not afraid to create new IP addresses,” he says. “We are not afraid to turn models upside down.” He says he looks for teams that come up with an idea — “that could be someone with an idea for a four-hour experience or a 400-hour experience” — and for Blizzard, “I’m open to all of those ideas.”

This gave me the perfect opportunity to ask about the untitled survival game that Blizzard announced in January 2022, but Ybarra didn’t say much. “When that game is ready to present itself, this team will come to me and say we are ready.” (He admitted that the recruiting site Blizzard launched for the game “got more interest than we thought,” which, he says, in hindsight, the company should have expected.)

You might want to get ready for more Blizzard mobile games. The company has just launched Rumble cansAnd Diablo Immortal It appears to have been a success, earning more than $500 million in its first year. According to (Although I imagine the company hasn’t forgotten Diablo ImmortalA meme-worthy ad for 2019.) “Mobile is a super-growth area for us,” he says. “I would love to have our IP addresses everywhere.”

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Ybarra didn’t have anything to share about if or when the majority of Blizzard’s games would return to China after the country shut down in January. “There are millions of gamers in China who love Blizzard games and all of us at Blizzard want to make sure they can play our games,” says Ybarra. “We are a global company. I want us to be in every country around the world including China. So, as we move forward, we will evaluate that and see what happens.”

And if you are hoping for news about starcraftUnfortunately, Ybarra didn’t have anything to share about the series — although Spencer name-dropped her on stage during Friday’s keynote. “starcraft “It’s something we love,” Ybarra says. “We’ve heard players’ comments about it. But we’re not talking about anything yet.”

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