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Blizzard president discusses gaming giant's future after Microsoft acquisition

Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra speaks at BlizzCon. (Business Wire via AP)
Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra speaks at BlizzCon. (Business Wire via AP)

After years of uncertainty and controversy, gaming giant Blizzard Entertainment brought back its annual fan convention this weekend in Anaheim, California for the first time since 2019.

“Four years is a long time for us not to have a BlizzCon, and across our teams and the players, the excitement is incredible to see,” says Blizzard president Mike Ybarra. “You could feel it from the teams saying how awesome it was to be close to the players and it gave them a good reminder of the hard work they put in.”

The pandemic forced BlizzCon’s cancellation in 2020. It remained dormant in 2021 and 2022 after a flurry of lawsuits related to sexual harassment and gender discrimination hit the wider company, and as Microsoft negotiated to acquire it for a record $68.7 billion.

But now, the acquisition has cleared U.S. and UK regulatory hurdles, and Activision Blizzard has settled many of its legal challenges for tens of millions of dollars. Ybarra, who became president after abuse claims swarmed the company, vowed that its culture has changed for the better.

“We acknowledge the past,” Ybarra says, “but when I think about and talk to our teams today, what they say is they love the direction that we’re going in.”

Fans got a glimpse at that trajectory at BlizzCon, where developers unveiled atrilogy of upcoming expansions for the venerable “World of Warcraft,” along with new content for the 2023 hit, “Diablo IV.”

Blizzard has not confirmed if or when their games — from “Overwatch” to “Starcraft 2” — may end up bundled with Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass post acquisition, but Ybarra alluded to the possibility.

“Players can still purchase the games at retail or digitally, or they can choose to buy a subscription through GamePass and get 200, 300 plus games across PC and console,” Ybarra says. “We’re all about trying to get our software to as many people as we can.”

Watch on YouTube.

3 questions for Blizzard president Mike Ybarra

Has the initial success of ‘Diablo IV’ faltered as daily player count dropped?

“We’re very happy with the numbers that we see in ‘Diablo’ and the feedback we see from players. The announcements at BlizzCon with the first expansion coming next year have everyone incredibly excited. We just launched season two recently and the feedback from that is incredibly positive. So we’re very happy with the reception so far and we’ll continue to listen to players and deliver great software for that.”

How might Microsoft’s acquisition change the company?

“We would be kidding ourselves if we said integrating 12,000 people into another company isn’t a challenge. I expect this to take some time, but to me, it’s an incredible opportunity. I’m fortunate enough to have spent 21 years at Microsoft, and so I know what that opportunity looks like for Blizzard, and everyone at Blizzard is extremely excited by this change.”

Will there be layoffs post-acquisition, as thousands of game industry workers have lost their jobs this year?

“We have discussions about how Xbox could help accelerate and help us achieve even more ambition than we have now. It’s been a two-year journey of ups and downs. I can’t tell what the future looks like going forward, but what I can say is the ambition that we have is going to keep a lot of people busy for a long time.”

James Perkins-Mastromarino and produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Perkins-Mastromarino adapted it for the web.

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