The dust is finally starting to settle following Microsoft’s massive acquisition of Activision Blizzard, but even Blizzard president Mike Ybarra still isn’t exactly sure how things will change for the company. “I literally haven’t sat down with (Microsoft Gaming CEO) Phil (Spencer) and said, ‘So what does this all mean?’” Ybarra says. The edge In an interview.
But Ybarra doesn’t seem worried. As part of her opening remarks at Friday’s BlizzCon 2023 keynote, Ybarra said the show was the beginning of a “new era” for the company.
“I think the way (Spencer) approaches team building and focuses on culture and allows creative freedom will give Blizzard a lot more of a sense of being an independent studio than ever before,” Ybarra says. “That’s what I really mean when I talk about a new era of possibilities, of empowerment, of serving players even better than ever.” (It probably also helps that Ybarra worked for Spencer for eight years before joining Blizzard.)
Right now, things are “pretty much business as usual,” Ybarra says. Spencer and his team visited Blizzard recently, but “it was more about meeting people,” Ybarra says. “They didn’t want to talk business.” It seems like that means any changes pushed by Microsoft might be a bit off; Spencer has already said that he won’t expect any Activision Blizzard games on Xbox Game Pass until 2024, for example.
As we spoke, Ybarra reflected on Blizzard’s history, which he divided into three phases: pre-world of warcraft (games like the first three Warcraft Titles, Devils and Diablo IIand Star boat); world of warcraft (released in 2004); and now “this next chapter” under Microsoft ownership.
There are many ways the next chapter could play out. Blizzard is juggling a lot of big live service games right now, including Diablo IV, supervision 2classic and modern versions of world of warcraftand even a newly released Warcraft mobile title. Diablo IV seems to be in a good place again after a post-launch stumble, while supervision 2 Fans are still dealing with the removal of its ambitious hero mode and some potentially major changes to Supervision electronic sports. At BlizzCon, the company announced three brand new world of warcraft expansions under the “Worldsoul Saga” banner, but the announcement felt like Disney’s presentation of a new phase of Marvel, which isn’t exactly a compliment at a time when Marvel isn’t doing so well right now. .
And Activision Blizzard, as a company, has had a tumultuous few years due to litigation over an alleged culture of harassment (which outgoing CEO Bobby Kotick has denied) and unionization efforts. Ybarra, in 2022, detailed what the company would be doing to rebuild player trust, including that executives and management would be measured “directly on improving culture.” Blizzard also recently announced that it had hired Pamela Burga as its global diversity, equity and inclusion officer.
Ybarra is confident that Blizzard can handle everything it is working on. In Friday’s keynote, there was “nothing we thought we had to show and (then) we’ll see in 10 years when it comes out,” he says. “This is all happening now.” And Ybarra knows the players have high expectations. “The players don’t have patience,” he says. “They want new things every day, every hour. “We’re trying to react that way while keeping Blizzard’s quality bar high.”
Blizzard is famous for creating huge games that are updated frequently over the years, but that model isn’t as popular as it once was; fortnite creator of Epic Games and Destiny 2 Developer Bungie recently laid off staff amid business challenges. I asked him what Blizzard thinks about the live service model.
“We know that players want new content literally almost every day. At the same time, large teams are needed to achieve this. So you have to monetize it the right way. At the same time, I always tell teams, ‘When someone spends a dollar or a cent at Blizzard, I want them to feel good after doing it.’ How do we get to a world where we know that will always be the basis of what we do?’”
He says the team struggles with the idea of releasing a standalone game without live components. “We want to offer players more content in our universes. At the same time, we want to ensure that we are responsible and meet your expectations. I think we’re still fine-tuning a lot of that stuff as we go. But it is something I keep in mind as we move forward.”
We are not afraid to turn models upside down
I pressed him on that; It seems like it would be a big deal if Blizzard released a game that wasn’t a live service. “We’re not afraid to create new IP,” he says. “We are not afraid to turn models upside down.” He says he looks for teams that have an idea: “it could be someone who has an idea for a four-hour experience or a 400-hour experience,” and in the case of Blizzard, “I’m open to all those ideas. “
That 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 be showcased, that team will come to me and tell me we’re ready.” (He acknowledged that the recruiting website Blizzard launched for the game “received more attention than we thought,” which, he says, in retrospect, the company should have expected.)
However, you might want to prepare for more mobile games from Blizzard. The company has just launched Warcraft Rumbleand immortal devil appears to have been a success, earning more than half a billion dollars in its first year, according to Data.ai. (Although I imagine the company has not forgotten immortal devilMeme-worthy 2019 ad..) “Mobile telephony is a huge growth area for us,” he says. “I would love to have our IPs everywhere.”
Ybarra had nothing to share about if or when most Blizzard games would return to China, after they were shut down in the country in January. “There are millions of gamers in China who love Blizzard games, and everyone at Blizzard wants to make sure they can play our games,” says Ybarra. “We are a global company. I love us in every country in the world, including China. “So as we move forward, we’ll evaluate it and see what happens.”
And if you were waiting for news about Star boatUnfortunately, Ybarra had nothing to share about that series, even though Spencer mentioned it on stage during Friday’s keynote speech. “Star boat It is something we love,” says Ybarra. “We listened to the players’ comments about it. But we are still not talking about anything.”