Blizzard Company-Wide Meeting Reportedly Made Employees Feel "Extremely Unimportant And Unsupported"
A virtual Q&A session led by Blizzard president Mike Ybarra has not gone over well with Blizzard employees.
Blizzard developers who attended a recent virtual town hall meeting are outraged following comments made by Blizzard president Mike Ybarra, whose defense of controversial and unpopular policies like stack ranking and a return to office mandate has reportedly dealt a serious blow to morale at the studio.
As reported by Game Developer, a recent company-wide Q&A session where Ybarra answered pre-selected questions left employees reeling. Ybarra reportedly downplayed the news that employees would only be receiving 58% of their usual profit-sharing bonus, despite the last quarter being a record-setting one for Blizzard that saw the company's "highest quarterly net bookings to date," according to Activision Blizzard's fourth quarter earnings report. Ybarra reportedly suggested that employees who thought executives were not affected by the bonus cut like rank-and-file employees are "living in a myth." That statement did not go over well, as a slash in bonuses would obviously affect lower-earning employees more than executives making larger salaries.
When asked how company leadership planned to retain talent once employees are forced to return to the office for at least three days of the week starting in July, Ybarra reportedly didn't have any such plan. Instead, he simply said that at the end of the day, people need to do what makes them happy, and if the company's goals and an employee's personal goals don't align, that employee needs to "do what will make [them] happy." Many employees saw his statement as encouraging people unhappy with Blizzard's return to office mandate to simply quit the company.
In a statement provided to GameSpot, a Blizzard spokesperson said Ybarra also discussed how Blizzard will listen to feedback and balance what's best for the business, and for players, when it comes to the subject of the current return to office plan. Additionally, the spokesperson clarified that all existing long-term remote work agreements will be honored under the current return to office plan, and that the company will continue to evaluate long term remote work requests for existing and new employees in the future. Additionally, Blizzard will offer relocation support for those who will be required to move in order to work from the office.
Ybarra reportedly downplayed and defended the company's use of stack ranking for performance reviews, which recently made headlines when one of the lead developers on World of Warcraft Classic protested the policy and was quickly fired from the company. Blizzard reportedly enforces a mandate that requires a certain percentage of employees receive a "developing" rating for their yearly performance review regardless of their actual performance, a rating that can negatively impact profit-sharing and limit promotion opportunities.
At some point the conversation pivoted to concerns over how the return to office mandate and lower profit-sharing bonuses would affect those in lower-paying roles, typically those associated with customer service or quality assurance. Ybarra reportedly described some roles as "not long-term disciplines" in response, a comment that is said to have "cratered" morale for those working in quality assurance and customer support. A Blizzard spokesperson said Ybarra did not refer to a specific discipline or department, but that the comment was made in reference to Blizzard wanting its employees to "grow and take on expanded responsibility and opportunity." The spokesperson added that the company appreciates "the important role our QA and CS teams play in serving the players."
Numerous Blizzard employees have taken to social media in the last 24 hours to voice their outrage. Overwatch 2 senior game designer Dylan Snyder said on Twitter that in his over 10 years working in the game industry that he had "never been as embarrassed by leadership figures as I am in this moment." Overwatch senior character artist Bryan Bedford said his confidence in company leadership only extends to his direct team and no further in the wake of the meeting. A visual effects artist working on Blizzard's untitled survival game described the meeting as "just awful," and that it "made a large number of employees feel extremely unimportant and unsupported."
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Game Developer that the company stands by Ybarra's comments and is "proud of Mike's leadership in tough moments." A Blizzard spokesperson told GameSpot that Ybarra "treated employees with his usual trust and candor."
Ybarra is relatively new to the role of Blizzard president. He took over alongside Jen Oneal following the departure of former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack in 2021, in the wake of an ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit that criticized Activision Blizzard for fostering a "frat boy" workplace culture. Oneal didn't remain in her co-leader role alongside Ybarra for long, quitting Blizzard just a few months later, citing unequal pay as one of the reasons for her departure.
The controversial town hall meeting comes after Blizzard settled with both the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to the tune of millions of dollars, and as multiple groups within Blizzard have unionized.
The products discussed here were independently chosen by our editors. GameSpot may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Join the conversation