Xbox leadership addressed Blizzard staff for the first time today, striving to earn the studio's 'trust'

 Blizzard art from Klobrille on Twitter.
Blizzard art from Klobrille on Twitter.

What you need to know

  • Xbox recently acquired Activision-Blizzard-King for 69 billion dollars.

  • The acquisition comes at a difficult time for Microsoft, whose gaming firm is lagging behind competitors like PlayStation and Tencent, and faces a battle for attention with companies like Apple.

  • Microsoft has been touring its new studios over the last few weeks, and today met with Blizzard.

  • During a speech to staff shared with us by sources familiar, Xbox lead Phil Spencer said he wants to help Blizzard achieve its dreams and be a source of trust for the studio.

Microsoft finalized its acquisition of Activision Blizzard King a couple of weeks ago, giving Xbox full control over franchises like Crash Bandicoot, World of Warcraft, and Call of Duty. The merging of two of the game industry's most prolific companies comes after years of regulatory battles across the world, and stands to mark a new era for both Microsoft and Activision Blizzard.

To mark the occasion, Xbox's leadership team comprised of Phil Spencer, Matt Booty, Sarah Bond, and others visited Blizzard's headquarters today in Irvine, California, with the team addressing staff for the first time.

Sources familiar with the commentary noted that it was a relatively low-key affair and that Spencer emphasized that he had no "answers" today and that right now, Xbox was listening to the needs and desires of staffers instead. Spencer said that Microsoft is striving to be a source of trust for Blizzard, and wants to enable Blizzard to achieve its visions and dreams. The sentiments echo similar comments Spencer has made to other acquired studios, in that Microsoft wants to help developers create their dream games.

I've written in the past how Blizzard "changed" after it merged with Activision, whose shareholder culture demanded a very specific type of experience — often to the detriment of quality. I would argue that Blizzard has found its footing again in recent years, with World of Warcraft in a better shape than it has been in years, and Diablo 4 reaching a level of photorealism we rarely see in the industry in general. Microsoft's leadership reportedly remarked that they see Blizzard as the "Pixar" of the gaming industry, owing to the pioneering nature of the brand, and the legacy of innovating with new genres and technologies.

It's a tad speculative, but I was told as well that Activision branding was notably decoupled from Blizzard during the event. The backdrop shared by the Xbox team at the event featured only Xbox and Blizzard branding. Indeed, former Xbox CVP and current Blizzard President Mike Ybarra shared the above canvas showing Blizzard and Xbox iconography present side by side. It could be indicative that Blizzard will regain some managerial independence from Activision, who has often been criticized to me as "meddling" from both current and former Blizzard staff.

Activision was present on the ground too, though. Activision's EVP for Corporate Affairs Lulu Cheng Meservey shared some shots of Xbox CVP Sarah Bond and Xbox CEO Phil Spencer on Blizzard's campus. I'm told the team shared stories of Blizzard games they'd played with staff, and that there was an air of optimism for the future — albeit with some quiet anxiety.

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Blizzard has had a difficult few years. Layoffs have been an ever-present fixture at the studio, atop a legacy of toxic workplace culture that saw the brand make headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Microsoft stepping in to take the reins should serve as something of a "page-turner" for Blizzard, although as Phil Spencer said, there needs to be some answers to some of the most burning questions. Will Microsoft seek its own round of layoffs? Will Microsoft seek to downsize or kill off certain games in maintenance mode? What other potentially disruptive decisions could Microsoft hand down from upon high?

Some of the best Xbox games of all time were created by the experts at Blizzard. I hope Microsoft is working to answer those lingering questions soon, and hopefully lead Blizzard to a much-deserved brighter future. We'll likely have to wait a while longer to know for certain, though. Xbox has already confirmed its next event, but its new studios at Activision Blizzard will not be present there. Indeed, we won't even see Activision Blizzard games land on Xbox Game Pass until 2024, it seems.