Blizzard’s president on the studio’s ‘new era’ under Xbox

The dust is finally starting to settle from Microsoft’s huge 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 all this mean?’” Ybarra tells The Verge in an interview.

Ybarra doesn’t seem worried, though. As part of his opening remarks at Friday’s BlizzCon 2023 keynote, Ybarra said that the show was the start of a “new era” for the company.

“I think the way [Spencer] approaches building teams and focusing on culture and enabling creative freedom is going to give Blizzard a lot more of that 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 we ever have.” (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 just meeting people,” Ybarra says. “They didn’t want to talk about business.” It seems like that means any Microsoft-driven changes might be a little ways out; Spencer has already said not to expect any Activision Blizzard games on Xbox Game Pass until 2024, for example.

While we were talking, Ybarra reflected on Blizzard’s history, which he broke into three phases: pre-World of Warcraft (games like the first three Warcraft titles, Diablo and Diablo II, and StarCraft); World of Warcraft (released in 2004); and now “this next chapter” under Microsoft’s ownership.

Blizzard’s Chris Metzen introducing World of Warcraft’s next expansion at BlizzCon 2023.
Photo by Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

There are a lot of ways that the next chapter could go. Blizzard is juggling a lot of big live service games right now, including Diablo IV, Overwatch 2, classic and modern versions of World of Warcraft, and even a newly launched Warcraft mobile title. Diablo IV seems to be in a good place again after a post-launch stumble, while Overwatch 2 fans are still coming to grips with its ambitious hero mode getting scrapped and some potentially big changes to Overwatch esports. At BlizzCon, the company announced three brand-new World of Warcraft expansions under the “Worldsoul Saga” banner, but the announcement felt kind of like a Disney presentation of a new Marvel phase — which isn’t exactly a compliment at a time when Marvel isn’t doing so hot right now.

And Activision Blizzard, as a company, has had a tumultuous few years as it’s reckoned with litigation over an alleged culture of