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Mike Ybarra exits Blizzard Entertainment after Microsoft layoffs

Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra says it's now time for him to once again be "Blizzard's biggest fan from the outside."

Bryant Francis

January 25, 2024

3 Min Read
Former Blizzard president Mike Ybarra holds a microphone.
Image via the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.

Today's decimating layoffs at Microsoft are also bringing big executive change at Blizzard Entertainment. In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), company president Mike Ybarra announced he is leaving the studio.

Ybarra's exit is just one of many earthshaking consequences of the ongoing layoffs. The departure comes mere months after Microsoft concluded its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a conglomeration that worried industry observers about the potential of mass layoffs.

"It’s an incredibly hard day and my energy and support will be focused on all those amazing individuals impacted," Ybarra wrote on the social media site. "This is in no way a reflection on your amazing work. If there’s anything I can help with, connections, recommendations, etc., DM me."

It's unclear if Ybarra was among the layoffs or made his own exit willingly. Ybarra is one of the few high-profile leaders to leave their studio in the wake of such massive cuts.

His departure extends a tumultuous period for the World of Warcraft and Overwatch 2 developer, a saga centered around allegations of workplace misconduct and mismanagement that was supposed to be resolved after Microsoft purchased its parent company. Allegations about sexual harassment and discrimination at the studio kicked off a three-year period of lawsuits, firings, and leadership shuffles that have reshaped the state of the studio.

Ybarra's time as president was not without controversy

Ybarra was hired at Blizzard Entertainment after company president J. Allen Brack departed the company in the wake of the California Civil Rights Division's lawsuit.

Though the then-former Microsoft executive was brought in as a stabilizing force for Blizzard, his time at the company came with its own newsworthy moments of tumult.

It began with the quick exit of executive Jen Oneal, who was supposed to join Ybarra as co-president of Blizzard. Oneal alleged to employees that she had been offered lower pay than Ybarra, a development that came right as the studio was denying it was systemically paying women lower salaries than their male counterparts.

To his credit, Ybarra had reportedly encouraged company leadership to bring their pay packages in alignment.

But Ybarra once again became the face of controversy at Blizzard when he led a Q&A with employees where he introduced a hardline and unpopular return-to-office policy and informed workers they would only receive 58 percent of their profit-sharing bonus after an "especially strong" fourth quarter.

Addressing the latter news, Ybarra explained to employees that he and other company leaders were also impacted by the reduced bonuses. "If you think that executives are making a lot of money and you aren't, you're living in a myth," he said at the time, seemingly unaware that the sentence sounded like he was downplaying the pay discrepancies between Ybarra and rank-and-file developers.

That discrepancy may, unfortunately, once again be on display with Ybarra's exit. As a leading executive, Ybarra is likely to receive a sizable "golden parachute" that his colleagues down the line will not.

His exit statement came with the message that he wants to support employees laid off by Microsoft. " I am always available to you and understand how challenging today’s news is. My heart is with each one of you."

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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