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In a time of industry crisis, Diablo franchise head Rod Fergusson is urging industry leaders to act with empathy.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

February 29, 2024

2 Min Read
Rod Fergusson and several Diablo IV developers onstage accepting their DICE 2024 award.
Image via the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.

At a Glance

  • After spending years getting Diablo IV's development on track, Rod Fergusson wants the game industry to lead with "empathy."
  • Fergusson's comments come just a few weeks after Microsoft laid off 1,800 workers—many at Blizzard Entertainment.
  • It's solid advice—but will any industry executives truly take it to heart?

Rod Fergusson, the venerated game industry producer who joined Blizzard Entertainment to oversee the Diablo franchise, has built a reputation as a trusted leader with real experience from the trenches of game development. Reporting on Diablo IV's troubled development indicated his stewardship, and his hiring of game director Joe Shely, helped get an unstable project back on track and revitalized developer motivation to make the next great Diablo game.

That stewardship gives Fergusson authority to speak on how game industry leaders need to behave in the midst of a major layoff crisis. His most relevant advice was this: "be empathetic...these people aren't knobs and dials."

Catching up with Fergusson after Microsoft had laid off 1,900 workers (many who had worked on Diablo IV and elsewhere at Blizzard Entertainment) was a slightly surreal affair. Fergusson had just accepted the award on behalf of the studio for Online Game of the Year—a huge win for his team, but a win that wouldn't be shared "back home" by many no longer with the studio.

That means Fergusson has gone from an executive who had to revitalize development on a struggling game to one who must now rally a creative team devastated by the loss of their colleagues.

Fergusson's advice boils down to "empathy and focus"

Sharp-eyed readers will note that Fergusson's advice on empathy, while strong, isn't that far off from the words we've heard form industry leaders who preach about care and kindness for employees moments before gutting their income and—in the United States—their healthcare.

It's to his credit then that he offered advice on what can help leaders show they are practicing empathy, not just preaching it. "One of the things that helps people through these [moments] is knowing what you have to do next," he said. It's important for people in his position to be able to answer the question "what's that focus?"

"What I really liked about our plans is that when we know what our plans are, when people have to go through challenging times, they're not lost and like 'I don't know what to do the next day.'"

One hopes that those words mean Blizzard's leadership does have real plans for game production after years of blundering comments from former president Mike Ybarra and a return-to-office plan that seems built more on spite than empathy.

It's difficult to read tea leaves from post-award speeches, but Fergusson's comments do echo how developers described the turnaround on Diablo IV. Fired senior developers Luis Barriga and Jesse McCree reportedly couldn't answer key questions about where development should go on Diablo IV, and Shely's appointment came with clear focus that the prior two developers (one of whom faced accusations of sexual harassment) lacked.

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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