Blizzard Entertainment staff throughout the World of Warcraft and Overwatch 2 publisher say they’re demoralized, outraged, and upset after a gathering held Thursday by Blizzard president Mike Ybarra. Shortly after that meeting, Blizzard staff began tweeting about what they called a disappointing showing from leadership, and publicly challenged Ybarra’s statements. Their outward show of solidarity comes as some video game industry staff — including those at Activision Blizzard itself — proceed efforts to arrange the industry’s first labor unions.
Game Developer on Thursday published an in depth account of the meeting, describing a Q&A that intended to deal with an “worker satisfaction survey.” Blizzard leadership pre-screened questions about its “stack rating” process for evaluating employees, reduced profit-sharing, and the corporate’s return-to-office mandate. Polygon has since spoken to several Blizzard developers who described the low morale that followed the meeting.
Blizzard spokesperson Andrew Reynolds confirmed many points made through the meeting, and told Polygon the corporate stands by Ybarra’s statements and “leadership in tough moments.”
Game Developer said the reduced profit-sharing plan, which might see staff receiving just 58% of their promised bonus, got here as a shock; two weeks ago, Activision Blizzard announced quarterly financial results that it called a kickoff to a “strong financial performance in 2023.” At Blizzard Entertainment specifically, sales and operating income nearly doubled — a staggering 90% — as Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo all generated greater than $100 million in net bookings, Activision Blizzard said.
Ybarra spoke about profit sharing on the meeting, suggesting that staff who consider executives are making extra money are “living in a myth.” The profit-sharing cut to 58% applies to executives similar to it does employees, Ybarra said. Still, that doesn’t account for extreme salaries differences amongst executives and employees. A functional tester in Santa Monica is paid between $14 and $26 an hour, while a chief of staff’s salary is upwards of $270,000 a 12 months. (These numbers are furnished by job postings on Indeed.) They’re markedly different jobs, but a profit-sharing cut little doubt impacts those staff in another way.
Pay got here up again when Ybarra spoke on the corporate’s return-to-office mandate, which begins in just a few months and requires staff to come back back the office for 3 days every week after two years that accommodated make money working from home. King, the Activision Blizzard subsidiary that makes Candy Crush, has already returned to office, for instance. Each of the publisher’s subsidiaries is making its own decisions on work-from-home, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Joe Christinat said.
Regardless of the case, commuting to work adds on one other significant expense for workers, not to say the prices of moving for those hired from out-of-state through the pandemic. Blizzard spokesperson Reynolds said that Blizzard will honor its current long-term distant agreements, and make exceptions “for medical or religious reasons.” Customer support staff will proceed to work distant, too.
“We’ll make decisions at times that not everyone will agree with — like all other business leader would with a team of over 4,500 individuals,” Reynolds said.
Game Developer also reported that Ybarra made comments that staff interpreted as meaning those that don’t agree with the return-to-office policy should quit the corporate. Blizzard confirmed to Polygon that Ybarra’s statements were accurately quoted, but added that Blizzard is “listening to the team’s feedback.”
Labor experts have suggested that return-to-work orders are also a way for employers to chop their workforce without resorting to layoffs, and the bad publicity and morale that follows. Matthew E. Kahn, an economics professor and writer of Going Distant: How the Flexible Work Economy Can Improve Our Lives and Our Cities, suggested that Tesla can have taken that approach earlier this 12 months.
“During this extraordinary time when some firms need to cut their workforces, relatively than firing people, if you have got this return to office, the boss can strut around that she or he is a captain of industry and you’ll get people quitting who were on the fence,” Kahn told Polygon. “Can we agree that if people quit, that’s less ugly than firing people?”
After addressing the return-to-work orders, Ybarra talked about “some” of its disciplines not being “long-term” roles. Blizzard rep Reynolds confirmed those comments, but said it didn’t specifically reference any roles, and wasn’t targeted at QA or customer support.
But developers didn’t see it that way — many on social media took it was an insult to QA and customer support, two fields which can be widely undervalued within the video game industry — and likewise among the many first to unionize. These roles, while essential, are vulnerable to low pay and crunch, and treated as in the event that they’re expendable. Ybarra’s comments, staff suggested, underline that misconception.
Behind the scenes, QA staff at multiple Activision Blizzard studios are organizing unions in a bid to wrest back agency over their roles. Two QA departments have successfully unionized — at Diablo 4 studio Blizzard Albany and Call of Duty: Warzone studio Raven Software. Each are represented by Communications Employees of America; the following step is contract bargaining for higher advantages, compensation, and workplace protections.
The influx of social media postings from Blizzard staff on Thursday could be seen as a type of solidarity, and it’s unusual to see this in an industry as secretive as video games. After the California Civil Rights Department filed its lawsuit against Activision Blizzard was filed in 2021, staff were quick to call out CEO Bobby Kotick; many even walked out and callied for his resignation.
But this moment feels different, as staff contend with their leadership at individual studios.