It’s been less than three months since former Vicarious Visions head Jen Oneal stepped up to co-lead Blizzard alongside Mike Ybarra, following the departure of longtime veteran J. Allen Brack. On Tuesday, though, Oneal announced her sudden departure as the company continues to navigate lawsuits surrounding accusations of widespread harassment.
Oneal said in a statement that she will be stepping down from leadership immediately ahead of leaving the company entirely at the end of the year. “I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard, quite the opposite—I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting change with their whole hearts,” she wrote. “This energy has inspired me to step out and explore how I can do more to have games and diversity intersect, and hopefully make a broader industry impact that will benefit Blizzard (and other studios) as well… Blizzard’s best days are ahead. I truly believe that.”
Alongside Oneal’s departure, Activision Blizzard announced a donation of $1 million to Women in Games International, a nonprofit where Oneal serves on the board. “Though we will all miss [Oneal] greatly, we wish her all the best as we work with her on a plan to make an industry-wide impact through the WIGI grant,” Blizzard head Mike Ybarra said on an earnings call Tuesday.
Oneal’s sudden departure came just before Blizzard announced it is “planning for a later launch… than originally envisaged” for two of its most anticipated games: Diablo IV and Overwatch 2. Neither title will be released in 2022, the company said, though Blizzard is “still planning to deliver a substantial amount of content… next year.”
In an earnings call Tuesday, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick highlighted how tumult among Blizzard staff, from executives on down, has helped contribute to those delays. “In recent months, we have taken actions that resulted in the departure of a number of individuals across the company,” he said. “Additionally, we have seen increased competition in the market for our talent and higher voluntary turnover that has partly offset our success in hiring.”
“As we have worked with new leadership in Blizzard and within the franchises themselves, particularly in certain key creative roles, it has become apparent that some of the Blizzard content planned for next year will benefit from more development time to reach its full potential,” Kotick continued.
Ybarra added that while both games “have made great progress and passed important milestones recently… there’s obviously been a change in leadership.” Extra development time on Diablo and Overwatch will let Blizzard “continue significantly increasing the size of our development teams ahead of the launch,” he added.
Kotick: We’re making progress
This week’s news comes just days after Blizzard announced it was canceling planning for a 2022 Blizzcon gathering, which was going to be a hybrid virtual and in-person event. In announcing that move, the company said that “the energy it would take to put on a show like this is best directed towards supporting our teams and progressing development of our games and experiences.”
All this activity points to a company struggling to retain talent and reestablish its focus after months of being in the center of a public scandal. Kotick led off the company’s earnings call Tuesday by admitting once again that, “in certain instances relating to workplace culture, we should have done a better job ensuring our values were embraced across all parts of the company.” Evolving as “a great place to work” isn’t just the right thing to do, he said; instead, it’s necessary to “retain or attract the talent we need to realize our tremendous potential.”
Kotick also highlighted a pay equity study that he said showed “women on average earned slightly more than men for comparable work in 2020,” as well as a $250 million, 10-year company pledge for “initiatives that foster expanded opportunities in gaming and technology for underrepresented communities.” And he stressed new policies that will result in immediate termination—rather than written warnings—for employees found guilty of harassment or retaliation against whistleblowers.
Despite this, Kotick complained that the company “expect[s] that we’ll continue to face challenging and negative media attention regardless of our progress.”