Microsoft’s big Blizzard shuffle ­– layoffs, a canceled game and a new president

On Monday, Blizzard announced the studio's first new leader since the acquisition.

Microsoft’s big Blizzard shuffle ­– layoffs, a canceled game and a new president
Microsoft logo is seen on a smartphone placed on displayed Activision Blizzard logo in this illustration taken January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

The backstory: Activision Blizzard, the giant video game company known for mega-hits like Call of Duty, Warcraft and Diablo, made headlines in October when tech giant Microsoft swooped in and bought it for almost US$69 billion. This deal followed a lengthy regulatory process in the UK and the US over worries that the new mega-gaming behemoth would unfairly stifle competition. But, a few agreements were made to reassure regulators, and the deal was done. Afterward, Activision Blizzard's long-standing CEO, Bobby Kotick, stepped down, paving the way for a new era where the remaining top execs from Blizzard began reporting to game content and studios president Matt Booty at Microsoft.

More recently: Last week, Blizzard announced a massive round of layoffs of 1,900 employees at Activision Blizzard and Xbox (most of them at Blizzard). With big changes in the air, Blizzard also canceled an upcoming game known as Odyssey, which had been in the works for six years. Odyssey aimed to be a survival game, like Minecraft, but more advanced. But even though it had a strong team, the project ran into problems, especially with the game's engine. The company also parted ways with President Mike Ybarra and Chief Design Officer and co-founder Allen Adham.

The development: On Monday, Blizzard announced the studio's first new leader since the acquisition. Johanna Faries, former Call of Duty and NFL executive, will be Blizzard's president starting February 5. Matt Cox will step into the role of Senior Vice President and General Manager of Call of Duty. Blizzard emphasized its focus on projects with strong growth potential. Some of the Odyssey team members were moved to other, newer projects. 

Key comments: 

"As difficult as making these decisions are, experimentation and risk-taking are part of Blizzard's history and the creative process," said Blizzard spokesman Andrew Reynolds. "Ideas make their way into other games or, in some cases, become games of their own. Starting something completely new is among the hardest things to do in gaming and we're immensely grateful to all of the talented people who supported the project."

"Activision, Blizzard, and King are decidedly different companies with distinct games, cultures, and communities," said Johanna Faries. "It is important to note that Call of Duty's way of waking up in the morning to deliver for players can often differ from the stunning games in Blizzard's realm: each with different gameplay experiences, communities that surround them, and requisite models of success. I've discussed this with the Blizzard leadership team, and I'm walking into this role with sensitivity to those dynamics and deep respect for Blizzard as we begin to explore taking our universes to even higher heights."

"Additionally, Allen Adham, Blizzard's Chief Design Officer, is leaving the company. As one of Blizzard's co-founders, Allen has had a broad impact on all of Blizzard's games. His influence will be felt for years to come, both directly and indirectly as Allen plans to continue mentoring young designers across the industry," said Microsoft game content and studios president Matt Booty in an internal memo. 

"As part of this focus, Blizzard is ending development on its survival game project and will be shifting some of the people working on it to one of several promising new projects Blizzard has in the early stages of development," said Booty in the memo