Microsoft cancels Blizzard survival game, lays off 1,900

Enlarge / Blizzard shared this image teasing a now-cancelled game in 2022.

Blizzard Entertainment/Twitter

The survival game that Blizzard announced it was working on in January 2022 has reportedly been cancelled. The cut comes as Microsoft is slashing jobs a little over four months after closing its $69 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition.

Blizzard’s game didn’t have a title yet, but Blizzard said it would be for PC and console and introduce new stories and characters. In January 2022, Blizzard put out a call for workers to help build the game.

The game’s axing was revealed today in an internal memo from Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer seen by publications including The Verge and CNBC that said:

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.

Spencer said Microsoft was laying off 1,900 people, starting today, with workers continuing to receive notifications in the coming days. The layoffs affect 8.64 percent of Microsoft’s 22,000-employee gaming division.

Another internal memo, written by Matt Booty, Microsoft’s game content and studios president, and seen by The Verge, said the layoffs are hitting “multiple” Blizzard teams, “including development teams, shared service organizations and corporate functions.” In January 2022, after plans for the merger were first announced, Bobby Kotick, then-CEO of Activision Blizzard, reportedly told employees at a meeting that Microsoft was “committed to trying to retain as many of our people as possible.”

Spencer said workers in Microsoft’s Xbox and ZeniMax Media businesses will also be impacted. Microsoft acquired ZeniMax, which owns Bethesda Softworks, for $7.5 billion in a deal that closed in March 2021.

After a bumpy ride with global regulators, Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard purchase closed in October. Booty’s memo said the job cuts announced today “reflect a focus on products and strategies that hold the most promise for Blizzard’s future growth, as well as identified areas of overlap across Blizzard and Microsoft Gaming.”

He claimed that layoffs would “enable Blizzard and Xbox to deliver ambitious games… on more platforms and in more places than ever before,” as well as “sustainable growth.”

Spencer’s memo said:

As we move forward in 2024, the leadership of Microsoft Gaming and Activision Blizzard is committed to aligning on a strategy and an execution plan with a sustainable cost structure that will support the whole of our growing business. Together, we’ve set priorities, identified areas of overlap, and ensured that we’re all aligned on the best opportunities for growth.

Laid-off employees will receive severance as per local employment laws, Spencer added.

Additional departures

Blizzard President Mike Ybarra announced via his X profile today that he is leaving the company. Booty’s memo said Ybarra “decided to leave” since the acquisition was completed. Ybarra was a top executive at Microsoft for over 20 years, including leadership positions at Xbox, before he started working at Blizzard in 2019.

Blizzard’s chief design officer, Allen Adham, is also leaving the company, per Booty’s memo.

The changes at the game studio follow Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick exiting on January 1.

Microsoft also laid off 10,000 people, or about 4.5 percent of its reported 221,000-person workforce, last year, as it worked to complete its Activision Blizzard buy. Microsoft blamed those job cuts on “macroeconomic conditions and changing customer priorities.”

Today’s job losses also join a string of recently announced tech layoffs, including at IBM, Google, SAP, and eBay and in the gaming community platforms Unity, Twitch, and Discord. However, layoffs following Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard deal were somewhat anticipated, due to expected redundancies among the Washington tech giant’s biggest merger ever. This week, Microsoft hit a $3 trillion market cap, becoming the second company to do so (after Apple).

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