Microsoft completed its acquisition of Activision Blizzard in October, and shortly thereafter, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer confirmed on the Official Xbox Podcast that he was going to visit Activision Blizzard studios in the coming weeks. Spencer did so prior to BlizzCon 2023, where he also ended up making an appearance during the Opening Ceremony to reaffirm Xbox’s commitment to support all of Blizzard’s major franchises. To get a better idea of what Spencer’s studio visit and BlizzCon appearance felt like for Blizzard developers, we asked John Hight, Warcraft franchise general manager, and Rod Fergusson, Diablo general manager, about the experience.
“They actually came out a couple of weeks ago, Phil and a lot of his leadership team. What was nice about it was we had prepared all of these PowerPoints and stuff, but they just wanted to meet the teams,” Hight told Digital Trends. “They had lunch out in our patio, the cafe. We had hundreds of employees and Phil made himself available just to talk to people. He just wanted to see some of the games and meet some of the people, so we gave him a demo of one of the areas in The War Within for a while, and then we had [game designer] Tom [Chilton] demo Warcraft Rumble. It was fun because we started to go through introductions and I said ‘Clearly you’re having fun playing the game, you can tune out and just play that.’ They’ve been very supportive. I think they’re excited by the fact that, especially with Warcraft, we have a diversity of games and platforms that we’re building for.”
For Fergusson, the Phil Spencer connection goes even deeper, as he worked with and at Microsoft for several years on the Gears of War franchise. He reiterated many of Hight’s sentiments, affirming that the primary goal of Xbox leadership’s visit was to get to know the people at Blizzard Entertainment.
“Him and his leadership team came … for a day visit to get to meet the people, and so that was nice,” Fergusson told Digital Trends. “They were doing this sort of road show where they went to King and then Activision and then they came to Blizzard. But it was less focused on ‘here’s our strategy’ or ‘here’s all the business stuff.’ It was more about ‘Who are you? Who are these people?’ They went out of their way to meet the leadership teams, introduce everyone, and get a general sense of who the people are, names to faces, which was really nice.”
Fergusson went on to then discuss Spencer’s appearance at BlizzCon in further detail, saying it reminded him of working with Spencer at E3 2019. Fergusson compared the feeling to that of a band getting back together.
“At the opening ceremony, having Phil there was cool because I was onstage with him in 2019 at E3. Having him backstage, making fun of him while he’s getting his makeup done, and all of that stuff felt very familiar. I mean, I did 15 years at Microsoft, so it feels good to be going back into that group. There’s a getting the band back together kind of feeling. What’s exciting is that Microsoft is going to enable and empower Blizzard. As Phil talked about in the speech, he’s going to make sure that we’re able to do the things that we want to do and empower us to do that.”
In terms of the next big launches for Blizzard under Microsoft, World of Warcraft’s The War Within expansion and Diablo IV’s Vessel of Hatred expansion are both expected to launch in 2024.
Disclosure: Blizzard Entertainment and PR agency TriplePoint paid for accommodations so that Digital Trends could attend BlizzCon 2023.