Former Blizzard president gives Xbox advice after brutal studio closures: "This all comes down to making great games"

Activision Blizzard
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

As the Xbox community reels from a brutal round of studio closures, former Blizzard president Mike Ybarra is urging the company to redirect its focus toward making great games.

Shortly after the grim news was announced that Xbox had shut down four studios including Redfall dev Arkane Austin and Hi-Fi Rush studio Tango Gameworks, Ybarra shared a lengthy Twitter post defending Xbox boss Phil Spencer's character and expressing sympathy for those impacted by the closures. In something of a follow-up, Ybarra takes a slightly more critical tone and offers his former employer some strategic guidance.

Ybarra prefaces his message by assuring "I 100% love Xbox and think Xbox can find a path to great success for their teams and players around the world. 100%. 110%!" And although he goes on to repeatedly praise Xbox and calls Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella "a fantastic leader," he does assert, "the strategy isn't working as expected" and says "strategies have to continually shift in a market that moves as fast as gaming does."

Without addressing the recent studio closures directly, the tone of Ybarra's tweet overall is lovingly critical, if not disapproving. Again, the wordy, at times repetitive tweet is peppered with instances of "I wish great success for Xbox" and "I'm cheering for Xbox," but ultimately this is 800 words of advice directed toward a company in the midst of a PR crisis of its own making.

"I'll say again, this all comes down to making great games," Ybarra says. "If you make great games, consumer demand will follow and your business can do well even in low market growth years. A great game is a $500M-1B+ profit generator for the business (across platforms). 

"If you aren't making great games then your hardware isn't selling, and your subscription is flatlining .... the clarity of strategy or execution is broken somewhere and needs to be fixed inclusive of ensuring leadership and team capability to drive great game development and growth," he continues. "They 100% have teams who can make great games. It just isn't consistently happening."

In Ybarra's mind, Xbox has two paths to success: going all in on platform exclusivity, Game Pass, and hardware in a "go big plan" - which he sees as the "high risk/high reward" plan that "takes a strong desire to win" - or ditching hardware entirely and fully embracing its identity as a publisher across all platforms.

Diablo 4

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Particularly in light of current events, the grand scheme at Xbox does seem a little unclear at the moment. At once, high-profile first-party Xbox games like Sea of Thieves are coming to PlayStation, with reports claiming the company's biggest releases of the year are lined up for PS5 launches. And then you've got the whole 'Play Anywhere,' 'Xbox Everywhere' philosophy Spencer and co. have touted for years. But how do you square that Xbox's frightening buyout blitz, exclusivity deals, and baffling decision to close studios behind some of its most beloved and critically acclaimed franchises?

"Being the world's largest publisher of games is a great spot to be in - as long as you can make great games," adds Ybarra. "If you can't, you'll be right back where you started. You have the pick your lane and go hard at it for success, with clear communication to your players. If you play in the middle of these two paths, IMHO you'll hurt your teams and you'll have constant churn and chaos.

"It starts and ends with a strong desire to win and making great games that exceed player expectations. That is what is fragile now and needs to be addressed as soon as possible."

Ybarra is firmly in Xbox's corner despite leaving the company at the beginning of the year amid a restructuring that resulted in 1,900 redundancies. And although he says he's "cheering for Xbox and it pains me to see all the negative swirl," he does give fans of the brand some two-pronged words of wisdom: "Keep the faith in Xbox but ask for clarity on what the path forward is for the brand and product. Then make your own decision on what is best for you and your valuable time and money."

Meanwhile, Xbox's president recently swerved around a question about closing the Hi-Fi Rush and Prey teams by saying "success for each game and studio is really unique".

Jordan Gerblick

After scoring a degree in English from ASU, I worked as a copy editor while freelancing for places like SFX Magazine, Screen Rant, Game Revolution, and MMORPG on the side. Now, as GamesRadar's west coast Staff Writer, I'm responsible for managing the site's western regional executive branch, AKA my apartment, and writing about whatever horror game I'm too afraid to finish.