Blizzard co-head Jen Oneal announced her resignation earlier this month, barely three months after taking the job, saying that she was “inspired by the passion of everyone” at the studio to move to a more industry-wide approach to improving diversity and inclusion. But according to a new IGN report, she was also motivated in part by the fact that she was being paid less than her counterpart Mike Ybarra, and that Blizzard was apparently reluctant to address the imbalance.
In a message to Blizzard employees, Ybarra said that he and Oneal told Activision Blizzard management that they wanted to be paid the same amount, because they were doing the same job. They were being paid differently, he explained, because they were under separate, existing contracts when they were offered the job to head up Blizzard.
“I ran [Battle.net & Online Products] and she ran [Vicarious Visions] so our pay was different,” Ybarra said. “The first time both Jen and I were offered a new contract, it was the same across both of us for the new co-leader of Blizzard roles, so our compensation was going to be the same.”
Ybarra’s explanation apparently came in response to allegations made in a recent Wall Street Journal report, which says that shortly after Oneal took the top job at Blizzard she sent an email to Activision’s legal department complaining that the company “would never prioritize our people the right way.” She also said in the email that she had been sexually harassed at the company and was being paid less than Ybarra, and wanted to discuss her resignation.
Oneal took issue with one element of Ybarra’s Slack message, saying in separate chat that while they did in fact take the Blizzard co-lead jobs under unequal contracts, there was no immediate offer to make them equivalent: “It remained that way for some time well after we made multiple rejected requests to change it to parity,” she wrote. In fact, it wasn’t until after Oneal tendered her resignation that she and Ybarra were offered equivalent money.
Oneal said she clarified the point in order to ensure there was no “misunderstanding about when I was offered equivalent compensation,” but the comments stand in stark contrast to the surprisingly optimistic statement released when she announced her resignation.
“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,” Oneal wrote at the time. “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.”
Despite the upbeat messaging, her resignation hit many employees hard: One source at Activision Blizzard told PC Gamer that her surprise announcement had “killed” a morale boost employees were feeling in the wake of concessions to employee demands that company management had made in October.
It’s also impossible to overlook the inherent hypocrisy in the pay differential between Oneal and Ybarra. Blizzard said the new leaders were committed to ensuring the studio “is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background,” yet it couldn’t be bothered to ensure they were being paid equally for holding equivalent roles.
Oneal and Ybarra assumed control of Blizzard in August 2021 after the departure of then-president J. Allen Brack, who stepped down amidst the ongoing scandal over persistent discrimination and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard. Oneal tendered her resignation on November 2 but will remain with the company until the end of 2021.