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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Blizzard Exec Exodus Boosts Gaming Startups

For Blizzard Entertainment, the largest software company in Orange County by headcount, some of the most-anticipated announcements aren’t just ones involving new releases of popular titles like World of Warcraft or Diablo, but those involving new startups led by former execs at the Irvine-based video game giant.

The latest entry to the area’s growing collection of gaming upstarts with ties to Blizzard was announced earlier this month, with the unveiling of a new game studio, Magic Soup Games.

Blizzard veterans J. Allen Brack, Jen Oneal, and John Donham are heading Magic Soup, which aims to create “massive AAA games that have positive themes.” AAA titles are considered the highest-quality games in the industry, with big budgets and marketing campaigns.

Magic Soup hasn’t announced details on its first planned release, or a time frame for its release.

The trio has decades of experience at Blizzard and its Santa Monica-based parent company, Activision Blizzard Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI), which continues to seek regulatory approvals for its $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).

Brack led Blizzard for three years, before leaving in 2021. Oneal, who is the company’s CEO, stepped in to co-lead Blizzard briefly after his departure. Donham served as Blizzard’s chief of staff and vice president of special projects.

Brack, who led Blizzard after the departure of company co-founder Mike Morhaime, will lead game development at Magic Soup and Donham will oversee operation, according to a statement.

The company said it is “well-funded for many years to come with plenty of runway for a healthy incubation period for our new game,” though the amount it has raised and investors haven’t been disclosed.

A release touting the new company cited Irvine as Magic Soup’s base, though the company stresses it will be operating under a remote-working structure.

Growing Ranks

Magic Soup adds to a growing collection of new gaming upstarts from ex-Blizzard notables, with a bulk of the companies planting their base in Irvine and other parts of OC.

Morhaime in 2020 launched a game studio called Dreamhaven, which has invested in several other gaming upstarts and is based not far from Blizzard’s expansive campus in the Irvine Spectrum (see story, this page).

Notable local firms include Irvine’s Frost Giant Studios, which last year said it had raised $25 million in Series A funding to expand its headquarters, recruit additional workers, purchase tech upgrades, and create a real-time strategy game for “die-hard fans and new players alike.”

Frost Giant was founded in 2020 by games industry veterans Tim Morten and Tim Campbell, both formerly with Blizzard.

Irvine’s Second Dinner studio, whose founding team also counts Blizzard ties, has raised $30 million and has inked a partnership with Marvel, according to reports.

This month also saw the unveiling of new gaming studio Gas Giant Games, founded by Jay Wilson and Julian Love, both who previously worked on Blizzard’s Diablo franchise. It’s based in Huntington Beach.

Return-to-Office Plans

Expect more activity at the expansive Irvine headquarters campus of video game maker Blizzard Entertainment in the coming months.

Blizzard announced last month that employees will be required to work from the company’s office at least three days per week starting July 10. Much of its local staff had been working remotely since the onset of the pandemic.

Its sprawling campus in the Spectrum area of the city tops 700,000 square feet of space, according to regulatory filings, making it one of the top office tenants in OC. Blizzard leases space primarily from Irvine Co. and Olen Properties, both based in Newport Beach.

“Activision Blizzard has been returning teams to the office over the past year, and on February 13th, we updated our future-of-work plan,” according to a statement from the company’s parent company provided to the Business Journal.

“In close partnership with each leadership team, we customize a plan based on what’s best for our business and our teams. We look forward to the increased real-time, in-person collaboration and opportunities this change will foster.”

Blizzard Entertainment had an estimated 2,700 employees in Orange County as of last summer.

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