Activision CEO breaks silence on workplace toxicity
On July 20, 2023, it will be exactly two years since the California Department of Fair Employment filed a lawsuit against gaming giant Activision Blizzard. Among the allegations, there were claims of racial discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment, and a general "frat boy" culture. But, has anything changed?
At the centre of the scandal was Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who remains in his position as the head honcho of the publisher. Although there was word that Kotick would be given a golden parachute if the Microsoft acquisition goes through, shareholders voted to keep him as CEO - and this is where he remains.
Bobby Kotick denies wrongdoing at Activision Blizzard
Despite the occasional PR spin on how things have changed at Activision Blizzard, Kotick has largely avoided discussing the issue. In a tell-all interview with Variety, he's now doubled down on the idea that these accusations were simply that, and nothing else.
Kotick claims that Activision Blizzard does not have "a systematic issue with harassment," and instead, blames a "very aggressive labour movement working hard to try and destabilise the company" for the grim accusations. Instead, he cites "outside forces" for giving the company a bad reputation.
Saying that "every possible form of investigation" was done, he added, "We didn't have any of what were mischaracterisations reported in the media." It comes after over 1,000 AB employees signed a petition to remove Kotick in November 2021.
According to the man himself, it's regulators causing the problems. In fact, his only regret is that he didn't defend Activision Blizzard further: "I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you if any of what you read in the inflammatory narrative was truthful."
Pointing out he has no control of voting right and saying he'd have been given the boot if he was at fault, Kotick summarised, "No board of directors in a noncontrolled company is going to allow the CEO of an enterprise to stay running the enterprise if those things were truthful."
What was the result of the Activision Blizzard case?
Despite Kotick and co. maintaining the company's innocence via its own internal investigation, there was an out-of-court settlement earlier in 2023. The SEC found that Activision Blizzard "failed to implement necessary controls to collect and review employee complaints about workplace misconduct" and issued a $35 million penalty.
The controversial company has never been far from the headlines, with further cases of sexual harassment and revenge porn, as well as mass worker walkouts over gender equality. Still, Activision Blizzard is looking toward the green team.
Discussing AB's potential acquisition under Microsoft, Kotick said, "I like the company. I like the culture. I'm really scared about the economy - compensation for talent has been ratcheting up in ways that are complex for us to deal with. So this deal made a lot of sense."
It's not all riding on Microsoft, as Kotick concludes, "We can continue to be successful alone like we have been for the last 30 years. But it’ll be great if the deal goes through because I think it's the right thing for our industry."
Trying to put the frat boy scandal behind Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick remains a divisive figurehead of the publisher. While it's unclear what Microsoft will do with him if the deal sails through, his latest interview suggests he isn't going anywhere.