Generally at this time of year, the video game industry is totally focused on major releases and The Game Awards, the awards gala hosted by Geoff Keighley. In 2021, however, the spotlight has turned to a much more important issue that has nothing to do with gaming. Activision Blizzard, one of the largest publishers in the world – responsible for Call of duty, for example—, is in the eye of the hurricane for a shameful scandal that will surely have repercussions in the near future.
Although the information that emerged during this week is focused on the figure of Bobby kotick (Robert A. Kotick), the always controversial CEO of Activision, the reality is that the origin of the problem arose months ago. And it is also a situation that has unfortunately already occurred in other companies in the industry. Ubisoft experienced a similar situation and, to date, has not been able to fully resolve it. What exactly is happening with Activision? We go over it from the beginning below.
The lawsuit that blew up everything
On July 21, the unexpected happened. The State of California, through the Department of Housing and Fair Employment, presented a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. The accusations include repeated sexual harassment and unequal treatment of women who work at the US publisher. It is worth mentioning that the legal actions arise after an exhaustive investigation that reveals, once again, the regrettable work environment of the company.
We say “again” because the reports about the macho culture and discrimination that exists in Blizzard go back several years. It is precisely this information that prompted the State of California to initiate the investigation. Of course, it is not a minor situation. It is the first time that a US government organization of such a hierarchy has faced a company for this type of problem.
Activision responded quickly: “We cannot allow outrageous third-party actions and a truly undeserved and irresponsible lawsuit to undermine our culture of respect and equal opportunity for all employees.” Even more troubling, they noted that the lawsuit includes “distorted and, in many cases, false descriptions of Blizzard’s past.”
The painful response caused more than 2,500 employees to interrupt their activities on July 28 to make a strike. They demanded labor fairness and, evidently, criticized the company’s position in the face of the lawsuit:
“We believe that these statements have undermined our continued pursuit of equality within and outside of our industry. The categorization of allegations made as ‘distorted and, in many cases, false’ creates a business environment that discredits victims. It also raises questions about the ability of our organizations to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions and promote a safe environment for victims to speak out in the future. “
Bobby Kotick intervenes for the first time
Faced with such scandal, on the same July 28, Bobby Kotick came out to offer a first statement, acknowledging that Activision’s initial position was wrong. “Our initial response to the problem we all have to grapple with was, frankly, desperate.”. The manager took advantage of his intervention to assure employees that they are doing what is necessary to address complaints:
“We are taking swift action to be the compassionate and caring company they chose to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place in our company for discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment of any kind. We will do everything we can to ensure that together let’s improve and build an inclusive workplace that is essential for fostering creativity and inspiration. “
Investors demand stronger actions
The month after, finally shareholders took action. After all, your money is in a company whose image was seriously affected. On August 2, the Rosen Law firm, representing a group of shareholders, filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard. They accuse her of allegedly making “false and / or misleading statements and / or failing to disclose details about discrimination against minority women and employees.”
Additionally, they claim that they were never informed that the company was under investigation for two years. Their demand includes being compensated for the economic losses they suffered in recent weeks. Why? The value of the shares plummeted after the lawsuit – that of the State of California – became known.
A week later (August 10), in an interview with Axios, Dieter Waizenegger, CEO of the investment group Strategic Organizing Center (SOC), made it clear that Activision’s response to the lawsuit was “inadequate”. He also mentioned that Activision’s promises are “far enough away to address deep and pervasive issues about equity, inclusion and human capital management.”
Blizzard leaders leave the company
Amid the scandal, one of Blizzard’s top leaders resigned. We talk about J. Allen Brack, who served as president since 2018. Jen Oneal stayed in her place, but “surprisingly” she left the post just three months later (November 2):
“I’m not doing it because I’m not hopeful of Blizzard, quite the opposite: I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working for meaningful and lasting change with all my heart. This energy has inspired me to step forward. and explore how I can do more to make games and diversity intersect and hopefully have a broader impact on the industry that benefits Blizzard (and other studios) as well. “
Despite the above, a report from The Wall Street Journal —In which we will delve further later— exposed a leaked email where Oneal explains that she has been “marginalized and discriminated against”. She was paid less than J. Allen Brack and was sexually harassed while working at Activision.
Mike ybarra, known in the industry for having been vice president of Xbox and who in 2019 joined the ranks of Blizzard, took the presidency.
The Wall Street Journal uncover the real Kotick
History took an abrupt turn when, on November 16, The Wall Street Journal published a report that shocked the industry. According to their research, Bobby Kotick was fully aware of the issues of sexual harassment and discrimination at Activision. The most serious, however, is expressed in the following lines: “For years, Kotick himself has been accused by several women of inappropriate behavior inside and outside the workplace, and in some cases has maneuvered to resolve complaints quickly and quietly “,
During 2006, always according to the information of the aforementioned media, Kotick harassed and threatened to kill an assistant via voicemail, although he apologized for what happened shortly after. A year later, the manager was sued for unjustifiably firing a flight attendant – from his private jet – who accused him of sexual harassment. In 2008 they settled with an out-of-court settlement that involved a payment of $ 200,000 to the victim.
Kotick would still have been accessory to shameful situations. Firstly, the case of a Sledgehammer Games employee who reported having been raped by a supervisor in 2016 and 2017 stands out. Although Activision “solved” it through an out-of-court settlement with the victim’s lawyer, Kotick never reported what happened to the board of directors,
In 2017, Dan Bunting, co-director of Treyarch (Call of Duty Black Ops), was accused of sexual harassment by an employee. Although an internal investigation determined the guilt of the aforementioned, Bobby Kotick stepped in so he wasn’t fired. Bunting left Treyarch on November 17 after a wave of criticism against him.
During 2020, employees of Activision’s Esports division reported acts of sexual assault and discrimination by supervisors. Kotick learned of what happened via email, but did not act forcefully. Instead of firing the bullies, they were sent to diversity talks.
The board of directors shows its support to the CEO
As incredible as it may seem, Board members showed their support for Kotick after the publication of WSJ:
“The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to making Activision Blizzard the most inclusive company in the industry. Under the leadership of Bobby Kotick, the company is already implementing industry changes, including a zero tolerance policy for harassment. It is an effort to achieve significant increases in the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunity. The board remains confident that Bobby Kotick adequately addressed workplace issues. “
PlayStation and Xbox speak out against Activision
A scandal of this magnitude is also generating concern in the upper echelons of other industry giants. Bloomberg retrieved an email where Jim ryan, head of Sony Interactive Entertainment (PlayStation), expresses his surprise at what happened. “We do not believe that Activision Blizzard’s statements adequately cover this situation.”, critical.
Activision echoed both statements, and this was its response: “We respect all feedback from our valued partners and are more engaged with them. We have detailed important changes that we have implemented in recent weeks and will continue to do so. We are committed to the work. to ensure our culture and workplace are safe, diverse and inclusive. We know it will take time, but we won’t stop until we have the best workplace for our team. “
The revealing report of WSJ it exhausted the patience of some investors. In a letter recovered by The Washington Post, the SOC group approached the board of directors to demand the resignation of several managers, including the CEO:
“Bobby Kotick was aware of many incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault and gender discrimination at Activision Blizzard, but did not ensure that the executives responsible were fired or acknowledge the systematic nature of the hostile culture in the workplace of the company. company.”
If the company does not comply with your request, they warn that will not vote in favor of the re-election of the members of the board of directors. “After the new disclosures, it is clear that the current leadership repeatedly failed to maintain a safe workplace. It is a core function of their job. Activision Blizzard needs a new CEO, chairman of the board and lead independent director with the experience, the skills and conviction to truly change the culture of the company. We really need to have a reset button, “they concluded.
Definitely, this topic still has more chapters to tell.