The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that, in a Friday meeting with company executives, embattled Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has said he would consider stepping down if he can’t quickly solve the internal cultural problems at the developer. While Kotick did not commit to stepping down, senior managers familiar with the meeting said he left open the possibility he might leave if company-wide misconduct wasn’t addressed and corrected “with speed.” Labor issues have erupted stemming from sexual harassment, abuse, and gendered pay discrimination at the company.
Kotick has been in charge of Activision Blizzard for the last 10 years, and was in charge of Activision for 20 years before that. So, as in September, when Activision Blizzard settled an $18 million lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as soon as the lawsuit was announced, and Kotick said they were taking a vigilant eye toward conduct at the company, it’s hard to wonder where that vigilance was coming from.
Kirsten Grind, Ben Fritz, and Sarah E. Needleman at The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Kotick knew of harassment and alleged rape that had happened in his company for longer than he had let on, misleading the board of directors about the timeline of his knowledge, as well as perpetuating some bad behavior himself. This led to a Tuesday walkout by Activision Blizzard employees demanding Kotick’s resignation, as well as that of Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulato and Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs Frances Townsend. There was also a petition signed by nearly 1500 employees calling for Kotick to step down.
The Wall Street Journal piece also revealed that Kotick wrote an email signed by Fran Townsend in July which sparked outrage among Activision Blizzard employees and the media, and that Kotick had in fact himself referred to as “tone-deaf.” Townsend stepped down from her position as executive sponsor of Activision Blizzard’s Women’s Network as a result of the company-wide outrage sparked by the email, while retaining her position as CCO. Besides impersonating and besmirching an executive who doesn’t need anyone’s help to be besmirched (she’s a torture apologist that used to work for the Bush Administration), Kotick also verbally threatened the life of a female employee, according to Kirsten Grind.
More than 350 Activision Blizzard employees also walked out this summer following the singing of an open letter by over 3100 employees demanding changes related to these same company-wide allegations of harassment and discrimination. The walkout coincided with a player logout in solidarity, as well as Activision Blizzard contracting a union-busting law firm.
Just since the lawsuit was filed in July, the company has received more than 500 internal reports of sexual harassment, assault, and similar issues. Jen O’Neal was promoted to co-lead at Blizzard this August, and stepped down after finding that issues were not being addressed, as well as that she was being paid less than her male co-lead, Mike Ybarra. In a letter to Blizzard’s legal department in September, O’Neal said she was also “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.” She announced on Nov. 2 that she is leaving to help work on increasing diversity in games at large.
In an internal email leaked to Bloomberg, PlayStation chief Jim Ryan wrote that PlayStation reached out to Activision immediately after the Wall Street Journal article was published, expressing concern about how the allegations are going to be addressed. Bloomberg also reported that Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that Xbox is evaluating their relationship with Activision Blizzard in response to the further publication of damning allegations. CNBC reported Tuesday that the stock price started dropping after the Wall Street Journal piece was published last week.
Again: Bobby Kotick has been in charge of Activision Blizzard since 2011, and Activision since 1991. All of this, and more, has happened on his watch. If any changes are going to come from within—and it is very evident that many need to—they probably start with him stepping down.