Bobby Kotick considers leaving Activision-Blizzard if he can’t quickly fix its ongoing frat boy culture

Don't threaten the world with a good time, Bobby

    
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The audience is not amused.

Last week, reporting from the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off of fresh allegations leveraged at Activision-Blizzard, including attempts by CEO Bobby Kotick to hide a rape settlement from investors and statements from former Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal who says she was “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against” during her three month-long stint. The revelations ticked off another Blizzard employee walkout, calls from investors to ouster Kotick for his alleged behavior, and condemnation from Sony CEO Jim Ryan and Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, while the ActiBlizz board has released statements effectively supporting Kotick and saying, in no uncertain terms, that the zero tolerance policy for past behavior would not extend to him.

The bombshells continued to drop from the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. WSJ’s insider sources claim Kotick has “told senior managers he would consider leaving the company if he can’t quickly fix the culture problems at the videogame giant,” though in this apparent trial balloon he “stopped short of saying he would step down in a Friday meeting with executives of the company’s Blizzard Entertainment unit.” Worth noting, of course, is that Kotick has run Activision 30 years and stands accused of personally participating in the culture he now wants to root out quickly.

WSJ’s podcast also detailed additional instances of harassment, rape, and a work culture that was violent and toxic to women. Among these new revelations is a story of an Activision employee who signed off all of his company emails with a “1-800-ALLCOCK” signature; a 2017 anniversary party for Call of Duty: Vanguard studio Sledgehammer Games where a manager hugged a female coworker in a chokehold; and another instance at Sledgehammer where a former female employee was reportedly raped twice and was told by an HR rep to downplay the event.

Statements to Kotaku sent by Activision Blizzard’s chief communications officer Helaine Klasky rebutted some of the podcast’s reporting, claiming that an investigation into the rape allegations at Sledgehammer was launched immediately after a lawyer’s letter arrived in July 2018 that found the female employee had not reported a rape to HR. Klasky also said in a statement that the company had only learned about the vulgar email signature this past summer and fired the offending employee after a month-long investigation. As for the Sledgehammer manager, he told the Wall Street Journal he didn’t remember the events of the party because he was too drunk, but he did get put on a two-week suspension before being moved to a lower position.

Meanwhile, another industry voice has called for Kotick’s removal: former head of Activision studio Toys for Bob Paul Reiche. “If the new stories I have read are true, I can’t see how Activision can continue its success without new leadership,” said Reiche. “How far down that goes depends on what we learn about the behavior of those leaders.”

Additionally, the list of signatures from Blizzard employees demanding Kotick be unseated continues to grow, with over 1,700 names signed to the petition at the time of this writing; readers will recall that when this petition first started last week there were just 500 signatures.

You can read our complete reporting on the matter below:

sources: WSJ, WSJ podcast and Axios via Kotaku, petition
Activision-Blizzard is considered a controversial company in the MMO and gaming space owing to a long string of scandals over the last few years, including the Blitzchung boycott, mass layoffs, labor disputes, and executive pay fiasco. In the summer of 2021, the company was sued by the state of California for fostering a work environment riddled with sexual harassment and discrimination, the disastrous corporate response to which has further compounded Blizzard’s ongoing pipeline issues and the widespread perception that its online games are in decline. As of fall 2021, multiple state and federal agencies are currently investigating the company and the industry has called for Bobby Kotick’s resignation following fresh reports on his misdeeds.
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