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

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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Robert Mann

He IS the frat boy culture. The only quick way he can end it is leaving, although that’s no guarantee… it’s only a mere possibility that it is then fixed by others.

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wjowski

Also while Kotick is a vile parasite of a man who won’t be missed I feel like pointing out that Blizzard’s shitty behavior predates him taking the helm. Don’t let them off the hook.

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McGuffn

Great news everybody, after an extensive investigation, Activision Blizzard has determined that all they have to do is slap some duct tape on the company logo and everything will be good as new.

In unrelated news all employees will be getting a holiday gift bag consisting of those infernal mansoaps and ball shavers they advertise on Youtube.

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Carebear

before you close the door behind make sure Ion is with you on the way out. Thanks. Bye

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wjowski

Dude, you’re part of the culture

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Kanbe

The statement about HR “never receiving a complaint” are very questionable when the same HR dept is allegedly shredding evidence.

Turing fail
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Turing fail

ActiBlizz HR printers are conveniently attached to shredders…

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Grimmtooth

“Bobby Kotick considers leaving Activision-Blizzard if he can’t quickly fix its ongoing frat boy culture that he oversaw installation of over 30 years.”

There, fixed that for ya.

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Greaterdivinity

I have complete confidence that he’ll be able to quickly change the culture of the entire corporation that has been in place for roughly 30 years under his leadership since he saved the company from bankruptcy.

He just needs a little bit more time y’all, give him a break.

(/s)

The Weeb formerly known as Sray
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The Weeb formerly known as Sray

The games a company publishes are reflective of the corporate culture and personnel working there. Do you think that From Software is staffed up with people who don’t like hard games? Or that everyone at Firaxis Studios hates RTS/4X games? Or that no one who works at Remedy Entertainment enjoys narrative driven third person shooters? When a company only produces one type of game, that company is likely to be heavily staffed by people who that game type appeals to.

A large part of the primary audience for ABK games is frat-boy jack-asses. Do you think it’s a coincidence then that the company is filled with frat-boy jack-asses? Take a look at the game that Activision publishes (they only produce one game on a regular basis): Call of Duty, which I think we can all agree is filled with a large number of the aforementioned frat-boy jack-asses. Take a look at what has passed for humor, or female designs, in many of Blizzard’s games over the years and you see that same frat-boy streak, and who do you think comprises a huge chunk the high end gamers that WoW is almost exclusively designed serve right now? (Yeah, most people playing ABK games aren’t frat-boy jack-asses, but there’s a much higher percentage of them than in many other more diverse publishers’ portfolios).

The thing is, it’s a chicken/egg problem. Without a change in the publishing portfolio to include a more diverse ranges of games that appeal to a wider number of audiences, a change in the corporate culture isn’t going to happen (without upheaval in the leadership happening first). However, a change in corporate culture will ultimately lead to a diversified portfolio that targets a wider range of audience types; which is smart business. Presently, ABK’s health is dependent on Call of Duty, meaning a bad year for CoD means a bad year for ABK. A more diverse portfolio would blunt that, but a more diverse portfolio isn’t going to happen under the current leadership; which means removing Bobby Kotick from the leadership of ABK is smart business.

Hopefully what I wrote there makes overall sense. I’m in rush typing this on my phone at work and scared I’m forgetting major points/making massive typing and/or grammatical errors.

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Bruno Brito

I have absolutely no strength left for this shit anymore. Just [fire him] and call it a day. Fuck Kotick and all he represents.

He fires 800 people on a single pen-stroke, but he doesn’t get fired even if he strikes anyone. This is the world we live in, and i, for one, am sick and tired of it.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

I’m with you, Bruno.

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Armsman

Well said sir.