A deluge of news has come out in the wake of Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard, including confirmation that Call of Duty will remain multi-platform, an admission by Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick that he sought to buy gaming news outlets in order to help rehabilitate his company’s image, and the revelation that the video game publisher’s delay of games did more to affect their stock price than their current legal troubles.
To start, as reported by Bloomberg, Sony lost an eye-watering $20 billion in stock value after Microsoft’s acquisition announcement. In the aftermath, Sony stated that they “expect that Microsoft will abide by contractual agreements and continue to ensure Activision games are multiplatform.”
Sure enough, Microsoft informed the public that they intend to do just that, with Spencer stating on Twitter, “Had good calls this week with leaders at Sony. I confirmed our intent to honor all existing agreements upon acquisition of Activision Blizzard and our desire to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation. Sony is an important part of our industry, and we value our relationship.”
Next, it was calculated that, in spite of allegations against him, CEO Bobby Kotick is reportedly set to not only stay on as CEO following the purchase’s completion, but also make roughly $350 million from the acquisition thanks to the shares he owns, with the Wall Street Journal reporting this sum could potentially finalize at up to $390 million.
In the wake of the buyout, The Wall Street Journal also reported on fresh allegations which came to light from those familiar with Kotick, such as his alleged desire to buy out gaming news websites “like Kotaku and PC Gamer” to help restore Activision Blizzard’s reputation.
An Activision spokesperson refuted this allegation, while Kotaku’s parent company and PC Gamer declined to comment.
With the buyout coming after months of bad press for Activision Blizzard in light of their being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for sexual harassment and discrimination in July 2021 Blizzard Entertainment CEO Mike Ybarra declared that the studio’s forward efforts would be focused on “[rebuilding] your trust in Blizzard.”
These actions include “measuring our executive and management teams directly against culture improvement,” the establishment of “a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) leader solely focused on our progress across multiple efforts in this area”, and “[tripling] the size of our compliance and investigation teams and [articulating] clear accountability for unacceptable behavior.”
Further, Ybarra noted that the studio had “shared representation data internally with our teams and have set goals around improvement across these metrics,” as well as having “put in place an upward feedback program so that employees have confidence in evaluating management.”
According to the Blizzard CEO, these feedback programs will be usd “to measure the quality and effectiveness of our managers.”
Further discussing Activision Blizzard’s company culture and how it would be handled by Microsoft in a conference call attended by Gamesindustry.biz, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted that everyone involved had a lot of work ahead of them.
“As CEO of Microsoft, the culture of our organisation is my number one priority,” said Nadella. “This means we must continuously improve the lived experience of our employees and create an environment that allows us to constantly drive every day improvement in our culture.”
“This is hard work. It requires consistency, commitment and leadership that not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. That’s why we believe it’s critical for Activision Blizzard to drive forward on its renewed cultural commitments,” he added. “We are supportive of the goals and the work Activision Blizzard is doing, and we also recognize that after close, we will have significant work to do in order to continue to build a culture where everyone can do their best work.”
Conversely, the ABK Worker’s Alliance – an unofficial union formed by Activision Blizzard staff – maintained that their stated goals of improving staff working conditions at the company had not changed with the buy out, writing on January 18th, “The news of Activision’s acquisition by Microsoft is surprising, but does not change the goals of the ABK Worker’s Alliance. We remain committed to fighting for workplace improvements and the rights of our employees regardless of who is financially in control of the company.”
“We will continue to work alongside our allies across the gaming industry to push for measurable change in an industry that desperately needs it. We called for the removal of Bobby Kotick as CEO in November for shielding abusers and he still remains CEO as of this writing.”
The union continued, “The strike for Raven QA is in its fifth week, and our striking staff has still not received response from leadership regarding our request to negotiate. And finally, 3 out of 4 of our original collective demands to improve the conditions of women in our workforce have not been met.”
The ABK Workers Union demands included ending forced arbitration for all employees, worker participation in the oversight of hiring and promotion policies, greater pay transparency to ensure equality, and the ability for employees to choose a third-party group to conduct an audit Activision Blizzard’s HR and processes.
“Whatever the leadership structure of the company, we will continue our push to #EndAbuseInGaming, and appreciate the outpouring of support we’ve experienced in the last year,” they concluded.
Amid all this, Microsoft will also review its own sexual harassment and discrimination policies, along with allegations made against leaders, including company founder Bill Gates.
Prior to his stepping down from Microsoft’s board in March 2020 to focus on philanthropy, Gates faced a number of misconduct accusations, including claims that he had an intimate relationship with a female employee in 2019 and sent allegedly “flirtatious emails” to another in 2008.
Further, it’s unknown whether the review will also look into why Gates met numerous times with the late pedophile billionaire Jeffery Epstein or what the two discussed.
Amid the allegations against Activision Blizzard, the State of Californa’s lawsuit made note of one supposed incident wherein a female employee “a female employee committed suicide during a business trip with a male supervisor who had brought butt plugs and lubricant with him on the trip.”
“Another employee confirmed that the deceased female employee may have been suffering from other sexual harassment at work prior to her death,” the State added. “Specifically, at a holiday party before her death, male co-workers were alleged to be passing around a picture of the deceased’s vagina.”
Activision Blizzard had plenty of bad PR prior to the allegations, such as the backlash to banning Hearthstone Grandmaster Blitzchung and stripping his winnings over his support for the Free Hong Kong movement, disastrous reception of Warcraft III: Reforged, and lukewarm receptions to major titles such as World of Warcraft: Shadowlands, Call of DutyL Vanguard, and Call of Duty: Warzone.
Surprisingly, when asked about the sexual harassment allegations and Activision Blizzard’s stock price, Kotick revealed in an interview with Venture Beat that the delaying Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV affected the stock price more than anything else.
“I think what affected the stock price more than that is pushing out Overwatch and Diablo,” he said. “And then I think people started to see that this year’s Call of Duty wasn’t performing as well. So I think certainly the [California Department of Fair Employment and Housing] filing and the Wall Street Journal article contributed to that, but stocks go up and down for a variety of reasons.”
Nonetheless, a possible example of the allegations that were not as water-tight are the reasons behind the existence of the infamous “Cosby Suite,” which the lawsuit explains was a BlizzCon 2013 hotel room occupied by Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft at Blizzard Entertainment Alex Afraisiabi, so named because the now-former studio employee “was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite was nicknamed the ‘Crosby [sic] Suite’ after alleged rapist Bill Crosby [sic].”
However, some have claimed that it was actually named after the resemblance of the hotel room’s carpet to Bill Cosby’s signature sweaters, rather than the now overturned rape convictions against him.
In the wake of the resurfacing of a photo appearing to show several Blizzard employees in the so called Cosby Suite, former World of Warcraft Lead Systems Designer Greg Street tweeted that “the suite was a green room at BlizzCon that many of us at the time used to take a break and relax [in] during the convention.”
“Anyone who has been to BlizzCon knows that there is drinking, but I can genuinely say that I never saw or experienced any of the harassment described in the allegations — and if I had, I absolutely would have stepped in,” he claimed. “At the time in 2013, it was nothing more to me than a silly reference to an old flea-market portrait. I wasn’t even aware of Cosby’s reputation until after I left Blizzard and the allegations became more well-known, and I certainly would not have tweeted about the suite if I thought it was something terrible at the time.”
Ultimately, the context of what went on in that room, how much of it was serious versus joking among friends, and who went along with it willingly or out for fear of losing their job has never been fully made clear.
What do you think of Spencer’s comments? Are there any titles you’d like to see Microsoft revive or revitalize? Do you have faith in Microsoft to handle Activision Blizzard? Let us know your thoughts on social media and in the comments below!