Since Activision Blizzard was sued in July by the state of California for a culture of “constant sexual harassment,” among many other troubling issues, the company has been in a state of controversy. There were a pair of employee walkouts, and more than 1,500 employees signed a petition to remove CEO Bobby Kotick. An Activision Blizzard spokesperson recently told the Wall Street Journal that 37 people had exited the company, and 44 have been disciplined as part of its investigations.
Kotick himself was the center of another WSJ report saying the publisher’s former CEO was not only aware of but participated in the company’s pervasive toxic culture. Employees called for Kotick to step down not long after the report was published, as the bosses of both PlayStation and Microsoft told their employees they were troubled by the report.
Now, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer is in line to run the company as Microsoft has a deal to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion to bolster Game Pass and, supposedly, its metaverse ambitions. According to a press release, “Bobby Kotick will continue to serve as CEO of Activision Blizzard, and he and his team will maintain their focus on driving efforts to further strengthen the company’s culture and accelerate business growth.” After that, the business will report to Spencer.
You can see what Spencer and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told their employees here, and below, we’ve included Kotick’s letter to workers at Activision.
Today is an incredibly exciting day. As we continue our journey to connect and engage the world through epic entertainment, we will eventually do so as part of Microsoft. I am certain that our incredible talent and extraordinary games combined with our shared commitment to the very best workplace will enable us to grow in an increasingly more competitive race for leadership as gaming through the metaverse evolves.
How we got here and where we’re going
When you reflect on what we’ve built together, we have so much to be proud of. For the last 31 years, we’ve continuously shaped gaming through our commitment to deliver joy, fun, and the thrill of accomplishment.
We’ve transformed games into social experiences and enabled players to find purpose and meaning through the most engaging form of entertainment – our games. By doing so, we’ve created and entertained communities of hundreds of millions of players.
Connecting these communities together is the next step. Facebook, Google, Tencent, NetEase, Amazon, Apple, Sony, Disney – and many more – have ambitions for their own gaming and metaverse initiatives. Established and emerging competitors see opportunity for virtual worlds filled with professionally produced content, user generated content and rich social connections.
Our talent and our games are important components of the construction of a rich metaverse. We have always attracted the very best game makers and built the very best games, seizing opportunity with passion, inspiration, focus, and determination.
A partnership to define the future
As investments in cloud computing, AI and machine learning, data analytics, and user interface and experience capabilities are becoming more competitive, we believe this partnership will better enable our ambitions.
In considering possible partners, all roads ultimately lead to Microsoft. Like us, they have been making games for a long time. Microsoft has already distributed games to hundreds of millions of the world’s computers and computing devices and has technologies and innovation that will support the next generation of games.
Microsoft also will support our journey to further strengthen our culture. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has been a passionate advocate for caring as the currency of leadership. Inspiring people through empathy is a powerful motivator, and one we embrace as we renew our resolve – and in the work we are now doing – to set a new standard for a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture.
Importantly, Microsoft wants you – your talent, your creativity, and your dedication to each other. Activision Blizzard’s success throughout the years can be directly attributed to each of you. Microsoft recognizes the commitment to excellence and creative independence that sets us apart, and we anticipate minimal changes for our workforce following the close of the transaction. Microsoft’s diverse operations will give us access to valuable expertise, technology, and tools and provide even greater opportunities for learning and development.
No organization’s culture, including ours, is without need for improvement, and thanks to your input, we are making strides in improving ours. My commitment is to continue evolving our culture so that come closing, Microsoft is acquiring an exemplary workplace.
Transactions like these can take a long time to complete. Until we receive all the necessary regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions are satisfied, which we expect to be sometime in Microsoft’s fiscal 2023 year ending June 30, 2023, we will continue to operate completely autonomously. I will continue as our CEO with the same passion and enthusiasm I had when I began this amazing journey in 1991.
Of course, this announcement will give rise to so many questions. We will host numerous forums and events to make certain we address your concerns.
I am incredibly proud of this company, you, and the work we have done together. Now it’s on to our next chapter and the endless possibilities this transaction represents for us. I couldn’t be more appreciative of your efforts, focus, and the dedication to connecting the world through joy and fun.
In July, Kotick published a letter explaining that he and the company were “committed to long-lasting change.” However, employees later stated that the message failed “to address critical elements at the heart of employee concerns,” including issues like forced arbitration (which finally ended last month).
More recently, Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal, who took on the role as the studio’s leadership shifted in the wake of the lawsuit, stepped down after only three months. According to the Wall Street Journal report, Oneal was paid less than her male counterpart (former Xbox exec Mike Ybarra) and wrote in an email to the company’s legal team that she had been “tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against.” Oneal told employees that Activision Blizzard only offered her equal pay after she had tendered her resignation, IGN reported.