The recent bombshell allegations against Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, which included a case of the executive threatening an assistant with death and reports that he had knowledge of the pervasive sexual harassment issues at the company, are starting to bring on the pressure. After employees staged a walkout and demanded the executive's resignation, other major players in the industry are speaking out.
Among the first is Phil Spencer, head of Xbox and one of Microsoft's foremost leaders as far as the gaming sphere is to be concerned. Spencer sent out an email to Xbox staff late last week regarding the new allegations, stating that he and fellow leadership personnel are "disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions" that came to light and that his team is "disheartened and frankly stunned".
More to the point, Spencer stated that he and Xbox leadership are "evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments". What this means in practice is anyone's guess, but considering the pull Microsoft has in the gaming world and how closely the two companies have worked together in the past, Spencer's word actually has a lot of weight here.
With these major corporations, it's always best to play it safe and assume nothing, but one thing that you can bet on is that money reigns supreme - while the Activision-Blizzard board of directors came out in support of Kotick after the major Wall Street Journal report, should he pose any tangible threat to the company's working relations with Microsoft they'll likely pull the rug out from under him.
The email goes on to state that "This type of behavior has no place in our industry," referring to the allegations against both Kotick, and the company in general in the wake of the controversial DFEH sexual harassment lawsuit. Compounding the issues the lawsuit initially dealt with upon being filed, the entire situation has been a string of PR disasters for Activision-Blizzard, which has attempted to destroy evidence related to the case and silence employees with new NDAs.
In the twists and turns of this case, there was a period of uncertainty when the DFEH and the EEOC tangled over a settlement, bringing to light the ethics violations of two DFEH lawyers. Despite their removal from the case, it was feared that the violations would give Activision-Blizzard an easy out. The company did motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, but this was rejected.
The horrific allegations against Kotick, who spent much of the time since the lawsuit was filed with juggling half-hearted damage control while hiring a law firm with a union-busting streak and tightening control on what employees can say to whom, gave the case new steam. Since these allegations point out that Kotick knowingly kept damning information from the board of directors - and is now subpoenaed - one would assume that the company leadership is ready to sack him, but so far this isn't the case.
One shareholder group has stepped up to demand his resignation, however the SOC investment group only hold around 0.6% of the company shares, so more will be needed to pressure Kotick to actually leave. Pressure that Microsoft, Xbox and Phil Spencer can easily apply.
Alongside Spencer, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan also sent employees an email about Activision-Blizzard and Kotick with surprisingly similar wording about being disheartened. Ryan did not refer to the company reevaluating their working relationship with Activision-Blizzard, however.
Hopefully more voices in positions of power join Spencer in their condemnation of Kotick's conduct and the kind of toxic culture that is prevalent at Activision-Blizzard. While similar issues are troublingly common in the industry - let's not forget about Riot and Ubisoft, who have quietly scooted out of the spotlights - every victory is important on the long road towards meaningful change.