A report by the Wall Street Journal has brought to light several new examples of alleged misconduct by Activision staff, including rape and sexual harassment. The report also highlights several instances where Activision CEO Bobby Kotick was reportedly aware of the allegations but did not inform the company's board of directors and, in one instance, intervened to prevent an alleged harasser from being fired.
In response to the report, employee group A Better ABK have called for Kotick to be replaced as CEO and are organising a staff walkout.
This latest report by the WSJ (free sign-up required) continues the wave of allegations and several lawsuits which together paint a picture of harassment and abuse within Activision Blizzard. Activision have reportedly received more than 500 reports from current and former employees alleging "harassment, sexual assault, bullying, pay disparities and other issues" since the State Of California filed suit against the company back in July.
The WSJ have also seen memos, emails, and spoken to former employees, which suggest that Bobby Kotick knew more about allegations of employee misconduct than he had previously indicated.
One of several stories within the report details how the co-head of Activision's Treyarch studio was accused by a female employee of sexual harassment in 2017. An internal investigation conducted in 2019 by the company's own HR department and other supervisors recommended that he be fired, but Kotick intervened to keep him.
In another instance, Activision reached an out-of-court settlement with a former employee of Sledgehammer Games who alleged that she had been raped by her male supervisor, and in another, a former Blizzard technology chief was fired after multiple allegations of sexual harassment of other staff over several years. Employees were asked not to discuss the circumstances of his departure and an internal email sent by Blizzard's then-CEO upon the technology chief's exit praised "his many contributions" to the company. There are several more previously unreported allegations in the article.
In the hours since its publication, Activision Blizzard have issued a defensive statement which says the Wall Street Journal's article "presents a misleading view of Activison Blizzard and our CEO." They cite recent improvements made within the company, "including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct."
Such a policy would seem to preclude Kotick continuing in his role as CEO.
"We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy," ABetterABK tweeted earlier today. ABetterABK - ABK stands for Activision Blizzard King - are an employee group founded in the wake of this year's allegations. "We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source," continues the tweet. "We are staging a Walkout today. We welcome you to join us."
Activision Blizzard's board of directors released their own statement, saying that the board "remains confident in Bobby Kotick's leadership, commitment and ability to achieve" the goals of making Activision Blizzard "the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry."
As well as detailing several new instances of abuse within Activision Blizzard, the Wall Street Journal article also highlights several instances where Kotick himself has been sued for alleged misconduct. In 2006, one of his assistants "complained that he had harassed her, including by threatening in a voice mail to have her killed." Kotick settled the matter out of court.
The article also contains revealing details of Activision Blizzard's response since the public allegations earlier this year.
After the State Of California filed suit against the company, Activision Blizzard executive Fran Townsend sent an email to staff which categorised the lawsuit as portraying "a distorted and untrue picture" of the company, and as "truly meritless and irresponsible." This email prompted an enormous amount of public criticism. The Wall Street Journal reports that this email was drafted by Mr. Kotick, and sent by Townsend - one of the company's few female executives - at his request.
The WSJ have also seen an internal email from Jennifer Oneal to Activision's legal team. In the email, Oneal, who was appointed co-lead of Blizzard Entertainment earlier this year only to step down within three months, expressed a lack of faith in the company's leadership. She writes that she had been sexually harassed earlier in her career at the company, that she is paid less than the male co-lead of Blizzard, and that she has been "tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against."
It is astonishing - and yet somehow not at all surprising - that at this point Activision Blizzard's board of directors who still have any trust in Bobby Kotick's leadership. ABetterABK put it well: The board is just as complicit if they let this slide."