Microsoft yesterday announced plans to buy Activision Blizzard for $69 billion (£50 billion), a staggering and un-nice quantity of money for the video games company behind Call Of Duty and Warcraft. They're buying the company at a troubled time, with multiple lawsuits alleging widespread sexual discrimination and harassment, an ongoing strike over QA layoffs, and employees publicly calling for the removal of the CEO, Bobby Kotick. A campaign group of employees known as the ABK Workers Alliance say the acquisition doesn't change their goals and there's still work to do.
Since last summer, several California state departments and many employees have accused the company of suffering widespread problems with sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. For years, they seemed content to ignore it. Later allegations said CEO Bobby Kotick was more aware of issues than he had let on, and allegedly even intervened to prevent the firing of a Treyarch studio co-head who had been investigated for sexual harassment.
It seems that Kotick is staying on until the deal closes, at least, which is expected to happen by June 2023 (pending approval from shareholders and authorities). It sounds like he'll likely leave after that, but it's hazy. Kotick told VentureBeat that he's willing to stay on however long it takes "a proper and smooth transition", whether that's a month after the close or a year. And despite his position, he's still only one person in a company of 10,000 employees which has seemingly experienced widespread problems.
Through all this, many Activision Blizzard employees have broken the video game industry's usual wall of silence (I totally understand why people fear reprisal). They've signed an open letter protesting the company's response, staged several walkouts including one demanding Kotick's removal, and more.
A lot of this action has been led by an employee group formed under the banner of ABK Worker's Alliance, also known as ABetterABK. In a statement posted across a Twitter thread last night, they say the acquisition "is surprising, but does not change the goals of the ABK Worker's Alliance". They explained:
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 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.
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.
ABetterABK have often supported and amplified the ABetterUbisoft group's attempts to push Ubisoft management to do more, given the similar situation there, as well as other initiatives to improve the industry for workers.
Activision Blizzard have been investigating individual reports against employees, though that's reliant on people coming forward and trusting the system. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that as part of Activision Blizzard's investigations, 37 have people "exited" the company in some way (vague on whether they quit or were fired) and 44 have been disciplined. They've made some policy changes too, but initiatives like their new committee to eliminate harrassment and discrimination often seem token face-saving gestures. It doesn't help that they've been discouraging unionisation too.
Phil Spencer, the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, yesterday spoke vaguely about the importance of "treating every person with dignity and respect" and Microsoft's intent of "extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard." It'll take more than words, and I'm glad the ABK Worker's Alliance are in it for the long haul—though sorry they have to be.
What a weird giant mess this potential acquisition is, with so many far-reaching effects and pitfalls. I'm still failing to express a hot take.