In 2021, the state of California sued Activision Blizzard alleging that the video game publisher fostered a pervasive culture of harassment going back years. Details in the suit spoke of “cube crawls” where male employees would get drunk and walk around the workplace subjecting female employees to inappropriate behavior. It alleged that male employees would pawn off responsibilities to their female co-workers, how women of color were passed up for opportunities given to less tenured workers, and how a senior World of Warcraft developer was so infamous for his harassment of women that his office was nicknamed the “Cosby suite.”
But news of the suit was just the opening salvo in what would become a battery of reporting, documenting the kinds of harassment that went on at Activision Blizzard. Current and former employees shared their stories, including how a woman was demoted for allegedly reporting her harasser, how a nursing mother had her breast milk stolen from company refrigerators, and how one employee’s sexual harassment led to their death by suicide.
Amidst that reporting, The Wall Street Journal released its own report accusing Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick of knowing about, ignoring, and, in some cases, perpetrating harassment of his employees.
Kotick has apologized for some allegations, including one where he left a voicemail threatening to have his assistant killed, but denied others.
And in a new interview with Variety, Kotick further denied that Activision Blizzard had any pervasive issues with abuse. Instead, he blamed labor organizers for the company’s problems.
“We’ve had every possible form of investigation done. And we did not have a systemic issue with harassment — ever,” he said in the interview. “But what we did have was a very aggressive labor movement working hard to try and destabilize the company.”
Kotick described the reporting done on employee harassment and abuse at Activision Blizzard as “mischaracterizations” while asserting that the company has a relatively low percentage of harassment complaints for its 17,000 employees. A transparency report, released Wednesday, outlined the company’s standing in relation to several stated goals like increasing the number of women it employs and the number of harassment claims it received and acted upon. According to the report, the company investigated 116 complaints and was able to substantiate 31 of them, resulting in some kind of action. However the report appears to omit the total number of claims it received.
We also know that Activision Blizzard agreed to pay the Security and Exchange Commission $35 million after it determined that the company did not have proper reporting structures in place. Activision Blizzard also settled its suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for $18 million — a settlement the state of California tried and failed to block, citing concerns that it would hinder its own case, and attorney Lisa Bloom, known for litigating high-profile harassment cases and counsel for a Blizzard employee, called “woefully inadequate.”
While Kotick was quick to blame unions for many of the company’s personnel issues, he also claimed to support unions, stating that he’s not anti-union because he’s a member of a union himself — joining SAG-AFTRA for his appearance in Moneyball — and because of his mother.
“I have a mother who was a teacher. I have no aversion to a union,” he said. “What I do have an aversion to is a union that doesn’t play by the rules.”
Speaking of “playing by the rules,” Activision Blizzard has had multiple unfair labor practice complaints filed against it. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found merit in several of these complaints, including illegal surveillance, threatening employees’ protected rights, and illegally withholding compensation because of union activity.
Morale at Activision Blizzard has taken a beating these last two years, and employees have responded to all the news with walkouts, demands for Kotick’s resignation, organizing for better treatment, and winning historic victories for the video game labor movement in North America. Right now, Activision Blizzard is in the midst of a sale to Microsoft — a sale that was thought might save the company from its sordid present and Kotick himself via golden parachute. Now that the deal has been credibly threatened by regulators, it seems like Kotick is deploying a new strategy to repair his and his company’s reputation — by blaming everyone but himself.