Amidst calls for resignation, CEO Bobby Kotick seemed to be all but untouchable. Blizzard employees proved him wrong in 30 minutes.
Someone like Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick will do whatever it takes to hold onto their power.
Multiple lawsuits, a subpoena from the SEC, and the bombshell Wall Street Journal article released on Tuesday showing that not only did he lie about the rampant sexual abuse, but that he was also an active participant. Video game companies like Microsoft and PlayStation are re-evaluating their partnerships. Other organizations who promote diversity and inclusion have severed ties completely. Stockholders are getting restless and want him out.
Yet the Board of Directors decided to stand by him. They released a statement that all but confirms they intend to do nothing about it. It would leave anyone currently working in the company who desires a safe working environment feeling powerless.
And adding to the clownery, near the end of September, Bobby Kotick had announced in a statement that Activision Blizzard and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have settled one of its four lawsuits with an $18 million fund created to compensate any employee who claim damages. An action which is now seen ostensibly to keep people quiet and more to the point, dissuade its employees from unionizing.
This was nothing but show. Nearly two months after the settlement was announced, employees from Activision Blizzard state that nothing had changed, and in some cases, even got worse.
Jessica Gonzalez is an Activision Blizzard employee who works as a Senior Test Analyst for Battlenet. She is also one of the most outspoken advocates for Bobby Kotick's ouster, creating sharp and funny tweets displaying this.
When the WSJ article came out, she and others were unsurprised in the slightest, as leadership had done nothing to make things better.
"There's this ongoing thing where employees are being gaslit," she said during a phone call. "Their first thing to do is deny, deny, deny. They're doing this 'wait and see' type of thing to phase out unionization efforts. You know, 'good things are on the horizon' type of talk. And we had the second walkout because we are just tired of it. We want Bobby gone because under his leadership, a lot of fucked up shit has happened. And he is just not fit to head game dev in our opinion."
Even more damning, other leadership had made their true motivations quite clear.
"A VP of Activision Blizzard Marketing said in a channel for employees not to discuss what happened in the Wall Street Journal article. And that if they had anything to say, to funnel it up through leadership. Which is illegal."
"The fact that we have a VP of Activision Blizzard saying not to have these discussions and to funnel those up through the very same leadership who is denying these allegations is Union Busting 101. And I really want to shed a light on that."
The Signs Were Always There
Anyone who has been paying attention since July knew that Bobby Kotick had no intention of changing anything at Activision Blizzard. The first example was his hiring of law firm WilmerHale.
WilmerHale was hired in order to review Activision Blizzard’s HR department after the initial July lawsuit was made public. People immediately reacted negatively, as WilmerHale is best known for being a union-busting law firm, having most recently advised Amazon while workers there threatened to unionize due to unacceptable working conditions.
Around the same time, employees formed A Better ABK Workers Alliance. They had four simple demands from corporate leadership in order to provide a safe and thriving working environment for all:
- An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
- The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination not being hired fairly for new roles when compared to men.
- Publication of data on relative compensation (including equity grants and profit sharing), promotion rates, and salary ranges for employees of all genders and ethnicities at the company. Current practices have led to aforementioned groups not being paid or promoted fairly.
- Empower a company-wide Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion task force to hire a third party to audit ABK's reporting structure, HR department, and executive staff. It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues.
Only one of those has been met as of publication:
Since then, a lot of the "actions" corporate had taken has either been little or reversed. Many advocates and hires for change were either pushed out, demoted, or outright tokenized. This week especially had proven to show a more chaotic week than ever.
But there is light at the end of this tunnel, a spark that people seemed to have forgotten amongst the sludge.
The Fastest Walkout in the West
One question was never asked: How were Activision Blizzard employees able to organize a mere 30 minutes after the Wall Street Journal report hit?
Ironically, it was the power of modern technology that knocked Bobby Kotick and leadership off their feet.
“Bobby knew that there were spaces forming up,” one Blizzard employee explains, preferring to remain anonymous. “But he also has very few resources at his disposal at the moment. He's been relying heavily on WilmerHale to keep us clamped down. And WilmerHale legit sucks at it.”
"A Better ABK started discussing a lot of organizing stuff, even going so far as to openly discuss unionization on public channels," the employee continues. "And it was weird, because no one was stopping it. Well it turns out, they weren't even aware of it. There was so much communication, it was impossible to monitor them all."
According to the employee, when Kotick found out about the Wall Street Journal article, he assumed that things had cooled down to the point that organization wasn't going to happen. To cement this belief, he announces that all employees would give the next week off for the holiday. Obviously, the objective was to prevent any chance of A Better ABK to react to the allegations and he was convinced that he had gotten ahead of this and was safe from further scrutiny.
Literally 30 minutes after the article was released, a walkout was formed. Employees started walking out. First it was 30. Then 50. And within two hours, over 150 people had walked out of the office. Hundreds more had joined virtually. Even people who had worked at the company as little as two days decided to join them.
Everyone had enough. And the consequences are bigger than ever.
Within a day, many gaming companies have condemned Bobby Kotick's actions, which are akin to holding the company hostage. PlayStation Chief Jim Ryan released a statement calling out Activision Blizzard's less than stellar response to the allegations.
Phil Spencer, Head of XBox, sent an email to staff unequivocally stating that Activision Blizzard's behavior has no place in the gaming industry and stated that they would be reevaluating their relationship with them.
And Girls Who Code, who partnered with Activision Blizzard with their Summer Immersion program, also severed their partnership with them.
And as the day goes on, stockbrokers, gamers, developers, and others are putting the pressure on Bobby Kotick to resign. And it doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon.
A Real Path to Change
It seems that everyone is turning their back on Bobby. From big gaming giants, to journalists, to his very own employees, it seems that this flame is only getting bigger as more information comes out. And A Better ABK refuses to remove their foot from his neck.
The anonymous employee claims this was when they knew things were much more different this time. "Bobby is confused as fuck. He thought our organizing had died down to a simmer. Suddenly all the risk assessment teams contact us. They try to get ahead of us, try to figure out what's going on."
"But by then, it's too late. 150 people are standing outside the gate. Turns out they've been basically completely unaware of organizing happening right under their noses on company chat. All because they are playing with union busting playbooks from the 80s."
"They have no clue how to keep up with the variety of ways that we can organize digitally now."
This brings up a very obvious point. For a gaming industry to thrive and provide good product, it is usually mandatory for leadership to have even the bare minimum of technological knowledge in order to communicate and execute actionable goals. The leadership of Activision Blizzard was literally outsmarted by tech. And they are paying very dearly for it--thanks to the efforts of employees more than willing to take appropriate action using the incredible knowledge and skillset they had in order to do their jobs.
As a result, as of publication, over 1,200 employees and contractors and 4,000 non-employees have signed petitions calling for Bobby Kotick to resign. And all because of a 30-minute organization effort he never expected.
"The problem they have is that you have 20 companies full of tech savvy people who are overwhelmingly online. Bobby is now realizing that he is ten steps behind us and is trying to catch up. And the thing is, our walkout directly asked for him to be removed as CEO."
"His workforce, within 30 minutes notice, got hundreds of people to publicly call for his resignation. And no one is really noting how remarkable that is in the media right now."