Activision-Blizzard keeps managing to reach new lows. The Blizzard side of the operation has been under fire since July, when the state of California filed a lawsuit against the parent company over disturbing accounts of sexual harassment that female employees were subjected to on a regular basis. But things have gotten significantly worse for the video game publisher as more and more details about the company’s inner operations leak out.
A recent report from The Wall Street Journal alleges that Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, who claimed ignorance of Blizzard’s toxic workplace environment, has known about the problem for years. The starkest example of his cover-up is how he reportedly failed to tell his own Board of Directors that a female employee alleged she was raped by a male supervisor, keeping the settlement hidden from them.
Not only that, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kotick has his own history of toxic behavior. The piece says that he harassed one of his assistants, threatening to have her killed over voicemail, and that he fired a flight attendant for his private jet after she claimed the pilot sexually assaulted her.
Even recent Activision-Blizzard attempts to change its image appear to have been half-hearted. Jen Oneal was hired as co-lead of Blizzard shortly after the California lawsuit was filed, but stepped down after learning she was paid less than her male co-lead. She says she was only offered equal pay the moment she tendered her resignation.
Despite the flood of allegations, the Activision-Blizzard board is standing by Kotick, who has made its members a lot of money over the years. Kotick reportedly said he’d consider stepping down if he couldn’t fix the problems quickly, which is ridiculous. What qualifies as “quickly?” And how does the individual at the center of Activision-Blizzard’s controversies clean them up and rehabilitate the company’s image?
Yesterday, Activision-Blizzard announced a two-person committee to “oversee the Company’s progress in successfully implementing its new policies, procedures, and commitments to improve workplace culture and eliminate all forms of harassment and discrimination at the Company.” The press release claims that the committee will “require management to develop key performance indicators and/or other means to measure progress and ensure accountability.”
The members of the committee are nominally independent, but it’s ultimately up to Bobby Kotick to decide the consequences (or lack thereof) for failing to meet the board’s requirements. And Kotick answers to the board, which so far is unwavering in its support of its CEO.
The Activision-Blizzard allegations are comparable to the sexual misconduct scandal at Ubisoft that came to light last year. There, too, the CEO ignored calls for him to step down. Little has changed according to an investigation French publication Le Télégramme. But how much can Ubisoft change when the individual responsible for overseeing the company failed to intervene when action was most needed?
Both Kotick and Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot only acted after reports leaked out about the rampant harassment at their respective companies. Trusting them to fight for a better workplace once eyes are off them goes against everything we’ve seen thus far. Until Activision-Blizzard and Ubisoft see a change in management, or until employees form a union, genuine reform feels like a pipe dream.