Why is Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick cowering behind subordinates?

Blizzard Logo
Blizzard Logo (Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

You'd think in this situation, Activision Blizzard's grossly overpaid CEO Bobby Kotick might have something to say.

This week, a round of fresh allegations hit the beleaguered publisher. A three-year investigation from California's department of employment and housing kicked off legal proceedings against Activision Blizzard, alleging a culture of sexist attitudes towards women, pay disparity, and harassment — which may have even contributed to an employee's suicide. Another report from Bloomberg detailed how Activision pressured Blizzard to cut corners on Warcraft III Reforged, creating an environment where depression and anxiety became rife.

You'd think in this situation, Activision Blizzard's grossly overpaid CEO Bobby Kotick might have something to say to reduce internal dismay, especially considering he landed $150 million dollars in awards recently. The same CEO has been at the helm for the exodus of key Blizzard founders, while creating a culture of job insecurity, where layoffs are becoming a near-annualized practice. Being blind to the issues being reported across the company is quite definitely the most egregious failing of the lot. Yet, despite the lawsuit, and the widespread outpouring of ex-Blizzard staffers sharing their stories on Twitter, Kotick is nowhere to be found.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Source: Activision Activision Blizzard is responsible for games like World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Call of Duty, as well as the King suite of mobile games. (Image credit: Source: Activision)

Instead of commenting himself, Kotick hid behind ex-Bush administration political advisor, Activision's Chief Compliance Officer Fran Townsend, to deliver a dehumanizing defense of the corporation, first shared by Bloomberg editor Jason Schreier.

"I wanted to reach out to you. I know this has been difficult for many of us. A recently filed lawsuit presented a distorted and untrue picture of our company, including factually incorrect, old, and out of context stories - some from more than a decade ago."

Townsend blasted the lawsuit in California, saying that it contains "out of context" scenarios while also talking about how great her own experiences within the company have been, without offering sympathy or acknowledgment to those potentially experiencing ongoing problems.

"The Activision companies of today, the Activision companies that I know, are great companies with good values. When I joined the executive leadership team, I was certain that I was joining a company where I would be valued, treated with respect, and provided opportunities equal to those afforded to the men of the company. For me, this has been true during my time. As a leader, I am committed to making sure that the experience I have is the same as the rest of the organization."

Blizzard head J. Allen Brack also issued an internal memo of his own, emphasizing a zero tolerance to the behavior detailed in the lawsuit. Brack added that he intends to meet with Blizzard staff to gather feedback on "how to move forward."

In talks with past and present Blizzard staff, it's quite apparent to me that the Activision Townsend knows, as she describes it, exists primarily in the fantasy land of the Activision boardroom. To be completely fair to Activision, some of the more loathsome attitudes at Blizzard seem to have existed before the 2008 merger, but the pressure to contribute to Activision's bottom line while forsaking quality, job security, and healthy working practices is firmly at the mega-publisher's doorstep. Either way, Activision leadership has a lot of soul searching to do right now, if indeed, it has a soul to search.

Ultimately, I have to ask — why is Kotick paid as much as he is, if he's nowhere to be found at Blizzard's darkest hour? For an ongoing calamity of reasons, I'd say the time for new leadership, new perspective, and a more progressive vision for one of gaming's most historic publishers is long overdue.

Update November 17, 2021: A report from the WSJ states that Fran Townsend didn't write the email in question at all, but in fact it was Bobby Kotick himself.

Update July 28, 2021: After almost a week of hiding, Kotick has finally responded, admitting the initial response was tone-deaf while pledging to do "better." We've all heard that before, though. There's nothing in response that addresses morale, and Kotick also publically shared the email address he wants Blizzard staff to use to report issues within the company, which is now likely flooded with trolls. Smart move for a man being paid to the tune of $150 million dollars. Snark aside, I can only hope Activision-Blizzard actually steps up and does something to address the turmoil they are responsible in creating, for the sake of all the developers Kotick frankly doesn't deserve.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!