As Bobby Kotick leaves Microsoft and Activision for good, ex-employees recall how Kotick once threatened to 'have an employee killed'

Bobby Kotick
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

What you need to know

  • Today was CEO Bobby Kotick's last day at Activision Blizzard after almost 33 years with the company.
  • The stepping down of Bobby Kotick came after the Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard for $69 billion, which closed in October.
  • Kotick's time at the helm has been shadowed by controversy, and his departure met with a jubilant outpouring on social media. This includes one story shared by a Call of Duty programmer who recalled how Kotick once threatened to "have an employee killed," which led to an admission of guilt and an out of court settlement on Kotick's part. 

As foretold in a memo to staff earlier this December, swooping leadership changes have been made at Activision Blizzard as the company enters 2024 as its first year under the helm of Microsoft following the $69 billion acquisition. The most publicized change was the departure of Activision Blizzard CEO and employee of 33 years, Bobby Kotick. 

Today marked Bobby's last day at the gaming company, and his exit has prompted some former staff to share stories of his tenure. However, these aren't the heart warming tales of a chance encounter by the water cooler. One former programmer reiterated that within a month of their start on a Call of Duty project, Kotick "threatened to have an employee killed." The case was widely reported at the time, and goes beyond allegations — Kotick himself admitted it, and settled out of court when sued, describing the threat as "hyperbole." 

The "threat," and then an out of court settlement

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A former Call of Duty programmer going by @chhopsky on Twitter recalled the event while devs of all stripes chimed on on Bobby Kotick's departure from Activision Blizzard. The Tweet states, "I worked on COD for two years as a programmer at demonware. Bobby's decisions made our games worse."

Demonware, a software development studio known for collaborating with Activision Blizzard (ABK) on Call of Duty titles, has aided other studios within ABK. Christina goes into more detail about their experience working with ABK in their Tweet "in my first month it came out he threatened to have an employee killed. in the all-hands that followed, no-one wanted to speak first. so i demanded his firing in front of everyone." (sic)

Bobby Kotick has worked with Activision Blizzard for almost 33 years, serving as CEO.  (Image credit: Activision-Blizzard)

The event was widely reported by Business Insider and other outlets back in 2021. Kotick is reported to have settled out of court over the situation.

The case describes how Kotick left a voicemail on an assistant's cell phone in 2006, threatening to "have her killed," as reported by the Wall Street Journal. The matter was settled out of court, and Activision addressed the accusations following the report, stating, "Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voicemail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voicemail to this day."

In 2007, Kotick faced a harassment lawsuit from a flight attendant, who claimed he said to their legal team, "I'm going to destroy you." A spokesman for Mr. Kotick denied that he ever made such a statement. 

Update (Jan 2, 2024): We've updated the language in this segment to reflect the situation more accurately, including references to Kotick's admission of guilt via a spokesperson in WSJ. 

Kotick throws Overwatch under the bus

Another former Activision employee recounted Kotick's botched handling of Overwatch 2, which Kotick previously blamed for the company's weakening share price in recent years. 

Andy Belford, formerly of the community team at Activision-Blizzard, sounded the alarm that Overwatch 2 would be immediately review bombed after hitting Steam. Overwatch 2 remains one of the most negatively-reviewed games on the platform to this day, which impacts the game's visibility on Steam and also led to a wave of negative press about Overwatch and Blizzard in general. 

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Belford recounted how Bobby Kotick himself was happy to drop the game straight on Steam without giving the community team any form of additional support. Overwatch 2 and other Blizzard properties were subjected to waves of international hatred owing to the collapse of Activision's publishing deal with NetEase in China, leading to hundreds of thousands of players losing access to games like World of Warcraft and Overwatch itself. Blizzard was also faced with backlash from its numerous lawsuits, but of course, it wasn't CEO Bobby Kotick who would bear the brunt of this condemnation.

Belford goes on to describe the avalanche of toxicity leveraged against his team, for decisions none of them were involved in making. He (and many others) have since moved on from Blizzard for greener pastures. 

A new start for Activision Blizzard under Microsoft?

Microsoft Gaming executives like president of Game Content and Studios Matt Booty will now fully oversee Activision Blizzard King. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Bobby Kotick's tenure as CEO has been marred by controversy since the investigation into Activision Blizzard's workplace practices in 2018. California's Civil Rights Department received a complaint from a former employee, which began a whirlwind of bad publicity for the company. Many place the blame directly at Kotick's door. With allegations of the company and Kotick himself not taking sexual harassment, assault, and unequal pay complaints seriously dating back to 2006.

The lawsuit sparked widespread outrage from the gaming community and will forever cast a shadow over ABK's history. It finally came to a close on December 16, 2023, with a $54 million settlement being paid out by Activision Blizzard, first reported by the Wall Street Journal. California's Civil Rights Department was reported to have said that the settlement resolves allegations of discrimination and pay disparity. According to WSJ, Activision has said the state has agreed to file an amended complaint that withdraws its 2021 claims alleging widespread and systemic workplace harassment at the company.

Kotick's departure from Activision Blizzard following the Microsoft acquisition has come sooner than expected. Originally penciled for January 2024, an internal memo to staff confirmed his last day would be December 29, 2023. Perhaps indicating a 'New year, New start' for the company under Microsoft's wing. Let's hope that is the case. 

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden 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 caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Jez Corden
    just a regular guy said:
    I thought Windows Central was supposed to be proper tech news, not gutter newspaper journalism. What a pointless story to share via this channel. What if you're wrong and you've spread negative press about a senior figure in the industry, or a disgruntled ex employee has embellished things. Either way, just a vote to keep this kind of rubbish off tech news channels
    since you commented before reading: this was proven in court, Kotick settled out of court, and even publicly addressed it saying he regretted saying it. so. uh. yeah. try reading the article before commenting next time.
    Reply
  • HelloNNNewman
    You've been a member for 3 days and are complaining about the type of news you are reading here. If this isn't the type of news you want to read, you can simply adjust your feeds perhaps.
    Reply
  • Jez Corden
    just a regular guy said:
    Fair enough that I missed that part when reading the article (and I did honest!), but my main point was that this just isn't tech news and felt the need to comment on this kind of irrelevant info coming in to tech news feeds
    since you're apparently new to windows central, we cover matters relevant to microsoft. the technology within abk is hugely relevant to microsoft's operational future, from AI, to cloud, to gaming (ofc), and beyond.

    we cover microsoft hardware, tech, software, windows, ai, and gaming, and we have done so for coming up to a decade.
    Reply
  • fjtorres5591
    A point to consider is that not only did Kotick exit, so did a lot of others in HR and PR that had to cover for him. The moves serve as a reassurance to the ABK staff that the Booty regime really intends to be different from the Kotick era, not just replace him and leave everything as before.

    When MS announced the ABK deal their stock was in freefall and a lot of contributing staff were headed out the door. The announcement stabilized the stock and most of the staff stayed hoping change would come. The top level exits can be seen as an early validation of that expectation. Retaining the creatives as ABK is going to be key to MS recovering their investment and to future growth of GAME PASS which in turn impact the entire gaming industry.

    Looking forward this was indeed a milestone and one handled as tactfully as a batch of high level "exits" can be. Two points for MS.
    Reply