Out of the Loop: Activision Blizzard, Bobby Kotick, and The Wall Street Journal Scandal Explained

share to other networks share to twitter share to facebook
Activision Blizzard logo
Credit: Activision

Table of Contents

We recently covered Activision Blizzard's history of controversy spread across the last few years and explained why gamers have been falling more and more out of love with Activision Blizzard in recent memory. All this leads us to the huge series of scandals coming out of Activision Blizzard today that include a report from The Wall Street Journal, major pending litigation, and Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. In this article, we'll tell you everything you need to know about what's going on with Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard's Being Sued by the Government

On July 20th, 2021, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard after a two-year investigation into the company. The lawsuit claimed that Activision Blizzard had a "pervasive 'frat boy' culture" that was a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women" which the company took no steps to address.

Advertisement

The complaint mentioned "cube crawls" where male employees would get drunk and then 'crawl' through the office cubicles hitting on women, groping them, and generally being inappropriate. The complaint also described a general company culture where women would be paid less than their male counterparts, be worked harder than their male counterparts, and be subjected to sexual harassment.

This kind of behavior and its dire consequences was evidenced by an example in the complaint: A certain Activision Blizzard employee committed suicide on a company trip after a male colleague shared nude photos of her at a company party following intense sexual harassment.

Going further, the complaint describes how instances of sexual harassment, once reported, were not addressed by Activision Blizzard, leading to many female employees facing retaliation from those they accused that included being transferred, cut out of work projects, and chosen for layoffs.

The other major example of harassment provided in the article surrounded former Senior Creative Director of World of Warcraft Alex Afrasiabi. Afrasiabi reportedly made unwanted advances towards female employees and was so known to do so that his particular suite at Blizzard's own convention BlizzCon was dubbed the "Cosby Suite" after convicted felon and famed actor Bill Cosby.

In the wake of the lawsuit being filed, executives sent out emails to staff, production on World of Warcraft was temporarily halted by employees in protest, and employees signed an open letter supporting the lawsuit and organized a walkout.

CEO of Activision Blizzard Bobby Kotick went on to apologize for the company's lackluster response to the allegations, while the World of Warcraft team got to work removing 'inappropriate references' from the game, like a quest-giver named Field Marshal Afrasiabi, just as the Overwatch team planned to rename the hero McCree named for a level designer alleged to be a harasser.

New reports, articles, and details surfaced continuously as more and more employees came forward to share their experiences at the company. Accordingly, other organizations and major figures came out condemning what was going on over at Activision Blizzard.

Beginning with the departure of Blizzard president Jay Allen Brack in August 2021, Activision Blizzard was beset with a huge series of departures across the company from boots-on-the-ground developers to major executives as the controversy continued to be breaking news.

Advertisement

Bobby Kotick and The Wall Street Journal

On November 16th, 2021, The Wall Street Journal published a report after a lengthy investigation where they found that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick knew for years about harassment at the company, did nothing about it, and actively engaged in harassment himself.

First, Kotick is alleged to have witheld key information regarding sexual misconduct from investors. In 2016 and 2017 a supervisor at Sledgehammer Games is alleged to have raped a subordinate, after which this was reported to Activision Blizzard HR.

An email was eventually sent to Kotick about the matter, and the entire ordeal was then quietly settled out of court, and Kotick declined to share what happened with shareholders going so far as to mislead them, suggesting all was well at the company.

Second, Kotick is alleged to have intervened on the behalf of an executive accused of sexually harassing a female subordinate. After an internal investigation in 2019 into the matter, studio head of Treyarch Dan Bunting was reccomended to be fired by Activision Blizzard HR.

However, though he was reported for sexual harassment and an HR investigation concluded there was enough substance to the claim to fire Bunting, Bobby Kotick intervened and allowed Dan Bunting to continue on at the studio.

The the last major revelation of the report concerns Bobby Kotick himself. Kotick is alleged to have harassed employees over the years as well, with two key examples of this discussed in the report. First, Kotick is reported to have told an assistant in a voicemail he would "have her killed" which he has apologized for and has played off as an inapropriate joke.

Second, Kotick reportedly sexually harassed a flight attendant on a private plane he owned. During subsequent litigation, Kotick allegedly said that "he would destroy [the flight attendant]" in court. The report positions these examples as evidence that not only did Kotick withold information about harassment at the company from shareholders and directly intervene to keep abusers in positions of power, he too engaged in harassment himself.

Advertisement

The Future of Bobby Kotick and Activision Blizzard

In the aftermath of years of scandal, gamers are fed up with Activision Blizzard. Even with major restructuring and the wholesale replacement of executive staff, it's hard to see Activision Blizzard suddenly turning things around, especially considering how their recent releases have been so dissappointing.

However, it's not even certain major changes like that will even come to Activision Blizzard. In the immediate wake of The Wall Street Journal's report, Activision Blizzard's board, which is filled with longtime friends of Kotick, rallied around the CEO.

Kotick has reportedly had talks with those close to him about the possibility of him stepping down if he can't "fix" things at Activision Blizzard quickly, but for many, the 'possibility' of him stepping down if he can't 'fix' problems he has himself created doesn't inspire much hope.

Activision Blizzard stocks are down, but Kotick has proven himself to be a ruthless moneymaking machine. In 2019, for example, after a record year of profits in 2018, Kotick decided to okay massive layoffs while executive compensation remained untouched. So, for investors, he might still be a safe bet.

Whether or not Activision Blizzard will change sincerely or Bobby Kotick will step down, this is likely the true 'death' of the once-beloved gaming giant for many, and whatever products Activision Blizzard puts out down the line will likely be treated with suspicion at best.