Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick has been accused of mistreating women both inside and outside the workplace.
In a damning report from The Wall Street Journal, Kotick has also been accused of enabling abusers by ignoring serious allegations of harassment at the U.S. publisher.
The report states that “several women” have accused Kotick of harassment, and says the CEO worked “quickly and quietly” to settle those complaints.
During one indecent that reportedly took place in 2006, Kotick allegedly harassed his own assistant and threatened to have her killed over voicemail. According to those familiar with the matter, he settled the issue out of court.
In a statement to WSJ, Activision indicated it considered the matter closed. “Mr. Kotick quickly apologized 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day,” said a company spokesperson.
In 2007, Kotick was then sued by the flight attendant on a private jet he co-owned after they claimed to have been sexually harassed by the pilot. After the attendant complained to the other owner, Kotick allegedly had her fired.
Back inside the workplace, former Blizzard co-head Jennifer Oneal — who only stepped into the role earlier this year before announcing her impending departure — indicated she chose to leave the company after becoming disenfranchised with the unassailable cultural rot.
In an email sent to the Activision Blizzard legal team in September, Oneal said “it was clear that the company would never prioritize our people the right way,” and detailed her own experiences of sexual harassment at the publisher — including one incident at a company party she attended with Kotick, in which women were encouraged by a DJ to drink more so the men would have a better time. At the same event, there were reportedly scantily clad women dancing on stripper poles.
“I have been tokenized, marginalized, and discriminated against,” continued Oneal in the email, while also saying she was paid less than her male counterpart at the helm of Blizzard.
More documents, memos, and emails obtained by The WSJ tell the same story. In July 2018, Kotick reportedly received an email from a lawyer working for a former Sledgehammer Games employee informing the Activision CEO that her client had been raped in 2016 and 2017 by her male supervisor.
The victim claimed to have reported the incidents to Slegehammer’s HR department and other supervisors, but according to the email, nothing was done. People familiar with that case said Activision Blizzard reached an out-of-court settlement with the woman within months of Kotick receiving that email, but that the CEO neglected to inform the company’s board of directors about the rape allegations.
During Kotick’s tenure, another high-profile Activision employee, Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting, was accused of sexually harassing a woman colleague after a night of drinking. Those with knowledge of the incident claim that after Activision’s HR department and other supervisions conducted an investigation and recommended Bunting be fired, Kotick personally intervened to protect him.
Bunting was reportedly given counseling and allowed to remain at the company, but has subsequently departed the studio. “After considering potential actions in light of that investigation, the company elected not to terminate Mr. Bunting, but instead to impose other disciplinary measures,” said an Activision Blizzard spokesperson.
These reports have been made public just weeks after Activision Blizzard pledged to curb misconduct by implementing a “zero tolerance” harassment policy.
The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher, which is facing a number of lawsuits and investigations over its cultural shortcomings, said it would bring in the “the strictest harassment and non-retaliation policies of any employer.”
In an open letter penned by Bobby Kotick himself, the CEO told investors in late October the company would be handing out “appropriate and swift” discipline to offenders, emphasizing that many of those found guilty of misconduct will be “terminated immediately.”
“We are implementing a zero-tolerance policy across Activision Blizzard that will be applied consistently. Our goal is to have the strictest harassment and non-retaliation policies of any employer, and we will continue to examine and tighten our standards to achieve this goal everywhere we do business,” he wrote.
“Any Activision Blizzard employee found through our new investigative processes and resources to have retaliated against anyone for making a compliance complaint will be terminated immediately. In many other instances of workplace misconduct, we will no longer rely on written warnings: termination will be the outcome, including in most cases of harassment based on any legally protected category.”
Game Developer has reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment.
Update: In response to the report, Bobby Kotick has shared a video message with company employees reiterating his “conviction to create the most welcoming and inclusive workplace.”
In a transcript of the video posted on the Activision Blizzard website, Kotick branded the report’s depiction of his leadership “inaccurate and misleading,” and told staff the publisher will undoubtedly be the subject of “continued media attention” over the coming months.
“Anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me,” said Kotick. “Creativity and inspiration thrives best in a safe, welcoming, respectful environment. There is no substitute for that. And staying true to our values, without exceptions, is the best way to retain our talent and to attract the new talent we need to achieve our great potential.
“As I have made clear, we are moving forward with a new zero tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior — and zero means zero. Any reprehensible conduct is simply unacceptable.”
In a separate statement sent to Game Developer, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson reiterated the CEO’s remarks, and said the Wall Street Journal’s report ignores important changes the company has made. Neither statement addressed any of the specific allegations made against Kotick.
“We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon,” said an Activision Blizzard spokesperson.
“The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their — and our — values. The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart.
“Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”