Bobby Kotick, Activision’s C.E.O., Faces Calls to Step Down
More than a hundred employees protested at the company’s studio in Irvine, Calif., on Tuesday.
A group of Activision workers say their C.E.O. should step down.
Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision, in July. He defended his commitment to an inclusive workplace in a video message to workers.Credit…Brian Losness/Reuters
Nov. 16, 2021
A group of workers at Activision Blizzard, the maker of well-known video games like Call of Duty, called for the company’s chief executive, Bobby Kotick, to step down on Tuesday because of accusations that he did not respond to claims of sexual misconduct from employees.
More than a hundred employees protested at the company’s studio in Irvine, Calif., on Tuesday. Many voiced their anger on Twitter, using the hashtag #firebobbykotick.
Workers had staged a similar walkout in July after a lawsuit by a California employment agency accused Activision of fostering a culture of pervasive sexual harassment against women.
A Wall Street Journal article published on Tuesday morning said Mr. Kotick, who has led the gaming publisher since 2008, had known for years about complaints of sexual harassment and assault that women had brought against various men at the company, and had not taken action in some cases or informed the board of directors. In one case, the article said, he intervened to retain an accused employee. The article said some women had accused Mr. Kotick himself of mistreatment, in and out of the workplace. Mr. Kotick denied many of the accusations, including one of the mistreatment claims against him; he apologized for another.
The new disclosures about Mr. Kotick were not particularly surprising, said Shay Stein, who worked at Activision from 2014 to 2017 in a customer service role and said she had endured harassment and overheard male colleagues make inappropriate sexual comments.
“If the goal of the company is to lift up the wrongdoers, silence their victims and take performative action to ‘make things right,’ then Bobby Kotick is leading by example,” Ms. Stein said in a text message. “For the sake of my friends and former colleagues still working there, he needs to resign.”
As Activision’s stock price dropped 6 percent on Tuesday, Mr. Kotick released a statement saying that the Journal article “presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our C.E.O.” and that he acted on reports of sexual misconduct.
He also shared a video message with employees, saying that “anyone who doubts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn’t really appreciate how important this is to me.”
In the months since the lawsuit, filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Mr. Kotick has sought to portray Activision as having turned over a new leaf, even as legal actions pile up. They include a pending settlement with a federal employment agency and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In an earnings call this month, he hailed new zero-harassment policies and commitments to companywide diversity. Activision has also emphasized that much of the alleged wrongdoing occurred at Blizzard, a subsidiary.
“We should have done a better job in ensuring our values were embraced across the company,” Mr. Kotick said on the call.
Mr. Kotick has also faced difficult questions from investors. This summer, Activision took the rare move of temporarily delaying a vote on a $155 million pay package for the chief executive because the company needed to rouse more investor support, which it narrowly did.
Last month, Mr. Kotick said he was asking Activision’s board to reduce his total compensation to $62,500 until it decided that the company had met its diversity goals. The board is made up of Mr. Kotick; the chairman, Brian Kelly, a longtime Activision employee; and eight independent members.
“The board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention,” it said in a statement Tuesday. “The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”
Current and former employees said changes made by the company had not been enough.
“We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy,” the ABK Workers Alliance, a group of employees at the Activision, Blizzard and King studios fighting for change, tweeted Tuesday. “We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO.”
Workers have also called for the creation of a union, a rarity in the North American gaming industry.
Despite employee pressure on Mr. Kotick, analysts said his position seemed secure for now.
“It always takes a lot to get rid of a sitting C.E.O.,” said Doug Creutz, a video game analyst at Cowen. “A lot of things clearly happened on Bobby’s watch that shouldn’t have happened, and he’s responsible for them, but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything that would force the board’s hand, yet.”