In July, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, saying the video game publisher had fostered a culture of “constant sexual harassment” and discrimination. The report, filled with horrific and detailed personal allegations of cruelty made predominantly by female staffers, sparked months of rallies, threats of boycotts, and a flurry of departures from the company. But throughout, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick claimed that despite his role atop the company, he had little to no insight into the toxicity that his employees described. He chose denial and aloofness.
The Wall Street Journal now reports that Kotick was, at best, withholding key information in his response, and, at worst, lying to protect himself from backlash that had already forced out some of his peers in senior-most positions of the company. The report alleges that Kotick did know about the toxic culture within his company, and that he knew on a granular and graphic level. The alleged heinous actions that Kotick has been described as having committed, not on behalf of the company but on behalf of himself, are as disturbing as they are abundant.
According to the report, Kotick was aware of a number of harassment and misconduct allegations at Activision Blizzard ranging from sexual harassment to rape. In multiple cases, complaints were settled out of court. The report also includes harassment and retaliation claims against Kotick himself, stating that both were similarly handled outside of court.
The problems at Activision Blizzard aren’t new. Nor have these problems shown signs of repair, despite Kotick’s insistence that the company has already made progress. The promotion of Jennifer Oneal to co-head of Blizzard Entertainment, the first woman to be elevated to the position, followed by recent news of her stepping down from the role, would suggest otherwise.
Rather than improving, the issues at Activision Blizzard have metastasized. In September, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint against Activision Blizzard in regard to sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. And according to the Wall Street Journal report, since the separate California lawsuit in July, there have been “more than 500 reports from current and former employees alleging harassment, sexual assault, bullying, pay disparities and other issues, according to people familiar with the matter.” Activision is investigating the claims.
The responsibility for ending the horrors enumerated here — and the many others described in reports and lawsuits over the past months, years, and decades — falls squarely on the leadership of Activision Blizzard. I now believe what many people both inside and outside Activision Blizzard have suspected for some time: that Bobby Kotick knew in detail about the allegations of sexual harassment at his company. Furthermore, in at least one case, he allegedly protected the accused.
Activision Blizzard has already snapped onto the defensive. The company issued a statement disputing the Wall Street Journal report as “misleading.” Polygon reached out to Activision Blizzard for additional comment on the accusations and was given a response matching the public statement on the company’s website. Activision Blizzard’s board of directors has issued a separate statement of support for Kotick, saying that “the Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.”
But how does a company expect trust and sympathy with a history of obfuscation? Activision Blizzard continues to mistake a list of Band-Aids for a cure, and it appears that many of its own employees agree. A group of Activision Blizzard workers says it will protest leadership and demand that Kotick is replaced as CEO as part of an employee walkout on Tuesday.
I agree with them. If the allegations in the Wall Street Journal are true, there is no path forward for Activision Blizzard with Bobby Kotick as its CEO. A wound doesn’t heal without first treating the infection.
[Disclosure: Casey Wasserman is on the board of directors for Activision Blizzard as well as the board of directors of Vox Media, Polygon’s parent company.]