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James Corden’s appearance at Activision all-hands sounds like a joke

CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly hinted at a Guitar Hero encore

Bobby Kotick and James Corden standing together at the 2023 White Party Photo: Team Elite Productions via YouTube
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Days before Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are hoping to tie up its $68.7 billion merger, the Call of Duty publisher and Overwatch 2 developer brought all its employees together for an all-hands meeting... hosted by former late-night host James Corden, according to a report from Windows Central. Yes, the former The Late Late Show host known for terrorizing Los Angeles drivers with musical stunts appeared alongside Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick to bring employees up to speed on the state of the company.

Why? Kotick and Corden appear to be friendly. The duo were filmed together at Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin’s infamous 2023 white party, as seen in a video montage of celebrities at the event — Kotick and Corden’s appearance flanked between the Kardashians, NBA athletes, and other big name celebrities and models. It’s possible Kotick thought his employees would be excited for a celebrity appearance at an all-hands meeting. Corden, however, is absolutely a bizarre pick: He doesn’t have the best reputation in Hollywood or elsewhere.

Corden reportedly asked Kotick how Activision Blizzard will keep its culture, which Kotick described as “magic.” (Activision Blizzard settled a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit in 2021 that alleged sexual harassment and discrimination at the company. A lawsuit between Activision Blizzard and California’s Civil Rights Department is ongoing.) Kotick said Microsoft is interested in the company’s “magic,” according to Windows Central.

“I think a lot [Activision’s] motivation is that we have these enormous communities of players of 400 million people in 190 countries around the world who are engaged every single day,” Kotick said. “I think people [at Activision] feel this incredible sense of responsibility to deliver for their players. And so I think that’s that recognition, and that appreciation, that the focus will be rewarded in the joy of hundreds of millions of people.”

Kotick and Corden also discussed the future of gaming — including machine learning, AI, virtual reality, and even Elon Musk’s Neuralink as a way to interact without a controller. Neuralink is a brain implant that Musk has said could treat paralysis, depression, and schizophrenia, according to Reuters. The company is reportedly approved for its first human trials, but remains under investigation for “potential animal welfare violations.”

Kotick also pointed to the future of gaming becoming more accessible, Windows Central said, with technologies like DLSS that let less powerful computers display more impressive visuals. “The accessibility that’s going to come from less and less expensive processing that will be more widely available, and inexpensively available, is going to just create more and more opportunities for the amazingly talented people that we have here,” Kotick said, according to Windows Central. DLSS stands for Deep Learning Super Sampling, which is a technology created by Nvidia that’s used to improve graphic rendering by using Nvidia’s algorithms to quickly deliver high-quality graphics without lowering frame rates.

Elsewhere, Kotick hinted that Guitar Hero could make a “re-emergence,” made possible with the resources that Microsoft has available.

“A big part of what I’ve seen in Microsoft is research,” Kotick said, per Windows Central. “And they do development in areas that are extraordinary. And so being able to tap into their AI and machine learning capability, the data analytics, new ways of thinking about graphics – I just see unlimited potential for what we do. We’re uniquely situated as a company because we have the very best franchises in all of video games.”

Guitar Hero was created in 2005 by Harmonix and published by RedOctane, which was later acquired by Activision. Harmonix moved on to Rock Band, after being acquired by MTV Games, while Activision took control of Guitar Hero, which was wildly successful. Activision published several follow-ups, the last of which was Guitar Hero Live in 2015. There hasn’t been a new Guitar Hero game in eight years.

Kotick seemingly didn’t discuss what role he could take in the company when the Microsoft deal is finally closed. Previously, the companies said Kotick will remain CEO until the end of Microsoft’s 2023 fiscal year. Kotick told The New York Times that he “will be available as needed” after the closing. A Wall Street Journal report from 2022 suggested Kotick will exit the company “once the deal closes,” when he should receive a $293 million severance package, according to financial documents that outlined the scenario of Kotick losing his job to a corporate takeover.

Update: An Activision Blizzard representative declined to comment on the record.

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