Activision Blizzard's attempt to boost morale after new allegations leave some staff unmoved

Chief executive officer Bobby Kotick was aware of sexual misconduct at the company but failed to report alleged instances of rape to the board. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Some employees at Activision Blizzard said they were let down by internal meetings that were held Wednesday morning (Nov 17) to discuss the new revelations about the company and chief executive officer Bobby Kotick.

The gatherings took place on video calls across the game publisher's three primary organizations, Activision, Blizzard and King.

Executives in charge of each division took questions and shared similar talking points after the Wall Street Journal reported detailed allegations that Mr Kotick was aware of sexual misconduct at the company years before a California lawsuit made them public this summer and failed to report alleged instances of rape to the board.

Hours after the article was published on Tuesday, more than a hundred employees staged a walkout to demand Mr Kotick's resignation.

The board said it is standing by Mr Kotick, but partners and shareholders have raised questions about his handling of the crisis.

Sony Group's PlayStation chief Jim Ryan criticised Activision's response in an e-mail to staff Wednesday which linked to the Journal's Tuesday report, Bloomberg reported.

When asked for comment, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which owns more than a million shares in Activision, said in a statement that it recognises that sexual harassment and misconduct incidents can result in "significant" risks to its portfolio holdings and that it continually monitors its holdings to address those risks.

The leaders said Mr Kotick would be working to "regain trust" of employees throughout the company, according to partial transcripts from two of the meetings shared with Bloomberg.

Activision president Rob Kostich told people in his group that Mr Kotick would not be resigning, according to two attendees. Blizzard's top executive Mr Mike Ybarra told staff in what appeared to be pre-recorded remarks that he understood their frustrations and apologised for not being more active as a leader, according to two attendees.

Some employees of King, the makers of Candy Crush, asked whether a sudden announcement on Monday that they would be getting bonus vacation days next week for Thanksgiving was meant to pre-empt the article. Activision Blizzard chief operating officer Daniel Alegre denied that was the reason.

In response to a question about whether Activision's newly instituted "zero tolerance" policy on harassment, announced last month, would also apply to Mr Kotick, Mr Alegre said that his boss was "deeply and personally committed to doing the right things".

Mr Alegre also addressed the reported pay disparity between Mr Ybarra and Ms Jennifer Oneal, who were named co-leaders of Blizzard this summer following the lawsuit. Ms Oneal, who resigned earlier this month, said she was paid less than Mr Ybarra.

Employees of the video game company, Activision Blizzard, hold a walkout and protest rally in California, on July 28, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Mr Alegre said that Ms Oneal was paid "differently" than Mr Ybarra because of complications involving cash and equity and that "they were both offered the exact same compensation".

But Ms Oneal told Blizzard employees that she was not offered compensation equal to Mr Ybarra's until she tendered her resignation, according to a Slack transcript reviewed by Bloomberg. Gaming website IGN earlier reported on the Slack exchange. Pay discrimination was one of the items listed in the California lawsuit.

The company also told staff that it is banning alcohol in all offices. Many people were given the opportunity to take paid mental health days, which some staff said had not mollified them.

On video calls and in Slack channels across the company, calls for Mr Kotick's ousting continue. Many Activision Blizzard employees are even publicly demanding on their own personal Twitter feeds that the CEO be fired.

In an e-mail to Blizzard staff on Tuesday reviewed by Bloomberg, Mr Ybarra wrote that "if there's a silver lining to the last few months, it's that they've proven that Blizzard is full of incredible employees who are making progress every day to improve our culture, our game communities, and ourselves".

Mr Ybarra added that "our best years are ahead of us". But with morale low and Mr Kotick still in place, some employees are sceptical about that.

Playstation chief criticises activision's response to crisis

Mr Ryan, PlayStation's chief, in an e-mail to employees on Wednesday linked to the Journal's Tuesday report.

He wrote that he and his leadership were "disheartened and frankly stunned to read" that Activision "has not done enough to address a deep-seated culture of discrimination and harassment".

"We outreached to Activision immediately after the article was published to express our deep concern and to ask how they plan to address the claims made in the article," he wrote. "We do not believe their statements of response properly address the situation."

As one of the video game industry's biggest console manufacturers, Sony has long had a close relationship with Activision, which produces hits like Call Of Duty and World Of Warcraft.

The last few entries in the Call Of Duty series, including this year's Call Of Duty: Vanguard, have featured exclusive modes and content for the PlayStation. PHOTO: ACTIVISION BLIZZARD

In addition to publishing most its games on PlayStation consoles, Activision and Sony have worked together on elaborate marketing deals. The last few entries in the Call Of Duty series, including this year's Call Of Duty: Vanguard, have featured exclusive modes and content for the PlayStation.

Mr Ryan's e-mail did not specify actions Sony would take against Activision, but Sony has been proactive in the past about removing games from its PlayStation online store when it was unhappy.

Last December, Sony pulled the highly-anticipated game Cyberpunk 2077 from its store and offered full refunds to players after the release was riddled with bugs and performed especially poorly in console versions. Sony reinstated the title about six months later.

Mr Ryan emphasised to his staff that Sony Interactive Entertainment "is committed to ensuring our community of developers and gamers feel safe and respected, and providing a secure work environment for every employee".

He called on employees to report instances of harassment or discrimination and promised that any action would be investigated.

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