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Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick gets to keep his board seat

Bobby Kotick will get to keep his seat on Activision Blizzard’s board of directors despite catching flak over the alleged role he played in creating the company’s toxic workplace culture. At the video game developers’ annual meeting of stockholders, investors voted on several proposals, as well as who gets to be on the company’s board of directors over the next year. A total of 533,703,580 shareholders have voted to keep Kotick on the board, while on 62,597,199 have voted against it. As GameInformer notes, that means he gets to keep his seat until the next meeting in 2023. 

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of their jobs last year and called for Kotick’s resignation after The Wall Street Journal reported that the CEO knew about the worst instances of abuse in the company and even protected the employees accused of harassment. If you’ll recall, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the publisher in July 2021 for allegedly fostering a “frat boy” culture. The California agency investigated the company over the course of two years and found that women working for Activision Blizzard were paid less than their male counterparts and were subjected to constant sexual harassment. 

More recently, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System sued Kotick, calling him unfit to negotiate the company’s pending sale to Microsoft due to his “personal responsibility and liability for Activision’s broken workplace.” NYC’s retirement system represents the city’s police, teachers and firefighters and owns Activision Blizzard stock. The company named a new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in April to help the company have a more inclusive workplace. In response, a group of employees aiming to protect workers from discrimination formed a committee to outline a list of demands for Kotick and the new chief diversity officer. 

While majority of the shareholders have chosen to keep Kotick on the board, they also approved a plan to release an annual public report detailing how Activision handles any sexual harassment and gender discrimination dispute. The report must also detail how the company is preventing these incidents from happening and what it’s doing to reduce the length of time it takes to resolve them. 

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Activision Blizzard shareholders approve plan for public report on sexual harassment

Activision Blizzard shareholders on Tuesday approved a plan for the company to release an annual, public report detailing its handling of sexual harassment and gender discrimination disputes, and how it’s working to prevent these incidences. The proposal was initially made in February by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Under the proposal, Activision Blizzard will have to publicly disclose the following information each year:

  • The number and total dollar amount of disputes settled by the studio relating to sexual harassment and abuse, and discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, genetic information, service member status, gender identify, or sexual orientation — covering the last three years

  • What steps Activision Blizzard is taking to reduce the average length of time it takes to resolve these incidents internally and legally

  • The number of pending complaints facing the studio relating to sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination, internally and in litigation

  • Data on pay and hours worked, as required by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

The DFEH sued Activision Blizzard in July 2020, alleging executives there fostered a culture of rampant sexual harassment and systemic gender discrimination. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also sued the studio over these allegations in 2020, and Activision Blizzard settled with the federal agency in March, agreeing to set up an $18 million fund for claimants. Activists, employees and the DFEH have argued that this settlement is too low, and former employee Jessica Gonzalez appealed the ruling in May. The DFEH estimates there are 2,500 injured employees deserving more than $930 million in compensation.

“For years, there have been alarming news reports that detail allegedly rampant sexual abuse, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation directed toward female employees,” a statement in support of the proposal to shareholders reads. As an investor-focused document, it outlines the ways in which systemic discrimination and sexual abuse can damage the studio’s revenue streams and its ability to retain employees, saying, “A report such as the one requested would assist shareholders in assessing whether the company is improving its workforce management, whether its actions align with the company’s public statements and whether it remains a sustainable investment.”

While Activision Blizzard is facing multiple lawsuits and investigations in regards to sexism, harassment and discrimination, some employees at the studio are attempting to unionize with the help of the Communications Workers of America. This would be the first union at a major video game studio and could signal a shift in the industry’s longstanding crunch-centric cycle. At Tuesday’s annual meeting, Activision Blizzard shareholders denied a proposal that would’ve added an employee representative to the board of directors, with just 5 percent voting in favor, according to The Washington Post.

At the same time, Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard in a deal worth nearly $69 billion. Microsoft has pledged to respect the rights of workers to unionize. And all the while, Activision Blizzard is still making games.

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Claims process begins in $18 million Activision Blizzard harassment settlement

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has begun accepting claims related to Activision Blizzard’s $18 million settlement with the agency. Starting today, current and former US employees of the publisher who believe they experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination while working at its offices from September 1st, 2016 to March 29th, 2022 can file for an award. Those who decide to take part in the claims process can also make specific non-monetary requests of Activision Blizzard and the EEOC. For instance, they can ask that the publisher remove harmful documents such as disciplinary notices from their personnel file.

It will be interesting to see how many workers apply for an award. When the settlement was first approved by a federal judge in late March, many current and former Activision Blizzard employees criticized the EEOC for not going nearly far enough to hold the company accountable. The fact claimants won’t be able to take part in future litigation against Activision Blizzard, including the ongoing lawsuit from California’s fair employment agency, may also make some workers reluctant to file. Then there’s the amount itself. Former employee Jessica Gonzalez is appealing the settlement on the basis that $18 million is insufficient redress for everyone who may come forward with a claim against Activision Blizzard.

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Activision will reveal its ‘Modern Warfare II’ remake on June 8th

Just a couple of weeks after divulging the release date for , Activision Blizzard is set to show off much more about the next game in the long-running series. A “worldwide reveal” will take place on June 8th at 1PM ET. 

The teased the reveal when it announced the October 28th release date last month. Activision previously confirmed some of the characters who will appear in Modern Warfare II, including John “Soap” MacTavish and Simon “Ghost” Riley. The reveal will surely offer a lot more info, probably including a first look at gameplay.

Infinity Ward is on deck for this year’s Call of Duty game, which is a sequel to 2019’s . That itself was a reboot of the Modern Warfare sub-series, which started in 2007 with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Confused yet? Don’t blame you.

Infinity Ward is also working on of the battle royale, which will arrive at the same time as Modern Warfare II. Among the updates will be a new engine for both games.

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Activision Blizzard faces unfair labor practices complaint over staff unionization efforts

The Communications Workers of America has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of retaliating against workers over their unionization efforts. If you’ll recall, the quality assurance workers at the Activision studio Raven Software announced their plans to unionize in January. That’s after Activision laid off 12 of its QA contractors despite Raven asking to keep them on. Workers at the studio went on strike following the event, demanding that all contractors be hired as full-time employees. 

In its complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the CWA accused the company of violating federal law by terminating those QA workers. The group also pointed out that Activision reorganized the studio by disbanding the QA team and embedding testers in other departments just mere days after they requested union recognition. In addition, Activision Blizzard allegedly withheld pays and benefits in April in response to the workers’ unionization efforts. 

According to previous reports, the company also actively and strongly discouraged workers from voting to unionize. Union organizer Jessica Gonzalez revealed on Twitter back in January that Activision VP of QA Chris Arends posted a message on a locked Slack channel diminishing the benefits of unionization. “A union doesn’t do anything to help us produce world-class games, and the bargaining process is not typically quick, often reduces flexibility, and can be adversarial and lead to negative publicity,” Arends wrote. 

A piece by The Washington Post also said that company leadership held town meetings to dissuade workers from organizing and sent out emails with a message that says “Please vote no.” Those efforts had failed, and CWA won the election to unionize at Raven with a vote of 19 to 3. Xbox head Phil Spencer reportedly said before the vote that he would recognize a Raven union once Microsoft’s acquisition of the developer is complete.

Game Workers Alliance/CWA organizing committee members Erin Hall, Lau Nebel-Malone and Marie Carroll said:

“The reorganization and withholding of pay raises and other benefits and the company’s failure to rehire laid off QA testers were clearly attempts by Activision to intimidate us and interfere with our union election in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.”

Meanwhile, an Activision spokesperson disputed the allegations in a statement sent to Bloomberg:

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union, and retaliation of any kind is not tolerated.”

As the news organization notes, complaints filed with the NLRB are investigation by regional offices. In case they’re found to have merit and aren’t settled, they can be prosecuted by the agency’s general counsel.

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Activision Blizzard workers stage walkout over Call of Duty studio layoffs

Employees and contractors at Activision Blizzard are walking out of work today in support of their colleagues at Raven Software. The protest, the third such to hit the company since it was over sexual harassment allegations in July, comes after Raven, one of the studios that supports Activision’s incredibly popular Call of Duty franchise, laid off 12 quality assurance contractors. The action started on Monday when 60 workers at Raven Software, including both full-time employees and contractors, left work to protest the surprise terminations.

The protest has no planned end date, a first for the walkouts at Activision Blizzard. Those involved in the action are demanding the publisher hire all QA contractors, including those who lost their jobs on Friday, as full-time employees. “Those participating in this demonstration do so with the continued success of the studio at the forefront of their mind,” said Blizzard Activision worker advocacy group A Better ABK on Twitter. “The Raven QA department is essential to the day-to-day functioning of the studio as a whole. Terminating the contracts of high performing testers in a time of consistent work and profit puts the health of the studio at risk.”

Management at Raven told QA staff at the end of last week it would hold one-on-one meetings with everyone to decide if they would get the chance to stay at the studio as a full-time staff member. The developer told approximately 30 percent of the team their contracts would end on January 28th, with more still waiting to find if they’ll have a job beyond the start of the year. According to A Better ABK, every worker Raven decided not to keep was in “good standing,” which is to say they had not underperformed in their job or committed a fireable offense.

According to , Raven studio head Brian Raffel said during an all-hands meeting on Monday he didn’t consider the terminations as layoffs. Instead, he said the studio had merely decided not to renew the contracts of those who were let go. Raffel reportedly later apologized for his comments.

“We are converting approximately 500 temporary workers to full-time employees in the coming months,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson in response to the layoffs. “Unfortunately, as part of this change, we also have notified 20 temporary workers across studios that their contracts would not be extended.” The move comes after the publisher posted a million during its most recent fiscal quarter.

We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for additional comment.

This latest action isn’t directly related to the misconduct claims that have left Activision Blizzard in turmoil for months — though it’s likely safe to say frustrations across the company are at a boiling point. The first walkout occurred in July shortly after the company issued an “” response to the harassment lawsuit from California’s fair employment regulator. More recently, employees after published a bombshell report on Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick’s handling of the crisis. That article implicated Kotick in the mistreatment that has characterized the company’s work culture for years. As part of that protest, thousands of Activision Blizzard employees .

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Activision Blizzard won’t have a role at the 2021 Game Awards

Activision Blizzard’s ongoing workplace harassment scandal may have repercussions for one of its bigger media opportunities. In the wake of a Washington Post report raising questions about Activision Blizzard’s involvement at the 2021 Game Awards, producer Geoff Keighley confirmed the publisher wouldn’t have a role at the show outside of the nominations chosen by influencers and media. There’s “no place” for abuse and harassment anywhere, Keighley said.

 He added that the industry needed to “work together” to create a more inclusive space for developing games. The focus was on celebrating games and the people who made them, according to the founder. Keighley already said Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 wouldn’t appear during the presentation.

It’s not clear if the scandal had a direct impact on Activision’s presence, but it’s a contrast from 2020. Then, the company used the Game Awards to show Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War‘s first season of battle royale material.

Questions remain, though. Most notably, the awards’ advisory panel includes Activision Blizzard president Rob Kostich. The publisher still technically holds some sway over the event, even if it didn’t dictate much of the show in practice. Keighley told the Post the show organizers had to “think very carefully” about how to move forward — much like Microsoft and other industry partners, the Game Awards team hasn’t yet decided on the long-term repercussions (if any) for Activision’s problematic workplace culture.

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Six state treasurers want Activision Blizzard to address its toxic workplace culture

Following scrutiny from state and federal regulators, Activision Blizzard and its CEO Bobby Kotick now face pressure from an unexpected source. Per , state treasurers from California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon, Delaware and Nevada recently contacted the company’s board of directors to discuss its “response to the challenges and investment risk exposures that face Activision.” In a letter dated to November 23rd, the group tells the board it would “weigh” a “call to vote against the re-election of incumbent directors.”

That call was made on November 17th by a collection of activist shareholders known as . SOC, which holds about , has demanded Kotick resign and that two of the board’s longest-serving directors, Brian Kelly and Robert Morgado, retire by December 31st.

“We think there needs to be sweeping changes made in the company,” Illinois state treasurer Michael Frerichs told Axios. “We’re concerned that the current CEO and board directors don’t have the skillset, nor the conviction to institute these sweeping changes needed to transform their culture, to restore trust with employees and shareholders and their partners.”

Between the six treasurers, they manage about a trillion dollars in assets. But as Axios points out, it’s unclear how much they have invested in Activision, and it’s not something they disclosed to the outlet. However, Frerichs did confirm Illinois has been impacted by the company’s falling stock price.

To that point, the day before  published its bombshell report on Activision and CEO Bobby Kotick, the company’s stock closed at $70.43. The day California’s fair employment agency sued the company its stock was worth $91.88. As of the writing of this article, it’s trading at about $58.44.

The group has asked to meet with Activision’s board by December 20th. We’ve reached out to Activision for comment.

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Activision Blizzard’s latest anti-harassment effort is a ‘responsibility committee’

Activision Blizzard is facing increasing scrutiny from the government and the games industry over its handling of the ongoing sexual harassment scandal, and its latest effort might not help. As Kotaku reports, the developer has formed a “Workplace Responsibility Committee” to help it implement new anti-harassment and anti-discrimination efforts. While that sounds useful at first, there’s a concern the initial committee is more symbolic than functional.

The committee will launch with just two members, both of whom (chair Dawn Ostroff and Reveta Bowers) are existing independent board members. They, in turn, will report to the board and key Activision Blizzard executives — including CEO Bobby Kotick, who some argue is partly to blame for the scandal. The duo will work with an outside coordinator and a consultant following the company’s settlement with the EEOC, but there’s no mention of involving regular company staff or outsiders who weren’t part of that court agreement.

As such, it won’t be surprising if the committee does little to satisfy critics. Employees and others have called on Kotick to resign, among other more substantial changes. There’s also low confidence in leadership’s ability to police itself — Jennifer Oneal, Blizzard’s first female leader, allegedly left her position feeling she was the target of discrimination by a seemingly irredeemable company culture. Bloomberg noted that some board members (including Ostroff) are Kotick’s longtime friends and connections, for that matter. The committee might need to take aggressive steps if it wants to prove it’s more than a superficial gesture.

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Nintendo of America head responds to ‘distressing’ situation at Activision Blizzard

Add Nintendo to the list of major gaming companies that say they’re disappointed with Activision Blizzard following last week’s bombshell Wall Street Journal report on the publisher and CEO Bobby Kotick. In an internal company email obtained by Fanbyte, Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser says he was distressed by the allegations detailed in The Journal’s investigation.

“Along with all of you, I’ve been following the latest developments with Activision Blizzard and the ongoing reports of sexual harassment and toxicity at the company,” Bowser says in the message. “I find these accounts distressing and disturbing. They run counter to my values as well as Nintendo’s beliefs, values and policies.”

According to Fanbyte, Bowser notes in the letter he’s been in contact with Activision and is in the process of accessing potential “actions.” What those actions may entail, Bowser doesn’t say. However, there’s no mention of reassessing the relationship with Activision like Xbox chief Phil Spencer said was on the table in his message to Microsoft employees. What he does mention is that Nintendo is working with the Entertainment Software Association, a lobbying group that represents both Nintendo and Activision, to strengthen its stance on harassment and workplace abuse.  

“Every company in the industry must create an environment where everyone is respected and treated as equals, and where all understand the consequences of not doing so,” he said in the email.

Bowser reportedly sent the letter on Friday, November 19th, to all levels of the company, including internal development teams like Retro Studios. Nintendo of America later confirmed the authenticity of the email. “We can confirm the content of Doug Bowser’s internal email to Nintendo of America staff is accurate,” a spokesperson for the company told Fanbyte. “We have nothing further to share on this topic.”

According to The Journal, Kotick knew about many of the incidents of sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard and, at times, acted to protect abusers at the company. He also allegedly acted as one himself at times. In a statement to Engadget, a spokesperson for the company said the article presented a “misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO.” The report drew an outcry from Activision Blizzard employees who staged a walkout on the day it was published. Some of those same employees have also called on Kotick to resign from his position, an action the executive reportedly said he would consider if he can’t fix the company’s culture “with speed.”

“We respect all feedback from our valued partners and are engaging with them further,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Engadget after the Microsoft letter surfaced online. “We have detailed important changes we have implemented in recent weeks, and we will continue to do so. We are committed to the work of ensuring our culture and workplace are safe, diverse, and inclusive. We know it will take time, but we will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”

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