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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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Blizzard claims it won’t monetize ‘Diablo IV’ like ‘Diablo Immortal’

Diablo IV will feature a different set of monetization systems than those found in Diablo Immortal, according to Blizzard. “To be clear, D4 is a full-price game built for PC/PS/Xbox audiences,” said Diablo franchise general manager Rod Fergusson following the game’s latest showing during Microsoft’s Summer Game Fest presentation on Sunday. “We are committed to delivering an incredible breadth of content after launch, for years to come, anchored around optional cosmetic items and full story-driven expansions.”

Blizzard has similarly promised to support the recently released Immortal for a while but is doing so through an in-game marketplace where players can purchase optional cosmetics, an “empowered” battle pass and “eternal orbs,” a premium currency that can be exchanged for the game’s controversial “legendary” crests. The consensus among the gaming community is that Immortal features some of the most aggressive and predatory monetization systems found in a Blizzard game to date. One estimate suggests it would take someone 10 years or $110,000 to acquire enough “legendary gems” to equip their character with the best possible gear. Since the release of Immortal, Diablo fans have been worried that Blizzard would employ a similar set of monetization systems in Diablo 4 when that game comes out in 2023.

However, Fergusson’s statement suggests Diablo IV will be closer to Diablo III than Immortal. The former did not feature microtransactions – though it launched with a controversial in-game auction house – and Blizzard went on to support the title with a $40 expansion in 2014 and a $15 DLC in 2017 that added Diablo 2’s necromancer class to the game. Still, reading through Fergusson’s Twitter replies, you see a lot of fans expressing concern that even the mention of cosmetics could imply more microtransactions than Blizzard is suggesting. Neither Fergusson nor Diablo community lead Adam Fletcher mentioned a paid battle pass, but that’s one way Blizzard could make some cosmetics obtainable since many games, including Immortal, incorporate them as a completion reward.

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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 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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Blizzard will show off more ‘Overwatch 2’ on June 16th

The first  just wrapped up today, and Blizzard is already preparing to reveal what’s next for the game with an event on June 16th. Details about what to expect are fairly thin for now, though the studio will provide some info on the next PvP beta as well as its plan for the coming months.

Blizzard could be hoping to use the event to address some of the criticism about the first beta. Along with and four fresh maps, the beta introduced another game mode, an upgraded game engine, major changes to many heroes and, most significantly, a shift in the number of team members from six to five.

I loved the beta, for the most part (I’m not a fan of the revamped scoreboard at all). It was only a slice of what Overwatch 2 will eventually become, but it still felt fresh. However, some critics felt that the beta after two years without significant content updates for the original game. Others suggested it was .

“Overwatch as a world, as a universe, is deeply personal to the team; something that we pour our time, creative energies and passion into,” game director Aaron Keller . “It can be scary putting something that means so much to you out there for other people to look at. Especially when you know that it’s not finished and you’re asking for people’s real and valid criticisms of what you’ve made. But the reason we do it is important — to make a better game, and it’s our players and our community that make it possible.”

The Overwatch 2 team it focused on testing specific elements in the first beta, such as the new maps, shift to 5v5, balance and stability of the build and servers. It promised that more features, heroes and maps will be introduced in upcoming betas. Blizzard will surely try to convince the doubters that it’s on the right track with Overwatch 2, hopefully by revealing some more major updates next month. 

In the meantime, a new event just started in the original game, offering the chance to snag some new versions of fan-favorite skins and play some limited-time modes. That could help players pass the time until the next beta, whenever that may start.

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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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Blizzard employee says she was told to ‘get over it’ after reporting sexual harassment

In the midst of multiple lawsuits and investigations over allegations of gender discrimination and sexual harassment at Activision Blizzard, an employee on Wednesday made a public statement about the abuse she says she’s experienced over her four-year career at the studio. Christine works for Blizzard, the group responsible for games including Overwatch and Diablo, and she stood outside the studio’s headquarters in Irvine, California, with her lawyer, Lisa Bloom, by her side. 

Through tears, Christine said she experienced years of sexual harassment at Blizzard, even though it had started out as her “dream job.”

“I was so excited to be a part of a community that seemed to care so much about their employees,” Christine said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen to me. Since I’ve been employed at Blizzard, I’ve been subjected to rude comments about my body, unwanted sexual advances, inappropriately touched, subjected to alcohol-infused team events and cube crawls, invited to have casual sex with my supervisors, and surrounded by a frat-boy culture that’s detrimental to women.”

Christine said she brought these negative experiences to her supervisors and they were brushed aside. According to her statement, her superiors said the men harassing her were “just joking” and that she should “get over it.” She was told not to go to HR. She was told her abusers had done nothing wrong in the eyes of the law.

Christine said that after she complained about the sexual abuse she was experiencing, she was demoted and faced retaliation. She said she was denied shares in the company and full profit-sharing, and she received minimal raises.

In her statement, Christine said her mental health was shattered by these events, but she was going public in order to fight for a safe work environment for all Activision Blizzard employees.

“Blizzard has some amazing people that work for them, but we need to feel safe and supported by people in leadership roles, and hold people accountable for their actions,” she said.

Activision Blizzard is facing multiple investigations and lawsuits regarding its alleged frat-boy culture. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is suing the studio after an investigation uncovered years of discriminatory hiring practices, a systemic failure to treat sexual harassment seriously, and a culture that encouraged abuse. The result, according to the DFEH report, was a studio where just 20 percent of employees were women, and leadership roles were held only by white men.

Lisa Bloom, Christine’s lawyer, made a statement of her own after the employee spoke.

“We are here because sexual harassment victims at Activision Blizzard have been ignored,” Bloom said. “They are still suffering and it’s time that they are prioritized.”

Following an investigation by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year, Activision Blizzard was ordered to establish an $18 million fund to compensate victims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the studio. Bloom argued that this amount is far too low, considering there are hundreds of victims. She also pointed out that Activision Blizzard has already missed critical deadlines when it comes to distributing this money.

“I think we can all agree that the $18 million number is woefully inadequate,” Bloom said.

Bloom then outlined three demands. She first said Activision Blizzard should establish a streamlined, fair and fast process for all victims to resolve their legal claims, and asked for a fund exceeding $100 million. Second, Bloom said the studio should deliver a real apology to Christine and the other victims, and third, she demanded a review by a neutral third party of the career damage employees like Christine have endured, with the goal of remedying any discriminatory decisions.

Bloom has ample experience in this legal arena, most recently representing victims of Jeffrey Epstein.

Activision Blizzard employees have staged a handful of walkouts in protest of the studio’s response to these allegations, which has been dismissive and generally terrible. More than 800 workers in November signed a petition calling for CEO Bobby Kotick to resign, considering he’s held that position for 30 years and has overseen the alleged culture of harassment and discrimination the entire time. Kotick’s tenure at the studio and his power over the board is also likely why he hasn’t yet been forced out.

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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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