Activision Blizzard has had a nightmarish 2021, with historic allegations of harassment causing enormous upheaval at the company, several high-profile lawsuits and the departure (or firings) of many key executives and developers. You would think that this mess would fall at the feet of the company’s CEO Bobby Kotick, and lead to either his resignation or his ousting at the hands of the board.
After all, things have gotten so bad this week that staff are repeatedly walking out, and PlayStation boss Jim Ryan has even called out Activision’s timid response to events, saying he has felt “disheartened and frankly stunned”.
You would be wrong, of course, because we live in a late-stage capitalist dystopia, where the men running companies like Activision are seemingly more interested in the preservation of their power than in accepting any ounce of accountability for the poisonous leadership culture they have helped foster and, in Kotick’s case, protect.
Perhaps the wildest thing about all this though is that, given everything we now know about Activision, its leadership and the actions of its CEO, not only has Kotick himself not resigned, but yesterday the company’s board of directors issued a public statement defending him, sticking by their man:
The Activision Blizzard Board remains committed to the goal of making Activision Blizzard the most welcoming and inclusive company in the industry. Under Bobby Kotick’s leadership the Company is already implementing industry leading changes including a zero tolerance harassment policy, a dedication to achieving significant increases to the percentages of women and non-binary people in our workforce and significant internal and external investments to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent. The Board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.
The goals we have set for ourselves are both critical and ambitious. The Board remains confident in Bobby Kotick’s leadership, commitment and ability to achieve these goals.
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Incredible. What’s most telling about this statement, and what really lays bare the sycophantic power structures in place among the executive class in 21st century America, is that amidst this PR nightmare the company isn’t even doing the one thing Kotick has always been able to rely on it doing: making people money.
Early retail figures from the latest Call of Duty game, Vanguard, show that sales in the UK are 40% down on last year’s Black Ops Cold War (American numbers are yet to drop). The company has lost 29% of its overall playerbase in the last three years. Blizzard hasn’t released a new video game since 2016. And even the company’s share price, surely the thing a board of directors would be most interested in, has tanked, beginning its slide right around the time this whole scandal started:
Now even shareholders are calling for his resignation. There’s literally no reason to be defending this man! Indeed these are all very convincing factors for his resignation, or even ousting. The company’s name is being dragged through the mud, it’s the focus of a very big lawsuit and its share price is down 28% for the year. And yet through all of this the Activision Blizzard board of directors haven’t just failed to act, they’ve publicly supported Kotick.
So let’s meet these folks! It seems silly to keep referring to them as “The Board”, as though they’re some mysterious, faceless group working from the shadows. This is the board of a video game company we’re talking about here, not the Human Instrumentality Committee. It’s only fair that if they’re going to play such an important role in this whole mess that we at least know who it is we’re talking about.
“Robert Kotick’s mother dates his compulsive capitalism to toddlerhood, when young Bobby sold her ashtray to a friend who had come over for a playdate”, opens this glowing Forbes profile from 2009. “He netted $3. After that the moneymaking ideas never stopped pouring out.”
Kotick’s name appears in Jeffrey Epstein’s “Little Black Book”.
Bowers is one of only two women on the ten-person board. She also serves on the “board of directors of the L.A. Philharmonic, the board of advisors of the Edward E. Ford Foundation, the board of councilors of the Rossier School of Education, the advisory board of the Dream Fund for Scholars, the board of directors of the Teachers College, Columbia University, and the board of directors of FEDCO Charitable Foundation”. She has also previously served on the board of directors for Disney, and in 2004 was part of an SEC investigation (which was later settled) into allegations Disney executives and board members were hiring their own kids into high-paying positions, when her son Craig was given a job paying $81,000 a year.
You can read more about the SEC case in this New York Times report.
Wasserman, who is the chairman and CEO of his own company, is also on the board of Saban Capital Acquisition Corp and Vox Media, the publishers of websites like The Verge and Polygon. Wasserman is on the organising committee for the 2028 Olympics and Paralympic Games in Los Angeles, and also appears in Epstein’s Little Black Book.
A money man, who has for decades worked in executive positions in banking and investments, Nolan “currently serves on the board of directors of AerSale Holdings, Inc., Diamond Wipes International, Inc. and Golden Road Food Services, LLC.”
Meyer is formerly the chairman of Warner Brothers, where he had worked from 1971-2013. While also serving on the board of a number of Hollywood organisations, he’s currently on the board of directors for both Human Rights Watch and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Kelly is an Activision lifer, having been with the company since 1991. Along with Kotick he founded the Call of Duty Endowment, and is also “a trustee of New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the founder and chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance”.
The only other woman on the board, Ostroff works at Spotify, but is also a co-founder of publisher Conde Nast. She has previously worked at Paramount, CW, Lifetime and Disney.
Another long-time employee, Morgado has been with the company since 1997, having previously worked at Warner Music Group, where he was forced to resign in 1995 after a botched restructuring plan. He also serves on the boards of a real estate investment company and the Maui Arts & Cultural Centre.
Corti, a certified public accountant, previously worked at Avon for 25 years, where he still serves on the board. He’s also on the board at Bacardi, was a director at ING Direct and is a member of the Manhattan Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He has been on Activision Blizzard’s board since 2003.
HENDRIK HARTONG III
Formerly an Activision marketing guy, Hartong’s day job involves running the private equity firm Brynwood Partners, which was founded by his dad. He has previously worked for Nestle, another company famous for not giving a shit what people think of them. When Brynwood took over a New York biscuit factory in 2006 and immediately announced it was cutting wages and benefits, workers went on strike, telling the New York Times “The financiers and speculators have brought the American economy to its knees. The financiers at Brynwood Partners are trying to bring 135 workers to their knees, hiring scabs to do their work. The Stella D’Oro workers are taking a stand against the wrecking of our economy.”
You can read more about the strike in this New Yorker feature.
I am sure this support has little to do with the fact that Kotick has been on Activision Blizzard’s board for 30 years, Brian Kelly for 26, Robert Morgado 24 and Robert Corti for 18 years.