We’re going to have to put a content warning right from the off, with the report claiming Kotick received an email in July of 2018 from a lawyer representing a former employee of Call of Duty: Vanguard studio Sledgehammer Games. Said former employee had allegedly been raped by her former supervisor after being pressured to consume too much alcohol. Apparently Activision reached an out-of-court settlement with the employee, but Kotick failed to inform or notify the board of the incident.
The report also claims that Kotick was aware of another accusation levelled at Dan Bunting, the co-head of Treyarch, another Call of Duty developer. The allegation claimed Bunting had sexually harassed an employee after a night of drinking. Though the incident was reported to HR and investigated in 2019 with the department recommending to terminate Bunting’s employment, the report claims Kotick intervened to keep him. Instead, according to “people familiar with the incident” Bunting was given counselling and allowed to remain at the company. Bunting apparently departed Treyarch shortly after the Journal asked about the incident.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the report also mentions Kotick himself was guilty of mistreating employees. They cite a 2006 incident in which he apparently threatened to have an assistant killed in a voice mail. The matter was settled out of court, but an Activision spokesperson has seemingly confirmed the incident. They said “Mr. Kotick quickly apologised 16 years ago for the obviously hyperbolic and inappropriate voice mail, and he deeply regrets the exaggeration and tone in his voice mail to this day.”
The report also throws new light on the departure of Jen Oneal as the co-CEO of Blizzard after just three months in the role. Just a month following her appointment, she apparently sent an email to Activison’s legal team. She detailed examples of her own experiences of harassment prior to her taking the role of co-head, and claimed she was being paid less than her male counterpart who was appointed at the same time.
Activision published a press release a few hours after the publication of the report. It said “We are disappointed in the Wall Street Journal’s report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO. Instances of sexual misconduct that were brought to his attention were acted upon. The WSJ ignores important changes underway to make this the industry’s most welcoming and inclusive workplace and it fails to account for the efforts of thousands of employees who work hard every day to live up to their – and our – values.”
“The constant desire to be better has always set this company apart. Which is why, at Mr. Kotick’s direction, we have made significant improvements, including a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate conduct. And it is why we are moving forward with unwavering focus, speed, and resources to continue increasing diversity across our company and industry and to ensure that every employee comes to work feeling valued, safe, respected, and inspired. We will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team.”
The damning revelations have sparked a new push for Bobby Kotick to step down from his position of CEO. Employees under the A Better ABK Workers Alliance staged a walkout outside Blizzard’s headquarters last night. “We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy,” they said via Twitter. “We will not be silenced until Bobby Kotick has been replaced as CEO, and continue to hold our original demand for Third-Party review by an employee-chosen source. We are staging a Walkout today. We welcome you to join us.”
At the time of writing, however, it seems the Activision board are remaining behind Bobby Kotick. A subsequent statement from the company’s board of directors reads: “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.”