An internal email from Xbox boss Phil Spencer has stated that he is “evaluating” the platform’s relationship with Activision Blizzard following the latest allegations made against Activision and its CEO Bobby Kotick.
The email was sent to Xbox employees and quickly leaked to Bloomberg. Within, Spencer has said that they were “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision Blizzard, echoing similar sentiments made by PlayStation boss Jim Ryan. It follows on from Tuesday, when the Wall Street Journal published a story detailing Activision CEO Bobby Kotick’s prior knowledge of sexual harassment cases within his company and having a hand in harbouring those accused.
Spencer continued to state that “this type of behaviour has no place in our industry”, and that he was “evaluating all aspects of [Xbox’s] relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments”.
Obviously it’s very vague what this actually means. It certainly won’t mean that Activision’s games are pulled from the Microsoft Store or that future game releases are rejected from certification, but Microsoft can apply pressure on Activision in other ways, perhaps by cutting marketing partnerships and reducing the presence of Activision Blizzard games on storefronts and in sales. That would be significant when a major marketing push is sure to come for the next season of Call of Duty: Warzone.
The turmoil at Activision is coming from all angles. Started by a DFEH lawsuit filed in California earlier this year, there have been further government and investor lawsuits to investigate allegations of workplace misconduct and how the company leadership has handled knowledge of these cases. Employees have formed the ABK Workers Alliance to try and push the company into reform, and are even considering attempts to unionise (which is a huge deal for the games industry as a whole and rather difficult to do in the US).
While Activision has taken several public steps to address the situation, the initially dismissive stance switching to a new zero tolerance policy announced by Kotick, the Activision boss himself has now been dragged into the allegations. the WSJ reporting asserts that he failed to give sufficient updates to the board of directors about sexual harassment, rape and discrimination, and actively interfered with an investigation into Treyarch co-head Dan Bunting. Bunting was retained in 2019, despite recommendations that he be dismissed, but has now departed when WSJ contacted Activision regarding their report.
Following the WSJ report, the ABK Workers Alliance has called for Kotick’s removal from his position as CEO, in line with the company’s new zero tolerance policy. The group called for an employee walkout, which over 150 employees did – which is quite impressive when working from home is still prevalent.
Meanwhile, the board of directors has backed Kotick, saying in a statement that “The board remains confident that Bobby Kotick appropriately addressed workplace issues brought to his attention.”