Jul 27, 2021 - Technology

Activision Blizzard CEO calls company's response to suit "tone deaf"

Photo of Bobby Kotick sitting at a conference

Photo: Bloomberg/ Getty Images

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent a lengthy letter to employees late on Tuesday, listing steps the company will take to address widespread allegations of sexist and discriminatory conduct at the "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft" gaming company.

Why it matters: This was the most comprehensive message from the company, and a softer one than had been sent by Kotick's PR people and a top executive last week.

  • "I want to recognize and thank all those who have come forward in the past and in recent days," Kotick wrote.
  • "Every voice matters — and we will do a better job of listening now, and in the future. Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf."

Driving the news: In his letter, Kotick said the company would:

  • Start listening sessions and "continue to investigate each and every claim."
  • Terminate any managers "found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences."
  • Add resources to "ensure" managers were adhering to a prior directive to consider diverse candidates to all positions.

Between the lines: Last Tuesday, California filed a lawsuit against the company over its "sexist culture."

  • The suit included allegations of unequal, discriminatory pay and allegations of a toxic sexist culture that included drunken male employees harassing female employees in their cubicles.
  • It also alleged that an employee who died by suicide may have been subjected to repeated sexual harassment.
  • A senior executive had described the suit as "distorted," "untrue," "meritless," and "out of date."

Of note: Employees announced earlier in the day plans for a walkout on Wednesday.

  • They issued a list of demands, including an independent investigation and an end to contracts that mandate arbitration to resolve disputes.
  • "It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment, and to propose new solutions to address these issues," the workers said in a statement shared with Axios.
  • In his letter, Kotick said the company has asked the firm WilmerHale to review company policies and said that work will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who most recently served as a director in the SEC's enforcement division during the Trump administration.

What to watch: The company also said it would also delete "inappropriate" in-game content in "World of Warcraft."

  • That could be a reference to characters in the game who are named after a long-time former creative lead on the game who is now accused in the California suit of sexual harassment.
  • An Activision PR rep did not reply by press time to clarify.
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