This story contains mention of sexual assault.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of severe misconduct among employees at the video game publisher and its subsidiaries for years, according to a new investigation The Wall Street Journal published Tuesday.
One of the most damning details in the report involves an employee of Activision-owned Sledgehammer Games, responsible for numerous Call of Duty games, who informed the company in 2018 that she was raped by a male superior on two separate occasions in 2016 and 2017. The Wall Street Journal reports that Kotick did not inform his board of directors, and instead the company reached an out-of-court settlement with the former employee.
The report is full of other alarming details, including an alleged death threat Kotick delivered to an assistant in 2006 and the dismissal of Activision-owned studio Treyarch's co-head Dan Bunting only after the WSJ asked the company about an misconduct allegation against Bunting from 2017. According to the report, Kotick intervened to protect Bunting two years later when the incident was being investigated and human resources recommended he be fired.
The report flies in the face of many of Activision's public comments regarding allegations of widespread sexual assault, harassment and workplace discrimination at the company. Since California filed a lawsuit against the company this summer, Kotick and other executives have pledged to do better and have claimed at numerous times that they were unaware of the gravity of the workplace toxicity issues.
Many of the measures the company has taken since have been focused on Blizzard Entertainment, including the replacement of former Blizzard President J. Allen Brack and the firing or forced resignation of numerous other top employees. Kotick also said he would be taking a pay cut and would end forced arbitration clauses in employee contracts.
But the WSJ report makes clear that these issues were not only longstanding ones affecting more than just Blizzard, but also that Kotick allegedly took measures to withhold incidents of sexual assault and misconduct from the company's board. The SEC is now investigating Activision Blizzard, specifically about the company's actions and communication with investors since it became aware of California's investigation back in 2018.
"Mr. Kotick would not have been informed of every report of misconduct at every Activision Blizzard company, nor would he reasonably be expected to have been updated on all personnel issues," company spokesperson Helaine Klasky said in a statement to the WSJ. Klasky added, however, that Activision "fell short of ensuring that all of our employees' behavior was consistent with our values and our expectations."
After the publication of the article, Activision Blizzard released a statement saying it was "disappointed in The Wall Street Journal's report, which presents a misleading view of Activision Blizzard and our CEO." The company says the incidents mentioned in the article "were brought to [Kotick's] attention" and acted on, and that the WSJ "ignores important changes underway to make this the industry's most welcoming and inclusive workplace."
Kotick himself also prepared a video statement sent to employees. "There's an article today that paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership," Kotick said. "Anyway who counts my conviction to be the most welcoming, inclusive workplace doesn't' really appreciate how important this is to me."
The ABK Workers Alliance, an employee activist group, has since announced that it's staging a walkout in response to the WSJ report and are calling for Kotick's resignation.
We have instituted our own Zero Tolerance Policy. 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.— ABetterABK \ud83d\udc99 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK \ud83d\udc99 ABK Workers Alliance) 1637086161
Following the company's defense of Kotick, the Activision Blizzard Board of Directors released a statement saying it stands behind the executive:
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 attentio. 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.
Update: This article was updated Tuesday to include additional details from the WSJ report, Activision Blizzard's formal responses to the story and the response from the ABK Workers Alliance.
Update: Added a statement from the Activision Blizzard board of directors.