Xbox chief Phil Spencer said Microsoft is in the process of reevaluating its relationship with major game publisher Activision Blizzard. His comments come in the wake of a Wall Street Journal report regarding CEO Bobby Kotick's prior knowledge of sexual assault and workplace discrimination, according to a leaked email sent to Microsoft staff and obtained by Bloomberg.
Spencer told Xbox staff that he was "disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions" at Activision Blizzard, referring specifically to the WSJ report on Kotick. "This type of behavior has no place in our industry," Spencer added, saying Microsoft would, going forward, have to think about how closely it wants to associate with the publisher.
Spencer's comments come on the heels of PlayStation chief Jim Ryan similarly rebuking Kotick and the leadership at Activision Blizzard in an email to staff Wednesday. "We outreached to Activision immediately after the article was published to express our deep concern and to ask how they plan to address the claims made in the article," Ryan wrote, according to Bloomberg. "We do not believe their statements of response properly address the situation."
Taken together, Spencer and Ryan's statements form the harshest condemnation of Activision Blizzard from high-level game executives to date and reflect the severe atmosphere in which Kotick now attempts to navigate the crisis and hold onto his job in the process. The ABK Workers Alliance, an employee activist group, has called for Kotick's resignation, as has a group of investors.
Since the WSJ report published, a number of details surrounding Activision Blizzard's poor handling of the situation have come to light, including how it failed to pay the new female co-lead of Blizzard, Jen Oneal, the same salary as her male counterpart, leading in part to Oneal's resignation mere months after taking over for disgraced former president J. Allen Brack.
Despite the wave of negative stories and increasing backlash from the industry, the board of directors has stood by Kotick. The company has since tried to reassure employees that it is committed to change, though some workers have reportedly been unconvinced by many of the gestures, including a seemingly strategic week of time off for the Thanksgiving holiday.
"We respect all feedback from our valued partners and are engaging with them further," Activision said in a statement. "We have detailed important changes we have implemented in recent weeks, and we will continue to do so. We are committed to the work of ensuring our culture and workplace are safe, diverse, and inclusive. We know it will take time, but we will not stop until we have the best workplace for our team."
The Wall Street Journal's report on Tuesday detailed how involved Kotick has been in past instances of misconduct and helping cover them up, including his protection of high-level employees accused of sexual harassment and his role in reaching out-of-court settlements with accusers that he subsequently kept hidden from his board.
Activision Blizzard is now under investigation by the SEC for this alleged behavior, and the company also remains in a legal battle with California over an investigation the state launched in 2018 into the company's workplace issues. California's lawsuit kicked off a reckoning at the company this past summer and resulted in numerous firings, employee protests, a federal settlement and a number of measures from Kotick and upper management to try and quell the storm, including a pay cut for the chief executive and the end of forced arbitration clauses in worker contracts.
But mounting pressure on Kotick to resign for his complicity and active participation in the company's toxic workplace culture has brought renewed attention to company's failings.