As CEO Bobby Kotick defends sexism accusations as “mischaracterisations” in a new interview with Variety, Vikki Blake wonders: what’s next for Activision Blizzard?
It hurts, doesn’t it? To know people dislike you. To see the jokes and the tweets and the memes and the ever-constant reminders that people think you suck. That you’re a walking garbage fire. No one wants you here, Bub. It’s time to go.
To have your pain hand-waved away by that same Bub – well, it’s Bob, actually – hurts more, though, I reckon. Imagine that. Imagine working alongside guys who have been commenting on your rack and “joking” about rape for months, maybe years. Imagine the relief when someone somewhere finally blows the whistle, and you hope that things will finally begin turning around – that your dream job will stop feeling like a nightmare… and then your boss dismisses what happened to you by calling it a “mischaracterisation”.
Yeah. That would hurt more than having some cartoon horns photoshopped onto a mugshot of you, don’t you think?
That’s the word Activision CEO Bobby Kotick uses, though. “Mischaracterisation”. As if “constant sexual harassment, including groping, comments, and advances” and a lawsuit filed by California’s Civil Rights Department was just a little misunderstanding. As if the women employed in his company “almost universally confirmed that working for [Activision] was akin to working in a frat house” were being over-sensitive, even though those same women insisted that if they reported a male colleague for something as serious as sexual assault, there’d likely be “no repercussions”.
“We’ve had every possible form of investigation done,” Kotick insisted in an interview published earlier this week. “And we did not have a systemic issue with harassment – ever. We didn’t have any of what were mischaracterisations reported in the media. But what we did have was a very aggressive labour movement working hard to try and destabilise the company.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you if any of what you read in the inflammatory narrative was truthful. No board of directors in a non-controlled company is going to allow the CEO of an enterprise to stay running the enterprise if those things were truthful.”
I had to read that twice. Then again. And then a fourth time, because it’s such a maddening statement, it’s hard to believe it’s real. Even if you disregard the brazen anti-union messaging (which we absolutely shouldn’t, by the way; Kotick’s disdain for unionisation is thick enough to spread on toast), it’s a phenomenally tone-deaf thing to say. Because as long as Kotick doubles down on how Activision does “not have a systemic issue with harassment”, he’s trivialising the claims of all those people who came forward. At best, he’s downplaying these dreadful reports of routine harassment and misogyny; at worst, he’s calling them lies.
It’s not good enough, Bob. It’s not okay to sit there and handwave away these kinds of accusations without reflecting on why they’ve been made in the first place. Because “inflammatory narrative” or not, these allegations have cost Activision $18 million in settlement payments thus far, with numerous other lawsuits yet to be resolved. The megacorp can push back all it likes with counter-claims – it certainly has the money and, it seems, the inclination to do so – but the optics on this stuff is so astonishingly bad and I still can’t work out if Activision can’t see it or just doesn’t care.
Of course, Activision is not alone. Ubisoft, Quantic Dream, Riot; all have had similar claims levied against them (and those are just the ones we know about). But whilst the accusations have been similar, the way these companies have responded to the issues has not been, and for me, that’s the most intriguing part of all. Because no, I’m not naive enough to believe that Activision is the only games company in the world to be battling such issues. I’ve been writing about games and the people who make them for a shockingly long time now, and seen the strippers and the open bars and the branded condoms firsthand. But – and I say this with complete sincerity – I no longer care about what happened then. I only care about what these companies are doing now. And I’m certain I’m not the only one.
As long as Kotick doubles-down, insisting that the reports filed by government agencies “paint an inaccurate and misleading view of [the] company, of [him] personally, and [his] leadership” instead of exploring why his employees are saying this stuff to the investigators and beyond, there will never be any meaningful action, let alone a resolution. Instead of listening to the issues its people are having, Activision’s shouting them down; and how can anyone have faith that this is a company that cares about its people if it refuses to listen to what they are saying? What’s the point of drafting new policies and establishing new committees designed to eliminate harassment and discrimination if you don’t believe people when they report it?
Ultimately, no one wants their trauma to be part of a court filing. No woman wants the distressing details of her sexual assault – anonymised or not – splashed all over the gaming press. She just wants it to stop, Bobby. And that’s what’s been lost in all of this.
Vikki Blake has a column every week here at whynow Gaming. You can read her previous dispatch here.