Sexual Harassment Scandal at Activision Blizzard: What to Know

When you pick up the controller and turn on a video game, you're no longer yourself. Your willing suspension of disbelief allows you to mentally transform into a soldier, a zombie slayer, or a gun-slinging gangster. In the world of the game and your mind, the laws of the every day no longer apply to you. 

Once you turn off the console and reenter reality, however, you're once again culpable for your words and deeds. No amount of boosters, bonuses, or unlocked levels entitles you to engage in sexual harassment. This includes harassment in the workplace or anywhere else. 

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick seemed to have been unaware of the accountability required in the real world. He's just now learning that real-world actions have real-world consequences.

What happens when the CEO of a major video game company recognizes that he doesn't have unlimited lives? Kotick needs to face the tangible reality that he has created, but how will he respond? 

All states require sexual harassment training to mitigate sexual misconduct in professional environments. Read on to learn more about how Bobby Kotick's workplace harassment created a toxic work environment for his employees.

What Happened at Activision Blizzard?

For video game fans, Activision Blizzard is a household name. This S&P 500 company is the largest game company in Europe and the Americas based on revenue alone. The Santa Monica-based company has been producing and publishing gaming content since 2008.

Activision Blizzard has produced many popular properties. These include Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. Lately, however, they have become better known for sexual harassment-related controversies.

The organization reached its tipping point in July of 2021 when the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued them. This triggered a major investigation and an overwhelming employee response. 

Almost overnight, the company culture shattered, as harassment allegations came in by the hundreds. The toxic work environment at Activision Blizzard left employees at each of the company's five divisions feeling shaken and unsafe. 

When a kingdom is crumbling, you look to the king. Seated at the top was CEO Bobby Kotick. He had found himself scrambling to address the issues that occurred under his watch.

At this late stage in the scandal, 1,700 Activision Blizzard employees have signed a petition calling for Kotick's resignation. That number is only rising as new allegations come to light.

How Activision Blizzard Employees Responded

As a publically traded company, there is was a lot at stake when Activision Blizzard found itself looking scandal in the face. The accusations weren't small, either: harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

Employees have described a "Frat Boy Culture." Women experienced assault in the workplace, and verbal harassment was an everyday occurrence. 

This lead to a work stoppage, which would prove to be detrimental to the company's productivity. In the game world, presales and anticipation do a lot of the work. When release dates change and work on projects stops, investors and customers alike tend to take their money elsewhere. 

Kotick could have addressed this back in July when the allegations first came to light. There were attempts made to fix the toxic culture, including instating Jen Oneal as the co-head of the company. Having a woman in a position of power seemed like a strong first step to take in getting the culture back on track.

Oneal would resign only three months later. She left citing the same issues, including major discrepancies in pay parity for gender minority employees. 

By August of 2021, head of HR Jesse Meschuk had also resigned. Many major directors and designers followed. That included popular designers associated with major franchises such as Diablo 4.

By mid-September, the company's chief legal officer had also walked.

In Late October, Kotick himself took a pay cut. It seemed like he was finally taking steps to directly address the broken company culture. Before this, an anonymous employee has claimed Kotick was merely "putting lipstick" on the problem.

Where Did Kotick Go Wrong?

Things seemed to come to a head in November of 2021. The Wall Street Journal released an article that revealed that CEO Bobby Kotick had withheld information and reports. This included reports alleging the rape of female employees, and his threat to have an assistant killed over a work-related issue. 

The article stated that Kotick had even gone so far as to settle harassment-related lawsuits out of court. He did so without informing the board of his actions. Records indicate that this secrecy has been going on for years.

Any faith that employees had in Kotick's pledge to change company culture dissolved when this new dishonesty came to light.

Things have escalated quickly for Kotick. Employees staged the largest walkout to date. A petition demanding Kotick's resignation has begun gaining major traction.

It became necessary for Kotick to respond publically to these actions. Otherwise, he risked further financial and reputational loss for the company and its brands.

The biggest loss might be the support of Microsoft and Sony. These companies produce some of the segment's most popular gaming consoles. This would lead to the loss of a huge population of gamers and a massive loss of revenue for Blizzard. 

Bobby Kotick Responds

The result? Bobby Kotick has admitted that he will step down from his role as CEO if he cannot achieve rapid changes in the overall company culture. Considering these allegations have been ongoing for years, it's hard to say exactly what "rapid" means in this instance.

Some reports suggest that no change can happen while Kotick is the CEO. Some of the greatest creative minds are threatening to walk. This may have major implications on the quality of the company's products.

The public consensus seems to be that they'd rather lose the untrustworthy Kotick than their favorite creatives. 

What Sexual Harassment Took Place? 

If Kotick is, in fact, on his way out, his successor will have to pick up the pieces of a shattered workplace culture. After Kotick's thirty-year career, most agree that it's time for a change.

Nothing can change, however, without an understanding of exactly what has gone wrong. The new CEO will need a thorough understanding of what employees need to feel safe at work. They will need to grasp exactly why Kotick's previous actions were problematic.

In essence, it is unlawful to harass any employee based on their sex. This can include sexual behavior. It can also include comments made about individuals of another gender.

Women are a minority gender in the video game world. Female employees experienced the bulk of the harassment while working for Activision Blizzard. Many of these experiences were violent.

In the case of Kotick's company, sexual harassment began at the moment of employment. The company historically employs considerably more men than women. Furthermore, Activision Blizzard pays women less to perform the same tasks.

In the Activision Blizzard offices, employees were not allowed to discuss wages and rates of pay. This expectation is illegal.

Women who did secure employment at the company faced sexual advances from male coworkers. This sometimes included coworkers with more power in the workplace.

Reports indicate that male employees urged female employees to drink on the job. They insisted female employees lower their inhibitions while already in a vulnerable position. 

Sexual harassment also extended to the language used in the workplace. It was frequently sexual. Male employees regularly talked about their desire to engage in sexual acts with female employees openly. 

In some cases, female employees experienced assault in the workplace. This included actions ranging from unwanted touching to rape. 

Why is Sexual Harassment Problematic?

Sexual harassment leads to emotional, mental, and physical effects. These effects can often decrease the quality of life of those who experience the harassment. 

The emotional effects of sexual harassment might include anger, fear, and humiliation. Victims may feel shame or guilt that persists beyond the period of harassment. Individuals affected may feel powerless, and may experience a loss of control. 

Mentally, effects can include the onset of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD. Victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault are more likely to engage in substance abuse. They are also more likely to experience suicidal ideation in the aftermath. 

Physically, sexual harassment can lead to disturbances in sleeping and eating. Victims report experiencing headaches and fatigue. It almost always leads to elevated stress levels, which have major implications for overall health.

Sexual Harassment Training From HIPAA Exams

On some level, everyone understands that sexual harassment in the workplace is wrong. The difference is how a company and its CEO choose to respond to serious allegations of toxic behavior, harassment, and inequity. Kotick's failure to act quickly to address these serious allegations may have cost the company its reputation.

More significantly for Kotic, his behavior may have cost him his lucrative, thirty-year position as the company's CEO.