This major video game company must stop supporting its CEO | Matt Mohan-Hickson

I am really hoping that my column this week ages badly.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 10:43 am
Updated Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 10:43 am
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Credit: PA Media

Hopefully by the time you are reading this, it’ll be horribly out of date.

Because this week I need to talk about Bobby Kotick.

For those of you who don’t recognise the name, Mr Kotick is the embattled CEO of Activision Blizzard – who are one of the biggest video game companies in the world and the makers of Call of Duty, Overwatch and World of Warcraft.

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I don’t have enough space to go into depth about the dire state of that company – but for a brief rundown, in July of this year a lawsuit was filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing after collecting ‘numerous complaints about unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation’.

Activision Blizzard is accused of having a ‘frat boy’ culture that has been a ‘breeding ground’ for harassment and discrimination against women.

Then this week a damning report by the Wall Street Journal laid out a series of allegations against Mr Kotick including that he was aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct and mistreatment of women ‘for years’ and had allegedly failed to act upon them.

The WSJ also reported that Mr Kotick has allegedly threatened to kill an assistant.

Despite all this the Activision Blizzard’s board has repeatedly stood by Mr Kotick and issued messages of support.

Even before the lawsuit and the allegations, Mr Kotick has long cut a controversial figure in the gaming world – he had long been paid an enormous salary, once estimated to be 319 times higher than the average employee and at a time when jobs were cut at the company.

Put together, all of the details from the lawsuit and the allegations against Mr Kotick have very much soured me on Activision Blizzard – despite being a regular buyer of its games.

For the first time in years, I won’t be buying the latest edition in the Call of Duty franchise.

I even sold my copy of Overwatch last week. I hadn’t touched it for months, since the news of the lawsuit first surfaced, but naively I had kept it around, perhaps hoping that if action was taken I could fire it up again.

But the board of Activision Blizzard have taken no such action. And Bobby Kotick remains CEO.

Where do we draw the lines as ethical consumers?

My decision to snub the new Call of Duty was one that I didn’t come to easily.

It is hard to know what your responsibilities as a consumer are. Where do you draw the line?

Obviously you don’t buy blood diamonds or conflict diamonds. Not that I am going round and regularly (or ever) buying diamonds.

But can you just brush past serious allegations at a company which produces a product you adore?

I could have just looked the other way and picked up a copy of CoD Vanguard, but for some reason I just couldn’t do that.

I would have felt guilty each and every time I fired the game up. But is it fair for the consumer to be saddled with these feelings? When clearly the company’s higher ups are not.

If morality doesn’t work, maybe money will

The latest twist in the Activision Blizzard story, at the time of writing at least, came as the head of Xbox Phil Spencer told staff he is ‘evaluating all aspects’ of their relationship with the company.

It is a rather ominous sounding message – suggesting perhaps that Xbox could potentially be considering pulling games like Call of Duty or Overwatch from the Microsoft Store. Which would be a hugely unprecedented move.

This statement from Mr Spencer, which followed a condemnation of Activision Blizzard from PlayStation chief Jim Ryan, is what makes me hopeful that my column will look out of date.

If the lawsuit and accusations of harassment weren’t enough to force the board’s hand perhaps the words of Mr Spencer might just make them act. After all, money talks, as they say.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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