What the hell has happened at Activision and why should you care?

Do boycotts work? Let's find out

Say what you will about Bobby Kotick but Christ, does that man have balls. I mean, if I had the bosses of the world’s three biggest gaming companies – that’s the leaders of Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox, just in case there’s any doubt – my shareholders, and almost two thousand of my own employees calling for my resignation, I don’t think I’d be able to handwave that kind of pressure away.

It’s not like this is a temporary embarrassment. Bobby didn’t accidentally back his car into someone else or forget to put the toilet seat down. Bobby is the CEO of Activision – the same Activision which, lest we forget, made eight hundred people redundant on the same day the firm announced record profits – and it looks like Activision might have fucked up. Big time.

Content warning for mentions of suicide, sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

Not entirely sure what I’m talking about? Hey, that’s okay (and I kind of wish I didn’t either, quite honestly). Here’s a brief summary to bring you up to date. Settle in, maybe grab a hot beverage of your choice; it’s a doozy.


Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick
Bobby Kotick. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Activision was hit by a lawsuit filed by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing back in July, and then again in September, this time by the U.S Securities and Exchange Commission following multiple allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and workplace misconduct. In between that, its own staff also filed a complaint too, alleging that the company used intimidation and “coercive tactics” to stifle staff trying to improve working conditions. Later in the month, Activision Blizzard announced several workplace initiatives “to further prevent and eliminate harassment and discrimination”.

The complaints are… well, sickening, quite frankly. Astonishing. Enraging. Sadly, they even include devastating allegations that a woman took her own life as a direct consequence of targeted workplace harassment.

A press release sent out at 3.30 am UK time earlier this week – it’s okay, Activision; we noticed it anyway – details a new “Workplace Responsibility Committee” that will “oversee the company’s progress in successfully implementing its new policies, procedures, and commitments to improve workplace culture and eliminate all forms of harassment and discrimination at [Activision]”.

Activision Blizzard HQ
Credit: Activision Blizzard

But I’m guessing Activision’s people don’t want a new committee. I doubt they even want more lawsuits. I’m guessing they want change: meaningful, actionable, tangible, change. And though Activision’s senior management is ostensibly saying the right things (as well as a fuckton of wrong things, too, of course), saying stuff isn’t enough – not anymore. Not now we’ve been told Kotick reportedly knew about the sexual misconduct all along, in a report which Kotick said “paints an inaccurate and misleading view of our company, of me personally, and my leadership”. Not now we know Kotick told a woman he’d “have her killed” (sorry, it was just bants, though, lads – just “hyperbolic and inappropriate” bants). Not now Activision has reportedly made it clear that its “zero-tolerance” policy of serious workplace misconduct doesn’t apply to the CEO because there is “no evidence”.

It all puts us, the playing public, in a very difficult position, though, doesn’t it? I mean, what the hell can we do?

Actually, I think – together – we can do quite a lot. While the abstinence of one Welsh dork (HI!) is unlikely to make much of a dent on Acti’s bottom line, if several hundred/thousand/million similar dorks took a similar stand, I reckon we would. As I’ve said before when I talked about “crunch” in the video game industry, the easiest way to let a video game developer/publisher know you’re unhappy with their choices and decisions is both incredibly easy and stupidly hard: just don’t play their games.


Activision offices
Activision offices. Credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images.

Don’t let anyone tell you that your actions – however small – don’t matter. Consumer behaviour does matter. It does help. Cruelty-free beauty products, Fairtrade coffee and tea, the boost in meat-free food – all of that came from humble consumer pressure. No, it’s not easy: but just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done at all.

There’s a small, moral victory in not buying the latest Call Of Duty, sure, but to make a difference, you need to not support it in any way, and that includes avoiding streams of Activision products. Be vocal about it, too. If you use social media, let Activision know why you’re avoiding their games. I know an unintended side effect of this might affect the wallets and wellbeing of the staff and creators who work at/for Activision, but given the litany of disgusting stories Activision’s senior management is seemingly prepared to let slide, I’m starting to think that affecting the sales – and thereby its share price – may be the only thing we can do. We can no longer just sit by, expecting them to do the right, moral thing when their boss is allegedly making death threats and getting away with it.

A year ago, I wrote that we need to prove to studio heads and their investors that we – the game-playing public – simply won’t tolerate the mistreatment of their staff and artists anymore. How sad it is that, a year later, I’m writing it again… and it’s more true today than ever.

For help, advice or more information regarding sexual harassment, assault and rape in the UK, visit the Rape Crisis charity website. In the US, visit RAINN.


Vikki Blake is a video games journalist and regular contributor to NME.


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