#67: Duty calls

Bobby Kotick puts his money where his mouth is in Activision Blizzard's battle for diversity.

To Activision Blizzard, then, and the gleaming Santa Monica corner office/underground lair that Big Bobby Kotick calls home. Yesterday Kotick announced a raft of measures designed to repair both the company and its public image in the wake of its shocking sexual harassment scandal. The most eye-catching pledge is a waiving of his salary, and all bonuses and equity awards, until a number of diversity-related targets are met. He will earn minimum wage until then, which in California is somehow $62,500 a year. Still more than I made as editor of Edge, Bobby. Sure, you can turn a $10m business into a $70bn one in 20 years, but I’d like to see you try and find a cover feature three days before deadline when a PR that’s spent months promising you the world suddenly lets you down.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what to make of this just yet. Certainly the employee collective The ABK Worker Alliance (the K stands for Candy Crush maker King, apparently, though I prefer to think of it as standing for Kotick) seems delighted: Activision has pretty much met three of the four demands it made after the lawsuit came to light. Among them is an end to forced arbitration, a contractual clause which dictates that, when a non-union worker has a serious grievance against an employer, the matter is settled not in an open courtroom, but in a closed-doors mediation with the company. This is one of those things people from outside the US hear about for the first time and think: hang on, isn’t this supposed to be the greatest country in the world? Like when Joe Biden earnestly tweets that Americans shouldn’t get lead poisoning from tap water. No, Joe, I should think not, really. That strikes me as a sort of minimum standard for a superpower.

Anyway, if you think forced arbitration sounds a bit rum, you’d be right: last year, such cases in the US found in favour of the worker just 1.9% of the time. So, yes, the removal of this clause from all current and future Activision Blizzard employment contracts is a good thing, providing we overlook that it should never have been there in the first place.

Also pledged is a zero-tolerance approach to harassment across the company, with Kotick targeting “the strictest harassment and non-retaliation policies of any employer.” Anyone found to have violated said policies will now be fired on the spot. He also promises greater transparency in pay equity, with annual reports on progress, and quarterly updates on broader diversity initiatives.

The goals to which Kotick’s pay cut is tied involve increasing the percentage of women and non-binary people in the business by 50%, an endeavour to which it is committing $250 million. Currently, just 23% of Activision Blizzard staff identify as such — figures Kotick admits are flattered by the more diverse King workforce — meaning the projected target will see women and non-binary folks account for just over a third of the company. Is that enough? No, not really. But it’s a start.

And that, overall, is where I suppose I land on this. It is tempting, and to be honest entirely correct, to be a bit suspicious. To see a CEO clinging on to the best-paid job in games by his fingernails; to see a man who says he has no alternative but to cut hundreds of jobs, only to pull down $150 million that same year, suddenly claiming an interest in the welfare and safety of his employees... I understand that people are calling foul. But still, it’s a start, no? He’s putting his money where his mouth is, and since money is all he’s ever really seemed to care about I think that’s about as strong a statement as we were ever likely to see. I dunno.

I’ve never met Kotick — I once asked a dear friend at Activision for an interview with him, and they burst out laughing — but I’ve asked around over the years, trying to get a sense of what he’s like. Opinion is divided. Some say he’s a true believer, and investor, in creativity: a decent overlord to have in a world where overlords are inevitable. Others say meeting him is like sitting down with a crime boss, sat there in a thousand-dollar shirt and shitty fleece, surrounded by goons and yes-men. I suppose both of those things can be true, just as it can also be true that a bad person can do good things from time to time. I hope this is one of them. I hope Kotick gets his salary back, actually! But only because doing so would mean he’d successfully begun to put things right at a company that, as far as I can tell, has an absolute mountain to climb.

And if he doesn’t? I can’t see the shareholders putting up with him for long, even if he does come cheap. People have been calling for Kotick’s head for years. He has just voluntarily put it on the block.


  • Facebook has announced the corporate rebranding that was rumoured recently, and now wants us to call it Meta, which I’m sure everyone absolutely will. In addition to loads of cringeworthy stuff about the metaverse, immaculately summed up by Hit Points pal Simon Parkin, comes news that Facebook is retiring the Oculus brand in favour of the new name. If you think I’m putting something called the Meta Quest on my head you are kidding yourself.
  • Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has become Ubisoft’s second-most-profitable game of all time. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though: The Division Heartland and the Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time remake have both been delayed.
  • Various blockchain bodies have written an open letter to Valve, imploring Gabe and co to walk back a recent policy change and allow blockchain games on Steam. Stop sniggering at the back.
  • YouTube isn’t just throwing money at big-name Twitch streamers as it seeks to challenge the Amazon platform’s dominance; it is also adding a host of distinctly Twitch-like features to the YouTube Gaming platform, including clips and subscriber-only chat. Twitch itself, meanwhile, has upset streamers with its new Paid Boost feature, which lets fans pay to advertise their favourite channel on Twitch’s front page. Now I’m not about to say they’ve run out of ideas over there but, well. Hmm. Not sure YouTube’s going to rush to copy that one.
  • Krafton, the South Korean maker of PUBG, is acquiring Subnautica developer Unknown Words.
  • Sony sold 3.3 million PS5s in its last fiscal quarter, taking the console’s total sales to date to 13.4 million.

A nice quiet update to round out the week. I hope you’ve had a good one, and have a suitably excellent weekend to come. As ever, if you’ve enjoyed today’s edition, do please give it a share — the Hit Points Happiness Index is on the brink of another nice round number, so any assistance you can provide in spreading the word would be warmly appreciated.

And hey, do remember you can pay to support Hit Points for just 14p per day. Subscribers gain access to exclusive #content, and the warm, faintly tickly feeling of having done something nice to support a thing they like, and would like to see continue. Try it, if you haven’t. I am told it’s quite exhilarating.