Activision Blizzard is a titan of the games industry – but if the multi-billion dollar company once have seemed untouchable; that is far from the case now. Since California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the company following a two-year investigation, allegations of workplace toxicity, gender discrimination, coercion and unequal pay have continued to come out, spawning several new lawsuits and, as of September 2021, a Federal investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Now, the multinational company is in turmoil, with changes are occurring at every level, from executive to in-game. The latest change is a massive one – the company is in the process of being purchased by Microsoft, to the tune of US $68.7 billion (AU $95.6 billion). Here, we are keeping a running timeline of all the events surrounding Activision Blizzard, which we will continue to update as they unfold.
- The State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) files a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard Inc, following a two year investigation and a failed mediation attempt.
The suit alleges a ‘frat boy culture,’ and that the women in the company face gender discrimination, unequal pay, and substantial sexual harassment, and retaliation when they spoke up.
Two key examples: it cites a the death by suicide of an Activision Publishing employee while on a business trip with a male executive with whom she had had a sexual relationship.
It also described ‘the Cosby Suite,’ named for alleged rapist Bill Cosby, a BlizzCon hotel suite held by former Blizzard employee Alex Afrasiabi. The former World of Warcraft Senior Creative Director is named in the lawsuit as a serial harasser, in 2020. Allegedly, the name came from Afrasiabi’s tendency to sexually harass female employees.
- Activision Blizzard release a statement describing the lawsuit as ‘distorted, and in many cases false.’
- Activision Blizzard Chief Compliance Officer Frances Townsend describes the lawsuit as ‘factually incorrect, old and out of context’ in an internal email.
- 2,500 Activision Blizzard former and current employees sign an open letter condemning Activision Blizzard’s response to the lawsuit.
- CEO Bobby Kotick releases a second statement calling the first statement ‘tone deaf.’ He states the company will evaluate all its managerial staff, ensure inclusive hiring protocols are being followed, make in-game changes, and offer employee support and mediated ‘listening sessions.’
- Hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees around the world stage a walkout in protest of the company’s treatment of women. Employees gather in front of the company’s headquarters in California, or join the protest online.
- Frances Townsend steps down as executive sponsor of Activision-Blizzard-King’s women’s network, but remains Chief Compliance Officer.
- A collective of current and former Activision Blizzard employees form A Better ABK, an advocacy group that aims to negotiate with company executives to discuss pay discrepancies and end the company’s use of forced arbitration clauses.
- Blizzard President J Allen Brack, who is named in the suit for failing to respond appropriately to reports of sexual misconduct by Alex Afrasiabi, sends internal memo describing the lawsuit as ‘extremely troubling’ and describing his ‘disdain’ for ‘bro culture.’
- Blizzard Entertainment confirms Alex Afrasiabi was fired in 2020.
- World of Warcraft players organised virtual sit-ins to protest the company, and show solidarity with Blizzard Entertainment workers who had been victimised.
- J Allen Brack resigns from Blizzard Entertainment
- Activision Blizzard appoints its first female co-lead of the company in Jen Oneal
- California DFEH revise lawsuit to allege that Blizzard Entertainment have been shredding employment documents relating to the case.
- Photos are shared of male Activision Blizzard employees in the infamous ‘Cosby Suite.’ Diablo 4 director Luis Barriga, lead level designer Jesse McCree and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeCraft all leave the company.
- Blizzard Entertainment announces that it will rename Overwatch character McCree; announces delays to new Overwatch story content. The company introduces a policy not to name characters after employees.
- Investors in Activision Blizzard file a class action. This suit alleges that Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, current CFO Dennis Durkin, and former CFO Spencer Neumann failed to disclose to shareholders that the company was being investigated by the DFEH, which artificially inflated share prices.
- CODE-CWA (Campaign to Organize Digital Employees) sues Activision Blizzard on behalf of A Better ABK for intimidation and coercion.
- A federal investigation into Activision Blizzard is opened. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) subpoenaes CEO Kotick and several other executives. Their investigation focuses on the company’s duty to its investors; it is looking to discover whether the company adequately disclosed allegations of workplace abuse and the state investigation to investors, and whether these disclosures happened quickly enough.
- Activision Blizzard settle the federal lawsuit with the SEC for $18 million. Included in the settlement is a commitment to improve harassment and discrimination policy and procedure, and the hiring of a third-party consultant to continuously review training programs and reporting and disciplinary frameworks.
- Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick pledges to reduce his salary while the company works on its culture issues. Included in the announcement is a new five-point plan detailing major changes for the company, including a ‘zero-tolerance harassment policy’.
- Activision Blizzard co-lead Jen Oneal resigns after just three months with the company. A Wall Street Journal report later alleges she felt ‘tokenised’ in her position, and reports she was paid less than her male counterpart.
- An explosive Wall Street Journal report is released, alleging CEO Bobby Kotick worked to hide reports of sexual assault within the company. It goes on to detail previously-unknown cases of alleged harassment in the company. Following this, employees call for the resignation of Bobby Kotick.
- New reports emerge indicating upper management believes the company’s new ‘zero tolerance’ sexual harassment policy does not apply to Bobby Kotick as there is ‘no evidence‘. Despite the Wall Street Journal report, the board announces it still supports Kotick.
- PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo send internal emails to staff revealing their ‘distress’ at the news coming from Activision Blizzard. Nintendo announces it’s working the ESA to strengthen protections for game industry employees. Phil Spencer says Xbox is ‘evaluating’ its relationship with the company.
- The Activision Blizzard board forms a ‘Workplace Responsibility Committee‘ to oversee the company’s current crisis as tensions between employees and management mount.
- US state treasurers in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and Delaware put pressure on Activision Blizzard to make meaningful change, and call for a meeting to discuss ongoing lawsuits and allegations.
- Xbox boss Phil Spencer claims Microsoft has ‘changed‘ its working relationship with Activision Blizzard, but does not specify exactly what has occurred.
- Lego indefinitely pauses the release of an Overwatch 2 Lego set as it announces a review of its relationship with Activision Blizzard.
- In a whopping announcement, Microsoft confirms it will purchase Activision Blizzard in a deal worth US $68.7 billion (AU $95.6 billion). The deal will make the company the third-biggest in the entire games industry.