One of the most significant uncertainties surrounding Microsoft’s $67.8 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard was the role of Bobby Kotick within the company. Now that the deal is officially concluded, and Activision Blizzard is formally a part of Microsoft, the future of the Activision Blizzard CEO is becoming clearer.
In a communication to the company’s employees, Kotick stated his “full commitment to assisting in the transition.” He will remain in his position “until the end of 2023” and will report to Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer. Kotick expressed that he and Spencer both anticipate collaborating to ensure a seamless integration for their teams and players.
Although it is widely anticipated that Kotick will step down from the position he has held for over three decades as early as January 1, Activision Blizzard has not confirmed a precise departure date. Regardless, his contract is in effect until April.
Anticipated changes are also on the horizon for the upper echelons of Activision Blizzard. In a message to the company’s employees, Spencer conveyed that “more details regarding our new organizational structure will be shared in the forthcoming months.”
Kotick played a pivotal role in transforming the company into a financially successful enterprise after leading a consortium of investors in the acquisition of Mediagenic at a low price in 1991. Subsequently, he restructured the company and reinstated its former name, Activision. In 2008, following a string of prosperous games, acquisitions, and investments, Kotick orchestrated a merger with the gaming division of Vivendi, which owned Blizzard.
However, Kotick’s leadership at the company has long been a subject of controversy. As early as 2010, Kotaku labeled him “the most reviled figure in the video game industry,” partly due to the perception that Kotick prioritizes monetizing Activision Blizzard’s games to the utmost degree. This sentiment was amplified by reports of his treatment of employees at various companies under his leadership.
In recent years, there has been heightened scrutiny of Activision Blizzard’s corporate culture during Kotick’s tenure. In 2021, the California Civil Rights Department filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging that it perpetuated a culture rife with discrimination and pervasive harassment. Later that year, a report from The Wall Street Journal suggested that Kotick had long been aware of allegations of sexual misconduct and assault within Activision Blizzard but failed to share some of these with the board or provide details about settlements reached with alleged victims.
This report led to many Activision Blizzard employees staging walkouts and demanding Kotick’s resignation. In the subsequent year, following Microsoft’s monumental bid for Activision Blizzard, the publisher’s shareholders voted to allow Kotick to retain his board seat.
Indeed, the turmoil surrounding Activision Blizzard’s problematic workplace culture, coupled with the resultant pressure on the company that affected its stock value, was a significant factor motivating Microsoft’s acquisition. Kotick had argued that the delays of Overwatch 2 and Diablo IV had resulted in the stock price’s decline, but employees challenged these assertions.
In early 2022, Overwatch producer Tracy Kennedy asserted that Kotick had imposed “random projects” on the development team. Kennedy revealed that the team had worked overtime, only to witness the cancellation of these projects, leading to “high turnover among entire teams,” with blame directed at Kotick.
Kotick has not been without controversy outside of Activision as well. In 2007, the flight attendant of a private jet co-owned by Kotick filed a lawsuit against him. She alleged that after reporting to the other owner of the plane that the pilot had sexually harassed her, Kotick terminated her employment. This lawsuit concluded with a $200,000 settlement for the flight attendant.
Throughout his tenure, Kotick has consistently ranked as one of the highest-paid CEOs in North America, and his retirement is expected to come with substantial financial benefits. A report from the previous year suggested that he stood to gain $375.3 million from the sale to Microsoft. Additionally, he is expected to receive a golden parachute payment of $14.6 million upon his departure.