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Activision Blizzard sets back gender progress

November 22, 2021, 6:01 PM UTC

As Activision Blizzard navigates a sexual abuse and gender discrimination crisis, the video game developer’s board faces a choice: 

Continue employing a leader accused, according to The Wall Street Journal, of minimizing assault allegations, neglecting to monitor departments rife with harassment and on-the-job drinking, protecting executives accused of misconduct, demoralizing the organization’s highest-ranking female official, and failing to inform the board of a legal settlement tied to a rape allegation.

Or empower literally anyone else to take control of the situation.

So far, the choice has been clear—and it has to be a dispiriting one for women in Silicon Valley and the video game industry.

As pressure builds from employees, investors, and business partners to ditch CEO Bobby Kotick amid mounting allegations, Activision Blizzard’s board is sticking by the longtime head honcho. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Kotick has told top employees that he plans to stick around long enough to fix cultural issues at the company—though he will leave if he can’t quickly rectify the situation. 

To date, Activision Blizzard’s board has defended Kotick’s leadership of the nation’s second-largest publicly-traded video game developer. Kotick has denied many of the allegations, some of which were made anonymously, and committed to improving the company’s standing with employees. 

In an era when the male-dominated tech and video game sectors continue to grapple with a legacy of discrimination, harassment, and frat-boy culture, the Activision Blizzard saga lays bare the limits of progress. At a minimum, Activision Blizzard’s board could place Kotick on leave and hire an outside investigator to conduct an independent review of the company’s past and present practices.

For that to happen, Activision Blizzard’s mostly-male board with deep ties to Kotick would have to shove aside its CEO of three decades. While Activision Blizzard’s stock is down 22% since Nov. 1 amid The Wall Street Journal report and weak third-quarter earnings, its share price is still higher than in recent years.

So far, some around Activision Blizzard have tried to usher in change. Nearly 20% of the company’s workforce has signed a petition demanding Kotick’s ouster. Executives at Microsoft and Sony, the companies behind the Xbox and PlayStation consoles, have issued statements pressuring Activision Blizzard to better address the allegations. And a small group of investors has called for a leadership change.

The Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating the company’s handling of sexual misconduct and workplace discrimination claims, while the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in a lawsuit alleged pay and advancement discrimination.

Now it’s time for Activision Blizzard board’s to act on behalf of their employees and the greater good of the industry.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Elizabeth Holmes, in her own words. Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes took the stand Friday at her fraud trial, a surprise move that opened the discredited Silicon Valley star’s defense against allegations she deceived investors and patients about her company’s accomplishments. Holmes described her early life and lead-up to the founding of blood testing company Theranos during her brief time on the stand Friday. She is expected to continue testifying Monday and Tuesday, with federal prosecutors set to cross-examine her after the Thanksgiving break. Holmes, whose company collapsed after a series of damning news articles detailing its tech shortcomings, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Facebook's algorithm fell short on hate speech. When Facebook’s algorithm automatically detected and removed hate speech on its platform, it was less likely to identify derogatory comments directed at non-white people. Even after learning that, company executives were reluctant to make changes needed to rectify the imbalance, The Washington Post reported. Facebook officials did not disclose the extent of its internal research findings on the issue to auditors hired in 2018 to review racial issues on the platform, which the audit’s leader called “deeply concerning.” The findings, based on interviews and documents reviewed by the Post, adds to mounds of scrutiny on the impact of Facebook on society following an avalanche of whistleblower disclosures over the past two months. Facebook officials said the research findings illustrated the company’s commitment to curbing hate speech, while also arguing the audit was conducted with “transparency and openness.”

Ford, Rivian go their own ways on EV. Legacy automaker Ford and electric vehicle upstart Rivian will no longer partner to create a car for the Detroit mainstay’s Lincoln brand, with each company deciding to focus on its own projects, CNBC reported Friday. The two companies agreed to the plan in 2019 when Ford took a 12% stake in Rivian, a promising electric vehicles manufacturer. Ford will retain its slice of Rivian, which delivered the year’s largest IPO earlier this month and now boasts a larger market share than Ford.

Google aims to sideline longtime critic. Google’s lawyers have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the agency’s new antitrust chief should recuse himself from matters involving the company, The New York Times reported. Jonathan Kanter, who was confirmed by the Senate to his post earlier this month, has previously represented organizations that battled Google in court, including Yelp and the News Media Alliance. The Justice Department declined to comment and Kanter did not respond to a request for comment. Facebook and Amazon made a similar request earlier this year following the appointment of new Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

If you’re unsure about what, exactly, the metaverse will look like, you’re not alone. As Insider reports, top tech executives from Microsoft, NetEase, Roblox, and other companies often could not explain a vision for the metaverse on earnings calls in recent weeks. A sampling of vague descriptors: “an audiovisual experience,” “an embodied Internet,” “a concept, not [yet] a product.” Of course, that isn’t stopping them from heralding the possibilities of a virtual reality world—and the business possibilities that come along with it. 

From the article:

The "metaverse" has become a hot topic for executives, analysts, and investors alike, being mentioned in the earnings calls of more than 15 companies in the past few months alone. 

As the tech world grapples with what the metaverse will actually look like, several executives have started weaving mentions of it into discussion with investors. However, their remarks indicate they are still fairly unsure of what specifically the metaverse is and how it functions. 

While Facebook's recent rebranding to Meta helped increase awareness of the metaverse and propelled it to a topic of global conversation, even CEO Mark Zuckerberg only has a vague notion of the definition of the metaverse.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Tesla subjects women to ‘rampant’ harassment, suit says, by Katia Porzecanski, Dana Hull and Bloomberg

Prosecution in fraud trial of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes rests its case. Here’s how we got here, by Kylie Hogan and Felicia Hou

Hedge fund billionaire wins copy of U.S. Constitution over crypto collective, by Declan Harty

What’s a DAO and could one replace a traditional corporate board?, by Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Elon Musk insists Tesla staffers follow his orders or explain to him why he’s wrong—or get fired if they don’t, by Sophie Mellor

Avalanche becomes 10th most valuable crypto coin with technology that may challenge Ethereum’s dominance, by Grady McGregor

BEFORE YOU GO

She’s got one heck of a voice. Lest anyone doubt the power of Adele, the BBC reported that Spotify recently tweaked a default feature on its album pages at the pop superstar’s request. Rather than automatically playing albums on shuffle, listeners now are defaulted to listening to songs in order, per the singer’s desire ahead of her new album 30 dropping last week. In a Saturday tweet, Adele wrote: “This was the only request I had in our ever-changing industry! We don’t create albums with so much care and thought into our track listing for no reason.” Spotify had good reason to go easy on Adele: the songstress refused to stream her last album on the service when it debuted in 2015.

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