Kotick apologizes for “tone deaf” response, promises action following lawsuit

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.
Enlarge / Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.

Ahead of Wednesday’s planned “Walkout for Equality” among Activision Blizzard employees, CEO Bobby Kotick has issued a new statement criticizing the company’s initial response as “tone deaf” and promising immediate and ongoing action on some issues raised by employees.

After acknowledging what he called a “difficult and upsetting week,” Kotick praised the “courage” of employees who have come together so far. “We will do a better job of listening now and in the future,” Kotick said. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.”

As part of a commitment to “long-lasting change,” Kotick said the company will be taking the following actions immediately:

  1. Employee Support. We will continue to investigate each and every claim and will not hesitate to take decisive action. To strengthen our capabilities in this area, we are adding additional senior staff and other resources to both the Compliance team and the Employee Relations team.
  2. Listening Sessions. We know many of you have inspired ideas on how to improve our culture. We will be creating safe spaces, moderated by third parties, for you to speak out and share areas for improvement.
  3. Personnel Changes. We are immediately evaluating managers and leaders across the Company. Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.
  4. Hiring Practices. Earlier this year, I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.
  5. In-game Changes. We have heard the input from employee and player communities that some of our in-game content is inappropriate. We are removing that content.

Regarding that last point, the World of Warcraft team posted a message to Twitter Tuesday promising to take “immediate action in Azeroth to remove references that are not appropriate for our world. This work has been underway, and you will be seeing several such changes to both Shadowlands and Wow Classic in the coming days.”

While the message doesn’t detail what those changes will be, IGN notes that, according to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit, World of Warcraft contains a number of in-game characters that reference real-world employees accused of wrongdoing.

Kotick also said Activision Blizzard has hired the WilmerHale law firm “to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace.” Kotick encourages “anyone with an experience you believe violates our policies or in any way made you uncomfortable in the workplace” to confidentially reach out to the law firm or to the company’s internal channels without fear of retaliation.

Blizzard has also told employees that they can take paid time off to take part in today’s planned walkout, according to reports from The Verge and Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier. The email reportedly tells employees there will be no repercussions for attending the protest, which is planned to start at 10 am PDT.