More than 30 employees at the Activision-owned game developer’s quality assurance testing department have formed the Game Workers Alliance, a union created under the nationwide Communications Workers of America labor guild. The effort is part of the CWA’s ongoing Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, which has sought to unionize Activison’s roughly 10,000 employees.
Wisconsin-based Raven Software—which was acquired by Activision in 1997 and works primarily on the hugely popular “Call of Duty” series—is the first business unit within Activision to form a labor union. The move comes one month after independent developer Vodeo Games voluntarily recognized a union formed by its workers, making it the first certified labor union at a North American video game studio.
The Game Workers Alliance, however, would be the first union at a major AAA game publisher. If Activision opts not to voluntarily recognize the union by later this month, the workers will move forward with a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored vote that would force recognition and give them the right to collectively bargain a labor contract.
In a statement, an Activision spokesperson said the company “is carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA.”
“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” the spokesperson said.
Raven Software employees have been on strike for five weeks after commencing a work stoppage on Dec. 6 to protest Activision’s decision to lay off a dozen quality assurance testers working on its first-person shooter titles. The work stoppage was Activision’s third in five months, with employees having also downed tools in protest of the company’s handling of workplace sexual misconduct allegations.
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As the dust continues to settle from Microsoft’s massive $69 billion deal to acquire video game publisher Activision Blizzard, speculation is rife about what the agreement will mean for Bobby Kotick, the controversial chief executive who has led Activision for 30-plus years.
The man who built the Santa Monica firm into one of the gaming industry’s giants is very well-paid, but these days not nearly as well-thought-of. His botched handling of sexual harassment and assault complaints by Activision workers placed the company at the center of a firestorm last year, spurring lawsuits and investigations and prompting investors, employees and even gamers to call for his resignation.
Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. Photo: Jordan Matter/Flickr
But all that has now taken a backseat to the Microsoft deal, which would be the largest acquisition in the history of the video game industry and, at a price of $95 per share, prove an enormous windfall for Activision shareholders (including Kotick himself, who holds nearly 4 million shares in the company). And while Kotick helped engineer the transaction—with the furor around Activision reportedly setting a merger into motion last fall—there have been conflicting signals and reports about whether he himself will have a future with the combined companies.
In the span of several months, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer went from telling Xbox staff that he was “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision, to being described as having “a great relationship” with Kotick by none other than the Activision CEO himself. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also spoke highly of Kotick on a conference call Tuesday, praising “his leadership and commitment to real culture change.”
Still, both the Wall Street Journal and Axios reported that Kotick is expected to step down as Activision CEO once the transaction closes—with Kotick said to be drawn to the idea of a “graceful exit.” If Kotick leaves, he will likely do so with an extremely lucrative payout of up to $293 million, per terms described in Activision’s most recent annual report.
But at this point, neither Microsoft nor Activision have revealed what the future will hold for Kotick.
Should He Stay or Should He Go?
Much could depend on what the combined entities will look like. If Microsoft decides to allow Activision to continue operating as a standalone subsidiary following the merger, it’s possible that Kotick could stay put and continue running the business while reporting to Spencer.
A more integrated relationship between the two companies—with Activision folded into Xbox Game Studios—would increase the likelihood that Kotick’s time is up. That is exactly what many workers at the “Call of Duty” publisher have clamored for; nearly 2,000 Activision employees have signed a petition demanding Kotick be removed as CEO in the wake of the controversies under his watch.
While Kotick has thus far survived those controversies, other high-ranking executives have not. Last summer, Activision president J. Allen Brack stepped down days after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company for running a “frat boy” workplace culture where women employees were subject to sexual harassment and retaliated against for complaining.
It all culminated in a bombshell Wall Street Journal report in November, which revealed that Kotick himself had known of such allegations for years, yet had ignored and failed to report them to Activision’s board of directors.
Activision workers’ alliance ABetterABK said on Twitter this week that the Microsoft acquisition was “surprising, but does not change the goals” of the group, which include removing Kotick as CEO and improving conditions for women employees at Activision. “We remain committed to fighting for workplace improvements and the rights of our employees regardless of who is financially in control of the company,” it said.
Kotick’s Big Payday
In 2020, Kotick was one of the highest-paid CEOs of any publicly traded company in the U.S., with a total compensation package worth nearly $155 million. And though the scandals at Activision saw Kotick attempt to save face by drastically reducing his salary, the “graceful exit” that he is said to desire would almost certainly include a hefty payday.
Per Activision’s public disclosures, Kotick would be due as much as $293 million in compensation in the event that he is terminated following a change in the company’s ownership. That sum includes up to $4.4 million in severance pay, $17.4 million in severance bonuses and $271 million in equity awards.
He would also likely be paid out for the roughly 3.9 million Activision shares he owns, which would net him more than $370 million given Microsoft’s $95-per-share acquisition offer.
Some investors are already taking exception to such a sizable payout for Kotick—particularly given the revelations about his role in fostering a toxic, misogynistic culture at Activision, and the subsequent damage to the company’s reputation.
“Now that I think it's highly likely that he will retire once the deal is through, what are the accountability mechanisms for his years of leadership of the company?” Dieter Waizenegger, executive director of activist shareholder group SOC, told Axios this week. The shareholder group has called for any “golden parachute” payment to Kotick to be linked to a “civil rights audit” of his leadership at Activision.
SOC, however, owns less than 1% of Activision Blizzard. And in arranging a deal that will reward Activision shareholders handsomely, it appears that Kotick is set to depart the company on his own terms as a very wealthy man—regardless of the damaging, undignified nature of the latter years of his reign.
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Gamers’ favorite dating app is taking romance into the metaverse.
Los Angeles-based Kippo has unveiled an update to its app, called Kippo 2.0, that allows users to create avatars and make connections through an in-app virtual world.
“Our vision always was to create a very immersive experience,” Kippo co-founder and CEO David Park told dot.LA. “Dating should be fun, meeting people should be fun, and all of that is bundled into what Kippo 2.0 is going to be.”
Gaming is still core to Kippo’s mission. The company says that 93% of its users played games together before meeting in person. Most users would exchange gamer tags before exchanging phone numbers. But with the 2.0 update, users are incentivized to stay in the app and communicate through the new game-like interface.
Park said that Kippo is focused on monetizing the app’s cosmetic features, such as clothing and accessories that users can buy to style their avatars. “We think about all the experiences that humans have in the physical world and [how we can] bring them onto a digital platform,” he said.
The refreshed app will feature Kippo Arcade, a virtual world that allows users’ avatars to participate in shared experiences, like go-kart racing and soccer games. Park noted that Kippo doesn’t need to only function as a tool for romance; it can also help users meet new friends.
“Bars don't call themselves ‘dating bars’ and parties don't call themselves ‘dating parties,’” he said. “As soon as you create a dating party or a dating event, it loses all of its cool factor right away and it feels like there's this agenda.”
Kippo also stands out for its cost—or lack thereof. While other dating apps have plenty of features, many of them require payment to access. (Bumble, for instance, makes users pay in order to extend the 24-hour window in which they can match.) Park said his app “offer[s] more for free than any other dating app, and our goal long-term is to make more and more features free.”
“Imagine if Facebook had a paywall, or Instagram had a paywall, or TikTok had a paywall,” he continued. “It's just not the same.”To date, Kippo has raised $4.5 million in funding from investors including Jason Calacanis of Launch, according to the company.
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