Bobby Kotick: Embattled Activision CEO faces uncertain future


Scandal ridden Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick who faced calls to be removed, may have an out in the form of a buyout of his company by Microsoft. — Getty Images/AFP

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick built a video game empire with flagship titles like "World of Warcraft", but he could lose control of it after a whopping Microsoft buyout deal announced Tuesday.

As Activision has been ensnared in allegations that the firm discriminated against women employees, he has weathered calls to step down from some of his workers and critics.

But once the US$69bil (RM289.15bil) deal is finalised by mid-2023, he is expected to depart, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The running scandal – which has prompted ugly headlines, vows of company reform and an apology from Kotick himself – follows decades of success in business.

Legend has it that part of Kotick's destiny was laid out by Apple founder and tech legend Steve Jobs one day in 1983.

Jobs advised him to leave the University of Michigan, where he was an art student, to become an entrepreneur, Kotick has said.

It was the start of a life in business for the native of Long Island, a suburb of New York City, who while still in high school made cash by running parties at night clubs for his fellow teenagers.

The young man convinced casino magnate Steve Wynn to write him a check to start developing a cheap graphical interface for Apple, in partnership with a friend, Howard Marks, the project's programmer.

An old-fashioned entrepreneur, Kotick differs from many big names in computing and video games, more interested in business than in the technology.

Big pay day

According to Forbes, he even believed in the 1980s that playing video games was a waste of time.

After trying to buy the microcomputer giant Commodore in 1987, he managed to get his hands on Activision, on the verge of bankruptcy, in 1991, for a pittance.

He restructured the company, raised new money and changed its strategy.

The idea was to integrate small studios without absorbing them, in order to give them the necessary latitude to create and develop original content.

This was the logic behind the merger with Vivendi Games, which included Blizzard, and the acquisition of King, creator of the hugely successful "Candy Crush".

This hands-off philosophy – alongside an old school management style dominated by often white men – bears some of the elements that have been cited by critics and officials.

In July, California state regulators accused the company of condoning a culture of harassment, a toxic work environment and inequality.

"Male employees proudly come into work hungover, play video games for long periods of time during work while delegating their responsibilities to female employees," the California state suit says.

Kotick issued an apology on behalf of the company, implemented a "zero tolerance" policy, while dozens of employees were sanctioned or fired, including Blizzard president J. Allen Brack.

But these concessions have not managed to calm his critics, and nearly 20% of employees have signed a petition demanding his departure, in line with several major investors.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the 58-year-old executive, whose fortune is estimated at several hundred million dollars, had been aware for several years of reports of harassment, but sought not to publicise these incidents rather than take the problem head on.

Assured of remaining as head of the group at least until the acquisition is finalised, he could then leave with a huge check, which American media estimated at around US$300mil (RM1.25bil). – AFP

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