How Bobby Kotick, Activision Blizzard’s embattled CEO, outlasts opponents

Kotick persuaded casino magnate Steve Wynn to invest, and the employees of their company, called Arktronics, included members of the university’s computer science faculty. Kotick and his partners asked their employees to forgo part or all of their pay in return for shares in the company, court records show, with Kotick thanking one hire for “the confidence and dedication you have demonstrated by your deferral of salary for stock, it is appreciated and should prove rewarding.”

But Apple’s next model made Jane obsolete, and the employees claimed their thousands of shares — said to be worth $1 each — were in fact worthless. “We felt that we had been lied to and perhaps cheated,” said former employee John Wiersba.

Five employees sued Arktronics and its principals in 1985, records show. Arktronics and the employees reached a settlement — but then the company claimed the agreement should not be enforced due to a “mistaken assumption” about expected revenue. In 1989, a Michigan judge ordered Arktronics to honor the settlement: $17,000.

But by then, Kotick and his partners had moved to Los Angeles, where he was in the midst of taking over a salvaged gaming company known as Activision.

The dispute would drag on for six more years, with interest accruing. Kotick’s spokesman, Mark Herr, said the judgment was “paid and satisfied,” though he did not specify when. Wiersba said he was never paid, and a second employee said he couldn’t comment because he signed a nondisclosure agreement. Available court records don’t indicate whether the debt was ultimately paid.

“Our intention was not to hurt people. Our intention was to start another company and become successful,” said Kotick’s partner Marks, who added that he didn’t recall specifics of the dispute. “And it turns out it was unfortunate for the original people.”

The early enterprise — with Kotick blazing toward profits while leaving behind a trail of aggrieved employees — was a case study in his approach to business, which would become well known over the decades that followed.

That approach was on full display last month when Microsoft, in an industry-shifting megadeal, agreed to purchase Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, with Kotick reportedly expected to leave his role as CEO after the sale closes, probably sometime next year. The purchase price, nearly as much as the $71.3 billion Disney recently paid for 21st Century Fox, showed the remarkable extent of Activision’s overhaul since Kotick revived it from bankruptcy three decades ago. And it demonstrated why Kotick is revered by some as having one of the most prescient minds in business, recognizing and situating himself to capitalize on incoming industry booms in computing, video games and, most recently, esports.

That reputation has helped make Kotick one of America’s highest-paid executives, earning $154 million in 2020. And it won him the loyalty of a corporate board that has stood by him through periods of tumult — including when he fired two of

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Blizzard’s Jen Oneal stepping down to join women-in-games nonprofit

Jen Oneal, who took over leadership of Blizzard Entertainment with Mike Ybarra in August, has stepped down from that role, Activision Blizzard announced Tuesday. Ybarra will continue alone as Blizzard’s top executive, effective immediately.

In a note to Blizzard employees and fans of their games, Oneal said she would be taking on a new role with the nonprofit organization Women in Games International (WIGI), starting with a $1 million grant from Activision Blizzard to the organization. Oneal said she would be leaving Activision Blizzard by the end of the year.

Oneal and Ybarra took over Blizzard’s leadership after former president J. Allen Brack stepped down in early August. Brack’s resignation followed the state of California filing a lawsuit, alleging sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation, against Activision Blizzard in late July.

It also came after a large employee demonstration against a toxic “frat boy” workplace alleged to permeate the company, Blizzard Entertainment in particular, and an apology from Activision chief executive Bobby Kotick.

“As I’ve listened to the stories from people all over Blizzard and been inspired by their courage and conviction, I’ve been thinking about the potential of what I can do as an individual to create the most meaningful change,” Oneal said in the statement. The grant will fund skill-building and mentorship programs at WIGI, she said.

“I am doing this not because I am without hope for Blizzard, quite the opposite,” Oneal said. “I’m inspired by the passion of everyone here, working towards meaningful, lasting changes with their whole hearts.”

Oneal is already a board member of WIGI, an organization “that cultivates and advances equality and diversity in the global games industry,” she said. Oneal added that her new role is not yet entirely clear, but that she will “explore how I can do more to have games and diversity intersect.”

Oneal was formerly the studio head for Vicarious Visions, which was folded into Blizzard in January. She became executive vice president of development at Blizzard following the announcement. Albany, New York-based Vicarious Visions was moved over to support Blizzard development; Activision had owned it since 2005 (Activision and Blizzard merged in 2008). Last week, Vicarious Visions employees were told the studio would lose its name, which dates to 1991 and merge fully with Blizzard, and it will be renamed as one of Blizzard’s satellite studios.

Also on Thursday, Activision Blizzard’s executive leadership told investors that development on Blizzard’s Overwatch 2 and Diablo 4 is delayed. Neither game had an announced launch date or window, and investors weren’t told what the new timeframe for their delivery is, either.

“These are two of the most eagerly anticipated titles in the industry, and our teams have made great strides towards completion in recent quarters,” the company said. “But we believe giving the teams some extra time to complete production and continue growing their creative resources to support the titles after launch will ensure that these releases delight and engage their communities for many years into the future.”…

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