I find myself disgusted with this week’s events for many reasons, but primarily I’m upset about Activision Blizzard’s news and the community’s reaction to it.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
The TL;DR of the Activision Blizzard announcement is that the company had a record-breaking year, solidifying themselves as the giant AAA company to live up to – or tear down as the case may be. The company downsized by 8% meaning that about 800 people lost their jobs. This is what provoked my multitudes of reactions like fear for the friends and casters of Blizzard’s esports division losing their positions. I became upset at the fact that some of the new leadership was hired on with several million-dollar bonuses. And then I was happy that social media tried to do what they felt was right and just in that game development companies tweeted their available job positions.
Through the mixture of emotion, I became upset once more because the gaming industry – the consumers – are missing the fundamental issue hidden within this news. While I’m not excusing the company for screwing over a lot of industry professionals in favor of more profits, I am going to shed light on a couple of realities leading up to this week’s layoff.
First, Blizzcon kicked off with a sad announcement that should have put the community on notice that things were changing. Mike Morhaime stepped down as CEO of Blizzard and temporarily became a consultant. He entrusted his beloved franchise to J. Allen Brack who had been working alongside Mr. Morhaime for more than ten years. Surely this should have been a red flag that the company was transforming with different goals… Anyways, at Blizzcon, they announced the infamous Diablo Immortals announcement which spawned the meme, “You all have phones right?” (On a side note, who the heck hired those guys anyway?) Both of these events were catalysts for the downward spiral that Blizzard found themselves in, although I suspect that things were transitioning long before Blizzcon.
A couple of weeks after Blizzcon, it was announced by several gaming sites that the whole leadership of Activision Blizzard drastically changed. This is where Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision Blizzard) appointed Rob Kostich to be the President of Activision, Dennis Durkin in charge of Emerging Businesses Division in Esports, and Humam Sakhnini to head up the Candy Crush division.
Normally, when there are massive adjustments to the upper management of a company, people should expect a new focus. So, imagine my shock when Game Workers Unite sparked a Twitter campaign and petition with the hashtag #Firebobbykotick like it would reverse the damage. (And by damage, I mean not just for the games and the loss of hundreds of jobs, but for the stock market decline.) It was then that I facepalmed.
Let’s think about this for a moment, shall we?
What would firing Bobby Kotick do exactly? Because all of the upper management have received their bonuses and the damage has already been done. Firing Mr. Kotick might hurt him in the short term, but it won’t actually change anything. This kind of process has been used over many years of Mr. Kotick being president of Activision. And my opinion is based on a number of different articles like:
- An article from 2008 about Mr. Kotick: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2008/11/activision-if-we-cant-run-a-game-into-the-ground-we-dont-want-it/
- In 2009 this article released: https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2009/09/actiblizzard-ceo-kotick-policy-rewards-profits-removes-fun/
- Then in 2012, Blizzard let go of about 600 employees: https://kotaku.com/blizzard-axes-600-employees-world-of-warcraft-dev-team-5889338
But if there is any doubt that this kind of practice is rather common these days (and not just in the video gaming space, either), watch Jim Sterling’s informative video where he goes into detail about the capitalist nature of game companies. Among his examples are companies like EA and Activision…
What I’m saying is, Mr. Kotick isn’t the problem, he is merely a bishop on a very troubled chessboard and he just happens to be part of a much greater issue. The fact that people have started a petition to fire him is no better than saying that banning Twitch accounts will make the platform better. All one has to do is create another account to dodge an account ban and all that is needed to continue a cycle of greed is another executive that will suck the life out of their consumers.
The news about alleged Activision/Blizzard layoffs next week could mean hundreds of great game makers will be without work. We can’t have that. PLEASE RT this document: a massive list of game dev job opportunities across the world. Help folks find work! https://t.co/UkzvwvyLTi
— Mitch Dyer (@MitchyD) February 9, 2019
Look, I get that the gaming community is angry about the people that lost their jobs, – especially after some Activision Blizzard management received millions of dollars in bonuses – but many of those people have years of experience and knowledge to get better positions. After the news broke, one Twitter user compiled a list of companies that are hiring, because the game developers tweeted about their various job opportunities to help the people affected by the layoffs.
Now, I’m not saying that I like what happened this week, considering my love for many Blizzard titles, but bringing out the pitchforks isn’t going to change much right now. My biggest concern with Activision Blizzard is related to cutting back on their QA, IT, community support, and game support teams. All of these positions are important to the end-user, and while I don’t know how many of these positions are now vacant, I can hope that Activision Blizzard cares about their games and their dedicated gaming community.
If history has anything to say, Activision Blizzard is still a large company that plays by the same rules as other large companies. Sometimes that means changing things up. But you know what? My hope is that the new generation of gamers will change our industry for the better. Sure. Call me an optimist and I’ll accept that perhaps I’m living in a pipe dream. I can still hope for the best even though I know that the industry won’t be changing for quite some time.
Until next time.