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Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick's pay cut is an empty public gesture

A pay cut is nothing to a billionaire.

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SUN VALLEY, IDAHO - JULY 08: CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg (L) talks to CEO of Activision Blizzard...
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Activision Blizzard needs to change. That has been the widespread sentiment of gamers, developers, and journalists in the video game industry ever since the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing first reported allegations of sexual and discriminatory misconduct as part of a lawsuit filed in July 2021. The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft publisher was slow to respond, but CEO Bobby Kotick has finally outlined some of the fundamental changes that are coming — and they are not enough.

One of the changes Kotick is putting a lot of focus on is a significant pay cut that he is taking until the conditions improve. While Kotick is likely reducing his salary in an attempt to look notable, charitable, and relatable, it seems like the company is trying to shift focus away from the real changes that need to happen for Activision Blizzard to recover.

What happened — On October 28, 2021, Kotick released a statement highlighting commitments Activision Blizzard is making in the wake of the allegations. In the statement, Kotick reveals that he’s asked the board to lower his overall annual compensation to $62,500 and not give him any additional bonuses or equity.

Bobby Kotick became the CEO of Activision in 1991 and was appointed Activision Blizzard’s CEO after a merger in 2008.

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Additionally, he revealed that Activision Blizzard is implementing a zero-tolerance harassment policy (which they somehow already didn’t have), increasing the number of women and non-binary employees, getting rid of the arbitration requirement for discrimination and sexual harassment claims, increasing pay equity visibility, and will give regular updates on changes.

Kotick’s outlined changes meet some of the demands set forward by ABetterABK, a coalition of employees from Activision, Blizzard, and King fighting for things to change at the companies. ABetterABK put out the following statement on Twitter shortly after Kotick’s comments were released:

“Today was a huge win for ABK Worker's Alliance! Forced arbitration has been removed for cases that deal in sexual harassment and discrimination. The company announced they will raise the number of women and non-binary people it employs by 50%. Bobby Kotick also announced he will be taking a major pay cut. This is what happens when we work together to create a better future for game devs in our company. Together we will continue to push for other changes that need to be made so that we can make a better ABK.”

What this means for Kotick — This statement seems like a positive thing at face value, and many of Activision Blizzard’s new policies could lead to positive change in the future. Still, it makes Bobby Kotick and Activision Blizzard out to be the good guys in a situation where they are very clearly not.

According to The Richest, Kotick has a net worth of around $7 billion. In the past, he has controversially garnered a lot of wealth from combined stock options and equity to the point where some Activision Blizzard investors were annoyed with how much he was making.

Kotick did already take a 50 percent pay cut earlier this year, but that only came after controversy surrounding a potential $200 million payout he was set to receive. Even if he’s now only making $62,500 a year, Kotick is still a wealthy man that runs a company with lots of issues.

We also don’t know what other outside investments he has, and this change doesn’t seem to apply to other executives. Bobby Kotick and other high-ranking leaders in Activision Blizzard are still very rich. This letter doesn’t change that. Nor does his pay cut.

A walkout of Activision Blizzard employees took place on July 28, 2021.

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The Inverse Analysis — While Activision Blizzard’s lawyers and PR team likely think Kotick’s pay cut is a good publicity move to make the CEO seem more understanding and down-to-earth, it doesn’t. Activision Blizzard still has a long way to go before this can be seen as anything more than an attempt to shift the conversation.

The other outlined changes are more promising, but we still need to see Blizzard follow through with them, and other issues persist and need to be remedied. ABetterABK shared sentiments in a second Twitter thread:

“While today was a huge win for us, we remain vigilant and continue to push for other industry practices that need to change. We still stand firm by our demand that the investigation must be done by an unbiased third party, of which WilmerHale is not one. We continue to push for light to be shed on other industry practices, like crunch, which can be especially harmful the health of game devs, and especially the health of disabled and chronically ill game devs. We continue to give our unwavering support for our colleagues across the industry who are also pushing for change. @ABetterUbisoft still has demands that are not being met. Together we will be the change.”

Pressure on Activision Blizzard to change shouldn’t be eased just because Kotick is making less than he was before. It will take a lot more for Activision Blizzard to regain any of the goodwill people had for Activision Blizzard before these allegations, and it likely won’t ever fully recover.

And that’s okay. If developers from Activision, Blizzard, and King continue to fight for a better future for developers in the video game industry, we should too.

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