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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

Activision continues to be the absolute worst, gives CEO $154 million bonus

Over the last decade, Activision-Blizzard really has done all that they can to become one of the biggest villains of the gaming industry.

You might have heard me on my soapbox recently, decrying the behemoth for their consistent profit-over-creativity decisions.

And since 2019, they've faced reports of "perpetual crunch," with developers stating that the long hours all but destroyed their mental and physical health. Blizzard co-founder Mike Morhaime countered that his half of the company was "built on crunch," and that its success and functionality somehow hinged on those long hours despite it being "not sustainable."

As if they've got nothing better to do, Activision-Blizzard has done ANOTHER despicable thing, prompting me to climb back up on this damn box and yell at them from afar once more.

Activision-Blizzard just gave CEO Bobby Kotick a $154 million executive pay package following a year in which he made $30 million, despite reported cuts to his base salary.

An image of Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick at an event. A Game Workers United logo that reads "Fire Bobby Kotick" is seen to the left of him.
Photo credit: Game Workers Unite.

The vote for this annual say-on-pay proposal, touted as a performance-based compensation, was approved by only 54% of shareholders — the lowest support margin in its history to date.

Because here's the thing: Kotick isn't doing much from the outsider's perspective. He's not in the public eye, like Ubisoft's Yves Guillemot (who's got his own bag of problems to work through, as touched on in our Valhalla review) and a number of Nintendo executives are. He's not making any hard decisions, as he points all of his employees at one profitable machine and says "go." There are no reports coming out about Kotick's creative leadership that have molded the company's vision over the years.

Kotick just gets to lean back in his chair and watch the money roll in. Shareholders, the board, the gaming public. All of us are asking this guy to get less of the pie. And yet there's seemingly no cap to his inflating income while his employees suffer and stagnate.

Annually, Activision-Blizzard posts layoffs that number in the hundreds. In March of this year, they laid off 190 employees, particularly those working in live events and promotions. In 2019, the company laid off nearly 800 people even with record profits backing them up. During 2020, the company raked in over $8 billion.

This is primarily off the back of the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise that has only seen waning innovation since its hard pivot into the battle royale arena with Call of Duty Warzone. The reliable cash cow has since become a stifling force for the company's creative talent; Activision-Blizzard has shifted the focus of ALL of their development studios to future Call of Duty titles and Warzone.

Even after passion projects from studios like Toys for Bob and Vicarious Visions ignited the return of beloved franchises Crash Bandicoot and Tony Hawk respectively — successful projects with dedicated audiences — showing clearly that these franchises had life in the modern age. But no, those teams were told to get in line and start their shifts at the Call of Duty factory as soon as possible.

And so, on top of all that, on top of terrible optics and reprehensible creative decisions, they decided to give an essential figurehead $154 million this year.

It's money shuffled away from thousands of employees working 70-hour work weeks, all in favor of one singular franchise. Employees who are never sure how safe their jobs are. Employees who make 1,644 times less in a year than Bobby just pocketed with his bonus.

It's not a unique story. It just might be the worst version of it in the games industry. Video games are still a nascent industry. Compared to the film industry, video games are just in the adolescent stages akin to the beginning of the "talkies" era.

Hopefully, the industry is reaching a breaking point that'll lead to real change while it's still young and malleable.

There's no simple answer here. If the public pulls away and drops their support for these games, the thousands of employees the company dragged through the mud will only have things harder. Kotick clearly isn't going to walk away from the moneymaker that nets him hundreds of millions, a completely unjustifiable amount for the scope of his — or anyone's — work. But there is ONE thing that could help.


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