Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick believes the company's image problems stem not from a workplace culture that spawned numerous gender discrimination lawsuits from former employees and state and federal agencies alike, but from "outside forces" and unionization supporters.
In an interview with Variety published today, Kotick said his biggest mistake was not being more forceful in trying to defend the company, particularly when the Wall Street Journal published a detailed report of numerous incidents, including Kotick threatening to have an assistant killed, intervening to protect a senior employee accused of sexual harassment after the HR department determined that employee should be fired, and firing a flight attendant on a private jet he co-owned after she complained the pilot had sexually harassed her.
"We've had every possible form of investigation done," Kotick said. "And we did not have a systemic issue with harassment — ever. We didn't have any of what were mischaracterizations reported in the media. But what we did have was a very aggressive labor movement working hard to try and destabilize the company."
No specific allegation was mentioned as mischaracterized or false, and the Wall Street Journal provided Variety with a quote saying it stood by its "fair and accurate reporting on Activision."
Kotick blamed "outside forces" for the company's image problems, saying labor organizers played a part in the state and federal gender discrimination lawsuits as well as a number of employee walkouts that occurred over the past couple years.
Kotick insisted he was not anti-union, saying, "If we have employees who want a union to represent them, and they believe that that union is going to be able to provide them with opportunities and enhancements to their work experience, I'm all for it. I have a mother who was a teacher. I have no aversion to a union. What I do have an aversion to is a union that doesn't play by the rules."
Activision Blizzard leadership has reportedly told employees unionization "could hurt our ability to continue creating great games," and explained its efforts against unionization saying, "We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals."
The National Labor Relations Board has also found merit to complaints that Activision Blizzard illegally retaliated against unionizing workers and threatened to stop them from discussing wages, hours, and working conditions.
(Update: After publication of this article, an Activision Blizzard representative reached out to note that multiple complaints in those cases had since been withdrawn./Update)
Activision Blizzard is currently negotiating contracts with the unions at Raven Software and Blizzard Albany, and Kotick said those discussions have been good for all involved.
"Over the last few months, we worked thoughtfully and productively with the CWA," Kotick said, "and we've engaged in a dialogue that will be beneficial for our people, the union and the company."
As for the still-pending Microsoft acquisition, Kotick explained why it was the right time to sell.
"I like [Microsoft]," Kotick said. "I like the culture. I'm really scared about the economy – compensation for talent has been ratcheting up in ways that are complex for us to deal with. So this deal made a lot of sense."
The article doesn't explicitly address Kotick's ideas for dealing with that compensation, but he separately addressed Activision Blizzard's efforts to push technology further, saying, "Playing games is such a visceral experience. We're getting to the point that the game itself is able to create its own content in real time. That will be exquisite."
Finally, he addressed what he sees happening if the Microsoft deal doesn't go through.
"We have a great company. We have an enormous amount of momentum, and we have an extraordinary balance sheet," Kotick said. "And we can continue to be successful alone like we have been for the last 30 years. But it'll be great if the deal goes through because I think it's the right thing for our industry."