If you’re a gamer, then you may already know Bobby Kotick. He’s the CEO of Activision Blizzard, the company that serves up wildly successful games like Candy Crush, World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, to name a few. Those games, and others in the company’s catalogue, have become almost cottage industries unto themselves.
In terms of visibility and market penetration, Activision Blizzard is among the top gaming companies in the entire world. Yet, for all that, Bobby Kotick has big problems.
His company is bleeding. He’s losing top talent in key positions. Activision Blizzard is being sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, based on more than 700 complaints filed by company employees (Activision Blizzard disputes this number). The Wall Street Journal in November published the results of an investigation that were so damning that the company stock fell 15% the day after the report came out. Plus, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been investigating it for months.
Activision Blizzard is under a consent decree from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that, among other things, compelled the company to establish an $18 million fund to compensate victims of sexual harassment. Kotick himself has been implicated in instances of harassment and discrimination, as well as covering up egregious offenses and protecting key employees from scrutiny. The California prosecutors are calling it a “frat boy” culture. Employees have staged walkouts, demanding Kotick’s resignation.
Yet, Microsoft recently announced a deal to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion — not because of Kotick, but in spite of him. Microsoft has been looking for (and failing to find) leverage into the mobile games industry for years, and Activision Blizzard’s tanking stock made it a soft target.
Despite promises to retain the Activision Blizzard leadership team, Microsoft will likely torpedo Kotick when the time is right for them to “mutually part ways,” as they say, and all the money he made on the deal will line the pockets of plaintiff lawyers and their clients for years to come.
The list of issues under Kotick’s watch is so long that compiling all of them here would take up this entire article, and then some. Search the phrase “Activision Blizzard sexual harassment” and you’ll begin to see the scope of the allegations, including sexual harassment, discrimination, quid pro quo, retaliation, pay inequity, threats of bodily harm, intimidation, negligence and cover-ups.
Sexual harassment and discrimination are difficult subjects. But we have to keep reminding successive generations that the issue has not gone away, and in some cases, it’s gotten worse. We want to believe that the training we’ve developed and delivered for the last 30 years has had some lasting impact.
But the allegations of bad behavior at Activision Blizzard, and dozens of companies like it, tell a different story.
So why bring it up here?
Cannabis is still young, both as an industry and as a community. The legal, adult-use industry itself is less than a decade old, arguably, and demographically, it’s a relatively (though not entirely) young group of people. The premise that, like tech, there are a lot more men than women, seems to be generally accepted, as is the idea that, like tech, cannabis has a reputation as a “bro culture.” The leap from “bro” to “frat boy” culture isn’t a big one, but it’s also not inevitable. We have the ability to steer clear of that particular culture war.
Activision Blizzard is a lesson. Bad things happened there — things that could have and should have been avoided. To someone who’s been at this for a long time, the incidents alleged at Activision Blizzard are mind-boggling in their arrogance and stupidity.
Cannabis, as an industry and a community, has a chance to chart its own course for how we behave. We have the opportunity to set an example for how a young industry full of young creative souls can set a standard of behavior that far exceeds any that have come before us. We can demonstrate the kind of respect and professionalism that other industries strive for and often fail to achieve.
In fact, considering the beginnings of the industry and where it has come from, we owe it to ourselves to do just that, to be examples of how people can work together harmoniously without the crass boorishness that seems so inherent in other industries. Those of us who can guide and train, who can help set and keep the course of positive employee relations, should be seen as resources.
Our CEOs and leadership teams can ignore the help and support of professionals in this space and operate like Bobby and his boys, making rude jokes or innuendos, paying women less than male coworkers and creating a toxic or threatening work environment. But not only would we be proving to the naysayers that this business is filled with shaggy creeps, dopers and hooligans, we would probably get sued, sanctioned, slaughtered in the press and convicted in the court of public opinion.
That choice is up to every CEO and leadership team in the industry. Bobby Kotick’s is a cautionary tale. Let’s not ignore the lesson.