Activision Blizzard’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, has been on the verge of stepping down for some time. His legacy is golden. The company is the world’s biggest video game publisher and the world’s biggest game maker overall. Its board has resisted pressure to oust him and he has said he would like to stay on as long as investors and employees want him around. But The New York Times reported in early June that the board had grown tired of him and was planning to oust him. And by the end of the month — after a scandal that rocked his company and taints his legacy — the board is likely to vote on Kotick’s ouster.
The story was reminiscent of the episode three years ago when Apple’s late CEO, Steve Jobs, faced the board, then under John Sculley, to be removed. Now, the Times reported, that same scenario is playing out again, though instead of Sculley the board is being led by Shari Redstone. She, after all, now runs a major shareholder, Viacom.
While it has never been confirmed exactly why Mr. Kotick’s position is under threat, he has only led the company for a quarter century. It’s understandable that some of his supporters would think that the time has come to do some shaking up.
Activision Blizzard has been widely criticized for what is widely seen as a lopsided deal with tech giant Apple. The move to make an initial investment in the company and seal a partnership to make games for the iPhone and Apple TV drew outrage from the gaming community, which feels that the iPhone is not much different from tablets that have long been given to gamers by hardware providers, which are often games manufacturers.
Early this month, as The New York Times reported, the company shocked the industry when it announced it would not be selling a version of its company’s top title, “World of Warcraft,” on the Nintendo Switch, the widely used console that resembles a TV but does not need a separate console to work. That game, “Overwatch,” is now the world’s most popular esports — a competition of professional players — and its developer, Blizzard Entertainment, produces the game exclusively for the Samsung Galaxy smartphone.
Activision Blizzard will make the game for the Switch at a later date and will give consumers the option to pick it up at a retail store, even though it will not be available for sale. In response to the uproar, Mr. Kotick apologized for the news.
Until now, however, there has been no public indication that the company was seriously considering ousting Mr. Kotick. Until now.
According to the Times, the reasons for the concerns about Mr. Kotick’s future date back five years.
That same year, Mr. Kotick acknowledged problems with how the company handled its gender pay gap. Reports then emerged that he had lavished bonuses on employees who worked the most overtime, while paying less than 5 percent of its workers a minimum wage. The pay inequity was not corrected.
Shortly after that, the leak of an internal memo about promotions at the company suggested that Mr. Kotick and another high-ranking executive had favored candidates who appeared more likely to get financial bonuses, if they weren’t based on their performance. And then there was the sexual harassment allegations.