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Microsoft Needs To Put Workers First In The Activision Blizzard Takeover

The news that Microsoft is acquiring Activision Blizzard has been met with terror and excitement in equal measure by the gaming community. The $70 billion acquisition raises a lot of interesting questions about the future of the industry and our favorite IPs. Everyone wants to know what happens next. Does this mean Activision Blizzard games will be Xbox exclusive? How many games will get added to Game Pass? Does this mean new Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Guitar Hero, and Skylanders games are on the horizon? Is Microsoft monopolizing the industry?

The conversation seems to be centered around the toys, rather than the people who make them. Activision Blizzard still has deep, systemic cultural issues, and getting purchased by Microsoft isn’t some kind of magic wand that makes all of that go away. In fact, it may do just the opposite by making labor organization more difficult for ABK workers.

Many of the conditions that Activision Blizzard employees are fighting for still have not been addressed. In November, the ABK Workers Alliance called for the removal of CEO Bobby Kotick for the role he played in protecting abusers at the company. Kotick is still running Activision Blizzard, and we know now that he will continue to hold the CEO position at least until the acquisition is finalized. This is bound to be a long process. Microsoft finalized its acquisition of Bethesda in March 2021, six months after the deal was first reported by Bloomberg News. Activision Blizzard will cost Microsoft ten times what it paid for Bethesda, which could lead to a much longer approval process from regulatory government bodies in the US and EU. The Bethesda deal was approved by the EU without conditions, but the Activision deal may not be so cut and dry, given the price and size of the company.

In the meantime, Bobby Kotick remains at the helm to serve as a grim reminder of the company’s dark past. For many ABK employees, Kotick represents the culture that they’re all trying so desperately to leave behind. It’s reasonable to assume that this deal has been in the works for sometime, which may indicate why Kotick was reluctant to step down – less the already dismal value of the company decrease even further during the negotiation process. For legal reasons, no one at Microsoft can say whether Kotick will remain at the company once the deal is finalized, though it certainly seems unlikely. One wonders if Kotick would have been excised sooner had an acquisition not been on the table – if he ends up leaving at all.

Raven QA is now in its fifth week on strike, and according to the ABK Worker Alliance Twitter account, has still not received a response regarding their request to negotiate. The pending acquisition has undoubtedly put a freeze on many big decisions that need to be made, and the Raven QA workers may be caught in the middle. Like Kotick, Microsoft can’t address the strike directly or comment on how it plans to handle Raven QA until the deal is complete, while current Activision leadership continues to ignore the strike. While they seek a resolution so they can return to work, the acquisition may be slowing the process down.

There are a lot of unknowns for the games community. We can only assume then that there are far, far more unknowns for Activision Blizzard employees. Until this deal is finalized and Microsoft takes control of the company, a lot of the big changes that need to happen at the company will be in stasis. If you’ve ever worked at a company during a merger or acquisition, you’ve seen the way that leadership immediately becomes incapable of making decisions. It’s as if time stops while the company is in limbo, which is the exact opposite of what Activision Blizzard needs right now. During a crisis like this, people need clear direction and strong leadership. The acquisition – at least until it's finalized – is only going to make things harder for everyone.

We should be hopeful that new leadership will help fix the toxic culture at Activision Blizzard, hold bad actors accountable, and work with the ABK Workers Alliance to end abuse in gaming, but there’s certainly no guarantee. The movement to organize workers into a union was going to be an uphill battle. Under the Microsoft umbrella, it's safe to say that unionization would be practically impossible. That doesn’t mean Activision Blizzard can’t become a better, safer place to work, but without organizing, employees will always be subject to whatever treatment the company deems appropriate. The reorganization may even be used as an excuse to excise organizers and vocal proponents of unionization within the company.

As exciting as Call of Duty on Game Pass and Master Chief in Overwatch may be, it's important not to get distracted from the issues that Activision Blizzard still faces. The developers who make the games we love deserve a safe place to work, regardless of who owns the company. Microsoft has a responsibility to to create a better workplace for Activision Blizzard employees, and the power to make it even worse. In his announcement post on Xbox Wire, Phil Spencer alluded to this by saying, “We’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard.” No doubt Activision Blizzard employees are waiting anxiously to find out exactly what that means.

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