Microsoft has said it will be watching Activision Blizzard's leadership during its acquisition approval process to ensure the embattled Call of Duty publisher has the "right people" at the top to facilitate positive cultural change.
Activision Blizzard has, of course, been the focus of months of disturbing allegations surrounding its workplace culture following the launch of a State of California lawsuit calling the company a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women" - made all the more unsettling after a damning Wall Street Journal report claimed Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick had been aware of the allegations of sexual misconduct and mistreatment of female employees across many parts of the company "for years".
That report sent shockwaves across the industry, with Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all condemning the events it recounted, while over 1,800 Activision Blizzard employees signed a petition calling for Kotick's removal. To the outrage of many, however, Kotick not only remained in his position but was backed by Activision's board, which said it remained "confident" in Kotick's "leadership, commitment and ability".
Since then, the company has insisted it is working to improve its internal processes and to improve conditions for its employees - although some have taken Kotick's reported attempts to bury the extent of the problems faced by Activision, alongside the company's recent efforts to quash worker unionisation, as proof its pledges are nothing more than empty words.
"You know, we're looking to the leadership team at Activision Blizzard today to make culture and workplace safety a top priority every single day, until the day when this deal hopefully closes," Smith replied. "And then we'll take over and we need to make that same commitment."
CNBC then asked Smith to clarify whether this meant Microsoft was envisaging an entirely new leadership team at Activision following the merger. "What we've said is that there will be some aspects that will change," Smith responded, "but it will all be one new team that will work together". Notably, Activision CEO Kotick will reportedly leave the company post-acquisition, although this is yet to be confirmed.
"Most importantly," Smith continued, "we want to see the culture evolve, and we'll see how people perform between now and the day this closes, assuming it's approved. And then we'll have the opportunity to make sure that we have the right people in the right position."
CNBC then suggest it sounded "like the people there are going to be under some scrutiny between now and then", to which Smith replied, "I think we all should live in a world where we're under scrutiny. I mean the world is changing, I think mostly in a positive way.
"It's just one more example of where we're going to serve our employees the best if we embrace the opportunity to change".
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