Xbox Boss Won’t “Finger Wag” Activision Blizzard, Despite Promises to Revaluate Relationship

Nathan Birch
Microsoft Activision Blizzard deal CMA Call of Duty

Last year, Xbox boss Phil Spencer had some rather pointed things to say about Activision Blizzard as the company found itself embroiled in a workplace discrimination and harassment scandal that included accusations against longtime CEO Bobby Kotick. Spencer claimed to be “disturbed and deeply troubled" by the situation and promised he was “evaluating all aspects” of Xbox’s relationship with Acti-Blizz. Well, several months later, has anything actually happened?

In the latest episode of the New York Times’ Sway podcast, host Kara Swisher put that question to Phil Spencer, and it seems like those initial statements and promises were mostly bluster. While Spencer says they have “changed how they do certain things” with Activision Blizzard, they aren’t interested in “finger wagging” the company…

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The work we do specifically with a partner like Activision is something obviously I can't talk publicly about. We have changed how we do certain things with them and they're aware of that. But I also... this isn't about [...] for us as Xbox kind of virtue shaming other companies. Xbox's history is not spotless. [...] If I can learn from [partners] or can help with the journey we've been on with Xbox, by sharing what we've done and built, I'd much rather do that than get into any kind of finger wagging at other companies.

I think in terms of interactions with other companies, things that we choose to do with our brand and our platform, in coordination or not, with other companies is the avenue that we have to have an impact. I would say in terms of individuals that are in leadership positions at other companies, it's not obviously our position to judge who the CEOs are. CEOs are chosen by shareholders and boards.

Reading between the lines a bit, it sounds like Xbox probably won’t be entering into any big flashy partnerships with Acti-Blizz anytime in the near future, but they’ll still happily sell the next Call of Duty, Diablo, ect. on their platforms. Not exactly shocking news, but still, a reminder of what really motivates the industry, including “Good Guy Phil.”

For those who haven’t been keeping up, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) has filed suit against Activision Blizzard, alleging gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment at the Call of Duty and Warcraft publisher. Activision Blizzard’s official response to the suit accuses the DFEH of “distorted […] and false” descriptions and insists the picture painted is “is not the Blizzard workplace of today.” An open letter objecting to the official response was signed by thousands of current and former employees. Acti-Blizz CEO Bobby Kotick would eventually apologize for the company’s initial response, but would later be accused of covering up misconduct and personal misdeeds. While Kotick is still CEO (despite demands for him to step down), several high-ranking employees, including former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and Diablo IV and World of Warcraft team leaders have resigned or been fired, leading to name changes for some characters. The story has even attracted the attention of the US Federal Government, with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opening a "wide-ranging" investigation. A possible class-action lawsuit, demanding a $100 million settlement fund, has also been launched.

What do you think? If Xbox and Spencer truly are “disturbed” by what’s happening at Activision Blizzard, what, if anything, should they do?

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