Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick, one of the longest-tenured CEOs in the video game industry, has announced he will be stepping down from his role on December 31st, 2023. This news comes as Activision Blizzard is in the final stages of its $68.7 billion acquisition by Microsoft, a deal that is expected to close in Microsoft’s fiscal year 2023.
A Controversial Figure Leaves His Mark
Kotick has led Activision Blizzard as CEO since 1991, making him one of the most prominent figures in the gaming industry over the last three decades. However, his long tenure has also been marked by controversy — most notably Activision Blizzard facing lawsuits and accusations around compensation discrimination, sexual harassment, and toxic workplace culture issues.
In his farewell note to Activision Blizzard employees, Kotick reflected on his over 30 years with the company:
“My last day with the company will be on December 29, 2023…Serving this special community of people and leading this great company has been the honor of my lifetime.”
He also looked ahead to Activision Blizzard’s future under Microsoft’s ownership:
“I am confident the very best days are ahead for Activision Blizzard, our beloved franchises, and our incredible talent as the company moves forward under Microsoft.”
Microsoft Leadership Changes as Kotick Exits
With Kotick on his way out, Microsoft has already begun putting new leadership in place to guide Activision Blizzard post-acquisition:
- Phil Spencer, CEO of Microsoft Gaming, will take on an additional new role as CEO of Microsoft Activision Blizzard once the deal closes
- Matt Booty, formerly head of Xbox game studios, will serve as corporate vice president of Activision Blizzard
- Current Blizzard Entertainment president Mike Ybarra will lead the separate Blizzard division within the combined Activision Blizzard/Microsoft Gaming umbrella
In a statement on the leadership changes, Phil Spencer praised Kotick and the impact he has made over his long tenure:
“Bobby Kotick has been instrumental in creating the Microsoft acquisition and working closely with the various teams to get us to this point. Once the deal closes, I look forward to welcoming the incredible talent across Activision Blizzard to Microsoft Gaming.”
Spencer also reiterated Microsoft’s commitment to addressing the controversial workplace culture issues under Kotick’s leadership:
“We remain committed to our journey to become a model human capital company for the industry. We appreciate the tremendous responsibility that comes with that journey, and we continue to embrace new measures and external perspective to help us achieve those goals.”
What Comes Next for Activision and Blizzard Games
While Kotick’s controversial tenure is coming to an end, many gamers are more concerned with what will happen to Activision Blizzard’s stable of popular gaming franchises like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and Overwatch under Microsoft’s roof.
In his note to employees, incoming Activision Blizzard corporate VP Matt Booty briefly addressed the future of Activision Blizzard’s game portfolio:
“We will continue creating epic entertainment that delights communities around the world.”
This aligns with previous comments from Xbox chief Phil Spencer, who has said Microsoft plans to keep Activision Blizzard games multiplatform, with Call of Duty in particular remaining on PlayStation.
So while the Kotick era may be ending, gamers can likely expect Activision Blizzard titles like Call of Duty to continue much as they have already — though now with Microsoft funding and Xbox/PC platform synergy powering more ambitious projects.
But in the longer term, the door seems open for greater Xbox console/platform exclusivity for at least some future Activision Blizzard properties. As the Washington Post’s Tom Warren speculated about Kotick’s departure:
“This departure also now opens the door for Microsoft to make some big changes to the Call of Duty franchise once the deal closes…”
We will have to stay tuned post-acquisition to see exactly how Microsoft chooses to reshape the Activision Blizzard portfolio over time.
Employee and Public Reactions: Relief But Uncertainty Persists
For many Activision Blizzard employees and industry observers who had been calling for CEO Bobby Kotick’s ouster during over the companies very public legal and cultural scandals, his official departure announcement brings sighs of relief coupled with lingering uncertainty.
Multiple reports indicate employee reactions to Kotick leaving have been overwhelmingly positive — a reaction summarized by prominent games industry reporter Ryan McCaffrey:
“Mood at Activision Blizzard today is jubilant, per multiple sources.”
However, Kotick he leaves behind unresolved questions about how exactly Microsoft plans to reform entrenched cultural problems under new leadership. As McCaffey also notes:
“But all also quick to note that the culture problems obviously run much deeper than one person.”
And industry analysts have highlighted that Beyond selecting new corporate leadership, Microsoft itself has offered few details on how exactly it plans to overhaul workplace culture issues created under Kotick:
“Kotick’s departure doesn’t erase the profound cultural problems facing the corporation,” the analysts at Oppenheimer wrote. “And although Microsoft has said they will address them, details remain unclear.”
So while Kotick himself departing is an important symbolic first step, many eyes remain on Microsoft to match symbolic moves with more substantive cultural reform plans. Until then, some employee uncertainty around Activision Blizzard’s future workplace culture likely remains.
Final Curtain After Over Three Decades
Regardless of the mixed reactions and remaining questions around what comes next under Microsoft’s ownership, the pending departure of long-time CEO Bobby Kotick undoubtedly closes the books on a defining era in Activision Blizzard’s history.
Kotick began his tenure when Activision was still an independent company, and leaves shortly after a transformative $68.7 billion acquisition by Microsoft — bookending over three decades of leadership in which gaming grew from a niche to a mainstream mass media phenomenon.
And as controversial as Kotick’s own track record may be, even critics and detractors have acknowledged his business acumen and role in shaping the modern gaming industry landscape we see today. Xbox’s Phil Spencer summarized Kotick’s long tenure impact to The Verge:
“Bobby has been instrumental in creating the Microsoft acquisition and working closely with the various teams to get us to this point. His vision, creativity, and dedication over the last 30-plus years has helped shape the games industry…”
So while 2021 and 2022 scandal embroiled the twilight of Kotick’s tenure in controversy, his business legacy remains inextricably tied toActivision Blizzard’s record breaking growth from fledgling upstart to gaming juggernaut.
The curtain may be lowering on Bobby Kotick’s Activision Blizzard leadership chapter as 2023 draws to a close. But the record breaking Microsoft acquisition stands as the crowning final act in a three decade spanning gaming industry success story — chapter and verse chronicled in no small part under Kotick’s stewardship across those years.
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