Gaming publisher Activision, owner of the huge Call of Duty and Candy Crush franchises, has been dicing with unpopularity for over a decade.
Things reached a new peak, though, in January. That was when Destiny developers Bungie flew the coop, ending their eight-year partnership. Word was that Activision let them go because Bungie retained a tight grip on the Destiny IP and wouldn’t let their bosses adopt it for a money-spinning mobile game. This week, as Activision announced substantial profits, it has doubled down on its ‘unlikable’ label, by announcing 800 redundancies, a significant number of which are hitting its subsidiary Blizzard. The developer much-loved for Overwatch, World of Warcraft and the Starcraft franchise has received a wave of sympathy from others in the industry even as the hammer falls.
We're sorry to hear about the news of recent layoffs at Activision Blizzard. As a company full of lifelong Blizzard fans, our hearts go out to the organization and employees who are affected.
— Riot Games (@riotgames) February 12, 2019
Our heart goes out to those who were affected in the recent layoffs at Activision Blizzard.
We do have a few positions available:https://t.co/7hO1RzRDc1
— Obsidian (@Obsidian) February 12, 2019
We’re saddened to hear about the news that has impacted our industry friends at Activision Blizzard and wanted to let those affected know that we are looking for talented professionals such as yourselves on our jobs page. #gamejobshttps://t.co/9l2ubXwXUk
— Square Enix (@SquareEnix) February 13, 2019
At the time of writing, it was unclear where exactly the cuts were to be made. Blizzard employees are going to work unaware of whether they will be out of a job come Monday. This news seems especially cruel, coming on the heels of what sources report as Activision’s highest profits ever. $7.26 billion, an improvement on the $7.16 billion for 2017, was apparently underwhelming for the bigwigs at Activision HQ. The timing of Activision’s Chief Financial Officer Dennis Durkin returning in January to a $15 million ‘golden hello’ does not make for the best of optics.
Contemptuous rumblings around the gamersphere have given rise to renewed calls for unionization. Unlike staff in the film and television industries, those working for gaming companies have failed to establish a union. Penalties for attempting to organize labor in the industry can be steep, even resulting in devs losing their jobs. Technically in the US it is illegal to be fired for attempting to unionize, but in practice it’s very difficult to actually pin a company down on the reason for dismissal. After the recent and similarly shocking treatment of devs at Telltale, though, it seems like public opinion is turning in the favor of the worker as opposed to the executive.
It makes me physically sick to see game devs and employees get laid off by a massive company like Activision Blizzard the VERY SAME DAY as their CEO announces record breaking profits. It's egregious and shameful and it's why no one should ever trust suits and why devs need unions
— Sean Finnegan (@shotbyfinnegan) February 12, 2019
800 people lost their jobs today at Activision Blizzard, even if the company made a record profit. I don't know what to say but just don't support Activision.
Go out there and support unions, get rid of Battle net, go support creators. I don't know. This sucks tremendously.
— 💐🏳️🌈Lulu🏳️🌈💐 🧁🧁🧁 (@luulubuu) February 12, 2019
Activision attributes its restructuring to the success of online games like Fortnite stealing its thunder, as well as the dwindling returns on microtransactions in games like Overwatch and Hearthstone. With this in mind it will also be making cuts at King, a subsidiary game development company specializing in mobile gaming that Activision acquired in 2016. Blizzard President J. Allen Brack circulated a memo vowing to offer each redundant employee a substantial severance package, with company benefits, additional pay, and assistance in picking up new work. However, given that some Blizzard employees have been working there ten or even fifteen years, it is cold comfort.
Gamers have not been shy about voicing their disgust with the actions of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick.
When the Activision Blizzard CEO says “While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential." He means "We made lots of money, but we didn't make ALL the money. So we let people go"
— Jesse Cox (@JesseCox) February 13, 2019
Allow me to slip off my 'nice guy' persona and let francis tweet this:
FUCK the folks who decided to fire 800 people at activision-blizzard today after they got you 'record profits' this year. Seriously.
I'd boycott your games if you were actually going to make any this year.
— Boogie2988 (@Boogie2988) February 13, 2019
Activision Blizzard boasting about how much money its making in its earnings call, literally more than the company ever has before, while simultaneously laying off hundreds of employees is shameful.
— Rod Breslau (@Slasher) February 12, 2019
Will all this ire have any impact on the sales of the next Call of Duty game? Or do you think people will buy it anyway? Perhaps if Kotick values money over people, he should be reminded exactly which of the two he needs to keep happy in order to sell games.