Beyond that, there’s a group of employees at an Activision-owned studio pushing to unionize in a rare move for the industry. A union would be a first for the gaming company and for Microsoft’s US-based employees. The effort was largely spurred by what the workers claim was a lack of transparency surrounding recent layoffs in their division.
Some labor experts have also suggested the blockbuster deal could have a spillover effect by alienating some of Microsoft’s own employees.
“That can be a discouraging message and one that doesn’t feel rooted in values of inclusion,” Hutchinson added.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said culture is his “number one priority” as he stressed the importance of righting Activision Blizzard’s workplace during a conference call last week discussing the acquisition. Microsoft is “supportive” of the work Activision Blizzard is doing, Nadella said, while also noting that once the deal is closed, Microsoft will have “significant work to do in order to continue to build a culture where everyone can do their best work.”
“The success of this acquisition will depend on it,” added Nadella.
Can Microsoft fix Activision’s culture and preserve its own?
Before the deal was announced, Activision Blizzard had already been criticized for what workers and shareholders called an insufficient response to the issues surfaced in recent months.
He said the company has thus far seemed “to be very reluctant to even disclose its current efforts.” He added: “The longer you let these problems fester, the more difficult it will be for Microsoft to fix them.”
In a statement for this article, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor said the company’s “top priority” is “creating a workplace culture where everyone feels supported, safe, and welcome with the goal of becoming an industry leader in workplace excellence.”
“Over the last several months, we’ve announced a number of impactful measures and commitments, but we know our work is far from done,” the statement said.
Waizenegger noted that the hope is for Microsoft to “nudge it along” further. At the very least, he said, Microsoft should take some of the same measures it used to review its culture and policies after allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior by founder and former CEO Bill Gates recently surfaced from the 2000s. (CNN has not independently confirmed all of the allegations.)
Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer acknowledged the challenges when the acquisition was announced, stressing the importance of “treating every person with dignity and respect. … We’re looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard.”
Exactly how it plans to do so, however, is less clear. Microsoft declined to comment.
Hutchinson noted that Microsoft has to be especially careful in how it treats Activision Blizzard. Hutchinson said Activision Blizzard is likely to become a “marquee division within Microsoft” due to the popularity of its products but the first priority should be solving its cultural issues. Otherwise, she noted, Microsoft runs the risk of “doubling down financially and strategically on a problematic division.”
By bringing on Activision, Microsoft could also open the door to harsher scrutiny of its own culture, following the wave of headlines about the Gates’ allegations last year, and to renewed antitrust scrutiny after years of largely staying out of the spotlight. Moreover, Microsoft may have to contend with a different level of worker activism than it’s accustomed to — and which may only continue to grow in the months ahead.
The group of workers at Activision Blizzard-owned studio Raven who are planning to unionize expressed dismay Tuesday that the gaming company didn’t voluntarily recognize their union when given the opportunity. (Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor said in a statement that it “carefully reviewed and considered” the union request but the “the parties could not reach an agreement.”) The workers will instead file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election.
Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized law firm WilmerHale, which offers a variety of services to corporations. It was hired by Activision Blizzard to conduct a review of its workplace policies and procedures.
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