“While our financial results for 2018 were the best in our history, we didn’t realize our full potential.” — Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby "Moneyball" Kotick
Activision Blizzard, a company of more than 9,000 employees who’ve built some of the world’s most popular games, is a few things. They are a company who bragged about having a “record year,” on an earnings call this afternoon, a quarter where only raking in $2.4 billion in revenue was considered a disappointment. They are a company who granted a $15 million signing bonus and a $900,000 salary to a high-ranking executive who joined last month. And they are a company who just laid off around 800 employees, or 8% (!!!) of its total workers.
800 people will be without jobs at the end of the day. 800 people head into an uncertain future, wondering how long their severance and health insurance will get them before the next job. That list of 800 will not include Bobby Kotick. He will, of course, sleep well tonight.
Activision Blizzard, like most of corporate America, does not have the courage to call this what it is: the ruination of lives in service of endless growth and profit maximization to serve the ultra rich becoming the mega rich at the expense of an exploitable underclass with no power to stop every effort to undermine them. No, no—it’s a “restructuring.” There is no end to the call for growth. There is always more. To them, the publishing of video games are a means to an end, a people-driven creative medium to be exploited until the well runs dry.
The workers at Activision Blizzard are, like most of the industry, not unionized. Unionization is not a catch-all solution. It will not stop layoffs, nor will it suddenly turn capitalism into socialism. The notion that changes to marginally improve the lives of people won’t suddenly make everything perfect and thus aren’t worth exploring isn’t critique, it’s management bootlicking. Unionization forces a powerful wedge into the relationship between employer and employee, disrupting the power balance.
Recently, VICE’s editorial group negotiated a new union contract with management, and successfully argued for better severance packages. We worried layoffs were coming and they were—250 people were cut this month. The VICE union wasn’t able to save their jobs, but did give them more security.
Gaps in health insurance. Missed paychecks. Daily stress. Even if someone laid off today found a job tomorrow, life is interrupted. What if the job is across the country? In another country? If you’ve got kids, how do you tell them the reason you’re changing schools, forcing them out of social circles and uprooting all they know is because, dang, shareholders aren’t happy with two billion, they need three billion? That’s more than a hiccup—that’s trauma.
As of this writing, the market has weighed in on Activision’s decision to uproot the economic safety of 800 people in service of an even better record year: shares are up near 4%. Oh, and there's this:
Eat the rich.
Follow Patrick on Twitter. If you have a tip or a story idea, drop him an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.