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Xbox creator blasts Activision acquisition for rewarding ‘despicable practices’

Microsoft’s original Xbox console powered on, on a green surface, and with a Controller S sitting in-front.
(Image credit: Sam Bianchini | Shutterstock)

With the acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the future of Xbox looks much different today than it did yesterday. It’s fitting, then, that a prominent figure from Xbox’s past has weighed in — and that his comments are more cautionary than complimentary.

Seamus Blackley, one of the architects of the original Xbox, left Microsoft back in 2002, less than a year after his brainchild hit store shelves. Since then, however, he’s remained active in the tech industry, occasionally weighing in on how the Xbox has progressed in his absence. After Microsoft made industry history with its $69 billion Activision Blizzard acquisition, Blackley shared his mixed feelings about the deal:

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“I am sickened that the reward for two years of despicable practices toward developers seems to be a huge payday for its perpetrators,” he tweeted. “My hope is that the acquisition will cause the Activision culture to change, and may catalyze some accountability for those who have so far avoided it.”

It’s not too difficult to read between the lines here. Back in July, the state of California slammed Activision Blizzard with a serious lawsuit. Among other things, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleged that "female employees are subjected to constant sexual harassment,” including “[being] deprived of work on projects, unwillingly transferred to different units, and selected for layoffs.”

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick initially deflected and tried to downplay these allegations, while other high-profile employees left the company and developers started organizing against him. Without rehashing the whole issue, something seems rotten in the state of Activision Blizzard.

In light of these issues, Blackley’s concerns seem grounded. Whatever happens to Kotick after the merger completes — some business publications suspect he’s not long for the company — he’s probably going to walk away with a tremendous amount of money. Other well-compensated executives will likely either stay aboard, or depart with similarly full coffers. The lesson, according to Blackley, seems to be that if you create or facilitate an abusive work culture, you can simply walk away with a whole lot of cash.

Still, Blackley sees a positive side to the situation, too:

“I strongly believe in [Xbox boss Phil Spencer] as a leader and an executive,” a follow-up tweet states. “I think this is a very insightful move and could represent a huge win for Xbox. There are daunting challenges in all large acquisitions[.] I just see the issues of developer culture as being paramount here.”

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Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard opens up a lot of possibilities in both the gaming world and the business world. It’s wise to remember, though, that there are a lot of everyday employees caught in the middle right now, and what happens to them after the merger is also a vital issue.

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.