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:
I am sickened that the reward for years of despicable practices toward developers seems to be a huge payday for its perpetrators. 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 itJanuary 18, 2022
“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 (opens in new tab). “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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab) — 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 (opens in new tab). “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.”
I strongly believe in @XboxP3 as a leader and an executive. 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, before all else.January 18, 2022
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.